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Mindfulness, Society and Diversity, part 2

Susan Woods and Patricia Rockman continue their conversation about Mindfulness, Society and Diversity.
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Buddhism has had a history of taking on the customs, the mores of a culture. Right there we’ve got a problem in the West right now, and this is an opportunity. This is an opportunity to peel back the layers of white privilege frankly, and not just here in the US, but everywhere.
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Those of us who have a skin color that is white have a lot to answer for, to take on, to address, and to be part of that solution. It’s too often a tendency when a crisis, like we have here in the US, I do think we have a crisis. In terms of institutional racism, social, economic, political racism, that white people will take it personally and become fear driven and see it as a threat. We have to understand that part of the solution is we have to give up things that we’ve taken as our right. We’ve assumed that this is us.
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This gets to one of the teachings that Buddhism can offer which is not self. It’s not about you personally, it is as a country, as a society. We have a huge opportunity to demand change which requires everybody to be involved. Now, we know that change politically, economically, socially takes time. That calls forth a sense of intentionality, which is very much a part of mindfulness, of perseverance, of understanding that in part of this is going to be impermanent. People are going to have to learn how to find compromise. I think Buddhism, mindfulness has an awful lot to offer.
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It also means that being passive is no longer acceptable and so on individual level, it means every one of us taking action, whatever that action might look like, it means not being passive. It’s no longer okay to be passive. To Pat’s point in a small micro level where we’re teaching, we have to understand that when we start talking, we are representing white privilege,
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and so divesting ourselves of that requires to be in the presence of others who are of a different color, gender, society, cultural experience. It means we can’t do this on our own, we can’t. I think that’s what I’ve been thinking about for myself. I will give a very short little example of this which has happened to me very early on in offering mindfulness which was that I was asked to teach in a setting which I had all the call marks of extreme poverty and I mean poverty in the biggest sense. Socially, economically, no voice being invisible. But I was asked to come and offer a MBSR course, and I went and this was in a community resource center.
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It was within a few moments that I understood that this was not going to be what I had thought was a traditional model of MBSR. There were kids running around, there were doors banging, there were people coming in and out. People would sit for a bit and then get up and leave. I was greeted with this environment in which I was the only white person.
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There was a wonderful participant who was part of this group who basically told me in very informed tones but firm, that I really didn’t know what I was doing and what I needed to do was to listen to what they wanted and then see if that was something that I could offer. So session 1 of the MBSR did not happen. Instead, it was a discussion that continued for several weeks and it ended up with community organizers being a part of the teaching. People from the community being part of the teaching, which meant that different traditions were being brought in at different times. It was a rich mix of different ways to practice mindfulness.
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Mindfulness is not just the premise of Buddhism. It’s a way of being that can incorporate different cultures, different colors, different races, different ways of being different ages. It’s not exclusive. Unfortunately, because of its origins MBSR and MBCT, it has to come exclusive. But I think now the lid is open and off and I am hopeful that over these next few years, because it will be a few years that the impetus that has started will not peter out.
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That it will be sustained and that each one of us will look to ways to sustain a movement away from white privilege and into a truly racial culture where we can live and understand and tolerate difference, but also have a sense of community which doesn’t rub one culture for the sake of another. When you think if you look at history unfortunately we’ve all being robber barons, we’ve all taken things that are not ours.

Susan Woods and Patricia Rockman continue their conversation about Mindfulness, Society and Diversity.

Leiden University

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