America is in a time of unprecedented mental health challenges. Many different cultures developed mindfulness techniques over millennia, and now, more people are embracing them for physical and mental health. On this episode of “Our Body Politic,” host and creator Farai Chideya digs into the what and how of mindfulness, how Black women and women of color are centering themselves, and the creative inner workings of artists creating music-rich meditations for mindfulness.
Farai Chideya [00:00:04] Hi, folks. We are so glad that you're listening to Our Body Politic. If you haven't yet, remember to follow this podcast on your podcatcher of choice, like Apple or Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. And if you have time, please leave us a review. It helps other listeners find us and we read them for your feedback. You can also reach out to us on Instagram and Twitter @OurBodyPolitic. We are here for you with you and because of you, so keep letting us know what's on your mind. We'd also love for you to join in financially supporting the show if you are able. You can find out more at OurBodyPolitic.com/donate. Thanks for listening.
Geminelle [00:00:48] My success is inevitable.
Farai Chideya [00:00:50] This is Our Body Politic. I'm Farai Chideya.
Geminelle [00:00:56] This is. Inevitable. Inevitable. Oh, I will win. Success is inevitable.
Farai Chideya [00:01:14] That was my Success Is Inevitable by singer, songwriter, producer and healer Gemini. We'll hear from Gemini later on on our show. We're looking at the what and the how of mindfulness. You yourself might already have a mindfulness practice through activities like yoga and meditation. Or maybe you've heard about it, but you're not sure it's for you. America is in a time of unprecedented mental health challenges. According to recent studies, many different cultures developed mindfulness techniques over millennia. Now more people are embracing them for physical and mental health. Joining me this week to dig into all that and more is author and Zen Priest Rev Angel Kyodo williams. Hello, Rev Angel.
Rev Angel Kyodo williams [00:01:57] Hi, how are you? Good to see you.
Farai Chideya [00:01:59] It's great to see you. We're also joined by author, psychologist and yoga therapist, Dr. Gail Parker. Hi, Dr. Parker.
Dr. Gail Parker [00:02:07] Hi, Farai. How are you?
Farai Chideya [00:02:08] I'm doing great. So let's start with you, Dr. Parker. When we think about mental health therapy is often the go to treatment if people can afford it. Let me just say, it can be expensive. So tell us about your work in healing and mindfulness beyond therapy and also how it connects with therapy.
Dr. Gail Parker [00:02:28] Well, I don't know if I can tell you about it beyond therapy, because it is part of the work that I do therapeutically. I'm a certified yoga therapist. I'm actually a yoga therapist educator, so I teach yoga teachers who want to learn how to use these practices, yoga and mindfulness therapeutically, how to do that. And one of the reasons I started doing that is because the cost of psychotherapy can be prohibitive for many, many people. The cost of being engaged in a yoga and a mindfulness practice is not as expensive. And so that's one of the reasons that I was attracted to the practice. I've been doing this for close to 50 years now. That was before there was any such thing as a yoga studio. This is around 1968 and I was in Detroit, Michigan at the time, and it was right after the Detroit city riots. And so the city was in a state of trauma. I stumbled upon this as it was at the Detroit Institute of Arts, and it was taught by a man named Mr. Black. Mr. Black wore a black suit and tie because that's how people dressed in those days. And he turned into a very gentle but meditative form of yoga. I later learned that he was actually a disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda, who wrote Autobiography of a Yogi for those people who are familiar. That was my introduction to the practice. And so I came into yoga as a contemplative practice, more than the way it's being taught now, which is for physical health and physical exercise practice. We're teaching people to be aware of their bodies, of their emotions, of their surroundings, of moment to moment, awareness without judgment. I mean, that's that's a real short definition of what mindfulness practice would be. You know, it's been well documented that it supports health and well-being holistically, not just physical health, but mental health, emotional health and physical health and well-being as well.
Farai Chideya [00:04:37] Well, Rev Angel, I want to turn to you. And I was lucky enough to get to a class once in Brooklyn. And I remember the variety of teachers from different cultural backgrounds and the strongly African-American population who came to that sangha as well as other people. It was a really special time in history. But you have moved on to the West Coast and had many adventures.
Rev Angel Kyodo williams [00:05:00] Now I'm still bi, I'm still bi coastal.
Farai Chideya [00:05:05] So tell us about your work with the Center for a Transformative Change and MNDFL.
