A few disclaimers:
- I am a longtime meditator and teach the tools of meditation, gratitude and compassion on the daily. It’s part of my professional and personal life work. I believe in it to my core for how it can change myself and then in turn, the world.
- I have experienced racism in deep ways. Throughout my childhood and onward in this country. To this day, I fear my turbaned father walking in an unknown area. My community was the victim of state-condoned genocide in our homeland. I am no stranger to deep hate, including the internalized racism that I held for far too long.
- And even though I’m a woman of color and know racism well, I too had to do the painful work of unlearning conditioned anti-blackness including among other forces, buying into a “model minority myth.” And this work never ends. The powers in this world that created this conditioning are pervasive and the work to decolonize our own minds is one that takes lifelong, deep commitment in response.
- I have deep respect for non-violent protest and ALSO understand and resonate with why anger erupts. It is a natural emotion after being silenced for far too long.
- NOTHING– no meditation, no level of explanation- justifies evil and hate. Meditation cannot absolve us of the reality of racism in America. Meditation and mindfulness are only tools to start work against this reality…starting with yourself.
Now on to my plea.
To all non-Black communities, white communities and also those of color, stop only sending your prayers and love and get ready to dig deeper.
You can’t pray, meditate or love your way out of this. NONE of those tools are going to solve the history of racial injustice in this country.
But they can help set the foundation for what will…
To get out of this historical and longstanding mess, we will need to do deep work, people…deep, deep work. This is not an article about the available resources to do that. Please separately find those and start the work.
Rather, it’s an invitation of how to use YOURSELF as a resource while you do that work. And how meditation can be used in more effective ways…
Racism stems from DEEP conditioning
The kind of conditioning that is so pervasive that you can’t recognize it as anything different from yourself. To undo that kind of conditioning, it will take much more than donations, love and reading (all necessary, just not enough) The first step is to notice where it resides in you. This is a painful process but not more painful than the experience of receiving racism. Take an implicit bias test and prove it to yourself. The first step is noticing, a mindfulness exercise. Stop feeling ashamed and guilty about it and just notice it. No judgment. Just seeing. What is your very first (in the first millisecond) thought or feeling when you see someone who doesn’t look like you? A black person? In a role of authority, on the street, as a teacher in your life…You don’t have to share it with anyone, but you need to admit it to yourself.
Unlearning racism requires non-reactivity
Non-reactivity is a powerful lesson from meditation. When we meditate, we practice just seeing our emotions, thoughts, feeling and not getting caught up in them. Notice for example how you react to the news, to African-Americans in the media, in your neighborhood, anywhere. If you are enraged by protests that turn violent, first get curious about where that emotion is coming from. How is that rage different from the rage you feel when you watch the video of George Floyd’s murder? Get really honest and curious. When have you been angry and what does anger mean to you? If you are horrified by videos of police brutality, it’s easy to explain it as being outraged because you think it’s wrong to hurt others. But go another level deeper to get really curious about your surprise or horror. I’m not dictating what you need to feel here. I’m just saying if we don’t get really honest with ourselves, we will get nowhere.
Non-reactivity is especially critical for white people right now
Non-reactivity will be a critical tool for any white folk reading this and feeling guilty or shameful about the history of racism and the color of their own skin. This is white fragility. (You’ll learn more about that as you do your own work.) But for now, the importance is that if you are called out in your life or on social media for ways you are not showing up enough or showing up in the wrong way, take a breath and silently say to yourself as a reminder, NON-REACTIVITY instead of letting your guilt, shame and defensiveness be your first ways to respond. Say that to yourself if it helps or commit to three deep breaths before reacting. Let what you hear flow through you. Listen deeply if you want to do the deep work.
Meditation is important for overwhelm, so you can then take action.
Meditation can be a tool, as you probably know, to calm your mind. In this way, it can not only be a self-care tool but also a way to manage overwhelm. If you are not sure where to start in the process of unlearning your own conditioning and racism, stop, take some deep breaths, get calm and then look the resources again. Maybe you start with supporting black-owned businesses, or putting more black voices in your social media feed or bookshelves, or taking an anti-racism workshop. There is no wrong first step. The mistake is not taking a step. Being paralyzed and not acting is not okay. You can do this. You have to do this.
These are just a few ways meditation and mindfulness can assist this process of unlearning what we have been conditioned to believe. It isn’t an exhaustive list but more importantly, the message is that meditation can be part of the learning and then support the doing.
Take it from this meditator, all the sitting practice and lovingkindness in the world isn’t going to help you become an anti-racist without crucial next steps.