Kaira Jewel Lingo is the author of an important new work, We Were Made for These Times: Ten Lessons for Moving Through Change, Loss, and Disruption. She is a Dharma teacher who has a lifelong interest in blending spirituality and meditation with social justice. In her book, Kaira Jewel imparts accessible advice on navigating difficult times of transition, drawing on Buddhist teachings on impermanence to help you establish equanimity and resilience.
In November, We Were Made for These Times: Ten Lessons for Moving Through Change, Loss, and Disruption will be the featured title for the IMS Book Club. IMS Staff Writer Raquel Baetz spoke with Kaira Jewel about her new book, her teachings, and her work.
Tell us about the book’s title. Why did you choose it?
It comes from the writing of Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés [Mestiza Latina American poet, psychoanalyst, and post-trauma specialist]. In her essay, “Letter to A Young Activist During Troubled Times: Do Not Lose Heart, We Were Made for These Times,” she says that every one of us has a right to be bewildered, angry, and perplexed at the way our world is spiraling out of control.
But, she says, don’t lose hope. Don’t see yourself as a victim. Because everything we’ve been doing in our lives up until now is preparing us for exactly this moment. We were made to meet exactly this challenge that we’re facing right now.
And so, how do we dig down in ourselves and find those capacities that we already have? How can we find the ones that are maybe latent and just need to be woken up; nourished so they can sprout?
There can be this wanting to push away the terribleness of these times. But there’s more than terribleness, there’s also incredible potential. Think of all the people who got turned on to meditation and mindfulness because of the pandemic. We’ve seen a huge increase in the number of people who are now meditating and learning to pay attention to their moment-to-moment experience, because of the pandemic.
A huge awakening happened in the U.S. following George Floyd’s murder. All those uprisings across the country would not have happened without that. It’s tragic, but there was something in that suffering that tapped into something that was already there, but just needed another condition to manifest. And then we have this willingness of many people to say, “This is too much. I will not sit by and watch this happen over and over.”
Describe some of the guidance the book provides for navigating change, loss, and disruption.
This is a moment in time when we need to be our best. We need to bring all of what we have to bear. And we can do that by coming home to ourselves—by being fully present in our bodies and our breath. Bringing our full presence into the smallest of actions and into every moment is crucial. We must have the strength, stability, and presence of mind to meet a very disruptive time.
And so, there is a place in each of us that is bigger than the disrupted feelings or the strong emotions. There’s always a place in us that is not in turbulence. That is our true home.
We must learn how to cultivate a relationship with our true home inside of us, which no one can take away. Knowing how to find that is an important place to begin so that when we don’t have what’s familiar around us, there is a place that we know how to take refuge in inside of us.
And that’s something that we can create within ourselves, and we can strengthen with other people too. It’s not that we have to be islands. The more we can be in community with people who are practicing finding their own true home, then we are creating a common collective space that can hold us in rough times. I think many communities have experienced that during the pandemic—realizing that they can be there for each other and provide a space for each other.
There is so much suffering in our world right now. You teach that suffering and happiness can coexist. Could you tell us how this is possible?
Even amid turmoil, there’s a place in us that’s not in turmoil—that place of our true home. When we’re suffering, experiencing grief or sadness, there is a part of us that is still available to receive beauty, kindness, and love. A part of us that can touch the goodness of what’s around us.
Thinking about when we’ve lost loved ones. It’s sad and full of grief, and yet it can also be the case that those are moments when we are brought closer to those we love, those who also loved that person who we lost. There can be at the same time this sense of a real deepening of love and feeling of support.
So, there is a simultaneous grieving and sadness, and a real gratitude and appreciation of being held in this larger community or family. We can notice that this other person who also loved and lost this person is there, and we can take care of each other in this moment. We can love each other in this moment. We can live deeply with each other in this moment. Not to dismiss or minimize the depth, the intensity of these feelings of suffering, but to acknowledge that we are amazing beings who can experience multiple things at the same time.
