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Meet Charlotte Nguyen of Get Free! Meditation in East LA

Today we’d like to introduce you to Charlotte Nguyen.

Charlotte, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Like so many, I was really shaken to my core after the 2016 election. I had been working in non-profits for almost a decade at that time and remember feeling so helpless and demoralized. It seemed like so much of the progress we’d worked so hard for had been sabotaged and knocked down. It was a time where so many of us were turning inward and desperately wanting to know: How can I respond consciously and effectively to what is going on in our country and our world? How can I stay present and centered with such intense feelings being triggered?

During that time, my only refuge was meditation, which I started practicing at age 17. As a young activist, I was always in my head and on-the-go, but when I would sit to meditate, I would experience this huge sense of relief and intense joy. Coming from a Southeast Asian background, spirituality and mysticism have always been part of my upbringing, but I never thought it would become part of my livelihood until I learned more about my heritage.

I discovered that Vietnamese Buddhists gave birth to the “Engaged Buddhism movement,” which made efforts to respond to colonization, injustice and the suffering they saw around them. They saw this as part of their meditation and mindfulness practice – not apart from it. Buddhist monks would march around pagodas reciting chants for religious freedom. Some even protested by burning themselves alive through self-immolation, sitting peacefully and meditating in silence as their bodies were engulfed in flames. I realized that meditation offered a powerful blueprint for inner and outer change and an answer to the deep-rooted crisis of violence and helplessness I had been feeling.

My whole sense of self and purpose shifted when I felt the pull at my heartstrings to share this practice which so profoundly changed my life. It became my mission to help people cultivate the tools already inside them to set themselves free so they can be of greater service to the world! My heart really beats for service-oriented, creative, inspired, ambitious women and people of color who know they have a mission inside of them and want to build a solid foundation from which to share themselves in the world.

I believe that when we find the courage and support to root out violence where it lives in our hearts and minds, we can discover the power to create peace at every level of life — personal, family, neighborhood, community, country, and the world.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Oh god, NO! 😅 When I started teaching, it was super challenging to find a good fit in meditation circles because they tended to be demographically white spaces. I’d notice how conversations about meditation were racially biased or Orientalist, meaning they tended to cast Asian practices and people as somehow more passive or peaceful or submissive. I had a lot of skepticism around what some people might call “spiritual bypass.”

It seemed to me that spiritual practitioners often let themselves off the hook by superficially responding to huge issues of injustice with like “one love!” or “we’re all one human race!” For me, mindfulness is all about combining wisdom and action. It requires us to be honest with ourselves about what is the impact that our actions are making on the world and how are we living in an ethical way? So it’s not just about spiritual calisthenics or improving focus or decreasing stress, which “vogue” mindfulness might have us believe.

There is a much deeper legacy and lineage around reducing suffering in oneself and in the world. I wasn’t seeing that, so had to create what I needed! There were also so many times people dismissed or doubted the wisdom I had to share because of my age (I’m 27).

It can be perceived as confrontational or intimidating to be young and wise and clearly attuned to ancient knowledge. I had to remind myself daily that my purpose here isn’t to get validation from my (often older, white or male) counterparts, but to be in service to the collective.

Even though I was very much trained and credentialed, my experience as a person of color was far more valuable than any certification. I had to decide that it was time for me to come out of hiding and stop being so SHY about what I’ve learned and what I know. Age, after all, is only our earth-years. I believe we each carry with us the wisdom of our ancestors which we’ve inherited over many lifetimes!

I had to honestly inquire with myself: what inner-knowing, intuition, or gifts had I been avoiding or doubting? What excuses had I been using to hold myself back from owning my wisdom? The more I honored myself and resonated in the field of owning what I feel and know, the more it nourished my curiosity and opened my heart to receive even more insights on what I didn’t know (or didn’t even know I didn’t know!) No matter your age. No matter what people say. No matter your experience. No matter what. Own it!

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Get Free! Meditation story. Tell us more about the business.
I have a small creative business called Get Free! where I help changemakers and visionaries become more inspired and emotionally healthy through mindfulness! The modalities I work with are meditation in the Vipassana and Theravada lineage, traditional tea ceremony and sacred movement. What sets my work apart is how I always try to combine mindful living with social action.

I think mainstream wellness tends to encourage a lot of spiritual escapism or spiritual materialism, which teaches self-care as a way of escaping the pain in our lives. I think the individuals I serve are those who want to be spiritual warriors, not escapists. They want to be awake to suffering and end that suffering for themselves, their families, their community and their world.

As a healing practitioner, I try to bring a deep awareness about issues related to oppression to my work and I invite everyone to bring ALL the parts of themselves to their process of transformation – whether it’s their social, cultural or political experiences. It’s so important to honor and understand these larger forces in our lives that impact our well-being. I meet so many people who’ve gone to meditation classes for support but were made to feel like they should be able to just meditate their way to happiness regardless of personal or political circumstances.

I like to think about the analogy of “the rose that grew from the concrete.” I’m so aware of how important it is to cultivate that rose’s resilience to rise above its circumstances, but I’m also just as interested in smashing that concrete and getting to the root of who or what planted her there in the first place.

I’m really proud of the richness and diversity I see in my clients and in the spaces, we create together. When clients hear my story and how I looked at my heritage to guide me back to health, it often inspires them to discover their own ancestral healing ways. Then I get to learn from them and it’s just such a beautiful exchange – what you birth really does birth you! It makes me come alive to see all of us, despite the world’s upheaval, working together to create that beautiful, more equitable world our hearts know is possible – AND doing it as happier and healthier people.

Where do you see your industry going over the next 5-10 years? Any big shifts, changes, trends, etc?
I’ve been inspired to see the convergence of art and mindfulness in recent years. I love seeing meditation being offered in museums and spaces like the MOCA and the Underground Museum here in LA. I would love to see us deepening that intersection. I’m a writer and a dancer myself and find that mindful living can help attune us to beauty, energy and intuition, connect us with spirit and bridge that gap between the tangible and the unseen – all of which enhances the creative process.

Mindfulness just helps us take care of their minds and trains us to live in the present, which is the only place anyone has any power to create anything. Living in Los Angeles, I also see how the arts and entertainment space is desperate for more healing and wellness, as we’re seeing with the “Me Too” movement. I’m excited to see more and more industries embracing that.

Pricing:

  • Breathwork + Healing Session // $150
  • Awakening Change: A 6-Month Transformational Experience Through Meditation // $350 a month

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
The Well Multimedia, Vim Cromy Studios, Farrah Su, Nenah Bondi

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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