Meditation: The Path to Spiritual Activism or Escapism

Meditation: The Path to Spiritual Activism or Escapism February 1, 2015

photo courtesy of shutterstock
photo courtesy of shutterstock


I started meditating during a stress ridden time in my life. Like so many others, meditation was my get away from my personal dark night of the soul. It calmed my nerves, soothed my anxiety and cleared up an extremely cluttered mind. It was one of the first spiritual practices that brought me true lasting healing. It worked better for me than any therapy session. It was meditation that made me want to help others find solutions for their nagging pains.

While I have learned firsthand that meditation can truly be a life saver, I also know that meditation can also be a route to spiritual escapism and selfishness. In my journey to find methods to use meditation as one tool for spiritual activism, I found that there are many ways that meditation can actually be abused.

There are quite a few hardcore meditators ( particularly White meditators) out there who will tell you that you do not have to save the world, just working on your own mind is enough. But what happens when working your own mind leads to nowhere. Far too often, I have witnessed meditation used as an excuse for inaction. Meditation and mindfulness become the reason for remaining a detached watcher to the world’s suffering. I do not have to get involved, as long as I work on myself. I am creating a better world through my practice. Sadly, the world does not work that way. Racists, homophobes, sexists are not going to become mindful because one person went on a month long retreat.

In my view, meditation is one step on the long path to healing. When meditation is used in healthy ways it leads us to right action. For myself, that means I did not want to just sit around when so many others were suffering. I have to be a voice against collective suffering which means taking actions against systemic oppression. Sometimes right action means being an activist and other times it means helping others find coping methods that are right for them. Perhaps that is teaching an oppressed group meditation or yoga to heal their cultural trauma.

Meditation can be used as a means to staying present including remaining awake in moments of injustice. If my mind is clear then maybe I will have the wisdom to see injustice and the courage to speak up. Meditation reminds me the difference between what matters in this life and what is fledging. Compassion is lasting and we can show that empathy through social action.

With that said, let me be clear that I do not believe that mediation is the cure for everything. Even if meditation can heal the world, there are plenty of people who do not have ten minutes to dedicate to practice because of oppression.

You can have the clearest mind and still be shot for being Black or assaulted for being a woman. Furthermore, even if meditation could cure all traumas, it will not happen overnight. Healing takes a long time and often requires multiple tools. Then there is the sad truth that once a person has healed from one systemic abuse, there is likely another one around the corner. Meditation can help you prepare for the next attack but it cannot prevent it. Healing suffering requires the long process of systemic change.

So meditation cannot heal the world but a lot of mindful people taking action can certainly help. For those of us who do practice, may we not become complacent. May we not escape, hide or detach from the world’s problems. May we use our clarity of mind and open hearts to find the strength to face injustices. May we use our minds, our bodies and our voices to help end collective suffering.

I do not mean everyone needs to get out on the streets and protest. You can do group rituals or contemplation for justice. You can read and support media by marginalized artists. You can education yourself and others. You can blog or talk about injustice. Do what you can, to the best of your abilities, but do something more than sitting on the cushion.

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