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In a Meeting

IOM Interview with Dr. Rhonda Magee

Organizational Mindfulness Podcast

About Dr. Rhonda Magee

Dr. Rhonda Magee is a distinguished educator, author and advisor. She is a Professor of Law at the University of San Francisco and an internationally-recognized thought and practice leader focused on integrating mindfulness into higher education, law and social change. 


A prolific author, she draws on law and legal history to weave storytelling, poetry, analysis and practices into inspiration for changing how we think, act and live better together in a rapidly changing world. Her most recent book is The Inner Work of Racial Justice: Healing Ourselves and Transforming Our Communities Through Mindfulness.


Rhonda experienced a childhood of significant trauma and challenge. Yet, she was gifted with the insight that through a life of caring engagement, self-development, and service with others, she could find a way up and out. She has dedicated her life to healing and teaching in ways that support others in a journey to wholeness and justice.  


You can connect with Rhonda at, on FB, and on Twitter and Instagram at @rvmagee.


The Organization Mindfulness Podcast is presented by the Institute for Organization Mindfulness and hosted by mindfulness coach Brett Hill.

The Transcript 

Brett: So welcome to the ‘Institute for Organizational Mindfulness Podcast’ and we're beyond thrilled today to welcome Rhonda Magee to the show. Let me read you a little bit about our esteemed guest. Rhonda Magee is a professor of law at the University of San Francisco, and an internationally recognized thought and practice leader focused on integrating mindfulness into higher education, law and social change work. A prolific author, she draws on law and legal history to weave storytelling, poetry, analysis and practices into inspiration for changing how we think, act, and live better together in a rapidly changing world. Born in North Carolina in 1967, Rhonda experienced a childhood of significant trauma and challenge, yet, she was gifted with the insight that through a life of caring engagement, self development, and service with others, she could find a way up and out.

She has dedicated her life to healing and teaching in ways that support others in a journey to wholeness and justice, a student of a variety of Buddhist and other wisdom teachers. She is a member of the board of advisors at the ‘University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness’, and the board of directors for Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute. A professor of law for 20 years, Rhonda teaches courses dealing with race and inequality. And of course, she co-created “Mindfulness for Lawyers”. She's the author of numerous articles, including ‘Educating lawyers to meditate’, ‘Teaching mindfulness with mindfulness of diversity’, and ‘Community engaged mindfulness and social justice’, as well as many others. In addition, you can find her incredible book, “The inner work of racial justice: healing ourselves, and transforming our communities through mindfulness” on Amazon. We are really happy to welcome to the show, Rhonda Magee.


Rhonda: Thank you so very, very much, Bret. It's really a joy to be with you.


Brett: Oh, well, thank you. So kind. I have been reading your work and looking at your papers and listening to your talks, I'm just, you have such an ambitious charter, if you will. And I'm just so impressed with the fact that you've kind of, you know, taken on such a big vision. And I just wanted to start with that. Because I mean, if we're just looking at the title of your book, ‘The inner work of racial justice’. Now, that's a really big title and a powerful topic and then the second part is ‘Healing ourselves and transforming our communities through mindfulness’. So I mean, we could talk for a month just about that. And so I just wanted to kind of break this down a little bit, or, you know, there's a lot of focus on racial justice in the world. And rightly so, of course, and your work on the inner work of racial justice really stands out to me as being unique. So how did you get focused on the inner work and amplifying that aspect of racial justice work?


Rhonda: Well, thank you for that question. You know, I think there are many different inputs, I think, to that output. You know, I think back to growing up, my growing up years, and North Carolina. I was born and raised for the early part of my life in this town called Kinston. Near the Carolina coast, not far from it. And, you know, I was raised in a house where, clearly it was still part of a segregated kind of society, and, you know, community structures. So everybody around me, in the immediate vicinity, and for miles, you know, we're black. And we knew there was this other part of town, ultimately, I learned… which seemed to have more resources, more space, bigger homes, etc, etc. So those subtle, you know, kind of, on the ground lived and embodied experiences of what it means to grow up and inherit a world that is sort of preset for who belongs where, and, you know, who has what kinds of opportunities and, implicit in that, how to value certain people versus others. I mean, those were things that I was becoming aware of as a child. Later out I would find language for that as a kind of injustice. No, a mal-distribution of the resources for thriving, which is another way I think about what we mean by injustice. Because we all as human beings need resources to survive and thrive. So I'm feeling that injustice on the ground in the communities and how we were given to think about each other and others in the world. And then growing up and fortunately, coming up during the time of what we now know, and then refer to as the civil rights era, or in certainly just post civil rights era, if you will.


