Although we are much more aware about equality, diversity and inclusion in the mindfulness field, we must also recognise the long distance that we need to travel to bring about true equality and justice in our field and society in general.
The very core of our focus – as mindfulness teachers, trainers and researchers – is on the potential for easing distress and enabling flourishing. We can only do this if we are willing to shine the light of awareness on what is actually creating suffering, – this includes individual personal patterns, but also the influence of the wider social context we inhabit. The imperative is thus particularly strong for us to embody our own values – and perhaps through this to offer inspiration to society more generally.
These blog pieces are part of this emerging conversation. We would like to invite other voices into this. If you have perspectives on this theme that you would like to frame as a blog within this offering, please contact Rebecca Crane (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Alison Evans (email@example.com).
Who am I to write this?
– written by Alison Evans, Executive Director, The Mindfulness Network
I sit here to write this blog after putting it off for two months. I don’t know what to write or how it will be received. I feel fear and uncertainty. Who am I to write this? I don’t know anything about equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), either through my lived experience, my teaching or my studies. There are other people who know this territory who could write a really informative blog that would help us all get better at this.
I well up with tears now, I don’t know why, but I do. I want to really cry, I feel small in my body, my chest tightens, I am afraid, I don’t like this, I want to understand and fix it.
So, whether it is useful to others or not, I do not know, but my intention is to share my experience as I begin to open my eyes and wake up to this work. I would rather be writing this blog telling you about all the things we have achieved at The Mindfulness Network (MN) and in the supervision field around EDI. These are small beginnings and I do genuinely hope to share more in time. And, equally, there is something about the pain that maybe needs to be shared.
I am a white middle-class woman (I guess 51 is middle aged, too!). I cannot change that. Although I am similar to many in the mindfulness world, I wish for the mindfulness community of teachers, practitioners and researchers to be more diverse. In many ways, a bubble of comfort is nice. I’m often with people similar to me, I’m cosy, not too challenged. And whilst this can be a wonderful thing, I can see it does exclude people, ideas and differences.
I don’t mean to be exclusive. Mindfulness has been a discovery for me in opening to the difficult and facing things that I would naturally not choose to face. It has helped me to find the courage to go to places that are unfamiliar. And my default is wanting to be liked, accepted and part of the group. This is, perhaps, true for many of us.
I like action, doing, achieving. And there are many actions to be taken in regard to EDI. However, actions may also have a shadow side of missing the point. Over the last year, I have met monthly with my colleague, Cathy-Mae Karelse, to talk about EDI. She has pointed me to all sorts of resources to help me wake up. I thought I was speaking to her as a consultant to advise our strategy to EDI, and then on our first conversation found tears in my eyes. I could see the ‘size of the cloth’, as in Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem Kindness. I could see my own inadequacy, my own fear of getting this wrong, and my own not knowing what to do. I could also see my own wanting to be a good, compassionate citizen, as well as my own wanting to be an open, accepting mindfulness teacher.
I realise that all of this is part of the territory. There are things I can begin to do and act on. One of the first actions is to work on myself and to be committed to: openness; to be committed to seeing other perspectives and views feeling emotional at times, to be committed to keep turning towards to be committed to looking with fresh eyes at how my mindfulness practice can serve me with this too. From this place, I can investigate, inquire, dialogue with others, seek out help, and see what needs to happen patiently and kindly and with courage. I can take a pause to and see and be with what is truly here.
With the help of others (I really need this help), I take time to bring together a policy for The Mindfulness Network. I look at our old EDI version, which has sat in a folder, and can see it doesn’t hold enough meaning. I need to start again, to really consider what a policy would mean and what our commitment truly encompasses. I need others to comment. I need it to be alive, to change and evolve, and to grow and become stronger as I and we move more closely to enabling change. The first version is complete after many months. I have circulated it, but now the work is to keep it alive and not lose these commitments in the busy of life.
Building a more humane and just society: what has mindfulness got to do with this?
– written by Rebecca Crane, Director, Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice
I am one of the least qualified people to be talking about the theme of equality, diversity and inclusion. In multiple ways, I embody aspects of the problem. However, it has become clear that we all need to be talking about it and doing what is possible within our sphere of influence to move the challenge of social injustice in a healthier direction.
My background, my ‘inheritance’
One line of my family is Yorkshire working class. Another line lived and worked in the British colonies, including Africa, Fiji and India. Our family annals are filled with poignant letters from parents who barely knew their children back home in the UK, and from children who were clearly writing to their parents from their boarding schools as an enforced duty. The disconnection and resulting emotional damage are clear. The empire building, colonial project they were part of seemed unquestioned in the writing of my forebears. It was the water they swam in. It is also clear that my grandparents, great and great-great grandparents were, in their frames of reference, offering service. I can hold my love and respect for them, whilst also inquiring into the moment in history that I inhabit now.
