For weeks now, in the face of an ongoing global pandemic, and in the wake of the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery (and so many others), I have been sitting with and feeling into how to best respond to what is happening in our world. The mindfulness teacher in me is called to offer a response that is comforting, supportive and calls us to action. But the human in me feels like I just need to be honest: I don’t actually know what the most appropriate response is yet (this is literally the 8th draft of this newsletter).
I don’t know how to respond yet, because there is so much that I am still learning - About systemic injustice. About how to be a supportive emerging ally to Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC). About how my heart and mind relate to my own and other’s suffering. About how to be fully present without turning away from discomfort or what I don’t understand. And how to let it be okay that I Don’t Know.
In a group call* the other morning with Resmaa Menackem, author of My Grandmother's Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending our Hearts and Bodies, he reminded us all (though speaking very specifically to the white bodied people in the group) that it is our responsibility to learn to fully hold (with full accountability and responsibility) our own experience, so that we can engage in the necessary work of healing the unjust systems that continue to harm Black and all People of Color.
Though Resmaa was speaking very specifically about the role of white people in dismantling racism and unjust systems, his statements speaks so powerfully to the work we are doing in our mindfulness practice. On the most basic level of our practice, we are learning to be present with and fully hold our own experience. From my own practice of mindfulness, I’ve learned this requires listening, listening deeply to the nuance of what is arising in the mind and how I am relating to my experience at any moment.
In this way, mindfulness brings us closer to the truth.
As I continue to listen to those more advanced in their understanding of injustice, in particular those who are working at the intersection of trauma and social justice, the other primary message I keep getting is to keep pay attention to what is happening in the body (which I take to mean, feel and connect with what is happening in the body). So the invitation in our mindfulness practice is to continue to listen, feel and connect: to get curious about what arises in our own hearts and minds; to understand and take full responsibility for our own trauma; to explore what happens in our nervous system as we come into closer contact with our direct experience; to take a closer look at our own unexamined beliefs, views and biases and how they potentially impact the lived experience of others; to keep seeing what is true.
Mindfulness brings us closer to the truth.
I see this as one of the most foundational teachings of mindfulness practice, and the invitation at the center of this is to learn to see and hold the truth of things, as they are. Not as we wish them to be. Not as we believe them to be. Not as we have learned them to be. But just as they are. And then to grow our capacity to bear witness and remain fully present.
Inherent in the teachings of our mindfulness practice, in the practice seeing the truth of things just as they are, is the invitation to recognize the truth of our interconnection - that we live in relationship. The practice of mindfulness and healing our trauma is not for the sake of our own liberation alone, but a path of liberation for all. If our practice of mindfulness does not directly address the root of suffering in our own thinking and our participation in the suffering of others, we have misunderstood an essential point. When practiced with curiosity and an open heart, mindfulness should point us toward the profound recognition that our lives have something to do with each other. That the Bodhisattva's Vow has no sub-clause.
Or, as my former classmate, Buddhist teacher Jozen Tamori Gibson said one day in class, “Mindfulness is social justice.”
In upcoming mindfulness events (see below) the focus will be to ask and explore these deeper questions, to practice seeing the deeper truth of things just as they are, and to explore the truth of our interconnection - that mindfulness is not in service of our own liberation alone. We are practicing mindfulness for the liberation of all.