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Productivity Culture Is Dangerous — Here’s How I Unplug From It

For his latest project, Rivas explores the space between Black and white in a book called Brown Enough. In telling the story of his racial awakening, Rivas carves out space for questions he felt were lacking from America’s race conversation. Along the way, he touches on love, violence, spirituality, and what it means to make it in this day and age.

We caught up with Rivas to talk storytelling, the dangers of productivity, his path to meditation and Buddhism (it started with a college crush), and his vision for making wellness more accessible.

How has your relationship with storytelling changed throughout your life?

I value its importance more and more every day. I believe it is incredibly important that we tell our stories. Whiteness and society is constantly trying to tell us what we’re capable of, what bodies of culture are worth, and what they can accomplish. I know the value in storytelling. I know how it can set people free.

When I as a young kid saw John Leguizamo do a one-man show, it gave me enough armor and courage to follow my dreams. I know what happens when we create spaces of belonging and bodies of culture tell their stories. What that does for young brown and black kids is incredibly powerful. When more young brown and black kids take up space and share their voice, the more we get to a sustainable and balanced world.

You touch on this in the book, but can you tell me more about why you use the term ‘body of culture’?

I don’t think whiteness is trying to take our color. I think it’s our culture. Whiteness wants to put you in a box. Like you’re a Latino, but, I’m from 24 different countries, flavors, nationalities, and you want to find one word for me? So I use bodies of culture because we are not color, we are culture, and we are a diverse culture.

Can you tell me about what type of well-being practices you grew up with and then how you came to yoga and meditation?

My wellness practice is absolutely vital to my life. I sit every day for about 40 minutes, pray, and then journal. How I got to it is love.

This girl in college asked me if I meditated,and I had never meditated a day in my life. But I really wanted her to like me, so I told her yes. I told her twice a day, because once wasn’t enough. We started dating, and I had maintained this lie that I had a [meditation] practice. Then for my 21st birthday, she bought me a plane ticket to Derry, Massachusetts to a silent retreat. I went and it was the hardest moment in my life.It changed my life. And I’ve meditated every day since then. I always say it’s the greatest lie ever told.

In your book, you talk about spirituality losing its value when it’s filtered through the lens of consumerism. Have you found ways to participate in spirituality without getting caught up in the consumerist aspect?

I think one is recognizing that there are places that try and sell you happiness, peace, joy, or even health. These things are inherently yours, you already have them.

I’m not here trying to be like, you’re a meditation studio, you shouldn’t exist. No, you should exist. Because you’re putting energy on the blocks, which helps the neighborhood, which helps the city, which helps the country. But I am asking you to look at the values of that. If meditation is inherently free and created by bodies of culture, and yet most of your participants are white bodies paying a pretty expensive price to do something they can do in their house for free, what is your outreach?

I recognize it, and then I can unplug from it. And I can realize that what I am seeking, I want everybody to have peace. I want all communities to have that, not just the ones who can afford it.

What do you think about our culture’s relationship to productivity?

To me, it’s dangerous, because it tells you that where you are is not enough. What does it look like to unplug from that? I believe there’s a very subconscious thought that bodies of culture think they have to work extra hard just to get to the starting line. And so my invitation is there’s no starting line, there’s no race. The greatest way you can take back your power is to say, I don’t need to do more, I get to just be here now.

What does unplugging from that system look like in your day-to-day life?

I think that’s why meditation is so important. I just sit here for a certain amount of time and breathe and smile. And that doesn’t have to be cross-legged meditation. I’m going to read my book, that’s all I’m going to do–that’s meditation. I’m going to turn off my phone, that’s meditation. I’m gonna find a way to not stay plugged in. To just be here to be here in my boredom, to be here in my desire, to be here in my questions. Anytime you have the opportunity to do one thing and just do it–wash the dishes, wash your hands–is a way to unplug from productivity.

In your book, you write about imagination and the ability to imagine better circumstances for yourself as a privilege. What is your relationship to imagination?

I think it’s one of the most beautiful blessings and privileges in the world. I’m so grateful to be an artist and a storyteller. I get to imagine an existence where I don’t wake up and want to look at my bank account, or think I’m not enough. I also get to imagine a world where my art and my breath and my actions allow multiple and millions of people to feel the same way.

I get to imagine art that actually creates healing, that creates spaces of belonging. Imagination is everything that exists in this world. This telephone, we’re talking on, your recording device–it has all been imagined. Our ancestor’s imaginations have given us these beautiful blessings. And I just want to honor those blessings and continue to imagine in profound ways.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

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