By Rosie Acosta
“Meditation is for rich people”, said a loud Spanish voice over the phone, my sweet father.
My Spanish/English translation has been a bit off the last few years. Maybe I misunderstood.
My father had just finished telling me how much stress he’s been having. He has two slipped discs in his spine, and the pain makes it difficult for him to pretty much do anything. He’s not been sleeping; he explains yet again the financial woes of being a single man living with a roommate, and a career as a struggling artist. This is the sweetest man I know; he’s a wise little sage in his own right, and an overall major stress case.
I grew up in East Los Angeles in a little suburb just outside the city limits, Rosemead. Growing up in a largely Hispanic neighborhood where most of our childhood revolved around going to school, weekend beach trips to Santa Monica, and the regular neighborhood domestic dispute. Hearing sirens at night was basically as normal as Mexican soap operas on our television. In the early 90’s, just after the L.A. riots, racial tensions were high and there seemed to be a consistent sense of unease everywhere.
I learned to meditate when I was 6 years old. It was the first time I heard a gunshot. I ran to the door thinking my friends were having a firework party outside. I can still feel my grandmother’s’ arm quickly grabbing me just as I reached the front door, quickly yanking me to the ground telling me to cover my head. I remember being a little confused, but not afraid. I closed my eyes and just listened to the sound of my breath, and just stared at my belly…“it goes up…and it goes down” and on it went for what felt like hours, until we got up and just carried on with our day. I was more intrigued by the anomaly of how my belly was moving on its own, and how my body was breathing than what had actually just happened.
As I grew older, and our neighborhood became overrun by drugs and gang violence, I began to realize that perhaps the anxiousness I felt when walking to and from school wasn’t normal. The fact that I had a hard time sleeping and concentrating was beginning to affect my life. I remember my teacher being so concerned about the dark circles around my eyes they called my parents in for questioning. Both of my parents worked to make ends meet, my grandmother was left as a caretaker for my older sister and I. It was extremely difficult for them to identify what the issue was.
Anxiety and stress management wasn’t on anyone’s list of qualifications or on their list of to-dos. Neither of my parents ever did anything to deal with the stress of having to raise two girls in one of the most expensive cities in the world, in a neighborhood where their best friends son had just been killed during a drive by shooting. I’m sure that telling my mom to go take a yoga class to get “centered” would have been more of an insult than an invitation to release some stress from a hard day’s work.
So I’m not at all surprised when my father responds to me in this way when I suggest he should meditate. For him these are leisure activities that only people with time and money can indulge in. Trying to remove the stigma around yoga and meditation being hobbies for rich people isn’t an easy feat. I can see the challenge when the cost of a class is the weekly budget for groceries. I can see why it’s not too motivating to get your body-mind and spirit on. Changing this perception is just as hard as removing the stigma around organic food and elitism.
Spiritual pursuits, feeling good in your body, and wanting to be healthy should be something that everyone can do if they so choose, no matter what their socioeconomic background is. If there is a desire for change, to alleviate stress or just to find peace, meditation is absolutely 100% free.
Mediation is about paying attention; it’s about being in the present moment, it’s listening, even if it’s painful, even when you don’t want to face the chaos all around you. We are all on the same journey; it’s really about making a choice. You can choose to take just a little bit of time, for yourself, to sit, to be quiet, and to experience home in your body and in your heart.
I told my dad, if he had time to worry, he had time to meditate.
Thanks to the Internet, there are so many free online meditation courses out there all you have to do is search.
The most important thing is to be open to the possibility that perhaps we have the key to restoring ourselves back to balance, and this has nothing to do with our pre-dispositions. There is an entire world within us that has cost us absolutely nothing; the innate wisdom we have developed over time has come from our experiences. Perhaps our own experiences have caused us loss or heartache, but it is ours just the same. Most of what we need is already within us. The ability to take just a few minutes a day to sit and observe the fluctuation of thoughts, to listen to the rhythm of our breath can be enough to release us from whatever pre-conceived ideals we have, and to lift whatever obstacles are standing in the way of living our most happy and healthy life.
Rosie Acosta is a health coach, yoga and meditation teacher, and writer