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Happy Martin Luther King Day with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


The United State celebrates the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a national holiday. This is unusual as Dr. King was not a president or a general or a founding father. What he was a leader who changed the country and the lives of countless people with love, forgiveness, morality, and non-violence. There are few leaders in modern world history who had a greater impact using  only the power of moral authority and non-violent leadership. Perhaps Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela qualify. I can think of no better reason to have a national holiday than to celebrate this remarkable life.


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was no Pollyanna. He understood completely the dangers of confronting hate directly. In fact, he said “If physical death is the price that I must pay to free my white brothers and sisters from a permanent death of the spirit, then nothing can be more redemptive.” What is remarkable about this statement is that he saw the struggle against hate not as a way to gain benefit for himself or his followers, but as a means to help the perpetrators of hate to become better people. He didn’t vilify, be saw the redemptive opportunity to change hearts and minds.


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. confronted hate not with force, violence, or more hate, but with love and understanding. As he said “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Like mindfulness, he promulgated loving kindness and compassion as means to change the individual and thereby change the society. “I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear.” Hate feeds on hate and when it is confronted with love it has nothing to feed on and can starve the beast. When an angry and hateful person is confronted with non-violence and compassion it can negate it and have a remarkable transformative effect on the person, making it much harder to hate. This Dr. King understood.


With mindfulness we can, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did, see each individual, regardless of whether their actions are good or bad, regardless of their race, faith, or national origin, and regardless of their sexual orientation as human beings deserving of love and understanding. Mindfulness reveals that humans in their essence are all alike. It is the lack of mindfulness that has led to varying beliefs and actions. It is mindlessness that fuels anger and hate.


With mindfulness we can fully experience and appreciate our own anger and hate and its effects upon our bodies and minds. We all experience these states during our lives. They can take over and result in hurtful behavior. But by being mindfully aware of how we feel in our bodies and the thoughts that arise when we become angry and hateful, we can better recognize these states when they first arise. This allows us to accept them as they are and respond to them in a more appropriate, constructive, and loving manner. This requires mindfulness practice with sensitivity and attention to the feelings in the present moment. But if it is practiced, then over time we become better and better at recognizing anger and hate and transforming them into insight and understanding.


One of the ways that mindfulness can transform anger and hate is by replacing it with peacefulness. Mindfulness practices teach how to find inner peace and equanimity. It shows us that peacefulness is always there and can be produced when needed. This inner peacefulness can be used as a refuge from emotional turmoil. We can learn to use this training to confront anger, fear, and hatred by recognizing when these states arise and using our ability to find inner peace to replace these feelings with calm and equanimity. This is not something that can be accomplished without practice. But it can be learned through mindfulness practices.


The more mindful we become the better and better able we become at recognizing when anger and hate are arising and responding by replacing them with peacefulness. An important process involved in this is what is called mindful non-reactivity. This allows us to respond to anger and hate with non-violence. With practice, the events of the present moment do not necessarily produce reflexive negative behaviors. The reflexes can be interrupted and prevented from emerging and producing harm. Hence, practicing mindfulness can help us to become like Dr. King practicing non-violence.


Within each of us are the seeds of racism. Some believe that evolution imbedded these seeds in the DNA. For many of us in the older generations we were trained in racism by the structure of society that promoted distance, a sense of other, strangeness and fear. Mindfulness can help each of us uproot the seeds of this racism. By becoming more aware of our inner life we become better able to recognize when racist thoughts and feeling begin to arise and not only not respond to them but to transform them into their opposites, feelings of acceptance, understanding, and love. Looking deeply into our inner life in the present moment is essential to overcoming our own racism.


The dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr for a just and loving society can be produced by mindfulness practices. What better way to honor this remarkable man than to practice mindfulness on his holiday and to make a commitment to continue this practice throughout the year and to become non-violent and tolerant and to confront anger and hate with loving kindness and compassion.


So, celebrate Martin Luther King day with Mindfulness.


Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. I am not unmindful of the fact that violence often brings about momentary results. Nations have frequently won their independence in battle. But in spite of temporary victories, violence never brings permanent peace.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr


In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Reduce Intergroup Bias with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“All biases, even the most deeply sub-conscious ones, periodically toss up a clue to their presence in the form of a thought. It is our job to observe that thought and examine it to see what it tells us about our hidden beliefs. This means we need to watch what we think.” – Sondra Thiederman


Whether we admit it or not we all have prejudices. We all have biases. This is a normal human experience that appears to have been built into us through evolution. It is thought to have evolved to promote cohesion and loyalty to the individual’s group and suspicion of members of other groups. In primitive times this would tend to help the group function for the benefit and defense of the included individuals helping to insure survival. But in modern times it no longer functions adaptively and instead promotes unnecessary suspicion and hatred. For the modern human living in a diverse society, overcoming prejudice and bias, is adaptive and would lead to a more cohesive and functional society.


