Beginner’s Mind is a special project from Buddhistdoor Global collecting insightful essays written by US college students who have attended experiential-learning-based courses related to Buddhism. Some of the authors identify as Buddhists, for others it is their first encounter with the Buddhadharma. All are sharing reflections and impressions on what they’ve learned, how it has impacted their lives, and how they might continue to engage with the teaching.
The Buddhist Economics course at Williams College has challenged both my understanding of the applications of religious and spiritual values as well as my conceptualization of our world constructed around capitalism and financialization. Seeking to apply Buddhist principles to heal systemic oppression in the world was empowering yet tiring, and has often left me at a loss for words, which is why I have chosen to dance as the expression of my final reflection on the course.
As a lifelong dancer, I feel that my experiences in the course could best be articulated through movement. Each of the shorter pieces in the dance I have submitted are focused around the central theme of exploring shapes—in particular, circles and the movements that break those circles. The circle represents the way that I have conceptualized Buddhism as a whole. It centers on interdependence, the circularity of life, and the wholeness of the world that can be achieved through adherence to the Buddha’s teachings. Those movements that break the circle are my reflections on the social injustices or “expulsions” that we have discussed in class. The breaking of the circles represents the way in which Buddhism and these expulsions stand in contrast to each other, but also symbolizes the way that the circular nature of the world continues to exist despite these expulsions, if perhaps farther out of reach. I frequently return to certain sequences of movement, or iterations of a specific movement, to symbolize the ways in which I have often felt that I have been talking myself in circles in this class. There were definitely breakthroughs, but there were even more points of frustration. Perhaps this is what life is like in general, though?
The first piece is set to “To Build a Home” by the Cinematic Orchestra. I use this song to reflect on grief in a nontraditional sense. The global problems and expulsions that we discussed in this class are so hard to separate from the personal, especially in thinking about the concept of interdependence. It was empowering to know that my joy offered beauty to the world, but by that same token the traumas of the world felt like an incredible weight on my back. I compare this in many ways with more individual experiences I have had with grief because they share a similarly profound sadness and intense pain. It would be ignorant of me to claim to bear the entire weight of these global traumas. My life is filled with privilege. I have not experienced the traumas of poverty or racism. I have not had my livelihood uprooted by the effects of climate change or other systemic injustices. Therefore, I definitely cannot conceptualize the extent of these sufferings. However, to the extent that beings share one body and one consciousness, I do see and feel bits and pieces of this grief. To what extent can I take on these problems? How am I implicated in systemic oppression? What is my role in changing these systems? What are other peoples’ roles and how are they different? What is the best way to go about manifesting change and being an activist? How can I learn from or help others to understand and fight back against these injustices? These are questions that I have grappled with in the class and that I am reflecting on in this first dance piece.
The second piece is set to “Ultraviolence” by Lana Del Rey.* And while this song takes on a specific experience with abuse, I have used it to dexpress abuse more broadly, and the way that abuse materializes as an expulsion through many different media.
The final piece is set to “Evidence” by Elevation Worship, which is a spoken word sermon. This track reminds me a lot of my personal relationship with faith. Although my personal faith is quite different from practicing Buddhism, they are both similar in that my personal relationship with religion and spirituality seems about as minimally tarnished by expulsions as possible in the world we live in—obviously only considering the spiritual aspect of religion, since religious institutions certainly match other realms in their responsibility for oppression and expulsions.
I have frequently found relief from the pain of the world in religion and spirituality, although that has taken many different forms, just as it did in this class. While the first two dance pieces explore the painful concepts and problems we discussed in class, the final piece offers the hope, the happiness, and the potential that this class offered me. In giving me a framework to think about all the pain in the world, it promoted creative thinking and solution-building, which was very empowering for me. While the first two pieces were choreographed, the final dance was totally improvised as I wanted the physical expression of my relationship with faith to be natural and authentic to my personal experience.
The vulnerability I feel in choosing to use dance as my final reflection rmirrors the vulnerability I often felt in class. Dance has long been an essential part of my life, but after about a year away from modern dance, I am certainly no longer as proud as I used to be watching myself dance. This felt appropriate to mimic the way that I felt vulnerable as an individual in the face of the immense problems that we discussed, which are so integral to the structure of our world that they can feel impossible to solve.
* This piece was written before Lana Del Rey published an anti-feminist statement on her Instagram account. The author no longer uses or endorses her music.
Lauren Lynch wrote this essay for her course on Buddhist Economics at Williams College, a private liberal arts college in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Lauren is a member of the class of 2023 and a prospective Political Science and Religion major with an Environmental Studies concentration. She is from Richmond, Virginia.