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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


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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.


Reduce Discrimination Produced Depression with Mindfulness

“The stigmatized individual is asked to act so as to imply neither that his burden is heavy nor that bearing it has made him different from us; … he is advised to reciprocate naturally with an acceptance of himself and us, an acceptance of him that we have not quite extended to him in the first place. A PHANTOM ACCEPTANCE is thus allowed to provide the base for a PHANTOM NORMALCY.” ― Erving Goffman


Discrimination based upon race, religion, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, etc. has been going on since the beginning of recorded history. Even though quite common it can have considerable negative impact for all who are involved but especially for the subject of the discrimination. General well-being, self-esteem, self-worth, and social relations can be severely impacted as a result of discrimination. This can, in turn, result in depression.


In the U.S. discrimination against African Americans is very common. In a recent poll, 51% of Americans expressed anti-black sentiments which was increased from four years ago, African-Americans comprise only 13% of the U.S. population and 14% of the monthly drug users, but are 37% of the people arrested for drug-related offenses in America, and African Americans receive 10% longer sentences than whites for the same crimes. Discrimination against women is also common. Women on average earn 22.5% less than men, have to work for more years before receiving promotion, the greater the education level the greater the disparity, and minority women fare even worse. In addition, women are 10 times more likely to be exposed to high levels of domestic violence and are nearly 4 times more likely to be exposed to sexual harassment than men. As a society we should do everything in our power to fight against discrimination in any form. But, we also need to deal with the consequences of discrimination when it occurs.


Mindfulness practices have been shown to reduce prejudice (see It has also been shown to reduce depression (see Mindfulness has also is known to enhance positive emotions (see and positive emotions reduce the negative effects of discrimination. So perhaps mindfulness is related to the impact of discrimination on the individual. In today’s Research News article “Discrimination hurts, but mindfulness may help: Trait mindfulness moderates the relationship between perceived discrimination and depressive symptoms”

Brown-Iannuzzi and colleagues analyzed responses on an on-line questionnaire of perceived racism, mindfulness, depression, and positive emotions completed by community participants.


They found that “the most common source of discrimination was gender (19.7%), followed by race or ethnicity (17%), body weight (14.4%) and age (14.3%).” They also found that high levels of discrimination were accompanied by high levels of depression while high levels of positive emotions and mindfulness were accompanied by low levels of depression. In addition, high levels of mindfulness were found to mitigate the effects of discrimination on depression. Participants high in mindfulness showed less of an increase in depression when exposed to discrimination.


Mindfulness has been repeatedly demonstrated to reduce the psychological and physiological responses to stress (see So, mindfulness may reduce the negative impact of the stress produced by the discrimination thereby reducing depression. Mindfulness may also act by focusing the individual more in the present moment. Rumination about past discrimination and worries regarding future discrimination may well amplify discrimination’s impact on depression. Focusing on the present moment may make it easier to cope with the discrimination, isolating it and thereby decreasing its effects.


Regardless of its mechanism of action, it is clear the mindfulness is associated with lower depression and a lessened effect of discrimination on depression. So, reduce discrimination produced depression with mindfulness.


“One of the best ways you can fight discrimination is by taking good care of yourself. Your survival is not just important; it’s an act of revolution.” ― DaShanne Stokes
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies