Photo credit: Eye for Ebony
By Emelda De Coteau
In blocking off what hurts us, we think we are walling ourselves off from pain. But in the long run, the wall, which prevents growth, hurts us more than the pain…. —Alice Walker, The Temple of My Familiar
I deal with anxiety and depression at times. It took courage to share this with you. Like many African-American women, I ingested numerous messages glorifying strength and dismissing vulnerability. And even though I cry when hurt or scared, still I hear echoes of admonishment from my culture, urging me to stand tall and swallow hurts; “don’t let them see you cry” is an all too common refrain. It is our protection against relentless forces crushing our minds, bodies and spirits in myriad ways.
“When we feel that we can no longer assert meaningful, transformative agency in our lives, when we are doing too much, when we experience an ongoing impending sense of doom, constant anxiety, and worry, stress has invaded our lives and taken over. Without our even knowing quite how it happened, we have forgotten what it feels like to live without debilitating stress,” author and cultural critic bell hooks writes in Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self Recovery.
And it’s why meditation matters for us. We are a people whose history is imbued with battles against state violence, economic oppression and the hegemony of white supremacy. This ancient practice of becoming still and listening to our bodies is healing, and dates back thousands of years before the common era (BCE) in numerous cultures and faith traditions, including Buddhism and Taoism, but is now practiced globally to cope with overwhelm and mental health issues.
Within Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk, teacher and author says: “ In meditation, we stop and look deeply. We stop just to be there, to be with ourselves and with the world. When we are capable of stopping, we begin to see, and if we can see, we understand. Peace and happiness are the fruit of this process.”
All of this sounds amazing, you may think, but how do I live it out regularly? Does it require a mediation room at home or in the office? What other kinds of adjustments are necessary? Well, it’s not nearly that complicated; meditation can take place while doing mundane tasks such as washing dishes, driving or walking.
Initially it may seem daunting, but there are three simple ways to begin:
- Consider it a form of self care, and schedule accordingly: Self care is a buzz word these days, but it encompasses more than expensive pampering. It’s about nourishing from within. Perhaps this is why writer and speaker Audre Lorde called it an “act of self preservation and political warfare.” If we do not sustain ourselves within a society determined to annihilate us who will?
Schedule time to meditate, taking it as seriously as what you do for others. There are numerous meditation apps to help you develop consistency, two of my favorites are Simple Habit (offers guided meditations tailored to your mood), and Headspace (it too includes guided meditation and helps pin down a specific time by connecting to existing routines). For instance, you can set up reminders for just before showering or settling down at night for bed. Making time for wellness practices (before the stress becomes toxic) is vital for our continued health.
- Choose a form of Meditation for your Lifestyle: Maybe you’re single and work long hours, or a Mom entrepreneur who juggles the kids with cooking, cleaning and running her biz? Whatever shape your days take, it’s important to choose a form of meditation which best suits those needs so it’s sustainable.
Meditation coach, author and teacher Giovanni Dienstamann says while there are countless types of meditation, we can identify three categories : focused attention (concentrating on breathing, an object, etc.), open monitoring (where you observe our experiences without judgement or clinging to them) and effortless presence (Dienstamann coined this term), “the state where the attention is not focused on anything in particular, but reposes on itself – quiet, empty, steady, and introverted.”
Photo credit: Eye for Ebony
And within these types, you find specific techniques to practice – from mindfulness, a particularly popular one, which lifts up the importance of being in the present moment to another to cultivating loving kindness deeply within your heart through visualization. You can also find meditation practices based on your faith – Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, etc.
Which of these categories / techniques is more realistic for you to start? Dienstamann’s blog post provides a lengthy list of options. Consider your daily routine, an honest answer is essential towards making progress.
- Plug in to Resources – Blogs, podcasts and books: Watering our minds with useful information helps ground us. We live in an era of endless information; use it to your advantage. Take time to discover and draw from resources (including social media communities), some of which are free, and remain informed, while connecting with others on this path. I am listing some resources to jumpstart you (this is not an exhaustive list): Black Girl in Om (wellness space for women of color), The Blissful Mind (helps you find the calm in everyday life), Thich Nhat Hanh’s You are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment, The Mindful podcast , Cherished Flight podcast, and The Christian Meditation podcast (latter two are biblically-based), Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation In Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn, and The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have by Mark Nepo.
You deserve to handle your day, without it handling you, breathing in calmly instead of sucumbing to chaotic energy. One of the ways towards a more centered life is slowing down, increasing awareness through meditating, even if it’s just a few moments a day. Begin. Your body and mind will thank you.
Emelda is a loving wife, mama, creative, and believer seeking God anew in each moment. Although based in Baltimore, this daughter of a Honduran immigrant feels at home throughout the world. She serves as founder of Women Creatives Chat, a community dedicated to empowering all creative women through events (both online and live, including bi-monthly chats for creatives, a quarterly book chat series on Instagram featuring writers from the WCC community, and a Facebook Live Show), workshops and daily doses of inspiration on Instagram and Facebook. She is co-founder of Cocktails and Creatives Events which connects women artists with the larger community through live and virtual gatherings.
She blogs at Live In Color, about faith, activism and motherhood (which is soon becoming Pray With Our Feet), is a columnist for Beautifully Said magazine, and contributing writer for the Pretty Entrepreneur blog (a community which empowers women of color in business).
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