Author: Heather Williams

Reflections on Catastrophe, Consciousness, and the Right to Home

This article appears in the issue “Healing Social and Ecological Rifts Part 2″ (Volume 8, Number 2). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.  Subscribe to The Arrow Journal to read the complete issue, plus unlimited access to the only journal dedicated to investigating the meeting of contemplative wisdom and the systemic challenges facing our world. Already subscribed? Read the issue: Healing Social and Ecological Rifts Part 2 | Vol. 8, No. 2 | Fall 2021

In Conversation: LaDawn Haglund and Adam Lobel

This interview appears in the issue “Healing Social and Ecological Rifts Part 2″ (Volume 8, Number 2). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.  LaDawn: We are beginning our dialogue on Part 2 of “Healing Social and Ecological Rifts,” a two-volume issue in The Arrow Journal. I’m here today with Adam Lobel, and I am LaDawn Haglund, guest editor for this special issue. Hi Adam! Adam: Good morning, LaDawn! LaDawn: I wanted to get started by laying the ground: why we’re having this dialogue, what is bringing each of us to the table to discuss the issues raised by these articles and what they evoke for us in terms of learning or developing our ideas, or for moving forward with heart into the world.  Adam: Why don’t we start with you? You’re a busy professor and have a lot going on. Why did you choose to take up this pretty significant task of editing two volumes and taking on this special issue? LaDawn: First, I want to thank Gabe Dayley, Chief Editor of …

Introduction from the Journal Editors – Healing Social and Ecological Rifts Part 2

This introduction appears in the issue “Healing Social and Ecological Rifts Part 2″ (Volume 8, Number 2). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.  We are thrilled to share the second installment of this year’s double issue, Healing Social and Ecological Rifts. Authors in Part 2 offer unique and provocative insights that both build on and take in new directions the contributions of authors featured in Part 1. Heather Williams’ opening narrative of a road trip through southern California aflame and dehydrated—and the hubristic denial that led to the region’s development—gestures toward discussions of death denial and  “eco-sin” from the first installment. Adam Lobel’s article also deals with death symbolically and literally, inviting readers to learn as much from the messages of dying animals, plants, and ecosystems as from the vibrant life that persists. Lobel further makes an incisive critique of how modern society has conceptualized and enacted a false binary between humans and nature that efforts to “reconnect with nature” subtly perpetuate. Keri E. Iyall Smith provides a timely and necessary call …

Healing Social and Ecological Rifts Part 2

  Issue Contents Introduction from the Journal Editors by Gabe Dayley and shah noor hussein In Conversation LaDawn Haglund and Adam Lobel Unfolding Universe | L’univers desplegant-se  Carles Ibáñez ‘If you give us the best place in the world, it is not so good for us as this:’ Some Reflections on Catastrophe, Consciousness, and the Right to Home Heather Williams  Dead Turtle Animist: Towards a Non-Natural Ecopolitical Spirituality Adam Lobel Recreating Our Communities to Respond to the Climate Emergency Keri E. Iyall Smith The climate is changing and causing calamities that we will need to respond to as communities in order to survive and thrive. Indigenous approaches to the natural world, equality, sustainability, economic exchange, prioritizing the collective, and participatory decision-making offer a path to recuperation of the natural environment and community-building to improve the welfare for us all together. Keywords: Environment, Climate Change, Participatory Decision-Making, Indigenous People, Capitalism, Community The Turtle and the Falling Sky: Yanomami Mimesis, F(r)iction, and Performance John C. Dawsey This essay compares the thought, practices, and performance of Yanomami peoples …

Introduction from the Guest Editor – Healing Social and Ecological Rifts Part 1

This introduction appears in the issue “Healing Social and Ecological Rifts Part 1″ (Volume 8, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.  The environmental crises we face today are unprecedented: climate change-fueled droughts, fires, and floods; biodiversity loss and species extinction; deforestation; and contamination of our air, water, and soil. These material crises threaten the very basis of life as we know it on earth—human and non-human—and exacerbate a laundry list of historical and contemporary injustices that differentially impact people based on their racialized, gendered, and geopolitical positionality. Anxiety, grief, and helplessness in the face of these realities affects our individual and collective health and wellbeing. This first installment of two special issues of The Arrow: A Journal of Wakeful Society, Culture & Politics begins an exploration of these interlocking issues with the objective of “Healing Social and Ecological Rifts.” This inquiry is framed around the postulate that a shared foundational logic of domination and exploitation—exacerbated by an exaggerated individuality and blindness to our fundamental interconnectedness—drives both ecological crisis and societal …

Introduction from the Journal Editors – Healing Social and Ecological Rifts Part 1

This introduction appears in the issue “Healing Social and Ecological Rifts Part 1″ (Volume 8, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.  In March 2020, we invited authors to contribute to this issue with the observation that the “social and environmental crises we face today are unprecedented.” In July 2021—following a year of unprecedented pandemic, fires, and floods coupled with a rise in mobilizations against police brutality and systemic racism—the observation seems to be a truism. The layering of these catastrophes has painfully laid bare the rampant exploitation of people and planet at the root of many disasters, and in turn the mentality of dualism beneath the exploitation. In preparing this issue we asked ourselves, what can we learn from contemplative practices that work to dispel dualistic thinking? How can we create the conditions for empathy, connection, and acting from a deep understanding of interconnectedness? The articles, essays, and poems herein—and forthcoming in a second issue later this year—tackle these difficult questions and more in unique ways, weaving together perspectives from …

Reframing Vulnerability as a Condition of Potential

This essay appears in the issue “Healing Social and Ecological Rifts Part 1″ (Volume 8, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.  Scholars most often frame vulnerability as a condition with an implied likelihood of violence or other harm. They classify “the vulnerable” as people who lack resources, face hardships, are marginalized in society, and generally need help. Such vulnerable people are said to suffer disproportionately in disaster events. This framing fits comfortably within a system where the oppressed are encouraged to “build resilience.” In such a system, the negative outcomes that “the vulnerable” experience are predominantly discussed as deficiencies at the level of the individual, and responsibility is placed squarely on the victim. Erinn Gilson observes, “if to be vulnerable is to be weak and subject to harm, then to be invulnerable is the only way to be strong and competent. Invulnerability as a form of mastery is sought at the price of disavowing vulnerability.”1 Striving for invulnerability is hardly a surprising position, and it emerges out of Western modernity, patriarchy …

Protestors at Mt. Everest Base Camp, 2007. Image credit: Students for a Free Tibet. Used with permission.

A Daughter of the Buddha on the Frontlines of War

This book review of Fortune Favors the Brave by Kiri Westby appears in the issue “Healing Social and Ecological Rifts Part 1″ (Volume 8, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.  “Victory over war!” they screamed. They formed armies, flew flags, infiltrated each others’ forces with spies, and laid the legions of their enemies low—all under the watchful gaze of one of the greatest Buddhist masters to flee Tibet and teach meditation in the west. Their teacher, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, chose mountain valleys and secluded woodlands for their mock battles, skillfully configuring them to bring a rising generation of teenagers face to face with their own hatred, fear and aggression. He was training them; not to fight wars, but to wage peace. Among his recruits was Kiri Westby, a young woman born into a remarkable family in Boulder, Colorado. Now, thirty years on, having served on the frontlines of world efforts for peace, human rights and the empowerment of women, she has shared her turbulent and deeply personal journey in Fortune Favors …

Healing Social and Ecological Rifts Part 1

  Issue Contents Introduction from the Journal Editors by Gabe Dayley and shah noor hussein Introduction from the Guest Editor by LaDawn Haglund An Ecodharma Prayer of Earth Adam Lobel This poem was composed spontaneously near a red cardinal in western Pennsylvania on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, amidst a global pandemic, rising temperatures, melting ice, and mass extinction, April 2020.  Death Denial, Human Supremacy, and Ecological Crisis: Indigenous and Euro-American Perspectives James Rowe & Darcy Mathews We live in a period of heightened environmental crises and scholars have long pointed to narratives of human supremacy as central drivers of ecological destruction. We explore an overlooked but powerful explanation for stubborn attachment to the idea of human supremacy in the Euro-Americas: the political force of death denial. Human feelings of fear and belittlement in the face of finitude easily become fuel for compensatory attachments to narratives of supremacy. In making this connection between death denial and narratives of human supremacy, we draw on the work of anthropologist Ernest Becker and Indigenous …

Kushil Gunasekera in front of his foundation on the anniversary of the 2004 Tsunami. Photo credit: Reuters.

“The more you give, the more will be yours to give”: The Karmic Philanthropy of Kushil Gunasekera

“I want to be one of the nicest human beings that this earth has seen,” Sri Lankan Buddhist philanthropist Kushil Gunasekera told me in an interview early in 2020. I’ve known Kushil for years, so I’m no longer surprised when he makes such bold pronouncements about his life goals. From the naming of his humanitarian organization as the Foundation of Goodness, to its organizational mission of promoting “unconditional compassion,” bold claims of moral excellence are fundamental to Kushil’s understanding of himself as a Buddhist humanitarian. At first glance, Kushil’s ambition to be one of the nicest human beings may seem overzealous or even audacious. Yet, such a gloss would overlook Kushil’s passionate and earnest desire to cultivate and perfect his spiritual vocation of generosity. Take for instance the time when, facing severe personal financial duress, Kushil used the last remaining credit on his credit card to pay the college fees for three children of a woman he hardly knew. Facing financial bankruptcy, he had mortgaged his home for a personal loan. He was not deriving …

Baldwin and Buddhism: Death Denial, White Supremacy, and the Promise of Racial Justice

“Terror cannot be remembered… Yet, what the memory repudiates controls the human being. What one does not remember dictates who one loves or fails to love.” —James Baldwin More attention should be paid to why white people remain so attached to narratives of racial supremacy. This was a sentiment shared by authors Rev. angel Kyodo williams and Resmaa Menakem in an online fireside chat held in the wake of Jacob Blake’s shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin.1 If the purpose of radical analysis is to grasp injustices at their roots, then what might lie at the aching roots of white supremacy? Menakem’s provocative answer, in his excellent book My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, is that white supremacy is conditioned by generations of unprocessed trauma: “White bodies traumatized each other in Europe for centuries before they encountered Black and red bodies.”2 Left unprocessed, that trauma has helped fuel a will to racial supremacy that works emotionally to soothe people whose violent histories made them feel less-than. A question that …

PRISONS DO NOT HEAL

shah noor hussein is a writer, visual artist, and scholar focusing on black feminism, art, and teaching. shah is a doctoral student and Cota-Robles Fellow at UC Santa Cruz in the fields of Anthropology, Critical Race Theory & Ethnic Studies. From 2016 – 2017, they were a Writing Fellow at the California Institute of Integral Studies and currently works as an adjunct professor, a freelance writer, and a multimedia artist in Oakland. Their previous experience as an editor includes work for arts organizations, journals, magazines, start-ups, and book publishing companies including Umber Journal and Nothing But The Truth Publishing. shah serves as an Event and Program Coordinator at their spiritual spiritual home, the East Bay Meditation Center located in Okaland, California, which offers radically inclusive dharma practices through Buddhist, multicultural, and secular approaches that focus on social justice. Return to table of contents for Spirituality and Survival: Imaginative Freedoms for Abolition Futures.

There Was Love Included in It: Linking Art and Abolition

Interview with Malik Seneferu and William Rhodes On a rare sunny day in San Francisco, two long term friends, artists, and grassroots community leaders, Malik Seneferu and William Rhodes, met in the summer amidst the chaotic backdrop of 2020. While the year brought heightened turmoil to the world, California endured a reemergence of protests against police brutality, coupled with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and a particularly intense start to fire season causing terrible air quality and evacuations for many residents. These two old friends relished the opportunity to meet in-person, albeit outdoors and distanced, for a lively conversation on abolition and spirituality. Brother Malik and Brother William are lifelong artists, they serve as role models in their community, teaching and mentoring young artists, with a focus on Black youth in particular. Malik Seneferu is a prolific painter, muralist, illustrator, and sculptor whose work has traveled internationally, adorning book, magazine and newspaper covers as well as the walls of museums and galleries. William Rhodes is a sculptural artist with a fine arts flare; trained in traditional …

Spiritual Activism: On the Streets, at the Shrines

The Rally A little girl marches. Her face contorts. Her little legs struggle to keep up. Her fists raised in the air, she is angry. She wants justice. Her small voice unheard over the crowd. The chants: No justice; no peace. Documented. She becomes iconic. Be mindful of the children! Watch them Listen to them Seek their wisdom They are closest to the soul They are closest to the source They are closest to GOD At home, my parents had created a sanctuary, a place where I was free to be myself: reading, creating, laughing as loud as I wanted. Home was our tiny apartment in The Walt Whitman housing projects of Fort Greene Brooklyn—an oasis from the outside world. I was loved. The end. I was over-loved. My mother and father wanted more than just what the public school across the street could offer. My father, who had not long returned from a trip to Africa when I was around three, could not bear the thought of sending his child to a regular “White …

"Fed Up," protests at City Hall, San Francisco, CA, 2020. Photo by author.

In Solitude and Solidarity

Who Are You? If we are what we do then who are you? Are you who you say you are? Are you the same when you are sleeping? When the world is sleeping? When the lights are off? In the dark? Are you alive when you are dreaming? When awake? In the light? Who are you when no one watches? Who are you when no one knows? Are you the same? Are you living who you’re meant to be? Or are you living who they say you are? Self and other?  One and another? All or none? All  in  one? Whole Essential Soul Credentials Who Are  You? Pandemic Symptoms and Systems “… for there are times when disobedience heals a very ailing part of the self. It relieves the human spirit’s distress at being forced into narrow boundaries. For the nearly powerless, defying authority is often the only power available.” ―Malidoma Patrice Somé1 “Slow down. Inhale peace. Exhale worry,” I’ve had to remind myself. The more chaotic everything gets, the more peace I try to …

From “The Afro Tarot” deck by Jessi Jumanji

Queering the Archetypes of Tarot

We find ourselves walking down a path that our ancestors laid ____A spiral ________Up or down depending on which way you bend your neck ____________We’re in lockstep ________________Passing the same points of interest again and again ____________________The same but different ________________________Slavery ____________________We loop round ________________Sharecropping ____________We loop again ________The prison industrial complex ____Back again and again until we’re numb, I get dizzy and reach for a way out My hands find my well-worn deck of tarot cards and I pull at them hoping for answers I pull The Emperor  The oppressive chokehold, the knee on our necks, the invisible puppeteer that we fight against Oh how this world would love us if he were gone, or if he were like a redwood instead of a ram The Star The first glance of light after a lifetime of darkness Hope A way out of this dizzying madness 10 of Pentacles A question What will I leave behind and for whom? I walk the path that my Ancestors laid and suddenly I see it fork I see …

Language and Personal Narrative in Revolutionary Poetry

Book Review: I Am Still Your Negro by Valerie Mason-John I Am Still Your Negro: An Homage to James Baldwin by Valerie Mason-John University of Alberta Press, 2020 Dr. Valerie Mason-John, also known as Vimalasara in Buddhist Dharma communities and Queenie in slam poetry and theatre circles, is a world-renowned playwright, author, and beloved Buddhist teacher who co-founded the Eight Step Recovery Program. In their recently published collection of poetry, I Am Still Your Negro, Mason-John pays homage to James Baldwin through seven sections of poetic vignettes spanning nearly 100 pages. The topics range from slavery and colonization to global politics and historical realities, addressing the racialized and gendered intersections of African identity, diaspora, and ancestry. Mason-John’s opening section sets the stage, outlining the author’s intellectual history and accomplishments while simultaneously discarding the story of self we are expected to cultivate. As they explain in the introduction to this poetry collection, “all of that is the bypassing story. It’s what kept me alive.” In their Dharma teachings, Mason-John often draws a distinction between the stories …

Artwork by Rae Minji Lee, with photography by Carolina Marinati (CC0)

Spirituality and Survival: Imaginative Freedoms for Abolition Futures

In this collection on “Spirituality and Survival: Imaginative Freedoms for Abolition Futures,” authors engage key questions of Black survival in this moment: How are Black communities activating our ancestral knowledge to cultivate a future we are willing to fight for and worlds in which we want to survive? We invited authors to consider the following questions in their writing: How are you showing up right now to take care of yourself and to care for others? How are you showing up in mindful solidarity with the movements confronting police violence and demanding abolition? What contemplative insights, spiritual wisdoms, or dharmic teachings are you finding most relevant for society or for you, personally, in this time? How have Black histories of protest, riots, and revolutions related to spirituality? How have our ancestors, both familial lineages and intellectual inspirations, responded to past turmoils with insight and vision across the diaspora? How can the changes we need, including the abolition of prisons and police, be spiritually guided, mindfully motivated, and creatively conjured now and tomorrow? How can these …

We Need More Fugitives

radical Black feminist thoughtfeelings (& propaganda) “Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well?… Just so’s you’re sure, sweetheart, and ready to be healed, cause wholeness is no trifling matter. A lot of weight when you’re well.” —Minnie Ransom And so begins Toni Cade Bambara’s 1980 novel, The Salt Eaters: Its protagonist Velma Henry, resistantly coming undone in the hands of Minnie Ransom, a trusted healer intimately acquainted with the voices of her ancestral guides. This novel is unsettling for many reasons. Structurally, the many voices and perspectives Bambara uses to tell the story disregard narrative conventions. Deeper still, Velma Henry, a black woman activist hospitalized and seeking healing after a sucide attempt,  stands as a haunting embodiment of the ways embattled resistance can literally tear apart the bodymind. I’ve written out parts of that opening line and posted it on my walls and doors in nearly every place I’ve lived over the past five years. Currently it sparkles in golden glitter ink on a white piece of paper next to my bed. …

Con*cep*tion

Prologue We all strive for understanding and meaning. Yet too often, we arrive at understanding by a consensus of the few. Our definitions, numbered and lettered, give us form from which we build beliefs and systems.  One of the skillful means I appreciate about Chogyäm Trungpa, an influential Tibetan Buddhist monk who brought Buddhism to the West, was his ability to play with words to reveal the potential of any word to hold wisdom. Each piece below engages in a narrative that invites you to reconsider the normative definition of a word or phrase and what is true in your experience.  Each may give you an opportunity to create and experience and witness one. Although all pieces below reflect some aspect of Black birth and mothering, they simultaneously engage with how we relate to our world. Con*cep*tion We are all capable of conceiving. Some make worlds, others systems, still others ideology. All of this contributes to our (personal) Now and This Now (cultural) of the last 400+ years, which has deteriorated our humanity. Yet, co-arising …

Photograph by shah noor hussein

Meant to Survive: Creativity as a Path to Abolition

Over 40 years ago, Audre Lorde evocatively reminded us that “we were never meant to survive” as Black people of the diaspora living under colonial empires with capitalist agendas.1 In 2012, Alexis Pauline Gumbs revisited this pivotal poem, “A Litany for Survival,” in her article “The Shape of My Impact,” stating that survival has “never meant, bare minimum,” but rather “references our living in the context of what we have overcome”.2 Speaking to each other across decades, Lorde and Gumbs emphasize the exceptional power of surviving under systems of oppression, imperialism, and colonialism. To live through these experiences while finding ways to express ourselves, honor our creativity, and nourish our spirits is no small act. We have overcome tremendous traumas, and this is a great strength. As Octavia Butler proclaims, “God is Change,” and if God is a Black womxn, we are her children.3 Black folks have adapted to many things—colonization, imperialism, and climate change, to name a few—shifting our ways of being in conjunction with spiritual and ancestral teachings. While we must be weary …

Land-Based Ethics and Settler Solidarity in a Time of Corona and Revolution

Settler colonialism has been defined as a structure, not an event, meaning that settler societies like the U.S., Canada, and Australia endure over time through racist laws and ideologies that naturalize the dispossession of Indigenous populations.1 One of the most effective strategies that settler states rely on to eliminate Indigenous peoples and their power is the idea that their knowledges are primitive and superstitious, examples of failed epistemology.2 This view is rooted in an Enlightenment-born materialism that asserts that legitimate knowledge can only be produced through narrow empirical methods, relegating the negotiations of immaterial life to the social margins.3 As the colonial project progresses, legitimate knowledge production is simultaneously tethered to race and power (reserved to the white and landed), resulting in what we have come to know as modernity.4 Settler colonialism seeks to eliminate Indigenous populations in order to monopolize resources for the sake of capital. It operates through laws and racist ideologies, but also through conceptualizations of the natural world as white men’s for the human taking. Settler colonialism operates from its own …

From Sheltering in Place to Dancing on Shifting Ground

For days a robin has been flying into the glass doors of my studio, bouncing off and then standing nonplused on the deck, looking back at the glass with, what I take to be utter consternation. Then she goes at it again, hurling herself against the glass, bouncing off and then standing four feet away confused, I suppose gathering resolve for the next, duty-bound attempt. At first, I thought she might be a pregnant female looking for a good nesting site. Worried, I did a bit of robin-nesting research online and built a small bird-house along the lines of what I’d seen on birding sites. I mounted the little house on the exterior wall of the studio, where the robin could see it. I even collected some nesting materials—grasses, sticks, and mud. But the robin took no interest and continued bashing herself against every glass window and door. Alarmed, I sent off emails to various birding sites asking if anyone had seen something similar. In just a few hours I had received a half dozen …

Three Meditations on the Apocalypse

I. ORIGINS 3.23.2020 On the first day I look for origins1: Corona (n): [1] a crown, a garland of laurel bestowed for serving in wartime, in a lifetime; so may we make for each other garlands of tenderest gratitude, coronas of lotus and laurel. [2] a luminous circle left behind dark moon during total eclipse; this darkness remarkable only because of the knowledge of light that exists beyond it. II. GENERATION 3.27.2020 On the fifth day I boil bones to make a stock. My grandmother’s recipe, something passed invisibly from women’s hands— tender, strong, the shape of holding— into my hands, into my bones: a knowing how to hold on. The steam billows out from the stove and clouds the windows. If I had a child, I imagine her hands drawing flowers upon them, play affirming life, a crack in the fog of this uncanny war, through which we could look out on our neighbors and they could look in on us: the humanity of it— a small child and a grown one making something …

Grief in the Time of COVID: Sharing in Compassion and Resilience

When my father went into the hospital on May 6th, there were 76,000 deaths in the US from COVID-19. By the time he passed away eleven days later, there were 90,000. It’s strange when something as deeply and personally felt as the death of a loved one becomes part of a national statistic. Yet it also points to the collective nature of grief related to the pandemic and the systemic injustices that it has revealed and intensified. We are in a time of collective grief. Some of us have lost loved ones to COVID-19. Others have lost jobs or been furloughed due to the lockdown of cities and towns across the country. On top of all that, since the killing of George Floyd on May 25, the streets have been filled with renewed anguish and calls for racial justice and the end of police brutality. The enormity of the crisis affects us all, directly or indirectly. How can we handle the emotional intensity and grief while supporting each other in the process and working for …

Survival Will Always Be Insufficient, but It’s a Good Place to Start

Rereading Emily St. John Mandel’s speculative fiction novel Station Eleven at the start of the pandemic was strangely reassuring. The book toggles between the onset of a future global flu pandemic and the lives of people living twenty years later. I often find post-apocalyptic fiction helpful for affirming the possibility of going on past disaster. Station Eleven is explicitly organized around the proposition that “survival is insufficient.” This phrase—tattooed on a character’s arm and written on the side of the traveling theatre and musical troupe’s vehicle in the twenty-years-from-pandemic plotline—comes from a Star Trek episode. In the book, the phrase, “survival is insufficient,” asserts that people deserve art, and music, and other seemingly useless things that are apparently secondary to basic biological survival. To reprise the 1912 labor slogan, we need not only bread but also roses: Beauty is integral to surviving and thriving. What does it mean for us to fight for roses—for more than survival—when so many people are not even surviving? Ruth Wilson Gilmore defines racism as “the state-sanctioned and/or extra-legal production …

Interdependent During a Pandemic

Last summer, my partner and I worked on a research project about wildlife trafficking in southern Africa. While trafficking in elephant ivory and rhino horn tends to dominate the headlines, we also examined smaller species such as the pangolin—which is both the most trafficked mammal on earth and one possible source of the novel coronavirus. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, one lesson from our research stands out as particularly crucial: Wildlife trafficking is not a problem of protecting a single species in a single place. Rather, it is a global problem, composed of unaddressed poverty in rural communities, middlemen profiting from illegal trade, and indulgent demand for exotic food and art. It is a problem from roots to leaves, which unfurl thousands of miles away. The same is true of the virus now ravaging human society. It knows no boundary. It reaches my aging parents in a small mountain town, my anxious students scattered across the United States, and my friends in rural Botswana with limited access to healthcare. In a recent letter …

The Stowaway Seeds

The Stowaway Seeds I am afraid to touch the shopping cart, the bright cool hide of the fragrant orange, the wet sand on the beach. This pandemic virus spreads RNA where people pass too close to one another and gather to buy food, or crowd the ocean’s edge. “It cannot be killed because it isn’t alive,” my scientist brother says. But something unknown has always contained our death, which is why we are respectful and delicate as we lift teacups and snow salt crystals on grilled asparagus and touch one another and spoons and books and the surfaces of the earth we will one day be pressed gently between, like book pages on the fat stems of large leaves. Such abundant offerings – these tiny crowns and multiplying stars, the resplendent small burrs I found in the rough striped blanket we took to the woods before everything shut down. They came home with me, to seed a new world, in which we aren’t the most important thing. Mushim Patricia Ikeda is a socially engaged Buddhist …

Photograph by Trudi Lynn Smith

Toilet Paper as Terror Management

The toilet paper aisle at my local grocery store was the first to go barren. Similar scenes of scatalogical scarcity are now the norm across North America as consumers prepare for months of physical distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19. You can find footage online of shoppers fighting over the last roll, and The New York Times recently reported on a toilet paper shipment requiring police escort. It is peculiar that in the early days of this crisis, a pooping accessory took priority over food. Survival instincts appear low in late capitalism. Fortunately, there is a body of social psychology that helps explain the collective impulse to put our heads in our asses in this moment of genuine crisis, and it’s called “Terror Management Theory (or TMT). TMT is rooted in the work of Ernest Becker, who won a Pulitzer for his 1973 book The Denial of Death. According to Becker, the intense existential fear caused by the reality of death compels us to psychologically buffer ourselves with fantasies of supremacy that compensate for …

Illustration by K.T. Tierney

Facing Pandemic, Finding Ground

I’m writing this in the still-early days of the pandemic. Canadian federal, provincial, and municipal governments are requiring self-distancing and closing non-essential services. Increases in coronavirus deaths are in store, though the curve may have been flattened. Much of the predicted economic carnage lies ahead. It feels like the calm before the storm. How do we work with our minds in this situation? What meaning can we make of what’s happening? Ayahuasca My core spiritual practice these days is ayahuasca ceremony. Ayahuasca is a psychoactive plant mixture and traditional medicine long used in Indigenous ceremonies in the Amazon basin. Within a well-crafted ritual container and led by someone deeply trained in ayahuasca chants and healing, twelve or so of us drink ayahuasca and experience a night of insight and sometimes visions.1 I’ve drunk sixteen times and almost every time experienced a connection with the sacred; from the point of view of the profound interconnectedness of all phenomena, I’ve worked with my patterns, my root traumas, and how I show up in the world. The experience …

Finding Ground, Making Sense, and Getting Simple

Relax, everything is out of control. —Ajahn Brahm Finding Ground March 13, 2020 In a world of tension and breakdown it is necessary for there to be those who seek to integrate their inner lives not by avoiding anguish and running away from problems, but by facing them in their naked reality and in their ordinariness. —Thomas Merton I thought I was handling it all quite well. With the increasing cases of coronavirus, the disappointment of recent election results, the cancellations of the many social gatherings I’ve come to rely on, I was being practical. I hadn’t been glued to the news, I was washing my hands and making time to check in with friends. My pandemic supplies were more-or-less stocked. There in the grocery store, though, another reality became clear. While my head was managing, my body was freaking out. I know this saran wrap feeling in my chest well. It’s fear. It’s anxiety. It’s uncertainty. Doom is a breath away. Though my mind had it “under control,” my body reminded me of the …

Illustration by K.T. Tierney

Practice, Resilience, and Compassion in the Time of COVID-19

In this collection on the COVID-19 pandemic, authors share reflections on the personal and political in this time of global uncertainty and suffering. We invited authors to consider the following questions in their writing: How are you showing up for the pandemic? What are you doing to practice calm and clarity? How are you staying grounded in the midst of groundlessness and sudden shifts in routine? How can we negotiate safety and mutual aid? How can we practice compassion and helping others at this time? How do we make sense of this monumental crisis? How are you relating to ways the pandemic’s effects are mapping onto the injustices and inequities of our society? Their responses, which we will publish successively in the coming days, speak to personal experience and social calamity, to profound injustice and the possibility of something else. Check back here or follow The Arrow on social media as we publish new pieces. Contents Finding Ground, Making Sense, and Getting Simple by Kelsey Blackwell Facing Pandemic, Finding Ground by David Kahane Toilet Paper as …

How to Love a Mestiza Woman

This poem also appears in the issue “The Necessity of Including Embodiment and Lineage in Racial Justice Work” (Volume 6, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.  I wish I could tell you what it is like to love a woman who knows and creates, nurtures and feeds love, a Mexica woman, a Mestiza woman, a Warrior woman. I wish I could tell you what it is like to go deep into the pain of a many-centuries-old nation, to feel the sacrifice of many generations, to see the resilience of a conquered indigenous people with reverence, to see the steadfast battle for present survival, and yet feel in your core the living ancient spiritual wonders. I wish I could show you that to be this woman it takes great strength, endurance, resilience, great humility to learn through unsolved grievances; it takes connecting to the cycle of life and its mysteries; it takes listening to Mother Earth and her whisperings. To love such a woman you would have to understand: she has …

Borders

This poem also appears in the issue “The Necessity of Including Embodiment and Lineage in Racial Justice Work” (Volume 6, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.    Jessica Stern, PhD, is a developmental psychologist at University of Virginia, a lover of Rumi and Mary Oliver, and an Associate Editor at The Arrow. She is grateful for the wisdom of writing mentors Deb Norton and Claudia Rankine.