Brett: Because here we're talking about the mid-70s, or late 70s. 


Rhonda: Yeah, exactly mid 70s, when, as a little girl, and then becoming a part of that generation, actually, it was really just a generation of intense efforts to desegregate many of the public institutions in the south. So I was part of the busing generation. And that experience opened up opportunities for me that hadn't been available for people like me, and I kind of grabbed on to them as best-


Brett: Yeah


Rhonda: Saluted every possible opportunity for education and the like. And I think, for me, that, all of that, that kind of alchemy of being raised in a black family with a deep actually Christian spiritual tradition, where I would see my grandmother who didn't have the kind of opportunities that I was presented with, get up every day before dawn, center herself in prayer, and in awareness of the preciousness of the day, and of whatever she might contribute, and then get us up and out of the house, and then go on to her job, which was absolutely not glamorous, cleaning houses for others. And so for me, that was also part of my formation, right? So this realization that there was a way to be in the world, even in a world deeply structured in ways that actually make it hard for us to thrive. But nevertheless, notwithstanding that, there are ways to be in the world that may be essential to our ultimate well being, even as we seek to repair and redress these kinds of injustices. So it was that deep, you know, I think observation of my grandmother, if you will, as you know, one of if not, you know, my first most significant teacher around these things. And, then fast forward to becoming a law professor, teaching about race and racism and law and with students from all around the world here in San Francisco, really widely, you know, much more diverse than the culture I was raised in, which was primarily black and white. Here in San Francisco, we've got students from all over, we've got immigrant students who've got, you know, language differences and very vast cultural differences. And it was very clear to me that simply teaching the cognitive information, the history, the cases, how to analyze them, as a lawyer and law professors, what we do, just teaching that without addressing it, was clearly a missed opportunity.


So it was clear that we were missing an opportunity to kind of open up inquiry into how everybody's lived experiences, how our family backgrounds, how the aspirations that got us into the same room shows something very much in common, but also, if we can navigate it presented this beautiful opportunity for learning about the, you know, interlocking complexities of 21st century social, political, legal life. And I really felt like if we were going to be training lawyers to be able to engage and serve this radically diverse population that we have in these changing times, if we couldn't figure out a way to support folks and looking at the wounds they're carrying, based on their social identities, looking at their reactivity, emotional challenge in studying and preparing to practice law around these difficult issues. If we didn't support those ways that the whole person is already engaged in these issues. If we only thought about what was happening in the brain, we really would be missing some opportunity, maybe for not only, you know, serving better, but really healing ourselves along the way. And so I started to kind of bring in what I had found useful for myself, right, my own practices, my own healing work, creating opportunities for my students to look at their own stories to tell stories that break bread together, we started eating more in the classroom, integrating these interpersonal practices, or connecting as we were doing the cognitive learning, and that the success of that what my students were telling me about how well and showing me about how they were connecting how they were sometimes crying, but on the other side of the tears, finding themselves more grounded and more able to do this work and to prepare for work today, that just kind of inspired me to keep going.


Brett: So what did that connectedness make possible in terms of education? 


Rhonda: Yeah. Well, I think, you know, there's so many different ways that actually research has shown learning is always completely social and emotional. When we're just learning that… my generation didn't really, we weren't taught to understand that. But today is certainly starting in K through 12. But if we're really paying attention, we see that this doesn't end. Once we get these young, beautiful young adults in our universities, learning anything is completely socially and emotionally embedded. Right? We are not just learning from this place. And so creating this opportunity to integrate the whole person, I will say that I also happen to be teaching at a Jesuit university, which is infused with this sort of philosophy of cure personalities, like healing. And so there's-


Brett: A little more sense of the whole person in their classroom. 


