As a meditation teacher and law professor, I’ve been working for many years exploring ways of bringing mindfulness and other forms of meditation and awareness practice into direct engagement with being in the world, including with regards to social justice.
It’s common for us to think of meditation practice as something that takes place primarily individually—we make a personal commitment to it and set aside time and space for it. But we don’t live our lives individually. We are always engaged with others, in communities of all kinds. And so we have a beautiful opportunity to, through our practices, experiment with deepening who we are and how we show up intentionally in the world.
In our lives we are embedded in community in many ways that are obvious and not so obvious. And we are being shaped and formed by those communities we engage with. What if we were equally shaped by our own intentions within those communities, collectives, groups of more than one other human being?
What we’ll do over these four sessions is try to really open up and explore what comes up for us when we think about the concept of community. The aim is to develop a sense for how our personal mindfulness practices can support us in considering how we have lived in and continue to experience community.
We’re going to start by simply recognizing ourselves as members of communities. And we’ll do this with a little help from a framework created by Michele MacDonald and made popular by Tara Brach and Diana Winston: the R.A.I.N. acronym. That is, recognizing, accepting, investigating, and non-identification or non-attachment. So let’s begin with simply recognizing ourselves in community.
Recognizing Ourselves in Community
Watch the Video:
Listen to the Audio:
Recognizing Ourselves in Community
Follow the Practice:
- Pause and consciously settle into a position that’s comfortable for you. This could mean you’re seated in a chair, as I am, seated on a cushion, or even standing—whatever works best for you and your body in this moment. The aim is to allow a deepening and dropping into the support that exists in this moment, the support of the very ground beneath us. Notice the points of contact between your body and the ground.
- Allow a sense of deep release. Be present with a sense of being held in this space. Focus on the breath as it rises and falls.
- Begin to consider your family of origin. We’ll have opportunities later to look into other communities we belong to, but for now let’s explore what we know about the community that arose out of the family into which we were born.
- Call to mind, with gentleness and compassion, your family members. But if this is not comfortable for you to turn to in this moment, feel free to select a community that feels more appropriate for exploration right now. Whatever community you are contemplating, ensure you are navigating a manageable level of discomfort that you can sit with—this is a place for our learning, healing, and growth.
- While focusing on the breath, call to mind particular images, places, sounds associated with your community. Perhaps you’re thinking of your family of origin, perhaps not. Take some moments here to really reflect on what you see—colors, sights, sounds, scents. As you breathe in and out, visualize to a degree that you can almost imagine being physically present in that community right now.
- Feel a sense of belonging in this place. This can be a challenge for some of us. So with kindness and compassion, breathing in and out, gently guide yourself to whatever might have let you feel a sense of belonging. It could be as simple as family resemblance; or it could be something like language or some aspect of culture. Whatever is arising for you, let that be known and brought into your conscious awareness.
- Explore the qualities of sensations that accompany these feelings of belonging. Is it something you feel in your heart space? Or perhaps there are other parts of your body where you feel this reminding and recalling of this sense of belonging. As you breathe in and out, notice thoughts, sensations and emotions that are arising for you during this practice. Now begin to allow this feeling of belonging to dissolve just a bit.
- Breathing in and out, explore what it might feel like to not belong. What were the ways in which boundaries were known in this community for you? Again, whatever is arising here is perfectly OK. Let thoughts, sensations and emotions arise and allow them to be present.
- Offer compassion to yourself. Place one hand over your heart and the other on your abdomen beneath your belly button. Breathe in and out. Invite compassion. You may wish to say to yourself silently, “In this community that I knew, I suffered in some ways.” “Suffering is a part of the human condition.” And, “I deserved compassion for myself then, and I deserve compassion now.”
- Bring your attention back to the sensations of breathing and sitting. Allow the images, feelings, thoughts, and sensations that have arisen during this practice for you to simply and gently dissolve. And when you’re ready, gently shift back into your post-meditation life. It may also be helpful for you to take a few moments to write down what arose for you in this practice.
Before we sign off, I invite you to explore what arose for you during this practice. If helpful, make the time to journal or write about the images or anything else that arose for you. Sit down with pen and paper in a spacious, quiet place and approach this without judgment. Just allow yourself to continue the reflections and the inquiry we’ve begun with this gentle practice.
I also invite you to continue practicing over the coming week and to join me again next week to deepen our exploration. We will move from the “R” in R.A.I.N. to the “A”: practicing greater acceptance of what arises when we explore ourselves in community.