Recently I began facilitating a mindful meditation practice at the Gender Identity Center (GIC) of Colorado. The practice is open to all, but it is tailored to trans and non-binary folx. As a mental skills and performance excellence consultant, I often describe the ability to attain a mindful state as the goal, and meditation as the training to achieve the goal. As a clinician, I have found a mindful practice to be very helpful both to me and to my clients. Combining these two approaches has allowed my clients to make inroads into challenging topics and face trauma without becoming emmeshed in it. The impetus for bringing the practice to a group setting came from several clients asking if we could do more than we had time for in sessions, as well as from my desire to create a meaningful, hands-on community service project for Point Foundation.
Beginning this practice at the GIC has generated some interesting conversations among the interns and clients, as well as among my friends. The discussions have had two basic themes: why mindfulness, and why a practice dedicated to trans and non-binary people. As people whose bodies don’t always conform to societal norms, we receive messages which tell us we are misaligned. Sometimes we internalize those messages in destructive ways. Jon Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness as “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” If you imagine receiving and internalizing messages which tell us that our bodies are somehow wrong, you may begin to understand how that present-moment, non-judgmental awareness can sometimes be a challenge.
If you have participated in any mindfulness activities, you’ll recognize that the first part of the practice is to say hello to your body and become aware of your present experience. This is usually accomplished by some kind of breath work and an examination of your body. Some people use chakras, progressive muscle relaxation, or visualizations to get to that examination. Regardless, we spend some time arriving in a meditative state by breathing in a controlled manner and checking in with our bodies. I want to be clear here that not all trans and non-binary people find incongruity in our experience within our skin, however, there are many of us who do experience physical dysphoria. Additionally, dysphoria isn’t exclusive to non-binary and trans bodies, and no one encounters it in the same way.
How, then, do we achieve a mindful state when walking into an experience of the body and we hit roadblocks of judgement and (potential) trauma? While I don’t have perfect answers, in the spirit of mindfulness, we are exploring this question together at the GIC. I wanted to create a brave space where whatever feelings come up as we explore a practice can be met with understanding and compassion. So far in our practice together, we have found restlessness and anxiety particularly around the chest and pelvic areas and we have been able to work through some of that together. The beautiful piece of this journey has been what members have brought to the group. Several have offered suggestions I would never have thought about like opening your eyes to reduce panic, and some very powerful imagery. We’ve talked about moving meditation (which is one of my favorites), meditation for energization, how to use breathwork in tense situations, and how to find acceptance and letting go through the gift that is the beginner’s mind.
This last one has been the most precious gift to me. The beginner’s mind (or child’s mind) reminds us to look at each moment as unique. For me, every time I see a rainbow, particularly a full arc, I can feel that sheer wonder at the world just as I did the first time I saw a rainbow. Knowing the science behind them doesn’t change the heart-fluttering joy and spontaneous smile that comes to my face. There was a time before we had judgement about our bodies, and if we can embrace the beginner’s mind, we can touch that experience again in the current moment.
The beauty in a mindful practice is that the more we practice the meditation, the better we become at achieving the state. And if we can achieve the state more readily, we can remove those judgmental roadblocks and experience the joy that is the trans and non-binary body.
Whit is pursuing a Master of Arts degree in Sport and Performance Psychology at the University of Denver Graduate School of Professional Psychology. Whit is particularly dedicated to creating safe spaces for LGBTQ athletes and has embraced opportunities both professional and informal to encourage support of queer students and athletes in many venues. Read more about Whit here.