Free Your Mind: Mindfulness and Meditation

In my October post Watch Your Mouth!: Self-Care Through Self-Affirmation I provided a few tips on how to affirm yourself to stay grounded and centered in the midst of social upheaval and general chaos. This month, I’d like to continue this discussion with an emphasis on mindfulness and meditation to help you free your mind.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a form of meditation that invites individuals to detach from external stimuli and be present with and for themselves. Mindfulness can involve breathing techniques or guided meditations. It can also be movement based through fusing meditation with yoga, Tai Chi, or other sports. It is important to note that mindfulness and meditation do not require you to change who you are to practice it. In fact, as you begin living a more mindful lifestyle, you may find out more about who you are and gifts that you had locked away, or traumas that need to be uprooted and addressed.

What are the Benefits of Mindfulness and Meditation?

Taking time to check in with yourself is one of the most important things you can do for your health. By taking brief moments throughout the day, or even a dedicated time once per week, some stress related health issues can be avoided, or the risk diminished. Let’s look at some of the other benefits.

  1. Stress Relief: Mindfulness and meditation help relieve stress because it’s a way to take a break from the chaos of your daily life. The world privileges grind culture and treats us like machines which we are not. It’s okay to understand that your capacity has limits, and meditation is one way to step away and reset when it has been reached.
  2. Helps with Anxiety and Depression: A large percentage of society is impacted by anxiety and/or depression. Whether the anxiety and/or depression are seasonal or chronic, mindfulness and meditation can help alleviate the symptoms. Of course, these techniques should be used in conjunction with other treatment options depending upon the severity of the anxiety and/or depression. Mindfulness and meditation can help alleviate certain symptoms because in checking in with yourself, and detaching for a moment, it enables to you calm down and discern the root of whatever triggered the anxiety and/or depressive episode if it is situational. If it is not situational, these practices can still help you recharge after an episode.
  3. Improves Concentration: Since mindfulness and meditation require a level of focus, these practices help you learn to filter out background noise efficiently.
  4. Keeps You Physically Fit: When mindfulness and meditation are fused with sports and other movement practices, you’re able to care for your body and mind simultaneously.
  5. Helps Unlock Creativity: If you are feeling blocked, try meditating and you’ll be surprised to see the ideas begin easily flowing.

How to Begin a Mindful, Meditative Lifestyle

  1. Determine which type of mindfulness and/or meditation works best for your lifestyle. I personally enjoy meditating with crystals (check back next month for my article on the healing properties of crystals) and also through practicing the afro-Brazilian martial art Capoeira. Others enjoy meditating outside barefoot to connect to the earth’s energy. Some prefer traditional meditation. There is no wrong or right way to be mindful.
  2. Begin! Mindfulness and meditation are more than just trendy buzz words, they are things that we are all inherently capable of doing if we give ourselves permission to stop for a moment and be present differently.

Self-care isn’t selfish, take time to check in with yourself. To paraphrase En Vogue, free your mind; rest, healing, and so much more will follow!

Watch Your Mouth! Self-Care Through Self-Affirmation

We have made it to the fourth quarter of 2020! With only three months of this year to go, many are feeling emotionally and existentially tired. With things running together on what seems like a continuous feedback loop, many may have fallen off their usual self-care routines. The fourth quarter is where games are won and lost but, in the words of Ms. Lauryn Hill, “how you gonna win when you ain’t right within?” Practicing self-care in your usual ways, traveling, going to the gym, attending family events, may not be practical right now. In a climate rife with complaints and murmuring, the easiest way to maintain self-care, and remain in balance, is through the practice of affirmations.

What Is Self-Affirmation?

Self-Affirmation is the process of speaking life into yourself. It is using your own ashe (divine energy) to shape your circumstances and reality around you. It’s not just positive thinking, thought that is part of it. To affirm yourself means to speak life over yourself from a standpoint of truly wanting to see those things come to pass. Affirmations also aren’t wishful thinking either. The affirmation needs to have actionable intention behind it. For example, if you are affirming that you are a top scholar, you have to do more than just declare that over yourself, you have to do the work and study. Words are the starting point, consistency brings it home.

What If I Don’t Believe the Affirmation?

Of course, believing the affirmation makes it all the more powerful, but as Donald Lawrence and the Tri-City Singers remind listeners, sometimes you just have to encourage yourself. You don’t always have to feel in the mood to affirm yourself though generally, it’s when you’re feeling down that you may need it the most. If you are having trouble speaking positively over yourself, there are a few ways to go about shifting that paradigm.

