When I found EBMC, I was looking for a place where I could meditate with others, not out of any desire to engage with Buddhist practice, but just to concentrate more, to calm my often frenetic mind. I googled “Meditation” and “Oakland,” and East Bay Meditation Center popped up. I remember calling out to a friend who was downstairs, “I found someplace to meditate in Oakland–and it’s all about diversity!”
Practicing at EBMC has calmed (somewhat) my chaotic mind. But it has brought so much more than that. As a person who has been disabled since early childhood, the core Buddhist belief that old age, sickness and disability, and death are intrinsic to human life is a central truth. It meshes with the core concept of disability studies and disability justice: Disability is not tragic, it does not need to be gotten rid of, it is a part of the fabric of our existence.
While EBMC was deeply committed to diversity, when I was first part of the community there was little explicit attention paid to disability. Along with other Sangha members, I raised issues of access and awareness of disability. One of the things I most love about EBMC is its openness to change, the real welcoming of critique. Five years ago, the Every Body Every Mind Sangha (EBEM) began meeting on Sunday evenings, focusing on bringing together those with disabilities, chronic illnesses, and limitations.
With other disabled members of EBMC, I took part in drafting an access policy, drawing on the work of the disability justice movement, particularly the writings of Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha and Mia Mingus. We wrote: “’Disability’ is created by a world which privileges and normalizes a limited range of mental and physical ways of thinking, feeling, and moving. Disabilities are not personal flaws or problems; they are not liabilities, shortcomings, nor tragedies. Inclusivity requires a transformation of worldview away from seeing ‘disability’ as ‘wrong’ or as something that needs fixing. Disabilities are assets that offer us vital teachings for our practice as interconnected human beings.”
I have seen those ideas put into practice both at the EBEM Sangha, as well as at East Bay Meditation Center as a whole. At our Sunday night practice group, people with a variety of limitations and impairments come together, connecting across the barriers that too often divide us. For me, EBEM has been important in helping me to learn to listen without judgment–or at least listen while being aware of my judgments–to people whose life experiences and understandings of disability are sometimes very different than mine. I know of no other meditation center that provides this kind of support and openness to the disabled community: I hope that EBMC will continue to provide an example of what inclusiveness can be.