On Lineage and Whiteness

This essay also appears in the issue “The Necessity of Including Embodiment and Lineage in Racial Justice Work” (Volume 6, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.  I spent a lot of time during my youth pondering my family story and where I came from. While kicking rocks around my suburban street, I would wonder, “Why do we call ourselves Greek but don’t speak the language or cook the food? Why doesn’t my family feel like other Greek families I know?” My family name comes from someone who signed the Declaration of Independence; my mother’s family holds the Greek ancestry. I’ve always felt that I’ve straddled different worlds. When I say I’m Greek, it feels as if I’m holding onto some name from a previous life. My maternal grandfather (Papou) was a man of noble actions. He taught me that giving someone my word was worth more than gold, and that I should treat everyone I met with honor and respect. When it came to instructing his grandchildren on Greek heritage …

I’ll Meet You There

This poem also appears in the issue “The Necessity of Including Embodiment and Lineage in Racial Justice Work” (Volume 6, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.  We should dance as if dancing were a symbol of peace as if gyrating arms and fluctuating feet were the protest signs of the anti-war movement We should dance to shake and wake ourselves from complacent stupor for indigenous water protectors on the frontlines of our future We should dance as if dancing were finding our way home as if our ancestors’ stories were stored in the calcified minerals that built our bones We should dance to make sanctuaries of our bodies enough to welcome the stranger forced to flee dance at the gates of detention centers demanding migrant children be released We should dance moved by the momentum of the hummingbird fluttering her wild wings inside our chests as if inscribed inside the folds of our flesh were scriptures of ancient text and only through dancing could this hidden wisdom be expressed We …

Examining Whiteness with Meditation

This essay also appears in the issue “The Necessity of Including Embodiment and Lineage in Racial Justice Work” (Volume 6, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.  The author of this essay is a person of European descent living with the legacy of settler colonialism in the United States. The essay is addressed to people who are white; however, all people are invited to read it. Our search for understanding in matters of race automatically inclines us toward blackness, although that is not where these answers lie. It has become a common observation that blackness, and race more generally, is a social construct. But examining whiteness as a social construct offers more answers. The essential problem is the inadequacy of white identity. We don’t know the history of whiteness, and therefore are ignorant of the many ways it has changed over the years. If you investigate that history, you’ll see that white identity has been no more stable than black identity. While we recognize the evolution of “negro” to “colored” to …

Race and The Body: Why Somatic Practices Are Essential for Racial Justice

This essay also appears in the issue “The Necessity of Including Embodiment and Lineage in Racial Justice Work” (Volume 6, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.  “Within this fathom-long body and mind is found all of the teachings.” – The Buddha But all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates1 You’ve been invited to be part of a think tank to discuss how an organization that’s important to you can adjust its infrastructure, culture, and practices to be more equitable and racially inclusive. You arrive eager to begin the work of dismantling the structural racism that’s thwarting the organization’s potential for positive impact. At the first …

‘May I Also Be the Source of Life’: Embodied Resistance, Existence, and Liberation in Bodymind as It Is

This essay also appears in the issue “The Necessity of Including Embodiment and Lineage in Racial Justice Work” (Volume 6, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.  And until they pass away from pain May I also be the source of life For all the realms of varied beings That reach unto the ends of space. – Shantideva1 In Mahāyāna Buddhism, I have been taught that body and mind are not two separate entities. They are one: bodymind. There are seeming limitations of the specific and located human bodymind I call “myself,” this named entity that comes into being at a certain point; lives a certain span of years, days, and minutes; then goes through the death process of dissolution of form and cessation of bodymind activities. To be embodied in the ordinary, day-to-day sense means that I am subject to sickness, to aging, and to death, which are all forms of anicca/anitya, impermanence. True enough. How is it, then, in accordance with the Bodhisattva vows I took in 1983, that …

Body Knowing as a Vehicle for Change

This essay also appears in the issue “The Necessity of Including Embodiment and Lineage in Racial Justice Work” (Volume 6, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.  It is my great pleasure to reflect on this insightful essay by Kelsey Blackwell, “What Does the Wisdom of the Body Have to Do with Racial Justice?” Although my work does not specifically focus on racial justice, I am actively engaged in work in the realm of embodiment, awareness, and social system change. I practice a social art form called Social Presencing Theater, a name given by the co-founder of the Presencing Institute, Otto Scharmer, who is cited in Ms. Blackwell’s essay. The roots of my work are in meditation and dharma art. Like Ms. Blackwell, I too have encountered resistance when inviting people into body-knowing practices in professional or organizational settings. However, over the past decade Social Presencing Theater (SPT) practices have become part of the culture of practitioners who are applying a Theory U framework to social system change. Theory U is …

Black Boys

This poem also appears in the issue “The Necessity of Including Embodiment and Lineage in Racial Justice Work” (Volume 6, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.  Black boys play outside and are told to bathe and change before sitting at the table for dinner with their families. Black boys get shaken awake by mothers to get ready for school on gray cold mornings. Black boys wait—in colorful coats, bright backpacks (black boys love purple but are taught it’s a girl’s color, so we hide it in blue)—black boys wait for autumnal shaded school buses. Black boys trade Magic and Pokémon cards in the library before the school bell sounds. Black boys run to class, afraid of tardies—and the mamas who will find out. Black boys play video games, because freeway-induced asthma chokes them from basketball courts and football fields. Black boys ignore tight chests up and down courts and endure. Black boys die from broken hearts. Black boys love their black teachers and smile and get excited when they see …

Reflections on Embodiment, Culture, and Social Justice Work in Selected Buddhist Traditions

This article also appears in the issue “The Necessity of Including Embodiment and Lineage in Racial Justice Work” (Volume 6, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.  Buddhism has to do with your daily life, with your suffering and with the suffering of the people around you. You have to learn how to help a wounded child while still practicing mindful breathing. . . Action should be meditation at the same time. —Thich Nhat Hanh1 These words by Thich Nhat Hanh resonate with my search for a Buddhist lineage that encourages taking action in the world to alleviate the suffering of all sentient beings. This view calls for interweaving spirituality, physical embodiment, culture, and liberation in ways that attend to our particular socio-cultural positioning in society. If I talk about embodiment and lineage in the context of social justice without acknowledging the ways in which these factors show up in my life, I omit vital information about the importance of these issues for me. So in beginning this series of reflections, …

The Movement Within the Movement

This essay also appears in the issue “The Necessity of Including Embodiment and Lineage in Racial Justice Work” (Volume 6, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.  How can we become conscious of the hidden story our bodies are telling with their every motion? While our words can speak falsehoods, the language of our body will not allow us to deny the truth. Movement has the capacity to unearth repressed memories and ancestral traumas that shape the way that our DNA is read and transcribed. Our stories are literally encoded in the way we move through the world—move through life. Movement and its symbology are the language of the subconscious. I became conscious about the repressed trauma that my body was carrying through the narrative I was expressing in my freestyle dance movement. This question of how we become conscious of our body’s hidden story is the core inquiry of my dance company, Embodiment Project. In my study of movement, spoken word, and the human condition, I’ve learned that dance can …

Issue cover

The Necessity of Including Embodiment and Lineage in Racial Justice Work

  Issue Contents Chief Editor’s Introduction (available to subscribers in the complete issue) by Gabe Dayley Guest Editor’s Introduction (available to subscribers in the complete issue) by Kelsey Blackwell Black Boys by Vernon Keeve III Race and the Body: Why Somatic Practices Are Essential for Racial Justice by Kelsey Blackwell Body Knowing as a Vehicle for Change by Arawana Hayashi Borders by Jessica Stern ‘May I Also Be the Source of Life’: Embodied Resistance, Existence, and Liberation in Bodymind as It Is by Mushim Patricia Ikeda How to Love a Mestiza Woman by Laura Soto Examining Whiteness with Meditation by Kalen Tenderness Tierney On Lineage and Whiteness by Alexandria Barnes I’ll Meet You There by Jahan Khalighi Reflections on Embodiment, Culture, and Social Justice Work in Selected Buddhist Traditions by Arisika Razak The Movement Within the Movement text and poetry by Nicole Klaymoon photography by David Wilson mask art by Tigre Bailando Cover design and illustrations by Alicia Brown Comments The Arrow welcomes comments in response to issues we publish. Please submit comments for review to editor[at]arrow-journal.org. Comments may expand on an …

Going to the Root: How White Caucuses Contribute to Racial Justice

Caucusing is a form of upāya—skillful means. To caucus is skillful because it reduces harm. For Buddhists, practicing harm reduction is a relative bodhicitta practice. In my experience of 24 years of facilitating racial justice work, I have found that it is not helpful to put together in the same room folks who have had racism aimed at them all their lives and folks who haven’t had to think about it very much, if at all. The latter group, white people, need a place to start thinking and feeling about it, a space for using prajña (insight) to discover how white conditioning, through no choice of their own, has been embedded in their ego. There is no white person in North America who does not have white conditioning.1 —Robert Horton, Co-FounderThe UNtraining: Healing Personal & Social Oppressions The current political landscape of the United States has made it impossible for us to avoid our racial karma. In recent years, the news has been littered with it: police violence and murder of Black and brown people …

