Over the last few weeks, my mind has become obsessed with all of the "out there" problems that I cannot change, ruminating on everything that needs fixing, healing and growth here.
So much to do, so little time on Earth.
As a born helper it's easy for me to feel overwhelmed and ill-equipped to deal with these current times.
That's when, thankfully, I started listening to the incredible audiobook My Grandmother's Hands, written by Resmaa Menakem who is a body-based trauma specialist.
His work, based on years of clinical practice with people of all cultures and backgrounds in addition to solid research, affirms what I've felt so deeply about worldly healing: that lasting change starts within each of us, particularly through our bodies.
You see, in our cells, we each carry the instinctual memories, behaviors, patterns and wounds of our ancestors' lived experiences as humans. These wordless patterns that live in black-bodies and white-bodies of both thought and behavior are downloaded into our DNA prior even to birth. And so we literally carry behaviors of the great great great grandparents many of us have never even heard about.
When I was pregnant, I was CERTAIN that neither of my girls would live beyond the womb. It was the most ridiculous thought-pattern: every scan was healthy, every doctor visit normal.
But this was a VISCERAL feeling in my body.
During that time, I was studying yoga therapy and learning about this very concept when I realized that I was carrying my Grandmother's unhealed trauma from her horrifying stillbirth experience -- in my cells.
My body REMEMBERED that wordless story, just as she remembers many others: stories about how to survive: what is safe. what is not safe. what to do to get food, shelter, love and attention. And what NOT to do so as to avoid the unbearable loss of those things.
Most of these body-based behaviors and beliefs are unconscious: automatic, you could say.
That's probably why I've been in the pantry WAAAAY more than usual lately during this intense time: grabbing a chocolate here, there and everywhere. As much as my MIND might disagree with it, this coping strategy of self-soothing wth food LIVES in me as cellular, ancestral memory.
And when I look out to all of the things that upset me about "those people out there" (domination, violence, betrayal and "othering,") I can see that -- although it's extremely hard to do so -- many of those behaviors that created this world in which we live, LIVE in me, too.
I know you think that's crazy.
I'm a yogi. A do-gooder. A mindful mama.
I study spirituality and compassion for a living.
But I still think violent thoughts about my beloved body when I look at her in the mirror.
On a bad day, I dominate and shame my children for their innocent behaviors.
And yes, sadly, I have betrayed the people I love the most just to save my own ass.
Menakem confirms this: that the patterns that got us here, in this version of the America in which we live are INNER behaviors that are expressing themselves externally, creating the world that we are seeing "out there."
That's why these external events keep happening over and over and over again. NOT because we don't WANT change. Not because we don't KNOW better. But because our body-based nervous system reactions simply are stuck in old, unconscious patterns.
That's why Jesus begs us to STOP judging one another.
To forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.
I used to be embarrassed and ashamed of believing that my yoga practice was one of the most potent ways to be of service to the planet. Like thinking that way was some sort of new-age, woo-woo bullshit.
But now I see and understand how and why starting from within, before we take any form of external action, is the only way out of this mess.
Yes, of course we need top-down change, but MORE importantly I think we need bottom up change.
I believe DEEPLY in the change that starts from turning our violent, fearful, animalistic patterns into ones that are empathetic and compassionate towards ourselves and those around us. For I can ONLY give out to the world whatever I've cultivated within myself.
What if, together, we continued to tame the wild demons that keep us separate, scared and segregated?
What if we believed so viscerally that WE MATTER that together we agree to unwind the many ways we each unconsciously cause both others and ourselves harm?
Menakem assures that real healing and transformation starts in the BODY and in safe spaces where we feel held, heard and accepted just the way we are.
That's the power of what we do together, friends.
Using these profound tools, we transform the body, calm and quiet the negative mind and become compassionate bodies that begin to pour a new energy out into this hurting world (which is our karma yoga practice).
How is everyone doing out there? I personally have been fluctuating through moments of high highs (where I see the incredible possibility embedded in these times) and low lows (days where I am exhausted, emotional, frustrated and lacking in strength and hope).
Many of us sensitive souls have always known, though, on a soul-level that the current culture we're swimming in -- based on fear, control and dominance over others, ourselves and the Earth -- is not sustainable.
