Dr. Melanie L. Harris is Founding Director of African American and Africana Studies and full Professor of Religion and Ethics at TCU. A graduate of the Harvard Leadership Program, she is an educator and community leader whose passion is linked to a commitment to social justice. Dr. Harris is also a Womanist scholar of Religious Studies. Her research engages Buddhist-Christian Dialogue, Critical Race Theory, Religion and Environmental Ethics. She is the author of many articles, book chapters, and books including Gifts of Virtue: Alice Walker and Womanist Ethics (Palgrave), Ecowomanism: Earth Honoring Faiths (Orbis), and co-editor of Faith, Feminism, and Scholarship: The Next Generation (Palgrave). Melanie has been a practitioner of Buddhist meditation for many years, and integrates this work into her life as a Christian clergy leader, retreat guide, and yoga instructor.
I find that practitioners can practice Vipassana for a long time without paying attention to the role that fear plays in their lives. Living with fear that is unacknowledged leads to fragmentation in life and practice. I encourage people to look at the energy of fear, for fear can limit our access to freedom.
It is quite possible to diligently practice mindfulness, yet keep fear at a distance. Not becoming intimate with fear creates a dualism and complacency that gives a silent nod of approval to living with fear. When we begin to look at, and become friends with, our fear, we suddenly discover a lot more space in our lives.
In the larger picture, Vipassana offers us all a practice that goes counter to the tremendous cultural momentum around us of materialism and consumerism. With practice, we can learn how to take full responsibility for ourselves, and so pay attention to developing inner qualities capable of sustaining us as we navigate the shifting sands of life.
Developing a clear understanding of the teachings and learning to fully inhabit the body have been core parts of my Dhamma practice. These areas, as well a strong emphasis on the heart, inform and shape my teaching. The few years I spent training as an Anagarika in the Thai Forest monasteries broadened my understanding of the Buddha's teachings and instilled a profound respect for the Bhikkhu and Bhikkhuni Sangha. All along the way, I've been particularly interested in how other modalities like Nonviolent Communication and Somatics can support our growth in awakening.
I first encountered Buddhism in 1974, and it blew the doors wide open for me with its profound and practical insights into the mind, suffering, and true happiness. Over time I gravitated to the original teachings of the Buddha, embodied in the Theravadan tradition, for their down-to-earth clarity, and important sources for me have included the teachers of Spirit Rock Meditation Center and the Pali Canon itself. More recently, I've explored grounding the dharma in modern evolutionary neuropsychology - "neurodharma" - recognizing how mind arises dependently upon the body, especially the nervous system as it tries to meet ancient needs for raw survival. I am especially interested in using these approaches to heighten the learning - the cultivation (bhavana) - from beneficial experiences (otherwise often wasted on the brain) to reduce the underlying sense of deficit and disturbance that causes the craving that causes suffering and harm. Overall, I feel amazingly blessed to have the opportunity in this life to ride the dharma stream and share its gifts with others!