I write with a sad heart and an all too familiar feeling of distress at the news of another unarmed black man being murdered. His name is George Floyd. I support the Black Lives Matter movement. I believe we all need to become aware of our privilege and how white body supremacy has functioned since the early days of this country’s history. It will help us understand what keeps happening.
Last summer I read a book called “My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies.” It helped me to see and understand the deeper historical forces at play within white bodies, black bodies and police bodies.
As a yoga practitioner I appreciate the exercises that Menakem offers for the body, to be done alone and in trusted communities. He writes sections in the book for black bodies, white bodies and police bodies. A couple days ago I realized he also has a free e-course on Racialized Trauma, offered by the Cultural Somatics Training & Institute. While it is a 5-day course, each of the videos are only 10-15 minutes, and it introduces the major themes covered in the book.
I highly recommend the course or book, as I think Menakem helps us to understand how we swim in a larger system of injustice. While we are not personally responsible for creating the system (and there are historical factors that are larger than us) we are responsible for dismantling and slowly unwinding it.
While I don’t claim to know anything more than what I have observed and absorbed over the years, racism can be subtle poison. Current times are revealing how black and brown bodies and women’s bodies are subject to even greater risks for the COVID-19 infection.
I have no answers. I am a white person. Other voices need to be heard and highlighted. All I know is that I’m going to keep doing my personal work in bodyful and somatic ways with self-compassion and love for all those that are hurting. Hopefully I can connect with communities that also want to engage in these efforts.
Stay safe. Be kind. Wash your hands. Wear your mask.
-Old Arabic proverb (trusting the internet on this attribution, please correct me if you know a more specific source).
Have you ever heard this one?
Even for those of us who have faith, it does not give us license to be naïve about our future. Leaping without a net might be okay if your family is wealthy or inclined to bail you out. But I live in the real world, and come from humble beginnings.
I made a leap last August, away from a corporate manager position and into a sabbatical, some forays into self-employment: coaching, science writing, and freelance consulting. I designed and delivered some workshops: Embody the Leader Within You and the Neuroscience of Resilience. I began yoga teacher training, and I am loving that experience. I started with about 6-8 months of living expenses put away, and I earned a little money here and there.
I realized back in February/March that this was not going to be a sustainable living for me, and that our reserve funds were rapidly dwindling. So I took a bridge loan of sorts and then headed back into looking for full-time gigs. