The Open Hearts, Open Arms Project

we-cant-breathWe can’t breathe!

In Buddhist meditation, our breathing is essential. Anapana, meditation on the breath, was the Buddha’s first meditation instruction and the basis for all further meditative endeavors. Breathing is not only life-sustaining and calming; it is a foremost teaching aid. Breathing, we sense immediately our necessary connection to what is other than ourselves. Without the exchange of air —inner and outer–we would die.

We are not independent. We are dependent. We are interdependent. We are connected with one another. We breathe the same air. That air is neither black nor white. We share the life-force of all.

If one of us cannot breathe, none of us can breathe fully and deeply and we no longer experience our connection with one another.

If Eric Garner cannot breathe, then we cannot breathe. If Michael Brown no longer breathes, we cannot breathe. If Tamir Rice does not breathe, we cannot breathe.

Something is mightily broken. A hard rock of sadness and pain rolls itself up in our hearts and we cannot breathe. We must do something—swiftly and non-violently–to right the moral compass. Because, at this moment, none of us can breathe.

Jan Willis, December 7, 2014,
lionsroar.com/cant-breathe/ Used by permission.

Spurred by a unsettling stream of videos of police officers killing unarmed persons of color in 2014, SnowFlower member Heather Mann gave a Dharma talk on the issue of Diversity* within our own sangha.  She asked us to look deeply as to whether persons of all identities and abilities would find our SnowFlower to be a safe and welcoming spiritual home.

In answer to her call and the offers of sangha members to help with such an inquiry, SnowFlower created a special committee to study and report on Diversity.  After months of meetings and research, the Committee submitted its report and recommendations to the Steering Council, our sangha’s governing body.

The Steering Council subsequently decided that in February 2016—Black History Month—each sangha gathering would recite and review the Diversity Trainings as authored by Larry Yang.  The ensuing recitations, dharma talks, and discussion helped members to deepen their understanding of the challenges faced by non-dominant group members.

The Steering Council also approved the following:

  • Accepting the offer of Cheri Maples to lead a daylong session of de-biasing training. Such sessions have been shown to help people overcome unconscious bias.
  • Exploring with other Madison-based sanghas if there is interest in creating inter-sangha affinity groups for practitioners to meditate and interact with others of the same identity who are not part of the dominant culture.
  • Making Diversity the subject of an ongoing sangha project—“Open Hearts, Open Arms” –to be overseen by SnowFlower’s Education Committee.  As a first step, the project has created a list of Diversity resources to be further expanded and updated over time. Interested sangha members will help determine future Project activities.

*By “Diversity,” we mean an entire range of issues that includes, for instance, multicultural awareness, implicit bias, micro-aggressions and structural racism.  For the full definition, see the Diversity Committee’s Report.


Martin Luther King and Thich Nhat Hanh

Martin Luther King and Thich Nhat Hanh