On Mar. 10, 2022, YES! racial justice editor Sonali Kolhatkar hosted a conversation with three contributors to our “Personal Journeys” issue:
- Ruth King, whose story starts with a dream so powerful that it set her on a life-long journey “from rage to mindfulness.” Now a psychologist, educator, and founder of the Mindful of Race Institute, King shares wisdom that can help us all examine systems, navigate emotional distress, and increase social harmony.
- Shawn Ginwright, whose new book, The Four Pivots: Reimagining Justice, Reimagining Ourselves, explores three myths that we all have about social change, and four pivots that can help us “transform our organizations and reimagine our work for social change by first transforming and reimagining ourselves.”
- Rachel Powell Horne, a climate writer who stopped flying and learned to find joy in simple pleasures after meeting “a very special hitchhiker” who became her husband—and then noticed how those choices seemed to ripple outward.
Sonali Kolhaktar: Hello everybody and welcome to YES! Presents: Personal Journeys, a conversation with three contributors to the new Personal Journeys issue of YES! Magazine. These are all folks who have taken different paths to making change and will share with us today the lessons that they’ve learned along the way. Throughout this conversation we’ll be having today, I invite our audience members to reflect on your own journey, both where you’ve been, where you want to go, as we work together to build a more just, equitable, compassionate, and sustainable world.
I’m Sonali Kolhaktar. I’m the racial justice editor at YES! Media, a nonprofit reader-supported publisher of solutions journalism for more than 25 years. YES! is based in the Seattle area, which is the ancestral land of the Coast Salish people, specifically the Duwamish and Suquamish tribes. I invite you all to read our full land acknowledgement on the about page of our website yesmagazine.org.
And now I’d like to introduce our guest panelists today, who if you could please turn on your videos for us, I’ll take our audience through who the three of you are. Starting with Ruth King, who appears on the front cover of the latest issue of YES!, our Personal Journeys issue. Ruth is the founder of the Mindful of Race Institute. She’s a professionally trained psychologist, organizational development consultant, celebrated author, educator, and meditation teacher. Her latest book is Mindful of Race: Transforming Racism from the Inside Out. Next, joining us is Shawn Ginwright. He is a leading innovator, provocateur, and thought leader on African American youth, youth activism, and youth development. He’s professor of education in the Africana Studies department and a senior research associate at San Francisco State University. His new book is called The Four Pivots: Reimagining Justice, Reimagining Ourselves. And last but not least, Rachel Powell Horne is a climate solutions and soil regeneration research writer. Her work explores how regenerative food systems can heal humans society and the natural world. She lives in the Hautes-Pyrénées in France, where she balances activism with joyfulness and wellbeing.
Welcome to the event, the three of you, Ruth, Shawn, and Rachel. So let me start by asking the three of you to unmute yourselves. And Ruth. I would love to start with you, and I really go through with all our three panelists, to give our audience a sense of your personal journey that you write about in the latest issue of YES! For those in our audience who haven’t yet picked up the issue or haven’t had a chance to read it, or it’s been a while since they read it, remind us of the journey that you take us on in the latest YES!
Ruth King: Thank you so much, and it’s such a pleasure to be here. I’m so excited to be a part of this. And what I’m writing about and sharing is a personal journey of emotional maturation. As I moved through a number of, I came to recognize a number of wisdom systems that were operating all around me and through me. And through a process of recognition, of connecting the dots in my life, of looking back in order to move forward in a way that is respectful and tender and moving through these territories of rage, and it’s righteousness as well as race and racism as infrastructures in my system, really looking. What I’m writing about is a journey of kind of confronting that in a loving way. And gentling myself into a sense of self-compassion, self-respect, self-reflection that culminates in what I consider to be a way of serving more wisely with a pure intention of harmonizing, all that I’m connecting and touching and influencing. And so I’m taking you on a journey with me through all of these landfills and how they served me, how they’re not a mistake, but how connecting the dots and recognizing them as wisdom systems have been so powerful.
Sonali Kolhaktar: Shawn Ginwright, turning to you next, can you share with us the journey that you write about in our latest issue?
Shawn Ginwright : Sure, sure. I think the place to start is, most of my career year, I’ve worn two hats, one as a researcher and professor, and then one as a practitioner, as an organizer and working with young people. And I remember probably around 1987, 1988, I was completing my doctorate degree at UC Berkeley. I was helping a group of young people organize in Oakland, California, around police in their schools. And I was having to raise about a half million dollars a year for the nonprofit organization that I founded. And I woke up one night about 3:00 a.m., and I was sweating. And I went, into my kitchen to drink some water and all of a sudden a wave of emotion hit me, and I fell to my knees and I began sobbing, crying. I forgot to tell you, I also had a 1-year-old son that had just been born. And so I had so much enormous pressure on me to finish my dissertation, to raise my son, to help these young people organize, to raise money. My wife and spouse came to the living room in pitch black at night. She heard me and she said, “What’s wrong?” And I couldn’t speak. And then I began wailing again. She calmed me down, and we talked that morning.
One of the things that I realized is that I hadn’t been taught about the stressors, the challenges, the emotional trauma that comes with justice. And in my piece that I write about, I try to reflect on what I call myths about what really matters in our quest for social change. And I hope that these myths encourage us to look at our own inner journey so that we can actually be much more powerful as we support efforts to improve our society.
Sonali Kolhaktar: Wonderful, thank you so much, Shawn. Rachel, take us on a brief summation of your journey that you wrote about for YES!