Rhonda: Exactly, exactly so that was already there. And then also, you know, I got involved along the way with this network of folks in higher education, who were interested in what we call contemplative ways of teaching and learning. So not only mindfulness, but exploring the way that first person experience, carefully and thoughtfully examine,  not just sort of take our experience and fuse with it. And whatever biases we have, we go with that, no, but like, but at the same time, recognizing that our experiences are shaping, how we relate to information, what we're drawn to and what we resist. So there's a way in which this approach to education that I was drawn to at the same time as a pedagogical or craft aspiration, right, how do I teach it to others who were teaching in a way that's understood? Yes, learning is fully social and emotional. Yes, perhaps something about the whole person is relevant, but what is that, and really seeing first person experience, then second person experience. How we are together in the classrooms, and then those learning communities are also really important to help us learn, right? How we learn, how we listen to each other, how we integrate, go from what we're studying together in common, the text we're studying together, exposing, thinking about what we know innately, the learning we bring, the barriers to learning that I face, which may be different for you, that interpersonal aspect, those who teach in a contemplative way, understand is also really important to learning. And then the third person is a piece of that, is a part of that third person Ways of Knowing, meaning the scientific method, reading other people's scholarship, scholarship and research.


So in a way, my own personal preferences, if you will, and passions in terms of both what I was interested in teaching, but also how I was drawn to teach sort of opened me up to this really now, international network of folks who teach in subjects from social work on the one and to physics on the other, and everything in between, including law, using this different approach. So and we've, you know, been writing and exploring and researching in ways that help answer this question even more fully, right? How does this help learning it turns out, it's really, really essential. And it can also help us, you know, see the connection between what it is that we're studying and who we are, in a deeper sense, our deep values. Again, there's research that shows, students scholars, those of us who are seeking to learn if we pause at the front end of a learning engagement, and think about what our values are, and clarify a little bit why it is the why for us, and then perhaps if we add a little bit of gratitude, think about those that enabled us in some way or another to get here. Centering on those things, on values and on appreciative inquiry. At the front end of an educational exercise is also again, something that is connected, something scholarship has helped us understand. So we are very practical in the sense of like, how do we help people learn? And it turns out all of these things that seem to be soft and not necessarily about the cognitive are really important to actual performance.


Brett: Wow, wow. So you're, you're really difficult to summarize, I think, but it's like, focusing on not just a subject at hand. But who am I in relation to the subject at hand? 


Rhonda: Absolutely. And what is that process, really thank you for bridging it that way. Because that allows us to really, you know, kind of turn it a little bit more toward these issues, around social identity and the work that I've been doing around race, which is only a part of it, but certainly an important part that's often difficult to address. Now that you know, and I found that difficult to address, certainly, if we don't open up the box to these different dimensions that are often left out of the conversation. Yeah, there's that process by which we're making a sense of self all along the way.


And this question of how we relate to the subject matter, in ways that may affirm or challenge the sense of self is a really important one for us, all along the way. You know, educators today are really mindful of how, for example, if we can embed in our students this sort of enthusiasm for working through challenge and seeing it as you know, part of the process of learning as opposed to having to defend a kind of, you know, whatever, they're not doing right and resist being wrong. Right? How are we relating to the challenges that come up? On every level, not just cognitive, but emotional, I resist that I'm feeling right, inferior because of that. Social? Oh, if I acknowledge that, am I going to be seen by my people going to be seen in a certain way? In other words, there yeah, that question of how are we relating to the subject matter? And to the sense of who we are in the process of learning? And what is that? What does that say about what we can do together in different types of groups that come together in learning communities? All of that, to me, is, it is really what makes me you know, really what makes me enthusiastic about this contemplative approach to teaching and learning.


Brett: Yeah, yeah. Well, it's such a big vision and scope. And, you know, it's impressive to me. Wow, go try to actually step into the wholeness of that in a way and execute, if you will deliver on trying to make that promise a reality. One of the things you said earlier in the conversation caught my attention, which was like, the thing that got you in the room. So here, we're all in this room, and we're all from various, you know, different cultures and different histories and different biases and belief systems. And I, and it made me think, like, okay, so and then a teacher like you walks in, and I'm wondering, do you feel like the people in that room have the tools that they need to have the conversations that they need to have?