Leaf on water, book cover
Cover Image for Healing Justice: Holistic Self-Care for Change Makers

Healing Justice for a World on Fire

In the Adittapariyaya Sutta, known as the Fire Sermon, the Buddha says that everything is burning—burning with the fire of greed, hatred, delusion, sorrows, griefs, lamentations, pains, and despair.1 But what does it mean not only to survive this burning but to live a more liberated life in a world that is on fire? While dutifully cultivating mind and spirit through practice and retreats has seemed like what would be most fruitful in “my” awakening, this approach has in fact left too many stones unturned. My personal blind spots, as well as the suffering I witness and am co-conspirator in creating on this planet, need more careful attention and action. My liberation is tied up with yours, hers, his, theirs, and ours. Some have identified a tendency to repress the emotional, somatic, environmental, and collective dimensions of the self through spiritual practice, calling it “spiritual bypassing.”2 This issue could not be more salient at a moment when spiritual leaders, including those in Buddhist and yogic communities, such as Shambhala International, have been accused of egregious …

Cutting Through Spiritual Puritanism

In the West it is difficult for the Dharma to take root. The soil is not fertile. The good and evil, fire and brimstone logic of puritanism has dried the ground and permeated our cultural and political institutions.1 Western Buddhists often lament this situation, claiming to hold a superior, subtler view that sees the emptiness of phenomena and transcends the misguided dualisms of puritanism and its modern offspring.2 Yet when crisis strikes—when the proverbial Buddhist rug is torn from its restful place beneath our feet—more than a few Western Buddhists forget their cherished dharmic view. Although some of the fire-and-brimstone eccentricities of puritanism have long since faded from mainstream discourse, the fundamental logic of good and evil—with no middle ground—remains a powerful cultural force in politics, media, and literature. Buddhist practitioners in the West, who have been steeped since birth in a society of rigid categories of good and evil and Aristotle’s law of the excluded middle,3 cannot escape their puritan conditioning, which rears its head in thoughts, feelings, and pronouncements in reaction to crisis. …

Why People of Color Need Spaces Without White People

I’m breathing deeply as I write this. What I’m writing about is charged. I feel this energy in my body. It’s a heat in my throat and a rumbling in my belly. It’s an intensity that’s frustrated that these words must even be written. It propels me through my fears of backlash and worry about not getting it exactly right. What I say may anger you. You may disagree. You may feel more confused, and this, I would say, is good. It means the work can begin. Breathing. People of color need their own spaces. Black people need their own spaces. We need places in which we can gather and be free from the mainstream stereotypes and marginalization that permeate every other societal space we occupy. We need spaces where we can be our authentic selves without white people’s judgment and insecurity muzzling that expression. We need spaces where we can simply be—where we can get off the treadmill of making white people comfortable and finally realize just how tired we are. Valuing and protecting …

Social and Ecological Ethics

This comment also appears in the issue “Dharma, Degrowth, and Climate Change” (Volume 5, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.  At the root of the climate crisis is the disjuncture between the exponential development of the capitalist economy and the lack of an equivalent development in ethics and morality. Human and environmental sustainability requires social action based on a transformation of consciousness, from a dualistic to an ecological worldview that recognizes humanity as part of nature and the inherent equality of all human beings. To avoid further environmental and social collapse and conflict, it is important to recognize the history and realities of social hierarchy, domination, and oppression. Instead of speaking of a collective “we” in the context of climate action, it is necessary to explore the differential responsibilities and burdens borne by different communities for the climate and related crises. The North–South conflict over climate mitigation speaks to this reality. It is the privileged groups, especially those at the top of the global social hierarchy, that need to shift …

A Buddhist Depiction of Ecological Dystopia

This comment also appears in the issue “Dharma, Degrowth, and Climate Change” (Volume 5, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.  In “The Tale of Stormtamer,” the age-old jātaka tale of ancient India meets “cli-fi,” an emergent subset of science fiction dealing with climate change and its potentially cataclysmic effects.  Invoking the cadence of spoken word, Austin Pick transports us to a future urban dystopia, Chicago’s iconic Wrigley Field transformed into a shanty-town of climate refugees. Like the half-drowned city of Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140, Chicago is portrayed with tenement buildings peering out of the rising tides of Lake Michigan with a series of canals where roads once were. Presiding over this wasteland is the buddha ‘Treya, who transforms the shanty town into a place of refuge, a regenerated urban garden and buddha-field for turning the wheel of dharma once again. A writer, outdoorsman, and contemplative practitioner, Austin Pick joins contemporary authors in adapting Buddhist genres to ecological concerns. As with Gary Snyder’s witty “Smokey the Bear Sutra,” Pick …

Dharma, Degrowth, and Climate Change

  Issue Contents FEATURE Contemplating the More-than-Human Commons by Zack Walsh In Response Social and Ecological Ethics by Asoka Bandarage Drala of the Landscape: Rights of the River by Rachel DeMotts Beyond Theory: Relating to Dominant Systems and Manifesting Social Alternatives in Dharma Communities by David Kahane FICTION The Tale of Stormtamer by Austin R. Pick In Response A Buddhist Depiction of Ecological Dystopia by Holly Gayley Cover design and illustrations by Alicia Brown Comments The Arrow welcomes comments in response to issues we publish. Please submit comments for review to editor[at]arrow-journal.org. Comments may expand on an idea, raise questions, or make a critique. They should be no more than 500 words. Regardless of the stance toward the article that a comment takes, comments should be substantive and respectful, engaging the merits of the argument.

Beyond Theory: Relating to Dominant Systems and Manifesting Social Alternatives in Dharma Communities

This essay also appears in the issue “Dharma, Degrowth, and Climate Change” (Volume 5, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.  We live in a time of seemingly inexorable devastation and destruction. Carbon emissions and climate change intensifying. Ecosystems ground up by consumerism, ignorance, and greed. Industrial agriculture destroying topsoil and causing vast animal suffering. Marginalized and poor people oppressed and disenfranchised with increasing brutality. Refugee flows growing, together with cruel backlashes. And complex feedback loops through which these and other dynamics reinforce and accelerate one another. At the same time, Buddhists practice with the teaching that basic goodness or emptiness underlies all phenomena. We work with the view that between the cracks of our torn and troubled societies is enlightened society, and that simple acts of genuine kindness and conversation can transform situations. In this essay I bring the inquiry into dharma, degrowth, and climate change down to the level of practitioners and communities of practitioners. In particular, I explore how it is that different groups hold different degrees of …

Drala of the Landscape: Rights of the River

This essay also appears in the issue “Dharma, Degrowth, and Climate Change” (Volume 5, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.  In March of 2017, the Maori people of New Zealand finally won a 140-year long battle to have the Whanganui River legally enshrined as their ancestor. This recognition bestowed rights upon the river as a living being, with its own identity, rights, and duties. This means that New Zealand law now acknowledges its third largest river as a “living whole,” protected by two human guardians and accompanied by an initial $110 million in government funding to address past maltreatment and ensure continuous protection for the river.1 “We have fought to find an approximation in law so that all others can understand that from our perspective treating the river as a living entity is the correct way to approach it, as an indivisible whole, instead of the traditional model for the last 100 years of treating it from a perspective of ownership and management,” stated Gerrard Albert, who was the Whanganui …

Collaborative Forest Management

Contemplating the More-than-Human Commons

This essay also appears in the issue “Dharma, Degrowth, and Climate Change” (Volume 5, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.  The Stern Review on The Economics of Climate Change claims that reducing emissions by more than 1 percent annually would generate a severe economic crisis, and yet, climate analysts tell us we need to reduce carbon emissions by 5.3 percent annually to limit global warming to 2°C.1 Moreover, there is no evidence that decoupling economic growth from environmental pressures is possible, and although politicians tout technical solutions to climate crisis, efficiency gains from technology usually increase the absolute amount of energy consumed.2 The stark reality is that capitalist accumulation cannot continue—the global economy must shrink. Fortunately, there exist many experiments with non-capitalist modes of assessing and exchanging value, sharing goods and services, and making decisions that can help us transition to a more sustainable political economy based on principles of degrowth. One of the best ways to generate non-capitalist subjects, objects, and spaces comes from systems designed to manage common …

Images associated with four subjectivities

Losing Our Confidence: Four Subjectivities of the Present

In May 2015 a group of young people from Europe, Mexico, and the United States came together in Mexico City and Pátzcuaro, Michoacán for the Ziji Collective Leadership Retreat. The Ziji Collective “is a global network of inspired young people, dedicated to the…radical view that human beings and society are fundamentally good,” and the work of creating “a society that is uplifted, caring, gentle, and wakeful.” In this pursuit, local Ziji groups “work through the practice of meditation; through the exchange of ideas, knowledge, and wisdom; and through collective action.” Although we came from different places, we connected through our shared experience as young people facing an uncertain future of climate change, debt, limited options for rewarding stable work, disappearing free time, technology and media disconnecting us from each other and our bodies, surrounded by overt and subtle forms of violence. We explored ways to support each other across borders by initiating collaboration and establishing communities of practice. Over enchiladas in Pátzcuaro’s busy square and during contemplative walks in the gardens of the Casa Werma retreat …

