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Is Mindfulness For The 1%?

My journey into mindfulness began about several years ago and it was at a time in life where I was fortunate to have satisfied the basic needs in life, like shelter, food, security and community yet did not feel satisfied with life. It was triggered by a curiosity to discover and understand the self. A sense there was more to the experience of life than what I was aware of on the surface.

A mindfulness practice has blossomed in a few ways for me.

Physical awareness has been primarily through a yoga practice, which has brought me closer to my own body. I respect it far more than I once did and am mindful of what I put in it.

Emotional and mental awareness has strengthened thanks to a consistent meditation practice. Learning to become aware of my thoughts and feelings and accept them helps me respond in situations where I once would react (and usually, the response is to consciously do nothing).

Inner wisdom and clarity has been developed with a reflection practice. Morning pages (free writing) is a wonderful journaling technique and regular retreats help me zoom out.

Spiritual connection has been inspired by reading many texts combined with a deep introspection practice on how my own experience. I describe it like opening a door to a previously hidden room inside myself, and once that door is open, it’s impossible to close it.

A desire for self-actualization

Borrowing the well known framework, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a few years into my mindfulness practice I had developed inadvertently a desire for self-actualization, the highest level need we have.

Intellectually this made sense. One could only focus on actualizing the self once the basic needs were taken care of. If mindfulness was a tool to self actualization then it would would imply that mindfulness is primarily for the 1% (i.e. only 1% of the population, those with resources of time, money and social status, should be concerned with it). In encouraging friends and family to adopt mindfulness practices, the common objection I hear is ‘I don’t have the time right now’.

My experience has shown me that mindfulness is not about satisfying a higher level need on a linear hierarchy. The practice shows up for me in many everyday moments. Like when I wake up in the morning, and feel discomforts and pain in my body. Or when I’m stuck in a long security line-up at the airport and begin to feel anxious about possibly missing my flight (and the domino effect that would have on my scheduled meetings and activities). Or while I’m on a date and begin to feel more self-conscious than I normally would be. Or when it’s the end of the quarter and we haven’t achieved every single objective we set for the business.

Mindfulness builds a skill that has helped me live life with more ease, comfort (mental and emotional), control and compassion.

A skill building exercise for everyone

While I discovered mindfulness from a place of privilege, with the good fortune of having resources like time and money to explore a practice, I believe that the skills a mindfulness practice builds are far more valuable for those who unfortunately are struggling with lower level needs like shelter, food, safety and community.

I recently started volunteering with a social justice organization that brings mindfulness practices into underserved and marginalized communities. Recently, I had the opportunity to spend time with some of their teachers and clients from these communities. What I learned from their experience is that mindfulness builds confidence, dignity and strength, which gives people the courage to ask for help when dealing with addictions, the courage to leave an abusive house (be it physical or emotional) and most importantly, find hope and reduce the risk of falling into a downward spiral.

Mindfulness is not a coping mechanism for accepting a bad hand that’s been dealt to those in challenging circumstances. It is a skill building exercise that gives people additional tools to help lift themselves out of the holes they have fallen into and build a better life for themselves.

Expanding the view of self

A spiritual practice has helped me begin to expand my view of self beyond my direct physical, mental or emotional experience and feel a greater connection with other beings. This is why I’ve become passionate to help others. It is not to feel better about myself but to take care of an expanded self.

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