Being fully here in the presence of racism

This Sunday’s sangha continued our dialog on the important theme of race which has been a deep topic of the past few weeks. Jeff H shared a recent talk by Tara Brach titled “A Courageous Presence with Racism.”

Jeff says,

The topic is important to me. I have black family members and coworkers about whom I care, but have not taken personal action to end racism and heal America. I thought that it was enough to just not be a racist. I am ready to take action in the hope that my 9-year-old nephew may have a brighter future than he would under the status quo. It is important for me as a practitioner and member of the Sangha to do the inner work necessary to take skillful action. Together we stand a better chance of getting it “more right” so I welcome the continued dialog.

The link to the Tara Brach talk is here:

A recent reading list of books on issues of race:

A short piece written by a white man with black family members: “Dear White People: 6 Guidelines for Impactful Actions in Support of the Black Community”:

Looking at the Unseen: Whiteness as Maya, the Veil of Illusion

Jeffrey followed Mike B.’s presentation of Reverend angel Kyodo williams’ talk on the theme of Practice, Justice, and Social Change with a continued focus on racial justice and the experience of being white. We watched the video Color of Fear, in which a multi-racial group of men confront a white man’s blindness to his own racial identity and its impact on them. 

Full Color of Fear Video link (1:20)

Jeffrey’s much shorter edited version. (44 min.)

Rev. Williams states, 

“The necessary bias that the [white supremacist] system requires in order to be perpetuated has permeated our sanghas—our spiritual communities—and in this very moment, we are called to put aside business as usual.”

Williams believes that one cannot get Awakened without getting “Woke”, that is, understanding the social and historical roots and mechanisms of white supremacy. 

How do we Get Woke around the ways that white supremacy conditions, infects, permeates our practices, structure, ways of understanding, ways of communicating here, in this place? This space, this sangha? 

Discussion largely centered around the video.

More Resources

Practice, Justice, and Social Change

The minds and hearts of most people these days are filled with feelings and ideas about how we can find our way to a more just society. Yet trying to deal with the problems themselves is often quite difficult, unless we have a deeper source of wisdom to draw upon than those that are circulating in public discourse. This morning, Mike B. explored these thoughts along with a recorded interview with Zen teacher and activist angel Kyodo williams.

The interview is available here:

Other links shared during our very lively discussion include:

Hardcore pragmatic dharma

A recent and increasingly popular trend in Buddhism is “pragmatic” or “hardcore” Buddhism as exemplified by the teachings of Daniel Ingram.    Sam guided our exploration of this development by playing excerpts of video interviews with Ingram as well as some short readings from his book “Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha, An Unusually Hardcore Dharma Book”.  

The first excerpt was from:  Buddha at the Gas Pump [  #235] with host Rick Archer.

The second excerpt was from: ,  with host Liam

A third excerpt (that wasn’t played during Sangha) was hosted by Guru Viking: #14. 

Interview #40 is also with Ingram, a “pandemic edition”

Daniel Ingram’s book is available for free, with other stuff, on his website: The second edition of his book is available here: 

Samatha practice

This week’s Sangha explored Samatha, which, broadly speaking, is the practice of meditation with the intention of developing calm and tranquility.  Samatha is one of the key approaches to Samadhi, often translated as “concentration”, but better be thought of “a state of collectedness”. 

Margaret skillfully led the session, including a guided meditation by Chas Dicapua, available here:

We also listened to excerpts from a talk by Chas, which can be found here:

The daily reflections by Chas Dicapua can be found on the Insight Meditation Society YouTube page. We listened to one of these:

(These can all also be found on the IMS page on Facebook)

During the discussion, Denise recommended the following book in connection to the relation between physical tension and mental trauma:

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk 

Another dimension of Metta – Fearlessness

When we endeavor to practice metta, we may be drawn to the gentle side of lovingkindness.  However, there is another face of kindness that perhaps gets overlooked but merits a deeper exploration and attention: fearlessness.  This Sunday, Jessica built on last week’s discussion on kindness and compassion, sharing a talk by Christina Feldman who offers that the fearlessness of metta is best cultivated when there is fear – which feels especially relevant for these times.

The talk is available here:

A very influential part of the talk was the poem “Kindness”, by Naomi Shihab Nye from her book Words under the Words, which you can read below:

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye.

