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In an earlier post, I wrote about the “6 Ps” that have always and continue to drive racist thoughts, words, and actions in the United States: the Promulgation of Policies that enable the Power, Prosperity, and Prestige of those with white Privilege.

Since writing that post, through continued learning, mindfulness practice, and reflection, I’ve honed in on what I think is the core “root system,” or substructure, that compels the Ps to grow and manifest. Although this substructure hides in plain sight, our shared sentient experience is to pretend that it’s not really there.

Death (I Know, What a Bummer!)

I’m referring to the fear of death, and our intense efforts to deny mortality through a constant struggle for self-esteem and self-worth. When Power, Prosperity, Prestige, or Privilege are threatened, self-worth is also at risk– for the false self is always wrapped up in the accomplishment and ongoing grasp of one or more of those Ps.

When self-worth is in danger, human beings will do almost anything–no matter how irrational or cruel, as histories of long ago and the current age show us–to protect it. Enter the Promulgation of Policies that engender racism, sexism, nationalism, colonialism, militarism, capitalism, and many other “isms” that occupy the thoughts and efforts of people, societies and countries, the fragile planet buckling under the weight of so much toxic fear and hatred.

There has got to be a better way to live before dying, than this destructive madness.

The Better Way: Mindfulness

Mindfulness won’t mitigate death, but it certainly makes living more harmonious and, through steady practice, can expose the illusion that there’s a permanent “self” to die in the first place. An illusion that pumps bottomless wells of craving, aversion, and delusion into moment by moment efforts of demanding some significant status in this unwieldy universe.

Continuous mindfulness observes the impermanence, dissatisfaction (often called suffering) and selflessness that characterize all created things, and leverages a practical toolbox. The toolbox includes practices such as breath meditation, mindful eating, and mindful walking, among others.

Ongoing practice helps a person gradually transcend the familiar narratives and pains of self-preservation, and more fully give and receive what Buddhism calls four “immeasurable” qualities:

  1. Loving kindness: universal love, friendliness, and benevolence toward all beings, without discrimination
  2. Compassion: active sympathy combined with wisdom toward all beings
  3. Empathetic Joy: altruistic joy in observance of the happiness of others
  4. Equanimity: even-minded, composed acceptance of what is, without discrimination or indifference

The confluence and constant cultivation of these four qualities can provide each of us with the “meaning” or “identity” we  long for, amid the stubborn shadow of death. They help us slowly let go of the need for someone else to lose in order for us to win.

Mindfulness and Policy Change

If you are willing to see the 6 Ps, dig deep into their existential substructure, and practice mindfulness as a lifestyle, you’re more likely to not only commit less harm but help influence positive change through skillful, non-violent actions. And the most positive changes in the face of “isms” involve unjust Policies–the ultimate targets of any activism on behalf of Historically Underrepresented Groups (HUGs).

Unsure of how to start? So was I. This post might help. Started but not sure how to get organized and be impactful? Read this.

For a deep, philosophical dive into the art of more skillfully grappling with death, check out Ernest Becker’s 1974 Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Denial of Death.

John M. DeMarco is a writer, executive coach, and activist based in Nashville, Tennessee.