“Music is my first spiritual practice,” says Grant Jones, a musician, activist, contemplative researcher, and the newest member of Mind & Life’s Steering Council. And while the overlap between his music and meditation started as a slow crescendo, now the connection is more explicit. His new collection of songs, “Constellations,” recently released on Spotify, touches upon the many hardships and awakenings of the last year and a half.
In March, Grant performed two of these songs—“Emotional Freedom” (watch the clip below) and the EP’s title track “Constellations”—at our Inspiring Minds online event. Meditation helped make the EP possible. Grant’s contemplative practice fostered the clarity he needed to “show up fully within the rage, confusion, fear, and longing for home and safety” that arose for so many. Ultimately, it helped him share his experience through lyrics such as:
constellations point me home
and if I should roam, please guide the way
please guide the way
Though music came first, Grant’s contemplative practice started in 2011 when the hardships of navigating predominantly white spaces started to surface in a way that was harmful and constraining. “That pressure was a strong prompt to turn inwards,” he says, and so he started using breath to center himself. His practice grew from there. “To feel that clear [after contemplative practice], that settled, honestly it was addicting,” he adds. In 2016, Grant co-founded the Black Lotus Collective, a meditation space designed for the BIPOC community and people of marginalized groups. “Building a more just world starts with addressing the parts of ourselves that are super colonized by a white supremecist society,” he shares, “and healing is possible.”
After finishing his undergraduate degree at Harvard University and working as a research assistant, Grant pursued his Ph.D. at Harvard in 2018. Mind & Life was an organic connection, he says, “how many organizations bridge first-person meditation practice with applied research?” At his first Mind & Life Summer Research Institute that year, Grant made professional connections and dear friends, and also experienced healing critical to his journey as a Black man in relationship to whiteness.
From there, bringing music into his research was a natural extension of his work. Inspired by Harvard University professor, mentor, and musician Esperanza Spalding, who is engaged in her own personal explorations of music, research, and healing, Grant began exploring similar intersections in his own research.
Many communities aren’t reached by traditional mental health care offerings, and bringing visibility and funding to practices that Black and Indigenous communities have been using for millennia can help develop these much needed opportunities for healing and support.
Grant believes we need tools that are easily accessible and that work. Historically, a lot of mental health offerings are not that, he adds. His 2020 Varela grant project, “HEALING attempt: A Music-Based Mindfulness Intervention for Black Americans,” aims to honor both contemplative practices and the lineages of Black diasporic, gospel, soul, and R&B-informed music that shape Grant’s work as an artist. “I aim for research to be a place where I can let all of myself in,” he says. “I hope this work will be a celebration of the shared ancestors of many in the Black community…an accessible resource for contemplative practice, and an invitation for others to show up fully through music and mindfulness.”
We’re glad to welcome Grant to Mind & Life’s Steering Council and are excited about his work to make contemplative spaces more accessible to communities in need. Whether through meditation, music, or a mix of both, we too believe that healing is possible.
Watch the clip of Grant performing “Emotional Freedom” at our March event: