If you’re feeling a bit lost in your mindfulness practice recently, this is only normal. It’s tough to be mindful and meditate in a world turned upside down by the Coronavirus pandemic, the rapidly evolving Black Lives Matter movement, and the economic crisis.
How do we find balance in the middle of it all? How do we move forward and make change, not only in ourselves and our own homes, but also more broadly in our communities, cities, and states?
This post is primarily an invitation for white and non-black POC to use mindfulness as a means for more authentic allyship and support. Here, I want to focus on an essential mindfulness skill – balance – to not only find inner calm amidst the confusion, but to also build the other essential skills that can help us take responsible action.
I am by no means proposing this as a cure-all for everyone. Instead, I’m hoping that my writing here can inspire you to take a moment to reset and use mindfulness to work through the challenging emotions and complex issues we’re facing today.
Sitting With Uncertainty
It’s now June, 2020 and I am still feeling overcome by strong emotions and unanswered questions. As a Town Councilor, a mindfulness practitioner, and even just as a human being, I realize that I haven’t done enough to make my community safe and equitable for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of color) individuals.
I’m feeling called to hit the pause button on the rest of my life right now and refocus my energy on promoting racial justice. Concurrently, I am also committed to finishing my book and attending to my work, family, and self-care.
The confusion is exacerbated by many unanswered questions whirling around in my head: What can I do or say that will have any impact on ending 400 years of oppression? Should I speak up on social media or leave the space for those who truly need their voices heard?
Am I taking too much time to act, or do I need more time to learn about these complex issues? Is the book I’m writing even relevant at this time? This is not just a police and carceral issue – we need systemic changes across the board – what role do I play in all of this?
Thinking about everything I want to do while navigating these intense emotions and societal issues has been overwhelming. Perhaps you are feeling this too. Mindfulness, however, has taught me to sit with all of this uncertainty. But what does it really mean to sit with uncertainty, and where do we go from there?
Balance, also known as equanimity in the original teachings of the Buddha, is a mindfulness skill that infuses our awareness with the right combination of other mindfulness skills – compassion, curiosity, energy, appreciative joy, inner calm, and focus – to navigate our lives with clarity, ease, and full-heartedness.
Joseph Goldstein, my favorite mindfulness teacher and author, defines equanimity as an evenness of mind or unshakeable balance of mind. It seeks to prevent excess and deficiency of other mindfulness factors.
Acting with clarity in the middle of confusion and strong emotions requires balancing the different mindfulness skills. Here’s how I am drawing from all these mindfulness skills to navigate my inner tsunami:
- Awareness: I acknowledge what I am feeling and observe my inner dialog at this time without judgment, no matter how incoherent or chaotic it seems. I notice my patterns of thinking and witness the ways in which I talk about myself and others around me, as well as the situation I am facing, my beliefs, obligations, shortcomings, etc. I see my intentions clearly, and I see how these intentions may or may not be aligned with my mind’s default patterns of thinking.
- Self-compassion: I can now see that I haven’t done enough in my various roles – as an educator, parent, mindfulness teacher, and Town Councilor – to promote social justice and equity for black people. Consequently, I have felt consumed by guilt, which is paralyzing and not very helpful. With kindness and compassion, I can accept my shortcomings for what they are and now begin working to correct the situation (just an FYI, it takes a lot of courage to look at our shortcomings!). Acting from a place of kindness has been far more motivating and effective than acting from a place of guilt.
- Inner Calm: As I listen to some of the solutions being offered, I can see my automatic reaction is to judge them – “that’s extreme” or “that’s unrealistic.” This is where the art of stopping and not giving in to my initial reactions comes in. It’s a time to listen deeply without judgment, and to give people who are oppressed a chance to be heard without any interruption. My inner calm can create a safe space for others to go through their emotional journeys and protests.
- Curiosity: In the middle of it all, can I be open and patient? I want solutions so I can take immediate action. But first, I need to listen and start consuming the multitude of resources that have already been developed by experts: established activists and BIPOC artists whose perspectives and historical accounts/research I can trust to guide my thinking about racial justice. Based on all that I am learning, I ask myself, what steps, however small, can I take today that will help us bring sustainable and systemic change? Is what I’m doing performative or meaningful? Sometimes it’s helpful to take a look at what others are doing. For example, check out this list for inspiration.
