spirituality, social justice + healing spaces

 bookends to my summer:
two radical events steeped in activism, equity + healing.
drawn into these moments by either
an endorsement or invitation from dear friends —

i arrived without expectation,
holding the intention to be present + open-hearted.
i departed: aligned, affirmed + inspired.
fully nourished, energized + equipped to continue the good work.

18th annual
allied media conference
wayne state university | june 19, 2016

It was truly an honor to have been a part of the Allied Media Conference‘s healing justice practice space where I led a session on cultivating embodied self-compassion. To my surprise, the beautiful souls who joined me filled the room with breath, loving awareness, and the good energy they carried from Ann Arbor, Detroit, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Montreal, Seattle, Boston, NYC, Maryland and Mississippi!

Afterward, I had the pleasure of connecting with Nse Umoh Esema, Program Director of MIT CoLab, and Sofia Campos, a student affiliate of the center. Our conversation became part of an interview they selected to be featured among CoLab Radio’s profiles on how “workshop facilitators from the 2016 Allied Media Conference use collaborative processes grounded in media, art and technology to address the roots of problems and advance holistic solutions towards a more just and creative world.”

what i experienced + witnessed

freedom of movement, creativity, + being
joy of human expression in body, voice + spirit
abundant power of  multi-generational, multicultural, multi-gendered collaborative energy

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learn: allied media
meditatethe practice of arriving
read: how to awaken self-compassion through meditation

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buddhist peace fellowship’s dharma + direct action workshop
zen temple of ann arbor | sept 3 + 4, 2016

I spent a week slowly emerging from the dharma bubble created by the cumulative energy of holding and being immersed in a healing-centered space with compassionate, justice-minded folk committed to integrating spirituality with social awareness. There’s still much content to process and unpack! But I’m excited to share this glimpse into our weekend of laughter (or “blessed foolishness,” as my friend so-aptly sanctified it), truth-telling, idea-sharing, and fellowship over thoughtfully-prepared meals and simulated exercises in direct action.

amplified and affirmed

I experienced the buzz and boom that arises from living in alignment with my deepest values and connecting with others who are doing the same! Below are two contemplations that I’ve sat with over time, unpacked with my circle of good spiritual friends and, with diligence and discernment, have integrated into embodied practices. It was gratifying to not only voice them in this larger forum of peers, but to also hear them amplified and affirmed throughout the weekend of training.

  • My discomfort with and desire to dismantle hierarchies of learning where one person is positioned to bear and transmit knowledge — often deferring to age, experience, education. I’ve always approached teaching as the facilitation of a process or experience rather than the imparting of instruction and information. That one-way funnel creates a sense of bloodletting that leaves me feeling drained. So I encourage a collaborative dynamic wherein practitioners learn to trust and be accountable for building their capacity to integrate new information in ways that develop skillful action and wisdom.Whether in friendships, spiritual communities, professional environments, or social activist circles, how can give room for the range of understanding — newly-formed queries and untested ideas, emerging insights, and seasoned wisdom — from elders and youth alike? By embodying “the posture of the listener” and learning alongside one another as tutors.
  • In discerning how to skillfully inhabit the role of a sangha builder and facilitator, I resonated deeply with the teachings of Master Linji (chronicled in Thich Nhat Hanh’s Nothing To Do, Nowhere To Go) who offered a more equitable view of teacher and student in the form of guest and host. Challenging traditional notions of occupying an elevated status as guru or “master,” Linji radically accepted and encouraged the fluidity between roles — where guest becomes teacher and teacher the guest. Just as Linji considered himself to be a good spiritual friend, we can expand our idea and practice of being an “ally” to one who embodies the deep care and commitment to support the liberation and well-being of others.

a few shining examples

Ideas and practices offered by the facilitators (marked BPF) and a fellow participant.

  • Block Harm. Build Solutions. Be Present to What Arises. (BPF) — The three elements around which the Buddhist Peace Fellowship centers its approach to integrating spirituality and social justice.
  • Communicate Access Needs (BPF) — Naming the accommodations, considerations or support we need to best access the learning.
  • Cultivate Sympathetic Joy for Marginalized Communities (BPF)– Neither spiritual nor activist groups are immune to the sting of white privilege, guilt, shame, defensiveness, confusion, fragility and misperception. The complex process of healing and reconciliation is different for the marginalized and the for privileged (especially, when there is a mixed level of capacity, experience, understanding and resilience). Engaging in justice work together all too often re-exposes marginalized folks to the very same toxic thoughts and behaviors that are rooted in systems of oppression. This triggers deep hurts that can hinder or derail the collective endeavor toward impactful change. So it is critical to provide refuge–time and separate safe space–to center, care for, and protect the mental/emotional/spiritual/psychological needs and well-being of people of color, disabled persons, LGBTQ people, and others.

To that end, the facilitators established caucuses based on racial identity. (True story: this elicited a moment of cognitive dissonance for me and later sparked a conversation with my dear friend and training companion on earned trust, which merits its own post.) In this process, white practitioners were asked to recognize that part of “doing their own work” as allies/good spiritual friends is to block harm. They were also invited to draw on the spiritual faculty of mindfulness and turn their gaze inward, looking deeply into any arising discomfort/fear/resistance and transforming it into sympathetic joy for our safety and well-being.

  • Develop + Refine Skillful Listening — Deep Listening and Skillful Speech are core principles and foundational practices for Buddhists. So it was hardly surprising that, when asked to pick a dharma superpower to use in direct action exercise, several of us chose the power of listening. During the discussion that followed the exercise, we were able to unpack the challenges and limitations of our capacity to listen in heightened emotional circumstances and reminded, in particular, of the many biases that further hinder it. A fellow practitioner offered the insight of the four levels of listening, which she later sent to me:

1. Listening from the cocoon where everything sounds like the people from Charlie Brown talking.
2. Listening for whether people are for or against you.
3. Listening empathically.
4. Listening people into their own wisdom.

  • Vow Not To Burn Out (BPF)  — Referencing Mushim Patricia Ikeda’s Great Vow for Mindful Activists, the facilitators spoke to the real and unmerciful impact of justice work on our well-being: secondary trauma, burn out, compassion fatigue, physical harm and ill health. To sustain our engagement, we again call on the Buddhist wisdom of looking deeply with equanimity into how we balance our aspirations with our available resources to take/sustain action. We then assess our present-moment capacity within the frame of the “long view”– imagining how now-based actions reach into the future to touch generation after generation, as indigenous elders teach. Alongside of such honest evaluation, we honor and tend to our well-being with healthy practices that restore, energize and ground us!

As we embrace and live out the call to serve and create a more just world, may we cradle in our hearts this beautiful question lifted up in the training: “In this moment, what best serves life?”

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learn: buddhist peace fellowship
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