The fight for equality in our immigrant nation requires a new, mindful paradigm regarding the rights, values and citizenship of immigrants — and ourselves
Every evening, I resolve to wake up early and have 20 minutes to myself before my daughter and husband awake and the daily rush begins. Most mornings since December, I have instead stayed in bed, sometimes in deep sleep, and at other times, in a half-awake state, guiltily enjoying the warmth of the covers and, if my daughter has snuck in at night, her peaceful breathing. In this way, I’m not much different than most other Americans, well intentioned about our health and well-being yet thwarted by the mundane but real stresses of our daily lives. Overcome with exhaustion, or a hangover from too much wine or too much television the night before, we relish that extra 20 minutes in bed—a blissful treat in advance of what will likely be a hectic day of appointments, errands, and deadlines. The challenge inherent in those days is juggling the must-dos and the should-dos, with little time for the precious want-to-dos.
Like others, I could benefit from 20 minutes a day of me-time — quiet, unencumbered by responsibility, and free from demands. But year after year, I find those 20 minutes to be elusive. This year, I am trying to make peace with that, mostly because I’m accepting that my mindful practice is engaging in meaningful and transformative work. Without my work, I could have all the minutes in the world and be restless.
What is this work that brings me the same peace and satisfaction of 20 minutes of quiet time? It’s ensuring that the playing field of American democracy is more level and equitable.
At the New American Leaders Project, we’re mindful of the glaring gap between the American public and its leaders. The 114th Congress is 80 percent white and 80 percent male; the country is only 72 percent white, and is more than 50 percent female. There are further divisions – in income and religion, for example. We are working to close the gap by training people to run for office at the local and state levels, and eventually move to Congress. Why does this matter? Well, for one, leaders who come from diverse backgrounds are more likely to be mindful of engaging their community members in the political process. They understand the challenges facing a first-time voter in this country, or someone for whom English is not a first language. Leaders who really reflect the diversity of the American experience can do something else—they can create policies that respond to that diversity. Assuring that immigrants can drive to work, benefit from in-state tuition, or have translated materials about government programs are some examples of what immigrant legislators do.
As an immigrant, I value American individualism. It’s one of the reasons I came to this country, and stayed.
Often, we think of mindfulness as a practice that’s individualistic. But it doesn’t have to be. We are mindful of the earth, for example, and we should be mindful of the people around us. Not just in ways that serve our interests and make us feel that we are caring and committed human beings, but in ways that explicitly honor the connections between us. We can teach immigrants how to exercise their right to vote, or we can see immigrants as the leaders of our country, for whom we can vote. We can see immigrants as people willing to come to America for a better life, or we can see America as a better place because immigrants continue to come here. This is the mindfulness I practice – of human interconnectedness, of improving others’ human conditions while also working on my own. If 20 minutes a day of meditation and yoga could get me closer to a more inclusive America, I’d be getting out of bed much faster on these winter mornings. For now, I’m taking those 20 minutes of sleep instead, mindfully and purposefully, to refuel for the workday ahead.