La Sarmiento, Belonging, and a Challenge to the False Boundaries of the Mindfulness Movement

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Let's start with pronouns. La Sarmiento, a Filipino-American Insight meditation practitioner, teacher, program manager, and community organizer, goes by the pronouns they, them, their. Asked why in a recent interview with Patheos, La said, "I feel that I embody both female and male energies (and everything in between)."

Getting to know La, I've been struck by the dynamic truth of this statement. They do embody a range of genders. It doesn't feel right to call them "she." It doesn't feel right to call them "he." It feels perfectly right to call La "they."

Here is a list of other fun facts about La:

1. They were the instigator of their Community Dharma Leader training's ice cream socials.
2. They know more about "Dancing with the Stars" than most of the dancers on Dancing with the Stars.
3. They're in constant search of the ultimate glazed doughnut.
4. They’re singlehandedly responsible for boosting the self-esteem of the many teenagers who come to their residential mindfulness retreats.

On to La's mindfulness practice.

La came to meditation the same way most of us do: through crisis. The way they tell the story, La tumbled through a series of failed romantic relationships in their 20s and 30s. At some point, they took a long look and asked what was the common denominator in all these breakups.

As La tells the story, the answer was both simple and profound: "It was me."

La found Tara Brach, a local meditation teacher who was relatively unknown at the time, and began to study with her. The two became close. La joined the board of Tara's community as a way to give back and later began to manage Tara's retreats. 

When first attending classes with Tara, La recounted to me recently, "Other than the Buddha sitting next to Tara, I was the only other person of color in the room."

So they founded two affinity groups: one for people of color and one for LGBTIQ practitioners. That was more than ten years ago. Those groups are thriving. As La puts it, “All my identities are trending right now.”

These days, when La isn't managing Tara's retreats or leading the POC and LGBTQ groups or teaching retreats for young adults or teens, they can be found posting pictures of their newly adopted Cair Terrier rescues to Facebook, or spending time with their life partner, or singing ukulele songs about the benefits of meditation.

Most of all, La can be found laughing. For all their moving and shaking, their pushing to make mindfulness communities welcoming spaces for people of color and queer folks, La is an unstoppable joker and a source of joy for everyone they meet.

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Craig Hase