In Episode 101, Rhonda V. Magee, Professor of Law at the University of San Francisco, joins Melinda in a conversation about the practice of mindfulness as a way to build sustainability into allyship and empathy. They look into ways we can deepen our mindfulness to support ourselves through healing intergenerational trauma. They explore how to be better allies by learning to stay open to making mistakes and being corrected when our actions cause harm to others. They also talk about how leaders and managers can help teams develop mindfulness practices to make everyone feel more included.
- Learn more about Rhonda V. Magee
- Learn more about Rhonda’s work at Wisdom 2.0
- Learn more about Rhonda’s work at Insight Timer: #1 Free Meditation App for Sleep, Relax & More
- Read Rhonda’s book, The Inner Work of Racial Justice: Healing Ourselves And Transforming Our Communities Through Mindfulness
- Read the Mindful org’s article, “Everyday Mindfulness with Jon Kabat-Zinn”
- Watch or listen to EP8: “Understanding Intergenerational Trauma & Its Impact In The Workplace with Michael Thomas”
This videocast is made accessible thanks to Interpreter-Now. Learn more about our show sponsor Interpreter-Now at www.interpreter-now.com.
- “Mindfulness can help us notice those places in the body where we’re carrying the woundedness that can result from inequity, lack of inclusion, and bias around us…. Mindfulness can be a readily available personal support system, an early warning system…, because as we become aware of the ways we’re carrying this pain, it can help us disrupt that; get the help we need; give ourselves the help and head off some of the health consequences. We have learned that carrying stress disproportionately over the years is not good for the body. So, there are so many different ways that these practices can support us in our own healing, but they can also support us in being more empathic and compassionate with each other as we’re going through these times. And so, as we seek to support others and be the ally that we’re here to become, can we listen more to our colleagues whose experience is different from our own? How do we listen?”
- “Part of doing the work of being an ally and working to make our workplaces— our leadership— more inclusive… [involves] being willing, with some humility, to see the world through other people’s eyes…, but also correct [ourselves] when we’ve… made a mistake or, in some sense, missed our own mark…. That’s not easy for any of us to do…. And yet, again, to be human in the world coming from all these different experiences, we must almost expect that we’re going to… miss that mark, say something that somebody is going to find offensive or doesn’t quite land with him in the way that we had intended…; those kinds of challenges are just part and parcel of being together with these commitments to inclusivity. And rather than being defensive against them, or hypercritical and judgmental of ourselves…, can we have a… compassionate way of being with ourselves that is open to being corrected? Because that’s really an important, very subtle commitment that we’re making as allies. We want to be corrected. And we want to be the kind of person that can hear that the need for correction is an ongoing aspect of my lifelong journey without taking offense or defense.”
- “I tend to think of mindfulness as [a tool for] helping support us in those three domains of experience: the personal, the interpersonal, and then the collective change work…. We’re not simply becoming more aware of our emotions…, [but] we are also doing what we can to try to make a change to policies and systems because it’s one of the things that mindfulness helps us see— how much the systems and structures and cultures (in which we’re embedded) really affect the quality of our well-being.”
Rhonda V. Magee
Professor at University of San Francisco
A sought-after mindfulness teacher, and a thought and practice innovator of mindfulness-based social justice principles, concepts and practices, Rhonda V. Magee, M.A., J.D., is Professor of Law at the University of San Francisco.
Magee has spent more than twenty years integrating mindfulness into higher education, leadership and everyday social engagement. Her work explores the intersections of anti-racist education, social justice, and contemplative practices, and offering trauma-sensitive practices to support healing, resilience, personal wellbeing and flourishing together. Grounded in the science of mindfulness, wellbeing and resilience, she integrates storytelling, movement, journaling and other research-based experiential practices for strengthening our inner resources for navigating a world of constant change.
MELINDA: Hello, everyone. I am Melinda Briana Epler, founder and CEO of Change Catalyst and author of How To Be An Ally. I’m your host of Leading With Empathy and Allyship. Welcome!
Allyship is about learning, showing empathy, and taking action. That process often includes learning, unlearning, and relearning, then building empathy for people with different experiences, and above all, taking consistent action. So each week, we’ll learn from somebody new. Please be open to new ways of thinking and understanding.
You can learn more about my work and sign up to join us for a live recording at ally.cc.
Let’s get started.
MELINDA: Hello, everyone. Today, our guest is Rhonda V. Magee, Professor of Law at the University of San Francisco and author of The Inner Work of Racial Justice. Today we’ll be discussing building sustainability into allyship and empathy through mindfulness. We’ll discuss inner healing for those of us who have experienced exclusion, inequity, and injustice.
We’ll talk about building resilience, especially as many of us right now are experiencing heightened stress. We’ll also look at practices that can deepen our reserves so that we can be a better ally for each other. Welcome, Rhonda.
RHONDA: Thank you so very much. It’s wonderful to be here and be in this important conversation with you.
MELINDA: Yeah, I’m very happy that we’re having this conversation. Rhonda, would you please start by telling us a bit about your story and how you came to do the work that you do today?
RHONDA: Yes, of course. I came to this work by way of having grown up in North Carolina and Virginia. So I’m originally from the southeastern part of the United States. I like to point to the timeframe of my kind of growing up years, which I tend to think of as kind of immediate post-Civil Rights Era America.
I was actually born in the last year of Martin Luther King Junior’s life on the planet. So, it was a period of a lot of change. I kind of inherited, as a consequence of that, some opportunities to access education, including where I went to university, the University of Virginia, formerly a university that had only been open to not only White people for a long time but only men.
Actually, you could go to UVA up until about 17 years before I started. So, I was one of that generation accessing some opportunities based on my gender, based on my race, and class status that was newly available, given the public protests and the policy changes that had happened.
That was wonderful on the one hand, but on the other hand, anytime were stretching and sort of moving into communities and institutions where we are, you know, not the norm or are new or in any way underrepresented as I was in both at the University where I attended, but also, ultimately, in California, in the law firm that I ended up working with after law school.
Anytime we’re going through those episodes in our lives where we’re stretching and growing and encountering new places and spaces, it’s both exciting and thrilling, but it’s also often challenging, as many of our listeners will know.
And so, it was in a period of just immediately having taken the bar, but realizing I had been trained to constantly be studying and constantly be training doing something, and I couldn’t really relax. It was realizing that I didn’t have within me the ability to sort of center myself that I could see I might need if I was going to sustain through this period of a lot of change and entering my new profession.
I somehow realized that what had been missing in all of my great education was something that my grandmother had known. My grandmother, who had not had the same opportunities and had been born in 1906, in the period post-reconstruction actually, the kind of re-institutionalization of White supremacy that happened in the South after the Civil War.
That was the arc of my grandmother’s life. And so, she didn’t have all these opportunities. In fact, she was specifically not able to do much more than clean houses for other people. She wasn’t able to get an education much more than Elementary School, frankly, because she had to work.
But what she did know how to do was center herself, and so I watched my grandmother. As a very little girl, I spent a lot of time with her. I saw her get up every morning before dawn before she had to get up and spend time centering herself. For her, it was a Christian-based practice. But fast forward again back to my own experience in California, and at that moment, when I realized I needed something more, I’m remembering my grandmother had this centering practice.
For me, I was drawn to explore other ways of accessing that same kind of centering and clarifying on a regular basis. I reached out and found books about mindfulness first and then ultimately a community of practice that supported me in really feeling my way into a practice that could work for me.
MELINDA: Thank you for sharing them. But first, let’s define mindfulness for everyone. And generally how it relates to this work of showing empathy and activating allyship for each other. And also the elements that you talked about, which is that inner centering and then resilience, I think. Yeah.
RHONDA: Exactly. Well, of course, there are so many ways that the word mindfulness is being used these days. For me, I was trained in the practice and teaching of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction developed by Jon Kabat Zinn at the University of Massachusetts.
And so, in these kinds of secular settings, I quite often am using a definition of mindfulness that is consistent with that program. It’s basically the practices that support us in developing a way of being with reality. And so the practices emphasize being present, on purpose. Right?
So, with intentionality and with an attitude of, let’s say, friendly openness to what is arising just long enough to really understand it well. This is not to say that we’re simply always opening up and being present, but it is enabling ourselves to have a kind of access to a set of skills and practices that support us in accessing that ability to be present, to be on purpose, and to be open enough to receive new information, new learning with as little judgment as possible.
I like to say that attitude of friendliness is sometimes described as non-judgmental. But I’m a law professor actually that day. And I know that whether we’re in law or not, not judging is not easy for human beings at this time. So, let’s just say as non-judgmentally as possible, being with what is.
And then, again, the practices and the way of being that can result if we engage in those practices regularly. This is what I’m pointing to when I talk about mindfulness with the only added piece that I would suggest, especially as we are talking about how it relates to engagement in the world, socially engaged mindfulness, and workplace mindfulness in support of allyship and inclusion.