- Focus and Energy: Time and time again, we’ve seen cops murder black people without consequence, and it continues to happen. We’ve felt this grief and anger before. A few days pass, a few months pass, and we lose our momentum. That’s human nature: to adapt to what happens and become complacent. I’m using mindful energy and focus to continue giving attention and taking action despite the distractions and new goals that come in the way. These skills have also helped me stay focused on what I want to create, rather than getting sidetracked by people and information that aren’t helpful right now.
- Appreciative Joy: This is all hard work and it can be draining. That’s why we need appreciative joy. Taking time to notice the goodness and compassion we’re seeing arise from this movement can be uplifting and inspiring. For example, seeing the young students speaking to end racism with such honesty, courage, and love was moving and motivating for me. I am in awe of the seniors in their 90’s who showed up in wheelchairs and walkers to show solidarity against racism. Most importantly, we are seeing real changes in our systems as a result of this movement. We need small doses of appreciative joy to keep us going and create a sustainable foundation for our success in this movement. The work is just beginning.
What This Means For Your Practice
Mindfulness, for many people, often entails relaxation and stress management. Right now more than ever, we need mindfulness and meditation to go beyond seeking tranquility alone – we need this practice to promote skillful action in our everyday lives. Of course, you may continue to use mindfulness and meditation for relaxation and de-stressing, but consider allocating time in your sitting practice to foster the skills that I mentioned above. (Take the mindfulness quiz as a reflective tool to explore these eight qualities of the mind).
Know Your Mind: During your sitting practice, you don’t explicitly have to be thinking about the issues at hand, though these thoughts may arise naturally. Instead, try to cultivate the skills themselves. For example, with a curiosity meditation, you can try noticing different and new sensations in your breathing or in your body during your meditation, staying open to all possibilities.
Bring intentionality into your sitting practice and see what would be most beneficial for you and your own development as an ally for Black Lives Matter. For example, would it be most beneficial for you to do a curiosity meditation, which could then help you explore more possibilities for action? Or perhaps an inner calm meditation would serve you better, as it could help you stay non-reactive later on when you’re reading about new perspectives or having conversations with people who may disagree with you.
Disrupt Your Defaults: Take a few minutes post-meditation to create some space for reflection and journaling. Notice patterns in your thinking, speech, and behaviors. Are these aligned with your intentions? Use this time to get in touch with your inner wisdom and insights to prioritize and intentionally choose what you’d like to accomplish today. This is where I typically gain clarity about my priorities for the day and how to find balance.
Take Action: After your sitting practice and reflection, try bringing these qualities with you throughout the day to focus on what’s most important. Balance is remaining centered and knowing which quality or qualities to use in different situations. It’s easy to get triggered, especially during these times, so do your best to remind yourself throughout the day to come back to your place of balance. Can you bring mindful balance into your actions and use it to become a better ally?
- Check out the free, guided RESET meditation on my website if you’re feeling stuck and would like a tool to find a new way forward. Feel free to focus on any mindfulness skill(s) that you may want to cultivate through this meditation.
- I linked to this earlier in the post, but here’s a list of 75 ways you can take action and work toward racial justice. This is just for inspiration, and I would encourage you to do your own research and find ways that you, with your unique skills, networks, and perspectives, can be of service to this movement.
- Anti-racism resources – trainings, podcasts, speakers, and books curated by Conference for Women to amplify the voices of Black women and women of color, and to help us learn and take action together.
- Starting July 15th, I will be starting the Reset Your Mind course to help you build these essential mindfulness skills. It’s an eight-week course, two hours per week over Zoom. I want to make this as accessible as possible to everyone who is interested, so I offer a flexible pricing model and scholarships for those who cannot afford the program. To clarify, this will not be a workshop on anti-racism. My expertise is in mindfulness and this practice is what I’m best suited to teaching you; however, I’m open to discussing in my classes how mindfulness can affect the work of anti-racism.
If motivated, please share your insights and resources for authentic allyship. Thank you for reading!