Last semester, I was no stranger to the interplay between mindfulness, meditation, and social justice. After all, through Dr. Ram Mahalingam’s interdisciplinary university course on these subjects (PSYCH 390, in case you’re interested), I learned about how mindfulness can be harnessed to transform people and communities within our spheres of influence, not just ourselves. However, even with all of this background knowledge under my belt, I was floored by Rhonda Magee’s fascinating ideas about the subject, especially concerning how embodied mindfulness—a phrase I’d never encountered before—is a vital tool in this nation’s mission to remove deeply entrenched bigotry and discrimination from our systems and collective attitudes. A few weeks ago, right as the semester was wrapping up, I seized the opportunity to attend both Rhonda’s talk and her workshop. Both events gifted me with incredible perspectives not only on the restorative powers of mindfulness but also on how large of an impact each individual person can have by taking advantage of the specific practices she outlined. In this reflection, I’ll touch on a few practices that resonated with me the most, along with my key takeaways from both events.

    First and foremost, one thing I appreciated about the talk was that before delving into the actual meat of the subject, we (the audience members) were given the opportunity to ground ourselves in the present. We closed our eyes, planted our feet on the ground, and listened to Rhonda’s gentle voice, which encouraged us to direct loving-kindness towards both ourselves and others. We were also encouraged to think of good memories, loved ones, and any thoughts that made us feel safe. The exercise took no more than twenty minutes, but after its conclusion, there was a noticeable shift in the room—people seemed more alert, attentive, relaxed, and open, both in body language and commentary. Right off the bat, Rhonda demonstrated to us that any discussions are most productive when their participants have made an effort to fully embed themselves in the present first.

     After the guided meditation, Rhonda discussed the components of embodied, engaged mindfulness: (1) whole-bodied awareness of sensations, thoughts, and emotions with open, curious acknowledgment; (2) acting from insight that arises from there; (3) grounding oneself in responsibility for consequences; and (4) the willingness to begin again. She also introduced a couple helpful frameworks to help put the concept into practice (the Four Pillars of Flourishing, STOP, and WAIT). The one that resonated with me the most was the Four Pillars of Flourishing because I was immediately captivated by the concept of flourishing. Typically, when I think of flourishing, I think of a garden, career, or economy—never before had I considered the human ability to flourish and what it entailed. Rhonda breaks human flourishing down into four components: awareness (internal and external mindfulness), connection (care and kinship towards others), insight (self-knowledge and understanding), and meaning (clarity around purpose and values). I appreciated that she was able to disassemble a concept as vague and poetic as “flourishing” into chunks that were relatively easy for me to reflect on and compare to one another. This reflection helped me realize my weakest area is definitely meaning, which I think is common amongst younger people who have barely begun to figure themselves out—let alone identify the perfect point of convergence between their interests, passions, desires, and values that we commonly call “purpose.” 

    The workshop, which occurred the day after the talk, was equally thought-provoking. I was lucky enough to hear diverse perspectives on how students, professors, and other members of the broader Ann Arbor community were able to improve themselves and their communities through the incorporation of embodied mindfulness and regular reflection into their lives. My favorite takeaway from Rhonda’s workshop was that it’s important to meet people where they are when in disagreement. In other words, we should try our best to actively listen to dissidents instead of immediately trying to impose our assertions and viewpoints onto them. It’s much easier to influence others from a place of compassion, collaboration, and genuine contextual understanding of why they think something than through engaging in the type of power struggle that most debates devolve into. Anyone reading this might think this “epiphany” sounds rather obvious, but what made the workshop valuable wasn’t its discussion of this idea alone—rather, its value lay in our discussion of how to translate this infinitely-harder-to-practice-than-preach action into reality through tangible steps, all of them involving embodied mindfulness and its related practices. 

    To everyone reading this, if you ever get the opportunity to attend any of Rhonda’s events, I highly recommend doing so. Your worldview will transform for the better, and you will leave feeling safe, free, loved, and capable. Capable of what? That is entirely up to you.


Renuka Murthi is a junior, majoring in business and minoring in statistics. She was involved in the BLI as a peer facilitator for four semesters and is now a BLI program assistant on the grants and funding team. Outside the BLI, she enjoys getting involved in her consulting club, painting, playing piano, and writing. She plans to pursue careers in management consulting and writing fiction.