Underlying mindfulness for me really has always been, and if you look at the underlying teachings that we draw on when we practice mindfulness and share it in the world, there is a foundation in a desire to minimize harm, an ethical commitment that helps guide us in discerning how to apply these practices and what actions to take among the choices we have, right? The range of things that we, through mindfulness, are able to see more clearly. “Oh, we have a range of choices in terms of how to respond to provocations or to triggers.” Right?
Once we see the range of choices that we have and what we choose to do, mindfulness is, for me, framed in a commitment to taking actions with the intention of minimizing harm to ourselves and to others. And this doesn’t mean we always do that.
Another analog of mindfulness is that kind of ethical commitment to minding the gap between our intentions and our impact. So there’s a lot of ethical commitment underlying mindfulness for me. And therefore, it was sort of not a stretch at all for me to see how these practices might apply to the work of addressing issues around social identity-based bias, diversity, equity, inclusion, and, you know, seeing the connections between the two of them.
But for many people had, by the way, I’ve been teaching about this intersection since the early 2000s, and then wrote a book, of course, to help underscore that, but yes, seeing those connections came out of the underlying ethical component of mindfulness, which I’ll just say not every teacher or every program that supports us in engaging mindfulness underscores that underlying ethical framework.
MELINDA: Very interesting that you’re pointing that out. I think that, yeah, I started practicing mindfulness. I think I began with yoga and then kind of slowly moved into meditation and breathing pranayama and more, the broader mindfulness practice throughout my life. It took me some time actually to get to that ethics piece of it, that doing no harm, that non-harming piece of it.
RHONDA: Yeah. Right. Into the world, right? Often, I think we’re drawn to that non-harming for ourselves. We’re like, “Whew! We need a lifeline. We need to support ourselves.” But to move from self-resourcing and compassion for ourselves to outward-facing external mindfulness commitment to minimizing harm in the world. Yes, sometimes it is not obvious, and it can take a while for us to really see that that’s really what this is all about.
MELINDA: And they related to, we have to take care of ourselves in order to be able to take care of the people around us and to really be fully present and to create the change that we want to see in the world.”
RHONDA: Totally! They’re totally related. Absolutely.
MELINDA: So, what is unique about this particular time we’re in and the special need for mindfulness?
RHONDA: Well, again, when we think about mindfulness in the way that we’ve been talking about it, that commitment to inner work and practices for self-sustenance and resilience and repair, healing, and the link between the work that we do to support ourselves, and anything else we might hope to do in support of other people, to transform communities and workplaces and the broader world.
Once we see that, then I think it can be more and more apparent to us how this moment that we’re in, where I mean, I probably don’t have to tell any listener of how the pandemic, the climate crisis, the crisis in economic inequality, there are interlocking. I think of them as multiple interlocking pandemics, or crises, that are kind of reinforcing each other and opening up our awareness of a number of facts of human life that have always been present, but I don’t think we’ve always been so present to.
Those include radical interdependence, right? The fact that we are all, you know, my life circumstances and vulnerabilities can be impacted by what’s happening at a live animal market on the other side of the planet, we now know, my own individual ability to enjoy where I live can be impacted by how we’re releasing hydrocarbons across this community, but again, on the other side of the world, and so we realize how radically interdependent we are.
We’re also, I think, related to that much more aware of our vulnerability. We mean, again, this has always been a basic fact of human life, that we have that period between the dash, the birth date, and the death date. We don’t know what the death date will be, but we know.
Life is precious and limited in time. But I think we are, again, we’ve witnessed that in real time that, you know, our lives are not promised to us. And so, between being more aware of our interdependence, being more aware of our mortality, frankly, and then understanding that there’s some kind of urgency. I think we’ve all become a little more aware that the problems that we have difficulty facing have a way of concentrating and amplifying. And so, if we ignore climate change, eventually, it doesn’t ignore us.
If we ignore the problems of social identity biases, eventually, we feel the extremity dynamics in our politics, and they show up in our families and our workplaces. So these things have a way, in other words, of becoming harder to deal with as we avoid dealing with them. And so, to me, mindfulness is this technology for dealing with multiple complex realities with more skill.
It can help us with the emotional challenges of all that I’ve alluded to. It can help us with just some of the neurobiological challenges of how we deal with fear, the kind of normal reactions to a sense of threat and vulnerability that can lead us to intensify our othering. Right?
