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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  • Great post, thanks for so putting this issue into words so eloquently 🙂

  • Sean

    When we make racist comments, such as the color of the meditator’s skin has something to do with their world-view (Whites do not care about the world), we continue to breed racism. Even if the comment is true (e.g. AAs are over-represented in the criminal population), it does no good to bring it up unless there is a particular task of peace that absolutely requires the fact be looked at.

    Also meditation CAN help protect us from violence. In every case we have heard of recently, if the person who was shot had been loving and peaceful with with the officers, no shots would have been fired! I am not saying peace and love will work every time, but often anger and hate has to come from both sides in order for things to escalate.

    • Crystal Blanton

      First of all…. saying the race of the mediator is not “racist”. That is problematic in and of itself because it shows that there is some lack of understanding on your part about what “racism” actually is. Secondly it makes a difference in this story….. and your attempt to correlate that with those who have been killed by police violence is insensitive at best and ignorant at worst.

      You see, this blog is about the experience of Black women in Paganism. So you may not understand that because you are not a Black woman, but none the less, you cannot invalidate it. The experience of race is all around us as Black women, and the race of the meditator can be extremely important in a scenario like this. We don’t get to walk away and just focus on the self when we live in a society of oppressive structures that directly affect us on our everyday experience.

      What I wish is that people in your position would not come onto a blog where a woman of color is speaking of her experience of living in a oppressive society and continue microaggressive dialog. That in and of itself is hurtful. And that is a means to silence the experience of people who do not have the privilege you might have.

      • Sean

        The author did not just mention the race of the meditator. She said that whites “will tell you that you do not have to save the world, just working on your own mind is enough”. It just makes me nervous when we assign negative attributes to a certain skin color. It’s been done to us, and I don’t like it.

        If you want to keep the blog private, then keep it private. As it is, I stumbled on it in the Meditation section of FlipBoard with an open invitation to comment. But may I suggest that you not keep it private. It’s when we sit in our own echo-chamber that we lose sight of the others on this small planet whom we should be doing our best to embrace!

        • Crystal Blanton

          I do find it amazing that you would leave out some of the words in your quote, which would make it seem like something other than what the author said…. the actual quote is “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.” So that actually refers to not ALL white mediators… and refers to others as well. That is not assigning negative attributes to a skin color, it is referring to a cultural ideal that does not apply to many others outside of that culture. It is referring to a level of cognitive dissonance that is in place, often ignored by those who do not have to deal with the same circumstances.

          The blog being private was never a conversation.

          • Sean

            So if I were to say “There are quite a few low motivation high school students (particularly Black students) out there who will tell you that you do not have to graduate, just working low-wage is enough.” this would not be considered a racist comment?

            If the blog was meant as private you need to reconfigure its settings. It is definitely out there in the big, diverse world and will bring people like me in to test assumptions!

          • Crystal Blanton

            This blog is suppose to be public in the “big, diverse world” so that people who are conditioned can challenge their own biases. I love how it made you so uncomfortable that you chose to push so hard to avoid your own cognitive dissonance instead of actually being introspective.

            That is there for people to see in the big diverse world……. It says more about how affected we truly are as a race.

    • Cecily

      Facts are not racist. It is the biased interpretations of facts that are the problem. Black people are over populated in the prison system because the legal system targets Blacks. Also, I love how you are ignoring that Black people have been asleep and killed by cops. Have been handcuffed and on the ground and killed. They have had their hands up and begging to not be shot and been killed. But somehow it is our fault because we do not meditate and are not peaceful enough. Btw, if you are White, it is your skin that protects you not meditation.

      • Sean

        I agree facts are not racist, but they can be used by racists to widen the gulf between ‘us’ and ‘them’. We (yes, obviously I am black and a male (sorry)) are more criminal, have a lower IQ, are more homophobic, misogenistic, leave our families more often, etc. While these ALL have unjust causes, these are still all just facts. Yet they are also weapons and should be treated as such…with great care. With these weapons we can cure or we can kill.
        And yes, I know that peace does not always work. But that does not mean we should not keep trying to be more and more calm, loving, and peaceful.

        • Crystal Blanton

          I am so confused…. you are saying that those things ARE facts? Because there are strings of studies and information to disprove those things. Are you saying those things are stereotypes? I am very confused.

          I really hope you are not attempting to say that those are facts, and therefore truth. If that is your point, I cannot express how absolutely wrong that is.

          Also, respectability politics have proven not to work time and time again.

          • Sean

            Sorry, I should not have said we are more criminal. I meant that, as I said, that we are highly over-represented in the prison population. We do, on average, test lower on white IQ tests. There are higher percentage of single black mothers over single white mothers. Surveys have repeatedly shown that we are more homophobic than whites. And, forgive me, I may be wrong about mysogeny (I can’t spell it, for one)… Sorry, I may be wrong about that last one, but I defy you to link us to one study that shows me wrong about the other stuff.
            But I feel you are missing my point.

