Mindfulness and Social Justice part 3

Critical analysis stems from personal work which, in my opinion, is similar to meditation. We acknowledge what we’re aware of and what that awareness is based in. What are our biases and where did they come from? How do they shape our interactions with others and the decisions that we make? What are the assumptions that we make when we do our work and are those assumptions based in oppressive and harmful beliefs that constantly impressed upon us?

As with most of my writing, this post is irregularly timed, but it is part of a series that I’ve been pondering as I continue my exploration of Buddhist teachings and continue to learn to be a more effective social justice educator.

I’m thinking more and more about how the teaching of Thich Nhat Hahn and Social Justice are intertwined. Especially as I read both Thich Nhat Hahn and advocates for social justice (bell hooks, Angela Davis, and many others). Before I get more into this, I want to lay out some definitions.

“Mindfulness is the awareness of what is going on in us and around us in the present moment. It requires stopping, looking deeply, and recognizing both the uniqueness of the moment and its connection to everything that has gone on before and will go on in the future.” -Thich Nhat Hahn, The Mindfulness Survival Kit, page 9

“The goal of social justice education is full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs. Social justice includes a vision of society that is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure.” – Adams, Bell, Griffin, Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice

Our reality is that we’re living in a culture (most of my critical consciousness is US focused but some of these ideas apply globally) in which some people are provided with opportunities that others aren’t. We live in a complex society that privileges some and oppresses others and we know that these are not simple binary situations. We all exist in spectrums of privilege and disadvantage and we have to acknowledge that through the history of our individual experiences but also the experiences that have happened across history. When we’re mindful of our current moment in connection with the histories that have preceded us we can be more aware of how to bring about change.

For example, when I can be connected to my personal experiences with class and cultural capital, which is mixed with privilege and disadvantage, I can understand the ways in which I am both prevented from opportunities by not knowing about them (i.e. investing money) and the ways in which I know about how things work (i.e. traveling and getting a passport). So I’m aware of these particular experiences I’ve had as an individual but I also need to acknowledge how those experiences are shaped by the history of classism in the United States. (This doesn’t even begin to acknowledge the history related to me being white and the advantages that come along with that.)

The two quotations that I’ve used in this post are tied together. In order to be mindful we have to be in the current moment while recognizing how the past and future shapes our present. And Social Justice is a process and a goal. The process is recognizing ways in which privileges and disadvantages have been installed and the ways in which they shapes our experiences. This means being knowledgeable of how we’re being impacted currently as well as how people have been influenced through the ages on the basis of their race, gender, class, sexuality, etc. There is no way to be an effective social justice educator or activist without having a sharp analysis of the ways that history shape our present.

This critical analysis stems from personal work which, in my opinion, is similar to meditation. We acknowledge what we’re aware of and what that awareness is based in. What are our biases and where did they come from? How do they shape our interactions with others and the decisions that we make? What are the assumptions that we make when we do our work and are those assumptions based in oppressive and harmful beliefs that constantly impressed upon us?

To be effective social justice educators and activists we need to be able to answer these questions. We have to be mindful of our present and the way that our histories have shaped us. We have to be mindful of the ways that our decisions in the present shape our futures. This is the social justice process fused with mindfulness and praxis that leads us to our goal of an equitable society.

Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook. Edited by Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell, and Pat Griffin.
The Mindfulness Survival Kit: Five Essential Practices. Thich Nhat Hahn.

Mindfulness and Social Justice part 2

I started writing about mindfulness in the context of social justice work back in February and thought that it would make a good series as there is always more to learn in both social justice and in mindfulness because there is so much personal work (self-discovery, whatever you would like to call it) to do. This post is a continuation of that irregular series, but focusing a little more on background of why I had the thought to link them and some resources I’ve found since thinking of the idea.

Mindfulness and meditation are becoming more visible in the mainstream eye (see Time Magazine and the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks). Both of these linked articles reference the power of being present and the Seahawks leveraged that concept and applied it to focusing in football. I’ve been working on growing in this area through a regular yoga practice and through regular meditation (that’s been more irregular recently) and one day as I was reading An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life by the Dalai Lama I realized how interconnected my work to deepen my understanding of mindfulness is to my work as a social justice educator and I began to see connections as I continued to read books about both mindfulness and about social justice. This really opened up some new pathways for me that helped me become a more effective educator.

I started to think about the ways in which I try to sit back and listen to others when having a dialogue about social injustice. I actively listen and try to understand, as best I can with my combination of social identities,other perspectives and other experiences. I pay attention to how I’m feeling and try my best not to let those emotions steer my contributions to conversations. I pay attention to the emotion in others and make attempts to be supportive. I pay attention to how much space I take up in the conversation. Mindfulness helps me do all of this critically because I’m paying attention to what’s happening around me. I’m absorbing it to understand the dynamics of the room. (I’ll also say that I did some of this prior to my attempts to be more mindful because I’m an introvert).

I’m currently reading Diane Goodman’s Promoting Diversity and Social Justice (I’m reading the first edition. A second one was published in 2011) and chapter 9 is focused on “Issues for Educators.” Goodman writes about increasing educational effectiveness part of which is doing our own personal work to fully understand our own backgrounds and where we are in understanding our identities. It means working through the issues that may get us caught up in responding to an unruly participant rather than focusing on educating/training the whole room. Goodman writes about using mindfulness as a strategy to avoid some of these common issues. “In situations in which we feel we are not being conscious or are immersed in negative reactions, it can help us return to a more centered way of being and depend our understanding of what is really going on” (Goodman, 2000, p. 183). By using mindfulness, Goodman argues that we become more effective educators. We can more holistically recognize what’s happening within ourselves to develop a better approach to the training/workshop. We can also be more effective in listening to others’ perspectives and understand what kind of support that someone may need. We can aptly discern the vibe of a room from a negative or resistant vibe to one of true curiosity. These are all huge in helping us move ourselves and our participants/students forward with the difficult concepts and conversations that comes with social justice.

Goodman, D. (2000) Promoting diversity and social justice: Educating people from privileged groups.  Sage Publications. Thousand Oaks, CA.

Mindfulness and Social Justice

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.