That while it may feel predictable, just like that nightly beer or five, it's hurting and harming us individually and collectively.
I feel so grateful that many people are waking up to this truth: for we cannot get better until we admit that we are sick.
It reminds me of the moment when I realized that the co-dependent, toxic world I created with my long-time ex was going to kill me if I stayed. That the patterns that were unconsciously running us made us both miserable, sick and depressed.
As this truth became apparently clear one night at the bar with my girlfriends, I felt incredibly sad, scared and EXCITED.
Could there be a different way?
Could I create something NEW?
Could there possibly be LIFE after this unnerving death?
Miraculously meeting and marrying my soulmate Shawn, birthing two incredible children with him and successfully working my dream career are proof that YES, NEW life, in fact, IS POSSIBLE.
But before I could get here, I had to go through the grueling death process first, letting go of the comfortable yet lethal patterns that had been my "normal" for so long. As I walked through this personal crucifixion, I had to watch everything I once identified with fade: old friends, old habits, my old apartment, my free dry-cleaning service (a handy benefit of this partnership ;)), and my status as this man's partner.
While it was painful and sad and emotionally exhausting, from the other side, I can tell you, as my mother once assured me, that it was SO worth it.
Through it I became so clear on what I DID NOT want, so that I could start to awaken to WHAT I DID WANT which was partnership, honesty, respect, gentleness, courage, and connection.
I got SO SO clear on what this potential future partner would be like that I refused to settle for anything less than him. Bad date after bad date could not get me down because I knew, for certain, that a new partner was on his way. My mind was made up.
And so, God, in Her infinite creative wisdom said, "YEEEEEES! That's what I'm talking about" as She got to work on birthing him into Being and miraculously dropping him on my path.
What if this time we are in is the perfect opportunity BREAK UP with our past?
To move through all the big emotions that come with the break-up FIRST, helping us each get clear on all that we DO NOT WANT so that, together, we can get clear on what WE DO WANT?
What if, together, we are beginning to imagine that there could be a different way that we had originally considered possible?
That we're not POWERLESS, but POWERFUL midwives of this SOMETHING ELSE we've always wanted?
This is the power of the yoga practice: giving us the tools to calm, harness and connect with the creative power of our minds, bodies and Souls so that EACH of us become conscious co-creators of a new reality instead of being victims, bystanders, and haters just trying to scoot through life without ever really living.
During my days as a high school English teacher, our department had four main goals for student learning: reading, writing, speaking and listening.
As a naïve 20-something newbie, I remember feeling intrigued and confused by the last one: LISTENING.
Did listening actually have to be taught?
If so, how?
And of all the skills to teach, how did this one make the top four?
But now, as a 37 yr old lonely, occasionally depressed stay-at-home mother, I long to be surrounded by real listeners, and I now get how rare they actually are.
Since the horrific death of George Floyd, my teachers are all talking about this mysterious skill – LISTENING. Many of them no longer posting their own perceptions of reality, but handing their mics over to BIPOC who are dying for us to have a listen to what things have been like from their side of the invisible wall that keeps us separate.
I have hope that many of us have been shaken enough to, at least for awhile, step over to the wall, open the window, and really listen to what’s going on over there.
Last week, ironically but not surprisingly, as I am considering this skill of listening, I found myself in an uncomfortable disagreement with a woman whom I’ve had tension with since we first met.
Truthfully, I am jealous.
She radiated confidence, inner resilience and self-assuredness at a time when I was weak, fatigued, insecure, and unable to make complete sentences. This jealousy causing me, embarrassingly, to be her #1 silent critic from afar.
Most recently, we had a text exchange that threw me over the freaking edge. I responded to her curtly with an “okay, no problem.”
You know, the perfect “I’m pissed but I’m not really going to say it” text.
To which she replied “Can we talk?”
This was the moment we’d all be waiting for.
I gave myself a few days to get my head straight, to really feel into WHAT it was that made me so upset about our interactions. And then, with shaky hands and a racing heart, I called her.
She was ready to listen.
