Meditation Can End Discrimination. Here’s How.

Mainstream imagery of meditation can lead people to believe that it’s about checking out, rather than tuning in. Stock photos of meditators show people sitting serenely, apart from the world, gently smiling, seemingly carefree, unaware of the problems of the world. However, at its core, meditation is about facing what is here and now. It is about being present to the truth of our feelings, the reality of our situation, the patterns that create our lives and our world.

For this reason, meditation is a powerful tool in ending discrimination of all kinds, from racism to sexism to xenophobia. In a social justice climate that prioritizes bold action, meditation can be seen as a weaker option, as “just sitting around” when we need to be “hitting the streets.” However, meditation has been documented to reduce bias, in addition to restoring your brain to an optimal state for long-term focus and creativity, which is exactly what we need to imagine and build a new world.

The world we live in is a product of our internal consciousness, projected outward like high-definition virtual reality. Any problem happening outside of us has a root within us. When it comes to identity-based discrimination and violence, the roots often extend way back before we were born. We carry up to 14 generations of trauma within our DNA. Our ancestors’ experiences are encoded into our instincts, determining what we identify as a threat and who we consider to be community. And the behavior you saw modeled around you as a child was saved within your subconscious mind as the rules for what would keep you safe, and therefore alive. 

This means that your lineage’s experiences contribute to your current instincts, however subconscious. If your great-great-grandfather lived in a world where men were expected to dominate women, chances are that instinct still lies somewhere within you. If your grandmother witnessed people being shamed and harmed for being LGBTQ, the fear may still show up as a flinch when someone comes out to you, or a sickening stomach-sinking when you embrace your own LGBTQ identity. If your father made fun of immigrants in front of you as a child, you may still have the instinct to push away immigrant friends for fear of losing your father’s love and approval (which translate to having your survival needs met as a child—our minds often code this as a life-or-death matter).

This ancestral programming is not a life sentence. We are on autopilot until we decide not to be. Once we pause to look at our patterns and consciously choose a new approach, the liberation and connection that we desire becomes available.

Here are four ways to use meditation to release your unconscious bias and heal the world around you:

Commit to a daily meditation practice of any kind.
Transformation is made up of many small moments in which we create the conditions to have a new experience. A regular meditation practice of any kind creates space for us to start observing the patterns of our consciousness before we act upon them. This commitment also fosters deeper self-trust.

Audit your subconscious and choose new stories.
Use stream-of-consciousness writing to reveal the stories still running on autopilot under the surface of your consciousness. Once we have shed the light of awareness on these beliefs, we can begin to release them and choose new ones. Here are some prompts you can use to get started:

  1. Ask yourself, What were my childhood caregivers’ opinions about people of different identities and backgrounds? What were my school classmates’ and hometown neighbors’ opinions about people of different identities and backgrounds? If I had a friend who looked different than me, was that okay? What would people have said about us?
  2. Fill in the blank for different identities: They believed people of color are ... They believed LGBTQ people are ... They believed immigrants are ... (continue with any other identities that come to mind)
  3. Complete the statement: It is safest for me to be around people of these backgrounds ... If I wasn’t worried about political correctness, it would feel easier to hire people of these backgrounds ...

Remember that this work is for everyone, not just people with overt biases. 
This work is not just for people who have committed big acts of violence and discrimination. Even at the level of subconscious belief, dehumanizing thoughts harm us from the inside out, because they go against our essential nature as loving humans. And if discriminatory and fearful beliefs lie within our minds, eventually they will surface in our behaviors, however subtly. (This is why unconscious bias is called “unconscious”!) Finally, many traditions speak about how, when we end a pattern within ourselves, we end it for many generations before us and after us. By choosing to release toxic ideas within yourself, you contribute to the healing of the whole world.  

Practice loving-kindness meditation when you feel triggered by someone.
The next time someone upsets you—whether by calling you out online for saying something offensive, or by using a slur against you—try turning to loving-kindness meditation before responding. Put your hand on your heart and repeat the mantra to yourself first: May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be safe, may you live a life of peace. Breathe deeply and imagine these words like light flowing into your heart, bringing you the ease and care you need. Next, you can prepare yourself by sending this mantra to someone you love. (Pets and kids are great for this because we find them so easy to adore.) Finally, repeat the mantra while picturing the person who triggered you in your mind’s eye. Again, imagine the mantra like light, extending from your heart to theirs. Breathe into the tension between you as if you were releasing a muscle knot, allowing the breath and the light to clear away the fear and resistance in the connection.

Bonus: You can also contribute to collective healing by doing this meditation for anyone with whom you have historically experienced conflict. For example, as a man, you might consider doing a daily loving-kindness meditation for women, to continue healing the history of neglect and mistreatment between your genders. And as a woman, you might consider doing this meditation for men as well, to give yourself the space to experience love and trust within a historically fraught dynamic.

If this work feels daunting (we are, after all, talking about ending centuries-long cycles of human suffering!), take a deep breath and commit to taking just one next right action today. Appreciate the small shifts along the way and trust the process. We would not feel called to heal our world if we did not have all we needed within us to make it so. We were made for this moment. All that is required is that we continue moving forward, moment by moment.

To dive deeper into meditation as a collective healing practice, visit aaronxrose.com/tools.

Aaron Rose, an educator and transformational coach, combines metaphysics, meditation, neuroscience, and restorative justice to create communities where people thrive as their authentic selves. Aaron identifies as a gay transgender man.

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