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Stay.Right.Here.

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Life seems to be serving up the same lessons that I seem to either forget or think I will eventually master.  In this week’s servings there was nothing over the top out of the ordinary, but none-the-less the challenges of parenting and adulting and relationshiping drudged up old responses that I thought I had out grew.  Just like an old, familiar space my responses were filled with anxiety and worry and a nagging voice that I-am-just-not-doing-enough and that I-will-never-be-enough.

These are the ghosts of my past who somehow fill my present and urge me to problem solve a future that still has yet to become.  

And so I do the old patterns that I’ve learned do not serve me well and this is that I try to control for the circumstances in which I have no control.  Usually how this looks is I try to out do myself– be better– be perfect– be a perfect mom– present a competent, well-put-together adult self for co-workers, be the best listener to my friends, have the patience of a saint for my children, stave off exhaustion or weariness, appear brave, commit to being a giver and resist being a receiver…

I know this is usually a fruitless, soul draining endeavor for me.  I know that the more I live in my head to be perfect and to present perfection the less I live authentically.  Authentic for me is to be in the moment– open to whatever life offers so that I can learn and grow.  Authentic also means that I am where I am… I’m giving what I have… I’m receiving what I can hold and I’m listening in the here and now.

And I’ve learned in the four decades of my life that the efforts to control exhaust me and wear me thin yet, I found myself doing this by default– just easing into this old pattern without giving it a second thought.  In my 20’s and 30’s this likely would go on for a long time, but thanks-be to the development of skills like mindfulness and self-awareness I was able to eventually notice that this pattern had snuck back up.  I was able to evaluate myself and make some different decisions regarding the anxiety and stress I was bearing and the response I wanted to extend to myself.

When I got down to it I realized that the anxiety I was holding was about an uncertain future that I have very little to no control over.  I mean to get really honest with myself I had to realize that I cannot predict or control what is to come and that scares the shit out of me.

I mean…

I can pour every ounce of parenting energy and wisdom into my children, but what they do with that… how they actualize is not in my control.

I can love with every ounce of love my heart and body can muster and I can’t control the outcome and the return of love or of loss or of illness or of death.  (Loving my mother meant taking care of her body and her health toward the fruit of her returning to complete health– I could not control for how her illness was going to compromise her and ultimately take her)

I can make all the ‘smart’, future forward career investment decisions to ensure a future of bright opportunities and financial security, but I can’t guarantee that these opportunities will be extended toward me.

And this lesson presented to me what it always presents to me– that what I have is right now.  I have today.

A few years ago, I did some crazy stuff.  I left everything behind: a marriage, a career, a community, a belief system– on the notion that leaving the toxic aspects of my life would lead to more health and growth.  I had a certain kind of optimism or hope about that decision.

In terms of my mental and emotional health I can say that I’ve seen the fruits of that decision produce the capacity for me to think and to breathe and to live in peace.  It’s in part, why I can presently be more mindful, but in terms of what the future holds I have no certainties and I think that some days I’m still waiting and watching with bated breath– I’m peering into the future, anxieties rising, lungs full– wanting, longing to control the outcomes.  And then life (sometimes in gentle ways and sometimes in not so gentle ways) brings me right back to where I am and says stay.right.here.  Don’t get ahead of yourself.  You have today.  You have this moment.  Stay right here and listen– don’t lose this moment.  Don’t let it slip away.  Bask in it.  Let the sun shine on your face and breathe, because this is what you have and this is what you can be certain of– this- right- here.

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A new adventure ahead

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A few weeks I learned that I was accepted into a doctoral program in an International Psychology program.  The concentration of my research will be on women & trauma.  The Chicago School’s program is one of kind– I’ve seen nothing else out there like it.  Depending on the direction & concentration of my research on women & trauma I will be traveling to our international partner sites to conduct field study.  This opens up a plethora of pathways for partnerships, learning and expansion on the research I’ve been dreaming about for years.  

All that to say, I will still be blogging & writing.  I imagine that my posts will include many of my thoughts on the research, stories, statistics– blah-blah-blah.  I hope to keep it relevant and interesting.  I want to use this space to keep expanding dialogue.  

Lately I’ve been asked why I do this work.  At some point I think I’ll be able to share more of my own personal story– as it is connected to the dialogue and the work, but for now I can share this–  I am passionate.

I am passionate about women.

I am passionate about the voices of women.

And I am unapologetic.

I have seen churches and schools and businesses and institutions and families, most established on systems of patriarchy, dismantle and undermine the development and freedom of the feminine voice.

I have been with women who have been literally beaten and smashed told that their only worth is that of serving the men in their lives.

I have sat across from women bruised and scarred from years of sexual abuse told that no place within themselves or their bodies is sacred or private or intimate or wholly their own.  

I have heard stories from women who have been told that real sacrifice has to do with compromising their own hopes, dreams, desires in service of others.  When feelings of confusion or disillusionment arise they are told that to dream or hold desire is to be selfish and self-serving.  Thus, leading them to believe that to be ‘good’ is to let go of any personal hope or dream.

And so you see, I am passionate about joining women in finding and freeing their beautiful voice– a voice full of wisdom, insight, purpose, laughter, sorrow, joy, vision and hope.  

And so I hope to continue to expand my understanding and my awareness through this research to create spaces of safety and healing that will ultimately lead to liberation and realization of the feminine voice.  

This is not an easy or quick work.  I am reminded of this through Caroline Knapp’s writings.  In her book Appetites, Knapp says:

“Defining desire in new ways is achingly complicated, painstaking work; it requires developing a vision that runs counter to consumerism, counter to a corporate an political culture that’s still tightly structured to meet male needs, perhaps even counter one’s own deeply-ingrained assumptions…Anything that connects you–to the body, to the self, to other women–can free.  Anything that frees may also feed”.

It’s a three-year program, but really this is my life’s work and I’m thrilled to embark on this next leg of the journey!

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Spinning into Butter: a dialogue on race & identity

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This past week I was invited to join the panel at Quiet‘s production of Spinning Into Butter.  The topic of the evening was on race, identity and institution.  For those of you who haven’t seen the theater production or movie you can check out the short synopsis that wikipedia put together.  Obviously, ethnicity and race is not just about skin color.  It is very much about identity formation.  How one sees her/himself?  And to whom he/she identifies?  It is a big conversation– one wrought with complexity, nuance & personal experience.  It is never meant to be one dimensional.

Anyway, about Saturday– 6 hours before I was to be at the panel I found out that I needed to tend to some things for my kids that made it impossible for me to physically be at the panel, which bummed me because I think these conversations are SO important and they are meant to be dialogues.  However, because I was unable to physically be there and I had spent a great deal of time prepping for it I asked if I could send along some of my thoughts to be used/read (if helpful) at the panel discussion.  

I’ve decided to share those thoughts here.  I’m not sure if they are helpful or if they will give us a platform to continue to discuss this important topic, but I thought what the heck I’ll give it a try.  Feel free to chime in.  This conversation is nothing without safe places to dialogue.  Also take note that there is reference to the production in what I’ve written.  I’ll put those references in italics.  For those of you who haven’t seen it I hope it’s not a distraction or creates confusion.  I think there will be points made where everyone can find a place to identify.  That’s my hope.  Also, this is not a complete, comprehensive conversation– it’s a piece– albeit, a very small piece.

For what it’s worth here it is:

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Acknowledge that this is painful.  After seeing the film I felt immediately flooded with all kinds of thoughts, feelings, desires to act upon and so on…  I realized that I needed to stop a moment to acknowledge what was below this motivating energy and I realized it is sadness.

Pain.  This is painful data to absorb.  It is painful because it is the opposite of data– it is real and it is truth and the reason we know that is because on some level– no matter where we are on the spectrum we have experienced it.  It has been a part of our story, our experiences, our psyche, our society and how we interact with the world.

Experience to Justification.  No matter what are experiences have been– no matter where we fall on the spectrum one of the ways that we know the truth of racialization– its polarizing effects on our life– the sadness and painful reality that the construct of race has done is it’s created a chasm in the flow and open path to know another human being.  We feel the weight of that barrier often– daily, perhaps.

It only really takes 1 or 2 negative experiences to create a system based on justification.  It can be 1 or 2 negative experiences– (experiences where we feel humiliated, put down, anxious, uncomfortable, in danger, awkward, etc.) that awakens something inside of us that says, “I will never let that happen again”.  Or we see something happen to someone else that makes us feel uncomfortable and we say to ourselves, “I will never let that happen to me”.  This statement leads us to a place of justification.  We justify the necessity to create a system or structure that keeps us from being in any of those vulnerable situations with other.  Sarah (in the play) created her system based on justification.  She felt uncomfortable at Langley.  She wasn’t heard.  She felt intimidated and scared and perhaps even at times in danger.  She felt threatened at Langley and the justification to keep herself protected and not at risk was to say, “See, these are dangerous people.  These are lazy people.  It’s not me.  It’s them.  They’re making me uncomfortable and unsafe and I can’t let that happen”.  So she creates a system– a system which she sees clearly on her travels on the bus.  Every day looking for a white woman to sit with first and then a white man and then a black woman and if there were no seats by folks of those characteristics then she’d stand, but never would she sit by a black man.  This became her system and the system was embedded and maintained because it was based on a justification that rose out of a negative experience.  

It can take 1 or 2 negative experiences or it can take being told by someone you trust or who is in authority to you that the ‘other’ is not safe– not good– not right, etc.  When I was in 3rd grade my very best friend Marcie and I were playing in her room.  We were listening to the song Gloria and dancing on her bed.  It was a great afternoon when out of nowhere Marcie said, “My dad told me I was better then you”.  I said, “really, why”?  And she said, “because you are brown and I am white”.  I’m not sure Marcie knew what that really meant.  I sure as heck didn’t know what that meant.  It was at that very moment that I remember needing to second guess or question myself because for the most part up until that point I thought I felt very proud of my delicious brownness that was year round.

For Marcie she wasn’t a bad kid.  She wasn’t a heartless person.  She was a kid who trusted and believed her father who was the ultimate authority figure in her life.

That experience rolled in motion a justification that then motivated a system that would forever change the way that I interacted or didn’t interact with other people.  I haven’t known Marcie into adulthood but I’m certain that experience shaped her too.

Compassion, Compassion, Compassion  I have been in a ton of these conversations.  I’ve helped establish classes and workshops on the subject…  I’ve taught on this topic.  I’ve processed my own story– it feels very much a part of my conscious and the things I’m passionate about to this day.  In that passion and also through the cathartic process of knowing my own story I’ve been a fierce proponent of justice.  Perhaps part of that justice has meant making “wrongs- right”– perhaps it’s meant advocating and getting others to see– perhaps it’s not sitting down and sitting back to take any more of this– to state that this is wrong and inappropriate– something must be done.  Yes, it has been probably a combination of all these things.

It’s good but it’s missing something.  Justice without compassion is a steamboat blowing steam but unable to exert the kind of energy that will get it from point A to point B.  I suggest us apply a little compassion to the dynamic.  And the compassion has to start with self, because the thing is…  we all have systems of prejudice and discrimination.  Some of us would say well by golly I do and I have every right to– I don’t know that person or this person.  We discriminate daily about who we will spend our time with based on what we believe to be very straight and right and moral values– spending time with the other may not factor into ‘what we believe’ or ‘what we value to be right, good, moral’. 

Others spend a great deal of time in shame.  We are shameful that yes, we had that mom or that dad that regularly shared racist jokes.  We’re shameful because we are the recipients of white privilege.  We’re shame filled because some of us have been able to assimilate and ‘pass’ more effectively then others.  We feel shame and then to admit and say that we too have some kind of system of prejudice or discrimination at play feels like too much.  The thing is– the truth is– it’s painful to face– but we-all-have-systems.  We can continue to deny it or push it aside or deflect it onto something or someone else but it doesn’t make it go away…  It doesn’t change anything much less ourselves.

Remember Sarah.  She was trying to forget, trying to deny…  maybe even using her justification to say it was okay to hold on to her system of prejudice.  

Remember when her and Ross begin to write out everything that they believe about folks that are black and those that are white– all the stereotypes and negative images and painful names were brought to light.  

That was the ‘a ha’ moment.

The other day I was walking along three men of color were walking in my direction.  I wasn’t thinking very clearly at the time but we were probably about 3-4 yards from each other when I decided to cross the street.  While I was crossing one guy yelled to me, “I wasn’t going to hurt you or anything”.  I can’t tell you how horrible I felt at that moment.  I wanted to yell back, “Hey, yah I didn’t think you would– I teach workshops on this subject– I know about this stuff”.  My defensive posture made me ask what was going on inside of me.  Why did I feel the necessity to defend myself to a complete stranger– I realized I didn’t want to be thought of as racist or scared or discriminatory not because I believe I am but because of the appearance of it.  Which made me ask a more honest question of myself: is there something I’m putting out there that I am not aware of because I am fearful?

Yes, this happens to me, too.  A woman of color who thinks I’ve got a handle on this conversation– on my story– on the plight of the ‘other’.

Folks, we have to have compassion because we have to move past the walls of denial and justification so that we can accept ourselves and then from that place evaluate and dream about what change can look like.  This gives more space for authentic change to occur.

Building Bridges of Safety: I think once we’ve moved through or are aware of the first few steps in this process then we can begin dreaming about how to construct a bridge of safety that leads me to you and you to me.

The construct of identity is such a sacred and personal one.  It is a journey that can’t be named or determined outside the individual but it happens within the beautiful and wonderful soul-searching and knowing of the individual.  We see that with Patrick at the beginning of the play/movie when he talks about how he identifies as Nuyericon.  Yet, he feels the pressure, the dehumanizing system of categorization from the ‘powers that be’ to be identified, as opposed to revealing/sharing who he is.  In our society it seems so simple– check a box.  Check a box?  That box doesn’t reflect story, soul, experience, her/history.  It is disempowering and dehumanizing.

In Soledad Obrien’s piece that she did for CNN entitled, “Who is Black in America?”  She uncovers the feelings and experiences of those who feel that they have no choice to say who it is they are– AND not only do they not have the choice but they don’t typically find the support to figure that out on their own.

Danzy Senna in her book: Where did you sleep last night?  She takes us on her journey of discovering her identity when she uncovers the herstory on both sides of her family.  She is bi-racial– her mother white and her father black– finding that the dichotomy does not just exist externally but it also is within, as she tries to figure out how to hold both.

If we want to create a bridge to safety then we have to allow each other to come as we are.  We have to let each other identify as we are– bringing with us all facets and dignity of our humanity AND getting to choose which ones we would like to share and which ones we would like to keep for ourselves.