Rachel Powell Horne: Thanks Sonali and thank you, Shawn and Ruth, I feel very honored to be here next to you. So the journey that I wrote about was one of taking personal responsibility. I always saw myself as not part of the problem. I was someone that cared (and when I talk the problem I’m talking about the climate crisis here particularly) I was someone that saw myself as having a deep love and connection with the Earth. I wasn’t like one of those others, those other polluters, those others that didn’t care. And my journey was to really come to a place of realizing that I was part of the problem, but by looking at that in the mirror and accepting, that was able to move forward to be part of the solution. And it took that moment of realization of, wow, actually I’m a big part of this problem and I need to really reflect on changing my own lifestyle that allowed me to move forward in a positive way, and also to inspire other people around me to make positive changes as well. Thanks.
Sonali Kolhaktar: So I’m going to ask all three of you because those are great summaries of what you’ve written about, but there’s so much more in the stories that I want to try to pull out during this hour. Ruth, you, were your formative years as a child were in south LA, you write about your relationship with your mother, seeing the racial violence, the racist violence in Watts in particular, during the 1960s, and that feeling of helplessness and rage that you felt. And then also the tenderness that you had in yourself as a child, the sensitivity that you had in yourself, those two made for trauma, right? And I’m wondering if you can share that a little bit with, with our audience, how the combination of the, the horror you were seeing play out around you, the hatred that you saw manifesting against people who looked like you and yourself combined with a deep sensitivity that you had as a child.
Ruth King: Yes, thank you. Yeah, that was a potent time. And again, there was so much emotional turmoil that was not only in the environment, but there was a bit of it also in my community in terms of the ripple effect, in terms of the struggles and what people do. What I saw a lot of was people who didn’t know how to navigate their emotional lives and so that has such a big effect.
One of the things I talk about in the story is my watching my great-grandmother pacing the floor in deep distress, because she was unable to comfort the stress of her children, her tribe, all of the people in our families, and how horrendous that was for me to witness as a child. And the witnessing of that was vacant of a capacity to really console her or to make that better. And just the frying of the heart that can happen when you are traumatized. And in that way so early, you see the suffering and you don’t know how to be with it or, of course you don’t expect the young person to know exactly what to do, but just the trauma that gets set in. And the tenderness that I felt was I always wanted to talk about those things. And yet there was a feeling of terror and you became a bit of a target. If you actually talked about tenderness, it was almost dangerous. So I remember being called a cry baby, or, asking a lot of questions around “why, why, why?”
And when I look back on that, that’s really been a big part of the mantra. The why turned into curiosity, that turned into a sense of strengthening of the heart and providing this cry baby with a space of healing. So, because this baby had a lot of growing up to do as well is a lot of teaching in the world to do. So it’s the experience early on of being bombarded with live streaming trauma at a high-pitch level, including the Watts riot. Including my father being killed by his girlfriend in a jealous rage when I was 17, including me being pregnant at 16, including me having this crushed, collapsed, suppressed rage that I carried because it was too dangerous to express emotion in this body, in this Black body, in this woman body, in terms of how you’re programmed to just deal with emotions. So much going on, and so much love in my heart at the same time and how that has to be protected somehow until it doesn’t have to be. And that’s a piece of the work that I’ve been doing.
Sonali Kolhaktar: It’s so interesting that we do see in many of our own journeys and in what the three of you write about and even just spoke about, these moments of epiphany, where clarity, or the beginning of clarity can come. And Shawn, you just described falling to the floor and sobbing, and feeling this weight. And I’m wondering if you can explore in a little bit more detail, one of the things that you, these myths that you write about in your piece for YES! About, that we have to start letting go these myths about how achieving justice is about fighting, but then when you use that kind of language, it’s quite draining and sometimes can be not as constructive.
Shawn Ginwright: Yeah, I mean, I think, my work, again, working with young people and as adults, right, that I recognized and realized that. Even my students at San Francisco State, when I asked them, how do you achieve justice? This happened one evening in class. And then I asked them to list it on the chalkboard —or not the chalkboard, that’s the old school, that was a dry erase board. But they would use terms like, I fight for equality for the homeless, I fight, or I resist police oppression, or I deconstruct white supremacy. And when I looked at those terms, I recognize and realize that those terms while necessary to create the kinds of society we want, they’re still insufficient. They’re not sustainable. They’re not nurturing. They don’t convert. They don’t sort of conjure our imagination as a human species. And so while we have to fight and while we have to confront and deconstruct and resist, those are necessary to create the kinds of environments and the kinds of places that we want our communities to thrive in. But that’s only half of the equation. And for me, those terms were, those terms were not sustaining for me.
I lost a friend, two dear friends, because we didn’t give them the permission to reimagine their own lives. We didn’t give them the space to rest. And so in that class that night, I introduced some new terms to my students and say, and I said, “What would it look like to substitute the term fight for dream? What would it look like to substitute the term confront with reimagine? What would it look like to substitute the term resist to create?” And if we use these other terms to dream, imagine, create, we actually are utilizing another arsenal, another set of tools to create the kind of environments we want.
And so I encourage in the article that I write, I talk about some of these myths that fighting war for justice, while important, doesn’t get us all the way to the end. I talk about this understanding that how we’re thinking about power as a sort of collective power is only an external phenomena. That is, power comes from when we, when we have a mass mobilization or when we have collective numbers of people that believe and act in the same way, but power also comes from our own convictions, right?