Rev Angel Kyodo williams [00:05:10] Well, the Center for Transformative Change is not a physical center anymore, so we now call the organization Transformative Change. You know, as a Zen practitioner, Buddhism, meditation. And then I was a Kripalu graduate, so got a very well-rounded education, I think. And I really understood that we were missing something, right, particularly in our movements for justice, particularly in our social movements, to not have access to the kinds of practices that could reintegrate the very, very vigorous and energetic and aggressive work that we felt called to do. We're out there working with the things that have brought about trauma to our people, to our communities in various ways in which were marginalized but actually didn't have practices to work with whatever came up as well as to work with the way in which we were working. And so transformative social change is the term that I coined actually speaking of Detroit going through the United States Social Forum and wanting to bring about a way in which social justice movements could access contemplative practices, yoga, meditation to be more aware of our bodies, what we're experiencing, and actually be able to use the wisdom of the body that we have in order to access and have more full access to our emotional state, to our mental state, to our physical state. Then fast forward, just before COVID, I was brought in as an advisor to a company that was started by two young white millennials called MNDFL. They had three drop in meditation studios in New York. And I was really fascinated by the idea because I came out of the conventional traditions of Zen and like we did it in temples and it was, you know, a little secular meditation, but a drop-in studio was a fantastic idea. But long story short, I was advising them to begin a training program that would have more access and more reach to people. And I was toying… and this is pre-COVID with the idea that we could actually teach mindfulness practices online. We started heading out to do that, to do something that would be happening online. COVID came, the MNDFL training program that we built, I want to say was so accessible and really fantastic and organized around people that otherwise don't have access to therapeutic practices or don't see those things as safe for them as a place for them. Our training is about training people to go to train the other people in their communities and their places. And then, by the grace of our good connection, particularly with the co-founder of the original MNDFL program and the company was turned over so that I'm now leading it and I'm the CEO, I'd like to say the Chief Enlightenment Officer of the new MNDFL.
Farai Chideya [00:07:59] Let's talk a little bit about the market for mindfulness. You know, you talked about creating a business model that also is accessible. There's all sorts of mindfulness things, super fancy, high priced retreats. There's free options, religious or secular and everything in between. Where do you see the opportunities? You know, especially you Rev Angel as someone who is a CEO. Often when things become based in market, they are criticized as being diluted. How do you deal with that?
Rev Angel Kyodo williams [00:08:30] Yeah, absolutely. So coming as somebody has holds one of the highest titles in Zen, I've been trained. I'm not like became Monk for three months. I've got like 30 years under my belt. I come out of the convention, I come out of this tradition. I have the robes, I have all of the paraphernalia. And I understand that that is not the door that many people that are on mostly on the margins are going to walk into. There are challenges with the market, but the market is the language that we speak and we understand and we relate to as possibly the most, I want to say, equitable in terms of if you've got the money to pay, you can walk in the door in most instances. One of the primary reasons that I would say this is especially for people that are marginalized and understand what it means to have our cultures appropriated, to watch what is largely coming through the lens of white practitioners, appropriate other traditions, including us in our practices for yoga, Buddhism, etc.. That's like off putting for those of us that are like, Yeah, I'm not trying to go and appropriate somebody else's culture right through this lens. And so I want to say the secular mindfulness path opens a doorway of accessibility where people can say, okay, I'm not trying on someone else's religion, but I'm seeing this in terms of the accessibility of the practices, the technology of it, if you will. Right? The human technology. We’re very clear about teaching people about the origins and making sure people are steeped in where they come from. But also simultaneously, we're not… you're not practicing a religion. You're practicing something that predates that goes back to the first time a woman sat down on the earth and said, I got to figure this problem out. I got to slow it down and understand how I'm going to relate to this. And that is mindfulness. And so the truth is, is that mindfulness is a is a human technology that's actually indigenous to all of us. And it really is about the lens through which you receive it, whether it's going to be hyper commercialized, watered down, something that feels like it's just checking the box or it's going to be something that's situated in the context and the reality real practice dealing with your real life, not abstracted and not extracted from other cultures and places that don't situate it.
Farai Chideya [00:10:51] I love that you call it a human technology because I have definitely thought about it in that way. Just thinking about the calm that it takes to live in the frenzy and it takes a lot of energy to live in the midst of the human storm as well as the technological storm. So first, Dr. Parker and then Rev Angel talk about anything that you've been keeping track of in terms of findings about how mindfulness can improve our overall health. Dr. Parker, any thoughts?
Dr. Gail Parker [00:11:21] Well, we know that it helps reduce anxiety, symptoms of anxiety. It helps reduce symptoms of depression. When anxiety goes untreated, it can become depression. I mean, there's research that supports that people in recovery, for example, use mindfulness practices and those who do have more impulse control so that when there's an urge to utilize a former substance, whatever that may be, they notice it, they make a decision, and then they tend not to fall into the trap of just acting on the impulse. So it helps with impulse control, It helps with focused attention. It's been used very successfully with children in schools. And children love it. They will tell you that, you know, that they really like being still and being quiet. And there are lots of interesting ways that you can work with kids around all of that.
Farai Chideya [00:12:20] A friend of mine who'd grown up in a home with some physical abuse and definitely some interpersonal drama knew that she did not want to parent like she was parented. And so when she had her child, she would teach yoga as a way of both of them taking a time out. You know, she saw the fruits of it when her daughter was getting angry at her. And she's like, I'm going to go do a tree pose. And she went into the corner and did a tree pose, which is one of the poses in yoga, you know, to calm herself. And and there are ways that, you know, many of us have to re parent ourselves. And that's part of the journey. So, Rev Angel, what about, you know, any kind of benefits that you can think of and this question of how we take agency when we all get programming from whatever experiences we've had in life.
