Reflections from second web3 dialogue

How does enlightenment arise in the body? For a moment, I return to the meditation cushion past midnight, the singing of the frogs accompanying me. I begin to perceive this human body as intimately connected to all things: blending and integrating with the zendo, the moonlight glow, the frogs. Body releases, relaxes, rests into the dignity and ease of perpetual belonging. Eventually sleep comes, until the sounding of the bell before sunrise signals a new period of meditation.

There have been other moments of enlightenment but this is the most vivid, meditating alone in an empty zendo overnight, letting this body dissolve into interbeing. To have experienced this once has allowed me to return when needed. I return to this sanctuary to remind myself of liberation.  

Can I claim to be free in this very moment, doing what I love most, body settled after a period of meditation by candlelight? Liberation is the condition of being free of suffering, moving into ease and wellbeing. Beyond that, liberation is to know interbeing. To welcome this intimate relationship with all things, and to speak and act in ways that acknowledge this connection. Knowing that our liberation is inextricably tied together.

What does a culture of liberation look like in community?

To create a space in which each person can access ease and wellbeing, we (as community members, facilitators, and organizers) can consider:

  • How can we build enough safety for participation, and create pathways for feedback and conflict resolution?
  • How can we offer tools that allow individuals to track and regulate their own wellbeing through the body (nervous system regulation and release)?
  • How can we name power structures and encourage folks to challenge these structures as is needed for them?

I'll explore each of these steps below.

Starting with safety
Safety is a tricky thing. I’ve heard teachers say that there is no absolute condition of safety, that safety is a perception of the mind. I share that belief to an extent; each of us, given our unique identities and belief systems, will register safety in certain environments and not others. When we feel safe, our bodies are at ease and our minds can enter spaces of creativity and curiosity. We can articulate our needs and show up authentically. When we don't feel safe, our bodies are activated or numb, preparing us to fight, flee, or adapt to threats we perceive.

Past experiences of challenge and trauma, often but not always tied to our identities, can make safety in community hard to come by. Sometimes I notice that my circle of safety is limited. I don’t like when people use certain words or wield aggressive, strongly masculine energies. I notice micro-aggressions and am sometimes cowed by them into a submission of silence. After the deaths of many Asian women over the past year, I startle easily, experience anxiety when people follow me too closely, and need a bit of extra encouragement in large groups. I am hyper-vigilant when walking on the streets at night. Even with people who have my best interests at heart, I can perceive misattunement and simply shut down. Unable to speak or show up as my authentic self. Perception of safety is critical to liberation.

There are so many ways we can meet each other to provide conditions for safety. Some examples that I've found helpful include:

  • Smiling and welcoming a new person at a social gathering
  • Sharing a set of agreements before a team call or a conference
  • Providing guidelines for listening and engaging before asking for vulnerability
  • Choosing words that cause the least harm: e.g., using the words “stationary meditation” instead of “sit” to include those that find difficulty in the sitting posture

This list is not complete and may not work for everyone, or even most people, at any given time and place. We must use our intuition and intellect to identify appropriate, culturally relevant means of welcome for whatever situation we find ourselves in. For example, in Palestine, where I lived before the pandemic, taxi drivers would invite me to their homes to meet their families over a warm meal. That would likely be less culturally appropriate here.

I can each strive to welcome others to shared space, and I will at some point unintentionally cause harm. It's inevitable, given the diversity of the human experience. When this happens, it's important to have processes that allow those harmed to speak up without fear of punishment, and for those who receive that feedback to meet it with openness and great care. Intention and impact matter. We can acknowledge harm without shaming ourselves as "bad" actors.  We're doing the best we can and safety is a shared goal.

Preparing to engage: learning the tools of nervous system regulation
How do we prepare to enter spaces that challenge us to step outside of our comfort zone into a space of growth? How do we fully engage in the world?

For me this starts with an understanding of my nervous system - when am I in a state of regulation, capable of responding to the people and conditions around me with my best self? When am I moving into dysregulation? What are the signs of activation and release?

I notice fear when my heart rate elevates and breathing becomes shallow and quick. Often there is tension in my chest or constriction in my throat. I become hyper-focused on the situation at hand and do not have the spaciousness to consider many options. This is helpful when I am in immediate danger (or caring for others in this situation). I must get to physical safety first. Once I am in a safe enough environment, I can proceed to calm the nervous system in order to move into a state of more ease and creativity. Maybe there are still problems to be solved, but no immediate threats to my physical wellbeing.

Ways I calm my body and activate the parasympathetic nervous system responsible for “rest and digest”:

  • Deep breathing, focusing on the breath as it enters the abdomen
  • Slow walking outside (if possible)
  • Washing the dishes, cleaning the house
  • Wrapping my body in a cozy blanket and getting warm
  • Thinking about a memory that brings me joy or ease
  • Leaning against a wall or pushing a wall to release tension
  • Drinking a glass of water or juice
  • Listening to peaceful music

Knowing how to move towards wellbeing when my nervous system is in a heightened state of arousal allows me to experience safety in my body, no matter my external conditions. And this self-regulation empowers me to show up in spaces I may find challenging – where conditions may not immediately put me at ease. It allows me to increase the size of my comfort zone and to show up fully in new spaces.

Creating safety can thus be a shared responsibility – we as individuals show up with the tools to regulate our body and emotions, and our colleagues, peers, and fellow community members actively do our best to offer welcome. Note that power dynamics may shift the responsibilities of myself and others.

Naming power dynamics
Today during our second web3 discussion, I named existing power structures. Our friend Chris had convened the four of us and built a curriculum of study. It would be natural, given the way in which we have all been convened, to perceive the structure during this group as a teacher : student dynamic, where Chris holds more power than the rest of us.

I encouraged myself to step outside of that frame of reference. I’ve built enough trust with Chris to know that he is my collaborator and sibling on the path to liberation. We share similar aspirations and have built spaces together before. If he poses a question that doesn’t resonate, I will choose my own. If he says something I find challenging, I will name and express why. Chris describes this as moving from a landlord : serf mentality into one of citizenry, where each of us can show up as a citizen of a broader community.  This citizenship cannot be given or taken away; it is inextricably linked to the inherent dignity of each being.

In community, citizenship is the right to show up as we are, to speak and be heard with one’s authentic voice, to question and advocate for new ways of being. True citizenry begins with naming the distribution of power, and having enough safety and trust to step into authentic selfhood.

Exercise: Identifying needs for safety

Dear reader, what are your needs for safety? Are there spaces in which you experience ease and wellbeing? What conditions enable those feelings for you? I invite you to pause and sink into this question, allowing it to be pleasurable and for the answers to arise not in your mind but in your body. Feel into where you are most at ease. Allow those responses to be true.

If you don’t have any actual spaces in which you experience wellbeing, I invite you to imagine one. Let this space be one in which you create impenetrable defense and protection, where you are completely safe. What do you notice about this space?

Whether your space is real or imagined, or only partially there, I invite you to celebrate the emergence of any clarity or insight you’ve discovered about the kind of space you need. The boundaries that you’d like to set. The requests you’d like to make of yourself and others in order to move into those spaces.

How can you prepare to be in more spaces that feel safe and easeful? In this second reflection, I invite you to consider if there are any spaces in which you’d like to be able to show up with more ease. What might you do to create those conditions for yourself? How can you prepare and perhaps expand the circle of what you perceive as safe?