And then lastly this myth, and it’s tough, it’s tough Sonali, this last one around us versus them. And us versus them in my way, in my view, in some ways reproduces White supremacy. In that it suggests that some human beings are less than others. And I don’t want to get into the explanation of that, but the us versus them suggests that I have no similarity, have no connection to another human being. And when we do that, we actually begin to dehumanize others. And the hardest work is for folks that enjoy, that love justice, the hardest work is for us to actually begin to understand what belonging looks like for our work, right? And that’s hard, Sonali, that’s hard.
Sonali Kolhaktar: Well, let’s hope we’re inspiring others to get through those difficult times and those difficult fights and difficult dreams by seeing these examples that the three of you are offering. Rachel, I loved your piece and speaking of epiphanies, again, you started your piece talking about the epiphany that you experienced on a trip that you took that changed your life. And, I’ve gone back and forth in my life about this idea of personal responsibility versus collective action. But I love how beautifully you explain that actually doing or changing one’s own actions can have a ripple effect. And I’m wondering if you can take us through that and tell us about some of the psychologists that you spoke to about that very real effect of leading by example.
Rachel Powell Horne: Yeah. I think that that’s something that I didn’t really think about before, is that it doesn’t have to be either-or, it doesn’t have to be individual changes important or collective changes important. We need both of these things at the same time, and we need them now.
So some of this, some of the psychologists that I spoke to about individual change, I mean they had some different ideas. Some suggested that we shouldn’t put too much responsibility on the individual because that can be a way to, it’s kind of like this idea of the carbon footprint. Like some people have a problem with that because they say, “Why should I be thinking about my carbon footprint?” Or, “Why should we be stigmatizing people about a carbon footprint when an oil company can go ahead and do something that will blow whatever you do completely out of the water?” And then I spoke to other people who completely disagreed and said, actually individual behavior change is the only anything that will signal to people with power that we demand change. So I guess for me, I’ve just got to a point now where I think both are really important. Like sometimes it’s easy to think that we’re up against this big system and while it’s true that like the system that we live in right now, of capitalism, isn’t really working in my opinion, that doesn’t leave space for nature and the Mother Earth to heal. At the same time, we need to acknowledge that each of us is part of that greater system. So I guess it’s, we need to hold both of those truths at the same time so that we can move forward more positively.
Sonali Kolhaktar: And one of the things that I also wanted to pick up on what you were writing about was this conclusion that leading by example is more effective than shaming your friends and the people around you, and that sort of advising them on what to do can backfire, and many newly formed activists fall into that trap. I did it when I was in my early 20s.
Rachel Powell Horne: It’s such a human thing to do, and I’ve done it so many times. But yeah, so basically the psychologist that I spoke to told me that if you don’t choose the right time in the right way speaking to people, you can have the opposite effect than what you are seeking to do. So say somebody, your uncle has just put a beef burger in front of you. This is not the time to talk about CAFOs, about animal feed lots, and about how they’re terrible for the environment. This is a time to either say, “Oh, no, thank you I don’t actually eat that.” Or just to say, “Thank you, what a beautiful meal.” The time to speak about these issues is not when someone’s self-worth can be put under the microscope. Because if you do that, then what you can do is actually lead them to put up a wall and to actually reinforce their ideas of the difference between you and them. So then you become the eco-warrior, greenie weirdo, and they become the ordinary person who’s got their head screwed on. So you need to, so it is really important to talk about all kinds of issues when it comes to justice. So important to talk about it, but in the right place and in the right way, otherwise you’re doing yourself a disservice and you’re doing the justice itself a disservice. Easier said than done, right?
Sonali Kolhaktar: So we’ve talked about how our journeys began. What conclusions we came to is where I want to go next. And Ruth, you write in your piece about the journey that your epiphany was in a way, having a major physical procedure, medical procedure that helped you kind of almost find a rebirth in yourself. And then you found yourself attracted to Buddhism, and you write about these universal laws of nature that I just thought was so powerful. This idea that things are not personal, not permanent, not perfect. And I’m wondering if you can take our audience through that, I’m like, so tempted to just talk about it myself, because it’s very interesting, but I, of course it’s better if you tell us.
Ruth King: I don’t know, I was enjoying you talking about it, that’s fine with me. Well, so there was this early just kind of, multiple traumas that occurred. I’m not unlike a lot of people that are probably on this call in terms of kind of living through, this kind of tumult. And at the age of 27, I had open heart surgery for a mitral valve prolapse. And in fact, I’d had three major surgeries in my 20s. One on the heart chakra, one on throat chakra, one on the root chakra. And I feel like all of these surgeries were invocations to return to the body and to be tender toward the suffering that I had been in denial of carrying up to that point.
So the open heart surgery in reflection really spoke to the beginning of a procedure of opening my heart, of not apologizing for the tenderness that I felt, and infusing that tenderness with a sense of ripening around what’s real for me and true, and how I impacted others. And it was during this time, I was going through graduate school. I had moved from Southern California to Santa Cruz, which is the sea of spiritual materialism, at least back at that time. And so there were all these things to participate in. And I participated in a dream workshop, which was so powerful because I saw myself sitting on this flower, and there was this torrential rain falling down with a lot of chiseled ice and attacking this body, sitting on this flower in the middle of this very still lake.
