The tender indifference of the world

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I have been invested in investigating my story; intersectionality really makes one see how we are a collection of identities that flow into each other depending on situations or power dynamics. I want to go back to Albert Camus, and more specifically his novel The Stranger. For those of you who know me, this is the writer that woke me up me up intellectually, politically, and socially. Before Camus, books were an obligation and I despised being forced to read them. I was lucky enough to have a French teacher who put this author on my path; pretty much forcing me to do a book report on The Plague because she saw Camus and his ideas already alive in me.

After reading that book; life looked more complex and beautiful, food tasted more subtle and delicious, music sounded more urgent, I truly felt like I had found a new paradigm altering friend. I read all that I could get my hands on from this Algerian intellectual; I registered to study journalism in university to follow in his footsteps and hopefully write engaging and important articles like he had (he was pretty much kicked out of Algeria because of his articles on Kabylia). I like all self-respecting philosophy undergrad students I dabbled in Communism just like Camus (he was eventually kicked out of the Algerian Communist Party because he was recruiting Arabs to fight colonialism and the party was more interested in the upcoming war).

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Let’s go back to The Stranger, the novel that made Camus. The story of a European that kills an anonymous Arab (which throughout the whole book we never learn his name, it became the inspiration for Daoud’s novel The Meursault Investigation), when this book was hailed as a masterpiece (he became part of the holy trinity with Sartre and de Beauvoir after the publication of the novel). Later on however, people started to harshly criticize the fact that the victim of Meursault’s murder was just another nameless and faceless Arab, yet another victim of French colonialism. Some people even went as far as saying that Camus was participating in racism rather than describing a racist society. I think however that Camus was not a racist, I think that he definitely had an affinity with the Arab population of Algeria seeing as how he was raised in the poor neighbourhood of Belcourt in Alger. He was showing that some lives were more valuable than others.

Most of the trials that Camus covered were based on racial tensions between Arabs and Europeans, this influenced Camus greatly in the writing of this novel. Camus is known to have said that no European would be condemned for killing an Arab; he was appalled by the courts and found the justice system to be ridiculous and absurd. This trial was then Camus showing us the hypocracy of the justice system. If we think about it, Meursault is not actually found guilty of killing the Arab, but he is sentenced to death because he did not cry at his mother’s funeral. He was killed because he did not seem to have remorse, he did not play by society’s rules. This was Camus showing just how much racist his country was towards their colonised.

When I think of the Black Lives Matter movement and the extremely important discussion that they brought to mainstream society: “are certain lives worth more than others in society? ” I think that this is exactly what Camus was wrestling with in this novel; he was trying to show the reality of Algeria . I think that he did not name the Arab victim to show how the Arab was viewed by the coloniser; how Europeans discarded the Arab population as just a faceless lesser population. It has been said that a Frenchman would have never been condemned to death like Meursault in real life, I think that is exactly why Camus had the protagonist wrestle with the absurdity of life and the release that happens when we are confronted with our mortality and death. But the climate that is throughout the book seems to be a European who sees himself much more in the Arab than the rich Frenchman coloniser, and wrestling with the colonial heritage present in his home.

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This notion of colonialism and the anonymity of the oppressed shook me, in a very personal way. Being an Acadian and a Canadian I feel that I live between these two positions: I am the oppressed as an Acadian where my people were deported throughout the world away from my homeland or forced to flee into the woods and survive in hiding as British forces searched for them, with the French nowhere to be found to defend or help a people who only wanted peace and did not want to take part in a war of the two world colonial powers; I am also a Canadian, the same country that murdered and civilized (we took the savage out of our First Nations like some would say) Native populations that lived in somewhat harmony with the Acadians but were then shipped off to residential schools to be “educated”.

I still to this day wrestle with my identity when it comes to French and English; I come from a French mother and English father, I am lucky to have been raised in both cultures simultaneously and yet I struggle with trying to find one identity (I sometimes feel like I never really belong anywhere during debates of identity in Canada). I feel that Camus struggled with the same issue to a certain degree, when I read his books I am able to see his blindspots for certain issues (like I have been guilty for my faire share of times). I think that I could sum up my position on the whole French vs English fight in a similar way as he did when in Sweden during his Nobel Prize visit “People are now planting bombs in the tramways of Algiers. My mother might be on one of those tramways. If that is justice, then I prefer my mother.” I try and be sensitive to everyone’s situation and view of the world, where we come from shapes what lense we will use to view the world.

