What Mindfulness is Not

Contrary to the fundamental belief that the root of all suffering is fear of death, I think many individuals fear poverty or the loss of love more. In other words, it is possible to fear living, that is– living with the constant threat of helplessness, of not having the means to care for oneself with dignity, or living without love and belonging.

Poverty, desperation or loneliness can trigger the desire for death sometimes. Death feels like a liberation, in this sense. I understand this longing for liberation. To be dead and free of all the earthly demands sounds good if the experience on earth is riddled with pain, hunger, fear, lovelessness and suffering.

I can sit in meditation and calm thoughts, like thoughts of fear. But, does my practice solve the problem of me getting a job, navigating a war torn society or finding love? Maybe, mindfulness is not designed to solve anything. Maybe, it’s designed to give my mind and body a break, to cultivate patience and strength, to open my mind to unexplored possibilities, to recognize the root cause of my suffering.

It’s good to talk about our personal experience because there are universal truths in it. Mindfulness meditation, for me, is about peace of mind and cultivating a stabilizing force while facing adversity. After years of working in the field of education, feeling frustration and seeing injustice, and assuming it was my job to fix society—mindfulness meditation became a refuge. I found a place where I no longer had to take up that fight. I didn’t have to sit for social justice, I just sat for myself and that was enough. When was I ever enough, just sitting?

I’ve experienced adversity in life, but even so, there are first and third world children growing up hungry, scared and in greater need than I can comprehend. I’m compassionate because I’ve experienced chronic worrying and concern for basic needs. It’s crippling. In spite of the devastating impact of COVID, many individuals still think that being poor or worrying financially means you don’t want to work, or you’re doing something wrong. We have not yet arrived at a broader compassion for people who work hard trying to make ends meet, to maintain a decent healthy life, but who are consistently rejected or unsuccessful in finding stable employment. It can be for any reason at all, other than, for the lack of trying and wanting. It is true, some individuals don’t want to work, but there are all kinds of people. Some wealthy people don’t want to work but their survival does not depend on it.

Does mindfulness meditation increase my understanding of poor social dynamics, of social maladies? I really don’t know. I’ve always had this eye, through education, my upbringing, my research and, certainly through other means. What I can say is mindfulness meditation brings me greater peace and sense of being with myself. I have learned that I can always sit healthy and free, take a break from the chatter of the world (that goes on and on) and, when I choose to do so, it does not make me a bad person. In fact, it makes me a healthier person, a person less likely to get sick and take things personally. I don’t get angry as much and I am growing more patient.

Racism is a vehicle by which individuals have justified power via economic means and gains. I don’t think we can separate race from economics, at least historically. Now, it all blurs together in the perception of the mind and I understand this. However, what I want to point out is that mindfulness may not be the best way to go about separating and interrogating identity. For me, it’s been more about understanding how everything comes together. How everything becomes inseparable, including race and class, and all other worldly identities that reside within me and outside me.

So, I wonder if we should look to mindfulness meditation to tease out and address racism, specifically. Perhaps it is not the best strategy to address any one thing at all. It seems to me that these categories (race, class, sexual orientation, religious affiliation) reside in a divided mind. Mindfulness is undivided mind. It is exploring open space and Oneness, in the mind and then, if we are patient enough, we begin to see wholeness outwardly, into the world. It is only that.

A holy (wholly) state of mind means we see people as a whole and not in fragmented bits and pieces. We may in our process sense each of the parts, one by one, like when we do a body scan, but we are not staying there, in any one place. We are scanning to come to a sense of the whole. This may not be popular to say, because we want mindfulness to do everything, like a multipurpose tool that can solve all of our problems. But, mindfulness is not a method to solve problems. It’s about training the mind to settle without thoughts, and in doing so, allowing our attention to expand in ways we can not plan for or expect. The intention is to simply, let go— and we need this experience of letting go if we don’t want to implode with all the erratic behavior and stimulus of daily, modern life.

I do believe there is a space and protocol for anti-racism work but I don’t see this as mindfulness meditation work. Mindfulness meditation can be a useful part of a larger, comprehensive intervention training and strategy for social justice. However, let’s not distort the primary purpose of sitting in silence, in heightening our awareness, of appreciating the beauty of ourselves, of listening to our breath, of meditating on our true loving nature. These activities will lead to a healthy being, with a holistic world view, the patience and willingness to listen to ourselves and others compassionately.

I really don’t know what it means when some say we need to “sit in our whiteness” or “sit in our blackness.” That type of targeted intention seems out place in mindfulness work to me. Perhaps, we should not place any intention in our mindfulness practice related to an interrogation of our bodies.

The current climate is thick with strife and confusing. There’s a lot of pain, fear and suffering. I wake up and I’m scared, too. Then, I go to my sitting practice to get centered again. I just want to safeguard our mindfulness practice to be that space. If we can’t move into that safe space, even in our sitting practice, then where can we find peace?


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