Contemplative Praxis for Social-Ecological Transformation

Abstract The growing critical reception of mainstream mindfulness interventions often concerns itself with the social and ethical dimensions of mindfulness practices and their current inability to effectively address social and ecological problems. While Buddhists often advocate recontextualizing the practices in their original ethical frames, such proposals inadequately account for Buddhism’s historic biases and secular practitioners’ unwillingness to conform to Buddhist norms. Likewise, secular practitioners who argue that ethics implicitly informs mindfulness, but who forgo explicit ethical considerations, are often uncritical of the inner workings of power and injustice shaping mindfulness. This paper presents a dual critique of Buddhist and secular approaches to mindfulness, and attempts to outline dialectical and integral approaches that synthesize aspects of both. This dual critique lends itself to a post-secular synthesis of ethics and mindfulness, as irreducible aspects of each other informed by a non-binary understanding of religion and secularism. Finally, this synthesis is explored in light of several existing theoretical and practical examples of contemplative practices developed to support personal, social, and ecological transformation. Keywords: Contemplative Studies, Mindfulness, Social Change, …

The Tale of Stormtamer

This essay also appears in the issue “Dharma, Degrowth, and Climate Change” (Volume 5, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.  There is nothing whatever to remove from this, Nor the slightest thing thereon to add. Truly beholding the true nature – When truly seen – complete liberation. —Uttaratantra (vs. 154), attributed to Maitreya1 This is how I heard it. One time in Ivy Field, near the place where the lake waters meet the streets of Wind City, where drowned buildings can be seen to the east and the south, tall and ruined, tenements where white laundry flaps like surrender flags and merchants sell their wares from skiffs through open windows, everywhere calling “Hey Cheecago!” and thus invoking the city’s proud old name to stir their business, ’Treya talked up the masses gathered there, speaking the truth to everyone. In the Long Before, when Ivy Field was a place where ritual games were played with great pageantry, the people harnessed rain to make the grass there ever-green, and changed the night …

Expanding Awareness: How Patterns of Interaction Support White Supremacy

Lately, I’ve been feeling a deep sensitivity as I move about my world—a vulnerability, a brewing sadness, that comes, I believe, from the rawness of beginning to peel back the layers and peer into the depths of my own internalized oppression. I see how often I let myself become small, allow someone else a final thought to keep the peace, and ignore the use of words like “ghetto” (when a place is not) and “afro” (when a hairstyle is not) to protect a white friend from feeling uncomfortable if corrected. Often these subtle aggressions happen closest to home, when engaging with my friends and other seemingly aware white individuals. To be clear, these people are not racists. They’re activists supporting marginalized populations, creatives dedicated to raising social consciousness, and general do-gooders making not enough money to do meaningful things. No doubt upon reading this, they will stand by my side and say, “write on!” (pun intended). Yet the fact that even individuals conscious of the oppression of marginalized populations inadvertently reinforce their own privilege indicates …

Contemplative Empowerment and Social Change

    Cover design by Alicia Brown   Download Individual Articles Below Editor’s Introduction We are pleased to share with you our first peer-reviewed collection, embodying The Arrow’s mission to create a space for rigorous, scholarly investigation of the relationship between contemplative practice and teachings on the one hand and issues of politics, economics, ecology, and activism on the other. With this issue, we break new ground in the field of contemplative studies by examining directly the ways in which mindfulness practices and contemplative teachings can be put in service of responsible citizenship, social justice, and social transformation. With the commodification of mindfulness and yoga continuing apace, and with most scholarly research on these practices still focusing on their individual benefits—psychological and physiological—we are thrilled to publish this first peer-reviewed issue, featuring articles that bring the political relevance of such practices and teachings into relief. In “Good-for-Nothing Practice and the Art of Paradox: The Exemplary Citzenship of Ta-Nehisi Coates,” Dean Mathiowetz explores meditation as one method that may help people to embody qualities essential to …

#makingrefuge at Mind & Life’s 2016 International Symposium: Opportunities for Decolonizing Contemplative Studies

In November, more than a thousand scholars, practitioners, and activists met in San Diego to discuss the future of their work at the 2016 International Symposium for Contemplative Studies (ISCS). In the opening address, the new president of Mind and Life, Susan Bauer-Wu, outlined her vision for the community, explaining that her goal is to build bridges and break down silos—disciplinary, methodological, institutional, and geographic. Compared to prior meetings, ISCS 2016 was indeed more diverse, gathering members of the community from 33 different fields, a fourth of whom came from outside the U.S. and a half of whom were newcomers. This diversity was bolstered by the fact that Mind and Life had recently created an advisory committee and taken concrete steps to support diversity through newly created research grants and funding opportunities. Over the last few years, I have been a critic of mainstream mindfulness, so I was grateful to witness a conscious shift at ISCS 2016 toward situating mindfulness in social, political, and ethical contexts. The symposium was unusually self-reflexive and self-critical, exhorting its …

Photograph by Alicia Brown

Inner and Outer Ecologies: Contemplative Practice in an Environmental Age

This essay also appears in the issue “Teaching Contemplative Environments” (Volume 4, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.  “I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” –John Muir At first sight, it may appear that contemplative practices stand at odds with environmental protection efforts. After all, the word ‘environment’ generally refers to the natural world outside of us, rather than the internal one within us. Moreover, environmental work aims to change widespread behavior and thus focuses on government policies, economic incentives, technological innovation, cultural norms, and other structures of power. These operate in the political realm, and thus call on environmentalists to externally project their efforts. In contrast, contemplative practices seemingly invite one to go ‘inside.’ They involve exercises that allow the practitioner to become more aware of one’s interior landscape. Whether they involve sitting meditation, yoga, journaling, dance, prayer, or textual study, contemplative practices cultivate a sensitivity to subjectivity. They encourage becoming intimate …

Photograph by Holly A. Senn

Teaching and Learning in Nearby Nature

This essay also appears in the issue “Teaching Contemplative Environments” (Volume 4, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.  Conceptual Framework: Learning in Nearby Nature Parks and public green spaces can support exploration, restoration, and meaningful action. Kaplan, Kaplan, and Ryan define nearby nature as: “The settings we emphasize are not the wild and awesome, distant and dramatic, lush and splendid. Rather, the emphasis is on the everyday, often unspectacular, natural environment that is, or ideally would be, nearby. Nearby nature includes parks and open spaces, street trees, vacant lots, and backyard gardens, as well as fields and forests. Included are places that range from tiny to quite large, from visible through the window to more distant, from carefully managed to relatively neglected.”1 Nearby nature sites can foster engagement and exploration by balancing coherence (having a sense of pathway and/or order) with complexity (having depth and richness), and balancing legibility (having memorable features that help with orientation) with mystery (or the sense that there is more to explore).2 Nearby nature helps …

Photograph by Alicia Brown

Sending and Taking: Teaching a Practice for Nature

This essay also appears in the issue “Teaching Contemplative Environments” (Volume 4, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue.  The Buddhist practice of sending and taking, or tonglen, is a foundational way to engage the suffering of others. It offers a sense of connection when distance may be present; a possibility of reprieve when struggle overwhelms; and an opportunity for generosity when difficulty may limit our ability to offer. Perhaps most of all, it can reinvent our notion of agency when we feel powerless; tonglen can transcend miles to enable us to offer a bit of peace in a faraway conflict zone, or it can be practiced while sitting at the bedside of a loved one. The simplest instruction for tonglen is to send wishes for freedom from suffering and happiness to someone we hold dear. Bringing that individual to mind, we send warmth, light or peace; we imagine that person healthy and radiant, offering whatever we can to help along the way. In so doing, we generate bodhicitta, the feeling …

Teaching Contemplative Environments

Issue Contents Guest Editor’s Introduction (available to subscribers in the complete issue) by Rachel DeMotts Inner and Outer Ecologies: Contemplative Practice in an Environmental Age by Jacob Richey and Paul Wapner Sending and Taking: Teaching a Practice for Nature by Rachel DeMotts Teaching and Learning in Nearby Nature by Amy E. Ryken Cover design and photography by Alicia Brown

The Four Immeasurables: Heart Practices for Challenging Times

Many in the United States and around the world experienced the US Presidential election as a kind of political earthquake, the initial shock at its center disruptive to our sense of safety and mutual trust, and as it radiates outward, altering the larger political landscape. While the particulars are unknown, many of us find ourselves deeply concerned—even experiencing anxiety—about the implications of a Trump presidency for ourselves and for the people and causes to which we are devoted. We search for a way to hold this moment, one that validates our real concerns without getting overwhelmed by them. Quite rightly, in this moment of suffering, many of us turn towards the teachings of the Dharma for solace, insight and some indication of a way forward. In my own practice, I began to reflect on the Dharma principle of equanimity, particularly in the context of the Brahma Viharas or “four immeasurables,” not only to provide guidance but also to energize and inspire my response to moments such as these.1 Heart Alchemy The Brahma Viharas were offered …

Open Up, Lean In, Stay With: Contemplative Practices in Uncertain Times

In the Tibetan calendar, 2016 was the year of the Fire Monkey: raw, turbulent, tempestuous—a year of personal strife unfolding in tandem with social unrest and political upheaval. Permeating my own experience of 2016 was a visceral sense of being wrenched in two directions: to dive in fully to the fire of this unrest, and simultaneously to withdraw from it, to shut down, to block out the pain. I suspect I am not alone in such ambivalence: In the face of overwhelming suffering—from the personal to the societal, from shouting at the family dinner table to the bombings in Aleppo—our human impulse is to fight or flee. And when each of these options seems hopeless, we may freeze, paralyzed. How do we confront our situation? How do we move through fear and paralysis and remain awake to the pain (as well as the beauty) of our reality? In Buddhist teachings and practice, I read three relevant refrains: open up, lean in, and stay with. First, the teachings advise that with a heart of courage, we …

Interrogating the Nature of Identity in an Age of Rising Nationalism

With nationalist and populist waves washing over the globe, many of us within the contemplative world may be feeling upset and disappointed. We might be asking ourselves how nativist and xenophobic sentiments can have such popular support, particularly given the dangerous historical precedents of these trends. While these reactions can be justified, simply dismissing the changes we are witnessing as misguided and ignorant would miss the point. In particular, many citizens in the United States, Europe, and other parts of the world are acting out of a sense of anxiety about their identities in a rapidly changing world riven by global capitalism’s savage inequities. What might wisdom traditions tell us about issues of identity? According to Buddhist philosophy, for instance, we are part of a world of dependent origination where all phenomena are inter-related and ephemeral; ultimately identity is about the realization of anatta (anātman), or “no-self.” In other words, the common egoic sense of identity to which we cling is a fiction. Similarly, yogic philosophy shares with Buddhism the concept of māyā (illusion), such …

