Awakening Together: The Spiritual Practice of Inclusivity and Community
Reviewed by Anna Carolyn McCormally
With Awakening Together: The Spiritual Practice of Inclusivity and Community, Larry Yang has given a gift to anyone who seeks to create truly inclusive, welcoming communities. Rooted in Dharma, which Yang defines as the teachings of Buddha and the lineage of teachings that arose from them, Awakening Together is an invitation to consider how the work of mindfulness practice can have both inward and outward effects.
Yang artfully tells of his experiences both with racism and homophobia as a gay Chinese man in the United States and as a teacher and community member who is striving to make his own community—the East Bay Meditation Center—welcoming and inclusive.
He begins from the first noble truth: “there is difficulty and suffering in the world and there is harm and pain that we will experience in this lifetime . . . [w]hether it is about our individual lives or our collective experience in communities.” Suffering and pain aren’t preventable, no matter how much we wish they were. And so we come to the second noble truth: “suffering is caused by the attachment of desire for life to be other than how it is unfolding.” Suffering is the result of our gut reaction to something painful: pushing it away. The call to mindfulness asks us to be aware of pain, to experience it wholly, to truly see it, to sit with it. In order to create welcoming, inclusive, and multicultural communities, we must truly see, acknowledge, and sit with the discomfort and pain of racism, homophobia, ableism, and sexism.
The problem is that, for members of a space’s dominant culture, it is tempting to not sit mindfully with these injustices. Because they are painful, we push them away; sometimes we deny them. We would prefer they be invisible. We tell the people on the margins of our communities that it is their responsibility to bring themselves in, to assimilate.
And so awareness is the first step. Yang tells us: “we cannot change anything that we are not aware of. Awareness allows us to continually better ourselves and live our lives with more fulfillment.” Being mindful of suffering creates the space to act in response to it, and to act mindfully in my community, with loving concern, toward a remedy.
Awakening Together’s lessons build on one another, moving from this first step of mindfulness to considering what it means to truly belong in a community, how to consciously create community, and the question of manifesting diverse spiritual leadership in a world that privileges the dominant culture of Whiteness. We must, Yang emphasizes, be willing to “break” together in addition to awakening together: “not pushing conflict away for some hoped-for, more pleasant, more peaceful experience that is not happening in the present moment. . . . When we break together and live relationally with conflict, resolved or not, we create peace.”
Awakening Together includes reflection questions at the end of most chapters as well as a “Steps to Take Now” section with additional points for communities working to become more diverse and inclusive. This direction makes this book a good resource for Friends meetings or organizations that wish to discuss the book together while continuing our collective work to create truly inclusive communities where all are welcome.
Since Yang’s lessons build on one another as the book unfolds, Friends might consider reading one chapter at a time and reflecting both individually and with others after each chapter. This can be a way to build the foundation for larger conversations about consciously creating community and manifesting diverse spiritual leadership in our own communities.