          • Crystal Blanton

            So I will say this and then I am done with it. You cannot nit pick through elements of issues within a culture without looking at the historical significance of them. That is how stats are misleading and how people try to use then to mean things that are harmful. There are a LOT of elements here that connect to a issues that are not identified in a comment on a blog. So I will not do that because the information would be meaningless without the additional pieces. I strongly suggest doing some additional research around those elements… and around transgenerational trauma…. and around PTSS….. as I tell everyone… Dr. Joy DeGruy is a good place to start.

  • Springer

    Agree with Sean. It is so hard to love when we don’t feel love coming back! But meditation helps! Black or white, we are all on the road to selflessness. When you get to a certain point in your spiritual progress, you finish saving yourself and “saving the world” is the next item on the agenda. 😉

    • Crystal Blanton

      So Springer, then how do you take your comment and apply it to historical trauma and oppression? If it is hard to Love without feeling love coming back, then how do you think a Black woman’s experience should be the same as anothers? I think your comment actually misses the whole point and yet the answer to understanding is in your comment itself. I hope you take a moment to explore that.

      • Springer

        You will, I think, not be surprised to hear that I do not understand your questions very well. I do feel the anger behind them. (You need to meditate more! ;)) Most of us have been oppressed in one way or another. I sure was. My wife is black but says she has “put down” her history and decided to concentrate on being human rather than being black. She works with other AA people who she says walk around all day with paper-thin skin ready to detect “micro-racism” (a term I thought she had made up! ha!! wait til I tell her that I am on to her!!) in every word and glance. I think it may be this over-sensitivity that creates a lot of the problems in the workplace? But I am Vietnamese, not black, so I will never be sure. Just know that blacks do not own oppression…there is too much of it to be own by only one group, eh? 😉

        • Crystal Blanton

          The level of insensitivity and dismissiveness you choose to display is truly sad. My response has nothing to do with anger nor meditation. I am a social worker and speak more to the point about this than some are comfortable with.

          To imply that I, or we as Black people, might think we own oppression is just ignorant. And instead of going point by point in your post, I will instead just encourage you to do some study and research. Dr. Joy Degruy is a good place to start. And then maybe then you will refrain from making such aversively racist statements to others about the impact of transgenerational trauma on historically oppressed populations. We can only hope.

          In addition, we will not tolerate insensitive and aversively or overtly racist comments on this blog. You have been warned.

          • Sean

            Man, I am reading and reading what Springer wrote, and I don’t see any thing even vaguely racist! What am I missing?? He seems like a loving guy.

        • Cecily

          I have learned to use my anger as a tool of wisdom. I find that accepting emotion and the reality of oppression is better mindful practice than denial.

  • Crystal Blanton

    Thank you for this piece. I always find the challenge of balancing the inner with the harshness of the reality we live in as one of the most frustrating to deal with…. and misleading. That was the whole first 3-4 years of my Pagan experience. Coming to terms with the fact that my spiritual experience does not change or invalidate the racism within the world that I live in was actually freeing. I find that so many are able to experience this detachment within Paganism (or any spiritual path) when they are not from the historically oppressed sector of society. They have the privilege of meditating and integrating back into the world with their visions of equity on the forefront. I became increasingly sad that I could not…. and yet people did not understand that.

    And that is also shown in the comments below. The lack of understanding and empathy or cultural sensitivity for the experience of Black people. But instead we always seem to get the microaggressions, the aversive racism and biases… the ignorance around the state of the society we live in, transgenerational trauma, and the ongoing racist experience we walk through. And how that affects our spirituality. Or even that racism is not the same as prejudice. (a whole other tangent I could go onto).

    Thank you for writing about this…. and putting some of that feeling into words.

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    Thank you for this, Cecily.

    Many of my own (negative) feelings about meditation have arisen exactly because of these things, i.e. that it often seems to be a cover for complacency, for inertia, and for excusing all kinds of injustice, from racism to misogyny to homophobia to any number of other negatives…all said with that smug smile and the (often exact) words “If you worked on yourself more, maybe you’d be less angry at the world.” The people who need to most hear that aren’t the ones who are upset over all of the systemic injustices, it’s the people who are perpetuating them because of their fear of difference, etc.

    I’ll also just say, for the record, I’m really disappointed with how some of the commenters here have missed the point entirely, and have acted very badly in response to you and Crystal’s further clarifications, have resorted to tone policing, and so forth. Perhaps “less meditation, more clue-by-fours” is a good tactic to adopt from time to time…but then again, I’m a bit of a bastard like that sometimes. 😉

    An excellent piece, in any case, and thanks again for highlighting this very important matter!