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Lions Roar : July 2018
NOT HAVING TO EXPLAIN is a major reason many people with disabilities come to the Every Body Every Mind sangha. When this group gathers, some people lie on the floor. Others are in wheelchairs. Some stand. Some sit. Whatever you need to be comfortable to practice is what you do, respecting your own access needs and those of others. “When I’m here, no one stares or asks me what my disability is,” says one participant. “I can just be myself, and not my dis- ability, even though it is a part of me. People just get it.” EBMC is mindful of the needs of this sangha and has adapted its language so the term “sit” is replaced by “meditate” to allow for people of all abilities to meditate in a way they feel comfortable. As well, new iPads with credit card squares for electronic donations are placed at wheelchair height, allowing everyone access to this technology. “What other center thinks of that?” asks one participant. “It sounds small, but there’s a bit of dignity restored when I feel seen like that.” EBMC is also aware of those with multiple chemical sensitivities and asthma, and so has implemented a strict fragrance-free policy. One of EBMC’s most groundbreaking programs is the White and Awakening in Sangha program (WAS). Ikeda says this program offers dharma practice through the lens of liberation, which allows those who are part of the dominant white culture to understand what is needed to practice harmoniously and supportively with people of color and multiracial people. As well, EBMC’s inclusivity extends to issues of class and economic status by using a gift economy structure to support itself. People attending its programs are encouraged to think about how much they are actually able to give to support what they experience at the center, instead of EBMC charging a set price and possibly creating a barrier to practice. BUT HOW DOES RADICAL INCLUSIVITY work when EBMC offers some events and groups that are open to all, and other identity-based sanghas not open to all? Mushim Ikeda says navigating this is one of EBMC’s biggest challenges. “Each group has its own space and cleans up and makes space for another. However, that is limited, as groups aren’t meeting that way,” she says. “So the challenge becomes how do we invite people to be together in community? And what if the different groups have needs that are opposed to one another?” One participant says accepting what isn’t working right now is key for the growth of EBMC. “It’s not a perfect space, and it allows for that, for being okay with it not being perfect,” they say. “It’s about growing together. One of the things Larry Yang talks about is learning to break together versus breaking apart. How do we stay, instead of parting ways?” Yang writes about this in the context of spiritually bypassing, in which practitioners “use the goal of awakening or liberation to rationalize what I call premature transcendence: trying to rise above the raw and messy side of our humanness before we have fully faced and made peace with it. And then we tend to use absolute truth to disparage or dismiss relative human needs, feelings, psychological problems, relational difficulties, and developmental deficits.” “A spiritual bypass implies a shortcut—and the tendency of the mind to incline toward the pleasantness of obviating the complexity and messiness of human differences by prescribing unconditional harmony and homogeneity upon the collective experience. This artificial imposition of one-sided truth only creates more suffering.” Ikeda acknowledges that EBMC doesn’t have ready answers to the big questions about how to honor differences while creating community. But it actively works to create ways to be together peacefully and nonviolently, while acknowledging and embracing difference. “When friction and conflict occur, which is natural with human beings, instead of running away from it and walling ourselves off, how can we work with it in ways that are restora- tive rather than punitive, in ways that create more understand- ing and love, and in ways that are reflective of best practices in great social movements such as Black Lives Matter?” she asks. “Instead of saying, we’re all equal, we’re all the same, we’re all human beings, we can acknowledge we’re not all the same. And in an increasingly global world, how can we become curious and learn from our differences?” To bring groups together, EBMC offers a Maha sangha, a space for all to practice together. “I think what the Maha sangha tries to cultivate is what EBMC stands for and is working for,” says one participant. “Being there means listening and really trying. We can’t please everybody all the time, but keeping that intention open and knowing that it’s there, that’s what we can do right now.” The Black Lives Matter and Ancestors altar was put together spontaneously by EBMC participants as the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum. PHOTOBYCANDIMARTINEZCARTHEN LION’S ROAR | JULY 2018 38