And what was interesting about it is that the ice had body parts and arguments and foul smells, and all kinds of all forms of attack that you can imagine hitting on this body that was me sitting on this flower. And what was distinct about it is that I was not disturbed by it. And the dream had such potency for me in terms of having a visual image of being with disturbance and heartbreak and hatred and all of the—and rage was a lot of what was kind of coming down—but without being disturbed by it. And the intimacy of that feeling and that moment, it was so potent. It was real for me. I felt it throughout my body. And it propelled me into a search for understanding more and more about having more curiosity about doing that, and what I later discovered after taking a trip to China, doing some of my work in generational healing there at the Women’s World Conference back in the, I think it was early nineties. I met this woman, Dr. Marlene Jones Schoonover who happened, just so happened, we’re staring at this very large golden Buddha, and it just so happened that she asked me if I meditated. And I said, nope. And it just so happens that this is a Black woman with long dread locks, we both had long dreadlocks at the time. She lived in the Bay Area, she lived in San Francisco. And it just so happened that after—this is auspicious galore, right?—that I get invited to join her at her meditation center, that she was a part of the board of at Spirit Rock and to hear her teacher. And I found the teacher said at that sitting, which was so striking to me, and all I saw around the room were these Buddha images sitting on a lotus flower, right? All around the room, in this sense of equanimity and ease. And what the teaching was that night, which is a teaching of the Buddha, is: Know for yourself. Don’t take my word for what’s true. Know for yourself.
And there was some permission that in transmission that went through me, that awoke me to a realization, or maybe it was even a memory because all these wisdom traditions have a similar river that they all run to this ocean, right? But what I realized is, I need a practice where I can know for myself what the truth really is for me in this lived body experience. And I realized after practicing, I was then invited to be a teacher in meditation after a 10-year journey of being in a meditation group with Jack Cornfield, Alice Walker, a few other people. For 10 years, we met once a month studying the Dharma. Some of us became teachers, I moved away. But what I realized was that this practice of stilling yourself, turning your attention inward, ripening a sense of an inner resource that allows you to self-comfort, ease, and settle. So that connection is more possible, became a huge fuel for me in determining how I was going to deal with rage, influencing how I was going to deal with race, influencing how I was going to teach in the world. And what that means is that there was this integration in me of leadership, mindfulness, meditation, and racial awareness that gave birth to the work I’m doing with the Mindful of Race Institute. But just the potency and the purification that can happen in stillness, in silence, and connecting with the body and the breath, which is connecting with the earth, connecting with air, connecting with nature. I’ve been long-winded, but I’m so glad you asked me that question.
Sonali Kolhaktar: So let’s turn next to Shawn, who in your piece, sharing your own wisdom, you write about the four pivots, which is, of course, I imagine explained in much greater detail in your book. And going back to what you were saying earlier in the panel about the myths that we’ve, that you’ve had to combat to sort of push away and to replace with a better approaches, the myth around fighting power or us versus them, etc. What are ways in which, or what are the four pivots away from that mindset that you write about in YES!
Shawn Ginwright: I think, these four pivots really come from my mistakes in this work as both a leader and a professor, a husband, a father, that I give folks permission as well as some direction in ways to engage in justice work that is more sustainable. I write in the book about an instance that happened on my birthday actually about four years ago. I went to a restaurant with all my friends. The three of us walked in. We were, we’re all like 6 foot 2, three Black men. And we walked in and the first thing the owner of the restaurant said is “You know, if you sit down and have a table, you have to spend at least $40.” And we thought that was odd. And so we were like, ”No, we want a table.” She said, “You could sit at the bar.” I’m like, and my friend’s like, “No, we wanna sit at the table.” So the woman went and got the other owner and they both came out. And the first thing the other owner said is, “If you don’t leave, we’re gonna call the police.” And we were like, “What the hell is going on here?” And I went into rage. I went into complete, like I lost control.
And then as I walked away, something happened, I began to reflect and I began to observe myself in that moment. I began to watch my thoughts and as I began to observe, I began to really sit with that moment. And it became a tool for me to begin to use when I see things that send me in rage and send me in ways that are not healthy for me. So the four pivots really are.
The first is a pivot from lens to mirror. And a lens is how we see the world. It’s an analysis. So my analysis is that was a racist owner of a restaurant that didn’t want four Black men there. That was the lens, but the mirror was, man, I feel embarrassed. I feel angry. I feel enraged. It was the observation of my experience. And most of our, we never learned lens. We never learned mirror work. We mostly learned lens work. The analysis of why structural inequality exists. We understand lens work about all the challenges that we see in our society, but the lens work gives us the mirror work, right?
It’s like, if everybody that’s on this call now, you got up this morning, you looked into a mirror, it did not lie to you. The mirror work tells the truth. And once it tells the truth, then you’re given permission to deal with and grapple with your own trauma to deal with your own insecurities. And so mirror work is just as important as lens work.
The second pivot is a pivot from transactional relationships to transformative relationships. And that is, we oftentimes, we all have transformative relationships. And transformative relationships are the kind of relationships where we allow our humanity to spill out on each other. And oftentimes we don’t have enough spaces to create the deep bonds that really matter that allow us to travel through really difficult challenges together. So the pivot from transactional relationships to transformative relationships is a second way that we can begin to think about how to cultivate the kind of relationships that matter in our work and in our personal lives.
The third pivot is a pivot from problem solving to possibility creating. And that just means that oftentimes we, I know I am trained as a sociologist to identify, locate, diagnose and measure misery, and we actually have to understand the root causes of suffering in our society. Yet, on the other hand, we also have to look at possibilities. And what I mean by that is sometimes when we are only focused on problem solving, we are not dreaming, we are not imagining, we are not using the other components of our human capacity.
And then lastly is a pivot from hustle to flow. And this pivot recognizes that in our capitalist culture, that values human beings by what they could earn or produce, sometimes we feel like we’re just in constant and persistent frenzy. It’s like we’re going north and south at the same time, and we’re not moving anywhere. And that’s because our capitalist culture just hasn’t given us the space for flow. And that flow is to intentionally disrupt and remove ourselves from frenzy. And it also means that we recognize when we’re in frenzy so that we can actually begin to create different kinds of pathways in our lives. And I call them a pivot, Sonali, because a shift and a change is really hard, right? We gotta move something. But a pivot, you know it’s like what Rachel said, right? If you do something individually over time, if you make one decision that that takes you in an entirely different direction. And so a pivot is something that we do subtly that over time has a collective impact that ultimately can create the kinds of movements and the kinds of work that is much more sustainable.
Sonali Kolhaktar: So that’s a great segue into where you are right now, Rachel, in your life. And I’m wondering if you can take us through what happened to you personally, after you met the person who you ended up falling in love with and getting married to, which sounds like an amazing love story. I think within three days of meeting each other, that you, the two of you, decided to create a life together but a much simpler life than what you were used to. You have given up on flying as a way to reduce your carbon footprint. How much richer is your life right now? How much fuller is it, even if, on the surface, it might seem simple.
Rachel Powell Horne: Thank you for your question. I guess I would say that, well, my life is much simpler now. I think if the past me, from like five years ago, saw my life now, I may think it was just hideously boring. I used to go to lots of nightclubs and fly for weekends, with friends, and I was very spontaneous and didn’t always think about the consequences of my actions. And I considered that taking this precious life and living it to the full.
And I’ve had a real shift in the way I live now. So I live zero waste or as close to, as I can. A very simple, really, very simple life. Like I haven’t bought new clothes for years. I don’t travel far, or often. And I’m so much happier, which is a surprise. I was a very anxious person in the past, really struggled to contain and with my emotions and deal with them in a positive way. And I’ve actually found since I’ve had a much quieter and simpler life, I’ve found that I’ve got more space now for joy and for peace. And it really did come from meeting Florian. He would be probably very embarrassed that I said that, but before I didn’t really have someone modeling the behavior changes of the life that I’m living now, I didn’t even consider it was a possibility to live more respectfully for Mother Earth and more respectfully for people as well, because social justice and climate justice are, they overlap in so many ways they can’t be separated. And yeah, just having met someone—brief digression:
So when I met Florian, he’d been hitchhiking for six years and living in a tent. And I’d been living in a city environment and consuming things quite thoughtlessly. And just being able to see someone that lived differently and made a choice to live differently just opened a whole door that I didn’t even know existed. So that’s why I know and I’m inspired to see, first of all, people can change because I’ve changed a lot. And also one person can inspire so many people because for me seeing someone modeling behavior that was different, made that possibility for me, I didn’t even consider it was possible to live like that.
Sonali Kolhaktar: Sounds like you went from hustle to flow.
Rachel Powell Horne: Yeah, I guess so.
Sonali Kolhaktar: Yeah, the pivot. We are at 1:45 right now on the Pacific Coast for our West Coast audiences. And it might be a good time to jump into a couple of questions from our audience. And so if other members of the audience have questions that they’d like to post in the Q and A, please do go ahead and do so now, but we’ve had a couple come in and let me go to the first one. Alfred H. Kurland, one of our audience members, shares that one of the biggest challenges he encountered working with teams around civic enfranchisement was encouraging those who had given up on themselves for their authority figures, Alfred asks. And I’m assuming this was, this is for you Shawn, what type of participatory exercises do you recommend that facilitate activating hope and a sense of personal and or social efficacy?
Shawn Ginwright: That was a big question. I mean, I think it’s important to do a couple of things, and it can be with adults or with young people. The first is like, let’s locate some challenges. What are the challenges that young people or adults are facing, collectively facing, right? So, young people may be talking about or experiencing isolation. I know we’re back in school, they may be experiencing a lack of mental health, their ability to talk about their experience in COVID, whatever it is, but to have a collective conversation about the challenges that they are experiencing. And then the second thing is that once they understand that challenge, it’s important for them to begin to use some of the language that I talked about. If they had to imagine a solution or dream about a solution, what would that be? The participatory process doesn’t mean that you do participatory problem solving. It means that you also do participatory solutions to the issues that whatever young people or adults are facing. And so that process usually involves both identifying an issue, a problem, a challenge they are facing in their neighborhood or school. And then secondly, building the framework or building the opportunity for those young people to get together, to begin to think about solutions that may be a solution to the challenges they’re facing.
Sonali Kolhaktar: Thank you, Shawn. Elizabeth has a question for Rachel. Noting that she is discovered in herself that tiny green changes have raised her own awareness and interest in larger changes she can make, she wonders if you found that that is true as well, Rachel, or can you share any other additional thoughts? So have smaller changes led to an interest in larger changes?
Rachel Powell Horne: That’s a good question, which I hadn’t really considered. And yeah, so five years ago I worked in a bar, I’m a climate researcher now. And I never really thought about it, but of course, that’s come from coming down this path. And it maybe started with taking a bus instead of taking a plane or started with deciding to just carry on wearing my jumper with holes in their elbows for another couple of years. And the more that I made these little changes ,yeah, it’s true. Sorry, I’m a bit baffled, cause I hadn’t really put it into that context before. But I spend eight hours a day researching climate solutions and soil regeneration now. I work for a charity in England called the Eden Project, which built a huge botanical garden in an abandoned clay pit. It was completely dead, and they built this to show that regeneration of the Earth is always possible, and I cannot believe that I never saw that. But yes, so thank you for the question. Thank you for shining a mirror on my own life. I really appreciate that insight.
