This post is part of Blogging Abroad’s 2017 New Years Blog Challenge, week two: The Danger of a Single Story
You need to know yourself before you can know others. In Chimamanda Ngozi’s TED Talk, she warns of the dangers of a single story. So often we stereotype, simplify, and over generalize people and cultures based on what we are taught and what others tell us. When you take a small piece of information and either take it to be true or apply it in a broader context than it was intended, you are perpetuating the single story. Doing so to an individual or culture gives them an incomplete narrative and strips them of their humanity. This is a trap that one can easily fall into, but can be avoided. In order to go beyond what has been laid out before us, we must have self awareness and a strong identity. One way of developing this is through meditation and mindfulness. By developing a practice one can come to identify and accept their authentic self and be present to fully accept others.
Here are 4 reasons why a mindfulness meditation practice can help you to avoid the trap of the single story.
1. Mindfulness meditation allows you to become a better observer
The first step in meditation is stopping to sit and be present to your thoughts, feelings, and sensations in your body. At first this was difficult for me as I was always trying to focus on my breath and often getting lost in trains of thought. Over time however, I have gone from just trying to concentrate to being able to observe. To simply sit and watch my thoughts, acknowledging them, and ultimately letting them pass by has taught me much about myself that were always there but I simply had to be still for them to come to light.
2. Mindfulness allows you to witness without passing judgment
An important process in meditation is letting thoughts naturally arise and pass without judgment. Often times the silence in between breaths gives way for deep emotions, hopes, and worries. This is a natural process that takes place whether or not we are in a structured meditation but the key is understanding that you cannot change them in that moment. The regrets that come from the past will always be there. The worries about the future are usually unfounded because we cannot just get up and solve all of our problems. Soon you come to realize that these ideas are less significant than you thought. By acknowledging these feelings without jumping up to try to fix them, we become more discerning of what is going on in our heads, of what thoughts are our own and what has been indoctrinated in us.
3. Mindfulness makes it easier to accept others
With practice, meditation lets us accept the things we cannot change. During meditation, when a dark memory from the past surfaces in my consciousness, I will acknowledge it and let it go. Without labeling it as good or bad, I can accept it for what it is without attaching to it. Put another way, it is part of me but I am not defined by it. Seeing yourself in this light, as you truly are, you start to see truth in the world and open your mind to what others truly are. You can question the stereotypes and generalizations from your education, religion, and media sources and start choosing your own. You can find your own experiences, be with people, and learn from them. Gaining more self awareness and knowing I have a unique story has helped me to see myself in the context of the world and that everyone has a unique story.
4. Mindfulness puts you in the present moment to see things as they are
The greatest benefit of meditation is that it puts us more in the present moment both during and after the practice. You can be more present in everyday life be it when you are walking, when you are cooking, or when you are with people. In the process of getting to know yourself, your own light will shine through and you will see the same in others. Being present gives you the clarity to see this light and others as they truly are. It opens you up to active listening and find out a story for yourself.
Meditation and mindfulness put us on a path to realizing our own individuality, humanity, and ultimately that of others. Simply put, self acceptance leads to the acceptance of others. If we really see ourselves, we can go beyond the surface to really see and understand others. The single story exists in media and literature everywhere you turn and can only be vanquished by truth. Sometimes we must reject what we have been told and the narratives we have created for ourselves, and a mindfulness meditation practice puts us on that path to identify truth. By coming to know one’s self, we can see ourselves in others and this opens us up hearing the whole story.