Words of Wisdom

Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Wisdom 2.0 conference in San Francisco. I have had mixed feelings about it in the past, but this year I enjoyed myself more overall. There were different elements that went into that: I reconnected with people I have met in past years, which gave me more of a sense of community; I ran into a number of Young Urban Zen alumni, which made me feel glad to have been part of getting that group to where it is now; I spent time with some of the senior Zen Center attendees, which kept me feeling connected to that organisation; I got to see friends connecting with each other, not least the two people who have paid for my tickets for each of the times I have attended, but also one student and an app developer he had introduced me to previously; I made one strong new connection, in conjunction with the same student, which could result in another meditation teaching offering in the city. Most of all though, there was the chance to listen to some wonderful teachers offering their wisdom.

Many of these were dharma teachers, who I have seen before, or at least read: Sharon Salzberg, Joan Halifax, Frank Ostaseski, John Kabat-Zinn, Steven Mitchell, Chade Meng Tan, but there were also some wise voices from other areas. I enjoyed hearing Tristan Harris speak, but most moving were the presentations that formed a crescendo on the main stage on Friday afternoon – after the conversation between Sharon Salzberg and Joan Halifax, first was Nadine Burke Harris, whose TED talk a friend had shared with me a month or so ago, speaking forcefully and clearly on childhood trauma and its impacts on health (I persuaded a couple of people to stay to listen to her because I knew how good she was, and they agreed, having heard her); finally with Tarana Burke, whose years of activism has left her grounded and humble at her new position of prominence.

I had also been offered a ticket to go to see Joan Halifax in conversation with Rebecca Solnit on Tuesday, and was very glad to attend that and take in more sage words from two such articulate women;  in the midst of serious conversation and gloom at the state of the nation, there was also a reminder to keep in mind both hope and the social progress that has already been made in many areas.

One of the main messages I kept hearing from the speakers at the conference was that words alone are not much use. We all have to embody the practices that we know are beneficial and healing, and take those out into the world consistently to affect positive change. I don’t know how other attendees will take that on, or if there is any way to stay accountable to each other once the cheering and sense of community has worn away, but I found it helpful as a support and confirmation for my own practice; these days I feel confident in how I have absorbed the teachings so far, and how I can offer them to others, and I know I need to keep learning how to be more compassionate and effective in the world. What is clear to me is that listening to these wise voices, especially women’s voices, and especially those of women of colour (I don’t think it is a coincidence that the two books I have chosen to read recently are both by remarkable women of colour teachers) is how I will continue to broaden my limited awareness.


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