Clearly, I have also imbibed certain implicit ways of being. With the perspective that I now have, I can see (some) of this. I grew up with an ethos around the importance of hard work, a stance that rewards come to those who work hard, and that the way out of poverty is hard work. I also imbibed the importance of being of service and doing good in the world. There was a clear understanding that because we were relatively well off, we had a duty towards those less privileged. I witnessed my parents putting hours of service into a range of causes and charities, and having a strong impact.
I also grew up without truly understanding that my privilege influenced the life chances I had (I was conditioned to see that this was related to hard work). Growing up in the Lake District, I wasn’t exposed to much diversity in my childhood. Now in my mid-fifties, I grew up during a time when the civil rights movement and the second wave of the women’s movement were reaching their height. We became more aware that a certain use of language was offensive and degrading to certain groups. As I started to wake up into the world during my teens, lived in Asia during my early 20s, and later in a multicultural part of Leeds, it become clear that the shifts beginning to happen within and around me were critical and long overdue.
Like me, my children have sadly been exposed to little diversity in their upbringing in North Wales. As they move independently into the world, it is heartening to see that they want this – they feel the loss of moving only in certain bubbles. They are also of a different generation. When I explore these themes with them and their friends, it is clear that they do not need to do so much work to reduce implicit bias in the ways that my peers and I do. They recognise and value difference. The values of inclusion are a more natural part of the ways that they operate. This has given me a tremendous sense of hope that generation on generation, the trajectory for our society is towards greater humanity as we shed layers of unconscious bias.
However, I also now see that this isn’t enough. The system we have all inherited is rigged by hundreds of years of systemic injustice and unseen patterns of operating. One interesting observation is that in all their years of schooling, my children received no education on the history of the British Empire. They learnt about other power abuses, such as by Nazi Germany, the Cultural Revolution and more. They learnt about our kings and queens, but absolutely nothing about British activity around the world, and our domination and rule of other countries.
My inheritance in these areas leaves me with a deep sense of shame and guilt. One hazard for me in this is that I hide away from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups (BAME), and other people who are not like me out of embarrassment, and for fear of inadvertently deepening the wrongs. However, it is also clear to me that my guilt is not helpful to anyone. Paralysing myself into inaction (out of guilt and fear) is not useful, whereas waking up to my inheritance and the water I have been swimming in all my life is. So, I am on a journey – a journey of recognition of the multiple advantages and opportunities I have had land on my lap (and that of my children) because of our inheritance. I recognise that my history and the culture I have been born into is not my fault. However, I do have a responsibility in my lifetime to wake up and work with the patterns in me that perpetuate history and culture in ways that create social suffering, and to do what is possible within my sphere of influence to create structural change.
Doing the inner work to recognise conditioning and bias
I now see this waking up process as an aspect of my mindfulness practice – another layer in the awakening process. Just like other aspects of awakening, this involves recognising habit patterns that no longer serve and may cause harm. Of course, habit-breaking takes time and practice. Prejudice and stereotyping are another sort of habit. There is much work that needs to be done in order to create greater equality in a system that is born from social and economic inequality. We definitely need to proactively break down the barriers that stop all of us from accessing equal opportunities. However, there is also a risk that I engage in this work from my conditioned sense of duty to others, perpetuating and maintaining my deep habit patterns and inadvertently engaging in this work from an unskilful place.
I have come to see how important it is for me to do the inner work so that I can recognise my own conditioning and bias. This inner work is a process of education, learning and bringing on radar the patterns within me that sustain external conditions that perpetuate social injustice. This inner work also includes recognising the structures of mind that influence my interactions (or lack of them) with people who are different to me. Like other aspects of awakening, this is not a comfortable process. Sometimes, the discomfort happens in my own company (doing the Implicit Association Test and seeing that I have a mild positive bias towards light-skinned people). Sometimes, I notice my discomfort in the company of others (sensing a mild reactive indignation during a diversity training session to criticism of the process from a participant who is a person of colour – and later recognising that this came from a white, separate position of ‘how ungrateful – can’t they see all that we are doing’).
Research helps us understand that when conditioning is ingrained, education directed towards enabling us to be well-informed and well-intended is not enough. Our unconscious mind is led by automatic, reactive patterns that are in turn driven by deeply conditioned emotional and intuitive feelings. Logic and reason do not stand much chance in the face of quick patterns of mind that favour people most like us. So, having an aspiration to live in a more humane and just society, and holding values that enable this, are not enough. If I want to bring my actions and choices in line with my values, then I have some inner work to do. A key part of my current practice is to inquire deeply into the both inner and the outer conditions of my life that sustain injustice – and from the ground of this, to engage in the inquiry around what it is possible for me to do in my own micro world.
Mindfulness practice as a gateway to connection with ourselves and others
The practice of mindfulness brings the issues of common humanity to the fore in a particular way. As we engage with our mindfulness practice:
- we come into deeper connection with personal and collective suffering;
- we become more willing to allow a greater breadth and depth of the reality of the human situation to touch and affect us; and
- we recognise both the universality of human distress, and the particular societal patterns that create and perpetuate distress for certain groups.
