The cause of our global suffering is forgetting that we belong to one another and to the earth. Tara Brach recommends four practices to nourish a sense of collective belonging.
This is a time of global trauma. Collectively, we’re facing a warming planet, pandemics, racial and social injustice, growing authoritarianism, the horror of war, and global instability unlike anything we’ve seen since the end of the Second World War.
In this traumatized world, many people are coming to meditation classes asking, How can I navigate these difficult times? How can spiritual teachings and practices help me find healing, connection, and freedom?
In our increasingly individualistic-oriented society, we need a strongly focused dharma of interdependence.
We are at a time in history where the illusion of separate self—with its unprocessed fear, aggression, and destructiveness—threatens all life systems on our planet. More than ever, we need practices that can evolve consciousness from “self vs. other” and “us vs. them” to “we” practices that motivate us to act on behalf of our collective well-being.
Buddhist teachings point to the most elemental cause of our suffering—forgetting who we really are. We forget we belong to one another and to our larger body of earth. We forget we belong to the boundless, loving awareness that is our shared essence as human beings. Instead, we live in a trance of egoic separation, feeding habits of grasping and self-protection that lead to violating ourselves, others, and our world.
While the cultivation of mindfulness and compassion can awaken us from this trance, they require wise adaptation to the sufferings of our times. In our increasingly individualistic-oriented society, we need a strongly focused dharma of interdependence. This means consciously shifting from a focus on the individual to realizing our collective belonging.
This crucial, adaptive shift is beginning to happen. A growing number of Buddhist and secular mindfulness teachers, notably those who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color, are applying mindfulness and compassion practices to four primary domains that enlarge our sense of identity.
Mindful Communication and Conflict Resolution
To realize our interdependence we need to bring the basic teachings of mindfulness and compassion into all relationships. Mindful communicating takes intentionality and practice. Individuals, groups, and spiritual communities benefit from having clear agreements for speaking and listening, such as those in place at Oakland’s East Bay Meditation Center, as well as guidelines for resolving conflict, such as those offered in Non-Violent Communication. As a practice, relational meditations can be deepened through interactive mindfulness workshops, RAIN partners, Insight Dialogue, Cloud Sangha mentoring groups, and other formats that train us to be awake, embodied, openhearted, and real with each other.
Trauma is the suffering of disconnection, and our practices can either bring us healing or exacerbate our pain. We need to recognize the symptoms of trauma and how certain styles of meditation can trigger PTSD. Teachers should be trained to help students customize meditation so that they can experience love and safety and find the healing of an enlarged sense of connectedness.
Multicultural Competency, Sensitivity, and Equity
If we are part of the dominant culture, we are conditioned to devalue nondominant others on the basis of characteristics like race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, economic class, and ability. We cannot awaken spiritually without an awareness of the intersecting identities that shape our experience of the world and separate us from each other.
This awareness grows as we investigate, with compassion, the bias and societal conditioning we each carry from the dominant culture we live in. A dedication to this process is essential if we are to create safe and welcoming spaces for diverse others, build meaningful community, and realize the truth, joy, and freedom of our collective belonging.
The spiritual path is often considered individual work, yet our inner personal practice is inseparable from our ways of engaging with our wider society. As awareness awakens, we realize our connectedness and oneness with all parts of life. The natural expression of this is a love-based activism where together, we respond to the suffering around us; and equally, we celebrate life’s intrinsic beauty, mystery, and goodness.
For the last two decades, I’ve been training people to teach meditation, and increasingly the emphasis has shifted from the individual to the collective. During the last six years I’ve been leading the Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification Program with Jack Kornfield and a wonderful, diverse team of teacher–mentors. We have trained 3,750 new mindfulness teachers from more than seventy countries, highlighting these four domains so essential to a dharma of interdependence. These teachers are drawing on multicultural understandings, developing skills for working with trauma and handling conflict, and dedicating themselves to the bodhisattva path of compassion in action.
This is the hope: that teachers and practitioners in growing numbers will nourish a deepening sense of our collective belonging and foster an evolution of consciousness. How else will we humans hold hands and act on behalf of the earth? How else will we go beyond the political and social divisions that lead to violence and oppression? How else will we create Beloved Community—a world where all life is cherished, the vulnerable are cared for, and we naturally live for the common good? The dharma of interdependence is what will allow us to create the world we long for, a world that expresses our natural capacity to live in love.