Sonali Kolhaktar: And actually, if our audience and our panelists don’t mind, I want to jump in with a question specifically for Ruth, as well, because our conversations had been making me wonder: For you in seeing this transformation that you underwent for yourself in managing the trauma that you had been experiencing, how did the meditation that you do the Buddhism that you’ve embraced. How did this transformation, how has it made you effective as a change maker? How has it, not just for your own peace of mind, but for the world, why is the world better off because Ruth King found her power?
Ruth King: Oh, I’m happy to talk about that. The world is a better place now. Yeah so let me just say that part of the journey is coming to a place where you can respect your reflection on your life when you look at your life, because when you can get yourself still enough to reflect on your life, and this is a privilege, reflection, cause a lot of us and so many people in my family are not able to, pause or they don’t feel like that’s something that they can do. But I did, I found my first meditation retreat as the recovery, from my open heart surgery, because I couldn’t, I didn’t have the energy I didn’t have the mobility to continue to defend myself in that way.
But I want to say that there’s been meditation, which has been profound for sure, but there’s also been other systems, wisdom systems. I’ve had years of body work and psychotherapy. I have traveled, which has, which has felt like I’ve touched the larger body of our humanity because of every place you travel to kind of wakes you up in a different way. I’ve recognized the connection between the Earth and social justice, as you were speaking to, Rachel, I see the planet as a body of color. And some of the issues that we face in terms of its exploitation and violation is parallel to that with bodies of color, especially Black bodies in the United States. So there’s been a connecting of the dots.
My father was a plumber. And one of the stories I tell is this time when he took me to this construction building and showed me the underground piping. So there’s a beauty of this building on the outside, but there was this underground system of flow that helped —you don’t want that backed up, right? So that there was a layout of the plumbing system that had to be respected in order for flow to happen. You have to slow down to recognize what your piping is for flow to happen. When we have Shawn talking about pivot, it’s in those moments of pivot that are moments of mindfulness, moments of returning or devoting ourselves to seeing and pausing just long enough, taking that one breath and relaxing with that exhale just long enough to wake up to maybe look from a different lens.
So I’ve, my mother was a jazz pianist. So I had the system of looking at improvisation magic with hands in the ways that she cooked. I saw her be quite the orator in her language and how poetic she was with words. So I think we can look at our lives and see the poetry in it, see the music in it. It requires a bit of a pause. And so mindfulness illuminated not only my reflection on waking up to how all these things were connected, but appreciating this vast humanity that we are and being so deeply moved towards our belonging and the sensitivity that we all are. We’re just one big, huge, nervous system in a way. And when we touch into that, we put ourselves in check with regularity around not causing harm. I mean, we just become a bit more sensitive toward our responsibility to life.
So I think as a leader, as somebody sitting in this seat as a great grandmother, as somebody that is still holding to a great degree, the complexity in my own family life and the corporations that I serve in the communities and leaders that I nurture and mentor, we really want to integrate a sense of respect for our journeys and the power of tenderness being that we are pausing and allowing ourselves to be infused with the truth that we are. My first book was on rage, it was on healing rage, and it’s about the power and the use of that energy for good. And that we can recognize that after, when we give that pause to it, when we can activate that pivot, when we can recognize that we’re all one body on this Earth. So I feel deeply responsible for role modeling and living true to that. And that includes owning my shit, right? Owning when I don’t get it right, apologizing right in the moment, showing my vulnerability, right? The practice of that is so humanizing, and it relaxes the shoulders, opens the heart and that’s the spring, the spring from which a lot of possibility harmony and jazz can be created.
Sonali Kolhaktar: So actually I would love to extend that framing to our other two panelists and piggyback on a question that one of our audience members, Stephanie, asks about being able to offer examples of how to make these internal shifts while still being in the middle of family work and social dynamics that may not want you to change or too slow to, to shift externally. Shawn, I’m wondering if you can start and just kind of what happens if you are ready to move forward, but your spouse isn’t or your community isn’t.
Shawn Ginwright: Yeah, I think sometimes we, it feels overwhelming to make changes, right? And so I like to think of some of these practices, we’ve all been on a diet or we’ve all had to work out, right. And we don’t expect that we’re going to lose those 10 pounds in like two days. The expectation is if I do a little bit, eat a little less, do a little bit of this more over time, I’ll get to that thing I want. That health or whatever it is. And I think this is the same thing with some of these practices, right? They’re micro practices or micro doses, that if we do them over time, it contributes to, or puts us on the journey that we want to be on in terms of creating a better quality of life for ourselves and for our community.
My friend told me, she said she got to a point where she realized that her job wasn’t to free the world, but rather to find her freedom in it. And in doing that, she’s freeing the world. And I think it’s the same thing. It’s that, where is my freedom and where is my space? These are just micro doses. It could take five minutes before you go to bed. It could take three more minutes, five minutes in the morning. These are practices that if you’re consistent, that over time will have a profound impact on the quality of life for everyone.
Sonali Kolhaktar: Rachel, same question to you in terms of the shifts, the internal shifts that you might, if you can offer an example of an internal shift while you’re still in the middle of other pressures. It’s not easy for many of us to walk away from something, and that’s actually a question that I’ve been thinking about is, does embracing the sort of change that makes us happier also something that requires a bit of privilege beforehand?