  1. Therapy. For numerous reasons, within the Black community going to therapy is seen as weak or ineffective. There was a meme on social media that stated essentially that many are exhausted from trying to pray their way through things they needed to seek help for. Self-affirmation can be placed in this context as well. Sometimes, you need a licensed professional to help you understand the root causes of self-esteem issues and other troublesome patterns of behavior. Once you’ve dealt with the root, you can then begin to plant a new harvest.
  2. Enlist the Help of Friends/Family. If you don’t feel that you are able to encourage yourself, try and see if you have family or friends who would be willing to offer you words of affirmation on a fairly consistent basis. Some people need to have things externalized before they internalize them. If that is you, get an affirmation buddy and make it reciprocal. You affirm them, they affirm you, and you build one another and by extension communities.
  3. Meditate. Sometimes it may not be that you have an issue believing the affirmations. Your mind may just be too cluttered with the minutiae of life. Take a moment, or several, to ground yourself and align yourself to receive positivity. For more information on meditation and mindfulness, check back in November!

How to Begin Self-Care Through Self-Affirmation

There is no wrong or right way to affirm and care for yourself. But if you are looking for some starting points, here are some suggestions.

  1. Scriptures, Proverbs, and Parables. Regardless of what spiritual system you subscribe to, if you subscribe to one at all, proverbs and parables abound. They also are prevalent outside of a spiritual context. Though many may find organized religion problematic, there are some gems contained in the Bible, Torah, Koran, Odu Ifa, the teachings of Ptahhotep, et al. that can start as the basis of your affirmation list.
  2. Music. Music is powerful with a specific energy. If you need affirmations on the go, try looking for it in music. Some personal recommendations are any album by India.Arie.
  3. What needs to change? Another starting point is by looking at what things need to change, or what things have died in your life. Once you are able to identify these items, you can move forward to speak life into them and build yourself up.
  4. Social Media. Social media is usually seen as harmful to one’s sense of self. However, there are a few accounts that are great at providing affirmations. Two accounts to follow on Instagram are: @thenapministry and @blackselfcaretalk.

Whichever method you choose to begin, the important part is to get started. Start setting your foundation for 2021 now. Happy affirming!

But Did You Sage First? Clearing and Cleansing for an Energetic Reset

As we head into the end of the third quarter of the year, it is clear to see that 2020 is still unrelenting. Many are trying to process compounded trauma and grief in the midst of “unprecedented and uncertain times.” Between increased, publicized, instances of police brutality and Black death, a pandemic that requires quasi-isolation (or complete isolation for some), Zoom fatigue, and loss, both personal and communal, people are carrying a lot. In the words of Erykah Badu:

Bag Lady you gone hurt your back

Dragging all them bags like that

I guess nobody ever told you

All you must hold onto, is you

Bag Lady

Even though things are a bit haywire right now, before you can rush into dealing with the world, it’s imperative that you first check in with yourself. As people are turning to holistic wellness, it’s important to remember, you can’t meditate or manifest in a tainted atmosphere.

How to Sage Your Home:

Photo by Jason Reyes for Living Artist Project

Sage is an herb that is used as a cleansing agent that purifies the air and dispels negative energy. Sage can also be used to assist with meditation and checking in with oneself spiritually. To sage, the basic steps are as follows:

  1. Determine what type of sage you need. The most common type of sage that people use for cleansing is white sage. Make sure that you have a bowl to put the sage in – safety first.
  2. Once you select the sage, take a few leaves from the bundle, and place it in the bowl. Most people burn the entire bundle of sage and while that is still effective, it is better to burn small amounts of the sage to preserve the life of it.
  3. After you light the sage, blow out the flames once it begins to produce smoke. Once the sage is smoking you can either leave it in the specific room you are trying to cleanse, or you can walk the sage around the house for a top to bottom cleansing.
  4. As you are cleansing the house with sage, don’t remain silent! This is the perfect time to explain exactly what you are asking the sage to clear out. Words carry weight, speak up about what is lingering in your house that is no longer serving you.
  5. Make sure to open a window and/or door while working with sage. You don’t want to stir up the negative energies but have no place to dispel them to. My recommendation is that as you conclude working with the sage, open the front door and let the smoke out. After this is done, make sure to welcome the positivity and blessings that you are hoping to attract.
  6. Don’t forget to sage yourself! When saging yourself, start from the crown of your head and work your way down. Make sure to affirm and speak over yourself. Also, don’t forget to lift up your feet to sage under them.

If you wear or keep crystals and tumbled stones in the house, saging them is a way to cleanse them so that they are ready to fulfill their purpose and intention.

