When I first came to Tara’s Wednesday Night class 21 years ago, other than the Buddha sitting next to her, I was the only person of color in the meditation hall. My immigrant parents taught me at an early age to assimilate into white culture in order to succeed in this country. I realized at age 5 that though born female, I felt God made a terrible mistake and put me in the wrong body. I was attracted to other little girls, which I intuited was not O.K., and I began believing that there was something innately wrong with me.
In order to survive, I needed to be anything but myself for many, many years. It was not until I found the Dharma that I began the intense process of self-acceptance. For the first 7 years of my mindfulness practice, I became intimate with my self-critical thoughts and lack of esteem. Through the cultivation of lovingkindness and self-compassion I was able to break free and realize and believe in my own Buddhanature.
It was through my eventual leading of the IMCW People of Color and LGBTIQ Sanghas 13 years ago and attending POC and LGBTIQ retreats that I was able to finally accept these identities that I had long denied. Through being with other practitioners who reflected who I was and with whom I shared common experiences, my inner 5 year-old began to understand that we were no longer alone, that it was O.K. to be fully who I am, and in doing so create an opportunity for others to do so as well.
It was in these circles and retreats that I found the true strength, courage, perseverance, authenticity, and healing I had longed for all my life. By sharing our stories, practices, joys, and sorrows we are able to feel a sense of belonging that we often don’t feel often in the world around us. To have these kinds of refuges that validate our existence and belonging along with the practice provides an empowered foundation to remember that our inner freedom and dignity is not reliant on external circumstances unless we relinquish them. To cultivate equanimity in a world that is so out of balance with truth, compassion, generosity, and love is our ultimate practice.
I begin each day with this Tibetan Prayer:
“Grant that I may be given the appropriate difficulties and sufferings on this journey so that my heart may be truly awakened and that my practice of liberation and universal compassion may be truly fulfilled.”
My being born an immigrant, non-binary person of color in this lifetime is definitely living into that prayer and creating spaces for others like me to experience freedom we never imagined possible.
In August, I am offering daylongs for People of Color and the LGBTIQ community to come together for individual and collective practice, sangha-building, and fun! Please join me at “What It Is: A Meditation Daylong for People of Color” on August 24, and “True Colors – Honoring of our Buddhanature (LGBTIQ)” on August 25.
La Sarmiento (3rd person pronouns: they/their/them) teaches meditation at IMCW and leads the affinity programs for the People of Color and LGBTIQ groups.