New Head Space in Hard Times: 5 Ways to Start Meditating
Calm minds make better social justice warriors
Posted Apr 26, 2017
Before bed, my 6 year old and I follow a meditation for kids app called “Smiling Mind” whose slogan is: “put a smile on your mind.” That’s pretty hard for me because, like most of humanity, my mind is a racing mess. Post-election, my mind has been a distressed mess.
Last night’s meditation said: visualize a tree of birds. “Please invite a bird down from the tree onto your arm and whisper to the bird a wish that you have.” I was taken aback. My wish that bubbled up, “please stop news insanity because I’m worried we’re at World War Three,” probably made my new bird friend sad. My daughter chirped, “I wished for a playdate. What did you wish mamma?” Only I couldn’t say, “I wished that the country doesn’t go down in flames. And I’m going to lie in this bed till that damn bird makes my wish come true.”
I’ve been mulling over this term “self care” for awhile. In social justice circles, “self care” means that activists should take care of themselves and not just save the world at their own expense. Social change is a marathon and not a sprint. It takes perseverance. I understand the term through the feminist slogan, “the personal is political.” That is, the personal and the political are always intertwined. Others might say well duh, if you don’t take care of yourself, what use are you to others? Iconic writer Audre Lorde said it best, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
But many view self care as decadent, even hedonistic. When there is injustice in the world, why sit on your butt and meditate? In my book, Feminism’s New Age: Gender, Appropriation, and the Afterlife of Essentialism, I write about New Age practices that are conceived as white, middle-class, and apolitical. When we say “self care”--healthy food, massage, exercise--many of those things typically take money and appear “white” and inaccessible.
What then is a self-care practice that is accessible, affordable, and not impossible for everyday folk to try?: meditation. Meditation can be done anywhere--even while working--and doesn’t have to cost a thing. Globally, meditation is part of religious and spiritual practices that are inclusive; in the U.S., meditation is still often marked as a “white practice” along with Buddhism and Yoga, of which it can be a part. Making meditation intersectional and accessible means going beyond typical channels, books, gurus.
Here are 5 places to start to shift your thinking turbulence:
1. START 1 MINUTE A DAY
Because meditation apps have gotten so popular, it’s easy to find reviews of them. Pick an app. Most apps are subscription services. I’m partial to Smiling Mind because it’s free and their mission is beautiful. They have meditation for all ages. Meditations are read by Australians which means terrific Australian accents.
The app Headspace has a 10-minutes-a-day-for-10-days free starter service, and then subscribing yearly is cheaper than most for $8 a month for 12 months=about $100 a year. That is not free obvi but for some paying a small amount, if able, better commits you to a practice.
Breathe in, quiet your mind, watch your thoughts for 1 minute. That’s it. Nothing more. Everyone has one minute. Start there.
2. LISTEN TO A SPIRITUAL LEADER’S MEDITATION
Thich Nhat Hanh is a “global spiritual leader” as his website @Plum Village states. Hanh has written over 100 books on spirituality and meditation; Dr. Martin Luther King nominated Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. Marisela Gomez writes movingly about how Hanh’s work helped focus her anger in the midst of working on public health issues for people of color, especially in Baltimore.
A meditation I love on his (free!) Soundcloud: his tea meditation. Hanh goes down into the tea cup and asks the listener: “see what is in your cup of tea.” Hanh imagines a cloud inside his cup. He responds, “I see you cloud in my tea. Hello cloud. And I drink the cloud into me.” It’s a beautiful, joyful meditation from a master teacher who makes meditation more accessible than almost anyone. His voice is beautiful and soothing enough alone to help relax anyone a few notches.
3. JOIN A MEDITATION CHALLENGE
Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg has a series called “street lovingkindness” where she takes everyday situations like being stuck in traffic or waiting in line at the grocery and uses those moments to practice a loving kindness meditation on others.
Periodically, Salzberg has a daily meditation challenge for those needing meditation accountability. There’s no charge and you join a group of others in the game--less lonely and more fun.
4. USE A SHORT MEDITATION FOR A WEEK
Sometimes drawing on a word or phrase of some lines of poetry we love can help ground us for our week. And sometimes it’s too overwhelming to think about picking out something at all. Try Cortez Rainey’s Free Your Mind: An African American Guide to Meditation and Freedom.
Take a peek at the classic Buddhist magazine, “Lion’s Roar” or pull from any anthology--high or low art. What does it matter if the few lines you meditate on inspire you? I have long found Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way a spark book for my own thinking. Here’s a quotation of hers that I meditated on recently, “Procrastination is not laziness...It is fear. Call it by its right name, and forgive yourself.”
5. DO SOMETHING YOU LOVE AND/OR HATE A TAD MORE MINDFULLY
Let’s start with the love. It’s spring a lot of places, so move your body in whatever way you can focusing for 1 minute just on that. Biking? Take a minute during the process to feel the wind while you’re pedaling. Morning wake up? Listen to a new bird sound and be in that sound for a minute.
And for things we hate--often chores--do the classic, “do the dishes to do the dishes” as one of my favorite teachers used to say. Be in the dishes. I find this nigh impossible as a profound multi-tasker. This challenge is the hardest for me. But I can try to eat my food for 1 minute while doing nothing else. I doubt I can eat my whole meal mindfully. Sorry, folks. But I can eat part of it mindfully. And build from there.
All of these practices create more space for mental and spiritual rest so that when we’re called, we’re ready. What are your practices that work? What does not work at all for you? There’s as much fodder in that.