Rachel Powell Horne: Absolutely. I’m sitting here in a position of privilege and I acknowledge that completely. I had the capacity to walk away from my job and not everybody has that. Some people have got jobs, they’ve got children, they’ve got responsibilities, they’re caring for other family members. I was in a position to be able to walk away from that. And so when I met Florian after three days of knowing him, I quit my job. And I went and lived in a tent with him in Scotland for three months. So we were hitch hiking. And again, there’s privilege there, the fact that I was able to do that and feel safe while I was doing that. So yeah, absolutely. First of all, acknowledging privilege, the other question was something that really struck me, someone was asking about, if you said about whether you, perhaps your spouse, isn’t on the same level as you, and is that right?
Sonali Kolhaktar: I mean, that was my sort of interpretation. I can go back to the original question, but you …
Rachel Powell Horne: I would like, if that’s okay, I’d actually like to answer on that.
Sonali Kolhaktar: Yes, please go for it.
Rachel Powell Horne: That struck me. Your spouse, or maybe you don’t have a spouse and that’s OK too. And maybe you don’t want one, but the people in your life don’t have to be everything. No one person can be everything for you and that’s OK. I think that was an important lesson for me. So I share my life with Florian, and he isn’t interested in spirituality at all, and I am. And that’s a really important component of my practice, so that’s OK. We share some other things, and I have a spiritual community. I have a Sangha who I go and meditate with, and I think it’s okay if some people in your life don’t connect with you on everything, it’s OK to go and find different things in different people in different places.
Sonali Kolhaktar: So maybe let’s look at another question by audience member Nicole Garay, who asks all three panelists, what is different about this current time or space that we are living through now that gives you hope in applying these beautiful teachings. Ruth, I don’t know if you want to start, taking that on. What is different about this particular current time and space? And of course we’ve had seismic changes in our lives over the past two years. And it seems as though every other day, there’s something, some fresh new horror.
Ruth King: This is true. It’s tumultuous. I’ve lived 74 years, and I’ve seen things a lot worse. I think our technology puts a certain immediacy of the issues in our faces, and then we’re called to, we just, it’s not so easy to turn away. I have a lot of respect for people who need to take care of themselves at times like this. Everybody— I think like the last comment before— everybody’s in a different place. So the work is going to be different. How people respond to these times is going to be different. What I look at is not so much this time, but the dynamic of dominance and subordination that plays globally. So it’s not, we can talk about this time, but if we look at the skeletal shape of it, what we see is the dance of dominance and subordination. And if we look even closer, we can see our role in it. We can see our role in it at the individual level, we can see our role in it at the group level. And I’m speaking, mostly my work centers around race and racism. We can look at it from the lens of collective group identity, and we can then also see the shapes of this play historically, generationally at the systems level, at the political level, and especially the ideology and intentionality in this country and how important that has been to things being where they are right now.
I think we’re at a time where the fact of us being a global nation is palpable. COVID has been a good, hopefully, teacher for us. And I think what we’re called to do right now is to not turn away from the horrors and to do what we can with integrity. So it’s, I know these things are not easy. A lot of what we’re talking about here is not easy. It’s not like you can get the red pill or the green pill, and you’re set. We’re talking about practices. Can I be in a practice in my life of paying attention to what’s happening, not causing harm, right?
And also recognize that we are seed cells. Everything we we’re doing is planting a seed that will bloom. So the time we’re living in right now is the result of seeds that were planted. Seeds of consciousness or ignorance that were planted. They’re now blooming, they’re blooming in this particular flower, right? So if we want to see some different blooms, then we have to concern ourselves with the seeds we’re planting and we’re planting seeds, even if we’re unaware of them. So waking up around that is important, getting ourselves still enough so that we can listen deeply as the whole body is an ear, getting yourself to where you can tune into the nature of yourself, your body, as nature, as a force. And the more we wake up to how we are and who we are and how we pay attention to the seeds we’re planting, these are good things.
And of course it’s joining with other people. So that gets even more amplified. And there are people that are trying to, there are people that are walking this world that are interested in liberation in this way, that are interested in doing good things. Sometimes the mind can be so tight around what’s wrong, that we don’t see what’s also good, which is right there. It’s not we’re at a bad time, so it’s no good. It’s the good and the bad, the bitter, the sweet, the horrors and the joys all live oftentimes in the same breath. So can we open the lens not so much from our own self-interest, but from a more galactic view, a more global view to see our connection with each other and the power we have to influence belonging.
Sonali Kolhaktar: Shawn, I’m wondering if you can also reflect on that. Anything about this particular time that’s different, and what we’re living through that gives you hope.
Shawn Ginwright: Ruth said it beautifully. I think that we should all be thinking about transitioning from an old world to a new one, that everyone on this call has experienced some form of challenge because of COVID. And some— many— on this call have lost peoples. Many of these people have suffered. And it is in that experience that I also think is birth or possibility. And that possibility is if we’re leaving from an old world and into a new one, the question we should all be wrestling with is what am I going to leave behind in the old world? And what am I going to bring with me in the new one? And if we’re not wrestling with that question, then we inadvertently will bring old tools, old habits, old ways of thinking, old relationships that are not useful for the creation and the birthing of the new ones.