Rev Angel Kyodo williams [00:13:09] Right. So there's the major categories reducing stress, anxiety and mitigating depression. And there's a number of ways that those happen by way of impacting our physiology, particularly reducing our blood pressure. It helps us sleep better. It helps us digest better. It helps us by the major function of being able to have access to our parasympathetic nervous system, right. Which is relax, restore and digest, rather than being run by the sympathetic nervous system, which is fight or flight. Your food. I’m food. Right. This is about to go down. Basically when something goes wonky for you, your frontal lobe, which is the evolutionary brain, goes offline and your old brain takes over and it is running the show. And nothing good happens when the old brain is running the show. When you are running in fight or flight, you do not make the best decisions. We're trying to deal with stress and crises. We're just making narrow decisions. And so what mindfulness does is it develops the capacity, it builds the muscle for us to be able to return, first of all, to put a pause in a moment of awareness that I am being hijacked at this moment. And when we are hijacked, we really make decisions that because of our positional power, our location, our racial location, our social location, we may be convinced that we are right if we don't have access to a tool that allows us to diagnose actually what is happening for us and have the humility, the courage, the compassion and the sense of connection with other people and a sense of dignity and integrity with ourselves to come back and make new decisions. So I think that's especially powerful when it comes to marginalized people and people that are in positions of power, that are navigating things with marginalized people, whether that's men dealing with women, that's like straight folks dealing with queer folks. When your position is challenged, when you're in crises, you feel like you're under threat. Mindfulness gives us access to actually recover our humanity in those moments so that we can go forward.
Farai Chideya [00:15:20] Absolutely. And I relate to so much of what you said. And, you know, it's been a rough period for my own wellness. There's been a number of family stressors. You know, a relative who's likely to pass away soon from cancer. And I have found ways to really relearn some of the practices because for me, like many people, I practice and then I don't practice and I practice and I don't practice. Most of us are not like you two Dr. Parker and Rev Angel the consistency is probably not as good. But I want to turn to your books. Actually, I'm going to start with you, Dr. Parker. Talk a little bit about that work and how the process of writing transmits what you do.
Dr. Gail Parker [00:16:01] I wrote it for everyone. As I said before, I'm not under the illusion that Black folks and non Black people of color are the only ones who are traumatized. White fragility, for example, is a symptom of racial trauma. When you can't even have the conversation, when you just are so blocked and defensive that you're not able to be open enough to hear someone else's perspective, that indicates a problem. You don't have to be a yoga practitioner and you do not have to be a so-called person of color to benefit from this book. It's for everyone. These issues around race and ethnicity are impacting all of us. The American Psychological Association did a Stress in America survey in 2022, and the racial climate in this country was identified as one of the most stressful experiences for everybody. 75% Black, 70% Latinxs, 69% Asian, and 56% of white people said that this is stressful for them. Now we don't know why or what aspect of any of it is, but it's stressful. So my thinking is if we can learn to do practices and restorative yoga is one of them. If we can learn to do practices that support us in being, as Reverend Angel has said, still long enough to have a transformative experience, really to, number one, experience feeling safe while you're being still, when you're that your nervous system is revved up, you don't feel safe being relaxed. You don't feel safe being still. So when you can have an experience of safety and stillness, that is transformative. And so I wrote the book to support people in learning how to come into themselves, into their inner world in a non-judgmental, that's the mindfulness piece… in a non-judgmental way so that you're not shaming, blaming, and criticizing yourself for whatever it is you're thinking, feeling or doing. The second book came because… I think that book was published a month after George Floyd's murder and took off. I mean, it was amazing to me how well-received it was. So I wrote the second book as more of a, as a guide to help people understand, because people always want to know, how do I do that? I wrote a more about how do I do that book, which is Transforming Ethnic and Race-Based Traumatic Stress with Yoga. I also don't want us to believe, especially Black folks, that we are stuck in trauma. And then we have to be stuck in trauma. That we can grow beyond that into what I call post-traumatic growth is talking about post-traumatic stress. But… and that's what Reverend Angel's teaching also, is that these are transformative practices, and you do not have to remain stuck in a traumatic state of mind or state of being. We all have strengths. That's why we're here. And it's important for us to be able to share that narrative as well.
Farai Chideya [00:19:20] Thank you. And Rev Angel, you wrote Being Black Zen in the Art of Living with Fearlessness and Grace. And then you also coauthored Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love and Liberation. What do you see as the connections that you are pointing out in those works between racial trauma, mindfulness and healing?
