Perspectives: Beyond Fear of Differences

· Sangha News, Sangha Reflections

The Beyond Fear of Differences (BFoD) Planning Group held a public forum at the Monastery on Sunday, March 3, 2019—a moment 10 years in the making. It was a chance to welcome the whole Sangha into the development of the BFoD mission and vision process, to share the details about the process that the committee had been involved in, and to let people know how they can get involved. A similar forum was held one week later at the Zen Center of NYC.

As monastic Zuiko stated during the introduction on March 3, one way of talking about BFoD is “studying and examining power, privilege, and oppression as Dharma practice and training. So, not ‘in the context of the Dharma’ or ‘through the lens of the Dharma’ but actually as Dharma practice and training.”

Encouragement was given for participants to arrive early to view the timeline of BFoD’s evolution, as this would be an essential part of the event. On paper stitched together by a long strand of thread, entries marked events beginning in 2009 and going to the present. Above and below each entry were notes on colorful pieces of paper written by members of the BFoD Planning Group with comments and reflections on each event. The timeline was an annotated history of BFoD, a kind of dialogical history that transparently captured power dynamics and multiple narratives.

Also in the room was a set of posters of the “10 Values Guiding Beyond Fear of Differences Work”: Trust, Equity, Courage, Accountability, Humility, Reverence, Generosity, Whole Person Framework, Cultural Fluency, and Authenticity.

The Forum itself featured a panel discussion with members of the BFoD Planning Group. Committee member Tanya Bonner facilitated the discussion which included planning group members and gave opportunities to hear from the Sangha through questions, and later through reflections on our own fears, anger, wants, needs, and hopes, and a follow-up survey. The Forum was also live streamed for virtual participation.

Beyond Fear of Fear

by Joan Gutierrez
Following the opening ceremony for the Spring 2019 Ango, a much-anticipated open forum was held, unveiling the work of Beyond Fear of Differences (BFoD) to the whole sangha. The presentation was an exhibition of process over product, which made it feel alive and real. That aspect invigorated my spirits to continue engaging with the arduous work at hand.

While in residency at ZMM I have been enmeshed in the humanitarian process of anti-racism work alongside the residential sangha. I’ve been sensing that for many the engagement has come as a quiet nudge into action, a gust of wind so unforeseen it is cutting through potential resistance. For others, there’s a tenacious vigor for making strides in shifting the present, oppressive, political current. In solidarity with this latter impression my spirits have been both humbled and flared.

Before the BFoD forum began, a detailed timeline including committee input was laid all along the walls. Going through it evoked some very strong and surprising emotions in me. I wasn’t prepared for such a visceral reaction. I take this to signify serious implications…powerful, resounding implications.

I was affected by the display of courage, transparency, and zeal I witnessed while sitting in the space of the forum. Had we all been dead silent and quiet, I have an inkling we would’ve all felt a shift, subtle like the shift of tectonic plates. It occurred to me that if the work of BFoD is still cooking over the fire of development, it is at this point simmering. Going forward, its evolution could have magnanimously regenerative effects.

I would be offering only half of the orange if I didn’t point out the dissonant chords that also struck me. I felt at odds with the manner in which the concept of fear was being nurtured within the context of the work. I’m convinced that fear begets fear. When we walk on eggshells, fearing that the ways we communicate will hurt others and thus not speaking up at all, it only expands that hurt. Repression hurts because it has sneaky ways of leaking out. From my experience of the forum it appeared clear that hurt is already firmly planted in all of us. What if we could all just stand back and listen to what our fear is rising up to tell us; seeing fear as nothing more than feedback? And what if in the utmost radical sense, we were to become our fears?

I arrive at this proposition from a dis-ease with the idea of being “Beyond fear.” BEYOND…such an elitist, capitalist ideal. To be superior to, surpassing, above, more than, in excess of, over and above. I don’t want to be beyond my fears. I learn the myriad of things from my fears. I opt for the challenge of shifting and transforming my intimacy with fear. I want to be so up close and personal we reach an opening, a softening, a moment so tender that we coalesce, nothing to surpass. We can then surrender to the power of the roles of healer, creator, and comforter. We accept these roles being the essence of the restoration of the natural order of things.

At the heart of the matter, radiance gleamed from the spirit of the Beyond Fear of Differences work. The forum was a moving opportunity to get to witness so many white folks owning up to their blindness and subconscious racism, some of which I have inevitably been at the receiving end, being that I am a resident, highly sensitive, queer, and of color. Yet in receiving unconscious racist slights I have never felt outrightly bruised or negatively effected to the point of deeming this space unsafe or counter to healing. At my core I continue to get the sense that wholesome intentions are harbored here. I feel safe and comfortably uncomfortable enough to talk about potential injuries as they arise. When I speak I feel heard. I feel seen. I feel accepted. I feel nourished. I feel loved.

I feel privileged and grateful to play a part in the whole of the pebble of BFoD. Beyond doubt, when a pebble drops in the water the ripple circles out to great distances.

Joan Gutierrez is in the midst of a yearlong residency at Zen Mountain Monastery, serving as co-cook since November 2018.


Word-for-Word

by James Busan Mannion and Tess Edmonds
When we were asked to write a summary and reflection of our experience of the forum together, we began the process by rewatching the event via the Livestream video recording. Our original intention was to take notes in order to highlight the “key themes” and the “important quotes,” but as we were doing this we found ourselves getting drawn back in again and again to what was being said during the panel by the BFoD Planning Group. We were hearing things we hadn’t heard the first time around. We were pausing and remarking how amazing each sharing was, moved to tears a number of times by the power of what was being said. Our notes increasingly became a direct transcript. At a certain point the idea of paraphrasing, or picking and choosing the key details, seemed less and less what we wanted to do, and so we made the decision to transcribe the event in its entirety (you can find it linked below).

The process of transcribing was deeply impactful for both of us. In studying the forum, we saw how much of what was happening had not been visible to us the first time through. We felt that our conditioning, lenses, backgrounds, and previous experiences limited what we could take in. It was striking to see how much more came through on multiple viewings. For example, after being at the forum, our sense was that it was intended to be a sharing of what BFoD is, rather than a showcase of the learnings and wisdom of the work so far. However, upon multiple viewings we found that every single thing the Planning Group members said was in itself wisdom about the work of addressing power, privilege, and oppression. And, it was not just what was being said—it was how it was being said, how the Planning Group was present on stage, how they were relating to one another and to the Sangha.

Similarly, while attending the Forum, we were primarily aware of the challenging content, especially the transparent description of conflict, struggle, and suffering. However, as we rewatched and transcribed the Forum, we became more and more aware of the joy that was also on the stage, the laughter, the smiles—a joy amidst differences arising within the work of undoing oppression together.

The BFoD Sangha Forum feels to us like a turning point in the history of the MRO, an event that has the potential to significantly change the karma we as a Sangha are creating. And, it is a moment that feels unprecedented on a number of levels: the opportunity to publicly hear People of Color, especially Black People in our Sangha, speak about the suffering they have experienced practicing within the MRO; transparency about the problems of the MRO hierarchy and structures in relation to power, privilege, and oppression; and having teachers and seniors share a stage alongside students and Sangha members.

We feel deeply grateful for all the work the BFoD Planning Group has done to bring our Sangha to this moment and for taking the risk of being vulnerable in front of the whole Sangha.

Busan Mannion, MRO, lives in Boston where he is working to integrate dialogue facilitation, spirituality, and social justice. 

Tess Edmonds, MRO, teaches sustainable design and researches educational change in Boston where she lives.

The following links further document the forum and ongoing BFOD activities.

Visit the BFOD web page.

Read the full transcript of the BFOD Forum at ZMM.

Watch the Livestream of the event.

Listen to the audio-only recording of the forum at ZMM.

Listen to the audio-only recording of the forum at ZCNYC from 3/10/19.

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