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Mindful : October 2019
I recently spoke at a conference, and afterward a white woman came up to me. “That was so great,” she said. “ You’re a real ball buster!” No sister would ever say that to me. I had to say, “Excuse me? No, no, no.” I could have reacted with upset, but instead I chose to firmly correct her. That is where mindfulness came in: I chose my response. “I am not a ball buster,” I told her. “I am not a woman who annihilates men. That’s not who I am.” When a Black woman shows up in her fullness and her vibrancy, when her frequency is high, a narrative gets created: You’re too much. You’re too loud. You’re a ball buster. Not! It was so automatic for her to say that. That is what goes on, for us, every day. Another time, I’m in a department store with a friend, and we’re carry- ing bags—because we’ve spent quite a lot of money. We’re laughing, walking to another department—to spend more money!—and the security guard is following us. I look toward him and he looks me dead in my eyes. I looked back at him, stunned that this could be happening. After all, I had two shopping bags full of merchandise I had paid for. In those moments, there is what Viktor Frankl called a space between stimulus and response. Do I choose reactivity? Or do I take a breath, assess the situation, and then choose my response? I paused, smiled at him, and kept going. I went on to enjoy the day with my friend. Sometimes my response has to have more teeth in it, but it is a response I get to choose, because I have a practice. Do you have a daily practice? I have a daily practice that includes prayer, meditation, and journaling, and often some scripture reading. Sometimes I’ll use a guided medi- tation. Right now, I really like the “Daily Calm” feature from the Calm app; sometimes I’ll just sit quietly with no guide. I journal—gratitudes or affirmations or desires. I usually do this in the morning, sitting at the kitchen counter, with a cup of hot water and lemon. What are some of the deep roots of mindfulness in your own life? The notion of being quiet and still was a part of what my family did. My fam- ily is from the Caribbean, and I would observe the elders just shutting things down and sitting quietly or lying down. When I visited my great-aunts in the Caribbean, they would say, “Let’s go take a sea bath.” I remember the first time one of my great-aunts said that. A sea bath? I wondered, What is that? You would just sit in the salt water—not swimming around, but just sitting, letting yourself be soothed by the salt water. Mindfulness is a banner that gathers up different practices from a variety of cultures. It’s not just for one culture. The human breath belongs to the human being. Black people have been practicing mindfulness forever. Think about the Montgomery bus boycott and how people walked for nearly a year, gathering each night at churches to sing and pray, so they could walk the next day. That’s mindfulness. Think about the young people who integrated the lunch counters and trained themselves to maintain their composure. They sat at the counters while people poured food and drinks over them and they maintained their equanimity. Can you say more about mindfulness as a tool for people of color? We know that deep relaxation is important for healing, but how do we replenish ourselves? And rest? When you poll Black women, you find that we don’t rest well. Remember, we were brought here to work! I recently said to someone, “I have been tired for years.” Mindfulness helps us to rest—to stop, sit, connect with our breath, close our eyes, drop our gaze, sit upright but relaxed, be still. That’s what mindful- ness gives us—a chance to get quiet and see what’s there and to hold it kindly. This is the exploration of being human. For people of color, Black people in particular, our identity is constantly defined vis-à-vis white folks. Well, this quietness is putting an end to that: I am sovereign of myself. Who I am and how I define myself is not vis- à-vis white folks anymore. This is also a YouToo movement. The same way that I’m tapping into courage, white people can tap into courage and end this hollow compas- sion that shows up when they see Black pain, so they can go deeper and make some decisions about how they engage in a truly more meaningful way. What do you mean by hollow compassion? Hollow compassion is the result of white people not having the courage to face their own racialization and the harm it has caused. Land-grabbing. Genocide. Enslavement. Colonialism. Imperialism. All these things that white domination has forwarded and that white people are benefiting from here and now. Compassion comes from owning that and sitting with the discomfort of that, so we can then generate something different. When I talk about mindfulness for Black people, I am looking at it as → “MINDFULNESS IS A BANNER THAT GATHERS UP DIFFERENT PRACTICES FROM A VARIETY OF CULTURES. IT’S NOT JUST FOR ONE CULTURE. THE HUMAN BREATH BELONGS TO THE HUMAN BEING.” Jenée Johnson 42 mindful October 2019 the mindful interview