The Thousand Eyes of Knowing and Action

While it may pacify our confusion to look at wisdom traditions as prescriptive “medicine” for our suffering times, we must also take care to begin to understand, personally, our inner relationship to power, authority, and knowledge. No system of knowing, however privileged, is unchallengeable, extrinsically justifiable, and intrinsically meaningful to everyone. In fact, a hard pill to swallow is how one person’s meaning can be utterly meaningless to another. Nevertheless, wisdom traditions give us an alternative to reductive answers. Through practices like meditation, we step onto a lifelong path of cultivating what might be called an inner reconnaissance, a dynamic exchange of outward noticing and inward “re-knowing.” This is a process in which we are invited to connect to a kind of displaced and flexible site of human wisdom and agency that does not simply replicate the dynamics of control and privilege, self-doubt and impotency. This human agency arises, I suspect, in a portal that opens up when solidification between self and world is softened. To meet the world in this way is also to …

Upstream and Downstream: The Sacred Importance of Joining Contemplative Practice and Political Engagement

There is a social change parable that powerfully illustrates the vital connection between contemplative practice and social change: There was once a village located next to a river. One day, during a break from her chores, a villager spotted a baby coursing down the river, struggling to stay afloat. As she waded into the water to save the child, the villager noticed that two other babies had already streamed by. She cried out to her fellow villagers who joined her in the rescue effort. But babies continued to appear. The village quickly organized itself to save the struggling children. After hours of endless work two villagers broke away from the group and began running away. The other townspeople called out to them: “Why are you leaving? We need you here to save these babies!” The two villagers bellowed back: “We’re heading upstream to find out who is throwing them in the river!” This story demonstrates the importance of simultaneously attending to the many injustices that shape our world (fishing babies out of the water), while …

Post-Election Forum

In December 2016, we invited authors and readers to participate in a post-election forum in response to the question: What guidance and skillful means can wisdom traditions and contemplative practices provide for addressing pressing issues of systemic suffering in the face of mounting obstacles? On the eve of the inauguration, we are excited to publish five reflections on this question. Contents Upstream and Downstream: The Sacred Importance of Joining Contemplative Practice and Political Engagement by James Rowe The Thousand Eyes of Knowing and Action by Lisa Maloof Interrogating the Nature of Identity in an Age of Rising Nationalism by Ajit Pyati Open Up, Lean In, Stay With: Contemplative Practices in Uncertain Times by Jessica A. Stern The Four Immeasurables: Heart Practices for Challenging Times by Kristin Barker

Editorial: Destroying the Politics of Trump and Seeking a Deeper Political Consciousness

The Arrow seeks to explore politics in a broad sense of the word—societal issues, challenges, and questions that are political by nature. We have avoided the trappings of US electoral politics because our audience stretches beyond the US and because the teachings of Buddhism and other contemplative wisdom traditions transcend the narrow spectrum of political showmanship and stale ideologies that characterize this country’s electoral politics. However, in the context of the 2016 US presidential election, we feel that silence would be a form of complicity with harmful social and political systems. The sad fact of this election cycle is that anyone who wants a more compassionate, egalitarian society will find a mixed champion in Hillary Clinton, and an absolute enemy of those values in Donald Trump. That Trump embodies egomania, delusion, greed, and violence in their purest forms is obvious. And yet there is a risk in uncritically validating the Clintonian worldview just because the alternative is unquestionably worse. In liberal circles, including contemplative communities, we’ve noticed a certain tribalism—qualitatively different than Trump’s racist xenophobia—that …

Image of people singing around a campfire

Rising to the Challenge: Race and Inclusivity in the Sangha

Last summer I traveled from my home in Berkeley, California to Pátzcuaro, Mexico for a weeklong “young” sangha meditation retreat. I say “young” because in our group of roughly 20, though we varied in age from early 20s to 40s, chronological years didn’t matter. We were artists, activists, educators, and scholars united by a curiosity to explore how creativity and contemplative practice might inform the larger social and environmental ills of our time. As a 33-year-old dancing, writing, Buddhist, I felt right at home. In addition to the Mexican participants, the young-at-heart arrived from across the United States and Europe. By day, we meditated, studied the Dharma, and engaged in experiential activities. By night, we enjoyed campfires, conversation, and maybe a few sips of tequila. As the days turned into what felt like years, we became close. Romances blossomed, disintegrated, and blossomed again. Our nighttime campfires morphed into uninhibited sharing free-for-alls with impromptu poetry, mystic storytelling, and group sing-alongs. We were connected to each other and the lush, blooming forest that held us—one beautiful, breathing …

Is a Fear of Death at the Heart of Capitalism?

Donald Trump is a personification of capitalist values: He’s elitist, possessive, exploitative, and always hungry for more. Having multiple buildings emblazoned with his name is not enough. The presidential pantheon is the next prize he wants to devour, perhaps with dreams of becoming immortalized on U.S. currency, the yardstick for contemporary worth. What compels Trump’s oversized appetite, a hunger that mirrors capitalism’s drive for endless and rapacious growth? Pulitzer Prize-winning anthropologist and social theorist Ernest Becker conceived of capitalism as a contemporary search for the Holy Grail: immortality itself. According to Becker, it is easy for the human animal to feel small and servile in the face of death. We seek power over each other and the more-than-human world to compensate for felt smallness. As Becker wrote in his final book, Escape from Evil, “power means power to increase oneself, to change one’s natural situation from one of smallness, helplessness, finitude, to one of bigness, control, durability, importance.”1 Money offers this vitalizing power. For Becker, “money is the human mode par excellence of coolly denying animal …

Illustration of bullet train and mount fuji

Speeding Past a Receding World

This past June, during a three-day research trip across rural Yamanashi Prefecture, a friend and I visited a town called Hayakawa, nestled in the mountains 100 kilometers to the west of Tokyo. One of the least densely populated municipalities in Japan, Hayakawa is home to fewer than 1,000 people spread across 400 square kilometers (150 square miles) at the foot of the snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps, the country’s tallest mountain range and one of its few true wildernesses completely devoid of roads and human habitation. Over the past two years, my inquiry into post-growth cultures and depopulation has carried me to more than a hundred locales across Japan. I added Hayakawa to my itinerary after reading about a settlement here called Mogura, which the map I picked up at the municipal office fondly nicknamed “Machu Picchu.” After an hour driving up a serene river valley, we turned off the main road and for twenty minutes slowly inched our car up a crumbling switchback shrouded in leaves and dappled with sunlight that trickled through …

Illustration of protestors confronting police dressed in riot gear

Why Buddhists Can Stop Worrying and Learn to Love “Us vs. Them Thinking”

An often-rehearsed refrain in Buddhist and contemplative communities is that we need to overcome “Us vs. Them thinking” (or what I’ll abbreviate as UVTT). This intention makes perfect sense. Dualistic thought informs many of the vexing otherings that shape our social worlds, otherings along the axes of race, class, gender, sexuality, species, ability (the sad string goes on and on). Inasmuch as UVTT contributes to systems of domination, then it should be transformed. But this is not the most common argument I hear from fellow Buddhists and contemplatives. Instead the most regular critique of UVTT is directed towards activists and toward social movements themselves. The argument runs like this: Activists are in danger of replicating dualistic and oppositional thought in the way they conceive of and confront their adversaries. I recently spoke with Dawn Haney from the Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF), an organization on the leading edge of engaged Buddhism. She reported how during Occupy Wall Street, the BPF heard from a number of Buddhists worried about the language of the 99% vs. the 1%. …

Illustration of bathhouse

Out of the Shopping Mall and into the Bathhouse

At the beginning of August, I flew from Tokyo to Hong Kong to attend a friend’s wedding. It’s now possible to make the four-hour journey for as low as $100 each way, courtesy of the growing number of low-cost carriers that connect East Asia’s dozens of megacities. I sprung for the cheapest flight I could find, which happened to depart Tokyo at 6:20 AM. Perhaps because the bus I rode through the hushed early-morning streets was completely empty, when I walked into the new 24-hour international terminal building just after 4:00 AM, I was disoriented to discover a sprawling duty-free shopping mall with fully staffed sales counters and bustling with foreign customers making last-minute purchases of luxury bags, perfume, and heated toilet seats. If the tourism industry typically revolves around the commodification and consumption of places of difference—foreign locales with exotic cultural, culinary, linguistic, and physical characteristics—international travel is now driven increasingly by the opposite desire: to spend time in “non-places” with no cultural or social distinctions: the airports and shopping malls filled with familiar …

Illustration of person falling

Taking Refuge in the Family of Things

—Exploring the Nature of Attachment— To take refuge is to return home. Children come into this world needing to take refuge. All children. To be born onto this plane of existence is to experience the vulnerability of being a stranger in a strange land. Hence, during the first years of a child’s life, the primary context in which he or she can take refuge will be that of the child’s primary caregivers…. [B]ecause our first experience of need and of sangha is in our contact with our first caregivers, the quality of this connection will affect our every future perception of relationship, as well as our perception of the world as good or bad, safe or threatening. If enlightenment is indeed a capacity to experience the inherent intimacy of all things, then it becomes useful to discover how our earliest relationships either enhance or block this intimacy. —Download full article below— —Read Jessica Stern’s introduction to the special section here— Download Article PDF: Taking Refuge in the Family of Things Illustration by Alicia Brown

