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Social Justice E-Newsletter


For further information about The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society’s news, events, retreat information, and more, view our Spring 2005 e-newsletter.

The best, authentic black music does not unravel the mysteries, but recalls them, gives them particular form, a specific setting, attaches the mysteries to familiar words and ideas. Simple lyrics of certain songs follow us, haunt us because the words floating in the music are a way of eavesdropping on the mysteries, of remembering the importance of who we are but also experiencing the immensity of Great Time and Great Space, the Infinite always at play around the edges of our lives.

— John Edgar Wideman, 1984

African-Derived Contemplative Practices:
Capoeira and Jazz

Capoeira is a 400-year-old martial art which combines gymnastics, music, and dance. It was brought to Brazil by Bantu groups from Angola, Congo, and Mozambique. It emerged from independent villages made up of Africans who sought refuge from the plantations in northeastern Brazil. Capoeira is a ritual-dance-fight-game accompanied by the berimbau, a bowed instrument with one string.

As a contemplative practice, capoeira develops mental and physical balance, physical conditioning, and self-defense skills all at once. If this movement practice resonates with you then look for listings for African/Brazilian martial arts classes in your local community.

Like capoeira, jazz can be traced rhythmically to West Africa, but it is rooted in and created by the African-American slavery experience. Later joined with European popular and light classical music of the late 18th and 19th centuries, it evolved into the rhythms of Ragtime and the blues.

It doesn’t matter whether you’ve had a grueling and chaotic week or you’re feeling on top of the world because you’ve been amazingly productive in your work, jazz is an awesome complement to whatever space you’re in at the moment.

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Recommended Music

Groove to the reflective sounds of some of America’s popular jazz artists for a contemplative experience. Explore well known artists such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and many, many others. Sweet Honey in the Rock is also an exceptional choice. Their sounds not only have roots in the sacred music of the black church, but in jazz and blues as well. Enjoy!

Mande music offers some of the ancient contemplative and meditative music from West Africa. These rhythms blend the traditional Malian instruments with classical and jazzy influences. For example, Rokia Traore, Bowmboi, successfully communicates a variety of political themes in her Malian society in gentle, soothing, and calming tones. And Balla Tounkara’s Spa Song/Kora is enchanting and can quickly take you to a transcendent and quiet place.

Balla Tounkara
Balla Tounkara, Spa Song/Kora
Xenophile, 2004
Rokia Traore
Rokia Traore, Bowmboi
Nonesuch, 2004
Maintaining a Continuity of Practice

Once you have designed a practice, learn it thoroughly and stick with it for a while. A “practice” requires time and commitment. Don’t abandon your new practice after its initial rush. The benefits of any practice accrue over extended periods of time. So, be prepared to endure doubt, confusion, disillusionment, boredom, and an inner voice that tells you to quit. Fight off the frequent urges to give up or look for another practice. These feelings are very normal as you start on this new journey.

Develop strong self-discipline. Make a set of agreements with yourself to help strengthen your commitment to your practice.

State your personal intentions and hold true to them. Stay focused on what you are trying to accomplish. Make an agreement with yourself to set a regularly scheduled time, daily, for your practice. Develop a rhythm that works for you and stick to it tenaciously, allowing nothing or no one to seduce you away.

Getting support from like-minded friends and colleagues may be important when beginning new contemplative practices. Create circles of friends with similar orientation.

Watch for impatience, frustration and irritability. Allow your practice to move at its own pace.

Watch for persistent low energy or lack of motivation to practice. This might be a sign of resistance.

Practice your practice every day! Incorporate it as part of your daily rituals such as eating and sleeping.

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Upcoming Retreats

The Refuge Fellowship Program
Vallecitos Mountain Refuge, Taos, New Mexico
June 25 - July 1, 2005

Selected activists are given the opportunity to come to the Vallecitos ranch and mountain wilderness for a seven-day retreat for personal and spiritual renewal.


9th Annual Meditation Retreat for Activists of Color
Vallecitos Mountain Refuge, Taos, New Mexico
August 14 - 21, 2005

This retreat is an intensive introduction to meditation practice.

For more information on these retreats, visit
505 751-9613

The Divine Abodes: The Path to a Peaceful and Prosperous World
A Retreat for People of Color

with Marlene Jones, Gina Sharpe, Larry Yang, and Michele Benzamin-Miki
Sunday, August 21-Friday, 26 (5 nights)
Spirit Rock Meditation Center, Woodacre, CA

With the practice of Metta (loving kindness), Karuna (compassion), Mudita (sympathetic joy) and Uppekha (equanimity) we help lead the world to peace and prosperity. In this silent retreat we will use this practice to build community, level social barriers, reawaken joy and hope long abandoned and promote human brotherhood against the forces of egotism. We will learn to rest in the perfection and true nature of these abodes, knowing they are without limit to the beings towards which they are extended.

Cost $460 - $310, sliding scale. Please pay at the highest level of the sliding scale that you can afford. Fee is for room and board. Scholarships are available, no one will be turned away for lack of funds. For scholarship information call Camara Ra-Jabari at (415)488-0164 x 237.

For more information call Spirit Rock at (415) 488-0164 x 397, after April 21, or visit

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Veterans of Hope Project

Have you been searching for inspiring and moving examples of veterans of the social justice movement?

The Veterans of Hope Project “…documents the life stories of 'Veterans,' men and women from a variety of ethnic, cultural and religious communities, who have been active for many years in movements for compassionate social change. [It] …shares the transformative histories of 'long distance runners' for peace and justice — passing on the values, faith and practice that have guided their lives and work.”



An Interview with George Mumford

Spirit Rock Meditation Center is conducting a series of interviews with Black Buddhist practitioners for whom the Dharma has been central in transforming their lives and empowering them as Black men in the often difficult interracial environment of America. The first interview, Black on Black on Buddhism, features George Mumford, who coached the Lakers (and the Chicago Bulls) on their "Inner Game". George is a Vipassana meditation teacher, former Board member of Spirit Rock and the Insight Meditation Society, and a sports psychologist who teaches retreats nationally.


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We would love to hear from you!
Submit a letter, story idea, or tell us about events, conferences, retreats, books, or articles that may be of interest to others. Email your information to

We will gladly accept information on published nonfiction on healthy living, personal growth, and contemplative practices.

The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society
199 Main Street, Suite 3
Northampton, MA 01060 USA
phone: (413) 582-0071
(413) 582-1330
general email:

Questions, concerns? This e-newsletter was made & sent by John Berry