Rev Angel Kyodo williams [00:19:41] You know, my first book was really an introduction because just like Dr. Parker said, like, if people are not coming to you, go to them. And I wanted Black folks in particular to be able to have access to the technology that I was experiencing and the relief that I was experiencing through Zen. You know, meditation in particular, but also of kind of like framing. And so that book is really a primer. And it was written about 25 years ago. So I was a little bit younger then. And then the second book is really the culmination and kind of a continuation. I coauthored it with Dr. Jasmine Syedullah , and Lama Rod Owens, Lama Rod is a Buddhist in the Tibetan tradition, Black and queer from the South and a unicorn in his own right. And really, it came out of our understanding and our own experience directly. All of us also queer that we experience a kind of deep access to liberation. But we also, in the same vein, realized that we needed to be having a conversation about how race or I want to say racialization, right? Having been racialized is traumatizing and impacting all of us and that we needed to have a conversation not like, Oh, let's sit here and talk about it, but let's like dig in deep where we can relax into understanding and hearing other people's views and actually being honest about the way that race is impacting. I'm really impressed by that study, you know that even 56% of white folks will say that is impacting them. Outside of climate change, I believe that racialization is the major single factor of divisions in this society in the West, in general, in the United States in particular. And it is actually a national health crisis. The project of racializing us has divided us, has kept us from being in relationship with each other, and it has created long lasting, sustained generational trauma for all of us. And it continues to hobble our politics, our ability to govern, our ability to see street race really leaves us running in fight or flight. We're just in our sympathetic nervous systems tripping out. And part of what we do that I think is very different at MNDFL is that we really allow that conversation to come forth in how we train people, how we invite people to relate, no matter what race they are, no matter what gender, no matter what sexual orientation, to actually bring the truth of who they are, to be able to get that kind of solid relationship to themselves, returning to themselves. That leaves space for hearing and receiving other people's experiences, other people's stories. But you can't do that if you yourself right, are running in your own trauma. So Radical Dharma was our way; I want to say it was like our love song, on the one hand to the people that we're Buddhists and spiritualists and yoga people and saying, like y'all, we have to navigate race. You cannot leave that outside of these practices, like lily white yoga communities that are trying to pretend it's just like loving life, but let's not deal with race. And I've seen Buddhist teachers that literally come out of their skin when you have a conversation about race. And I'm like, where is your seat? If a conversation about race, if Black folks raising up and saying like, hey, we want to have people that look like us up there, if that's taking you out of seat, where's your practice? And simultaneously, what we want to say to the people that are out there doing the work on the front lines that are connected to trying to heal and repair, that you have to do your healing and repair work, too. And so Radical Dharma is that invitation to have that kind of conversation.
Farai Chideya [00:23:25] And I want to wrap up with both of you. When you envision the impacts that your work and work like yours can have, what do you hope for the future? You know, we're constantly evolving our show, but really what we think of this show as is a chance to help envision and build a world we want to live in. So what kind of world do you want to live in and how does your practice and your teaching help with that? Dr. Parker first and then I'll go to you, Rev Angel.
Dr. Gail Parker [00:23:53] Well, believe it or not, I'm living in the world I want to live in. I'm so happy. It took a long.
Farai Chideya [00:23:59] Time to live that.
Dr. Gail Parker [00:24:03] I live in a world that is peaceful, that is serene, that is harmonious, that is loving. I do I encounter turmoil and negativity and unloving experiences... Yeah I mean that that exists but it's not the world I'm living in and it's not what I'm practicing. I intentionally practice showing up safe. I know I'm safe to be around and I want to live in a world that feels safe to me. And I want to offer a world that feels safe to other people.
Farai Chideya [00:24:42] Very beautiful.
Dr. Gail Parker [00:24:43] And I'm not and I'm not delusional and I'm not being unrealistic. And I love being… I guess I'm idealistic, but I think we have to have big ideas. We're hearing a lot about resistance. Resistance is important, but we also have to be willing to re-imagine the world from within and occupy it. So that's the work I'm doing. And then I try to share that with other people.
Farai Chideya [00:25:09] Fantastic. And, Rev Angel, what about you? The world you want to live in or the world you're living in?
Rev Angel Kyodo williams [00:25:15] I'm right there with you, Dr. Parker. I'm totally living in the world that I want to live in. And that's because, first and foremost, I inhabit the world of my own inner life that is steady, that is stable, that is connected. I also think that we are in an evolutionary leap forward and we're feeling the tension of that kind of tear from an old paradigm and way of being in which we were situated in the belief that it is our nature to be in conflict. And we are moving into a place in which not only are we understanding that actually it's our nature to be collaborative, and that's always been our nature. We wouldn't have the complex societies that we do if collaboration wasn't the thing that we actually are situated in and grounded in first and foremost. But I think that we are actually coming into a place and I've said this a few times and I and I stand in it now. You know, human beings, Homosapiens was about like, I know, right? That's actually what it means. It's like the man that knows. But what we're moving into is people that are connected by the Earth like a species evolution of, like, hommes plectis, right? It is by the Earth we are connected. And what I see is that in the places in which people have more contact with each other, and they can be in a situation in which they're safe enough to allow that difference in and to be able to receive that and to feel their own experience having enough space to be present as well. We actually come to know ourselves better by way of the differences of other people. It's rough going right now because we have a lot of old paradigm ways of thinking. There's a lot of investment in holding on to wealth and particular types of power, but they will yield. And the more of us that are mindful, that are willing and able to situate themselves in the vision of possibility that exists inside themselves, the more we'll all be living in the world that is right here, and right now for us.
Farai Chideya [00:27:23] Well, I have loved this conversation and I want to thank each of you. Thank you, Reverend Angel.
Rev Angel Kyodo williams [00:27:29] Thank you so much, Farai. Thank you, Dr. Parker.
Farai Chideya [00:27:32] Yes. And thank you, Dr. Parker.
Dr. Gail Parker [00:27:34] Thanks for inviting me. I have enjoyed this as well.
Farai Chideya [00:27:38] That was author, psychologist and yoga therapist, educator Dr. Gail Parker and the CEO of MNDFL, which is spelled M N D F L and founder of the organization Transformative Change Rev Angel Kyodo williams.