Our societies are really good at othering and excluding. I mean, it’s a feature of human relationships that we do this, not necessarily a bug. So, how do we know that that might happen and really take steps because we can? To moderate, right? The temptations that can come. I’m just pointing to some of the ways that, as these organisms in the world who are kind of encountering information and experiences, we are tempted to automatically react to them.
Mindfulness helps us become a kind of being that can perceive what is coming at us more clearly. And through that process, notice how we start to have habits and patterns around the conditionings in terms of how we’re tempted to automatically respond, perhaps would put a wall up and get distanced, perhaps with getting angry, right? Each of us has our beautiful, unique habits about how we respond to things that challenge us. And mindfulness can be right there.
I think a first approximation to what mindfulness can do is become more intimate with our own habits and patterns around reactions to threats. If each of us can become more intimate with those habits and patterns, we can again open up the space to choose more skillful responses rather than reactions. And that can open up all kinds of new possibilities for being together with all of these challenges that we’re facing.
MELINDA: And this work happens over time, right? You can’t just go to mindfulness and suddenly be very present and aware. It’s a practice. It’s a practice, right?
RHONDA: Yes! And it is hard. It’s the kind of thing that sounds easy. You see people just sitting somewhere quietly. It really sounds like (A )very easy, (B) so easy and passive that how could it possibly help us with the types of robust challenges that we’re talking about?
But actually, any of us who practice mindfulness, even a little bit, realize that what looks easy is not actually easy to do in practice to stay present. If we’re talking about mindful awareness of a breath and body, for example, we can maybe experiment with just a little bit of it right here in this conversation where we are inviting ourselves to pause to allow our attention to rest on a chosen object of our awareness.
If we take the sensations of breathing as the chosen object of awareness, and we just pause for a few moments and invite ourselves to just rest our attention on the in-breath or the out-breath, wherever we haven’t defined ourselves right now.
And just for the next few minutes, if we take even a few minutes, we’ll just say a few moments, continue to follow along to see if you can let your attention stay as best as possible and focus on the moment where the in-breath begins, how we began breathing in, at that moment where we imperceptibly know it’s time to release into an out-breath.
And if we just invite ourselves to keep our attention on breathing in and out just for a few moments. Just allowing ourselves to rest in this way of the in-breath and out-breath. And as we do so, feeling the body in contact with the floor beneath us, maybe with a chair, as most of us may be sitting in a chair, but the feet may be on the floor. Or we’re just noticing perhaps the buttocks in the chair and knowing that the chair has its base in contact with the floor and, beneath that, the Earth.
As we allow our attention to rest on the sensations of breathing, how the invitation is on the out-breath to allow ourselves to relax and release and just allow ourselves to feel the sense of support that exists for us right here and right now. And so, where is the mind right now? It may be that the mind has begun to notice the temptation to pull away into thought, into question, into to-do lists, into the last conversation we had, or the next one we might have.
The challenge, therefore, of just bringing our attention back, again and again, noticing the challenge of that, and then with kindness and compassion. Let’s call it love, even. Just saying, “Oh, that’s what my mind does. Let me bring it back in these moments.” I’m practicing developing this capacity to focus at will, bringing attention back to the sensations of breathing in and breathing out.
And when and as you’re ready, if the eyes have been closed, if you’ve closed your eyes, the invitation would be to just open them and see if we can continue to keep alive a kind of a thread of connection between whatever came up for us in that moment of resting.
See if we can keep a thread of some of that inner awareness alive as we engage in the remainder of this conversation. And so, that mindfulness, just those three moments of mindfulness, I think, for many people, can be a reminder of flow. What was it like for you, Melinda? Were you able to pause?
MELINDA: I was. Yeah. I think many listeners might be listening to this during a workday, right, and it’s hard to let go of all of the things that are on your mind within that workday and to really be present. So, it took me longer than it normally does, for sure, but I definitely feel a spaciousness with my thoughts. And more of a presence at this moment of feeling like I hadn’t felt the carpet beneath my feet earlier, and now I feel that.
RHONDA: Yeah. Thank you so much for practicing there and for sharing. So yeah, I think it’s really what we just did is a perfect example of how I think the actual practice of mindfulness can provide for each of us in all of our different ways, some lived experience, a felt sense of how these practices impact our own experience, can impact the quality of our being, and therefore can impact the quality of our being together.
We just did a tiny taste of it. And if that little break of mindfulness in any way opened up for us just a little bit more spaciousness, a little bit more of a sense that, yes, we’re here on this beautiful planet that we did not choose that somehow chose us.
