On Revolutionary Mindfulness and Restorative Justice

Rhonda Magee

We’re a nation born of blood, slavery, and genocide. This original trauma re-enacts itself in many ways… We must become skilled healers. We must be brave ones to take on juggernauts of harm. —Fania Davis, co-founder, Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth

So how do we become these skilled healers and brave ones? A late October conference pointed the way via keynotes from two lawyers and an array of other sessions that offered instruction, research, and compelling personal narrative.

The event? “Radicalizing Contemplative Education: Compassion, Intersectionality, and Justice in Challenging Times,” the ninth Annual Conference of the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education (ACMHE). This was a conference geared toward educators, students, and other academic professionals. It marked the 20th anniversary of the founding of the ACMHE presenter, Center for Contemplative Mind (CMind), co-founded by longtime friend of the Institute, Mirabai Bush.

Navigating the intersection of contemplative education and social justice can be deeply challenging. It taps painful histories of oppression and marginalization, challenges worldviews, and illuminates our blind spots to suffering, privilege, and the co-optation and misrepresentation of contemplative practices themselves.

The conference resonated with an urgency and passion for work that asks us to be present with painful truths and experiences to “cultivate more liberatory ways of being with one another.” Rhonda Magee, professor of law at the University of San Francisco, and Fania Davis, co-founder and director of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY), shared keynotes replete with both research and personal stories that were instructive and hopeful.

“We need to build capacity to have difficult conversations,” said Rhonda Magee, in response to a question during her keynote address, “Revolutionary Mindfulness,” acknowledging the challenging terrain of personal, institutional, and societal change.

Revolutionary Mindfulness Begins with Grounding, Remembering, Centering
Grounding. Magee began by inviting us in to contemplative teaching and learning together. “We’re here because of a number of others,” she reminded us as a way of grounding in an awareness that we’re inextricably interdependent. “Welcome everybody,” she said, “everybody matters,” which is easily forgotten when we’re lost in anger or fear.

“For each of us this project of grounding is extremely important and personal,” she offered. "We have different ways of grounding ourselves, such as sitting meditation, journaling, reflecting, self-compassion practice, singing, and dancing."

Remembering. Recalling her grandmother, who taught her to be both strong and loving, to be of service, and to value everybody, Magee pointed to the importance of remembering our ancestors, recognizing that we did not make ourselves. “The grace with which we embrace life, in spite of the pain and the sorrows," she said, "is a measure of what has gone before—and our awareness of what’s gone before... Can that be a source of grace with which we can embrace the challenges of our time?"

To acknowledge our ancestors, means we are aware that we did not make ourselves, that the line stretches all the way back, perhaps to God; or to Gods…” -Alice Walker 

Centering. Magee went on to emphasize the value of centering on who we are in this moment. “It’s important to center in a place and time, to have a willingness to engage in the particularity of your life.”

This grounding, remembering, and centering can help us to “meet violence with a deeper awareness of its causes, conditions, and circumstances;” to be able to visualize the invisible by surfacing our unconscious biases; to bring heartfulness to the work; as well as an understanding that there is no one tradition, rather “practices are in all of us and everywhere.” Watch Rhonda Magee's full keynote here.

This Contemplative Mind in Society's Tree of Contemplative Practices "illustrates some of the contemplative practices currently in use in secular, organizational, and academic settings."

Restorative Justice: Mindfulness, Radical Healing, and Social Transformation
“We’re a nation born of blood, slavery, and genocide,” said Fania Davis, co-founder, Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth, in her keynote. “This original trauma re-enacts itself in many ways…. We must become skilled healers. We must be brave ones to take on juggernauts of harm.”

Davis’ own journey toward healing began when she found herself burned out and physically ill after spending nearly 30 years as a civil rights lawyer and activist; defending her sister, Angela Davis; and surviving an attack that nearly killed her husband. She stepped away from law, entered a PhD program in indigenous studies, and apprenticed with traditional healers around the world, particularly a Zulu healer named Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa.

When, after completing her degree, she was unable to find a job doing healing work, she reluctantly returned to law where she discovered restorative justice, a practice rooted in indigenous principles and reconciliation. “Restorative justice is concerned with getting well rather than getting even,” she said. “It sees law as a healing ground not a battle ground.” Her reluctance turned to passion when she realized that by practicing restorative justice, she could be a lawyer, a warrior, and a healer.

Beginning in 2007, Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth started the West Oakland Middle School pilot project, an initiative that eliminated violence and expulsions, and reduced suspension rates by 87%. The program grew exponentially over the next several years. In 2010, the Oakland Unified School District Board of Directors passed a resolution adopting restorative justice system-wide as an approach to creating healthier schools. Today, RJOY is working to create an entire restorative city in Oakland, California, Davis said. Watch Fania Davis' full keynote here.

Rich in penetrating questions, critiques, and examples of contemplative pedagogies, research, and practices—such as RJOY—the conference aimed at building more compassionate and just communities.

“Being ‘contemplative’ does not mean we must be quiet, solitary, or removed from worldly concerns,” wrote CMind staff in a blog post after the racist, nationalist, white supremacist marches in Charlottesville. “Contemplative practices support our efforts to build communities that honor and harbor love and justice; they are vital sources of strength, inspiration, and resilience to help us come together. They can help us expand our ability to see and understand others’ suffering, and begin to heal our wounds.”

We look forward to sharing more examples of this powerful work in the coming months. Let us know if you have questions about this work and we’ll do our best to engage community experts who work on behalf of contemplative minds in society.