Through our practice, we can build a more honest way of compassionately relating to these experiences. Compassion has two phases – a phase of feeling and connecting with the suffering of ourself or others, and a phase of actively engaging and responding skilfully. Both are important – by opening to other people’s experience of exclusion, discrimination and stigma, we can feel the importance of why we should act. The first phase requires us to extend our circle of concern to people whom we might habitually not given attention, or give negative attention to, and to look deeply into our own conditioning and inherited privileges. The second phase empowers us to take compassionate action now. This might include a spectrum of actions, from subtle shifts in how we orientate to our participants, to building in systemic structural changes that enable greater take up from underrepresented groups.
One other interesting personal piece that links to this theme is my own leadership journey in my role within Bangor University and the Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice (CMRP). Much work is now happening within universities to improve opportunities for women in academia. I am in the first generation to benefit from this greater awareness and the initiatives that have come from it. Over the years, however, I have still experienced exposure and vulnerability as I applied for promotion as a woman in a world where I have more male bosses and peers. Similarly, in the international context for mindfulness developments, there are more men in leadership positions than women, despite the fact that there are significantly more women who train to teach and/or who sign up for mindfulness classes.
Ongoing work around EDI at CMRP and The Mindfulness Network
I feel aware that being in a leadership role brings with it deep responsibility to lead on these themes of equality, diversity and inclusion. Over the years, CMRP’s work – to form an organisation, to find a place within academia and to enable the work to begin to happen – has been an organic process of seeing what is possible in each moment. It has felt an unstable, fluid, vulnerable and highly emergent process. We are now, though, in a different place. The validity of this work within academia and within mainstream institutions is far more established. Structures and organisations are always evolving, but there is a greater sense of the continuity of the work within these transitions. I sense that there is more opportunity now to lift our gaze wider so that we can see what is possible, and to provide both leadership for our own field and also a model of what might be possible more widely in society.
So there is much that needs to change within and around us. What are the initiatives that are underway on this theme? We are engaging in a collective education and waking up process in our teams within CMRP and The Mindfulness Network (MN). We have held several equality, diversion and inclusion (EDI) training days and are planning more to ensure that everyone in the team has the choice to engage. We have an EDI working party that is intended as a place for us to inquire into our own processes, to investigate values and how these influence strategy, and to develop specific initiatives that align with this.
My colleague, Alison Evans, who directs the MN, has led a collaborative process to develop a policy document for our organisations that will be a living guide shaping our development, reflection and strategy.
As we transition portions of our work to The Mindfulness Network, we are setting up systems to monitor diversity so that we can measure progress towards greater inclusion over time. We are integrating training on EDI and unconscious bias into our teacher training processes at different time points. We want to develop ways of engaging with and drawing out views from underrepresented groups who have engaged or not engaged previously in CMRP trainings and/or Mindfulness Network supervision and retreats, so that we can build our understanding of the issues. We want to encourage our Master’s students to engage in thesis research on these themes. We are looking at our pricing policies as we transition into The Mindfulness Network, to support access for lower income groups. Bethan Roberts and I are offering a workshop at the forthcoming Amsterdam conference.
As with all our work, there is a tension between aspiration and what it is possible to do in each moment, a recognition of the simultaneous urgency to act, and the necessity to take the long view. But we are beginning.
May we build a foundation for change in this area that our children and grandchildren can inhabit, that is just and allows for greater peace and ease between people of all faiths, ethnicities, sexual orientation, social classes, disabilities, ages, gender identities and religions.
Resources we have recently found helpful in our waking up process (in relation to race and racism:
Brach, T (2016), Facing my White Privilege, The Lions Roar
Choudhury, S (2016) What We Say, Not What We Do in the The Wise Brain Bulletin, 10,1 (adapted from Deep Diversity: Overcoming Us vs. Them by Shakil Choudhury. 2015)
Demont John (2018), The Radical Buddhism of Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams. The Lions Roar
Eddo-Lodge, R., (2018), Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, Bloomsbury Publishing
Irving, D., (2014), Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race, Elephant Room Press
King, R., (2018), Mindful of Race: Transforming Racism from the Inside Out, Sounds True Inc
Parent Lauren (2016), Mindfulness and Racial Bias: Resources For Deeper Understanding, https://www.mindandlife.org/mindfulness-and-racial-bias-resources-for-deeper-understanding/
Royal Society for the Arts, (2017) Inclusive Growth Commission: Making our economy work for everyone
Social Justice, Inner Work and Contemplative Practice, (2017) Initiative for Contemplation, Equity and Action (ICEA) , 1:1, Edited by Sheryl Petty
Treleaven, D.A. (2018) Understanding Social Context: Working effectively across difference in Trauma Sensitive Mindfulness, Norton & Company, London
White Awake https://whiteawake.org/