“One discovers the light in darkness. That is what darkness is for.
But everything in our lives depends on how we bear the light."
- James Baldwin
On February 17, I joined four colleagues, all teachers and former Board members at the East Bay Meditation Center, for a presentation at the 2017 Wisdom 2.0 conference. What follows is an expanded version of my portion of that presentation.
What would it take to transform Wisdom 2.0 into Wisdom 3.0 ?
Californians are the most diverse group of people who have been brought together in the history of human civilization, according to Greg Lucas, the California state librarian. And yet, spiritual communities in California generally remain as exclusive as when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. remarked that Sunday morning was the most segregated time in America.
The East Bay Meditation Center (EBMC) stands out as an exception to this norm. The EBMC community includes over 55% percent People of Color and over 40% percent LGBTQI community members.
As one senior meditation teacher puts it, referring to EBMC's success with diversity, "EBMC is a bright light ... a model for the planet. EBMC is showing what is possible."
As the world of race relations gets darker around us, EBMC's light of diversity now shines a little brighter, as a friend recently told me.
Two of the ingredients of EBMC's success in building an inclusive community are relevant to Wisdom 2.0: mindfulness of privilege, and mindfulness of systems.
Mindfulness of Privilege:
Those of us who are White are already a minority in California, and will soon be in the whole country.
We can react to that new reality from a place of fear. Educator Gary Howard writes, "Fear is the classic White American reaction to any intrusion into our cultural capsule." Fear can move us towards White nationalism, towards a mythical utopian past, trying to somehow "make America White again."
At EBMC, we invite White folks to move instead from love, towards what Gary Howard calls "White transformationism", joining forces with People of Color to build deeply inclusive community -- to "make America again," to quote the poem by Langston Hughes, Let America Be America Again.
This means inviting EBMC White folks to turn our mindfulness to our privilege, especially our White privilege, and how we are using it.
If our mindfulness is about the pursuit of spiritual freedom by loosening the bonds of our conditioning, then it is incomplete unless it includes attention to the bonds of our privilege and biases.
But the conditioning of privilege and bias doesn't show up eyes closed, butt on a cushion, or by attending to our breath and body sensations in our cubicle. It only shows up when we are in relationship with "the Other."
It is when we are in relationship with others not like us that our biases move out from the depths of our unconscious mind to color our thoughts, words, and actions, some of which can be experienced by People of Color, and others not like us, as micro-aggressions, often leading them to avoid the communities we are creating.
This dynamic is not "our fault." Like the classic image of fish unaware of the water they swim in, we are largely unaware of the effects, on our conditioning, of the culture we are immersed in.
Mindfulness, turned in this direction, makes the invisible visible, and is an essential ingredient in creating an environment where all feel welcome. Without attention to privilege and bias, whether it be a meditation center, or a tech start-up, the old expression "if you build it they will come" may not apply to the People of Color you are inviting.
Just as important as the external effects of mindfulness of privilege -- contributing to a welcoming inclusive community -- are the internal effects for us White folks.
Kitsy Schoen, one of the lead teachers of EBMC's 6-month intensive program focused on mindfulness of privilege, led by White folks, exclusively for White folks, writes, "The more we are willing to turn towards and transform our racist conditioning, the more we shed the weight of denial, shame, fear and blame that accompany our place in an abusive system. That load is often invisible to us, but as it lightens, the benefits are quite evident."
We become more free -- spiritually free. And once we have tasted that freedom, we will never want to turn back to living from fear.
Mindfulness of Systems:
Another direction to which we turn our mindfulness at EBMC is the structure of the systems that we are creating.
Some of us on the start-up Board of EBMC knew the systems theory maxim that "The structure of systems largely pre-determines outcomes."
I recommend reading the description of the "Beer Game" in the influential 25-year old book, The Fifth Discipline, by Peter Senge, the founder of MIT's Center for Organizational Learning.
Senge writes, "...the Beer Game has been played thousands of times in classes and management training seminars...on five continents, among people of all ages, nationalities, cultural origins, and vastly different business backgrounds... Yet every time the game is played, the same crises ensue...the causes of the behavior must lie beyond the individuals...in the structure of the game itself."
We knew, for example, that EBMC should not operate under a market economic system. Market economic systems, by their very structure, tend to produce inequality and exclusionary outcomes.
The Wisdom 2.0 conference audiences, for example, are predominantly White, in large part, because the conference is organized using a market economic operating system.
EBMC's success in building a truly inclusive community relies heavily on our efforts to build a gift economic operating system. Gift economic systems, by their very structure, favor more inclusive outcomes, because they remove the economic barrier to access.
Mindfulness of systems matters.
What outcomes are favored by the structure of the systems and the algorithms being built by the folks in Wisdom 2.0 community?
I imagine, for example, that a number of folks at Google were distraught to learn that Dylann Roof, who killed 9 black parishioners in a South Carolina church, began his dark journey towards white nationalism, by typing the words, "black on white crime" into the Google search engine. By Roof's own account, the first website that the Google search algorithm offered him publishes white nationalist lies and propaganda.
And Facebook executives must have been embarrassed when a ProPublica report showed last October that the platform's advertising systems, by allowing users to discriminate based on race, meant that housing ads could be targeted in a manner that was a violation of federal anti-discrimination housing law.
That flaw in the Facebook advertising system was apparently corrected about ten days ago.
What if a designing systems for inclusion was part of the commitment from inception?
Speakers on earlier panels at the Wisdom 2.0 conference alluded to the desire for what has been gathered by Wisdom 2.0 to have a greater impact in the world. Dave Morin said, "The community in this room... this culture...is an amazing one of love, and now is the time to figure out how to translate that into the mainstream..." Jon Kabat-Zinn spoke of an aspiration for Wisdom 2.0 to become a "vector of transformation" for our culture.
I would suggest that, until the organizers figure out how to make the Wisdom 2.0 community, itself, be a true reflection of the diversity of the nation and of the world, efforts for Wisdom 2.0 to become a truly transformative force -- call it Wisdom 3.0 -- will fall short.
The invitation, for anyone who is serious about making Wisdom 2.0 into a greater transformative force, is not look outward, to how Wisdom 2.0 can transform the outside culture. Look inward instead.
How can deep inclusion become the first priority of the mission? How can the diversity of the outside culture be fully welcomed in the room? This inquiry is what would transform Wisdom 2.0 into Wisdom 3.0.
It is in transforming itself that Wisdom 2.0 can transform the world.
For such a transformation to be possible, Wisdom 3.0 would inevitably need to use a different operating system than Wisdom 2.0, because outcomes are largely pre-determined by the structure of the system.
Maybe the East Bay Meditation Center is a miniature model of what Wisdom 3.0 could be. EBMC is a bright light in these dark times -- but a small one.
A deeply inclusive Wisdom 3.0 would be a powerful beacon.
Here are the final lines from that Langston Hughes poem: Let America Be America Again.
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers...
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!
The invitation is for the Wisdom 2.0 community to "make America again", starting right at home, by making the exclusive Wisdom 2.0 into a deeply inclusive Wisdom 3.0.