And in fact, you know, I like to remind people that every moment of our lives, we’re all resting on that same planet, right? No matter how far-flung are different physical locations, we’re all sharing this one Earth, and we have every moment that we have lived, and we will, and every other human being who has ever lived, by the way, has shared this one Earth.
So there are so many ways that these practices can shift the quality of our being in the directions that can support us in dealing with difficulties. And so, they can help us. We didn’t go into this particular guidance, but these practices can help us become more conscious of sensations in the body. So, where are we feeling stress or distress?
If we’re feeling fear or worry, ruminating on an event or conversation that landed like a microaggression, where do we feel that in our bodies? How might we, again, breathe and allow ourselves some gentle self-restoration as we find a way to kind of resource ourselves, notwithstanding the challenges that we face?
And so, mindfulness can help us notice those places in the body where we’re carrying the woundedness that can result from inequity, lack of inclusion, and bias around us. And all of the research, by the way, tells us that underrepresented minorities are feeling disproportionate levels of stress, distress, and mental health challenges and often have relatively less access to the resources to support us with all of this.
So yeah, mindfulness can be a readily available personal support system, an early warning system, frankly, because as we become aware of the ways we’re carrying this pain, it can help us disrupt that, get the help we need, give ourselves to help and head off some of the health consequences. Right?
We have learned that carrying stress disproportionately over the years is not good for the body. So, there are so many different ways that these practices can support us in our own healing. But they can also support us in being more empathic and compassionate with each other as we’re going through these times.
And so, as we seek to support others and be the ally that we’re here to become, can we listen more to our colleagues whose experience is different from our own? How do we listen? Whoever taught us how to be a good listener? Can mindfulness help us?
Notice when we’re distracted listening. I’m sure nobody on this call has ever been a distracted listener. Right? But there is so much, right? So much of it is like, “These guys aren’t like, how can we? We’re all trying to multitask.” And so, it impacts the quality of our being with each other.
Mindfulness can help us notice when we’re doing that. And again, without being super judgmental and critical, simply supporting us in acting on our intentions. I want to be here for this person. This is it. You know, this is it. This does not dress rehearsal. How can I be here with my friend, my colleagues, and my loved ones, in a way that they can feel the quality of my care?
I notice when my distractedness might be getting in the way of my being able to do that. Mindfulness can help us with that. But these are just some of the ways that the practices can support us.
MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. And maybe we can go deeper into some of the areas that you touched on. In episode eight, so quite a while back in our work, Leading With Empathy & Allyship, Michael Thomas, who’s also an attorney, “So that by not touching upon your emotions, it becomes easier to harm someone else. We can do harm to each other if we haven’t done our own work. So, allies, do your own work.”
He was using examples in that episode of people who say they aren’t racist or sexist, but they end up abusing power and end up abusing the White privilege, abusing the male privilege, and abusing each other, right? That when we don’t work to resolve that trauma, and the individual trauma and also the intergenerational trauma that we might be experiencing, that you touch on in your book, too.
You opened up your book in talking about being born into a family traumatized by many things. And so, maybe we could talk a little bit about how we can use mindfulness, how mindfulness can help us to move through that trauma.
RHONDA: Well, I’m so glad you asked this question because it is, I mean, let’s sort of drill down on this because the fact of the matter is all of us enter into our workplaces, into our places of kind of public engagement, carrying 100% of the experiences that we’ve had to a greater degree than we realize, you know, carrying the vision of the world that our ancestors, our most immediate ancestors, right, our parents or the family that raised us, the community that shaped us. We are kind of that legacy walking through the world to a much greater degree than we tend to realize.
And all of us, whatever our backgrounds, if we look closely, we can see family members who have suffered trauma. We’ve suffered trauma. Heritage groups and communities, which have escaped from something, move towards something, right?
We hope, and we tend to believe that we all are just shaking it off. We’ve made it here, and we’ve got our credentials, and we got our resume. We, therefore, don’t have to think about all those things. We made it. But again, social psychologists tell us that we are formed and, in some respects, deformed by the experiences that we have encountered.
I want to be very careful about how I talk about trauma and its implications, just to name that, of course, there’s no one size fits all with any of this. We are not all going to experience even an overwhelmingly challenging situation in the same kind of way. We’re not all going to have post-traumatic stress or other kinds of reactions to a very difficult encounter.
