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Introduction to Mindfulness and Trauma & Social Justice

Introduction of the themes of Trauma and Social Justice, and how that impacts the field of Mindfulness
Greetings and welcome. To very many people, the practice of mindfulness takes place in a relatively clear space. That is mindfulness often feels like a kind of refuge for us tucked away from the more general concerns of politics, economics, culture, and society. Indeed, for some of us, this clear space is exactly why we feel the practice can be supportive and resourcing. One of the things that attracts people to mindfulness is the idea that it is somehow free or at least separate from these worldly concerns, and that practicing it might somehow free us from those concerns too even if only momentarily. Yet, just like any other kind of activity in which we might participate, mindfulness is not free of the world.
In fact, just like everything else, it is intricately entangled. In our module about society and politics, for instance, we’ve already seen how mindfulness sits in complex relationships with commercialism and commodification, and capitalism, especially in its more contemporary construct mindfulness forms, which often very deliberately engage in those commercial spaces. In this module, we’re going to consider some of the other entanglements in which we might find mindfulness today. In particular, we’re going to explore two really important areas. First, because it’s not the case that everyone who comes to mindfulness comes with the same background or history, we’re going to look at the interactions between mindfulness and trauma.
The field of trauma-informed and trauma-sensitive mindfulness has become tremendously important over the last few years. Not only but also in the context of a burgeoning commercial mindfulness industry that seems to be largely insensitive to such concerns. Second, because it’s not the case that mindfulness exists in a world without socioeconomic, gender, racial, ableist or even aesthetic prejudices. Indeed, because mindfulness is as intertwined with these issues of privileges, anything else, we’re going to explore some of the interactions between mindfulness and social justice. One thing we’ll discover is that mindfulness is a site in which trauma and social justice interact.
Indeed, consistent exposure to prejudice, discrimination, and bigotry, including simply by living in systems and structures that maintain and non-maintained by such forces can lead to individuals and communities carrying traumatic stress with them, whether they’re aware of this or not. Now again, research into this area has taken on new urgency over the last 18 months or so, especially in the period after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on the 25th of May 2020, and the terrible anti-Asian violence in Atlanta in March 21. These horrific events encouraged many to reflect more seriously, more honestly and critically on the ways in which explicit and also systematic and systemic racism functions in all aspects of our societies, not only in the US.
Mindfulness is not a special case, we must do the work to uncover and reveal the possibilities of violence being done on our cushions. In order to explore these important and difficult issues, I’m really pleased to be joined by a range of fantastic colleagues. For instance, you’ll meet a pioneer of trauma informed meditation practices, Elizabeth Stanley, he’s worked intensively with military veterans in PTSD. We’re also joined by the remarkable Sydney Spears whose work on mindfulness, diversity and inclusivity has been so important and influential. Susan Woods and Pat Rockman return in this module to discuss questions of accessibility and diversity in mindfulness classes.
Dharma teacher, Dawn Scott offers some reflections on the experience of diversity and trauma, and insight meditation, and the indigenous Scholar Jeff Corntassel reflects on the hurdles to inclusivity and alternative ways of knowing. Many came for these fantastic teachers to offer their insights in their own words. So my role in this module will rather be humble and modest. Alongside these colleagues, I will offer just two sessions here. The first, we’ll outline some of the issues around trauma and mindfulness, including some strategies to help make our practices more trauma-sensitive. Then the second, we’ll outline some of the issues around mindfulness and social justice, including systemic racism and anti-Asianism in particular, and some strategies that we might adopt to address these.
For those who are interested, we also include in this module some of the audio podcasts that we made over the last 18 months in response to the tragic events in the USA. I hope you find this useful.
While there is a tendency today to view mindfulness as somehow sealed off from the rest of society, like a kind of ‘clean space’ or refuge in which we might sit to shelter from the social, political, economic, and cultural turmoil around us, mindfulness is actually just as entangled in these forces as anything else.
Over the last few years, an increasing body of research has started to explore some of the ways in which these social forces and personal histories impact on the experience of mindfulness practice. Such research shows that the field of mindfulness cannot assume that everyone sits onto the same cushion in the same room. And some people just might not have a cushion at all.
Hence, this module explores the intersections between mindfulness and trauma, as well as mindfulness, privilege, prejudice, and oppression. Here we see that mindfulness is not free of concerns about racism, sexism, ableism or other forms of systemic discrimination. Nonetheless, perhaps mindfulness contains some seeds to help us confront these social ills?
Leiden University


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Demystifying Mindfulness

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