Other Ways to Cleanse:

Not everyone enjoys the smell of sage but still believe in the importance of cleansing. If you don’t want to use sage, but still want to elevate the vibrations of your space, try a few of the following methods:

Photo by Jason Reyes for Living Artist Project
  1. Cleanse with Florida Water. Florida Water can be found online and at most Botanicas. It is believed to have spiritual properties that enable the person being cleansed to be stripped of the negative energies they carry. It is a more superficial cleaning, but it’s a start until deep cleaning can be undertaken. To cleanse with Florida water, it’s important to apply it first and foremost to the head, because it is the head that carries the record of what’s troubling you. Florida Water can also be added to your laundry or other household cleaning products for increased effect.
  2. Cleanse with Rose Water. Rose Water is similar in function to Florida Water. For added benefits, use the water directly from the Rose of Jericho which is a resurrection plant. When using the Rose of Jericho rose water, as you cleanse you can also call into being those items that have become stagnant in your life.
  3. Take a Spiritual Bath. Spiritual baths are a deeper cleansing and can vary based on the impetus for the bath. Ingredients for a spiritual bath can be found online or discussed via a consultation/spiritual reading.

This is just an initial entry into the basics of cleansing. With four months left of the year, it’s time to lay down the burdens that the first eight month have placed upon you. Let’s raise our energy levels and honor ourselves by honoring our space.

Reclaiming the Self: A Return to Ancestral Wisdom

The Black church is currently experiencing an exodus of its millennials who are seeking community and spiritual fulfillment elsewhere. Research conducted by the Pew Research Center stated that four out of ten millennials are likely to claim no religious affiliation (Cox, 2019). It is assumed that those who are leaving the church are becoming atheist or agnostic, however, this is not necessarily the case. As the church experiences an exodus, many millennials are finding their genesis in traditional African spiritual systems and the wisdom of their Ancestors.

What are African Spiritual Systems?

African spiritual systems are those that predate the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and were practiced on the African continent prior to European colonization. While the spiritual tradition varies dependent upon where one is on the continent, two that are most widely known throughout the diaspora are Ifá and Vodun. The practice of both systems has been vilified throughout history, but particularly after the Haitian Revolution because during the Haitian Revolution, an important Vodun ceremony took place at Bois Caimen that helped assist the enslaved Africans defeat and drive away their French colonizers. The vilification and demonization of these systems has helped ensure that diasporic Africans remain disconnected from their Ancestors, and therefore themselves. Though the systems may vary, there are a few key elements that translate between them.

Ancestral Veneration: It is often assumed that in African spiritual systems, people are worshiping those who have transitioned. To venerate means to pay homage to and show deep respect for someone or something. The Ancestors are given a high level of respect because they are their descendants’ first line of defense, and a connection to the spiritual realm. They are able to help guide and direct their descendants, as well as keep them from harm or unwise decisions. It should be noted that all cultures have a form of Ancestral veneration but may not realize it. For example, when going into an elder’s home, you may see that they have a collection of obituaries on their mantle, and photos of the transitioned all throughout their home. Though they may balk at the idea of setting up an Ancestor altar, they are engaging in a form of ancestral acknowledgement. Additionally, when one “pours one out for the homies,” it is a libation used to honor those that are no longer physically present. Elements of the African worldview and thought process are syncretized into modern day practices, often without a true understanding of where the traditions originate from.

Belief in a Divine Creator: African spirituality is often viewed as polytheistic due to the presence of Orisha (Ifá) or Loa (Vodun), who practioners can work with and call upon. However, there is still the belief in a singular Divine Creator who is not assigned a gender and is considered to encompass both genders.

Divination: In Christianity and Islam, one of the primary tenants is faith. However, African spiritual systems include divinatory abilities. Practioners do not have to guess if they are in alignment, making good decisions, or moving in purpose. With the ability to divine on a matter, practioners are able to move throughout the world in a more effective manner with a certainty that what they are doing is correct, or that what they are doing will lead towards harm.

“Bevier Pot” by Adrienne Cacitti for Living Artist Project

Why is Returning to Ancestral Wisdom Important?

2020 has shifted everything, including worldviews and ideologies. This time of quarantine and social distancing has allowed many to sit with themselves for the first time in years, or first time ever. During this time of sitting with oneself, many have come to realize that the ideologies and expressions of self they were taught to hate and fear, might hold the key to their wellbeing. The Ancestors are our first line of defense, as such, it is necessary to be still and listen to what they are trying to teach us. We cannot claim to be their wildest dreams if we are not taking heed to their advice, or diminishing their practices. It’s not enough to rally against systemic anti-Blackness if one does not address internalized anti-Blackness that is present through the demonization of one’s own traditions. Regardless if one chooses to participate in an African spiritual system, it should be understood that there are alternative epistemologies, and wisdom to be gained.