This is not to suggest we’re all fungible or there’s a one size fits all, but it is to say that any one of us, therefore, might be carrying something in a way that is not obvious. And not everybody who looks like, I mean, we might imagine they’ve had a difficult journey is actually suffering in the way that we might presume. All of this is to invite us then to be aware of the assumptions that we’re making about people and to be open to really being curious about each other’s actual experiences and being curious about our own heritages, including the aspects that are often not talked about, especially in cultures in the United States. There’s a kind of success culture. There’s a kind of move forward and let go of the past, forget the past kind of way, right? What it means to “Become an American.” Let’s just open that up for conversation.
There are so many ways that we’re encouraged and maybe even rewarded in some social sense for the sort of forgetting or not naming the painful experiences of our pasts. And yet, again, social psychologists will tell us those unhealed wounds may, in fact, be a part of how we are navigating the world, what we may be adding to the current circumstances that make a particular event feel more triggering than the bare facts of that event might suggest it would be.
And then, further to your point about how doing our own work can help us be allies, part of doing the work of being an ally and working to make our workplaces, our leadership, more inclusive. It does involve being willing, with some humility, to see the world through other people’s eyes, number one, but also correct when we’ve kind of made a mistake or, in some sense, missed our own mark.
That’s not easy for any of us to do. It’s very, very hard. I’m just gonna say I will say, even for myself, we’ve all worked so hard, we’re trying so hard. And yet, again, to be human in the world, coming from all these different experiences, we must almost expect that we’re going to kind of miss that mark, say something that somebody is going to find is offensive or doesn’t quite land with them in the way that we had intended, so if we can know that those kinds of challenges are just part and parcel of being together with these commitments to inclusivity, and rather than being defensive against them, or hypercritical and judgmental of ourselves, right? Because if we hold ourselves up as the ally, that can be a little bit of a tempting trap of “well, I can’t do anything wrong because I am the ally.” Right. And we can fuse in a way to an identity of ally or supporter or, you know, some people use that slur of “woke” Actually, I think as a slur, right? But we can.
There is something about how we can be a little bit overly identified with the idea that we already get it, which can get in the way of us being able to hear when someone is saying, “We’re actually missing it.” And so, can we have a kind of compassionate way of being with ourselves that is open to being corrected? Because that’s really an important, very subtle commitment that we’re making as allies.
We want to be corrected, and we want to be the kind of person that can hear that the need for correction is an ongoing aspect of my lifelong journey without taking offense or defense. Or, what’s another thing we do? We get either burned out or feel defeated. Like, I tried this. I tried to be an ally, and this happened. I
I’m thinking of an experience I have had. I write about some of my experiences with this. Thinking of once when I was engaging with a woman. She’s White and racialized. She and I were part of a group. We were being selected for a panel. I got asked to be on the panel, but she did not. And she very quickly summarised her understanding of why I got asked, and she didn’t ask. “Well, they’re just asking you because you’re Black.”
MELINDA: I’m sorry that happened.
RHONDA: I know. That was painful. I’m laughing now. But it was not funny, then.
RHONDA: And, you know, I totally reacted to that with the feeling of, “Wow. This person, who I thought knew me, and I thought we had been working together to address issues of gender bias and to open up spaces for us to work together. And so, I was actually quite shocked and hurt by this.
On the other hand, she was kind of shocked and hurt that I didn’t see that. Of course, this person was making decisions about who to be on the panel based on my race, right? So, both of us were feeling the feeling. I don’t know how many others have ever had something like this, where you’re making an effort, and you can feel misunderstood.
The two of us, though, both happened to be mindfulness teachers. We were working with another guide. So, we agreed to go to that guy for support. He suggested that we bring a kind of compassion practice, which was almost the last thing I really wanted to hear because I kind of wanted him to sort of take my side, and I’m sure she wanted him to take her side. But he basically was like, “You both need to practice compassion for each other for a year.” A whole year. Yeah.
MELINDA: That’s a real assignment.
RHONDA: Right? Again, everything is disrupting the norms of our culture, which are like, we do this. We get it. We act on it. We understand. We’re woke today. We’re not defensive. Oh, wait, I am defensive. Oh, wait, I do need to pause and think about this other person’s perspective. I need to do that not just overnight and then be ready to have a conversation tomorrow. This might take a year or longer to get over. This might take some time. It may take my lifetime.
This is all disrupting our normal way of being, right, in contemporary culture. So, the short end of that story is it didn’t actually take a year, but I did. We both were doing a loving-kindness meditation, a particular kind of compassion-generating practice.
