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Zen and the Art of Social Movement Maintenance

From Waging NonViolence

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“In a racially unjust world,” [Angela] Davis earnestly asked [Jon] Kabat-Zinn, “what good is mindfulness?” He responded by noting how the heightened awareness enabled by mindfulness practice can progressively uproot the greed, hatred and delusion that cause so much collective suffering. Davis, however, was not satisfied with his response, emphasizing that racism is not simply a set of personal attitudes, but a whole system. How can practices focused on personal habits of mind generate lasting systemic change?

Near the end of the evening, Davis offered an answer to her own question. She noted how mindfulness might become a revolutionary force if embedded in social movements that target oppressive systems. But what forms can that integration take? What does a true mindful revolution look like?

While the brief discussion between Davis and Kabat-Zinn remained abstract, actually existing experiments at the intersection of mindfulness and social change are blossoming. Several organizations are now focusing their efforts on the fold between subjective and social change: the Center for Transformative Change, Generative Somatics and the Movement Strategy Center are three leaders. At the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit in 2010, activists from these groups passed a resolution that read: “We acknowledge that we as agents of change, having been deeply affected by our conditions of oppression, need a deep and abiding commitment to embody the revolutionary change we seek … Revolutionary, systemic change is needed internally, in our relations and in our external conditions.”

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