Rhonda: You know, actually, no, mostly? Mostly No, because I, you know, I don't think although this approach to teaching and learning is becoming more prevalent, it's also being taken up in a culture that's very test oriented and over pressed, right, our schools are often under-resourced. Our teachers, at every level, are under-resourced, and in many, many ways.

Brett: Yeah. Yeah. Undervalued, underappreciated, under-funded. Yes.


Rhonda: Yeah, exactly. And, you know, borrowing and working, overworking and working two jobs and working Uber and then teaching…  I mean it is so at the state of education, right? And so and then of course, too, we have the kind of horror and gift and beauty of these things are gifted. Right, which is, you know, again, so great, right? For so many things, it's enabled a lot and let's just say and the distraction of the mind narrows in some ways, right, that can come with the way that we are being seduced by these devices to kind of keep focusing on the thing. That we are already drawn to all of these things and more than I can say here combined, that come combined to make it challenging to really create these places and spaces where people feel safe enough, brave enough, supported enough to pause to put the devices well aside and turn toward the inner technologies that exist for us, but are often underdeveloped. for understanding our own emotional experience. Well, for processing some of the ways we've worked so hard to get to a certain place and left a lot behind. I just had a session with some new law students. Last week, I was invited to another law school to help with orienting our law students. So really, again, to your specific question, are the students prepared? Usually not. And more and more I've been invited in to assist with orientations. So the first… In fact, at this law school, I was their first introduction to a law professor, right, and how to shape the foundation.


Brett: Otherwise, pressure on setting first impressions.


Rhonda: But otherwise, you know, if we don't think about that process by which we're introducing what it means to learn, and to know. And if we don't start to shift, how we how we think about that, and how we introduce it, and how we embody that, and then we're always fighting an uphill battle, because one says, you know, once we've reinforced the idea that whatever she's talking about, that's, you know, that's not lost, right? Law school is how we argue. If we, once we reinforce this idea that, you know, to do well in school is to get those good grades and to get, you know, we narrowly think about the medallions or the rewards of the outcomes of education, as opposed to thinking more about the inputs. If, as we if we don't, really, if we don't have that courage to disrupt, to kind of break some of the models of how we educate, then we are it is it is difficult, we're constantly finding ourselves, having to figure out how to shift the curricular, you know, structure, the curricular, the CO curricular offerings, to make space for this.


So at my university, I've had the good support and opportunity to bring a kind of contemplative or mindfulness into the larger organization. So I've been able to bring it started, it didn't happen overnight. Yeah, this all started back in the 2000s. With going to my dean at the time and saying, you know, I think we're missing something here. And fortunately, having him say, I just heard from some alums, who have been saying, why is it that law school doesn't teach this, that and the other in more effective ways, and they were speaking to what it is that you're wanting to offer? Let me support you in making that happen.

Brett: Oh, wow, that's fortuitous. And not surprising at the same time.


Rhonda: Right. So that was one of the things that happened about 15 or more years ago now, where I had a kind of a crisis of like, ‘I can't keep teaching in these very narrow ways’. And my leader at that time of the law school, was open enough and was also again, hearing from our other constituents, our alarms, who pay those contribution checks about what we should be doing differently. And it jelled, when I think that's the other thing that mindfulness can help us do. Have both the awareness when things are shifting, and the courage to be the one to say, I'm seeing something here. And we're usually... we will usually find if we have that courage, we're not alone. We may not be in the majority. But as one and two of us come together, right as we come together. And so what happened was I came together with a couple of other professors who were also seeking something more and wanting to bring it into the classroom, for ourselves and for our students and for folks we would serve. And we came together and decided to develop not only a course, on mindfulness on lawyering and professional development, with this values-based ethics, focus on Social and Emotional kind of way of helping students who had already gotten the traditional knowledge and skills and values apprenticeships of law school, right, we offer this course that men still do in a way that makes it most appealing to people in their third year. So this is after you've already done all these things, we offer this one seminar learning and kind of integrating opportunity in that course. But we were mindful of the fact that we needed more than that course that students might get in their third year.


