Mindfulness and Social Justice

A meditating Buddha statue

I was recently reading Savor and the authors, Thich Nhat Hahn and Lillian Cheung, use the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism to relate to obesity and overeating and this led me to start thinking about how the Four Noble Truths apply to Social Justice Education. But first, a foundation…

The First Noble Truth is that all of us have suffering in our lives. None of us can escape from it. The Second Noble Truth is that we can identify the causes of our suffering. The Third Noble Truth is that we can put an end to our suffering and that healing is possible. Finally, the Fourth Noble Truth is that there are paths to free us from suffering. (Cheung & Hanh, 2010)

I believe these truths to be entirely accurate. Suffering can come in all shapes and sizes and does not have to relate to oppression, but if we use the Buddhist concept of suffering and apply it to oppression I think we learn can about how to put things into perspective. Privilege and oppression is a reality and we can’t escape it. Everyone is targeted by these systems. Certain people are provided with privilege. Others are provided with disadvantages or oppressed. If we accept that this is true then we can move along to begin to address it.

Once oppression and privilege are accepted as facts then we can begin to recognize the causes. In a US context, we live in a white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist patriarchy. All of these concepts interact and produce additional issues. For instance, some by-products of patriarchy are heterosexism (which then produces homophobia) and sexism (which then produces gender roles, misogyny, and male privilege). These causes are deeply embedded in our culture. It is difficult to conceptualize but we need to acknowledge that we can heal through critical consciousness and action. I think a lot of self work has to be done to recognize healing and it’s never done. I won’t ever be done trying to heal, but I can find ways to increase my healing by engaging with others and opening their eyes. I think this promotes self-healing and a way to heal for others.

These few thoughts came to me while reading I was Savor, but I know there are more ways to connect mindfulness and social justice work. There are more examples to highlight. We can look at divesting privilege through this lens. We can analyze internalized oppression through this lens. We can recognize interpersonal oppression as well as the more insidious systemic forms that produce the intra and interpersonal.

This post does not include the critical concepts such as being present in the moment and recognizing our emotions in a dialogue, the space we take up in conversation, or how we may be triggered by something we’ve just read or heard or experienced. These will probably be future topics in a series of posts on mindfulness and social justice education. I also recognize that there likely is work out there that has already been done combining these topics, but this will be about my own personal journey in understanding and recognizing how mindfulness and social justice overlaps.

Hanh, Thich Nhat; Cheung, Lilian (2010-02-20). Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life (Kindle Locations 257-259). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

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