“Meditate to liberate yourself” is a mantra that Julio Rivera not only lives by, but has become his work’s calling. Rivera, who identifies as Afro-Latino and is based in Connecticut, has launched Liberate Meditation, a free meditation app for people of colour, by people of colour.
The app features talks and meditations by guides such Ruth King, author of the popular book Mindful of Race, who speaks about how to bring about the collective healing of racism. Sebene Selassie, the first person of colour guide Rivera practiced group meditation with and Mushim Patricia Ikeda, who is actively helping BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of colour) communities, are also guides.
The talks and meditations cover topics that most other meditation apps don’t address: micro-aggressions, racism, ancestors and body confidence. Most guides begin their session by introducing themselves and their ethnic background.
“As a brown-skinned woman with kinky hair, I lived, like many brown-skinned women, in this societal in-between space of invisibility and hyper-visibility,” Bothwell says in a buttery-smooth voice at the start of her talk about body confidence. ”We’re either not seen at all or as a criminal.”
And that’s exactly that type of relatability Rivera was seeking for the app.
“At a baseline, everyone experiences some form of suffering, but for Black, Indigenous, [and] people of colour (BIPOC), those sources of suffering come from different areas. It comes from micro- and macro-aggressions that people in the world experience on a daily basis,” Rivera told HuffPost Canada on the phone from his home in Connecticut.
“There’s still racism present, and it’s still very much embedded in today’s society. I talk to a lot of people about the app and the common thing I hear is that they are always experiencing micro-aggressions in the workplace, so we’ve developed guided meditations just for micro-aggressions at the workplace.”
Micro-aggressions are verbal and non-verbal intentional and unintentional insults typically about race.
Rivera said meditation can help process and deal with this type of racism or trauma.
“The body is where trauma gets stored from experiences in our life we unconsciously or consciously pushed away. That stored trauma may show up as tension and/or pain in the body,” Rivera said.
“When we can slow down and bring our awareness to these uncomfortable physical sensations with an attitude of compassion and acceptance, we can release it. Meditation helps us throughout this process of slowing down, paying attention, and cultivating these qualities needed to let go of what we been holding onto.”
He also noted that the path of healing trauma and finding peace in the midst of chaos can be quite difficult if you’re doing it alone. Rivera recommended looking online or at meetup.com for nearby communities to find support.
Rivera came to the world of meditation to ease his own stress and anxiety growing up as a person of colour in the U.S.
The software developer said he began group meditating at a centre for people of colour at the New York Insight Meditation Center when he was living in New York City in 2017 ― an experience that changed his practice and ultimately, his life.
“I remember the first time I went, I had a deeply profound spiritual experience and I attribute that to the safety that I felt in the space among Black, Indigenous people of colour. The safety that I felt allowed the teachings to touch me in a new way,” he said.
Rivera then began attending those group meditations regularly to help him manage his inner voice, which he said can be quite critical at times, triggering distress.
When a commitment tied him up, preventing him from attending the centre, he felt his mental health wavering with the absence of the meditation sessions. So he looked for online meditation groups or apps for people of colour, but didn’t find any.
Rivera, whose career background is the world of app development and start-ups, saw this as his calling, his chance to give back to others.
And Liberate Meditate was born.
“We want to help empower people, not only to meditate, but to show them that there’s something you can do about your suffering,” he said. “We can help each other get free and be liberated.”
Liberate Meditation is available for Apple and Android in Canada. Meditations run from a few minutes long to 20 minutes. There’s an opportunity to rate the overall experience and provide feedback after each meditation.
“I have received a lot of feedback already. People have said they’ve been touched by the talks, some have even cried because of the release of their emotions.”
“Whatever one’s experience, it is a place that people of colour can feel heard, seen and like they belong and matter,” said Rivera.