I don’t come from Belcourt in Algier, raised in poverty (quite the contrary, I have been extremely lucky to be raised in a loving home; we weren’t perfect but my parents did the best they could and I know this) in the middle of the beginnings of a bloody civil war. I have suffered prejudice because I was an Acadian and I have never truly felt accepted by my Québécois cousins, my mixed heritage has made me a minority no matter which part of Canada I reside, never truly belonging. It is in this solitude that I developped my friendship with Camus and his own identical struggle… Canada we say is made of two solitudes (French Canada and English Canada), I feel lucky that I get to cross that line and see my country from both sides.

 

I Am Still Racist

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This is a truth that is hard to admit, I have always believed that I am someone that is progressive and that I don’t have an ounce of prejudice in my body. I have identified my whole life as an anti-racist; the poster child of looking beyond prejudice and hate… But the more I look, the more I see that this prejudice is conditioned in me, against my will maybe, but it is still there. I have always said that part of my meditation practice has been to observe how our mind is conditioned and then dismantle these conditionings to break free from our reactions to emotions like fear, anger, etc.

But here I am, still noticing how thoughts and jugements come up, catching me off guard, during my day to day. I would be lying if I said that I have not caught myself feeling more tense passing a group of young people of colour in the street at night (especially if they fit the classic “gangster” or “thug” image that we are fed in the media) than if it was a bunch of white teenagers or checking my wallet in the subway if I enter a subway car with a group of so-called “thugs” already sitting there… I know that my reactions are wrong, that they are micro-agressions, and I understand why it is wrong and why I should not be doing it. So I ask myself, why am I falling into this pattern?

Like I said before, since as long as I can remember, I have always identified as the anti-racist. A little while ago I saw a photo of me speaking at an Anti-Racism Rally and noticing that everyone that was present was white, this image took me back and made me question exactly what was I trying to do with this form of activism? I truly believed that I was fighting white supremacy and to a certain extent I believe that I was, but I think that there definitely some form of white saviour going on… I was endorsing and validating the belief that it was up to me (the white man) to come and help the oppressed; thanks to my work the oppressed would be free from racism. The more I peel away the layers of my conditioning the more I realize that I am not here to saves all the minorities, that it is not my job to do this but my role is to be an ally.

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So what does that mean? That means that I had to start by listening, for once it was not up to me to take the mic, I had to realize that I have been hogging the mic for too long. So I started listening and reading; during this time I let other people talk and I just listened. This is something that I am comfortable with since I started my Buddhist practice (learning to listen to our minds and our bodies to achieve a better understanding of our experience in the world), this is one of the hardest and most rewarding things I have ever done.

By doing this, listening, I was able to see how I live in a culture of white supremacy, I am constantly bombarded by images that can create racial bias,  casual remarks (I constantly hear that people of colour are lazy because it is cultural, here in Quebec that is mostly directed to people of Haitian heritage), and ignored micro agressions (again, I hear a lot of “they” are a “certain way” because of their “culture” and they are normalized for a lot of people). I also work in the prison system which gives me daily examples of blatant racism, but I am also surrounded by subtle and not so obvious racial biases. I am noticing how my whiteness protects me, and with these realizations I am getting more uncomfortable and seeing as how I can be a better ally…

The first step, I admit that there is racial bias in me, as much as I hate to admit it, it is there. The difference is that now, when it does come up, I listen, I see where it is coming from and I work with it to hopefully dismantle it and work towards not reacting to it… This is another form of fear, hatred, anger; I am using my mindfulness practice to work with these difficult realities with kindness and compassion. I am doing the work, and I am working towards becoming the best ally I can be on any given day. This is my starting point, to admit that my mind is conditioned by a system that is deeply engrained in my society; I am slowly waking up. This is a difficult and uncomfortable process but I want to do the work because white supremacy hurts us all… So yes, I am still racist, but at least I am aware of it and I am working towards dismantling it.

