Free Your Mind: An African American Guide to Meditation and Freedom
(2015) is a nonfiction book by American writer and meditation teacher Cortez R. Rainey offering step by step instructions on how to meditate, with techniques tailored especially for an African American audience. Rainey explains his approach through 11 sections, each of which he names after a stop on the Underground Railroad; this technique offers historical perspectives and lessons on racial freedom as readers integrate greater inner freedom through the cultivation of their meditation practices. Free Your Mind
received a nomination for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Instructional Literary Work.
In a preface, Rainey discusses his own introduction to meditation, which he began several years before in an attempt to find some stability during the upheaval of divorce. Meditation practice soon led him to greater peace, both in his personal life and in his work in the Baltimore prison system. This book is his attempt to introduce the benefits of meditation to readers of color. Even though more people in the West meditate now that at any other point in history, meditation remains rare among the African American community. By virtue of his own journey, Rainey knows that the benefits of meditation don't discriminate, and he sets out to tailor a unique means of practice that speaks specifically to the African American experience.
Rainey's use of the Underground Railroad serves multiple purposes in his approach. First, it gives readers information about their collective past; since many present-day traumas—be they personal, familial, social, or political—directly connect to the traumas of previous generations, context is important for understanding one's current challenges. Second, the journey of escaped slaves mirrors the journey of meditation, from bondage to ultimate freedom. Third, the enslaved people who traveled the Underground Railroad serve as beacons of inspiration, models of strength and determination who can support those in the present who are undertaking the rigors of meditation. Finally, readers can find allies in the figures of the past, not just in the search for freedom on the meditation cushion but in the search for freedom in everyday life; in the end, the reasons for seeking freedom are not that much different today than they were for ancestors hundreds of years ago.
The book does not require a quick cover-to-cover reading. Instead, it is a day by day (or week by week) practice, with each section offering additional techniques and tools that build off the prior sections. Rainey encourages readers to reflect on the historical sketches that open each section, to contemplate just what freedom means to the individual, to their community, and to their world. At the end of each chapter, he urges readers to digest what they have just read, then follow the meditation instructions as written to see if there are helpful ways to incorporate this information into daily life. At the same time, Rainey stresses that there is no "wrong" way to utilize the teachings in this book. If it feels more appropriate to simply read some of the historical sketches or quotes and follow the poses presented in the photographs, then, take this path. The important part is opening oneself up to meditation and exploring it in more depth.
Also, Rainey's guidance is not religious in nature. His universal style of meditation makes it appropriate for people of all faiths (or no faith at all). The focus here is not on nirvana or religious ecstasy; it is on personal growth as a tool for improving oneself, one's relationships, and one's community.
The goal of meditation is deceptively simple. It is a way to free the mind by focusing attention on what is happening in the present moment. It takes the energetic fuel needed to power the constant cycle of thought upon thought upon thought and transfers it to a single object—in this case, the breath—as a way to quiet the mind and be more plugged into the here and now. By tuning into this reality, we are no longer getting caught up in incessant, unhelpful thought patterns and instead can see what is happening within and around us. This leads to insight, to tangible actions we can take to better our lives, discover what we want and need, and find ways to be of service, to both ourselves and others.
Rainey includes photos of various meditative poses in each section. He breaks down the individual steps into accessible terms. He also shares basic yoga poses that can further support the body and mind during meditation practice.Free Your Mind
contains a variety of supplemental material designed to help meditators on their paths to freedom. There is a detailed notes section, a large bibliography of further recommended reading, and an index.