Power, Privilege, and Protect: A Reflection

by Kaitlyn Hatch

On December 13th, 2019, Dr. Shanté Paradigm Smalls flew from New York City to join Dr. Claudelle Glasgow in co-teaching two offerings for the weekend. Privilege, Power & Protection was held the evening of December 13th and all day on the 14th. Open to participants of all identities and embodiments, this was a rich day and a half of teachings, conversations, and body-work. The second offering, Healing & Celebration, was a closed-container space of sanctuary for Black/Indigenous/People of Color (BIPOC), held on Sunday the 15th. Both offerings were hosted by the Seattle Shambhala Center in the charming basement space of the Columbia City Church of Hope, a hub of community activity in Columbia City.

Kat Larrson provided gorgeous decorations and beautiful Ikebana displays, while a host of volunteers helped to create the space and hold the container for participants. A delicious spread of food added to the nourishment of the teachings.

During Privilege, Power & Protection, the doctors guided participants through a variety of practices that invited not only contemplation but a move to action. They began by having us collectively define protection, power and privilege, and then refined the definition to the context of the weekend’s teachings. The primary message was to see how both internal and external power places us in positions of privilege. Understanding this, we can connect with the responsibility we have to protect as a result of our power and privilege. The first point of protection is one’s own mind—stabilizing it and ensuring that our attachment to ego doesn’t cloud our judgement so that we risk causing harm, intentionally or not, from a place of power and privilege.

Dr. G and Dr. Smalls are both brilliant examples of what it is to stabilize one’s mind in the face of groundlessness. The work of the practitioner is not to establish ground—that would be like trying to ‘fix’ samsara—but to stabilize the mind knowing there is no ground. In the midst of the chaos and upheaval resulting from the Sakyong’s misconduct, they each move in the world in ways that truly model the strength and depth of their personal practices. An example of this came on Saturday. The Sakyong had just released another letter to the Shambhala community. Dr. Smalls spoke directly to this, voicing their frustrations that the letter did not show any growth or accountability for his actions and naming the need for those who have taken Samaya to do all they can to call the Sakyong up into restorative justice work.

What a model of enlightened society! A demonstration of holding both/and, as well as pointing out that calling someone to take responsibility for their actions can be done lovingly and skillfully. Indeed, holding anyone accountable for their actions is an act of love, and as the doctors pointed out throughout the weekend, accountability is part of protection. Even the Buddha, Dr. Smalls pointed out, needed help to see how he was a product of his relative environment—by all accounts he at first refused to ordain any nuns, until called to enlightened action by his beloved aunt.

In the workshop, we dug deep into looking at our relative experience, and how this influences how power and privilege show up for each of us. We were asked to look at how we hide from our relative power and privilege. How do we deflect them? How do we refuse them?

This inquiry was supported by community practice. Seeing our relative experience as relative is only possible when we see the relative experiences of others. This is how the ultimate and the relative go hand in hand. We wake up to the ultimate by learning to see, acknowledge, and honour the countless relative experiences of our fellow sentient beings.

This ‘clearing the clouds that obscure wisdom’, said Dr. G, is the duty of the protector. We do this by asking ourselves who might need help in order to show up in a practice space. What human needs are being met so that all people can access the dharma and participate in a weekend program such as the one we were participating in? Are the bathrooms accessible to people with mobility devices? Is the cost prohibitive to anyone with a lower income? Is the language promoting the event assuming things about the race, gender, or sexual orientation of participants? “In naming things like this, together in community, we are owning our intersectionality,” explained Dr. G.

Together, we named some of the blind spots in our own lives that we were actively becoming aware of, and set intentions for how we were going to act in the coming weeks. The guidance for setting the intention was for it to be tangible and clear—something we could follow-through on and not a heady, intellectual exercise. We gathered in small groups to share our intentions, using the practice of bearing witness to give the intention legs as our time together came to a close.

This fruitful offering was made possible thanks to a number of volunteers, and a promised donation to cover costs if it didn’t move out of the red. In the end, the program was only $30 in the red—which was an accomplishment for a weekend workshop held so near the holiday season! Thank you to everyone who contributed to making it a success in so many different ways.


Interested in similar programs? 

For more teachings from Dr. Shanté Paradigm Smalls, join their online community, Weekly Dharma Project. They offer a 7-day free trial for live and pre-recorded dharma talks and more.

 Seattle Shambhala’s Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) Meditation Group meets the first Sunday of the month from 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM and is open to those who identify as a person of color. The intent of this group is to create a consistent and safe space for BIPOC to practice meditation and engage in fellowship. For more information, contact Ladan at [email protected].

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