How 15 Years of Meditation Has Transformed my Life
[This is a transcript for this video, created in collaboration with bobbi & jo].
Hello, hello everyone! My name is Naya Jones, and Demetria of bobbi & jo has asked me here today to share a little bit about my experience with meditation, tips for meditation, and I’ll also close with a small meditation that’s based on a very basic in and out breath that really started me on my journey with meditation about 15 years ago.
So where to start? Where do I start? I think I want to start with that journey. I started meditating when I was the first in my family to go to college. I went to a school where I was one of the only Black students in the university. And it was challenging socially, the experience was challenging economically for my family, and I also had some personal healing that I was still going through – part of which involved my identities as a Black woman, as an African-American, as a Xicana, and kind of how to weave those together.
And so right as I started practicing meditation, and I’ll talk more about what that looked like, but right as I started practicing it, I also started reading more of Black literature. I also was exposed to the works from the Harlem Renaissance. I started reading Langston Hughes. I met Gloria Anzaldua and La Frontera, the Borderlands, for the first time. So my journey with meditation was always, always, in relationship to the racial and cultural journey that I was experiencing – and also very much in relationship to the broader racial, cultural, social justice issues taking place in the world.
That would become really important to me, because in 2008, when I woke up one morning realizing that it was time to share IN my practice with broader community, those tools – Gloria Anzaldua, Audre Lorde, Langston Hughes, Baldwin, and the actual resource of meditation itself – all of it, all of it, became the foundation for my broader meditation work with community. That’s how I met Demetria, when I was facilitating Black women’s meditation circles in the Austin, Texas area.
What is meditation though?! I keep talking about meditation, meditation, meditation. What do I mean by meditation?
As I was sitting with this beautiful question, deep question, that Demetria asked me, what came up for me is very simple. And I think a simple definition of meditation is very helpful if you’re beginning – but sometimes for me, even as I’m continuing on the meditation path. Because there’s a lot of noise around meditation right now, especially around mindfulness or transcendental or different paths or Zen. If we’re not grounded in a simple definition – if I’m not grounded in a simple definition – I can actually lose my way to the silence and the quiet that brought me to meditation in the first place.
So what is the definition? For me, a definition of meditation is simply this: focus on one thing. A focus on one thing. That’s it. The practice of focusing. That focus might be on the breath. That focus might be as in mindfulness, on kind of different sensations in the body and following those. That focus may be on a particular object or symbol. That focus may be facilitated through drumming. All of these are ways in which to focus the attention, the mind, the body, the spirit, the whole entire being.
I used to say that when I practice meditation and when I facilitated meditation with people, it was to relax. And that can be one of the outcomes of meditation. But one of the things that mindfulness work has helped me articulate is that, you don’t need to have an intention for the meditation. The focusing itself can be the work. And sometimes, I don’t know about you – all of you have been meditating for a while – but sometimes the focusing is indeed work. Inner work. Beautiful work. And sometimes meditation relaxes, we know this from research. We also know this from generations and generations of practice in different communities, in different indigenous practice, in Ayurveda, in curanderismo. We know that it can relax the body, and it relaxes my body.
What meditation also does for me is quiet and still my body. When my mind’s all over the place, when I can’t focus on a particular project – or when I don’t want to focus on a particular project or emotion or relationship in my life – meditation brings me to that stillness so that I can receive and observe what’s happening. It brings me to that stillpoint.
Meditation has also helped me - this focusing on the breath, this focusing on drumming or a symbol – has also helped me navigate the world as a Black woman. Not only from the personal perspective of what happens in everyday life and in interpersonal kinds of racism I experience or sexism, but also when I see yet another shooting in the news. When my partner and other wonderful people of color and Black folks in my life share about their challenging experiences with race and racism – among other isms. Meditation becomes a way for me to navigate, and a way for me to remember myself. Yes, there it is! Remember myself. Remembering that I am soul. Remembering that I am body. Remembering that I’m heart. Remembering that I am still alive. Yes! I love meditation work. And what has been so powerful about this path, is witnessing how for me and for others who continue to meditate in their everyday lives, how it becomes a public practice. And by that I mean not just in the sense of holding [meditation] circles, which is some of the work that I do with Black women and other historically-marginalized, resilient communities. It’s also just how we interact with family, relatives. The way in which we hold space with each other. That is the power of meditation.