So we began to offer and we continue to do so. Drop in meditation opportunities for our students, staff, faculty, whomever would be willing. And in those ways and speakers on the theme, integrating those perspectives in you know, coming from outside, you know how that is, if you bring in some great aminata from somewhere else, right? We also were studying mindfulness, the law. So in other words, we decided we needed to try and change the culture by using a lot of different inputs to that. And so, grads working. Yeah, it has helped. I mean, it definitely has changed. And you know, what also helped this coronavirus pandemic, oh, wow, this last year, we had such a kind of consistent uptake for these mindfulness offerings. When we're doing it in person, when everybody has somewhere else to go. People would drop in and drop out and come and go, right. But during this last year, we've just had a core of people who are there every Wednesday when we open up, you know, every session. And, that also was interesting, too, because we're doing it online, making it easier for folks wherever they are, if they have an interest and a need, if you will, to join us. And so again, my class on mindfulness and love, you know, fills up as soon as we open it. And then in other ways, too, in my non mindfulness in law classes, right, my personal injury law, my tort law class, I'll have students, first of all, they know that I do this in my other classes, and they kind of are looking and waiting for me to bring it up.


Brett: Let’s be patient with the tort law now.


Rhonda: They're encouraged, they're like, ‘Yesss, Okay, can we pause?’ The pause, I don't necessarily, you know, put the M word out there all the time. We are together more. That's right. It's like stealth, right? Just in the way that we do it, pausing and creating spaces for them to turn and parents share and reflect together and get. And then ultimately, I'll have students when they're really stressed, meet me in the hallway, when we're in person, they would see me coming in and say ‘professor Magee, please. We just had this, you know, big midterm in this class paper over here. Can you please bring mindfulness and can pleases offer meditation in class today’ pleading with you to... and after, for example, the big political events, so the past few years, certainly or the incidents that happened, whether it's shootings or violence, or I've been called, and along with others created spaces, again, so people are starting now to kind of rely on this dimension, as part of what may be a more wellness based place, legal institution, institution for learning and growing in a difficult time? What that looks like, yes, it probably needs to embed something like this.


Brett: So do you find that... I mean, it seems to me like if you're going to talk about racial equality and inequality, that, you know, a law school would be a great place to have those kinds of conversations. And so I'm wondering about the intersection of your work with mindfulness and facilitating, you know, a meaningful conversation about race relations, and who are we in that whole big conundrum? And I know, that's, like a huge giant question, but I really am interested in, in how well basically the whole topic of your book and mindfulness in it, in helping us sort out our issues related to race.


Rhonda: Yeah. Right. And, you know, thank you so much for bringing us back specifically to that. As we all know, today, perhaps more than we knew 10 years ago, five or three. The issues around race and racism in our culture are always really just beneath the surface right. And more challenging and difficult to address than we have often been given to understand. And so and really everything that I've been describing, in a certain sense has been fundamentally driven by my, you know, despair, frustration, sadness with what I feel is sort of the core project of legal education, which is to assist us in developing a deeper set of skills and capacities for addressing the biggest, most challenging issues of our time. Without violence, without violence, without violence. Yeah, this, to me is what law and legal education has as its core apprenticeship like, how do we do that, and in a, you know, a democratic, multiracial, multicultural, democratic system with a legacy and a history of not really being multiracial or multicultural, really. Right, having to struggle with these-


Brett: Or at least being fair about that, being thoughtful about that.


Rhonda: Yeah, exactly. We not only have not historically been fair, we've literally if you look at the history, embedded in the structure, you know, in the Constitution itself, restrictions on who can be counted as people for purposes of right. The you know, the numeration, is that counted for representation for seats in the House and the Senate and taxation. In other words, we embedded right at the Foundation, sort of a compromise around different types of human bodies. And what I'm talking about here are the slavery compromises that are in the, you know, the foundational documents of our Constitution, contradicting the… some of the beautiful language from our other foundational document, the Declaration of Independence, this is the one we like to think about as being the Constitution, but is that all men are created equal. Oh, by the way, of course, they really did mean ‘men’ at the time. So that was the other, you know, hidden compromise around value, with a male sort of supremacy in there.