Praxis, Pragmatics, Right Action and The Shambhala Principle

—Toward a Socially Responsible Philosophy— In this article, I will first discuss the socially responsible European philosophies of praxis, pragmatics, and right action, and show how they have given new meaning to human activity. Then I will show that although they are helpful in giving us insights, they are inadequate in providing us with a practical plan of action to fuel societal transformation. Finally, I will argue that what is presented in The Shambhala Principle is not only consistent with ideas presented in these European socially responsible philosophies, but actually takes these ideas to a new level by stating that personal and social transformation are inseparable. By studying both European philosophy and The Shambhala Principle, we will see that they mutually inform and enrich each other, turning theory into practices that uplift the human condition and make us better human beings. —Download full article below— Download Article PDF: Praxis, Pragmatics, Right Action and The Shambhala Principle Illustration by Alicia Brown

Beyond Economics in the Case Against Fracking

On a spring evening in Southern California, with too much school work and an uncooperative clock ticking away the day’s warmth, I glanced outside my window to find the sky imbued with the color of a sunset. Captured by its beauty and magic, I wondered whether I should take a break from writing my undergraduate thesis to watch. As the sky shifted from yellow-orange to reddish-pink, my thoughts turned to a cost-benefit analysis: “Is it worth it to go outside and watch? A break would interrupt my progress right now. On the other hand, refreshing myself might increase my productivity for the next half hour before dinner.” By then, of course, the sky had faded into deep purple, the sun slipping over the horizon. As an overworked college student, evaluating actions in terms of productivity was common. Even now, several years after Microeconomics initially offered a powerful language for describing human decision-making, marginal utility remains a convenient—if not a little contrived—way of understanding my everyday choices. Indeed, since its inception, the field of economics has …

Illustration of landscape with thunderclouds and rain storm

A Din amid Quiet Ruins

A year ago on a bright summer morning in the Jemez Mountains of northern New Mexico, I took a break from a study on community water I was conducting to explore the countryside. All around me were the fields and orchards of Hispano ranchers whose Pueblo and Spanish ancestors had watered these lands for countless generations. A friend of mine among them, a builder and farmer and sometime engineer with the strength of a linebacker, said he’d take me to a trailhead of a place unlike anything I had ever seen, so long as I promised not to tell anyone exactly where it was. “We don’t want all kinds of people driving up and down the road, parking their cars, snapping pictures,” he said. I agreed, eagerly accepting his invitation. On the way to the canyon, he told me the trail would lead me upward to the ruins of a village of the ancient ones, the ancestral Puebloans, who lived in this place for generations and left mysteriously about seven hundred years ago. Most speculate …

Shimokitazawa, Tokyo
Photograph by Sam Holden

Rituals of Urban Life in Post-Growth Tokyo

Recently, as I pondered how the rituals of life in modern Tokyo emerged and evolved alongside the growth of the city, and what the rituals of post-growth Tokyo could become, I spent an afternoon wandering through Shimokitazawa, a neighborhood in western Tokyo that is popular for its sense of local charm. Since the end of the war the neighborhood has organically evolved into a mosaic of jazz bars and quiet cafes, shops filled with exotic fabrics and quirky trinkets, and artisans and residents who make their homes in a disorderly web of alleyways that emanate from the crossroads of two train lines. In a little second floor used book shop, I plucked a book off a shelf filled with titles on memory and ruins. My Map of Tokyo, written by Ineko Sata in 1949, is an elegy of the author’s lived experience of the city, recounting walks through the neighborhoods of her past, wooden planks over dirt alleyways lined by row houses, the oily smell of grilled meat wafting across the grounds of a quiet …

Illustration of Gesar

Creating Enlightened Society

—Compassion in the Shambhala Tradition— Abstract With the broader propagation of the Shambhala teachings that highlight the importance of creating enlightened society, it is natural to wonder what compassion means in a Shambhala context. In conjunction with Naropa University’s 40th Anniversary and the theme of “radical compassion,” this article explores the unique contributions of the Shambhala teachings to cultivating and manifesting compassion in a complex, ever-changing world full of overt and subtle modes of suffering. The approach of the article is to provide a historical and cultural context for the Shambhala teachings and for their relevance to contemporary global crises, and to provide scriptural and commentarial support for the view of compassion as a motivation for creating enlightened society. —Download full article below— Download Article PDF: Creating Enlightened Society Illustration by Alicia Brown

Illustration depicting various abstract protest scenes from Occupy Wallstreet

Through Rites, All Things Flourish

The Power of the Ceremonial in Classical Confucianism and in Contemporary Rituals of Dissent Abstract “The fate of our times is characterized, above all, by the disenchantment of the world.” This, Max Weber’s 1919 characterization of modernity, presaged what many have come to see as a crisis of meaning in our contemporary world. Some have argued that our “secular age,” with its pluralistic, relativized, and dominantly scientific episteme, fails to supply the sense of meaning that was once ensured through the myths and rituals that bound communities together under the promise of harmonization with sacred, cosmic order. And whether one agrees or not with the characterization of modernity as a disenchanted space threatening moral disorientation and existential doubt, it is clear that formal religious rituals no longer play a definitive role in organizing society at large. Ceremony may seem like a relic of an enchanted past, or the plaything of those who keep up ancient traditions in modern contexts. But perhaps we are not all that divorced from the power of ceremony and the enchantment of myth, …

Image of a lhasang ceremony. Photograph by Peter Alan Roberts

Ideas of Order

—Science and Ceremony in Ordinary Life— Abstract This article is a contemplation on how ceremony and ritual re-value the magic and depth of subjective experience, not as a form of consolation or as a validation of wishful thinking, but as a necessary and sacred foundation on which objective and rational ways of knowing our world must rest. Resting on ritual ways of knowing, rationality takes its proper place in the pantheon of experience and supports good human society and a healthy world; left to its own devices, rationality becomes a rapacious mechanism that consumes our world, destroys its ecological integrity, and justifies cruelty and selfishness that beggars the imagination. —Download full article below— Download Article PDF: Ideas of Order

All That Is Solid Melts into the Air, All That Is Holy Is… Marxist?

His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a self-proclaimed Marxist, or at least half of one. This ideological preference is little-known but longstanding; in a 1993 interview he noted that “of all the modern economic theories, the economic system of Marxism is founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability.” But a key problem the Dalai Lama has identified within Marxism is a lack of compassion for the totality of humanity, including economic elites…

Visions of Enlightened Societies

“There is no hiding place. There is nowhere you can go and only be with people who are like you. It’s over. Give it up.” -Bernice Johnson Reagon1 The three articles in the first issue of The Arrow illustrate the challenge of articulating a single vision of “wakeful society, culture, and politics.” That is to say, their three authors—all experienced scholars and practitioners from the same contemplative tradition: Shambhala—do not exactly agree on what such a vision should look like. Consider how Richard Reoch offers a comparatively optimistic assessment of the present, finding in contemporary environmentalism “a fresh breath of the human spirit, and awakening from the dreadful history we have lived through,” whereas Adam Lobel seems more pessimistic, finding in the present an acceleration and compression of time that produces increased stress and deteriorating well-being. Or consider how Holly Gayley focuses in particular on the Shambhala view of how individual practice relates to social change, in contrast with Lobel’s broader view of a range of contemplative practices that can all function as sources of individual and social transformation. By …

Illustration of fly and bottle

Practicing Society

—Practices of Self, Society, and Time on the Way to Personal and Societal Transformation— Abstract While there is no fundamental separation between personal and social transformation, modern conceptions of the self (as internal) and society (as external) can construct unnecessary obstacles for the theorization and practice of contemplative social movements. Instead of imagining a fluid and interdependent relationship between transformations in subjectivity—such as shifts in psychological experience, identity, and awareness—on the one hand, and shifts in socio-economic and political circumstances, on the other, we may be led to imagine a situation in which we must first make “inner” change and then subsequently enact “external” structural change. In this article, I offer a practice-oriented view that understands the sense of self as embedded in everyday social practices, and society itself as a practice, as a way to remove these unnecessary obstacles. In the space opened up, we can better conceive of spiritual practices that include the socio-political realm and socio-political practices that include transformations in subjectivity. The primary example that allows me to trace these themes …

Illustration of two forks facing in opposite directions

Society as Possibility

—On the Semantic Range of the Tibetan Term Sipa— Abstract Tibet has been credited as a repository of ancient wisdom, even as its political and social systems prior to 1950 have been viewed more ambiguously. The three-century rule under the auspices of successive Dalai Lamas has been condemned by some as an oppressive feudal theocracy and idealized by others as a Shangri-la ruled by a benevolent “god-king.” What vision of society is captured in usages of the Tibetan term sipa, which can mean both “society” and “possibility,” and how has this been reimagined in recent decades? One avenue to pursue such a question would be to look at the deployment of this term and its implications as the Tibetan government in exile has transitioned to democracy. Instead, I am interested in charting a different type of innovation, one in which the Tibetan Buddhist master Chögyam Trungpa and his son and lineage heir Sakyong Mipham have probed the valences of the term sipa and fashioned a fresh vision for contemporary society. —Download full article below— Download Article …

Illustration of two faces looking in opposite directions, one looking at the text "No future," the other looking at "The future is now"

Is the Future Back in the Picture?

—Resilience, Resurgence, and Redisovery: Reflections on the Quest for a New Social Vision— Abstract Why, in the face of an apparently relentless onslaught of resource depletion and seemingly irreversible social patterns, are voices not just of protest but of optimistic advocacy being raised? In my lifetime of work in the fields of human rights, environmental protection, and war prevention, I have witnessed some of the most heartbreaking cruelty and devastation of which human beings are capable. The difficulties we face in confronting and preventing such abuses have left many wonderful and committed people on the front-lines of social action in a state of cynicism, bitterness, and hypercritical despair. People often ask me what sustains the human spirit in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds. It’s a question worth asking, as each of us in our own way is living through times when we are forced, increasingly, to consider it. —Download full article below— Download Article PDF: Is the Future Back in the Picture? Illustration by Alicia Brown