A 7-Point Practice Plan for the Engaged Meditator

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Friends of Shambhala NYC and IDP, meditating at Zuccotti Park in 2011. Photographer unknown.


In 2016, we saw the death of many special people. We also saw the death of many misguided ideas, including the obliteration of my own misguided view that my practice of meditation can happen without complete engagement with modern society. In that spirit, I have developed a 7-point practice plan for myself others to stay healthy and engaged in the coming year. 


The first three practices have to do with personal work:

1) Be Stubborn About Taking Care of Your Body: In times of fear and stress, sleeping, eating well, and exercise are the first things to evaporate. Let’s make sure they don’t. It all starts at home, and the first thing we need to do is take good care of our own bodies.

2) Meditate With Other People: Meditate as consistently as you can, sure. That’s always good advice. But this year, measure the consistency of your practice by how often you meditate not alone, but with other people. There is strength in numbers, and group practice totally changes the entire experience and adds inspiration and support that is hard to describe without experiencing first hand. If you can, find a local group. If you can’t, find your sangha online. If you want to practice with me, come find me at The Shambhala Meditation Center of NY, or on our podcast, Meditation in the City.

3) Remember Creative Expression and Humor: For me, the path to sanity always involves some form of creative expression (writing, drawing, collaboration with creative friends) as a daily way to work with my mind and my emotions. Just because the world is in great turmoil, does not mean we have to forsake creative expression. Creativity can be both serious and humorous. Don’t ever let anyone take your humor away from you.

The final four practices have to do with participation in community and society:

4) Be Vocal in Your Meditation Community: Push your sangha and organization toward engagement with local issues and national ones alike. Even if your sangha is a 501c3 non-profit organization, it can advocate for a huge array of issues affecting the world. The only thing it can’t do is advocate for electing specific officials. However, members of the same community can always gather on their own and organize to help get out the vote for those who share the values of empathy and interdependence. Many important local elections will happen in 2017 and 2018, and you can organize mindfully with friends to find out which ones need your help.

5) Practice Responsible Consumption: Vote with your dollars, with an emphasis on starving fossil fuels. Given that our federal government is, in many ways, now directly in the hands of Exxon-Mobil, we have to take the movement to end Climate Catastrophe under our own protection as consumers. What can you do as a consumer to end your dependence on fossil fuels? Can you compost? Stop using plastic bags and single-use water bottles? Purchase local foods? Stop eating red meat, which is far more destructive to the earth than any other animal protein? Pressure your bank to divest from the DaPL? Change banks? Change your electricity bill to only use renewable energy sources? Invest in solar-power yourself? What can you do that I haven’t thought of?

With every dollar allocated mindfully, we can also support the communities and organizations that act as sanctuaries of mindfulness and compassion. The world looks the way it does because we allocate our energy without attention. What if we really invested in the things we care about in 2017?

6) Engage in Diversity and Anti-racism Training: It is time to stem the tide of White Nationalism and Supremacy moving through our world. Can you take the time to train to Undo Racism in your own heart? Here is The People’s Institute, which the Interdependence Project attended to train many of our leadership. For meditators, a good book to start with to begin this exploration is Radical Dharma.

 7) Use Social Media to Spread Accurate News and Action: A large portion of the news media seems to have simply abandoned journalistic responsibilities. In fact, the major TV networks spent a total of only 32 minutes during the entire 2016 presidential campaign covering actual policy issues! That’s amazing, in a very bad way.

Use the platforms you participate in to spread information about stories which TV news is neglecting, as well as to spread the word about concrete positive actions that friends can engage with in simple and meaningful ways. Recruit buddies, practice mindfulness, and engage in group actions together. How we each deal with media is one of the greatest karmic issues of our time, and one that classic spiritual teachings could not address directly. Do not participate in clickbait, and call out profit-driven media when they use misleading headlines, engage in false equivalence between “opinions,” or publish stories that distract us for the important issues of the day. Each of us needs to become a curator of specific events that matter in the world.

Ethan Nichtern is a Shastri, a senior teacher, in the Shambhala tradition. He is the senior teacher in residence for the NY Shambhala community. He is the author of several books. His most recent, The Road Home: A Contemporary Exploration of the Buddhist Path (FSG North Point) made several major lists of the Best Books of 2015. He is also the founder of The Interdependence Project, an organization dedicated to Buddhist-inspired meditation and psychology, transformational activism, mindful arts, and meaningful media. He teaches and lectures around the world and is based in New York City.

You can connect with Ethan in person at the Shambhala Center of New York at the following gatherings and events:

Weekly Dharma Gathering: The Marriage of Meditation And Activism
Real Happiness: A 28-Day Meditation Challenge
Shambhala Training Weekend II: Awaken Your Inner Warrior