Connecting People Through Goodwill and Friendship

LGBTQ+ Pride and the Power of Meditation: Insights from Buddhism and Psychology


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  1. Introduction

Living in a society that often misunderstands and stigmatizes LGBTQ+ individuals can lead to constant feelings of discomfort, embarrassment, and self-consciousness. These emotions, along with legal and societal challenges, can evolve into deeper feelings of shame, guilt, and humiliation. However, the ancient wisdom of Buddhism, combined with modern psychological insights and the transformative practice of meditation, offers a path to contentment, self-respect, and dignity.


This article explores the intricate relationship between LGBTQ+ identity, shame, and pride, drawing from the teachings of the Buddha and contemporary psychological research. It examines the nature of these powerful emotions, provides Buddhist perspectives on sexual and gender diversity, and offers practical meditation techniques to foster self-esteem, confidence, and resilience.


  1. The Duality of Pride and Shame

Pride and shame are emotions that profoundly shape our self-perception and relationships. For LGBTQ+ individuals, navigating these feelings presents unique challenges due to societal biases and misunderstandings.


Pride is a feeling of pleasure and gratification derived from one’s achievements, qualities, or identity. For the LGBTQ+ community, pride is a rallying cry for embracing one’s sexual orientation or gender identity with self-respect and dignity. It manifests in openness about one’s identity, active participation in LGBTQ+ communities, standing up against discrimination, and mentoring others. Pride fosters self-esteem, confidence, and resilience, leading to triumph over adversity, self-acceptance, and authentic living.


Shame, in contrast, is a debilitating emotion characterized by a feeling of being fundamentally flawed or unworthy. LGBTQ+ individuals may experience shame due to societal stigma, discrimination, or internal struggles with their sexual orientation or gender identity. Signs of shame include persistent feelings of inadequacy, self-isolation, difficulty accepting compliments, and harsh self-criticism. Shame can lead to mental health issues, social mortification, and a sense of disgrace that prevents authentic living.


Increasing pride and reducing shame are crucial for the mental well-being and personal growth of LGBTQ+ individuals. Participating in Pride events, connecting with supportive communities, and learning about LGBTQ+ history can build pride. Understanding that shame does not reflect true worth and letting go of negative societal conditioning can help diminish its impact.


  1. The Buddha’s Wisdom and Contemporary Perspectives

The Buddha’s teachings emphasize compassion and acceptance for all beings, judging individuals by their actions rather than their birth or physical characteristics. Although the Buddha lived in a time with limited understanding of gender identity, his teachings recognized various gender identities beyond the binary, suggesting respect for diversity. While the Buddha did not allow LGBTQ+ individuals to ordain as monks and nuns due to societal non-acceptance at that time, he did not condemn homosexuality among laypersons. This contrasts with religions that view homosexuality as sinful.


(Photo credit: Influential Thai Buddhist monk says ‘LGBT people are humans’ and welcomes civil partnership bill)


Modern Buddhist leaders like Ajahn Brahm (an Australian Buddhist monk in Thai Forest Tradition) and Thich Nhat Hanh (late Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist) advocate for full LGBTQ+ inclusion, arguing that religion should promote kindness and love, not cruelty. Ajahn Brahm supports LGBTQ+ rights, stating that discrimination based on gender or sexuality contradicts the Buddha’s teachings of non-discrimination and compassion. Thich Nhat Hanh emphasized true compassion by embracing diversity and recognizing the inherent worth of every individual.


Buddhism cautions against arrogant pride but encourages healthy self-worth and self-respect grounded in ethical conduct and spiritual development. The concept of “metta” (loving-kindness) towards oneself and all beings is fundamental to Buddhist practice, as the Buddha said, in Pali ‘Lokapatthambhika metta’ meaning “Loving-kindness acts as the support and nourishment for the world.”


Metta involves developing boundless feelings of unconditional love, compassion, and kindness, akin to nurturing oceans. By cultivating metta through meditation, LGBTQ+ individuals can develop self-worth, confidence, and resilience, transcending societal stigma and embracing their authentic selves.


  1. Modern Psychology and LGBTQ+ Well-Being

Modern psychology aligns with Buddhist perspectives on pride, shame, and their impacts. Clinical psychologist Dr. Meg-John Barker emphasizes the importance of embracing sexual and gender diversity for improving LGBTQ+ well-being. Studies have linked internalized negative attitudes and shame to higher rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation among LGBTQ+ individuals.


Psychologists advocate cultivating self-compassion as an antidote to toxic shame. Dr. Kristin Neff defines self-compassion as treating oneself with kindness, recognizing shared humanity, and being mindful instead of over-identifying with negative thoughts and emotions. This aligns with the Buddhist concept of metta, promoting self-compassion to develop confidence and self-respect.


  1. Meditation as a Tool for Boosting Pride


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Meditation provides a refuge for cultivating self-acceptance and emotional resilience amidst societal stigma faced by LGBTQ+ individuals. Practices like mindfulness and metta (loving-kindness) help release shame-based thought patterns and develop unconditional self-love.


The Buddha taught that mindfulness meditation purifies beings, overcomes sorrow and lamentation, and leads to supreme happiness (Nibbana or Nirvana). Mindfulness allows individuals to experience each moment without judgment or aversion. Nuclear engineer and LGBTQ+ activist Sam Brinton shares how meditation provides peace amid the noise of living authentically. Psychologist Dr. Marsha Linehan, creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), emphasizes the importance of non-judgmental mindfulness in managing emotions to reduce suffering and increase emotional regulation​.