So I think what in this moment that we are experiencing gives, opens the possibility for us to actually create the kinds of things we want to see, because we’ve all experienced stuff. We’ve all experienced loss, we’ve all experienced different types of challenges. And so it is in there that challenge, right? It is in that, that tension, that uncertainty, that something more beautiful can be birthed from that. And if we’re not asking that question, though, my concern is we’ll just go back to normal, right? We’ll just get it back to normal. But if we are asking that question, then we’re going to wrestle with, who am I going to be? Who am I going to become? What does it take for me to actually create that new, the new world that I want to see?
Sonali Kolhaktar: Well, let’s wrap up our conversation, Rachel, with you, if you have thoughts on the same. I mean, I imagine as someone who’s researching climate solutions eight hours a day, you might have some wisdom to share with us. Is there cause for hope in these times?
Rachel Powell Horne: Thank you, Ruth and Shawn, I feel very touched by both of your sharings. So thank you so much. And yes, there is cause for hope. Just from my professional experience when it comes to at least the climate crisis, we already have all the solutions that we could possibly need. We already have the technology, and we already have nature-based solutions, natural sinks, absorbing greenhouse emissions. The problem isn’t that we don’t have the solutions, and the problem isn’t that it’s too expensive. It would actually be less expensive to solve all the climate emergency, which would be good, of course for social justice as well. It would be cheaper to act than to do nothing. So it’s not that we don’t have the solutions, and it’s not that we don’t have the money.
The problem is that we’re not acting fast enough. We should take heart from the fact that we are moving in the right direction of 40 indicators that recently came out in a report called “The State of Climate Action.” We were moving in the right direction for at least 25 of them if not more, there was only about nine that we were moving in the wrong direction for. The problem was simply that we were moving too slowly. So take hope we have the solutions and we have the money and we have the will — more people than ever before care about climate change, the problem is simply the speed that we are moving. So I have hope, but it’s hope with a clause that we need to keep pushing for change every day. And we need to be having these discussions all the time. And we need to be thinking about this all the time, but it’s not too late.
Sonali Kolhaktar: And I’m wondering if we can just do one more, go around with each of the panelists telling our audience where they can find out more about your work, any websites, any books you recommend, any sort of parting thoughts of wisdom briefly about here’s what I would love to, to leave you with, Ruth.
Ruth King: Thank you so much, and thank you, Rachel, for that beautiful way of inviting us to hold these issues. You can find me at ruthking.net. I’m kind of out there. I have the Mindful of Race Institute information on my website. You can also click on the publication page to get, to see the details of my book, Mindful of Race: Transforming Racism. I see it as something that everybody must read, but everybody that writes a book feels that way. It’s important for us to have a framework for how we are holding the issue wrapped in a compassionate intention that we have for ourselves and for the world. So the book is trying to get at that. And I also have the the Mindful of Race, Online Learning Academy, which offers a number of self-study online learning opportunities. And the one I would encourage the most is the Brave Space one year deep dive program into our racial conditioning. So it’s a program that is 12 months, and you sign up for that with, from four to seven other people of your choosing. So you form your group, and you are guided through a tender inquiry of your racial conditioning, as well as looking and examining what it’s like to be in this conversation. So we move through three stages of group development throughout the year, and you’re guided on how to talk to each other about race and your racial conditioning and in a relational communal field. So I strongly encourage you to get a cup of tea and just sit down and really investigate that possibility for a nurturing way to be with this very chronic deep groove pain that we live at the social political and global level.
Sonali Kolhaktar: Thank you, Ruth. Shawn, would you like to give out any websites and tell, give us the title of your book?
Shawn Ginwright: Yeah the title of the book is The Four Pivots: Reimagining Justice, Reimagining Ourselves. You can Google it, it’s on Amazon, Penguin books. Encourage you to buy it. You could also go to flourishagenda.com. My organization has a healing centered engagement certification for those who want to learn how to use the four pivots in your work, use them in your organization or in your lives. There’s a certification that we offer. It’s online. It’s flourishagenda.com. It’ll be in the chat, and you could reach us there.
Sonali Kolhaktar: And then finally, Rachel, any websites you’d like to recommend?
Rachel Powell Horne: No, not really. If anyone would like to get in touch with any questions, they’re welcome to use the email box on my website, which is RachelHornewriter.com. Or you can reach out on Instagram, although I never post anything, which is RPH_Writer. And I just wanted to say one last thing, which is that this really helped me when I was being very lost in the world. If you’re wondering: The world is scary, what should I be doing? Thích Nhất Hạnh is my spiritual teacher, and he said, “If you do one thing and you do it with all your heart, you are doing everything.” So if anybody is feeling like they don’t know where to turn, there’s so much suffering, just choose something and do it with love. And in that way, you’re doing everything. That’s all.
Sonali Kolhaktar: I love that. That’s a beautiful thing to end on. I want to thank all of our panelists so much. Ruth King, Shawn Ginwright, Rachel Powell Horne for joining us today and sharing your personal journeys with us. Thank you so much. And in the meantime, do check out the Personal Journeys issue. I’ve been reading it myself, I’m really proud of the work that our team put into to making this issue. If you don’t already have a copy of this, you can subscribe to get your own at yesmagazine.org/subscribe.
Every day at YES! we seek to elevate hope, inspiration, and solutions for better world, and that this work and these events are only possible thanks to the generous support of readers like you. Please support our work at yesmagazine.org/donate. Thank you so much for joining us, and hope all of you have a wonderful rest of your day and good night to you, Rachel. I know you’re on the other side of the world from us. Thank you all and have a great day and week.