There are suggestions that mindfulness may help to counteract bias and prejudice and can help the individual overcome the effects of prejudice. In today’s Research News article “Mindful attention reduces linguistic intergroup bias.” See:

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Tincher and colleagues examine the effects of mindfulness on implicit biases in college students. It is difficult, however, to directly measure these prejudices and biases as the modern societal politeness and political correctness tends to moderate any overt statements of prejudice. So, Tincher and colleagues employed an indirect method to assess prejudice and biases. They took advantage of the fact that they are expressed in our language and thought and result in stereotypes.


Prejudice and biases can be seen in subtle linguistic expressions. If we observe a member of a groups acting in a stereotypical manner, according to our prejudiced expectations of the behavior of that group member, then people tend to characterize it with abstract, conceptual, descriptions. For example, if we view a picture depicting an enemy hitting another person we might characterize the behavior as aggressive (abstract). On the other hand, when the behavior is contrary to our view of the group, then people tend to characterize it with concrete descriptors. For example, if we view a picture depicting an enemy helping another person get up after falling we might characterize the behavior as pulling someone up off the ground (concrete). But, when characterizing the behavior of members of our group, with positive behaviors are described abstractly and conceptually and negative behaviors concretely. For example, if we view a picture depicting a friend helping another person get up after falling we might characterize the behavior considerate (abstract) while if we view a picture depicting a friend hitting another person we might characterize the behavior as hitting someone (concrete).


Tincher and colleagues had college students view similar pictures and describe the behavior. They then provided a mindfulness induction instruction (observe their internal reactions and thoughts) or an immersion instruction (picture yourself in the situation, live the events). They found that the immersion group acted in a biased manner describing friend positive or enemy negative behaviors more abstractly while they described friend negative or enemy positive behaviors more concretely. On the other hand, the mindfulness instruction group had much more muted responses, with much smaller effects. They demonstrated less biased and prejudiced responses.


These results suggest that mindfulness reduces these linguistic responses that are indicative of implicit biases toward friends and enemies. This is a very indirect method of assessing biases but given that it’s socially frowned upon to overtly express bias, indirect methods are the only way to get at the true feelings and behaviors. As such, the results suggest that we have these implicit prejudices and that mindfulness can reduce them. The societal implications are clear that our unwanted biases and prejudices can be reduced with mindfulness.


So, reduce intergroup bias with mindfulness.


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


mindfulness meditation techniques can reduce implicit biases. Affecting all manner of interpersonal interactions, implicit biases are unconscious attitudes or associations that influence our understanding, behavior and decisions. . . . . mindfulness serves to calm and compose the practitioner, such that emotions – and hence positive and negtive emotional responses – are subdued. Subdued emotions perhaps then lead to a more neutral processing of stimuli.“ – Hannah Maslen


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+


Study Summary

Tincher MM, Lebois LA, Barsalou LW. Mindful attention reduces linguistic intergroup bias. Mindfulness (N Y). 2016 Apr;7(2):349-360. Epub 2015 Oct 15.

PMID: 27200110. Doi: 10.1007/s12671-015-0450-3



A brief mindfulness intervention diminished bias in favor of one’s in-group and against one’s out-group. In the linguistic intergroup bias (LIB), individuals expect in-group members to behave positively and out-group members to behave negatively. Consequently, individuals choose abstract language beset with character inferences to describe these expected behaviors, and in contrast, choose concrete, objective language to describe unexpected behaviors. Eighty-four participants received either mindful attention instructions (observe their thoughts as fleeting mental states) or immersion instructions (become absorbed in the vivid details of thoughts). After instruction, participants viewed visual depictions of an imagined in-group or out-group member’s positive or negative behavior, selecting the best linguistic description from a set of four descriptions that varied in abstractness. Immersion groups demonstrated a robust LIB. Mindful attention groups, however, exhibited a markedly tempered LIB, suggesting that even a brief mindfulness related instruction can implicitly reduce the propensity to perpetuate stereotypical thinking through language. These results contribute to understanding the mechanisms that facilitate unprejudiced thinking.


Activate your Buddhism!

Buddhist teachings are clear regarding the equality of all sentient beings. In fact they are seen as expressions of the same totality and are all one. Thus in Buddhism the idea of prejudice toward others makes no sense. It would effectively be being prejudiced against yourself.

Teachings are one thing, actual behavior is another. Do the ideas of Buddhism affect prejudicial thoughts and behaviors in everyday life. Today’s article “Buddhist Concepts as Implicitly Reducing Prejudice and Increasing Prosociality”

addresses this very issue. It appears that when people are subliminally exposed to the ideas of Buddhism that they demonstrate reduced prejudice and increased tolerance and prosocial behavior.

The effect of subliminally activating Buddhist ideas on prejudice is indirect. It appears to act by increasing compassion and consequently increasing tolerance. It does so not only in Buddhist practitioners but also Christians, not only westerners but also Chinese. Hence, Buddhist concepts are powerful, by increasing compassion they activate many forms of prosocial behavior.

It is remarkable that such a subtle and subconscious induction of Buddhist concepts could produce these effects cross culturally and even in non-Buddhists. This underscores the power of these concepts.

So, activate your Buddhism and be more compassionate and tolerant!