Thank you for your time and reading…

Having that uncomfortable discussion

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I started re-reading The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin, if you are not familiar with this book you should definitely check it out. I have been exploring for a while now what it is to be a cis-gendered, heterosexual, white male; one of the ways I find useful is to also be able to place my experience in contrast with other people’s experience of the world. I find that getting a peek into the lives of authors like James Baldwin and Ta Nehisis Coates has helped me to witness a different reality that I am living; it has also made me question and re-evaluate if I am being a good ally? Also, how am I living my privilege?

I was discussing with a colleague, whom I respect enormously, about how the Baldwin book was bringing stuff up and how I could not even imagine what it would have been to be a gay black man in Harlem in the 1960s. I also continued to say that I would never be able to know what it truly means to be a visible minority in any time period let alone the Baldwin combination; I was then replied with a very serious “Well I believe that I can know what it feels like to be a Black man etc.” I have to admit that I was shocked and made very uncomfortable seeing as it was coming from a man that looks exactly like me (red beard and all). He then went on to tell me that when he converted to Islam he felt more welcomed in the Muslim community than he had ever felt in the past, and thus he was able to know what it felt like to be any Muslim in Canada. Also his reading of Malcom X’s biography had let me see the reality of the black man and was thus in tune with the African American experience of the world.

It is here that I really see intersectionality and privilege and how if I am a minority (e.g. – Islam) in one section of my identity, it does not mean that I am allowed to then say I am able to know the reality of a black man in America or even an Arab Muslim in Canada. This also shows how, as white people, we are not aware of the privilege we embody. We are use to being the norm where most people speak from; we are used to only hearing our voice in history etc.  I find that it is important to read about others experience of the world, but it is not our job to speak for them. This is not what an ally does; we have to become aware of this and to act accordingly.

I read a great article on the internet (Dear White People: Your Comfort Makes You Bad Allies by Donyae Coles) that discusses how this comfort makes us bad allies, let me explain a little. It is all great to post stuff on the internet, to share articles, donate money to different causes, etc. These are all things that are comfortable, and I think to a certain extent they are not that effective either.

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If you want to donate money, that is great, but maybe you should go to a community center in an area in your city that you know is serving underprivileged populations, see what they need instead of assuming that you know what might be best for the community. If you are active on social media sites, don’t unfriend people that do not agree with you. If you are scrolling down your feed and you notice that a friend has posted a story about how men are challenging masculine standards with a certain action and then one of his family members/friends puts a really backwards comment, challenge them. It is hard for people to challenge and confront the racists/misogynists/homophobes/islamaphobes/etc  in their lives, seeing as how you are not related or friends with this person gives you maybe the opportunity to say something that they might not be able to.

There are many good actions that we can do as allies, but I believe that the two most important ones are to not be afraid to get uncomfortable and to take care of your shit. If you are white, you have some racial bias in you and that is Ok, it is not your fault (during your whole life you have been a witness to racist imagery in the media, casual remarks, and micro agressions that have been ignored). Your refusal to look into it however, has a totally different view of responsability and what your role is towards it. This exploration has made me get into extremely uncomfortable discussions with some of my friends (I mean these are my peeps and I never thought that our discussions would shift like that); they have been moments where I have been able to check in with myself and realise the work that I have to do. I have met also new people that have helped nudge me in the right direction; their support and knowledge has been so valuable for me.

I think that it is enough for me for now. Life is so strange sometimes, we think that we are having a pleasant discussion and we are suddenly taken into choppy waters with someone we thought was like-minded. We are responsible for being the person that can hopefully nudge others into doing this messy uncomfortable work, it is so necessary and there has never been a better time than now!

Reminder: Take Care Of Yourself

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I has been a little over a month since I have written, I would like to say that it is because I have writer’s block or no inspiration; but I think that what is happening is that I can feel a little overwhelmed with this work and really don’t know where to start sometimes. Privilege is something that is extremely uncomfortable at times and will bring up really real and intense emotions that can seem impossible to process. It can also seem harder to write it down; many of these emotions can be mixed with shame, guilt, anger, sadness, hurt, etc. These emotions and experiences are difficult for us to work through on a one on one basis, so it can really feel like we are drowning when many of them come up at the same time. So what do you do when you just feel like you are drowning and are grasping for air among your emotions?

The classic answer is “Self Care”, but to someone who is new to this, what does that mean? It can mean a lot of things, but I will share with you at least what it has looked for me. I had a really hard time with this at first, I found that I was exercising my privilege even more by taking breaks (something that I told myself others could not have the luxury of doing), but how was I to work towards being a good ally if I was a tornado of difficult emotions festering and ready to explode at the smallest trigger? So, where do we begin?

I have a lot of things that I do for self care, I need to be doing these things to help me, I work in a penitentiary (which is already challenging in the needs for self care) and I am also doing this exploration which can throw me some really big curve balls. My self care regiment is based on one really big element (my spiritual practice) and then many small ones that I can spread out throughout the day. I see self care as a practice and it is something that is crucial to my wellbeing and to ensuring that I will be the best ally that I can be.

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1 – Finding beauty in the world around you: I try to find something I believe to be beautiful everyday on my commute to work. It usually ends up being the sky because I work early and get to usually see the sun rise as I drive. I focus on the colours and how the reflect off the clouds, I am surprised sometimes at some of the beautiful colours I see in front of me. Right now seeing as it is the winter it is more challenging, but I can usually see something: it has even been the lights on the perimeter walls of the penitentiary where I work or a bird’s net in barbwire, there is beauty everywhere if you just take a minute to look around. This gives me a positive start to my day which is so important if I am to continue this work that I am doing.

2 – Morning check-ins: When I do my morning meditation I dedicate a part of the time to simply name without jugement what is coming up; I just sit in the silence and learn to become friends with what is coming up and approaching it with an attitude of friendliness and care. It is hard to not judge sometimes, but I have learned to forgive myself when I get in that mode and chalk it up as a new learning experience.

3 – Have a self-date: Take some time to just be by yourself and do something that makes you happy because it makes you happy. Read, watch a stupid comedy, take a walk, cook, whatever makes you laugh, feeds your heart or soul, etc. Be sure that what you are doing is nourishing you, this is your time to take care of you. It is really important that during this exercise you do you; no need to feel self-conscious, do what really fills your heart and make you feel happy.

4- Develop a spiritual practice: I know that this might not fly with everyone, spirituality can be a dirty word to some and I am not here to tell others what they should believe. I am speaking of my experience and I must admit that this is my most important part of my self care practice. My buddhist practice has made me feel more connected to myself, more than anything else ever has. The more connected we feel to ourselves, the more connected we feel to the world around us. It is thanks to my spiritual practice that I have learned to truly love myself (still working on it, but I am so far from where I was when I started); I also think that I am a nicer person than I used to be and everyone wins with that one. See what works for you, but try and find something that helps you connect with yourself and the world around you. It feels good to connect to something that is bigger than you. Unplug a little, you aren’t really missing anything except opportunities to ignore what you may really need…

There is so much more that you can do: spend time petting your animals (I have a cat and a rabbit) and see your worries and stress melt away for at least a little while, connect with people you don’t know (why can’t you say hi and ask how the barista is doing?) without being creepy about it obviously, take a walk (with or without music depending how you prefer to enjoy the city), plan a holiday in your city (tell everyone you are leaving for the weekend, turn your phone off, and go explore the city you may be taking for granted), make sure to put time aside for you to just be with you (alone time is a way to listen to what you may need and especially a great way to simply work on becoming your own best friend), and so much more…

I no longer feel guilty for doing this, I am not endorsing and perpetuating privilege; I am taking care of myself so I can be the best ally that I can be. There is nothing to be ashamed of in that statement. So you do you, take some time to make sure you are taking care of you, because if you don’t then who will?

 

Not Ready For The Brodeo.

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I originally wanted to write about race for my first post, but these past few days I have been reading Gender Outlaws The Next Generation and my male privilege has been showing up a lot in my reflections. So I thought that it might be best that I start with gender, and maybe even more specifically the performance of masculinity in society. As a cis-gendered male I have to admit that I have never personally struggled with gender dysphoria; reading these different accounts have helped me get a lot of perspective and how others do struggle with something that I have always taken for granted. I identify as a man and have always felt this to be true, but I have struggled immensely with the performance of my masculinity.

