The POC Sangha Changed My Life

by Julio Rivera

Back in November of 2017, I was going through a dark period trying to figure out ways to deal with my overwhelming sense of stress and anxiety. I had been meditating for sometime, but I hit a ceiling and began searching for guidance. I hunted New York City for centers offering support and found a sangha at New York Insight dedicated only for People of Color. Meditating at NYI’s POC Sangha completely changed my life!

I had a profound spiritual experience where a lot of sadness arose from my sense of isolation, but in this space I felt calm, heard, and seen. I attribute this transformational experience to the sense of safety cultivated by Sebene Selassie and Dalilah Bothwell, the teachers. I could identify with and relate to everyone in the room. This was very different from my previous experiences meditating in predominantly white communities. I had arrived home to a family!

I left that night feeling connected with others, empowered to practice everyday. I started attending regularly and noticed more joy in my daily life. Then, a scheduling conflict prevented me from attending.

I observed those feelings of stress and anxiety returning so I looked online for meditation resources for POCs to offer me that same embrace of connection, empowerment and hope. I was shocked. I didn’t find anything.

When I talked to others, they also were struggling to find resources.  So I got inspired to build an app named Liberate to provide the kind of support that Black, Indigenous, and PoC practioners need – a meditation teacher always accessible who intimately understands the conditions and situations we face.

I am grateful to NYI for allowing me to bring the dharma talks from the POC Sangha to the Liberate app. The sangha leaders – Karen G. Williams, nakawe cuebas, Angela Dews, Peace Twesigye, etc. are so empowering through their dharma talks. I want to make sure that others feel like they have a community even when they can’t make it here in person.

As I’ve grown in my practice and deepened my awareness of my responsibility as a POC, I’ve joined Karen G. Williams as her Co-Chair of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee and I donate as a member of the Circle of Friends. This is the least I can do given how NYI has impacted my own life.  I’m invested in seeing our community grow and become more inclusive. I hope others will join us to make NYI’s “Open hearts, Open Doors” aspiration a reality.

I can attend the sangha regularly these days and whenever I’m here recording talks and meditating, I’m reminded I’m not alone with my challenges. NYI’s POC Sangha is a core part of my practice and the space where I can just be me and feel welcomed.