Q and A with Equality Ohio

This last week I facilitated a retreat experience for the folks at Equality Ohio.  I loved this opportunity to help build sustainable activism for a cause that is meaningful to me.  At the end of our time, the group submitted questions.  Here are my responses.

How can we balance acceptance through mindfulness with the activist’s desire to change the world?  

This is a deep and ever present question for many.  I will do my best.  First of all, there is a rich history of intermingling, to mutual benefit, contemplative practices that boost awareness and acceptance with social justice work.  The Civil Rights Movement in the United States and the work of Ghandi in India are both good examples of this rich history.

I think what acceptance did in those moments, and what it can do now, is to separate the act of doing from the result.

A mindful person is still an active and engaged, perhaps even more so because he or she is fully present in the moment.

There is also an awareness of the larger context outside of the self.  This is important.  It allows a person to see that they are not alone in the doing.  In addition, objectively, one person can’t take ownership of changing the world, but they can affect change in individual moments.  Acceptance provides a healthy mode of keeping us “right-sized.”  What I do matters, and its not the only thing that matters would be one way to think about this dichotomy.

What can we do as a team to support ritual and practice in our work as activists?  What other resources are available for this?  

Going back to a historical perspective, there are many good models for how ritual and practice can be paired with community work, the Civil Rights Movement being one.  In modern day, the Movement Strategy Center (here is a link to their blog, too) has some really interesting resources that might be worth checking out.  I recommend reading Love With Power: Practicing Transformation for Social Justice and Out of the Spiritual Closet: Organizers Transforming the Practice of Social Justice.

My personal advice would be this: ritual is creative and is meant to address the needs of the moment.

Is the need of the moment to celebrate?  To grieve?  To mark a change or transformation?  This question is the starting point.  Then the community can determine what feels right based upon that need.  Ritual that is individualized to the group becomes more personally meaningful, and for grief, is shown to be more effective in the healing process.

I LOVE ritual, and I have taught workshops on how to design and implement it.  Here is a Ritual Design Template that I used with a group of teachers, but I think it can be modified to do work with any community.  In addition, I have written a couple of blog posts you can access here:

How can I build mindfulness into my life?  

My advice is start small.  There are many good apps for short mindfulness practices.  One of my favorites is Simply Being.  Cara Bradley’s app On the Verge has a good mindful movement practice.  Also, I would suggest the book Real Happiness by Sharon Salzberg which comes with a CD that has guided meditations.  It is a 28 day plan for those who have never meditated before.

Lastly, You can check out this practice “on the go” for stressful moments called heart-focused breathing.  People have told me it is one of the most helpful things they do for stress.

How can I lead others in doing this work, even as I am working on it myself?  

Authenticity is key for leading others in a new venture.  Admitting to struggles and failures while still holding true to the value is one way to do this.

This means you keep trying (and at times failing) and continue to be open about these efforts with the rest of the group.

Also, building time into the group’s schedule to do practices and reflect together can keep you accountable as a leader (keeping in mind that different people may feel more or less comfortable and should be able to participate at their own comfort level).  You can also find someone in the organization who can help to keep the value in mind for everyone, including yourself.

How can mindfulness help in relationships (particularly those that are toxic or not working)?  

I wouldn’t advocate staying relationship that is truly toxic. That being said, there are times when we are all forced to be around people who are difficult.  Sometimes that person acts as a trigger for our emotional responses.  Sometimes that person is a projection of something we don’t like about ourselves.  There are many reasons relationships are difficult.  In my experience, mindfulness has allowed me to examine my own responses to difficult persons.  Questions like:

Am I allowing this person to have control of my emotions and responses? 

Is there another way that I can view this experience that would be helpful?

are tools I use in these situations.

Some who do mindfulness work feel that “difficult” people are a way to strengthen the practice of being aware and accepting of circumstances (which include the people we encounter).  This is a way to re-frame the experience, focusing on growth opportunities.

What are the effects of doing mindfulness work with partial commitment?  

Small amounts of meditation have been shown to impact the brain in positive ways.  In addition, the simple practice of coming back to the breath throughout the day and pausing before responding to someone else have a lot of personal and interpersonal benefits.  This takes only seconds.

As a bonus, as benefits grow, you are more likely to continue and deepen the practice as time goes on.  Why do something if there is no benefit?  Try it out and see how it goes.

What is the purpose of “letting thoughts go”?  

The practice of releasing thoughts has multiple benefits.  Here are two favorites:

  1. It’s empowering.  If your brain is telling you something that rings untrue or isn’t life-giving for you, you can make a different choice.  Letting go of thoughts helps us to understand that they don’t determine reality.

  2. It facilitates full presence in the moment.  While at first this can feel uncomfortable, it can also be a very enjoyable experience for many people in the long run.  The most meaningful experiences for me as a teacher are when I hear stories of how people are able to “just play with their kids” or feel the breeze on their skin while they are walking- just a basic enjoyment of daily life through being more mindful.

This being said, thinking is (obviously) important.  We all need processing time and the ability to think through problems.  However, there are times when I just want to be present for what I am experiencing, and I am glad to have that choice because of some of the personal work that I have done.

What are the benefits to having inner silence?  

See above.  : )

While we discussed how to build sustainable activism, there were also opportunities to play and create.


Do you work with a community or activist group?  How do you sustain yourself in difficult times and conditions?  Please share!

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