Lately, I have been examining how I show up in the world.
I desire to practice anti-racism in all areas of my life, and as a student of conscious creation, one area that I’m examining is the world of spiritual wellness. I decided that I cannot continue building my presence in this space without acknowledging some things I’m currently wrestling with regarding spiritual wellness and cultural appropriation.
The Aligned Actor™ platform is in its foundational stages, and I want to cultivate a high level of self-reflection and a willingness to adjust early on so that my voice in this space can always reflect my truest intentions and the highest good of all.
I have been working through the book Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad, and wrestling with myself in each reflective journaling prompt. The chapter entitled “You and Cultural Appropriation” led me to question all the spiritual wellness practices that I use and enjoy sharing with others. Saad also has two blog posts specifically addressing spiritual white women and our duty to combat white supremacy. I highly encourage you to read them.
***Please note, I am sharing my own journey and self-reflections. I do not intend any of this as a call out of anyone. My intention with this post is purely to invite other people to engage in their own reflection. I am still at the very beginning of this journey. I am certain that there are many more practices to examine and question, but here is where my mind has lead me first based on the practices I engage most.
When I first questioned the cultural appropriation of meditation I thought, “Okay, well, meditation may come from the east as a spiritual practice, but science now tells us that it’s a beneficial health practice for everyone!”
Upon further reflection though I realized that I know next to nothing about the religious and cultural origins of meditation. Furthermore, my thought “science now tells us meditation is a beneficial health practice” is an example of western, white supremacist culture putting its stamp of approval on a practice that at one time was dismissed and denigrated. Today it’s trendy to meditate, but only because it’s now been approved of by, and practiced by, a lot of white people.
Additionally, it’s mostly white people who are profiting off the commodification of meditation and mindfulness. While researching, I found articles from Vice and Glamour UK all about the cultural appropriation and commodification of many spiritual wellness practices. Both are excellent and presented for you below.
How Wellness Got Whitewashed (Glamour UK)
I am now wrestling with the idea that meditation has been culturally appropriated and commodified. Personally, I do not feel the need to give up my own meditation practice on the whole. Quieting my mind for ten minutes does not harm anyone. Additionally, further study of the history and spiritual aspects of various forms of meditation may help to deepen my appreciation of it and make it even more powerful for me.
What I definitely need to change though is the way in which I may one day profit from this practice. I am creating online courses for The Aligned Actor™ brand, and wanted to include some guided meditations as a fun and helpful resource for people. But now I no longer feel comfortable calling something I’ve created a “meditation.” I know far too little about the origins of meditation, and now at least a little bit more about the cultural appropriation of it.
Additionally, one of the types of “meditation” I was creating centered around forgiveness, which lead me to examine and question a forgiveness meditation I had been taught: The Ho’oponopono Prayer of Forgiveness.
The Ho’oponopono is a spiritual practice from ancient Hawaii. I knew that I couldn’t lead people in this meditation prayer because I am not Hawaiian, and I have only ever been guided through it a handful of times. Oh, and I learned it from a white person, not a native Hawaiian. So yeah, creating a guided piece leading people through The Ho’oponopono was a definite no for me.
I thought about incorporating my favorite parts of the prayer into my own original piece, but quickly realized that was perhaps even worse than just sharing the prayer itself. I would have been literally engaging in white-washing by striping a spiritual practice of its cultural context and sacred meaning. Double no.
In the end, I wrote my own forgiveness piece. I wrote what I would want to experience being guided through a moment of reconciliation with another person. I also wrote a few other guided pieces and for now I’m calling them “guided visualizations” as they invite the listener to imagine things in their mind, rather than fully quiet their mind or repeat a mantra. Is this enough? I’m not sure. I’m still considering and evaluating.
Oh, and speaking of the word “mantra”…
I had recently started a "Mantra Monday" practice in The Aligned Actor™ Community on Facebook. I wanted a fun way to start the week and engage people around the idea of picking a phrase to keep in mind for the days ahead.
But then, as I engaged in my reflection, I started thinking about where the word “mantra” comes from and what it actually means versus what it has come to mean in western culture.
I Googled the word “mantra” and up popped this:
noun: mantra; plural noun: mantra
(originally in Hinduism and Buddhism) a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation.
a statement or slogan repeated frequently.
And from vocabulary.com: Mantra comes from a Sanskrit word meaning a “sacred message or text, charm, spell, counsel.”
Hmmm. So, in my Monday mantra posts I was clearly using the word within the context of the second entry (a statement or slogan repeated frequently), but I was also desiring to use it to bring my thoughts back to a positive place of concentration, much like a mantra used in meditation. Hmm, indeed.
In the end, given my overall level of ignorance regarding the spiritual meaning and practice of mantras, I decided it no longer feels appropriate for me use the word so casually. Even if my intent is to use the second definition that has become widely used in western culture, to me that is still problematic given that the secular definition of “mantra” appears to be born out of the cultural appropriation and westernization of the Sanskrit word. So, yeah, it’s not for me anymore.
At first I thought, “Oh no! I really liked my 'Mantra Monday' posts because I love alliteration and it was a fun way to engage with people! Wahhh!” But, ultimately, this was an extremely minor inconvenience. I challenged myself to get creative, to look at the heart of what I wanted from those posts, and to find a better way.
Fortunately, it was pretty easy to change things up while still honoring my same overall goals. I now post my “centering thought” for the week. A little change that did nothing to dismantle systemic racism and white supremacy, but it feels better and more authentic to me and how I want to show up in the world.
I’m still working through Saad’s book, but I believe this is part of “the work” she wants me to do - reflecting and questioning how I show up in the world and being willing to make adjustments as needed. This is just the start. I have some other thoughts in this space that I’m still wrestling with, but my inner being is telling me those are separate posts.
To be continued…