For those of you who know me, I am an emotional guy, I will cry at the right moment in the movie when the soft music comes on and we are led to feel sympathy or pain for one of the characters. I am the perfect target for those sappy movies, and I let the tears swell up as I progress. I have struggled for a long time with the notion of “manning up” and maleness as a whole, I was lead to believe that as a man, that showing emotions or vulnerability is a sign of weakness and I should never let others see this side of me. I sometimes think that I am so quick to get teary-eyed because I am full of backed-up tears seeing as I forced myself for a long time to keep it hidden inside of me…

This struggle made me have more friends that were girls, it seemed like a safer space for me where I could be more myself and not feel like I had to be performing a certain image that was considered “male”. I had some close male friends that did not seem to follow this societal image of maleness, but in general I felt more comfortable being around people who would not tell me to “man up” or question my sexual orientation if I was not presenting myself in a macho way. The punk scene seemed to be the only place where I felt that everyone was welcomed as they were; societal norms were more snarled at than spread in the community. I did experience some weird macho moments in the hardcore scene, the “brodeo”(combination of Bro and Rodeo, clever I know!) like a friend of mine said. But in general punk rock was safe, it was a “come as you are” kind of scene and I really felt at ease in that. Punk rock also opened my eyes to many social causes; I think that my political awakening occurred with punk rock. I was listening to bands that were talking about racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. I began reading authors like Franz Fanon, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and many other political agitators.

A big moment for me in my education about gender and gender roles occurred many years later; I was hanging out a lot with a friend where we would discuss all kind of things that were related to identity politics. We would meet for coffee or drinks and talk about different authors/philosophers/artists that contributed to alternative identities; a name that came up and would be a game changer for me was Judith Butler and her book Gender Trouble. She is credited with having started “queer theory”; she also gave me concepts and words like “heteronormative” and gender as performance and many more. I started to see examples of how heteronormative ideas were stamped in how society viewed gender and it’s role in the performance of our identity. An example that hit me was John Ralston Saul and Adrienne Clarkson; they were forced to marry when she became governor general of Canada. This was the government pushing on a couple with many happy years together a societal norm that is a couple is together for a certain period of time it was the next natural evolution. This is a small realization I know, but lets just say that it was the first in many that started to pop-up all around me and it helped me see that not everyone was living by the standards that were impose in our performance of our gender and also our orientation.

A little side note, I also now notice that after reading books like this I began to perform my own “version” of masculinity. I remember being at a cottage with some friends and one friend in particular that I deeply care about who noticed that I was reading Gender Trouble; she told me that she admired that I was willing to read a book like this so openly. I must admit that I used to love getting compliments like that from girls; I noticed that I was maybe not acting in a macho way to attract women, but more as a man that was “secure” in his vision of gender and the roles attached to it. Even if I thought that I was better than these “man-up” guys; I was just trying to manipulate women in a different way. I was trying to mask the masculine performance that society had pushed on me all my life, I thought that if I changed the flavour a little it would be more “honest” and true to me. I am sure that it worked for a while, but I eventually was not able to continue like that… I had to find a place where I could face my masculinity in a safe environment and where I could express myself without fear of judgement.

I must admit that the place that I felt the most comfortable was in the buddhist community, the sangha really felt like the first truly safe space for me… It was the first place where feelings were put out there, and I felt like there was no need for performance or masculine gender roles needing to be front and centre… I was free to express what was coming up and it was met with deep listening and acceptance; the real work would finally be able to be done in a public space and no longer in the comfort of the private settings that I had had with a few friends. I still struggle with what it means to be a man in our society and culture; and I don’t think that it will ever completely go away. I am Ok with that, I am continuously learning how to welcome what comes up without judgement and kindness. It is some of the hardest work that I have had to do; making peace with events where I clearly manipulated women and their emotions to get what I wanted at the time. I always believed that I was one of the “good” guys, but I used my power to get what I wanted sometimes and that is something that I have worked towards forgiving myself and working towards being a stronger man. I think that being true to ourselves and not falling to gender norms and performances takes a lot of strength and courage. It is easy to crumble and just fall in line with what the media and culture is telling you to be; but if my buddhist practice has taught me one thing is that we must face what comes up and to meet it with kindness and compassion. Every day I meet myself with kindness, which can be an almost impossible task somedays, but I know that it is the right thing to do…