If we can open ourselves to that profound reality, then when suffering comes, when those terrible moments come, we have more space. We have more capacity to hold them because we know that that’s not all there is. Yes, that is there. And there is the other side of life. They’re not two separate things: suffering and happiness. We wouldn’t know happiness if we didn’t know suffering. How could we appreciate the sun if we hadn’t known the rain?
This feels like the right book at the right moment. Is it a response to this particular time or are these ideas you’ve been working with for a while?
I first brought these teachings together into a course for InsightTimer. It’s kind of miraculous because they were released the day before the pandemic was declared; the course went live in March of 2020.
It got so much positive feedback because people were in very difficult situations—suddenly stuck in their apartment under lockdown, losing people close to them, losing jobs, losing houses, etc. People would write to me and say, “I can’t believe how timely this course has been.” But I had no idea there was going to be a pandemic!
I was invited to make a course and I thought, “What can I share?” And I thought, well, I know how to go through difficult times, times of disruption and loss. I’ll make a course about that. In the fall of the pandemic, my partner was listening to the course and said, “You should make this into a book.” And because I had all the scripts already, I went to my publisher, and they were happy to publish it.
So, it was an organic experience, and I think it’s a beautiful thing that I didn’t plan it. It’s one of those things that happens when we are in our true home. What we need gets pulled out of us and used in a way that’s helpful that maybe we could never have conceived of.
It feels a little miraculous that the course came out right before the pandemic. It’s been lovely because it helped so many people on the app. I’m glad for it to, hopefully, reach a wider audience in book form. It’s changed somewhat from the course—it’s evolved, so hopefully it’s even more of a resource for folks.
Your work involves developing and supporting BIPOC retreats and sanghas. What calls you to this important work?
I am BIPOC and I have lived not belonging to the dominant identity or the majority. It’s very important for people who identify as BIPOC to have people who have similar experience to be able to practice with, relate to, and learn the Dharma with. It was a very important thing for me to be able to see teachers and practitioners who identify as BIPOC—to be around them, close to them, and learn from them.
It’s very helpful when there are spaces that can hold particularities of our experience, especially when those particularities are not welcomed, or made space for, or understood in many areas of our life, like our job, school, or communities. So having a space where we can show up in all the multiplicities of who we are. And there may be multiple spaces that we need, for example, if someone is LGBTQ, they may also need a space that’s LGBTQ, or if we’re immigrant we may also need spaces that are for immigrants. For those who identify as BIPOC, it’s important to have spaces where that part of themselves can be welcomed, unpacked, and held in the context of the Dharma.
It’s something I’m really drawn to support because it’s been important for me in my own development, growth, learning, and sense of well-being. Also, because I feel I have received a lot and I feel as a BIPOC teacher I can offer in a particular way to the BIPOC community.
There are so many people in the BIPOC community who are hungry, committed, and dedicated to their own awakening and that hasn’t always been appreciated in the mostly White practice settings. It’s starting to change, but there hasn’t always been an awareness. So, we have some reparations to do in that area in our dharma community. And we need to cultivate the BIPOC community as part of repairing the harm that has been created through ignorance and through White supremacy.
Is there anything else that you would like to say about your work or the book? Is there anything you want people to know that we haven’t discussed?
I was doing a podcast for Lion’s Roar with fellow BIPOC author and leader Pamela Ayo Yetunde, co-editor of Black and Buddhist: What Buddhism Can Teach Us About Race, Resilience, Transformation and Freedom, and she commented that the title, We Were Made for These Times, is about confidence. She said, “It’s really saying we can have confidence in ourselves.”
I appreciated her using that word because this isn’t a time that I think most of us would associate with confidence in anything. Confidence connotes trust and there’s very little trust in the powers that be right now. But I think it’s an important question, “What can I be confident about that’s in me? How can I touch this place of confidence?”
There are so many moments when it seems like nothing can be done. And then someone—usually someone very humble and not the one who you would expect to bring about change—has the confidence. So, I would really like to leave folks with that word and “How do we practice confidence?”
Kaira Jewel Lingo will join the IMS Book Club online to discuss We Were Made for These Times: Ten Lessons for Moving Through Change, Loss, and Disruption on November 4, 11, and 18, at 7 PM ET. For more information and to register for the meetings, click here.