Meditation with People on the Margins of Society
Despite the common media image, meditation is not restricted to the affluent. The World Community for Christian Meditation has long been involved in bringing meditation to the poor, the neglected and those pushed onto the margins of society.
Not only can it bring them hope and courage from discovering their own inner resources and dignity, it also stimulates social change by bringing the haves and have-nots closer together. It is, in fact, a kind of ‘silent revolution’ of justice and peace that starts in the heart of each of us. WCCM teaches meditation in many different classes of society: there are meditation groups for the homeless in Boston (US) and London (UK), meditation with marginalised people in the streets of Middlesbrough (UK), with refugees (US) and with children rescued from abusive parents in São Paulo (Brazil). WCCM also has a special relationship with L’Arche, the international community dedicated to the well-being of those with mental handicaps
These are examples of the transformative practice of meditation with people marginalised or even broken by rejection. Meditation and the way it is shared with them shows how it can help them not only to survive but to reclaim their dignity and capacity to flourish. Within the UK, there have been many examples of this in Terry Doyle’s work with marginalised people, including refugees, in Middlesbrough. Here is an extract from a report on a subsidised retreat for refugees facilitated by Terry at Ampleforth in Yorkshire:
“The days away proved to be a profoundly healing and beneficial time for all involved, and very humbling for me to be able to introduce the gifts of our meditation practice to such lovely but deeply wounded people. The time was not without its challenges however as many of the group were very hesitant at first to go into silence and apprehensive to begin to negotiate what traumatic memories might be lurking in their minds. Also, the mix between Christian and Muslim in the group made the use of the mantra Maranatha slightly problematic- an issue we overcame when some used Maranatha and others preferred the phrase, “I am safe, relax, all is well”. Some of the group were struggling to feel relaxed enough in themselves to commence the inner work. Some even asked in our introductions if they could leave their eyes open when meditating. So, after lunch we had fun playing table tennis and pool before doing some Tai Chi to help relax and soften the body mostly locked in tensions and tightness through years of struggle and hardships.
“We had more group sharing in a circle which helped to bond us as a group. We did a session of “energy psychology” or Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) which further served to build the necessary trust and confidence to begin the process of dropping our defences just a little bit, so we could, tentatively enter the healing waters to be found in the silence and stillness of meditation. What happened in the first meditation period was so deeply beautiful it brought tears to my eyes.
“One of the young men from Iran who had been particularly anxious before the trip because he had an important meeting coming up with a government official that was greatly troubling him. He was very fearful to the point that his body was shaking, but he listened to my words and stayed with the process until he felt able to let go and started to relax for the first time in years:
“I cannot believe the meditation session; you have no idea what it is like inside my mind. I get no quiet, ever, and nothing stops it. My mind is so bad; I am dying in there. Then we meditated and it was, ohhh, I can feel the peace coming into my body. I had no idea this could ever happen for me. I had such problem because I cannot relax. In the meditation session, I could feel energy around me. All of a sudden my hand jumped similar to a shock and my body was coming from tight, tight, tight, to loose”.
“The atmosphere in the room was just so peaceful and holy; a Sacred Space wherein the Spirit could begin the process of healing and harmony so needed by the bodies, hearts and minds of the group.”