This dharma talk is from October 26, 2021 at Alphabet Sangha of East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland, California.
- Mindfulness of the body is an opportunity to repair the wounds where we feel separated from our bodies
- How do I increase my capacity and tolerance, to be with my discomfort? What changes when I can tolerate my discomfort, in the interest of liberation?
I was Co-Director of Buddhist Peace Fellowship for 8 years, one of our best projects was the Block Build Be retreat, bringing together 35 social justice activists for several days of rest, community building, and spiritual practice.
It was a powerful experience, not just because we were rad folks enjoying each others’ company. But we were a group of folks interested in multiple strands of liberation, spiritual and political liberation. And we were interested in leaning in together when conversation got challenging. When discomfort arose, we had a shared sense of practice, to tolerate discomfort, in the interest of liberation.
For me, so much of meditation practice and learning about the dharma is about this: How do I increase my capacity and tolerance, to be with my discomfort? What changes when I can tolerate my discomfort, in the interest of liberation?
Buddhism gets a bad reputation as being a little obsessed with suffering. I know for me, I don’t show up to Buddhism because I want to get obsessed with endless suffering. But I appreciate this basic message of the Buddha’s 4 Noble Truths —
1) there is suffering and discomfort in the world.
2) When we take the time to understand the underlying causes and conditions of this suffering,
3) We can actually experience freedom and liberation from that discomfort.
And 4) Here are some concrete steps on how to do this.
I thought I’d share about our Block Build Be framework tonight, as these three intertwined pathways to liberation.
- Most associated with Buddhism
- Allow the present, for now; tolerating stress and discomfort; patience, listening to understand (kiran), kindness, compassion
- Mindfulness and meditation practices support us with this ‘be’ energy, which expand our tolerance and capacity.
- Most associated with street activism
- Interrupt harm and violence, including structural harm that maintains or reinforces white supremacy or patriarchy
- At BPF, one of our Block actions was a mindfulness sit in front of the doors of the downtown Oakland Marriott, which was scheduled to host Urban Shield, a police training and weapons expo, just a few weeks after Mike Brown was murdered in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014
- Most associated with community organizing
- Create something NEW — new stories, new infrastructures, new ways of moving through the world that support people to live more liberated lives
- At BPF, one of our favorite online class series was called “U Mad? Wisdom for Rageful Times” that came out in early 2017 right after Trump was elected. We targeted this false tension that “good spiritual people” aren’t supposed to feel angry, and had a number of BIPOC and queer teachers really unpack that. At the time, this felt like a new analysis, something that we were building and organizing to make more space for liberation. Lama Rod Owens has really expanded that analysis since we interviewed him, check out Love and Rage!
Things to consider for Block-Build-Be:
- You might have a favorite — AND these are intertwined.
- Building a community of practice that can work on anger together, this makes space for people to be with their anger, which gives people more tolerance and capacity to show up to block harm and violence with their anger and a full range of emotion that comes with that.
- One of my favorite actions that weaves Block, Build, and Be together comes out of Alphabet Sangha, 10 years ago for Occupy or Decolonize Oakland. We staged a dana offering, a generosity offering in front of Chase Bank, where we were handing out money to people passing by at a time when Chase Bank had been part of tanking the economy by foreclosing so many homes.
- We were in front of the bank, not participating in a formal blockade, but visually blocking and interrupting the flow into Chase that morning. We
- We were incorporating this spiritual practice of dana, of generous giving as our activism. We were very interested in showing up ‘in practice’ – to feel what it felt like to practice being generous ourselves in front of a financial giant that was being violently ungenerous to others.
- We were building queer dharma community with our rainbow costumes, shared practices, and a narrative that generosity could break open new possibilities for liberation. We felt how we were related to, and also different from the march that came through from the camp that day.
- Watch out for shadow sides. These are all practices and pathways toward liberation, and none of them help you ‘avoid suffering.’ They all have strengths and shadow sides:
- Block often has the clearest actions and victories, but can suck you into a sense of unwavering righteousness
- Build has unending visionary potential, but requires you to get into the messiest parts of relationship building and conflict to build things that are meaningful and sturdy.
- Be supports you to build out your tolerance levels and acceptance, but you don’t want to get stuck in a loop that it’s all your responsibility to change to accommodate untenable external conditions. We don’t want to get trapped into spiritual bypass here.
- Weaving them together yourself, or being part of a community that weaves these strategies together can be part of spiritual & political liberation
- How do Block, Build, and Be show up as strategies in your life, as you face discomfort and suffering in the interest of liberation? Are there any you tend toward or avoid? How are they interrelated?
- As a community, can you imagine Alphabet Sangha participating in Block, Build, and Be strategies together to support our liberation? What could that look like?