JAN, COMMUNITY DHARMA LEADER
Jan: So I thought well what am I going to say to Aaron? she's thinking I'm teaching these classes and I'm not doing it. I haven't been doing it. So what would I say, but the truth of the matter is, it is active in me and I've reflected on my Dharma leader activities in the same kind of way, and really understanding the interconnectedness of us, all the co creation that we are all involved in at all times. That doing my practice and staying available, staying awake and staying engaged and present has an effect, is outward leading except, in a more indirect kind of way.
Aaron: Yeah, absolutely.
Jan: So that's how it's been. I haven't done anything formal in terms of outside stuff. But, I would say it's almost more of a kind of blossoming from the more external stuff that was going on before. It's a filter through which I perceive and relate to everything that's going on all the time. Yeah. And I just have a more and more richer, fuller, more nuanced understanding of my own self as a white person. And of this society as a white dominant society and understanding that is like, well, that, that is, that is how it is. I am that. And so now how do I relate given that I'm awake to that? And that I'm attuned to that and that, you know, where does wisdom and compassion come in?
Aaron: I love hearing this because I'm like, great it's different. It's inward. It's not an organizing kind of effort outward. That's fine. You know, but I thought of you because in doing White Awake with you, even just getting the initial email where you were saying, Hey friends, this is this program. It's really great.
Aaron: I felt the genuine desire and interest and, and your commitment to it. So that's why. You know, not because your Dharma leader Jan. Right, right, right, right, right.
Aaron: So I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about how it all started for you, how you got into it. Um, and what that felt like.
Jan: Yeah, so I was part of this two year training for community dharma leader through Spirit Rock, and the intention through Spirit Rock was that this was going to be a much more - all the community Dharma leader trainer programs that had gone on over many years, you know, were white. And they were really trying to find a way to break through. And apparently, they had had a lot of difficulties and a lot of, you know, okay. So there was that. And I knew that going in that the, really this next one was another iteration I knew a little bit of the clashes, you know, struggles and stuff like that, but it was, they made it quite clear. We really wanted a diverse group. And we want as close to 50% people of color. And I think they ended up getting maybe 30 or 40%, but anyway. It was the most diverse group that I've been a participant in as a white person. And it was the only one which was completely focused on really that issue, you know?
Aaron: Can I ask you a question? Was it the community dharma aspect that was drawing you? And then it was just, well, okay. So I've got to go through the diversity hoop to get this?
Jan: Yeah, it was, it was kind of like that it was, I wanted to community dharma leader, you know, training for that. And I also knew that that was part of it.
And I was like, well, that's okay. You know, it was like, yeah, that's important, you know. And then I thought, okay, you know, I've been to a couple of diversity training things through work and usually they're awkward and difficult. You know, but I was not seeking it out. Definitely not. But I thought it would be kind of interesting in an exotic kind of way. So I get him this, um, the first retreat for the community dharma leader training. There's, you know, it's about 50, 50 ish and the whole intention and the whole focus of it as a whole thing is about it. And they were addressing these issues and it got really contentious. I got really nervous and I didn't want to not be in the program because I wanted to be a community dharma leader, but I was like, not happy. I was just like, this is so awkward. I wish it weren't happening in this kind of way. I wish this weren't so awkward. You know, it's, it's a very kind of white thing to do.
But anyway, towards the end of that first retreat, one of the yogis, a black woman said we're gonna, um, what you basically what you white people need to do is you need to get yourself and learn, figure yourself back. And we're tired. We're tired of explaining to you. Don't listen to us anyway. And I was like, wow, God... it was intense. And I thought, okay, well man, I'm going to have to endure five retreats like this, but okay. I can endure. I was not in any way, like, oh, isn't this a won-. No, no. I was like, okay, I'm just going to make it through.
So then one of the white Yogis said, well, we have decided that we are starting this White Awake program based on this group from East Bay Meditation Center. A group of white people who had put together this training where like white people with white people to help us wake up. And this is completely voluntary. It's complete, it's not part of the standard curriculum, but we have organized this through our East Bay group, and we've seen that it's been really helpful for the white people to understand what it is. And we can see this is needed. So all you white people who want to do this on your own sign up, and we will put together these small groups and we will facilitate this complete in addition extracurricular. And, the teachers were fine with it. And I thought, if you don't have to, I'm not going to do it. I didn't sign up. Okay. I just thought, well, yeah, maybe I'll sign up later. I just didn't want to have the hassle of it. I just didn't want to do it. I was kind of interested - A friend I knew who was in the program, did sign up and I wanted to hear about it. And she told me, "you know, I was nervous, but boy, this first one was really good. I mean, whatever she was saying, I thought, "Really, wow, oh, I guess maybe I missed the boat, but wow. Well maybe she'll tell me about it" from my safe place, you know?
