madness and mindfulness

One of my favorite pastimes is walking Marcus Garvey Park, a twenty acre square in Harlem that forces Fifth Avenue traffic to slow down and behold its gated splendor. By day, the park plays host to pickup basketball games, boisterous children, and an endless parade of pooping dogs. By night, it’s largely deserted.

Last week, I went on a late night walk around the park to clear my head. On my second revolution, a police vehicle had stationed itself in the walking path. Negotiating this inconvenience was simple enough: act normal, swing wide so I’m seen in plenty of time, rehearse the potential verbal exchange in my head, and make it home alive.

The absurdity of this mental checklist struck me as I rounded the southwest corner, unscathed.

I cut my walk short. Not because I felt like there was any danger inherent in walking past the police every ten minutes, but because my mind was suddenly buffeted by a torrent of thoughts that I shouldn’t have to think. Thoughts that came as naturally as one might mentally review a grocery list.

One of the ways I’ve maintained my mental and emotional health this year is through meditation. And part of my mindfulness practice involves disassociating my identity from the thoughts that arise in consciousness. Which is to say: I’m not my thoughts, I’m the thinker of my thoughts. It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one.

The alternative is a waking state more akin to being on a cognitive hamster wheel rather than one of agency and intention. In moments like these, creating this mental space allows me to observe the ways in which the despicable lie of racism permeates the mind. I’m grateful for the ability to observe these thoughts, but simultaneously galled by their existence.

As I made my way home, it struck me how much of what I share in this newsletter is safe and predictable. Yes, we traverse some uncomfortable terrain, but it’s distilled to the point of occupying a fairly well-defined category in the mind of my audience.

But I feel a responsibility as a writer and as a black man in America to surface the madness. And while I’m at it, let’s continue to loudly reject the stigma associated with mental health in the black community. The best way to walk through a haunted house is with the lights on.

Upcoming appearances
If your organization or event needs an experienced speaker on the topics of equity and inclusion, please get in touch.

  • 12/1/16 in NYC: Quartet Health’s “More than just a Number” Diversity & Inclusion Panel
  • 12/3/16 in Philly: Whitney M. Young, Jr. Memorial Conference
  • 1/18/17 in Boston: BREAD (Boston’s Racial Economic Activated Dialogue)

Abernathy is the leading online magazine for professional black men, and this is an excerpt from a recent newsletter. Subscribe for full and early access.

Willie Jackson is a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Consultant & Facilitator with ReadySet, a boutique consulting firm based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is a frequent writer and speaker on the topics of workplace equity, global diversity, and inclusive leadership. Connect on LinkedIn or get in touch.

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