If you’re an academic, perhaps a better question might be: “Do you have an hour of time?”
If you do (and you’re interested in meditation, attention, and mindfulness) I’d humbly suggest watching the following talk of Tenzin Palmo’s:
This woman, for a number of years, lived alone inside of a mountain cave. During this time she meditated for most of the day; only stirring to care for the minimum requirements of her body.
She probably knows a thing or two about mindfulness — at least from my perspective. But, by her own admission, she still has a long way to go.
Which brings up an interesting point… when do we become ‘aware’? How many caves must we mediate in to reach mindfulness? How long will it take?
The Buddha says we will all get there someday. But that’s not my point here. When we view mindfulness as a goal (rather than a process), we rob ourselves of the experience that promotes it. And it is precisely the experience — the struggle — that gifts us a greater awareness. Struggling with the troubles of our mind that keep us distracted is just as much a part of mindfulness as crying is a part of love. There is no shortcut here.
Forcing our students to close their laptops in class, reading five-minute opinion pieces on mindfulness published along side of flashing ad banners on the internet, or trying to mono-task while clutching to a fundamentally multi-tasked life are all simply recipes for disappointment. These ideas are not inherently bad, but they do presuppose attention as a ends — grasping for a state of attention blinds us to the fact that grasping was what delivered us to a state of distraction in the first place. Palmo wisely says this is like drinking salt water — the more we drink the thirstier we become.
If you’ll allow me to extent this concept to diversity for a moment. . . Where do we go to find diversity? How do we get there? How long does it take?
If I can use myself as an example…
I’ve walked the 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery Alabama.
And protested authors when they give talks at Virginia Tech.
But I couldn’t tell what it’s like to be black in America. I can only tell you what people have told me when I’ve listened to their experiences.
I’ve studied Aikido for a number of years under the supervision of a dojo located in Okazaki, Japan.
And I’ve volunteered my time to help construct a pagoda in the Nichiren tradition.
But I couldn’t tell you what it’s like to be Japanese. I can only tell you what people have told me when I’ve listened to their experiences.
I’ve protested the conditions undocumented immigrants are held under in the United States.
And I’ve protested the US’s involvement in Central America that supports many of the systems that spur that same immigration.
But, again, I couldn’t tell you what it’s like to be Salvadoran. I can only tell you what people have told me when I’ve listened to their experiences.
If I’ve buried the lead here, let me clarify. Diversity, just like mindfulness, isn’t a destination. It’s an experience. It’s a process. And for it to be, we must practice it.
It’s a little like what Mr. Rogers taught me about love:
“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”
So when it comes to teaching, how do we accept our students for who they are? How do we… diversify? Thich Nhat Hanh has a suggestion that might resonate with you:
“If you pour a handful of salt into a cup of water, the water becomes undrinkable. But if you pour the salt into a river, people can continue to draw the water to cook, wash, and drink. The river is immense, and it has the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform. When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited, and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, these same things don’t make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and can embrace others. We accept others as they are, and then they have a chance to transform.”
So with all this in mind, I’ll give you my diversity statement. It’s not written for other professors or to help me get hired. It (or something close to it) is simply what I’ll be including in my syllabi from now on:
I don’t know you.
I can’t emphasize that enough.
At the beginning of the semester, I don’t know your story. I don’t know where you come from or what you bring with you. I don’t know your beliefs, your values, your hopes, your dreams, your fears, or your passions. And I certainly don’t think I can figure that out by looking at you.
But I do know this. If you’re bold enough to express these things this semester — I’ll listen. And, together, we’ll figure out how this class can fit into your story.