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Lions Roar : November 2016
social and political change. I don’t see how any of us can keep giving when we feel depleted and exhausted, when generosity is trying to come out of nothing. The sense of replenishment we get from our own happiness is a gift not only to ourselves but to others. Some people think of happiness as just avoiding conflict and seeking pleasure. They feel guilty about being happy because there are so many people suffering. And people are suffering and it’s terrible. Yet it’s so hard to really help others over the long haul without the inner resource of happiness. Rev. angel Kyodo williams: Along with happiness, joy is one of the fundamental abodes. Lack of joy is where we often have difficulty as activists. On the other hand, some of us who are doing contemplative work tend to be conflict-avoidant. If we are abiding by right speech, then, heaven forbid, we don’t talk about race, because that’s difficult. Activists talk a lot about struggle, but I tell them we should get that word out of our vocabulary. I ask them, “Would you permit the people in your life to run themselves into the ground like you are?” And they say, “No, of course not, that’s not what we’re working toward.” If what we’re practicing now is running ourselves into the ground in order to have justice, at what point will we practice something different? Because whatever we practice now is what we will practice in the future. Sharon Salzberg: I think one of the things the meditation community can learn from the activist community is systemic thinking. By itself, meditation will produce a kind of good heartedness and compassion, but I think it’s not directed at social and political systems. It’s like the person on the street asking you for a dollar. Med- itation practice may help you look them in the eye and see them as a suffering human being, which is an enormous thing. But that doesn’t necessarily lead you to ask, “What is the housing policy in this city?” It’s about looking deeper: what are the social causes and conditions that create homelessness? I’ve learned this kind of thinking from people like you, angel. I don’t think it could have come from my own meditation practice. It takes another kind of education. Rev. angel Kyodo williams: Most of the people who are driv- ing structural activism are doing it, at least initially, out of their own experience—either personal necessity or their relation- ships with people suffering oppression. So we have a challenge because meditation and mindfulness have largely landed in a privileged community of older white folks. I’m obsessed with the question of how we shift that. How do we not let our own circumstances determine where we focus the lens of our practice? If our lens stays within our privileged circumstances, then we turn our compassion only toward things that are personal and interpersonal. Rarely does that lens focus on systemic problems, because the personal need to do that doesn’t exist. The sense of replenishment we get from our own happiness is a gift not only to ourselves but to others. It’s hard to help others over the long haul without the inner resource of happiness. SHARON SALZBERG is one of America’s best-known Buddhist teachers. She is a cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society and the author of such bestselling books as Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation and Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness. LION’S ROAR | NOVEMBER 2016 57