If you are reading this, I imagine you probably love or care about Gaia House in some way.
I know that for many people Gaia House feels like home, a place of welcome and of being able to let down their defences to be able to deepen. However, I am also aware that the sense of being at home is not everyone’s experience and that some of you reading this who also love the Dharma, may know a different experience of being at Gaia House as well.
The teachers, staff and Trust at Gaia House have always had the aspiration and intention that GH could be an inclusive Dharma home for whoever might want it to be. And yet it has become clear to us that goodwill and even some actions arising from that goodwill, is simply not enough to make this a reality.
And we acknowledge that the experience of not feeling really welcome, at home and valued is more likely to be the case for people who are members of communities who are under-represented in the staff, yogis or leadership at Gaia House: if you identify as working class, as a person of colour or BAME, a person of diverse genders, are a member of the LGBTQ+ community, someone who is differently able, a young person or perhaps from another community we have not recognised yet.
This is not how we would wish it to be.
Some of us from the Gaia House community have recently completed a course called ‘Unpacking the Whiteness of Leadership’ as part of going deeper with this intention.
In this course, we were kindly and firmly guided to understand and also importantly to feel and investigate some of dynamics that are part of creating and keeping this situation in place.
This is the Dharma. The wisdom of understanding the conditions on which something is leaning. Good intention and action need to be backed up by wisdom and investigation. We explored some of these conditions personally, interpersonally, and institutionally.
As humans we are inevitably enacting culture of some form or another through the actions of our body, our speech and mind, we cannot step out of that. But we do have the possibility of seeing and sensing what habits and patterns we are enacting, individually and collectively, consciously or unconsciously, and whether those patterns are limiting or harmful in any way.
And so in this course we studied ‘whiteness’. ‘Whiteness’ denotes particular ways of thinking, feeling and acting in the world that become the references for what is considered normal behaviour, how ‘we’ do things, what is valued, what is ‘correct and good’. All cultures will have their norms and ways of doing things of course, but ‘whiteness’ refers to what in our current world have become the dominant and too often the dominating ways of thinking, feeling and acting.
If you are not familiar with the term, you could think of ‘whiteness’ in the way we might think of a ‘sense of self’ in Dharma practice. If we do not bring mindfulness and investigation to this ‘sense of self’, its habits and patterns will dominate and this self is always at the centre of things. And when we centre ourselves, and in this case when we centre whiteness, then there are always others who are at the margins. And so it keeps going.
If Dharma practice is to study the self, in order to come out of centring the self, then unpacking whiteness is to study whiteness, in order to come out of centring whiteness. And be able to address the suffering it creates.
Speaking personally, this course gave me a framework and a set of lenses to hone in on some of the particular conditions of my own heart, mind and body that are unconsciously enacting such a culture in my life, at Gaia House, and in our wider world. This course guided me to recognise and unravel to some degree my unconscious attachments, views and behaviours at this level.
And just like in any practice that really leads onward, this course took me beyond what was comfortable and familiar. It was necessarily challenging at times, both viscerally and emotionally. Feeling the limitations and defensiveness when my unconscious, and yet somehow very familiar ‘whiteness’ was brought in to the light of day and seen for what it is. Empty yes, and yet contributing to making and sustaining a dominating culture.
Like any practice that leads onward, this course was a priceless gift. I think I leave a little bit wiser and less defensive, a little more humble and fitter to engage in this work, and more able to hear and also to heed the call of my heart for more beauty, truth and justice. I trust these benefits will serve others too.
I know many of you are further along in this kind of work than me. Thank you for leading on this. And I want to acknowledge my fellow Dharma teachers, students and friends from communities that are typically under-represented at Gaia House and beyond for calling me in to this kind of awakening work both directly and just through who you are. I bow.
And, with a tender heart, I want to ‘call in’ any others of you, my fellow Dharma way-farers reading this who feel a tug in their heart towards this kind of practice, to follow that, out of love for each other and for our world.
Our world seems to be calling for so much more at the moment. To be able to go beyond what we have known in order to skilfully handle and respond to the emerging multiple crises that are unfolding in our world. Crises that disproportionately and typically more seriously affect those who are not part of the dominant and often ‘dominating’ cultures.
One of our primary aspirations in attending this course is to, so far as possible remove barriers to participation for all who may wish to practice Dharma at Gaia House.
Our hope is then that Gaia House culture can be more informed and shaped by the richness and perspectives that a greater diversity of people inevitably bring.
This, like any practice that leads onward is a practice for our world too, here and now and in caring for what we are leaving for the next seven generations.
May our efforts serve healing, wise action and the possibility that Gaia House might be a refuge for anyone who wishes to practice Dharma.