As a professor of Media Studies, I often meet students who express concern about the impact of digital media on their personal lives—for example, their ability to concentrate or to form healthy, authentic relationships. Less often, but occasionally, students voice concern about the torrent of images and less-than-trustworthy “news” they encounter online, and its impact on their ability to engage effectively as citizens. In fact, helping students make connections between the personal and collective dimensions of digital culture is one of the most important, and most difficult, responsibilities I face in the classroom.
It is often said that we teach what we need to learn. Nowhere in my teaching career have I found this to be more the case than in my creation and implementation of a new course for our university’s curriculum titled, Sociology of the Body.
Art-making, like any other activity can be contemplative, with a mindful disposition. I have been working with mixed-medium painting that layers narratives and invites a first person journey deep into my experiences. From those inner journeys, I am able to gather insights about self in relation to other, privileges, ways in which our life experiences shape our understanding of oppression, resistance, justice, and liberation.
This activity helps students see the significance of partial perspectives; that every one of them sees the world through a particular lens, a lens that is shaped by their identity location. We get a more complete story by placing them in dialogue with one another.
This Body Scan Meditation will help us become aware of the sensations we hold in our bodies. Like most meditations, the idea is to witness without judgment. In a Body Scan Meditation, we also learn to work with our breath, which yoga philosophy calls prana. By directing our breath to particular places throughout our body, we can become more aware of what we are experiencing and learn to soften certain sensations.
Before we can truly work with the intense responses that arise when discussion and dismantling oppression, we have to first become very familiar with our own reactions. Often, we have "gut" responses without really being aware of what is happening, which makes it difficult to respond intentionally. This Mindfulness Check-In is a short practice designed to help us become aware of our responses in any given moment.
Research shows that mindfulness practices help us focus, give us greater control over our emotions, and increase our capacity to think clearly and act with purpose. Might mindfulness assist police and other public servants in minimizing the mistaken judgments that lead to such harms? Might they help the rest of us—professors and deliverymen alike—minimize our biases as well?
If you haven’t heard: it has been a challenging year to inhabit a Black body as social media and cyber-activism have allowed us to witness the ongoing assaults against Black bodies on American streets, in parks, in the aisles of big-box stores, during traffic stops and in an array of public and private spaces.
There’s a scene in the movie Garden State where Natalie Portman’s character exclaims, “You’re really in it” as Zach Braff portrays someone beginning to feel more sentient coming out of a long-term, lithium-induced haze. This phrase, to me, serves as enthusiastic recognition of someone working the space between the anxiety of existence and sheer exhilaration of being alive.
Deep listening is a contemplative practice that assists us with dropping our habitual story lines so that we can genuinely engage with other people and the world around us. It is a practice of listening with an open mind, suspending our tendency to immediately label, analyze, critique, or organize the information that we are receiving. It is a more experiential approach to hearing in which we don’t just hear what the voice is saying, we hear the quality of the voice itself.
In my PhD capstone methods course, I was introduced to photovoice, a visual research methodology that is used to visually capture another’s perspective by commissioning individuals to go out and capture their own lives in a meaningful, visual way. Photovoice is an emancipatory method at its roots, used to help highlight the voices of those who are often silenced in society—victims of domestic violence (Frohmann, 2005), those with a disability (Thoutenhoofd, 1997), people of color (Douglas, 1998), LGBTQ-identified individuals (Santurri, 2014), the elderly (Baker & Wang, 2006), and more.
Watch Professor Rhonda Magee's powerful keynote talk at the "Meeting the World" conference hosted by The Center for Mindfulness in the Spring, 2015. In her presentation, she both leads us through practices to sit with discomfort and find some grounding and explains why these practices are so critical to both dismantling systems of oppression and healing from them.