So, you know, this is just to point toward a bigger set of issues and reflections that we might have, and that I have in the work that I do with my law students around how, you know, we have these beautiful founding documents, right, the Declaration of Independence, it doesn't have the force of law, but you can ask people, immigrants from anywhere around the world, about the themes that drew them to this country, and they will, they will name some of the language and aspirations of that declaration that seeing so much to our potential as a democracy. And then you have the constitution, the preamble, right, “in order to form a more perfect union…” Right, “establish justice”, all of that. But then in the terms of the Constitution itself, you know, Native Americans and those who were enslaved, although slavery not mentioned itself, all of these various provisions in the Constitution, the importation and migration clause, right, this was a clause that was really winking and nodding about, we're bringing in certain people. And we're going to keep bringing those people in to enslave people for 20 years, this is protected in the Constitution, and look up the importation and migration clause. In other words, we were founded in compromise around deep notions of what we really meant about a democratic society. It wasn't meant to include all of us. And so now we are, we have repaired that with this, the harsh crucible of a civil war that we had new constitutional amendments, the 13th, 14th and 15th.


That came after the war that actually helped remake the Constitution, including the equality language, from the, the equality language from the Declaration of Independence that didn't make it into the first constitution comes in in the 14th amendment, the Equal Protection clause that we only get after the Civil War. So the Civil War, of course, then remade the Constitution. But then we fought over that and the Supreme Court, which is, you know, I've written about, you know, comes from the people and comes from the culture of our time. In place, the Supreme Court looked at those post-Civil War amendments, the 13th, 14th, and 15th. And interpreted them to mean not much for the liberation of black people, the people interpreting those provisions, some of them were themselves from former slaveholding families, some of them were from the KKK and other organizations.


These were the people who then interpreted that. And so we had segregation, separate, but equal, that actually was on equal, or, you know, the lifetime of my mother and grandmother and almost mine, until we once again sort of fought to expand the notion of what we could be as an inclusive, democratic society. And so we're still in some sense, you might say, fighting that same battle today. And because at the core, I think of what law as a part of this beautiful system, you know, the judicial branch, part of the legislative and executive, right, the systems that make up our constitutional democracy, if this judicial branch can't be a place where the lawyering branch, where we wake up to what might be getting in the way of us doing our part, to help create the capacity to resolve conflicts in ways that support the underlying aspirations of, of this kind of democracy, then we are I mean, I just, we, we see what we get, you see folks who continue to turn the same old, you know, patterns of us versus them have a limited notion of the possible for us, when, you know, again, I think, in order to form a more perfect union, that's what we're supposed to be about, and we can do it. But it's, it's, it's more difficult than is advertised. And that's why we've been trying to bring in these different approaches.

Brett: And so you think mindfulness, then, is a tool that can help people to relate in a more informed way to these inequalities and the embedded structure, structural institution, institutional and just what I want to say, the inherent inequality embedded in the institutions that we've all grown up in.


Rhonda: Exactly. And some of us have benefited from. 


Brett: Well, yes, of course. Yes. That's what I mean. 


Rhonda: This is what makes it hard. Yeah, yes, we can have that understanding. I had a student come up to me when I recently did this, this engagement. And, you know, I had two things that are sort of coming up from me in response to, as you're articulating this from that engagement. One is when I had a student first, in the space that we created, pause and speak about, you know, a couple students in different ways talked about how they had worked so hard to get to that moment, how we got to the room, which again, I like to have people think about seriously. This one student reflected how they kind of have almost forgotten, not thought about the things they'd left behind. For seven years. The undergraduate, the work, the moving across the country, hadn't thought about the communities, hadn't thought about the actual kind of the, the gifts, if you will, that they actually were carrying from having grown up in that place, the people they'd left behind and their struggles, they had just been put aside in the service of let's get here.