Farai Chideya - Even when we know how beneficial mindfulness is, it can still be hard to keep a consistent personal practice. It can be even harder to just get started. So my next two guests are using music to invite people to take their seat, breathe and meditate. Geminelle is a singer, songwriter, producer and healer. She's also the creator of Mantra Loops, a project that combines affirmation, music and healing. And we're going to talk about that later in this show. So welcome to Our Body Politic, Geminelle.
Geminelle [00:28:35] Hi. Thank you.
Farai Chideya [00:28:36] We're also joined by Jasmine Lamb, a multi-hyphenate creative entrepreneur, founder of Whut We Share and mindfulness meditation instructor. Welcome, Jasmine.
Jasmine Lamb [00:28:46] Hi. Thanks for having me.
Farai Chideya [00:28:49] So you both collaborated to produce the four track album Mindfulness in Challenging Times. And I want to say that I personally have enjoyed it a lot, and I've certainly had challenging times as so many of us have these past few years. So I want to start off with an excerpt from the album. This is from the title track.
Mindfulness in Challenging Times excerpt [00:29:06] Mindfulness meditation is the practice of becoming familiar with the present moment. By placing our attention on the. Leading with an open and nonjudgmental awareness of whatever comes up. The benefit of this practice is that we become more synchronized in body and in mind. And begin to relate to our world in a less distracted and more wakeful way.
Farai Chideya [00:29:37] Jasmine, your words guide us on this album. How did you get started on mindfulness, your own personal practice and also as someone who's able to lead others?
Jasmine Lamb [00:29:47] Well, I started meditating, I would say maybe about six, seven years ago. You know, prior to my journey in L.A., I was living in New York and I was working in the tech space and… 70 hour weeks and was struggling a lot with my mental health and just looking for, as I call them, tools to help facilitate clarity. You know, I was having a lot of brain fog and just not feeling like myself. And so I actually started meditating to Deepak Chopra’s and Oprah’s 21 day mindfulness meditation before it is what it is now. They have a lot of variations, but I started doing guided meditations and then I realized that I was still feeling maybe distracted even in that process. I started then working at a yoga tech company, which is… then has introduced to my mindfulness meditation teacher, who then taught me the specific practice of mindfulness meditation and its lineage. He really guided me in getting my certification, and so now I work with him to help other teachers get certified. So far with certified hundreds of other teachers around the world. And that's been my path.
Farai Chideya [00:30:58] And Geminelle how did you two connect? You know, let me start with that first.
Geminelle [00:31:02] Jasmine and I connected very randomly in an event in New York City. And I think after we met Jasmine, we ended up hanging out with her for the rest of the evening, exchanged information, and then she has really supported the growth of my husband's company, Tunnel Vision Creative Agency. She's been a pillar of press and marketing for my own career. And so when Jasmine came to me with the project in mind for mindfulness in challenging times, I knew that I wanted to support her in any way that I could.
Farai Chideya [00:31:36] And how did you decide what to bring to the table in terms of putting music with Jasmine's words Geminelle?
Geminelle [00:31:44] Well, it was really a collaboration between the two of us. You know, I've been a producer for a long time creating my own soundtracks and doing like background scoring for film and television and commercials. And that's kind of where my lane as a producer has kind of fallen. And so when Jasmine mentioned that she wanted to do a meditation album, I asked her if she wanted music for it. And then she and I worked together to kind of develop the sound that she really wanted to create around this project and like what emotions she wanted to evoke from the audience. And we kind of went back and forth working virtually, and figuring out like, okay, is this kind of the vibe that you want or is this the vibe? And then just curating that playlist together.
Farai Chideya [00:32:27] Jasmine, we've been doing a series of conversations on mental health, physical health, spiritual health and the intersection of all of these, and we always center Black and bipoc voices in these conversations. What should we be learning now as Black or bipoc people about how to bring this into our lives, meaning meditation and mindfulness? Some people have always had this be a part of their lives. For some people they're like, oh, this is just something that if you'll forgive the stereotype, skinny white women in yoga pants do. And there's all sorts of different approaches and different cultures that flow into meditation and mindfulness. How do you think about the journey that people of color are on right now as members of society and how meditation and mindfulness fits into that?
Jasmine Lamb [00:33:18] Yeah, I think that this particular style of meditation is really powerful. I think especially for Black people, brown people, bipoc people. It's a way to actually apply the practice in your everyday life. That's really the best way to put it. And I know that through my own challenges, just navigating life, society, work, career and all the things that come with it as a Black woman, there was a time where I was meditating in a way that was, you know, I think from what I thought meditation was supposed to look like, to your point from the stereotypes, like closing my eyes and sort of Zenning out and trying to almost go somewhere else. And why I'm so passionate about this practice is it's about actually coming into your body. It's about coming into the present moment and being more awake. And then it's also about taking the practice with you after you are done meditating. That's a huge part, right? It's called post meditation practice. And so when I'm navigating difficult conversations or just out in the world, navigating challenges, I am able to see how I can be more responsive and less reactive because I'm practicing noticing my thoughts while I'm sitting. And so it's a very transient practice. It's a very applicable practice to real life challenges and hardships.
Farai Chideya [00:34:34] Yeah, I mean, I really loved your terms Zenning out. Or it may not be your term, but the idea of Zenning out where you're trying to be on some kind of nirvana pedestal, you know, outer space…Why is Zenning out not the goal for you, Jasmine?