And once I started talking, it all just fell out. All of the ways I felt her judging me, not accepting me for who I really am: the many ways that she made me feel on edge and insecure and as if I was not enough.
“Are you done?” she asked, listening intently.
“I thiiiink so,” I stammered anxiously.
To my great surprise, she started laughing.
“This is so funny,” she said. “Because I feel really judged by you, too.”
She went on to tell me her perceptions of me, from the other side of the invisible wall. How she felt me looking down upon the way that she went through the world and how shitty it felt to her, too.
As the truth came out, it became apparently clear that everything I couldn’t stand about her were traits that I had not made peace with about my own behaviors, habits, and inner gifts.
The unreal stories my mind was telling about her melted away as the REAL story of her experience poured out.
My heart opened.
My eyes cleared.
And I began to see her – the real her – for the first time.
All because of listening.
While this conversation was super uncomfortable, it allowed me to see MY blindspots and MY judgements instead of blaming and shaming the unreal "other" who is my friend.
The art of listening is not glamorous.
No one gets major credit or Facebook likes or publicity for being an observer, a witness, for remaining curious and non-judgmental. Well, except for the Dalia Lama or Jesus perhaps.
But my favorite people on this planet are the ones who listen, with curiosity, to what it’s like to be me. To wonder what it's like to live in this skin, with this past, these emotions and insecurities and passions.
This experience has inspired me to be a fervent listener during this time. To open my mind to podcasts, documentaries, books and people that I don’t normally listen to. To be curious. To question my thoughts. To better understand. To crawl into another’s skin and walk around in it as Atticus Finch suggested.
I have been humbled and inspired, saddened and hopeful.
I want to know who is on the other side of the wall of my white privilege. I want to know what it’s like to be them. This feels like the natural first step to seeing our oneness and to moving forward together.
While I know that there is no way I will ever be able to dismantle the centuries of pain that BIPOC experience, I am not giving up on doing my part. I believe that we change this universe one small act, relationship, conversation, and connection at a time.
In hopes that it might be of service, I’m sharing my most recent process (inspired by Rev. Michael Beckwith) below:
FEEL: let your initial big emotions move through you however they’d like. What’s working for me now is verbally processing with friends and mentors that I feel safe with, going on nature walks, journaling, and moving my body.
PRAY: if you feel deep in your bones that you want to be part of this movement toward healing racial wounds, ask to be shown how YOU personally can be of service. Let the Divine GUIDE you instead of your guilt and fear.
LISTEN: Keep your eyes, ears and heart open to the people, books, podcasts, groups, etc. that you intuitively feel drawn toward. Trust your inner guide to show you what is yours to do.
TRUST in your IMPACT no matter how small: what you say to your kids, how you treat BIPOC in front of them, what you’re talking about, listening to, supporting, etc. ALL create universal waves in the pool of our collective consciousness. You matter.
KEEP THE FAITH: As Jesus says, faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain. Notice the changes you are seeing. Notice people coming together. Imagine the future you are longing for and know that this, too, has a powerful impact on the whole.
Here are the resources that are helping me right now:
- Short, straight-forward series of 14 podcasts on Seeing White: https://www.sceneonradio.org/seeing-white/
- Woman run, year-long body-based book study on dismantling the inner realms of racism: https://www.rootedandembodied.com/somatic-abolitionism-12-month-study?fbclid=IwAR2T9Qr9mHtPoI3YXRCdbgkg32O7NKHvsX6DPVLF2PrdIuYpfTHvNm1_zVw
- 13th: A Netflix Documentary on understanding the history of black-based mass incarcerations: https://www.netflix.com/title/80091741
Tomorrow we join to practice making our minds stretchier through bodily movement so that we can practice inner listening, as yoga teaches that all changes start from within. Listening is one of the most powerful reasons to come to the mat. As we get to know ourselves better, we can better understand and empathize with those around us.
As always, I invite you into conversation with me as I navigate these unstable waters of speaking more clearly about tender issues and dismantling ourselves from the systems that are harming us individually and collectively. I know that I am not perfect and have plenty of blindspots. Feel free to reply to me personally if you are seeing any of them.
With love and humility,
Yoga Therapist, Teacher, Speaker, Writer, Mother