Mindfulness and Imposter Syndrome

Recently my mind has been bugging me endlessly with the question of, “What are you doing?”

This isn’t a theoretical/philosophical question but more so the practical question of, “How am I contributing to the world right now?” Last week I attended a really wonderful gathering of folks my age called the Millennial Leaders Project at Union Theological Seminary in NYC and although it was really healing and great to share space and hear other folks’ stories, my imposter syndrome was constantly comparing myself to my colleagues and getting in my face asking me, “Well what are you doing now? Why aren’t you doing x, y, and z? Why don’t you read enough?”

Imposter syndrome is real in activist circles and social justice communities. I have heard from friends in various movements who feel as if they aren’t good enough, they don’t do enough, they haven’t given enough. In addition to just leading to burn out and low self-esteem, for me, imposter syndrome also takes away from the work of my own healing, because I’m obsessed with doing more work externally than I am sitting with my own pain and working through it.

My birthday is coming up, and that always puts me in a reflective mood. It’s a time to look back on the year and think ahead for the intentions I want to set for my next trip around the sun. My 25th year has been really eye-opening for me as I’ve engaged in more self-critique, thinking deeply about my own internalized racism and homophobia, and recognizing wounds. In addition, as I wrote a few posts ago, I went through a lot of shit this year, moving to an incredibly white city, experiencing institutionalized racism in my internship program, and more recently, hearing blatantly racist language at a church I used to attend. I’ve been in a near constant state of anger for the past few months that I haven’t really allowed myself to take up space or engage in deep rest. So then when I do rest, and take a break from social media or pick up a sci-fi book to escape for a bit, my imposter syndrome comes swooping in to ask me why I’m not writing or attending a teach in.

When the imposter syndrome comes in, though, I have begun to answer its questions with, “I am focusing on my own healing.” Because at the end of the day, if I’m doing all this social justice work and not doing my own healing work, I’m going to get burned out, I’m going to get cynical and jaded, I’m not going to be fully present to the work that’s needed. That’s not to say that we all need show up to our movements fully healed from all of our baggage and trauma, because healing is a constant process. Scars do not heal overnight. I know that as I uncover and work through my shit, more shit is liable to come up. That’s why I have to constantly check in with myself and allow myself time to rest, to heal, to say no to things, to grieve, to get in touch with my mind, body, and heart and see what is needed. Doing this is what allows me to show up.

At the Millennial Leaders Project in NYC, Liz Alexander of the Millennial Womanism Project gave a really amazing presentation in which she weaved together womanist theology, social media, and mindfulness. What struck me most was how Liz shared her experiences as a Black woman utilizing meditation and mindfulness practices for her own healing and engagement with the work. I have been skeptical of re-introducing yoga and meditation (among other practices) into my spiritual life for a number of reasons – they have been co-opted by white folks in this country to make money, white folks who teach these practices also often strip them of their historical and cultural contexts to make them more “accessible” to other white people, and many of these teachers also stress transcendence from material circumstances. Liz told us a little bit of her own journey in using meditation, breath work, and other healing practices, grounded in a womanist perspective that seeks out healing and restoration for Black women and girls. She shared with us a couple of books and resources that I’m really eager to check out and work into my own life, and encouraged me to learn from other people of color who have been using and teaching these practices. After Liz’s presentation, Marisela Gomez, an activist, physician scientist and meditation teacher from Baltimore, led us in a few different forms of meditation and began by giving us a talk about the role of mindfulness in our movements. She stressed how critical it was for us to engage in this healing work because otherwise our past pain and hurt will resurface in our interactions with others.

I feel incredibly grateful to have shared this time and space with Liz and Marisela and my colleagues from the MLP. Being able to re-interpret practices of mindfulness for myself and utilize them again is incredibly restorative. I started meditating 10 min a day since getting from NYC. I haven’t noticed huge changes (it’s only been a few days) and the imposter syndrome still comes up, but I just remind myself every time that I’m focusing on my healing. The healing will allow me to nourish my heart and spirit so that my work can continue.