In what feels like a lifetime ago, as a gesture of self-love, I took myself on a week-long silent retreat for self-identified women at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in the mountains of California. The experience was truly transformative.
What a gift: a whole seven days to be with myself and my thoughts, my broken and breaking heart, in both sitting and walking meditation, to eat delicious vegetarian food, and not have to prepare it (bonus!), and be in community.
If you’ve never been to that part of the world know that it is breathtakingly beautiful, with lots of trees and fresh clean air. You feel the sacredness of the land.
I had a bit of a breaking open there, sitting with one of the trees that became my lunch companion during that week, sensing her own pain inherited from the soil that absorbed the blood shed when the indigenous people–stewards of the land and in partnership–were massacred, pushed off by Europeans who coveted the jewels she held.
What’s special about sangha and perhaps even more so about retreat, is that we get to be in community–a beloved community. We miss that when we practice the dharma alone. As Soto Zen priest extraordinaire, Rev. Earthlyn Zenju Manuel, asks of people who tell her they do not need a sangha, “Then where will you go when you begin to experience liberation?” and “Who will know the journey you have taken and your vow to be awake?” (Tell Me Something About Buddhism, 28)
These are complicated questions for people of color who enter the sangha seeking refuge, but who are often (re) traumatized by the tyranny of whiteness in majority white sanghas.
More on that later.
So, one of the beautiful practices that was built into the women’s retreat was a meeting with one of the teachers in community with a few other meditators. There were two such meetings scheduled during the week.
I was incredibly nervous before my first meeting with a teacher whose memoir I had read on the plane ride. Because I am who I am I spent a bunch of time rehearsing in my head the “important” insights that had come to me in just a couple of days and that I was anxious to share with the group (wasn’t I special?).
Spirit had different plans. For as soon as the teacher called my name and turned her attention to me I burst into tears and, through the snot and the sweat, babbled about feeling the indigenous people on the land and grieving their loss and their absence. Her response, measured and quiet as she handed me a box of tissues was “You belong here too.”
Through tear-filled eyes I gazed back at her, and at the beautiful faces of my fellow meditators who sat with me in that tiny hot room, and I understood Rev. Manuel’s question. We need community. We need to know we belong.
Of course, this is easier said than done.
Yes, COVID-19 is a thing.
But we can’t blame our social and spiritual isolation, aka, the delusion of separateness, on this virus.
We’ve been suffering with the disease of isolation and separation long before Mother Earth forced us to shelter in place.
One of the many gifts that COVID has given us is a recognition of, or rather awakening to our isolation from others and ourselves, even in the midst of activity. In fact, we use the activity to escape true relationship. We have been forced into true relationship.
What gifts. If only we would accept them.
As she has also always done, Mother Gaia gave us so much more than (in our minds) she took. This gift came in the form of technology, but more importantly, in the awakened hearts and minds of souls who recognized this time as an opportunity to share the dharma with those who, otherwise, might not have access to it.
This opportunity to gather in a time of profound suffering (let us count the ways), is a gift beyond measure; one which takes on Rev. Manuel’s questions by providing a safe, sacred container for our individual and collective healing and awakening.
These awakened souls at Spirit Rock have created a beautiful sacred space for Black Indigenous People of Color to gather together via Zoom every Sunday morning as a beloved community!!
As it has been a gift to me (and as we do) I want to share with you, my beloved community.
Please join us on these amazing journeys inward.
Spirit Rock generously operates on a sliding fee scale, so cost should not be a barrier.
Come and be nourished!
August 9 Devin Berry | Online-only
August 16 Solwazi Johnson| Online-only
August 23 Kaira Jewel Lingo | Online-only
August 30 Noliwe Alexander | Online-only