Well then the next retreat was six months later and the same group of white people, they said, we've gotten a lot of really strong, positive comments on the people who have signed up to do this. And we've heard some people who would like to join in. So we're offering another opportunity. If you want to sign up, you know, you can do that. And I thought...Even at that time, second thoughts. I thought, well, I had an excuse, cause I, I didn't sign up. But here I thought, well, you know, I don't want to be one of the bad ones that don't sign up. You know, I didn't want to be one of those. And my friend said it wasn't that bad. Okay, well, I'll sign up. Really. I was not looking for this at all.
And so I signed up and I was blown away by it. I was so blown away by it. Like, oh my gosh. The diversity training I had gotten in corporate America was nothing like this. And nobody's talking like this, that I though I knew or that I was around. And this makes so much sense. This feels so. This is like, it's not Buddhism, but it feels like the foundation of like non-self and this foundation of interconnectedness. So there's all this kind of like... this seems so right.
So it went on during the whole program and, uh, I felt so, um, empowered and awakened. I was like, wow, that has been the most actually actionable, beneficial, real, like, like treasure from the whole CDL program. The CDL program allowed me to be able to teach classes, but mostly it was how are you going to deal in relationship with this society in this community, in which you live? And I was like, wow, this is so good. And I was just starting to see the world in that kind of way. It was such a revelation to me and. It was so not what I thought it was going to be. And it was so beneficial in terms of my sense of, I dunno, ease in the world somehow, even though it's not like here's supposed to make you feel good about being in the world, it's just like, oh yeah.
It's like, you know, when you really see the truth of something like, oh, it's actually safer to not know the truth of how bad it is rather than to think it's not that bad. It's much safer. It has a much, you know, like, oh, okay. So now I really know. Oh, oh, it is very, for me, it was and continues to be, uh, enlivening enriching.
So, yeah, so that's it. I was not looking for it.
Aaron: So then when you did sign up and you were still feeling a little hesitant.
Jan: After the first one, I was very he-- the first, you know, there were eight different ones or nine, the first one I was like, okay, let's see how this goes. And I was like, oh, it was not like, let's beat you over the head and you can't do anything about it anyway. Or, you know, whatever, like let's no, it was just like, how did some of the early questions I really remember having to be like that you just, I love the way it was structured so that you, you said would use it, but there was no cross talk. There was not a professor or somebody in charge. There was, it was peer, but it was structured so you didn't have to make it up. And you had time, you had rules and it was a perfect, in my opinion situation to have intimacy and safety. The size of the group and the whole, I mean, so that.
And the questions were like, when did you first, you know, and recognize it, that there was, that you had, that you were a race, that there was some race, what is it, what is your experience of it? And I did not feel in danger. And I did not feel pressured or intimidated. I simply felt, uh, like here's an opportunity. And I, I just, I loved it.
And my experience with every single group that I did, that, that they all, I could recognize it after my first one, everybody was the same. They would come. They're a little defensive you know? Okay. I'm gonna give us try. And I was like, I totally got it. And then after the first one, they get this like, well, that wasn't so bad, you know. I guess it was try the second one again, it was like, oh. And then there was a real, you know, an opening that developed, an intimacy and a possibility of further exploration.
Aaron: what keeps you doing this work? What keeps you engaged with this? And we've talked about it a little bit, you know, not, not directly like this is why I still do it, but, um-
Jan: I just do it because it feels... it's alive. It feels alive. We look in the world that we live in. It just, is alive. It feels to me for myself, it's not possible to unhear the bell. And I feel so grounded in the work that I did early on from that first rotation. And then from following it up again and again, you know, as a participant, I was just like another participant. I didn't do, there was no like leader. I was like one more time, one more time. Same question. One more. Read the materials again one more time and then do it again and then do it again as then do it again. And, and is like, I felt really, really, awake to it. I mean, I'm trying to think of another word, but I just, I, and so we live in this culture like, oh, this is, yeah, this is, um, I, I, I couldn't close down and not see it anymore. I couldn't, I can't, I, I can't.
Aaron: Will you talk a little bit more, like you're explaining to someone who's never meditated before, who doesn't have a sense of what that might open up for them? Yeah. Can you talk about what that the meditation experience is like and how that connects to the antiracism experience?
Jan: Yeah. Yeah. So, you know, there is a fundamental experience within our own mind, heart, body in meditation. That what we're actually doing is staying and being with what's present and knowing what's present. And knowing our relationship, our reactivity, or our response to that. And not running away from it. Or when we do run away from it, knowing that we're running away from it. Okay. And knowing that, and then feeling how that feels. Staying with it, being with it. Okay. So the meditation part is the, is a foundation of... just from a physical point of view, being with something that's itching or a little slightly uncomfortable and choosing, you know, I'm not going to scratch that right now. I'm going to stay with this uncomfortable. I don't have to be enslaved by my preference for pleasant experience, but I actually can choose. And not life-threatening pain, but something that's uncomfortable. And the mind going, no! You know, and all this stuff and staying like, wow, you know, my mind is telling me that I'm going to die from this itch, you know? Oh actually no. And the experience of actually being with and seeing the, not just not seeing in a visual way, but in a felt sense way, knowing how it is, as opposed to a projection of how it's going to be and therefore I have to avoid it. But like really being available to, present for, awake to unpleasant experience and pleasant experience. And the mind's habitual strategies that it has, and to have them be conscious like. Oh, wow. Immediately I want to go to sleep or immediately I want to start planning or immediately I want to do this, but just because I'm bored.