So reconnecting the dots stitching together these worlds is, I think, part of what we need to do, remembering those who didn't have the opportunities that we have, and having a sense of responsibility that comes from understanding that we benefited in some way from that. So there, that was one thing coming up, but also had a student come up after my presentation said, ‘Well, you know, mindfulness seems so personal. And I just think we should just have reparations’ and this happened to be a white male bodied student. And he was just like, ‘we should just have reparations and, you know, be done with it’.


Brett: Be Done. Yeah, that would be the end of it. 


Rhonda: Yeah. And I said, well, and so he was like, ‘I'm not sure how mindfulness helps’. And I said, ‘Well, just think if we can pause and think what might get in the way, first of all even getting to reparations, but also what might help… what might be a part of how we're holding the idea. We can be one and done, right, we can sort of pay our way out of this. So there's both, even if we could pay our way, many, many of us when sitting down to write a check or make space for someone in the way that actual reparations would require, right, giving, paying a little bit more taxes or sharing space, in a school, or in a community, with those people that we hadn't been raised to share space with, we're gonna have some reactivity to that. It might sound like a good idea. And I said that to him, I said, you know, what might get in the way if today, there were an act of recreational act, and you had to contribute, and you might, you know, have to kick in a contribution, you might have to witness more space being made here or there, and what might be some of the emotions that might... and he’s pausing he was like, ‘I think, actually I know what you’re saying’.


So yes, let's talk grand about big, you know, structural change, but we're gonna, can we move at the speed of the human, and we operate at the speed of healing and trust-building is, it's you know, is much more difficult than is advertised to actually do the things that we think we would be willing to do. And once you have that kind of humbling, right, you know, we need a kind of humility to counteract the beautiful grandiosity and the beautiful, like, you did this that comes with lost students in particular.


Brett: And that certainty that we just met in ten seconds but I’m absolutely certain that…


Rhonda: Exactly. And so helping form lawyers who can have a moment of pause and a moment of really like checking some of the ways that hubris and a lack of empathy. You know, this is the last I’ll say of this insightful group of students. You know, one of the exercises I did with them is ‘What are some of the phrases that you grew up with?’ I had them do a little of creative writing, poetry writing to help them exercise, help them get to know themselves and each other.


Brett: I love that. Bringing poetry into this


Rhonda: Right? I did that in my book too. But just to give them a template to make it easier, I didn’t tell them ‘Write something’, I said ‘Here’s the template’ where we look at where we are from, where are you from, and include things like ‘what were some of the objects that you grew up around? What were some of the plants that if you went outside in one of the places you’d call home you’d see and maybe something that grounded you and made you feel safe? What are some of the phrases that you heard someone say so often that it became a part of you?’ And one of the students said ‘I was told ‘sucker up buttercup’ whenever anything difficult happened to me and you know it helped get me here. But I’m now in this moment pausing and really reflecting on how could that also somehow not always  be the support in a world where not...’. Not everybody is always… it’s hard on everybody, which is the message she got. ‘Suck it up because you’re not gonna get any break, no one gets breaks’. And she said ‘I get that and it helped to get me here but that might get in the way of me imagining a world where it isn’t quite so hard for everybody.

And you know, we have this kind of embedded teachings, that we don’t often pause and see, and have the space and the safety, to just look at a different person. And it’s that kind of thing that I think helps us look at embedded racism, amd embedded notions of limited pie, that if we’re really going to make good on these moments to look at racial justice and injustices differently and… By the way when i think of racial justice I think of people like Martin Luther King who just meant this kind of love in the way of justice. I can talk in the way of this philosophical, jurisprudential ways of thinking it in law, but really it is that fear’s a non-transactional familial, fraternity, sorority or fellowship, right? 


And really thinking about what would mean for those who we know are suffering without healthcare, thinking what wtat would mean for those who are suffering with climate injustices and are disproportionately vulnerable to this you know… the flooding, and the fires. And so it’s not only about race, but race as a part of what might make us close our hearts… to those who don’t quite have enough. That helps feed the narrative of why it's ok that we all have to constantly compete and struggle and feud in some ways. You know racism has been infused with capitalism from the founding and so this idea that some people have to suffer so others can do well. Or this normalization of systems of, you know, excesses, and this is… that are quietly built on real suffering. That’s kind of what we inherited and I say we because if you were born in this country no matter your packaging, I mean I inherited some of that too. You know I now live in San Francisco on land that was cleared of native americans so people like me, ultimately, with my degrees and my jobs and my two cars, can live here.

