“Meditation is not only one of the best forms of relaxation; it is free, fully accessible, and easily taught. The practice can be expanded to low-income and minority populations through four simple ways.”
I’m Black. Wait! Wait! Wait! Before you turn the page, just hear me out. I’m black, and when I shop in a place like Whole Foods, or as some people refer to it, Whole Paycheck, I notice a trend in the magazines I pick up in line at the checkout.
You’ve seen those magazines—the ones with that porcelain person on the cover with the hypnotically kind face. Those magazines about mindful running, mindful biking, mindful eating, and mindful axe-murdering (well, maybe not that one). But no matter the magazine, they address the health of Caucasians, and not the welfare of others.
Yet, when I work with some of the most adverse populations, usually minority groups, no one wants to talk about a technique that was designed to end suffering.
David Hilliard, who wrote the Huey P. Newton Reader, describes the considerable time that Huey P. Newton spent in jail, and how Newton learned Zen meditation to provide some relief from the conditions that accompany imprisonment. Why isn’t there meditation in the hood? Why aren’t Buddhists temples found along skid row?
Adverse communities suffer from acute stress. If left unaddressed, the stress can affect people’s lives. All kinds of research has shown that relaxation methods can address acute stress, and the absence of those methods might contribute to a predatory environments.
Yet another thing that Westerners need to realize is that it is easier for people to learn from their own culture than from another one. This is not to say that cross-culturalism is a bad thing. What I hear in the local sewing circles and porch picnics is that more of one’s own culture should be accountable for the welfare of that culture.
I didn’t refer to Huey P. Newton as an example for nothing. I referred to Newton because he is widely known as a hero among African Americans, but is less known as someone who meditated. A Caucasian yogi can explain Huey’s meditation practice, how meditation helped him face adversity, and the origin of the type of meditation he used—and African Americans will be interested, but the lingering thought will be What’s this white person know about Huey P. Newton? Why can’t they get a brotha or a sista to do this? There’s gotta be a black person in the hood still alive who knows about meditation....
Meditation is now sold to middle- and upper-class people who need meditation to escape the stress of having a job, good healthcare, healthy children, good education, and leisure time to meditate. If low-income people, who may or may not be minorities, were exposed to a culture that promoted leisure activities that were inexpensive, like meditation, they would gain access to ideas that they may not otherwise have thought they could pursue.
As I reach the register at Whole Paycheck, I buy all of the mindfulness magazines on display—printed on biodegradable, BPA-free, environmentally friendly, recycled paper—and place them on the black rubber checkout conveyer belt made by the indigenous people of [insert name of third-world country here]. I’m buying up all the meditation magazines to take them back to the hood, where there ain’t no meditation.
To Diversify Meditation
Meditation is not only one of the best forms of relaxation; it is free, fully accessible, and easily taught. The practice can be expanded to low-income and minority populations through four simple ways.
- More community recreation centers in low-income communities can start volunteer-led meditation groups.
- More churches can create physical space for meditation and dedicate a portion of the service to meditation.
- Peer-to-peer organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous can expand recovery meetings devoted to meditation and prayer (the 11th step).
- The varieties of meditation taught can be expanded; for example, there is such a thing as music meditation. I can see your ears perk up!
What you can do
If You Have an Hour… Visit your local community center and ask how you might be of service.
If You Have a Month… Learn to be a meditation teacher and start to teach others how to meditate.
If You Have $100…Fund a scholarship for someone in need to take a meditation class.
This article originally appeared in our 2016 print issue as the story "There Ain't No Meditation In the Hood: And What You Can Do About It."