“Without inner change there can be no outer change. Without collective change, no change matters.”
―angel Kyodo williams
Meditation is typically thought of as an individual practice, often falling in the “self-help” category in people’s minds. It does involve going within yourself and has all kinds of benefits to the individual, so it’s clear where this idea came from. However, our individual self-realization is dependent on uplifting those around us. And the changes we all want to see in the world can only happen by going within. One of the ways in which many of us bind ourselves and prevent our own spiritual growth is white privilege. Our meditation and spiritual organizations are dominated by it. Disentangling white privilege within ourselves and our spiritual communities is a necessary step if we are invested in our own personal evolution. Coincidentally, it is meditation itself that can help get us there.
I have wrestled with whether or not to write about this as topics around social injustice and inequality are often told from the point of view of white people. I decided to go forward with it as it is the responsibility of those who have privilege to dismantle it and this is one way I can contribute to that cause. I encourage you to read and listen to the Black and brown people within the wellness community who are leading the movement to make meditation and other practices accessible and relatable to people of all races and backgrounds. I have listed some in my previous emails, but will paste them below for easier access.
It does seem counter-intuitive that sitting on your own in a room and turning your attention inward would be the best tool we have against racism and all forms of social injustice. And that in order to find self-realization, we must place our attention outwards towards others who are kept down. The reason for this paradox is the self is really the Self. We are not really individuals but waves of an ocean. To lift one wave, the whole ocean must rise. And for the whole ocean to rise, it is through the lifting of each individual wave. Meditation is what makes us aware of our oceanic status identify as that extended Self. Because of this, our motivations and actions are to support that bigger Self.
Despite this expansive and inclusive effect of meditation, our spiritual communities have not been resistant to white privilege. I think it is due to the fact that most of the teachings have been pushed through a Western world view filter as they came from east to west and have lost much of their original context and meaning. Many of the practices taught have been greatly diluted and are thought of as a means of individual gain, both by the teachers who are only concerned with becoming influential and the students who practice in order to simply be more productive or look younger, etc.
It was during my training to become a meditation teacher that I first started thinking about how in all the years I had taken yoga and meditation classes, I had hardly ever seen someone who was Black or brown in any of those classes. The fact that I went so many years without thinking about it is, of course, the definition of white privilege. My roommate was from Mexico, and we would talk about how to bring our style of meditation to people other than the demographic currently catered to–predominantly white upper-class women. Ironically, this is exactly what we were.
These conversations were the beginnings of what would become our non-profit Meditation Without Borders in which we are attempting to do just that while also using the organization as a platform to amplify the voices of those who are shifting consciousness for social change. I also started volunteering to write for The Daily Meditator, an online publication whose mission is to broaden peoples’ idea of what the daily meditator could look like. That is not to imply I overcame my white privilege through these efforts, far from it. I am actively seeking to educate myself continually in order to realize and unravel the tentacles of white privilege that have entwined themselves around every aspect of my life and the lives of everyone. The current anti-racist movement is causing me to re-examine my efforts and I’ve humbly come to the conclusion that I can and need to do so much more.
More than anything I’ve ever read or listened to, it has been meditation itself that has helped open my eyes to my own white privilege which in turn has motivated me to do what I can to dismantle it. When I try and analyze how that happened, this is what comes to mind:
- White privilege is invisible to most white people (part of what makes it a privilege) which makes it particularly hard to overcome. It’s fundamentally an awareness problem. Meditation is the process of broadening your awareness. Your consciousness dips over and over again into the ocean of Self causing you to identify with that ocean. In the process, your view becomes broader, more accurate and more objective. You see not just from your tiny wave vantage point but from many vantage points at once. It breaks down cultural indoctrination this way.
- Also, meditation dissolves one’s sense of “otherness.” By experiencing Self as the ocean, your awareness is not just in your body but in your extended self which includes all people. Details about your individuality, including race, no longer are how you primarily identify and define yourself.
- White privilege is a widespread issue of consciousness ingrained in the collective. The collective is made up of individuals so to change it, it must change at an individual level. We must go inside ourselves first to broaden our awareness before we can start dismantling racist constructs in our society. And our own individual growth depends on our ability to shift society.
Nobody teaches about these concepts that I’ve found better than the rev. angel Kyodo williams. Please check out her books, Being Black and Radical Dharma. They had such a massive influence on my own ongoing journey of dismantling my white privilege.
Let’s keep talking about it. It’s been a topic in my group meditations, but I don’t want this current wave to pass and then all goes back to business as usual. If you are interested in joining me in coming up with ways to bring the anti-racist movement to the meditation/wellness community, please reach out. Together we can lift the whole ocean.
Kristen Vandivier is an instructor of Vedic Meditation and the founder of The Vedic Method and Meditation Without Borders. She is regarded for her ability to make profound teachings relevant to everyday life and her mission of promoting meditation for social change. After completing an intensive curriculum of training under renowned Master Maharishi Vyasananda Thom Knoles, including a three-month immersion program in the Himalayas, Kristen returned to found her practice. She lives in Mill Valley with her husband and three small children.
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