So no matter the races. This is where race intersects, with class and certain kinds of religion, certain kinds of facility with language. There are certain things that our culture allows to justify maintaining this sort of real inequality and suffering of those who don’t have enough. And so I love that this one student was like ‘maybe, as a hidden mantra, “just suck it up” might not be exactly what I want to give my kids or what I want to keep telling myself. That to me is what this kind of mindfulness can do, it can support us really first with kindness and compassion looking at our own lives, looking at how we got here. And the good, the bad, the ugly. You know, not needing to defend it. And from that place seeing where we might need to heal our hearts so that we can open our hearts to the suffering of other people and recognize where our values might suggest, actually we can do better than this. And then figuring out how we can work together across real and perceived differences, to actually do better, and be better, and give better in a world that is trying to tell us, in every possible way it seems, ‘yo what is it that’s not working with me?’. 


Brett: ‘Hello?’ 




Rhonda: Every possible way. Like ‘let’s throw a virus at them. How about flooding?’ 


Brett: ‘What’s that smoke coming into the city?’ 


Rhonda: ‘What about immigrants flooding in?’


Brett: ‘Why are all these angry people in the streets?’ 


Rhonda: Exactly. ‘Why are they so angry everywhere?’. So something’s not working. So how did we do, whatever… starting with ourselves, with being more aware, with compassion, kindness. But also with, you know, I’m looking for the right word for this. I do think there’s a certain kind of growing up like really landing… And you know something beautiful about being in our culture is that it is very used-oriented, very looking toward the future and I do think part of that wisdom, discerning how to change in ways we might need to change if we are gonna survive these times. It really does require some kind of, when we talk about reckoning, when we talk about right measure, really being in the right relationship with each other, with our history, the planet, the resources we are using. It’s not that we don’t have a lot, we do have a lot of abundance, but it’s not unlimited. And we do have responsibilities, we’ve inherited so much, to be alive on this planet no matter our background.


So what are our responsibilities to try and leave the world a little bit better than we found it and I think for me mindfulness is a support for that kind of reckoning and has implications for dealing with race, racism, gender, questions about how we are “doing gender”, how we relate to the idea of the feminine and masculine and people who don’t choose one or the other. That lack of choice may sometimes show up in ourselves… how do we create space for, in an adult way, speak the truth about life. And about our responsibilities in this radically interconnected world. That is something that I think I hope mindfulness can do for us and maybe help us heal ourselves and our communities along the way.     


Brett: That’d be nice. Wow. Like I said when we started this conversation. such a gigantic scope and I can see now why your scope is so big and it gets down to the heartfulness, I think. Like you mentioned Martin Luther King and his incredible capacity to ring that giant bell of love hidden in us and that I hear coming from you so richly. And it’s inspiring to me and I’m sure to our audience. So, how can people find out about you?  And what you’re doing. 


Rhonda: Thank you so much. So I’m available online in different places. I’m gonna be keeping that out to date more in the coming months. So check me out at and I am available on different apps like insight time and meditation places,,, every once in a while I go on Dan Harris’s “Ten Percent Happier”. But also on social, Facebook and Twitter. And my book “The Inner Work of Racial Justice” is in fact coming out in paperback in just a few weeks, in September. And I love that in paperback it’s going to be a little more affordable and we had a chance to update it just a little bit as well. So please stay in touch. Once I’ve had a conversation like this I think it’s great to hear from folks that heard something and I’m totally open to being emailed out of the blue. You can find me online. 

Brett: Thank you. I’d like to read a closing for your book of what I felt was almost like an offering and conclusion and has a prayer-like quality and it is “may we bring ourselves to continual conversation with one another and with the racial injustices here and now, ending the suffering and making things right one moment, one risk, one luminous reconnection at the time”. Thank you so much, I’m sure this is going to be amazing for our listeners. And thank you for your work. And let’s do-let’s keep in touch. We’ll talk to you soon.


Rhonda: I’d love that. Thank you so much Bret. Be well. 

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