And at some point in the course of it, for me, it was a matter of weeks, maybe a couple of months, that we reached out and managed to reconnect them in a place where we could actually. Suddenly, we did have a little bit more space to listen to each other.
This happened years and years ago, but even to this day, we still work together. In other words, we were able to move through that. I do count those compassion practices as really an important support and rationale or reason for why we were able to get from there to here.
MELINDA: Amazing. Amazing. I think what we’ve been talking about is so important, both interpersonally and also across teams and our workplaces too. I mean, maybe even building a practice of mindfulness. I know that’s part of what Jon Kabat Zinn does and teach us across our workplaces. Could you share some thoughts about how managers or independent contributors, anybody, can begin to bring mindfulness practices to their teams to facilitate greater inclusion and belonging?
RHONDA: Yeah. Well, yeah. I mean, I certainly have been a part of this movement to bring mindfulness into the workplace, for reasons like those that I’ve named here, but even really a broad range of reasons because of the way that research has shown us that these practices can support everything from performance, right, being able to show up and do our best more frequently than not to these interpersonal dynamics that we’re talking about. And then the collective work that we do.
I tend to think of mindfulness as helping support us in those three domains of experience, the personal, the interpersonal, and then the collective change work, you know, how it is that we discern what exactly our policy should be around onboarding people. And, you know, how do we embed in that process opportunities for feedback, some sort of correction mechanism for, if you will, complaints or challenges as examples, right?
We’re actually trying to change policies. We’re not simply becoming more aware of our emotions, pausing. Although that’s very important. We’re not only, you know, more able to communicate with each other and maybe to apologize or to put ourselves in the shoes of another. Although that’s all very, very important.
We are also doing what we can to try to make a change to policies and systems because it’s one of the things that mindfulness helps us see is just how much the systems and structures and cultures in which we’re embedded really affect the quality of our well-being.
And so rather than simply aiming to prop us up in situations, cultures, and circumstances that are not health-inducing, that are not good for us, that are not advancing the cause of inclusivity and equity. We want to bear up as best we can under the circumstances we’re in. And from that place of restoration or more resilience, take on what projects we think we can handle to keep continuing to advance the ball in the direction of greater inclusivity.
So bringing together people who are willing. If you’re in a place where there’s no mindfulness happening at your workplace at all. I think some of the things that I and others have done to bring mindfulness into the workplace is maybe to have some support. So first and foremost, you know, finding out if there are other folks in your organization that would be similarly interested.
I say that because this, like anything else, is something that is not going to be done overnight and involves some heavy lifting. We’re talking about institutional, cultural change. And so, having other people who are interested in this or curious at least, it might just start there. I was curious about what it might be like to bring mindfulness into the work site.
Well, let’s meet on such and such a date for a brown bag lunch, where everybody brings their own lunch. And we just reflect on what we know about mindfulness and how we think it might be of benefit here. In other words, cultivating a culture of receptivity is the first step. Right? And that actually is a step that is an ongoing aspect of what we’re doing.
And from there, there are so many mindfulness teachers in our communities now that we don’t have to necessarily feel like we, the champion, need to be the person actually offering mindfulness. We might if we have some experience with that that we want to bring to the fore. We might have had some closet mindfulness teacher experience that we haven’t thought was appropriate to share here. But we might find that, yes, others are curious.
There is some support here. Allow me to suggest that I would offer. I would be the one to create space for, you know, maybe just 20 minutes of mindfulness, 15 minutes of mindfulness, five minutes of mindfulness, and then some conversation over lunch once a week.
In other words, there are just so many different ways we might do it. I think the most important thing is to realize you’re very likely not alone in your desire and interest in doing that. And if you join forces with others who, even one other person, which happened to me at my university, really. There were really two people at the beginning. And then, one of those people left. I’m sorry, there were three of us, and then one left, and then left two of us.
And for many years, there were two of us in this law school offering, dropping meditation sessions, supporting each other, and creating new courses. So we each taught a version of Mindfulness in Law, which had not been offered at our law school. But we supported each other along the way. We brought in speakers because it sometimes helps to have an independent voice, as you all know.
So, find your team members, those who are similarly interested, and then just explore easy options for people to develop buy-in. Rather than saying, here’s what we’re going to do, what might we do? Let’s talk about it. Let’s explore. And then bringing in, you know, those from outside who can help legitimize and make the case. All of these things are some of what worked for us as we were developing the Mindfulness in Law Program at the University of San Francisco.
