April 17, 2019

Diversity and the Dharma

By John Spalding

“What does diversity work have to do with the Dharma?”

“Why does IMS offer ‘Affinity Sits,’ separate sittings during retreats for people of color and other groups? Isn’t the goal for us all to come together?”

“What’s diversity work been like for IMS’s teachers? One more thing they have to do, or an opportunity they welcome?”

These are some of the questions IMS regularly fields regarding the diversity initiatives we’ve undertaken for more than a decade. And such questions are understandable, considering that diversity work is relatively new to the Dharma world. Since the dawn of the mindfulness movement in the 1970s, those flocking to retreat centers, including IMS, have been largely white and middle-class. For years, few people of color (POC) attended our retreats and LGBTIQA+ people and other marginalized groups remained unacknowledged.

Over the past 10 or so years, however, IMS has been committed to challenging and transforming the barriers that have kept diverse communities from finding a spiritual home at our centers. Although this work never really ends, we’ve come a long way. For example, a third of our Board members now self-identify as people of color, three as LGBTIQA+. Each year, we sponsor diversity and inclusion workshops and trainings for Board members, teachers and staff. We offer annual retreats for marginalized groups, and we provide financial assistance for people of color who otherwise might not be able to practice at IMS. In 2017, we launched a new, four-year Teacher Training Program in which 75% of the trainees identify as POC. (For more on our major initiatives, visit our Diversity and Inclusion page.)

Diversity and the Dharma

Still, a list of steps we’ve taken doesn’t explain why diversity work is so important to us, what impact it’s had on our centers, and what it means for newcomers to IMS, both teachers and retreatants. To address such questions, we’ve developed Diversity and the Dharma, a series of video interviews with IMS teachers and staff, including Joseph Goldstein, IMS co-founder and a leader in our diversity work since it began, guiding teachers DaRa Williams, Rebecca Bradshaw, and Greg Scharf, teachers Winnie Nazarko and Brian Lesage, and retreat support staffer Phoenix Soleil.

Topics covered in these videos include: the historical background of IMS’s diversity work; white privilege and the Dharma; the challenges and opportunities inherent in this work; diversity and the retreat “container”; affinity sitting groups; the future of diversity and inclusion efforts at IMS.

Above all, we hope that Diversity and the Dharma highlights the rich rewards we continue to reap, as individuals and as a community, as we strive in our commitment to make IMS a place where all feel welcome, safe and respected.

To watch this series, view each video individually below, or visit IMS’s YouTube channel.

Diversity and the Dharma: For the Liberation of All Beings

Diversity and the Dharma: Challenges and Opportunities

Diversity and the Dharma: Affinity Sits

Diversity and the Dharma: Facing Our Conditioning