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Lions Roar : May 2019
CELEBRATING YEARS Crystal Johnson is on the Leadership Sangha at East Bay Medita- tion Center in Oakland, where she co-teaches the six-month program White and Awakening in Sangha. needs created by the experience of oppression. We therefore have established affinity group sang- has, beginning with People of Color (POC) and LGBTQI, where members can practice in a space where they are the unquestioned norm. We have also worked vigorously to develop our own ver- sion of Gift Economics, an alternative, sustainable economy that eliminates fees, scholarships, and other economic barriers to equal participation. Over the last thirteen years, EBMC has devel- oped organizational structures, processes, and practices that express and support a culture of inclusivity, in which decisions are based on shared values and mission rather than the exercise of hierarchical authority. Decision-making authority is widely shared among committees with diverse and overlapping membership, in order to under- mine the tendency of centralized authority to reproduce the personal characteristics and social conditioning of those in power. This also creates good communication among affinity group sanghas and healthy autonomy of committees and practice groups. A lot of what would be typically separated out into a diversity initiative is done in the course of regular commit- tee functioning, in which every potential action is queried for how it expresses our values and supports our mission. This is not an elegant or efficient governance process, but it is effective. It forces us to constantly deepen our knowledge and improve our inclusivity practices. Given the central importance of interpersonal communication to this type of governance, we developed explicit guidelines for interaction because, in a truly diverse group, there are none of the unspoken, yet widely held norms for commu- nication common in more homogeneous groups. An example is our emphasis on appreciation and connection, which works to counter the dominant culture of perfectionism and competition. Meetings begin with a check-in that allows us to connect personally and center emotionally as we begin our work. We end our meetings with the traditional Buddhist dedication of merit, acknowledging the spiritual value of the practice of sangha. In meetings, emails, and phone calls, we thank each other for our work, and acknowl- edge each other’s contribution to the community. We are now developing explicit practices for mindfully raising and working with tensions and addressing conflict. In this way, we can lovingly hold each other and ourselves accountable for the well- being of the community, while developing our capac- ity to offer and receive feedback in ways that help us to deepen our relationships. This is an emotion- ally complex and challenging, yet essential, effort. This practice of radical inclusivity requires robust feedback loops that promote active, inten- tional learning efforts. For example, when we noticed that POC attendance percentages were fall- ing, POC community members felt that we needed to support white practitioners to develop skills for navigating a diverse sangha. This led to a six- month class series for white folks that is now in its fifth year. We are also turning our attention to the unique impact of patriarchy, so as to develop programs that incorporate a more complex understanding of intersectionality. Similarly, we have initiated a POC-led, Buddhism- based leadership training program to support the flourishing and coali- tion-building power of our POC communities. While there are built-in, formal feedback processes such as commu- nity meetings, surveys, and strategic planning, most change is initiated when staff raise an issue or someone contacts a committee member with a problem or suggestion. For example, after listening to people with different physical abilities, “sitting” and “walk- ing” meditation became “stationary” and “moving” meditation. “Sitting” groups became “meditation practice” groups. Cultivating diverse sangha has required us to intentionally cultivate mindsets to counter dominant culture values. Examples of this are an emphasis on “both/and” thinking, a tolerance for ambiguity and imperfection that allows us to live with conflicting needs, nonattachment to how things are, and a pro- found openness to learning, growth, and change. This way of operating is challenging and trans- formative. It is a process of looking deeply into our conditioning and moving away from acting on the delusions that bring pain to ourselves and other people. Over time, it has become clear that an inclusive culture that explicitly cultivates connec- tion and community offers healing to everyone who is harmed by the social norms of domination and competition, including members of dominant social groups. This practice of radically inclusive sangha is a powerful antidote for our suffering world. ♦ LION’S ROAR | MAY 2019 75