When contemplating our practices of peace, whatever they may be, meditation may strike many as cliché, as a practice reserved for mystics and zealots, as a fad in battling the stresses of modern living. For years I regarded meditation as an act that required far more concentration and the ability to tune out my own thoughts and “clear my mind” than I believed I was capable of.
It wasn’t until I began to explore who I truly am and what I am truly intended to do in this life that meditation began to make a lot more sense. This period of my life has been marked by long backpacking trips across the American Southwest, weekly celebrations of life at the Agape International Spiritual Center in Los Angeles, and of course, moving across the world into a rural village in eastern Uganda to begin my work in women’s empowerment and health.
I now spend each day watching women create, sustain and nurture life through gardening, cooking, cleaning, taking care of every child, taking care of children that are not even theirs, maintaining their homes inside and out. Then I watch their husbands come home (whichever wife’s home he may be at that night), some of them drunk, all of them entering into a home they consider to be theirs because they own the property, and a good number of them treating their wives like property who are there to do their bidding (and I never forget how common this reality is for women all over the world, certainly back home). Sure there are good men, but the problems I see each day are simply astounding.
I engage in discussions about gender equality and the failure to prioritize women’s health, and I have to keep my temper at bay when I hear boys, and men, decree that women are “below” them and are thus not capable of the same status as men. I see an ongoing struggle for women in this community that is as daunting as it is inspiring. I walk home each day, unable to shake the frustration and the ostensible futility in trying to change the perspectives of the men that continue to hold women back. That frustration brings tears to my eyes, as I’m sure it does to billions of people all over the world, and it is on days like these that my practices of peace become paramount.
It’s a 2-minute walk between my own backdoor and a very peaceful garden at the banks of the Nile River. The perfect place to sit, legs crossed, back straight and aligned, but relaxed, eyes closed or gazing softly at the setting sun, hands in a prayerful mudra at my heart center, and let my mind enter into a meditative state. Though it wasn’t until this recent chapter of my life that I realized a very simple truth: meditation does not require an empty mind, it requires a mind full and willing to be open to any thoughts that may cross it.
Meditation is simply an act of mindfulness.
It’s about being mindful of the thoughts and worries that dominate our minds and viewing them in a peaceful and focused way in order to break through to novel and proactive thought patterns. It’s about being mindful of the bright spots of the day – the positive outliers – while learning from our perceived failures. It’s being mindful that each moment can be viewed for the ultimate good it has the potential to offer us, even after it has passed. It’s about ultimately knowing that the only failure in life is the failure to be mindful of and to radiate the good we see all around us in every moment.
So I spend each day mindful of the fact that my ability to be here and engage in these seemingly insurmountable challenges is a blessing, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity not to be wasted. And that is a fact that I meditate on each and every day, whether sitting in lotus position along the banks of the river, or riding on the back of a boda boda, or simply walking through the village on the way home from work.
We have the choice to be mindful. We have the choice to watch the sun rise and set every single day. We have the choice to meditate. We have the choice to nourish our souls with deep and profound explorations of Self, of peace and of stillness. We have the choice to nourish our bodies with good food and exercise, whether we’re too tired to run, or too tired to run to the market for something green and not saturated with oil. We have the choice to nourish our hearts by not isolating ourselves when drenched with sorrow, but surrounding ourselves with the love and wisdom our friends and family have to offer us in all life’s most difficult times. We have the choice to nourish our minds with good work or art that requires us to innovate and create, with stimulating and uplifting music that inspires us to create even more, with books and writing that force us to stare our frustrations and challenges straight in the eye to try to understand how to learn from them, and grow through them.
Life is an infinite cascade of choices crammed into one fleeting moment after another. In each one, we have the choice to be mindful of all the good that moment has to offer us, and what it has to offer for the world we live in.