Meditation as Resistance

Trump. Politics. The 1%. Climate Change. Police brutality. Brexit. Global conflict. Systemic racism. Patriarchy. Classism. And that's just to name a few.
 
Things are nuts right now. And this stuff has been going on for a long time. It’s great that, for example, the NYC catcalling video raised so much awareness about catcalling - and yet most women I know were only surprised that seemingly “aware” men were so unaware of the problem (full disclosure: I was definitely a little shocked). Policemen were killing unarmed black men, women, and children long before cell phones allowed a handful of such attacks to be caught on camera. Capitalism has been shaming the poor, exploiting entire peoples and the planet, and stressing the hell out of all of us for a very, very long time. 
 
And yet things seem to have reached a fevered pitch since the election of the current US President. Most of us are up in arms, shell-shocked and curled up in a ball on the couch awaiting the next piece of absurdist news, or some combination of the two (maybe even in the same day). 
 
Everyone knows our problems are systemic. Technology has us increasingly distracted and addicted to the next hit of digital stimulation or social approval. Our global economy is leaving more and more people behind, despite the seeming wealth and abundance of our society. Our governments and political systems seem to have gone off the rails, increasing unable to fix or even identify the problems plaguing our world.
 
What’s worse is that the ways our culture tells us to deal with all of this only makes our problems worse: If anything is wrong, just buy something and you’ll feel better. If you don’t have enough money, it’s your fault. If you’re stressed out, here’s some mindless television and anxiety-inducing social apps.
 
I’m here to suggest a perhaps surprising form of resistance: meditation. Not meditation in the way pop culture has appropriated it - as a form of escapism and stress relief - but actual mindfulness practice that brings us more completely into the moments of our lives: the fires and chaos, the peace and tranquility, and everything in between. This full understanding of what meditation is includes techniques you might have heard of, like breath or sound meditation, but also points to a range of practices that cultivate our ability to see the full picture of what’s going on in our minds and lives - to see, for example, how something we might think is a random preference for a certain kind of food or activity or person is actually the result of how we’ve been socialized within our broader culture and specific life experience. 
 
When we meditate, we’re rejecting the need for constant stimulation, detaching from consumerism, and cultivating a healthy, loving relationship with ourselves - one that doesn’t rely on what we have or how we look but is rooted in the simplicity of who we are, our inherent and fundamental goodness as human beings. 
 
As our practice deepens, we gain insight into how our minds and hearts actually work. If we’re serious about ending racism and sexism, we must embrace meditation: without the skill of mindfulness - without actually seeing what’s happening in our minds, moment to moment - we can’t even fully define the terms or come close to understanding the internal, psychological phenomenon they’re pointing towards. 
 
Skeptical? Let me tell a quick story. Last year, I joined about 45 other men in a workshop at the Brooklyn Zen Center entitled “Undoing Patriarchy and Unveiling the Sacred Masculine”. I know what you’re thinking - 45 men in a room for one weekend aaaand patriarchy is solved.
 
Stick with me. Led by Lama Rod Owens and Zen teacher Greg Snider, the weekend started with each of us getting in touch with the suffering patriarchy has created within our own lives. Using a combination of mindfulness practice and facilitated conversation, we explored how the perverted, culturally propped up definition of masculinity was actually causing us pain, stifling our growth and exploration of gender, and keeping us from a more liberated expression of our beings. 
 
As we turned our attention outward - to the women in our lives and the society around us - we were able to see more clearly where in our own lives we were still perpetuating patriarchy in all sorts of subtle and often overlooked ways. Whether it’s who we’re giving attention to in group conversations or how we split up chores with partners in our homes, mindfully examining our behavior and getting more intimate with our mental patterns is key to changing our actions. And we ended the weekend by brainstorming what the ideals, values, and behaviors of a healthy and even sacred masculinity might look like in our lives.
 
For nearly every person in the room, the weekend was truly transformative. All of us cared deeply about undoing patriarchy in our lives and in our world, but caring and even learning on our own is usually not enough. The workshop gave us a safe space to collectively explore how patriarchy manifested in our own lives and an opportunity to meditate and bring mindfulness to how we might show up in the world differently. 
 
And if we’re serious reversing systems of oppression, the weekend was a blueprint of a solution - men engaging men (or white folks engaging white folks, or anything else), calling each other in (not out) to deepen our understanding, awareness, and empathy, using mindfulness as a basis for exploration.
 
This is what love trumping hate looks like. And this is but one example of the potential meditation has. Meditation in its non-appropriated form is a social practice, not just a solo one. It’s about coming into the world, not escaping from it. It’s transformation, not stress relief.