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Loneliness Stinks. Studying Together Can Help

It can be lonely out there for political activists grounded in a spiritual practice that sometimes gets pigeonholed as too “woo” for revolutionaries. Also lonely are we spiritual seekers who find the meditation cushion just isn’t enough for the liberation of all beings. That’s why it’s so refreshing to find those spaces where, those people with whom, we can bring our fuller selves.

This year, as part of The System Stinks curriculum, we will be supporting small study groups to come together. While study groups will self-organize and run autonomously, we’ll provide some basic support like helpful ground rules, ideas on how to plan a good gathering, and even offer a tasty recipe or two for snacks!

Having a focus for coming together – to read and discuss spiritual and political writings of common interest – can provide a basic structure for our group while we get to know each other and build trust. Peer-led groups give us all a chance to speak up, participate, and practice listening to our inner teacher.

Peer-led groups can also support us to engage with The System Stinks curriculum, Buddhist Peace Fellowship, and socially engaged Buddhism in general in ways that don’t require us all to see eye-to-eye to feel like part of the larger whole. Instead of trying to form one large circle of consensus, we can find mutual aid and support by participating in one or more circles that feel close to home for us, and notice the ways our circles overlap and connect to form a larger whole.

In Person, Online: How do you want to meet with others?

Local in-person groups: When we can find others to meet with in person, we have an opportunity to build the kind of shared bond that might allow us to take direct action together in our local communities. We get to break bread together, see smiling faces, get hugs if we want them, and sit in sangha.

Online issue- or identity-oriented groups: Sometimes our physical loneliness is very real: we’re the only Nichiren Buddhist or queer anti-capitalist rabble rouser or Latina eco-justice warrior for 500 miles. When we find others who are “like us,” our bodies can relax, our insight and compassion deepens. Even if we can’t meet up in person (yet!), it’s lifesaving to find others with whom we share an affinity. Let’s use the magic of Skype, email, Google hangout, and private Facebook groups to help us build relationships of mutual inspiration (even if we don’t share a zip code).

Other formats? Don’t let us limit you. If you have an idea about bringing together a regional group, or want to see if there are enough people in your area to have an issue-oriented group that meets in person – go for it! The beauty of self-organizing is that you don’t need our permission to get people together for study.

What support materials do study groups get?
Each person who donates at the $45 level or more ($30 for all the Broke Bodhisattvas out there!) will receive full access to the curriculum of The System Stinks – 6 downloadable themed readers and 12 monthly national phone calls.

We’re making the contemporary writings solicited for The System Stinks freely available online at Turning Wheel Media. We want to help folks talk about these issues, regardless of ability to pay. When you donate, you’ll get additional, exclusive content delivered via email and password protected sections of our website including:

  • summarized content from Turning Wheel Media, so you can know which articles are most relevant to read
  • classic, thought-provoking, diverse texts on political theory and Buddhist teachings, selected especially for our discussion
  • practical study guides with an intro/overview to the topic, and provocative questions to discuss with other political Buddhists
  • access to national phone calls with prominent Buddhist teachers and political activists. It’s a precious and rare opportunity to connect with other Buddhist activists to explore these big questions!

Interested in getting started with a study group?

We are putting together a Study Group Starter Guide to help you get started! The first installment includes:

  • Ideas for starting a study group
  • Meeting Questions & Ideas

We’ll also be adding sections on ground rules, group dynamics, fostering thought diversity, and dismantling oppression. Tell us what else might be helpful to you as you get a group started!

Let us know in the comments about the study groups you might start! Maybe there’s someone else already out there who wants to start the same kind of group. Let’s start connecting with each other!

Edit to add:
Here’s a map of location-based study groups that are starting. Click through to add your pin (click the red “EDIT” button on the left, then the blue pin icon near the top), or leave a note in the comments and we’ll add a pin for you.

View The System Stinks study groups in a larger map

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Comments (8)

  • Connor

    I am planning on starting a study group in Atlanta, GA. I have quite a few activist friends here who have been searching for a way to bridge our activist work and spirituality. I am hoping to incorporate the study group as part of the Atlanta Free School curriculum for the upcoming months. When will the first installment of The System Stinks be released?

  • Cheryl

    I would like to connect with Buddhists in my area of Riverside CA

  • Dawn Haney

    Atlanta Free School YEAH!!!!!

    And let’s hope some other Riversideans are out there and want to connect!

    Media about The Lies that Build Empire will start being posted here on February 1st, and the first study guide comes out March 1st!

  • Chip Smith

    I live in Rocky Mount NC and would be interested in participating in a study group — and would be willing to help organize one if there were others hanging out there on their own like me. If BPF can take the next step and help put folks like us in contact with each other, that would be great.

  • Dawn

    Hi Chip! There are folks in Greensboro at Guilford College who are thinking of starting a study group as well. I know they are a couple hours away, but they might be your closest allies. I’ll send an email to put you in touch with them.

  • Chip Smith

    Sounds good. Thanks for the quick response. I’d be interested in being in a study group with the students in Greensboro.

  • Donna O'Malley

    Our Vermont Chapter will probably delve into some of the topics from The System Stinks. We will take a look more carefully at the first one to see if we want to start there, so I’ll be studying all this carefully to bring to our next meeting. We already meet with a similar format — some silence, a business meeting, then a discussion on a topic, facilitated by 2 of our members. We kind of like the idea of having a topic and questions laid out there for us, and doing it along with others, with all your helpful resources. Many of us aren’t as computer savvy or social network focused, so a couple of us will take our attention there and see how we can make use of whatever is possible. Thanks for the energy, the ideas and a lot of the legwork. You are social network experts! I hope we don’t miss out on too much by being novices. Maybe we will learn and grow with this!
    A deep bow to all participating in a myriad of ways!

  • Dawn Haney

    Hi Donna! I’m so glad to hear that you will be playing with some of the topics from The System Stinks! While there will be some connection between themes, it’s definitely set up that you can pick and choose what you want to talk about.

    We’re also hoping that you all feed information back to curriculum – maybe you have a great discussion, and someone writes about it for future publication here. Or your group decides you want to stick with a theme (say climate change or supporting prisoners, which I know you all are working on), and you consistently ask tough questions about how a theme like The Lies that Build Empire relates to your work with people in prison.

    As an already existing chapter, you all are ahead of the game in terms of building trust and connection with each other, and coming to some shared understandings of how you can bring together your Buddhist practice with your political action. I imagine it will be really useful to people who are just starting study groups to hear about your experiences, both what’s worked and what you’ve learned from.

    We’re also trying to find the balance between using social media tools to help us feel more connected across distance, with the reality that not everyone feels that comfortable in the realm of computers and social networking. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, because I know you aren’t the only one who isn’t so sure about all this online connection. I’m totally stoked that you figured out how to add your own pin for Vermont! And commenting here! You are actually doing great at the social media stuff, even if it feels new and kind of confusing :)

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