Like many others who have followed the news out of cities like Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore, Chicago, Baton Rouge, and Minneapolis in recent years, meditation teacher and acupuncturist Mona Chopra has thought extensively about police violence and race relations in the United States.
“I kept having this feeling of ‘What can I do?’” Chopra told Tricycle. “There have been so many emotional reactions over what has been going on, not just now, but throughout history. I wanted to do something where people can come together in community.”
At the same time that Chopra was feeling a strong pull to take action, artist Simone Leigh was planning the opening of “The Waiting Room,” her new exhibition at the New Museum in New York City. Leigh, who is known for her sculptures and video installations, explores the experiences of black women in terms of health, wellness, and self-care throughout “The Waiting Room.” Visitors also have the opportunity to attend several “care sessions” that are held inside the museum. The sessions include massage therapy, opportunities to learn about healing herbs, community acupuncture, and a guided meditation for Black Lives Matter.
“Simone contacted me a few weeks prior to the opening of “The Waiting Room” to say, ‘Hey, are you interested in doing a meditation for Black Lives Matter?’ It was very synchronistic,” Chopra said.
Chopra decided to focus her guided meditations on metta—a concentration practice centered on sending lovingkindness to yourself and others.
“In this climate, it can be so easy to polarize, then to further polarize, and to feel like it’s always ‘us versus them,’” Chopra pointed out. “When we do that, we are hardening our hearts. We are furthering closed-mindedness. In that way, metta can really be a powerful tool to keep us connected where we usually shut down.”
One of the reasons Chopra thinks her metta meditations have been particularly successful is that as the meditation progresses and the circle of inclusion widens, the practice becomes more challenging. “I can easily offer my love to my 4-year-old niece, but it might be more difficult to do that for someone I buy groceries from,” Chopra said. “It’s harder still when you have to offer love to a politician who says things that are totally ludicrous.”
In keeping with traditional metta practice, Chopra begins her meditations by urging followers to offer their love to people they’d naturally express those feelings to before working their way to more challenging offerings. “The way I’ve been leading it is beginning by specifically naming groups of people Black Lives Matter activists are talking about, people who have been killed by police, but also to law enforcement officers who may have lost their way.”
Chopra said she can feel the emotion in the room as the meditators begin to include challenging people. “There’s been a gravity to this,” Chopra said. “It’s been really quiet. Some attendees have never meditated before—there’s just been a really beautiful quality to it.”
These offerings are not the easiest to give—even for Chopra. During the original planning phases, she initially debated leaving the offerings to the perpetrators of violence out.
“I had to check myself,” she said, becoming emotional. “I thought about skipping it. I asked, ‘Can I offer it to people who have been involved in this violence?’ But I wanted to push past the edges of my comfort zone. Skipping it would really seem like making someone an ‘other.’ That is someone’s son or daughter. That person is a product of a racist society.”
As she did more meditation sessions, Chopra felt assured that she made the right decision. “I could feel the resistance, but that is why we do the practice. If we only do it toward people in our hearts, we won’t move forward.”
Simone Leigh’s “The Waiting Room” will be on display at the New Museum through September 18, 2016.
The New Museum’s next Meditation for Black Lives Matter will be held on Saturday, August 27, 2016. To RSVP, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with “Meditation” and the requested session date in the subject line. All sessions will be led by Mona Chopra, except for those occurring on July 23, August 27, and September 17, which will be led by Aimee Meredith Cox.
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