MELINDA: Awesome. We’re reaching the end of our time together. I have two quick questions for you. One is we always end with a call to action. What action would you like people to take coming away from this discussion?
RHONDA: Well, I would suggest that if you have not explored mindfulness, if in any way anything that I’ve shared here opens up a bit of curiosity for you, I would challenge you to take that curiosity and allow it to inspire you to explore mindfulness as a support for your journey and for the inclusivity and allyship work that you’re doing.
So, explore mindfulness if you haven’t. And if you have, explore how to deepen the practice as a means of supporting you in this part of your journey. I and many others are available to support you in this. You can sort of follow me to find out more about some of the ways that I’m available as support at my website, which is RhondaVMagee.com.
I’m a part of a group of teachers. Jon Kabat Zinn is actually one of them. Sharon Salzberg who’s really well known for doing loving-kindness meditation. I’m part of a group who are offering an introduction to mindfulness, like supercharger mindfulness through Wisdom 2.0, which is an organization that many in the tech industry may be familiar with.
But you can find out more information about this if you just search for my name or Wisdom 2.0, an intro to mindfulness. That’s just one example of a way you can get a little bit of extra support. There are all sorts of free apps. Of course, you all know.
Insight Timer is one I’ll say that you can find me on. But there are tons of free apps where you can get a bit of support. That would be my call for you. Figure out how you might deepen your own practice. And from that place, how you might—this is the second piece—explore bringing a bit more of that into your workplace.
MELINDA: I love that. Wisdom 2.0 many years ago is where Rhonda and I first met many years ago. I also am a big fan of Insight Timer. I’ve been using Insight Timer since 2012. So a long time. I think it’s a very powerful tool. You answered a bit my next question about where people can learn more about you and your work and your book. So, go to RhondaVMagee.com.
RHONDA: The book, by the way.
RHONDA: The Inner Work of Racial Justice: Healing Ourselves and Transforming Our Communities Through Mindfulness, which also includes a lot of meditations actually in that book and includes support for developing a practice, integrating it into these sorts of justice issues.
I use race as the doorway in, but it’s really about an intersectional invitation to mindfulness to support us in healing our social wounds, whatever the combination of social identities we’re working with. I read the audible book version in case people are interested in an audio version as opposed to reading and then putting it down and trying to do a meditation.
And then, of course, my website RhondaVMagee.com. I’d be happy to stay in touch with people here and on the socials. Thank you so much, my dear Melinda, for inviting me into this conversation with you.
MELINDA: Absolutely. My pleasure. I love all the work that you do. I’m glad you’re doing it and happy to support you in any way I can. Thank you. Thank you for this conversation.
RHONDA: Thank you. Same, same. Thank you. Keep up this good work.
MELINDA: We’ll share resources and a transcript from this discussion at ally.cc.
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Host: Melinda Briana Epler
Melinda Briana Epler has over 25 years of experience developing business innovation and inclusion strategies for startups, Fortune 500 companies, and global NGOs.
As CEO of Change Catalyst, Melinda currently works with the tech industry to solve diversity and inclusion together. Using her background in storytelling and large-scale culture change, she is a strategic advisor for tech companies, tech hubs, and governments around the world. She co-leads a series of global solutions-focused conferences called Tech Inclusion, where she has partnered with over 450 tech companies and community organizations and hosted 43 solutions-focused diversity and inclusion events around the world.
Previously, Melinda was a Marketing and Culture Executive and award-winning documentary filmmaker – her film and television work includes projects that exposed the AIDS crisis in South Africa, explored women’s rights in Turkey, and prepared communities for the effects of climate change. She has worked on several television shows, including NBC’s The West Wing.
Melinda is a TED speaker. She speaks, mentors and writes about diversity and inclusion in tech, allyship, social entrepreneurship, underrepresented entrepreneurs and investing. She has spoken on hundreds of stages around the world, including SXSW, Grace Hopper, Wisdom 2.0, the World Bank, Obama White House, Clinton Foundation, Black Enterprise, Google, Indeed, Capital One and McKinsey.
Watch Melinda’s TED Talk
Change Catalyst Co-Founder Melinda Briana Epler has spoken across the globe in hundreds of venues and virtual events. Empathy, Allyship, Advocacy, Microaggressions, Inclusive Leadership, and Building Inclusive Teams are just some of the topics Melinda has spoken on. Let us know about your next speaking engagement needs! Melinda has also spoken on how to build organizational capacity to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion, such as how to lead behavior change or how to build allies and advocates.
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