Star Trek, Mindfulness, Diversity and Inclusion

Guest post by Shane Ledford, CMT-200

Shane on the Star Trek Enterprise

One of my favorite guided meditations I created and occasionally offer is one I call “Floating Meditation.” Basically, the practitioner is asked to focus on the immediate physical surroundings they are presently meditating in, and then, by whatever creative mode of transportation they can envision, are invited to imagine themselves floating above that area. Reassurance is given that the atmosphere and environment surrounding the meditator is safe, and the invitation is offered to continue expanding this floating awareness above the city they live in, and then state, country, and, eventually, above the Earth. Each time the geographical perception guidance broadens a little bit further, I invite the meditator to say to themself, “I live here. I am part of this community.”

When I present this meditation, I generally say something towards the end to the effect of, “Imagine looking back at our Earth home as it appears in one of those photographs from the Apollo space missions.” To this day, even with more recent pictures from other missions, telescopes, and the International Space Station, I am still mesmerized by astronaut William Anders’ iconic photo captured on December 24, 1968. That famous photo is now commonly referred to as “Earthrise,” and was part of several taken by the first humans to witness Earth from a lunar orbit. These astronauts, who were highly specialized individuals that trained vigorously for what they would see and experience on that mission, were overwhelmed with emotion and what they actuality felt on their journey. A brief transcript during the audio recording on their new-found revelation features Anders saying, “Oh my God! Look at that picture over there! There’s the Earth coming up. Wow, that’s pretty.”

Earth from the moon

Earthrise 1968

As I look at that photo today, much like the astronauts witnessed live nearly 55 years ago, I am still struck by the beauty of Earth’s swirls of colors… and how difficult it is to discern individual continents… let alone imagined and constructed borders among counties, providences, and states. This is also an invitation I offer to imagine during the Floating Meditation.

The Apollo missions were a major influence on me as a young child, and I recall doing a solar system poster board for a school science fair project when I was in the 4th grade. I even had thoughts of becoming an astronaut, and my curiosity and fascination with space exploration still captivates me today. Unfortunately, the Apollo missions ended in 1972 when I was only 7 years old… and I needed another way to continue imagining myself traveling space. Luckily, I discovered a television rerun that was on every afternoon after school, and it quickly became my newfound guide to “space…the final frontier.” That show was “Star Trek.”

Not only did Star Trek allow me to “explore strange new worlds” and “seek out new life and new civilizations” every afternoon, it also provided my earliest lessons in mindfulness as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion. While I have mentioned the movie “Star Wars” as being the catalyst of my mindful journey, I consider Star Trek’s character of Mr. Spock as my first mindful teacher – and he was the second action figure I ever owned (quickly replacing G.I. Joe). I even have a few Mr. Spock action figures adorning the shelves in my meditation room today.

It is, of course, now well-known that Star Trek was groundbreaking television in its dealing with the social and political issues of the time (and, in large extent, with issues we are still very much dealing with today). The show was known for it’s diverse cast and instrumental in having people of color and women included as important members of the Enterprise’s bridge crew. In fact, Leonard Nimoy, the actor who played Mr. Spock was of Jewish heritage and understood what it meant to be excluded. In an interview with WBUR he said, “Spock is an alien, wherever he is. Because he’s not human. He’s not Vulcan. He’s half and half… He’s not totally accepted in the Vulcan culture because he’s not totally Vulcan. Certainly not totally accepted in the human culture because he’s part Vulcan. And that alienation was something I learned in Boston. I knew what it meant to be a member of a minority — and in some cases, an outcast minority. So I understood that aspect of the character, and I think it was helpful in playing him.”

However, when I now reflect back on my experience of watching those afternoon reruns some 47 years ago, I don’t think I really comprehended how radical it was to have a diverse group included on a (once) prime-time show. The crew members looked just like people I saw in my community everyday, so why wouldn’t they naturally be part of a starship’s operations? I think, for kids, the show is about curiosity and the joy in learning more about other worlds and the people/aliens that live there. I think, as adults, the show is more about learning about ourselves. Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, said the show “was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms.”

It should be mentioned, however, that Star Trek did have its share of diversity mishaps. Women were objectified by wearing short skirts (and their revealing costumes continued well into the later spin-off series), the portrayal of Native Americans has been problematic, and the first gay character was not introduced until the reboot movies a few years ago and in the recent “Discovery” incarnation. Despite those faults, there are numerous stories where Star Trek has offered people hope and dreams beyond what was culturally expected of them at the time – especially among women and people of color. In a now-famous story, Nichelle Nichols, an African-American woman who played Communications Officer Uhura on the show, was at a social gathering during Star Trek’s first prime-time season run. She was invited to speak to a big fan of the show, and was introduced to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He told her how much he enjoyed Star Trek, and she replied, “Thanks,” but, she was leaving it to pursue other opportunities. Dr. King quickly responded, “You cannot! When we see you, we see ourselves, and we see ourselves as intelligent and beautiful and proud.” Persuaded, Nichols would continue on the show, inspiring women and women of color to pursue their dreams… including astronaut Mae Jemison and
actor/comedian Whoopi Goldberg.

In the documentary “For the Love of Spock,” actor Leonard Nimoy refused participate in the planned Star Trek animated series (which started after the original series was cancelled) unless Nichelle Nichols and George Takei were included in the show. Takei, an Asian-American actor who played Helms Navigator Sulu, revealed, “When Leonard learned of that, he said, ‘What Star Trek is about is diversity, coming together and working in concert as a team,’ and, he said, ‘The two people who most personify that diversity in our cast are Nichelle Nichols and George Takei. And if they’re not going to be a part of this, then I’m not interested.'” They would be included in the show along with Nimoy.

Leonard Nimoy signing his autograph for Shane 15 years ago.

I had the opportunity to meet Leonard Nimoy (as well as most of all the Star Trek series’ actors and actresses) on occasions at Star Trek conventions, and found him to be compassionate, caring, and truly engaged when talking with people. While his character of Mr. Spock is an embodiment of mindfulness and has been shown meditating in episodes and films, I do not know if Mr. Nimoy meditated… but I do know, as a person, he embodied many attributes that one has when being mindful.

When one practices mindfulness, they may eventually be able to see themselves and those around them less judgmentally. Mindfulness allows one to truly be engaged and listen. It can allow one to pause and respond to whatever emotions and situations may be arising, as opposed to quickly reacting. The importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion also emerges from practicing mindfulness, and it is one of the fundamental parts of the Midwest Alliance for Mindfulness’ mission.

Going back to my Floating Mediation, I always end the session by offering a quote that encapsulates the foundations of Star Trek, the non-existent border imagery in the Earthrise photo, and the embracing of diversity, equity, and inclusion that emerges when practicing mindfulness. Sage Ramana Maharshi was once asked, “How do we treat others?” He replied, “There are no others.”

Are you intrigued by Shane’s love of television and movies? If so, you can join him for his Mindfulness in the Movies series. His next offering is To Boldly Go: Mindfulness in the Star Trek Universe on 3/20/2021.

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