Really? Yeah. So how, what would it be like to just be bored?
And then how is it to just feel ...when you read a book and it talks about something that makes you feel so ashamed of being a white person for having this privilege or you're reading something and you feel so, um, helpless about what to do with this overwhelming system or, or reading something and wanting to be defensive about that. You know, it was not me. I didn't do it, you know. Any of those things that you come up with, practicing meditation will really support the possibility, like, okay. I feel that coming up in this, but could have. Push through and finish reading this and hear what this author has to say? Doesn't mean I have to buy, but can I, can I stay with this habitual reaction to discredit or to gloss over or to feel helpless and then give up or whatever.
What happens if you don't do the automatic response? Can that break your heart open? Not just break your heart. But break it open to something that then has more room and more space and it has more options and has more capacity for compassion and well-being for oneself and for the situation? You know? So I feel it is just completely supportive of each other. My experience is that.
Aaron: this is one of the reasons why I'm doing this project. Because I think that we need to see, and we need to hear how beneficial it is and how healing it is.
Jan: It really is. And, it's the same way in meditation. Healing and beneficial to sit through the suffering, to get through the other side. You know, if the is suffering is this itch or the suffering is emotional memory, a painful thing where you're trying to pretend doesn't exist or, you know, um, are you in a current thing going on. Like, you know, my situation with my family, you know, there's, and there's always something there's always something go to the world, go to your family, go to your memories. There's always, you know, potential of something there. And so ... the capacity, the sort of muscle memory of having sat through a pretty low, um, uh, like what's the word I'm thinking of? Yeah. Yeah. Low stakes. Stakes. Exactly. Where like an itch or, you know, like a feeling, you know, memory or something like that... it has a momentum of the capacity to be able to... it's not like endure a torture till is over. It's not like that, but to understand, like, you know, it's worth it. It's not like I'm a get through it and then I won't have to deal anymore. Actually there is a. They're in going through the pain or the discomfort or whatever it is we're trying to not have, be. We're trying so much for it to not be that way.
But if it is that way, and so without turning it into, like, I have to be the savior of the world, well, that's a, that's a disaster because it's not possible and it's not set up that way. You're, you're not supposed to be the savior of the world. You know, respond to what's in front of you as best you're able. From compassion, from non harming, from kindness, from real letting go of attachment or grasping or needing it to be the way you want it to be, you know?
So if we have the practice on this very low stakes meditation, a new habit gets developed of actually like, you know, my reactivity to it, my pushing away, it actually does not help. And it makes it worse. Is it possible to actually just like soften into? And allow until it moves, until it changes? Which it always does. Till dissipates until it, you know, moderates or, you know, get that experience, you actually can start to live like that.
Aaron: You know, as you're talking. I see that this is a feeling you have in your body.
Aaron: Because you know, in these long pauses, and even just now, when you were talking about can I soften into it, I saw your body soften and relax into it. And one of the things like this project that I'm really wanting to think about and highlight is like, anti-racism work can be sitting with an itch for five minutes.And you may not stop there. You know, you may do something more than that, but don't discount that five minutes of sitting with something uncomfortable.
Jan: Exactly, exactly. Exactly.
Aaron: I have realized there have been things in my life that have helped me be more comfortable with being uncomfortable. And meditation is one of those things.
Jan: Uh huh, uh huh, yep, yep, yep!
Aaron: I also was thinking when you were talking one of the things that was such an eye opening experience for me in my introduction to meditation was this idea of attachment. So as you're talking about, oh, I feel uncomfortable. My natural immediate response to that feeling of discomfort is to try to get comfortable immediately.
Aaron: And that's because we were attached to the desire to feel good.
Aaron: So, thinking about it in terms of whiteness and anti-racism and thinking about how oftentimes attachment is a subconscious or unconscious thing.
Jan: Yes, yes, yes.
Aaron: And I think that white people are attached to whiteness.
Aaron: In a way that we don't often recognize or understand.
Aaron: And so, you know, when I, when I was hearing you talk about why you kept doing this work and how the dharma and the anti-racism are so just, you can't pull them apart. I was sitting here thinking about how you said you can't un-hear the bell that's ringing. I feel like that with meditation too. You know?
Resources Jan has found helpful:
Jan's current read: Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas by Jennifer Raff
(on the shelves at Left Bank Books in St. Louis or online here)