Jasmine Lamb [00:34:51] Because it's temporary, right? It's like a temporary high. As someone who is a very ambitious person, creative person. One of the other reasons I saw this practice is I struggled with being content in the day to day, always sort of looking for the next high, the next project, the next thing to go after. And so mindfulness really helps us sit with our discomfort, sit with the things that sort of make us squirm when we're just supposed to be riding the waves of life. Right. And we're not supposed to be chasing after the next thing. And so that piece, I think, is really important. And when we're Zenning out, we're just seeking that temporary feeling, which isn't what life is like. That's not our daily experience.
Farai Chideya [00:35:31] What does it feel like, Jasmine, when you lead a meditation, what does it feel like for you and what do you want for other people knowing that you can't force other people or make other people feel any sort of way?
Jasmine Lamb [00:35:43] I feel a lot of connection. I guess specifically when I teach others, I feel a connection. You know, oftentimes when I lead a group meditation, a lot of times the responses, how different the practice felt doing with a group than it did the person doing it on their own, right? There's really a collective power and group meditation. And I think particularly where I am as a teacher and as a practitioner, that's what I want to see more of for Black people. I think more and more as individuals we're finding these practices. And so how can we then start to create more spaces where we're collectively tuning in and into that level of awareness, I think could be really powerful and really healing.
Farai Chideya [00:36:25] I want us to listen to one more excerpt from the album. This is from the track called My Creativity Has No Bounds:
Mindfulness in Challenging Times excerpt [00:36:32] Hello and welcome. Thank you for being here today. And most importantly, thank yourself for being here today. My name is Jasmine. I am a mindfulness meditation teacher and this is Mindfulness In Challenging Times Part Three: My Creativity Has No Bounds.
Farai Chideya [00:36:55] So Geminelle, as a creator, how does mindfulness work with your creativity?
Geminelle [00:37:01] I think mindfulness works with my creativity in me not overthinking, you know, like really giving myself an opportunity to be present with the creative energy that's surrounding me and allow like intuition to move through that space and not necessarily try to create a box around it. Because the moment I start thinking about like, oh, how are people going to receive this? Or does this sound okay? Does this feel okay? That's the moment that I lose that creative flow. So really just being present with the creativity and the creative energy that's around and allowing myself to be playful and allowing myself to make mistakes and just continue to work through those things, I think is really how mindfulness kind of plays a role in my creativity.
Farai Chideya [00:37:49] And Jasmine, as a creator and entrepreneur, what about you?
Jasmine Lamb [00:37:53] Mindfulness for me. When I'm creating, it helps bring me into my body, which I think is often maybe more associated with yoga. But mindfulness for me really brings me into my body, and that helps me express myself and have a lot of clarity and focus, because I think that's also something that's called a focused awareness. So it's like, you know, sort of being aware of what's happening, but also feeling like that sharpness about what's actually in front of me. I think that helps me tap into my creativity, especially on projects.
Farai Chideya [00:38:27] And as far as your entrepreneurship, you have a company, Whut We Share. What is it? What do you do and how does creativity play into that?
Jasmine Lamb [00:38:37] So Whut We Share is a platform I launched in 2017 that's really about advancing the future for multi-hyphenate creators, practitioners. I think that, you know, even more so, we're at a time where the future of work and career is rapidly changing. What we share is really about providing space, voice and resources for multi-dimensional practitioners. Yeah, it's something that I'm extremely passionate about.
Farai Chideya [00:39:05] And as we wrap up, these have definitely been challenging times, you know, pandemic, racial reckonings, all sorts of issues with gender, reproductive justice, etc. When you hear about, as inevitably happens, some piece of bad news or challenging news about the world, where does your practice take you? I'll go to you first, Jasmine and then Geminelle.
Jasmine Lamb [00:39:29] My first thought would be right where you are…that's the Best place. Right in the thick of it. Right in the middle. You know, the news hits your timeline and you feel like you can't breathe. You can't catch your breathe. Right. Take your seat.
Farai Chideya [00:39:43] Yeah. Geminelle?
Geminelle [00:39:46] To my breath. I would say that's usually the first thing. And then, you know, I start to ask myself if there is anything within my control that I can do to support this challenge. And if it's not, then I work on continuing to breathe through, to release and letting go, and just acknowledging that the more present I am with my own purpose is like the more capacity I have to make an impact.
Farai Chideya [00:40:15] Are you considering doing a collaboration again in the future, the two of you?
Geminelle [00:40:19] I'm sure we'll figure out something that we're going to collaborate on.
Jasmine Lamb - Yeah. Yeah. There's a strong likelihood.
Farai Chideya [00:40:27] Great Fantastic. Jasmine, thanks so much for being here.
Jasmine Lamb [00:40:31] Thank you.
Farai Chideya [00:40:35] That was Jasmine Lamb, mindfulness meditation teacher and founder of Whut We Share.
Now I want to wrap up the show with you, Geminelle. I want to talk more about your musical career. So what were your early musical influences and how old were you when you started singing?
