This is the second part of our conversation with the women of the Asian Women Wisdom network. Read part 1 here.
Question 3: Why do you think mindfulness could be helpful to others, especially to Asian women?
After that dive into the personal aspects of mindfulness, I dove straight for the hard core of April. What could mindfulness do for all the awesome Asian women discovering their voices and making themselves heard?
Jung-Ock Shin Starrett: My family moved from Korea to New York City for my father’s assignment when I was 13 years old. This set up a fierce clash between the pride I felt for my Korean heritage and the restricting cultural norms my family and society tried to impose on me. Though I pursued my studies and became a JD (Juris Doctor), my mother was unsatisfied that I wasn’t the married MRS of a Korean doctor or lawyer.
As Asian women, we can use mindfulness to help break the chains of cultural limitations and oppression imposed on us. It helps us cultivate an attitude of curiosity and kindness toward ourselves, which can give us the strength to end the generational degradation, demoralization, and devaluation of women’s worth and contribution.
In a webinar for Smith College (a women’s college in the US) alumnae, I said, “I envision a world where every woman shines her light and lives out her full potential. It is urgently needed in today’s world, that we lead wherever we are, whatever we do, right here, right now.” Hearing those words again, I recognized that dream in my voice, it was also the voice of many generations of women in my family, many of whom couldn’t speak their mind, let alone pursue their dreams, the way I can today in the 21st century.
Luana: There is a lot of pressure to succeed in your career, to be beautiful, to get married, to have kids, to be a good daughter, a good mother, a good wife, a good worker, a good enough everything for everybody else.
Mindfulness meditation practices help us recognize the suffering in trying to be everything to everyone, the suffering in our constant approval-seeking mode. Then there is also the deep suffering passed down from generations of patriarchy, from the physical and emotional abuse and use of Asian women. I’ve also noticed a lot of collective shame and frozen trauma that can be tough to dislodge and talk about.
By pausing to be kind to ourselves, and to get in touch with our heart’s intentions, we find more freedom and integrity in our lives. My hope is that with these practices we can support each other and collectively wake up to and heal these deep wounds.
Kimiko: Asian women are trained to be sensitive to other people’s needs, but not to their own. As a result many of us feel lost, or worse, negative about being clear about our needs. Mindfulness helps us honestly and gently acknowledge and assert our needs and values.
It also helps us become aware of our own internalized discrimination, after all, gender discrimination does not exist only in Asian males. Asian females also internalize the discrimination against females, and it becomes unconscious bias.
Mindfulness lets us re-examine our biases and judgments, promoting beautiful cultural attributes, such as compassion and kindness, in healthy ways. I.e., not because “I must be kind,” but because “I AM kind.”
Hirono: I think that most Asian women (and men) are taught to excel and always work very hard. There is nothing negative about working hard to achieve goals in life, but it can be a daunting and never-ending quest to achieve more and more in life. This attitude can result in self-criticism, chronic stress, fatigue, and self-doubt.
Mindfulness meditation, as I have mentioned, can help us to compassionately accept who we are, to end our war against ourselves and live life from a place of clarity and equanimity.
Janessa: Mindfulness has helped me, as an Asian woman, move from unknowingly resenting my ethnicity to learning to open up and embrace myself more authentically.
I grew up in an extremely homogenous, caucasian region of Canada. In my twenties, I moved to Toronto (one of the most diverse cities in the world) and later to San Francisco. I experienced a gradual process of opening up to my ethnicity and for the first time in my life began identifying outwardly as “Asian”.
I became mindful of the effects of my upbringing on how I saw myself in the world. I hadn’t realized I hated myself for being Asian. These stories of many Asian women are similar. My journey is ongoing as I actively unpack what it means for me to be Asian in this society. I see how color blindness is harmful, and how we can educate ourselves to be color brave and embrace differences instead.
Rotjanee Daphne Larsen: I think that many Asian women are like most women in the world, they don’t have a voice, are un-confrontational are emotionally numbed. By learning mindfulness and self-compassion, a woman can learn to reconnect with her voice and her emotions and express them in wise and respectable ways.
Question 4: What is your top tip for beginners?
Ok, the ladies won. After that daunting journey through dimensions of constricting social norms and internalized discrimination, I’m completely sold on the idea of mindful meditation. And I admit that I did try and failed to meditate multiple times (almost on a weekly basis …). To a brighter end, I wanted something simple I could hold on to.
Jung-Ock: First ask yourself, “Why do I want to meditate?” We’re likely to develop a healthy habit when we’re clear on our intention and follow a personal purpose. It helps to get out of autopilot mode and avoid being easily sidetracked.
Luana: Know that you cannot fail in mindfulness meditation. Know that your heart is always here, resting in your chest, waiting for you to show up.
Jungeun: It is more important that “you are doing it anyway” than “how long or where you are doing it.” Even one or two mindful breaths are better than “none” mindful moments in a day.
Urana: Trust the experience. Many times I have fallen asleep during my meditation. And I used to feel bad. But then I realized that what I needed was deep rest and meditation was giving me exactly that.
Kimiko: Forget about “doing it right” and find the way to make it a pleasant, kind, worthwhile moment, however long or short it might be.
Hirono: Please do not be too hard on yourself. You can always start again.
Janessa: Repeat to yourself: There’s no way to fail! You’re always doing it right. Set an intention to meditate one minute per day. Set a timer for no more, no less. Once you hit the one minute mark, you’re all set, pick up and carry on with your day.
After practicing several one-minute meditations, you may notice you want to stay a bit longer. It feels like it would be easy to keep going. So try staying and slowly increase your timer to what feels right. Whenever I feel like I’m “too busy” to find one minute in my day, I pause and realize I can probably make time. If I don’t have one minute to be with myself, my priorities are usually not aligned with what I value.
We check our refrigerators daily, can we find time to check the current state of our minds and bodies?
Where to start: Guides for beginners
Now, let us begin. If you have someone or some group to guide you, that’s great (choose wisely, though). If not, here are some books and apps to set you on the right course.
- Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn)
- The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh
- Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace) by Chade-Meng Tan
- The Wisdom of Sundays: Life-Changing Insights from Super Soul Conversations by Oprah Winfrey