Mental health is a widely discussed topic in today’s society. Despite so much discussion currently occurring, there seems to be less hype when it comes to discussing mental health within communities for people of color. It can be hard to find outlets to help deal with the different sources that take a toll on our mental health.
With that in mind, Julio Rivera is making strides to change the narrative around the way we deal with these issues. Rivera took the time to think on his own needs to help create a platform for people of color to manage and deal with different triggers in a positive setting. Mr. Rivera spent several years working in software programming and he combined this skill with his own journey for peace to create Liberate Meditation. Liberate is an app that provides a meditation platform specifically for people of color.
I had the pleasure of talking with Rivera to get a better idea of his journey with the app and possibly what the future holds.
Early: What started your interest in meditation?
Julio Rivera: My interest in meditation started about three and a half years ago. September of 2015 I went through a crisis, an existential crisis, where I was severely burned out at work and I no longer felt fulfilled from doing software programming. Ever since I was very young, I was programming. I just no longer felt fulfilled with it. I went through this crisis of depression, anxiety and stress. At the same time, I was like if I no longer feel fulfilled with engineering then what am I here for? What is my purpose? I went through this dark period where I just didn’t feel a sense of purpose. I was trying to find ways to mitigate these strong overwhelming amounts of stress and anxiety. So that’s when I picked up meditation.
Early: There are some apps out there that are similar to yours, but what is it about your app that makes it unique and stand out from the others?
Julio Rivera: First, no meditation app out there is putting a primary focus on the experiences of a person of color. We are tackling the problems that our society has that causes our community to feel stress and anxiety. For example, micro-aggressions is a topic you will see on the meditation app and I know for a fact there’s no meditation app out that has a category specifically for micro-aggressions. The other new thing we’re doing is actually putting teachers of color at the forefront. It’s very difficult to find a teacher who is a teacher of color. All of our teachers identify as black indigenous and/or person of color. One of the unexpected outcomes of the app that I didn’t foresee is that because people would be able to find voices they could resonate with, they started to meditate more often.
Early: Why do you think there’s such a small amount of people of color teaching meditation?
Julio Rivera: I don’t think there is a shortage. Liberate is actually putting a lot of these teachers in the spotlight. A few of these teachers are popular and kind of known in the meditation space. Meditation came to America through white privilege because white people were able to afford to travel to some of the countries, like South Asia, and bring over what they learned so meditation has kind of come through white teachers. Because of that, traditionally, the white teachers come and start holding meditation and there’s going to be a natural progression that white people are going to gravitate towards this. One of the side effects of this is that people haven’t been actively thinking, “how do we make these practices more accessible for people of color?” There are teachers out there that aren’t necessarily known but are coming up because of organizations like Insight Meditation Society. They’ve made it an issue of theirs to bring more teachers of color. Now that a lot of people are setting the intention, a lot of teachers are being put in the spotlight and a lot of Buddhist organizations are making it a priority to train teachers of color.
BNA: Do you feel there is or can be a separation between the act of meditation and spirituality? If you do, how do you think your app helps reconnect the two?
Julio Rivera: Meditation and spirituality are very much intertwined inherently. Mindfulness is called a secular way of mediation. It roots from Buddhism. But when you learn mindfulness you learn meditation but the teachings of Buddha are basically removed from that. When you go meditate in a mindfulness space you may not even see the statue of Buddha. I think that is helpful because some people have fear around practicing Buddhism and what that means for their religion and their faith. Especially for the people of color community. A lot of us come from the Christian background. So that’s a fear that I understand a lot of people of color have. My opinion is that you can practice Buddhism and learn about Buddhism and you’ll actually find that it helps reaffirm your existing faith, which has kind of happened to me. You can divide the religion from the meditation. I think underneath both religion and meditation are spirituality, connecting to something that may be bigger than us.
BNA: For someone that is interested in trying meditation, what advice would you have for them?
Julio Rivera: One of the most important things is that you are making it a daily habit. Even if it’s 5 minutes a day, 2 minutes a day, whatever you need to do to make sure it is something that you start doing. Then, you can build off from there. I think often people get frustrated or intimidated because they can’t sit down for 10 to 15 mins. They can’t make time for it. So, start off small and work your way up. It’s a long journey.
BNA: What are your plans for the future? Do you plan on developing more apps or do you see expansion on the horizon?
Julio Rivera: In the near future, maybe 6 months to a year out, I am thinking about putting together more meditations that are relevant and getting more specific. One of the things that’s coming up is a group of meditations for men of color. I would like to do more meditations specifically for the queer community, the indigenous community. More meditations for black queers, black trans, black women. Meditations in Spanish, more meditations for people of color in their native tongue. I think those are a lot of opportunities that I foresee. Two years from now, maybe by the end of 2020, I want to put together Liberate’s first black indigenous and people of color only retreat. I think it would be beautiful. The vision is to do more pop-up style POC retreats because I think it’s in these physical spaces, when we come together we can heal a lot of the racial trauma that’s living in our bodies. One of the most important conversations for us to have as a community is, and I am quoting Ruth King in her book Mindful of Race, but she presented the question of: “what does life look like after the oppression? what can we create for our lives? what is thriving in our own personal lives?” As people of color we talk and share a lot about our suffering but not about what’s on the other end of that.
We’ve tried Liberate and highly recommend it! This app is available on Google Play and the Apple App Store. Give it a try and begin taking steps to conquer those triggers and stressors of everyday life. Let us know what you think of the app in the comments below.