Geminelle [00:40:52] You know, man, I've been singing since I was a little girl. And I think my brother was a big part of my musical inspiration. He would always like, leave me burned CDs in the morning just to kind of like inspire me to write good music off the top of my head. Like the ones that resonate the most with me are probably Erica Badu Mama's Gun. To this day, it's still one of my favorite albums. He had given me Goapele's first album, lots of Outkast, obviously Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. They were big in the nineties. And then it was my… I had a vocal coach when I was 13 and put a pen and a paper in my hand and say, “You should write your own music.” By the time I was writing short stories and things like that in school and that was something I really enjoyed, was creative writing. And so when I first realized, oh, like I can write my own music, like I wrote a song that same day.
Farai Chideya [00:41:44] So when did you start performing with groups?
Geminelle [00:41:46] Around the same time, around 1213. I had graduated from like had my promotion from the sixth grade and I sang the national anthem. There was a manager or music manager who was there who was inspired by my voice, and I ended up singing with three other young women in a group called Miss, M I S S. And it was a little short lived, but it was definitely a great experience. Got a chance to understand the music industry a little more through management and through like artists & repertoire and what that process look like and get to be in front of major labels and kind of learn about like what their process is in receiving artists. And I think I was with them for about nine months to a year.
Farai Chideya [00:42:30] And you've gotten a chance over the years to perform on, you know, events like the Grammys and also just with a lot of different people. What stands out to you about the moments that have filled your soul from doing your music?
Geminelle [00:42:45] I think whenever I hit any stage, it doesn't matter if it's like a small local stage or, you know, the Grammys at Madison Square Garden, there's always like a bit of a nervousness that I think what stands out most to me is like, once you actually hit that stage, the feeling of belonging is something that I've always felt, especially in my experience at the Grammys. That was one that I was like, I don't know. like, how did I end up here? But my first walk onto the Madison Square Garden stage, looking out and seeing some of my favorite artists in the very front row and actually performing with some artists who I admire and look up to and realizing like, oh, I do belong here. I think that was a really cool feeling for me.
Farai Chideya [00:43:24] So let's turn to your work on Mantra Loops. When did you first learn what mantras were and how did it inspire you?
Geminelle [00:43:33] Yeah, around the time that I was writing Mantra Loops, I was kind of just searching for something to help me redirect the way that I think. I realized I had a lot of negative self speak, just like from my own experiences, my own environment, from listening to other people and the way that they talked to themselves, the way they talk to me. And I realized that it wasn't healthy for me, especially because my career was advancing at the time. I was reading a book called Abundance Now by Lisa Nichols, and Lisa Nichols talked a lot about affirmations and mantras. The mantra that stood out to me was, I joyfully submit to the will of my calling. And I remember at that time that was a really hard thing for me to repeat to myself. But over time, as I practiced it, I realized that there was something about being able to submit to the present moment, being able to submit to the opportunities that were coming my way, and to be joyful about them. In the same breath, it started to kind of like actually happen for me. And so I started kind of making up my own mantras of like what I felt like I needed. And the main one that I had thought of was My Success Is Inevitable. That was the first one. Yeah, I realize I was always kind of thinking about like when I make it to this level or when I get here, that's when I'll be successful and wasn't able to really celebrate like the present day success that I was having. I would get into these spaces with amazing artists that I wanted to collaborate with, and I was just thinking like, Well, I'm not really where I want to be yet, to be in this room, not realizing I was in the room, you know? And so I started saying before, like when I would get nervous in these spaces, My Success Is Inevitable and it will let me relax and, like, kind of just be at ease. And once I was myself, the connections were genuine and the relationships grew. And that mantra really worked for me to be able to just like, realize my power in a space and just let myself be present.
Farai Chideya [00:45:31] What is success to you? You know, you are successful by so many different measures, but sometimes people who are successful don't feel successful. What is success to you Geminelle?
Geminelle [00:45:41] MM thats a beautiful question. I think it took me a long time to really figure out that I was already successful. I measure success by a number of metrics and trying to think about numbers and notoriety. And what does it look like to have all of these different things? But I feel successful because I'm able to do what I love. I'm able to work with people that I enjoy and appreciate and admire. I'm able to balance family and work life. And I think the biggest thing that makes me successful is that every morning I wake up and I have this genuine peace of mind. That's something that I couldn't say before. And so I know that I'm successful because of that.
Farai Chideya [00:46:23] This album Mantra Loops Volume one came out in 2019. Seven tracks. Let's listen to a little bit more of it. The opening track of the album. I invite ease and joy.
I Invite Ease And Joy SONG
Farai Chideya [00:46:48] I love all the songs on this album, but that's one that definitely really hits home for me because I need to invite ease and joy. I'm like a type-A workaholic. What does that song mean to you?
Geminelle [00:47:00] Yeah, I feel you and I resonate. I'm definitely a workaholic in many, many ways. But, you know, for the project and for my life, I just realized that, like, I was making things harder on myself because I wasn't really open to receiving ease and joy wasn't open to receiving help or support. I wasn't really, like, ever satisfied with where things were in life. When I was writing Mantra Loops. I wanted to kind of open up the project with something like a message to myself, and I invite ease and joy was the message that came, and when I hear it, I think about all the things I'm inviting ease and joy into. I'm inviting ease and joy into my health, into my finances, into my relationships. Even when I perform it, sometimes like I'll stop in the middle of the performance and I'll just have people shout out what they want to invite ease and joy into. You hear like, sometimes I don't even think about it. You know what I mean? It's like, I invite ease and joy into my nutrition for? They say they invite ease and joy into their kids, you know, like, yeah, it's a parenting. And so it's really cool to kind of unpack with people what they're hoping to invite ease and enjoy into. And I think it's such a powerful statement and wearing it now, you know, and it's a reminder to me just to like every day just invite ease and joy into every single moment.
