My First Experience as a Person of Color in MSC — “Is it Really Me?”

I can remember my very first MSC training experience from several years ago like it was yesterday. There was definitely a surge of internal experiences that I observed as I launched into this new journey of both questioning and enlightenment. I can clearly recall scanning all the participants who had gathered and were nestled together awaiting the start of the program. There was a broad spectrum of about 100 strangers who generally did not seem to reflect my own sense of a “cultural and racial self.” Yet, in the past I had experienced a plethora of social-educational scenes such as this all throughout my life. Therefore, why was I thinking this environment would be any different? Why was I still silently scanning for some other type of internal cultural-racial connection with my perceived sense of tribe after all of these years? What was I really searching for and questioning in this particular environment that seemed so familiar and repetitive, but yet so foreign?

As a woman of color I remember searching the landscape of this room to hopefully catch a glimpse of at least a few others who might visually mirror “my cultural self.” I wondered how in the world would this enormous group of people be able to connect and build trust. How will I be able to connect and build trust as well?

Initially, I did not feel as though I belonged with this group of people. How could self-compassion help me navigate my experiences of racism, sexism, discrimination, lifelong micro-aggressions, and social injustices?

All the MSC teachers seemed to be visually expressing the exact same reflection of the majority of the participants. I realized that I should be totally accustomed to this type of social reality, but seeking out diverse strangers who looked like me in various contexts has been my social reality. I have lived in a social world in which the majority of people in my day-to-day professional and educational spaces have been members of the dominant culture. Some of my underrepresented cultural identities are totally invisible to the social world and others are very visible and carry a socially constructed “single story” about who I am. Consequently, being a member of various underrepresented cultural groups has sustained an ongoing flavor of bittersweetness. There are times when these realities fuel certain identity conflicts and other times in which they tend to cultivate strength.

As I began to find my spot during the MSC training, I finally noticed two participants who appeared to be people of color. From the sheer sight of these two strangers, I began to experience a slight sense of silent connection to the space. Perhaps this was not just a “white thing” that was created by white people, for white people and delivered in a way that would focus exclusively on the white, upper-middle class, straight, cisgendered, able-bodied, colorblind experience of being in the world. There was a glimmer of some human technicolor in the space. Maybe there would be a possibility that this “compassion” experience might openly embrace all the dimensions of human suffering, including cultural experiences.

Questions for Contemplation:

  • We all have multiple social/cultural identities. As an MSC teacher how might your own social-cultural identities impact your teaching?
  • How might you increase your sensitivity to your participants’ multiple social-cultural identities?
  • How might you sensitively acknowledge your participants’ multiple social-cultural identities?

One MSC teacher privately inquired about my experience of the training. This teacher’s curiosity was meaningful to me because it expressed recognition that my perceptions mattered. Simple acknowledgements such as this can be useful ways of advancing a sense of cultural inclusivity, belonging and trust.

For many diverse people their multiple cultural identities are very powerful parts of their worldview and sense of self. Acknowledging the fact that there are multiple cultural identities in the space not only adds more richness and depth to the cultivation of mindfulness self-compassion, but it can also foster validation of diversity, inclusivity and belonging within MSC teaching.

Currently, as a MSC trained teacher, I always acknowledge and honor participants’ visible and invisible intersections of diverse identities and my own diverse identities of marginalization and privilege. All participants want to feel a sense of connection, belonging and trust. Yet, there are certain underrepresented participants who need to understand that their cultural identities are recognized and included aspects of suffering and self-compassion. Ultimately, I feel it is imperative to create a space that holds and supports the full reality of our human suffering which includes both our cultural differences and commonalities.

Sydney will be joining MSC Co-Founder Chris Germer to co-lead a Mindful Self-Compassion 5-Day Intensive program at the Esalen Institute on the Central California Coast on December 8-13, 2019. Register today to reserve your spot.

Resources for Further Exploration of Diversity and Inclusion

▸ Deep Diversity: Overcoming the Us Versus Them
Book by Shakil Choudhury

▸ “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” by Peggy McIntosh – Essay first appeared in Peace and Freedom Magazine

▸ White Fragility
Book by Robin DiAngelo

▸ I Am Not Your Negro
Film co-written and directed by Raoul Peck

Sydney Spears, PhD, LCSW, LSCSW, TCTSY-F, MSC Trained Teacher is a licensed clinical social worker, adaptive yoga facilitator, mindfulness instructor and professor who resides in the Kansas City area. In the past she has worked as a presenter, psychotherapist, community mental health social worker, elementary teacher, and academic administrator. Her areas of interest, teaching and research have included trauma-sensitive responsive care, somatic approaches to trauma, mind-body therapeutic movement, mindfulness-based practices, diversity, equity and inclusion, and grief and loss. She has taught academic courses in cultural diversity, social justice and clinical social work practice for 15 years. You may contact Sydney at 

Upcoming Courses: MSC (8 weeks): September 29th, 2019-November in Kansas City and MSC 5-Day Intensive program at the Esalen Institute with Chris Germer on December 8-13, 2019

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