Finding Our Place in the Family of Things

“Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine.” This phrase originates in the work of ecology professor and dharma teacher Stephanie Kaza. It first came to my attention in a metta practice guided by Amita Schmidt, an IMS teacher. I use it often. It helps me move from an intellectual understanding of dependent origination and multiple causality to a directly felt, embodied sense of belonging. We are not alone. And we don’t wake up from our habitual, deluded views alone. How then do we find our way?

The Buddha’s suggested path to awakening is a “whole life path.” This path definitely requires an anchoring in the steady, consistent, often solitary mental training called meditation. This is clearly mapped out in the final three guidelines of the Buddha’s Eightfold Path—wise effort, mindfulness, and concentration. However, these are not enough to liberate us from the compelling reactive human tendencies that allow us to be pushed and pulled off course by momentary experiences of pleasure and pain in our everyday lives. We need help from the ongoing exploration and clarification of wise understanding and the regular refreshment of our intentions of kindness, caring, and non-addiction—path factors one and two. In addition, we need to be rooting ourselves always in ethical behavior in regard to speech, actions, and livelihood, i.e., to the way we live our lives within this deeply intertwined world. We need to attend to all of these eight aspects of our experience in order to find the balanced harmony that encourages us to be free from harming ourselves and others.

This coming-into-union, this encounter-without-judgment, this knowing-without-control goes from me to you to us and beyond, to plants and animals and all of the created world. We come to hear the “same music”. . . flowing through everything.

— Brian McLaren

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Valley Insight, along with other Dharma communities in the Buddhist Insight tradition, has had a long commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Especially since African American Dharma teacher Ruth King visited us in 2018 and spoke on her book Mindful of Race, we have had a number of study groups and experiential affinity groups to investigate the subject of race relations historically and personally. We have been opening and changing.

Our current racial affinity group, which is called MoRE (short for “Mindful of Racial Equity”), met for a year with a national cohort of similar groups under the direct leadership of Ruth King. This month in our newsletter’s “Voices of the Sangha” section, Geri DeLuca reflects on her personal journey with MoRE. There is a tenderness in the ongoing process of mind and heart that Geri reveals. Her questions move beyond the need for answers to become a thread which she invites us to follow. As you will see in her bio, Geri has a long, deep history with Valley Insight, with the Dharma, and with writing. She is the co-editor (with Dorothy Gannon) of our monthly newsletter. We are grateful for all her offerings, and we are so glad to have her essay in this edition.

An article by Krishnan Venkatesh in Tricycle Magazine on the fifth path factor of the Buddha’s Eightfold Path—right livelihood—came to my attention recently. It wholeheartedly affirms the place of Geri’s essay—and that of MoRE—in our efforts to be free. His words also highlight the appropriateness of all the other “socially engaged” efforts within the rich and all-encompassing life that is our Valley Insight sangha—which is “a whole life sangha.” Venkatesh wrote:

[O]n further reflection from a broader perspective on livelihood, we can see that the idea of a life in which income and expenditure are balanced encompasses the greater “household” of the socioeconomic and ecological world in which we live.

Right livelihood involves mindfulness of our place in the whole, and thus becomes the foundation for intelligent social activism and ecological responsibility.

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