Metta meditation cultivates boundless feelings of unconditional love, compassion, and kindness towards oneself and others. By reciting phrases of goodwill, individuals kindle feelings of warmth and acceptance. For LGBTQ+ individuals who have internalized societal oppression, nurturing self-compassion through metta can be tremendously healing. Meditation experts often describe metta as an embrace, allowing individuals to mother themselves with tenderness. This aligns with Buddhist teachings on overcoming shame and cultivating self-worth through loving-kindness.


Body scan focuses attention on bodily sensations. This increased awareness activates areas of the brain associated with bodily perception and interoception (ability to sense internal signals). Over time, this practice may enhance the ability to perceive subtle bodily sensations with a detached, non-judgmental attitude.


Scientific Support for Meditation’s Benefits: Scientific research highlights the mental health benefits of meditation for the LGBTQ+ community. A 2015 study, “Making Friends with Yourself: A Mixed Methods Pilot Study of a Mindful Self-Compassion Program for Adolescents” found that participants felt better about themselves and their lives, showing reduced depression and anxiety while becoming more mindful, compassionate, and connected to others. Another 2022 study, “Mindfulness for Reducing Minority Stress and Promoting Health Among Sexual Minority Men: Uncovering Intervention Principles and Techniques,” found that mindfulness meditation effectively reduced stress and improved mental and sexual health among LGBTQ+ individuals.


These scientific findings complement Buddhist teachings, highlighting the profound impact of meditation practices on mental well-being, self-acceptance, and the ability to overcome internalized stigma and shame.


  1. How to Meditate for Optimal Results

 LGBTQ+ individuals can explore various meditation techniques, each offering unique benefits:


  • Mindfulness Meditation (in a sitting position): Sit with legs crossed, straighten the body, and focus on the breath, observing inhalations and exhalations. Bringing gentle, non-judgmental attention to the present moment creates a refuge from self-critical thoughts. Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, states that mindfulness’s essence lies in meeting whatever arises with non-judging awareness.


  • Loving-kindness (Metta) Meditation: Deliberately cultivate compassion, first towards oneself and then extending outwards. Reciting phrases of goodwill kindles feelings of warmth and acceptance, such as “May I be safe, healthy, and happy,” “May you be filled with loving-kindness,” and “May all beings be peaceful and filled with joy.” Meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg emphasizes remembering the kindness of others as a beautiful meditation that opens the heart.


  • Body Scan: Bring gentle curiosity to each area of the physical body, mentally scanning from the soles of the feet to the crown of the head, noticing sensations without judgment. For those experiencing body shame or gender dysphoria, the body scan can be affirming. Buddhist teacher Lama Rod Owens notes that developing an attitude of friendship towards our embodiment undoes cultural and internalized body negativity.


Consistency is key, with even a few minutes daily planting seeds of self-love and pride that will bloom over time. Recognize that you are already whole and worthy beneath insecure narratives, and commit to present-moment awareness and compassion.


Duration and Frequency: Start with 5-10 minutes of meditation daily, gradually increasing to 20-30 minutes or more. Consistency is crucial; even a few minutes of practice each day can yield significant rewards over time.


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How Meditation Works: Mindfulness meditation enhances brain regions responsible for emotional regulation, like the prefrontal cortex (PFC), while decreasing reactivity in the amygdala, which governs fear and shame responses. With regular practice, the PFC becomes more efficient at managing emotional responses. This improved emotional regulation helps LGBTQ+ individuals manage and diminish shame, fostering a stable and positive emotional state.


Metta meditation generates feelings of love, compassion, and goodwill towards oneself and others, counteracting negative emotions like shame. By accepting yourself and treating yourself with kindness, metta meditation can boost your self-esteem and create a more positive identity.


Over time, regular practice may lead to a more positive emotional state.


Body scanning focuses attention on bodily sensations. This increased awareness activates areas of the brain associated with bodily perception and interoception (ability to sense internal signals). Over time, this practice may enhance the ability to perceive subtle bodily sensations with a detached, non-judgmental attitude.


By engaging in these practices, individuals can rewire their brains and shift emotional patterns, creating a resilient and self-compassionate inner landscape.


  1. A Take-Home Message

The journey from shame to pride is challenging but rewarding and transformative. By embracing the Buddha’s teachings of acceptance and self-compassion, understanding psychological impacts, and harnessing the power of meditation, LGBTQ+ individuals can move from humiliation to honor, dignity, and glory.


Remember, your sexual orientation or gender identity is not a source of shame; it is a unique and beautiful part of the human experience. Through meditation, cultivate contentment, satisfaction, and an unshakeable sense of self-esteem. As the Buddha said, “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection,” and “A well-disciplined mind does greater good than any other family members do; whereas an undisciplined mind does greater harm than any other enemies do.” Embrace meditation as a tool to develop unconditional self-love and pride in your LGBTQ+ identity, unlocking your true potential and living authentically with courage and compassion.


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Author: Paitoon Songkaeo, Ph.D

Transitioning from a Buddhist monk to a diplomat, Paitoon Songkaeo is the Administrative Director of the Thailand Foundation. With a background of 16 years as a Buddhist monk, he later joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and retired as the Consul-General of Kota Baru in Malaysia in 2017. Additionally, he is a regular contributor to the Spiritual Values & Meditation section.

Uploaded on June 24, 2024