Community and Not-self

Picture taken form National Education Association, NEA.

“To fully understand who I am and what I am capable of, I need to always see myself in terms of a community.”  -John Hunter, public school teacher

I’m allowing myself to feel today instead of writing.

But I’ll write to support understanding. 😉

As I walked into the great cathedral of Good Shepherd Church this morning, I took my usual right turn and headed straight to St. Therese.  I stood and felt so compelled to just continue to stand. My feet and shins had a little tingling of a vibration already.

As I stood, I felt the welling up in my heart. I began my Vipassana standing meditation.  Closing my eyes, breathing in slowly, breathing out slowly, and counting the breath. I was hooking into my anchor.

I could feel her loving eyes upon me with unconditional love. I noticed how my thoughts shifted from the anchor to feel and take notice of that love. Then I went back to the anchor of my breath and counting. The energy in my heart began to grow immediately.

I felt called to stand and embody the abhaya mudra.  This is the mudra for fearlessness, and if you’d like to take it now, just raise your right hand in front of your right shoulder with both shoulders relaxed. Turn your right palm facing out away from your shoulder and let your fingers be gently connected to each other so that your hand forms a leaf-like shape.  You can do what feels resonant with your left arm in hand; today I chose to place my left hand on my heart.

As I felt comfortable in my anchor, I allowed the energy in my heart to release. Tears came streaming down my face and my body shook at the chest and shoulders. It was a needed healing, somatic release. 

I allowed myself to feel fully what I had not been allowing myself to feel.

I allowed myself to feel all that I was grieving in my own life. I allowed myself to see the man in Turkey crying who has just lost his wife and two daughters and is left with his five other kids, one of which is an infant and he named her after his wife. I allowed myself to cry for all of the earthquake victims. I allowed myself to cry for all of those hurt from racial injustice. I allowed myself to cry for Ukraine.  

I cried and asked for my own forgiveness for the harm that I’ve caused others; both intentionally and unintentionally. I cried, asking for forgiveness for the anger and hatred that I have within myself against those who do harm in the world, and even to the two men in the car that nearly ran me over yesterday. Breathe in, breathe out, Shawna.  Come back to your anchor. Emotions are strong.

I allowed myself to cry for others who are hurting. And I allowed myself to cry for those who I love so deeply. I allowed myself to cry the last tears that became tears of gratitude, happiness, and such appreciation for all of life and my communities and friendships.

As my chest slowly became calm, and my shoulders dropped, I could breathe again without my heaving heart and shaking shoulders. I could come back to my breath and my counting. It felt like a beautiful wave of release and calm was washing through me now.

One thing I haven’t told you yet, that I knew throughout my process this morning, was that the abhaya mudra also means reassurance. I find this so sweet, grounding, deeply caring and loving.  Throughout my process this morning, I felt reassured that it was okay to allow myself to feel fully, to allow myself to be fearless in being seen weeping in front of the statue inside of the church, and reassured that everything was going to be okay.

I fluctuated from the personal to the familial and then to the global collective during my insight standing meditation. I also journeyed from the external collective to my own internal collective thoughts, emotions, and feelings. I feel like this embodied with the quote above represents. That I see myself as connected to that Turkish father who lost his wife and two kids.  That I see myself connected to my own family. That I see myself connected to the family of human beings, no matter their color, religion, gender, identity, sexual orientation, language, heritage, or anything else; the lists go on for how we can identify. 

And even as I see myself within that collective, this has also supported me in acknowledging something that I find very reassuring, which is the “not self” that Buddhism teaches us.  Those identities of how we define our self are important.  And yet, we must remember to not cling to the identities too much.  This is how the “not self” connects to community and self.

*Read below an example from Ruth King around why identity matters, especially in the context of race.

‘Anatta,’  not self.

““There is no self” is the granddaddy of fake Buddhist quotes. It has survived so long because of its superficial resemblance to the teaching on anatta, or not-self, which was one of the Buddha’s tools for putting an end to clinging. Even though he neither affirmed nor denied the existence of a self, he did talk of the process by which the mind creates many senses of self—what he called “I-making” and “my-making”—as it pursues its desires.

In other words, he focused on the karma of selfing. Because clinging lies at the heart of suffering, and because there’s clinging in each sense of self, he advised using the perception of not-self as a strategy to dismantle that clinging. Whenever you see yourself identifying with anything stressful and inconstant, you remind yourself that it’s not-self: not worth clinging to, not worth calling yourself (SN 22.59). This helps you let go of it. When you do this thoroughly enough, it can lead to awakening. In this way, the not-self teaching is an answer—not to the question of whether there’s a self, but to the question that the Buddha said lies at the heart of discernment: “What, when I do it, will lead to my long-term welfare and happiness?” (MN 135). You find true happiness by letting go.” -Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Tricycle Buddhist publication, 2014.

As we identify who we are within the community, we see ourselves, we see others, and we see that which separates us.   When we can acknowledge that which separates us, what brings suffering and discord, then we can awaken to our Oneness and enter into harmony with all Beings and all things.

This will take a fearless (abhaya mudra!!) courage on the interpersonal level as well as the collective level!  I am ready to join Ruth King and so many others to make harmony happen!  I am ready, and I have learned that I need to let myself feel fully throughout the journey.  Hold nothing in.  Release it all.  Not cling.  Just heal.  Just connect.  Just breathe.

To me, this is letting go of the clinging to my identity and releasing into the knowledge of my ‘not self’. This is the awakening to the sensing of my Universal Self and Union with all things. Call it our Buddha Natures, Atman, Original Self, Pure Essence, Divine Self, Love, or any of the other names we curate to support our minds to understand, feel, embody this Knowing.

Think of what you might do, how you might act, what you might change in knowing! Does this knowing help you release fear? It does for me. Does this knowing empower you? Does it support you in any way? It does me; I feel reassured that as I move in life with loving intention, mindful as best I can of my impact, that what I do will have a positive effect for all Beings, no matter how small or large. I feel more empowered to be myself because I can feel that I am of the collective, divine, infinite Universe.

Let me know what you think/feel/sense.

SO much love to you today,


Breathe and Believe.

P.S.  I may have found a space in Inwood I can rent hourly for group gatherings!  Fingers crossed Community!!  Workshops and Connection Anyone!?

*Ruth King:

““In a racial affinity group, our work is intensely personal. We have the opportunity to share our experiences and histories, examine our impulses, reinterpret meaning, and see clearly our role in racial harming and healing. Racial separation into same-race groups, in this sense, is not unwholesome. Rather, it brings us into clear intention and is a critical step in developing, from the inside out, racial intimacy, literacy, and skillfulness. Regardless of how you identify racially, no one is exempt from the need to intimately examine racial conditioning.

There is no shift in consciousness around race–neither knowing our part nor healing – without the grit that relating to each other makes possible. Therefore, I recommend Racial Affinity Groups (RAG) as an ongoing forum for investigating and transforming our ‘individual’ and ‘collective’ racial conditioning.”-As taken from my MMTCP training that has just started!! Here we go, 2 years!