Farai Chideya [00:48:19] And speaking of kids, you mentioned that you're expecting one yourself. Tell us a little bit about your background, you know, your family's heritage, how you pull that up into your work and what you hope to pass on to your child.
Geminelle [00:48:31] Oh, that's a great question. I could start with growing up multiethnic. My mother is native Hawaiian, my father is African-American. I feel like I had the privilege of experiencing both sides of these cultures. Like we spent time in Hawaii a lot growing up. So I got to learn the indigenous practices of Hawaiians, you know, the entire language, the experiences, how we speak to our ancestors. And that's something that I very much hold near and dear to me, because I very much believe in indigenous practices as the true practices of our people. My dad grew up in New York and kind of learning about the Black American experience out there. It's been really cool to kind of have these two very opposing cultures and relationships, but also feel very connected to both of them. I had the opportunity to go to Africa for the first time this past year. I was in Rwanda. Kigali, Rwanda. Just connecting with African people for the first time made me realize how African we are and even how much of Hawaiian culture comes from African culture. And so seeing how it's all connected just really made me feel very whole and realizing all of the overlap that's kind of in that space. And I think having a child conceiving a child in Africa, one, was like, such an amazing experience to be able to bring that cultural energy back with us. But also just having the understanding that I want to share with my child that we are all African, like we come from Africa first. You know, I think that's something that's really important to me, you know, and I'm sure that my child will have some of those ancestral experiences with them from just being there.
Farai Chideya [00:50:19] It's funny, I was conceived in Zambia. I was born in the U.S., but conceived in Zambia. So hopefully your little one. You'll have lots of stories to tell about that trip to Rwanda. Tell us a little bit about the other things that you do. You know, what is your life like these days?
Geminelle [00:50:34] My life is very nuanced. It's been pretty busy, but it's very rewarding. I think everything that I'm doing, it really does replenish and refuel me. I work for a company called Passion Planner. I do a lot of their community relations work, I love providing workshops and opportunities for people to grow and expand, especially in their purposes and their passions. I also run a wellness company with my husband: Arise Wellness. And Arise Wellness really focuses on self awareness as the greatest form of self-care. So you can, you know, put on facemasks and take baths all day. But like at the end of the day, the deeper you know yourself, the better you can predict your patterns and even disrupt those patterns. And so we really focus on helping people get to know themselves at the core of who they are, their most authentic self. On top of that recording, new music for Mantra Loops Volume Two. Definitely want to release this project before I release this baby, but it's been a really beautiful year in terms of just like balancing all of these different projects and really feeling fulfilled at the end of each of them.
Farai Chideya [00:51:46] Well, let's. Listen to a little bit of the song I Am Proud, which is part of the forthcoming release Mantra Loops Volume Two.
I Am Proud SONG
Farai Chideya [00:52:08] So you have your next album coming out. Mantra Loops Volume Two: Embodied. What does it mean to you to be embodied?
Geminelle [00:52:17] I think particularly around this project, it was really important to me that the mantras were something that could live in your body. And so this project is very dance-centric. It's unlike anything I've ever put out before. So it's lots of piano, afrobeat, house music, just big vibes, lots of movement. And these aren't even messages that I've currently embodied myself. Some of them are, some of them I definitely feel deeply resonate with, but others I'm like, this is the work that I'm doing, the work to know in every moment that I am more than enough when I show up to feel like I am luminous, even in the dark times. The energy that I feel in this project is something that I definitely feel is a representation of who I authentically am in this season of life. I wanted the music to feel like that, the freedom,the fun. It's liberation at its finest, and I cannot wait to share it with the people.
Farai Chideya [00:53:17] Well, that's exciting. Geminelle, Thank you so much for joining us.
Geminelle [00:53:21] Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.
Farai Chideya [00:53:28] That was singer songwriter and producer Geminelle. You can find out more about her work at MantraLoops.com. Her new album, Mature Loops Volume Two: Embodied will be out later this summer.
Thanks for listening to Our Body Politic. We are on the air each week and everywhere you
listen to podcasts. You can find us on Instagram and Twitter @OurBodyPolitic. Our Body Politic is produced by Diaspora Farms and Rococo Punch.
I'm host and executive producer Farai Chideya. Nina Spensley and Shanta Covington are executive producers. Emily J. Daly is our senior producer. Bridget McAllister is our booking producer. Monica Morales-Garcia is our producer and fact checker. Natyna Bean and Emily Ho are our associate producers. This episode was produced by Emily Ho. It was engineered by Mike Garth and Archie Moore.
This program is produced with support from the Luce Foundation, Open Society Foundation, Ford Foundation, Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, Democracy Fund, The Harnisch Foundation, Compton Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the BMe Community, Katie McGrath & JJ Abrams Family Foundation, The Pop Culture collaborative, and from generous contributions from listeners like you.