So what has my practice given me? It’s given me some of the healthiest and most meaningful males friendships that I have ever had, and I can not thank these men enough. It has let me see my struggle with masculinity with kindness, I have given myself permission to simply sit and let whatever comes up come up so I can truly own what it means for me to be a man… It is an ongoing trip and I don’t think that it will end anytime soon; thank you for reading and I will revisit gender and what it means for me to be a man in our culture but I think that it might be enough for today…

Another blog ?

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For those of you who know me… Yes, another blog, but I hope that this one will stick and become a place for me to document what comes up in my exploration of what it is to be a cis-gendered heterosexual white man. I was encouraged recently to truly explore, deeply, what it is to be a white male. I will take a few moments to present myself and also what I am hoping to discuss on this blog; my next entries will then vary back and forth from journal style to a more academic exploration of concepts.

I don’t think that I am any wiser than anyone else, but I was wondering what I could do to help bring awareness in these unsettling times. Racism, or fighting white supremacy, has always been a cause that I have always engaged in on a personal and social level (I started an Anti Racist Action chapter almost twenty years ago, but slowly pulled away once I started struggling with some of the politics in the movement). But I have always deeply identified as an Anti-Racist; it is only in the last couple of years that I noticed that I was acting from a deeply privileged perspective. This summer I found a picture of me speaking at an Anti-Racism rally and noticed that everyone there was white; that image struck me, it really made me question how I was doing the work (on a personal and social level). I know that fighting racism and white supremacy is not just a white issue, so why was there absolutely no diversity in the group that I was attracting with my events and actions? This was a hurtful realization, but it was a necessary one to help me shift my practice and my understanding of what it is meant  to be an ally to people of colour.

Since my time in the Anti-Racist movement I have developed an important dharma practice; this practice has really changed the way that I view the world and also how I walk in it… What the buddhist communities and teachers have given me is a more inquisitive practice into what we call “white privilege” and the notion of intersectionality (I know that it was first coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in the context of how Black women are often marginalized because they were not fitting into one category or the other, but once someone comes up with such an incredible concept it spreads quickly to other social movements). Buddhadharma practice is about liberation; often people will start meditation or dharma practice to find some comfort in their lives (which is fine if that is all that you want out of your practice), but I truly believe that the purpose of this practice is about liberating ourselves from our suffering which includes oppression rooted in our ignorance of  white supremacy and all the blind spots that we as white males maintain and navigate with in the world. I think that it is important to state here that white supremacy hurts all of us – not just the historically oppressed.

This examination is messy, and it can get really uncomfortable at times; we also have to accept that it might always be uncomfortable, but be willing to always lean into the discomfort to grow and learn. I know it was extremely difficult for me to realize that even if I believed I was a great ally; I was acting from a place of white privilege (the realization that I had huge blindspots were really unsettling at first) and that I still held deeply conditioned ideas and jugements that were racist. I started to noticed that I had certain ticks or reactions to certain people in the street that were a result of my conditioned mind. I honoured my difficult emotions – my anger towards myself, the disappointment that I was not the ally I once believed I was, the despair that washed over me; I sat with the rawness, the pain, the discomfort. It had never been so urgent for me to deepen my practice, to drop into the stillness and cultivate metta for myself. If I want to know my true  self I know that I can not look away at what I find hard or ugly; I must learn to dive into those dark areas with love and care.

I will be back soon with another post; hopefully this will be the beginning of a great record of the dialogue with myself and my conditioned mind. I hope that my realizations bring some wisdom that can help you wake up to your true identity… We are all in this together, let’s not be afraid to be vulnerable and honest, I know that I have made the pledge to be as open with all of you as I will be able to muster. It is our duty to work towards our liberation, let us not forget that it is our birthright! So let’s peel away the layers of our identity together and get to the source of who we truly are.