Is There a Role for Meditation in the Fight for Social Justice?

Category: Love & Compassion Meditation | Types of Meditation

Meditation can give you perspective on social justice

Meditation Can Make You Less Personally Biased

Meditation is a deeply personal practice, and yet it has an important role to play in our interpersonal experience and the fight for social justice. Contrary to what some might think, mindfulness isn’t at odds with taking action. In fact authentic meditation practices inspire and prepare us to work for real change in the world.

Mindfulness and Personal Bias

Each of us lives with personal biases that are so ingrained, they’re difficult to notice. Meditation and mindfulness may not completely eliminate the tendency to color our observations with our own past experiences, but it’s a very good place to start.

To do the work of anti-racism and to work towards equal rights and opportunities we must be willing and able to listen, self-reflect and consider the unintended consequences of our behaviors. A deeper capacity for mindfulness can help us recognize reactive emotions and when and how we make assumptions that perpetuate systemic inequities.

Meditation and Non-Harming

Among the Buddha’s most significant teachings is the 4 Noble Truths. Consistent meditation practice leads us to the direct realization of these truths. We become aware that there is great suffering in the world, but suffering is caused and we have the ability to end it.

In part, we cause our own suffering by acting mindlessly. By reacting habitually to the world around us, we’re likely to harm others and thereby ourselves. With meditation, we’re able to transform habitual reactions into mindful responses, thereby causing less harm. We can work with this realization on a personal level, and can apply it on a relational and systemic level too.

Understanding Interconnection

Among the outcomes of meditation is the realization of interdependence. The world we perceive is dependent on the perceiver, and vice versa. Understanding that all things are connected naturally fosters greater compassion and more mindful relationships . When we realize our own wellbeing is dependent on the wellbeing of all others we become more willing to work on behalf of others.

The false premise of compassion fatigue is only made possible by a world view in which we see ourselves as separate. A worldview based on interconnectedness means yes, we’re the cause of our own suffering, but by working to relieve the suffering of others, we also soften our own.

Meditation is Self-Care

Working towards social justice is long-term work. Like most things that are worthy of a lifetime of effort, it can be frustrating and extremely exhausting. A daily meditation practice allows us to periodically pause, replenish our energy, balance our nervous system, and gather the courage we need to return to this urgent mission.

True self-care is not selfish, but practiced with the understanding that efforts in self-improvement make us better equipped to do the work that improves the lives of others.

Meditation And Social Justice

Real change occurs when we strike the proper balance between working on ourselves and working within relationships and structural systems. Meditation, while a powerful personal practice, is not about sitting in some quiet place, escaping our current reality. Rather, meditation and social justice go hand in hand. Meditation allows us to become even more intimately connected to the truth of our circumstances, our relationships, and the roles we play within our communities.

Meditation, too, is interconnected. It cannot be removed from the cultural context in which it currently exists. Because of this, we might mistakenly make use of meditation to perpetuate systems of inequality. Meditation for personal gain or fame, increased productivity, as an escape, or even as a simple means of stress relief can serve to help us adjust to inequities, versus inspiring us to transform them. At its worst, this misunderstanding of the purpose of meditation can lead to toxic positivity and spiritual bypassing.

An authentic practice develops wisdom and compassion versus complacency. As such, the time we spend in meditation as individuals provides us with the motivation and energy to move back into the world and take action, facing injustice with mindfulness, greater skill and care.

About the Author: Sara-Mai Conway

Sara-Mai Conway writes articles about Buddhist meditation based on her practice and experience
Sara-Mai Conway is a writer, yoga and meditation instructor living and working in Baja California Sur, Mexico. Her writing and teachings are informed by her personal practice and Buddhist studies. When not at her desk, she can be found teaching donation-based community classes in her tiny, off-grid hometown on the Pacific Coast. Learn more about Sara-Mai Conway here.

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