Keeping connected to our Hearts

How do we stay present to the suffering around and within us and not lose heart?  This time needs us – the world needs us.  As we navigate the many unknowns in this time of pandemic and experience the world around us grasping for assurance and stability (often through blame and judgment) it can be difficult to stay connected to our hearts. This week Ginny focused our time on cultivating the practice of Lovingkindness or Metta, offering ourselves, our loved ones, difficult people and the whole earth tenderness and care.

The talk we heard was “Directional Metta Practice with Jesse Maceo Vega Frey” from a Vipassana Retreat at IMS and is available here:

Here are some quotes that Ginny included:

Whatever you intend, whatever you plan, and whatever you have a tendency toward, that will become the basis upon which your mind is established.  

(SN 12.40)

The thought manifests as the word;

The word manifests as deed;

The deed develops into habit;

And habit hardens into character.

So watch the thought and its ways with care,

And let it spring from love

Born out of concern for all beings.

The Buddha; From Lovingkindness – Salzberg p. 6

Now is the time to know
That all that you do is sacred.
Now, why not consider
A lasting truce with yourself and God.
Now is the time to understand
That all your ideas of right and wrong
Were just a child’s training wheels
To be laid aside
When you finally live
With veracity
And love.
Hafiz is a divine envoy
Whom the Beloved
Has written a holy message upon.
My dear, please tell me,
Why do you still
Throw sticks at your heart
And God?
What is it in that sweet voice inside
That incites you to fear?
Now is the time for the world to know
That every thought and action is sacred.
This is the time
For you to compute the impossibility
That there is anything
But Grace.
Now is the season to know
That everything you do
Is sacred.

Now is the time – Hafiz

Equanimity and the unknown

In struggling with the many current unknowns, we are reminded that we can face anything if we focus on the present moment and meet what comes our way with equanimity.  Equanimity is a key spiritual faculty which allows us to face the known and the unknown, the ecstasies and the despairs, with steadiness and lightness. Equanimity helps us engage with life from an unlimited and interconnected perspective.

This past Sunday, despite Zoom having some technical difficulties, Eveline masterfully brought this topic into our discussion. She played a talk by Stephen Fulder that explores deeply the role of equanimity in our practice and life, how to develop it and use it to let the world in, not keep it out.

The talk is available here:

Loving our Hindrances

As we live our daily lives, in times of health and happiness or in times of great fear and uncertainty, we will encounter the Buddha’s classic Hindrances. Indeed, any experience we really notice is probably infused with a Hindrance of some kind. But the name of these phenomenons may be misleading. By paying a more subtle attention we may be able to use these aspects of our experience as a way to investigate, learn, and grow in wisdom. This week Payton guided our Sangha’s exploration of what the Hindrances are to us, how they manifest, and how they can shift our awareness in positive ways.

Primarily we listened to a talk by Nathan Glyde from Gaia House entitled “Hindrances in Daily Life or Deep Meditation”. That talk is available here:

The classic 5 Hindrances (in Payton’s interpretation) are:

  • Greed and Aversion
  • Ill-will
  • Restlessness and Worry
  • Sloth and Torpor
  • Doubt

Nathan collapses these down to 3 Hindrances which, as he says, might be easier to “fit in your pocket”.

  • Taṇhā (thirst, craving, or green)
  • An imbalance of energy in the body/mind
  • Doubt

Experiencing body mind and art to explore the dharma

This week Joey led our reflections through different modes, beginning with a guided body scan; here is a link to the body scan by Koshin Paley Ellison, Soto Zen teacher and Co-Guiding Teacher of the New York Zen Center of Contemplative Care (also the author of Wholehearted: Slow Down, Help Out, Wake Up). Scroll down past the other teachers to hear Ellison’s talk: 

Next, Joey played excerpts from a talk by Zen priest and author Zoketsu Norman Fischer on Suffering and Gratitude:   Joey writes:

The book I believe he refers to in his talk and that I have found helpful at this time is called Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong.

In these times and in all times, his point that patience gives us the capacity to welcome difficulty is one I am trying to keep in mind.  By asking “what’s happening?” when fear, anxiety or narrow-mindedness arises can actually keep us, as he says, on the path of least resistance and the smoothest approach to happiness.  He points out that the practice of patience when tough times arise, gives us the opportunity to both notice all the ways we try to avoid them and when we can turn toward misfortune or difficulty with strength, forbearance and dignity we are ennobled in the process.

He reminds us that even in suffering, there is the possibility of gratitude. Because of our pain we are more sympathetic to others.  “Finally, yes, I’m grateful.  I healed my wounds and was able to love.”

Finally, Singularity by Marie Howe: 

Jeffrey also recommended the website: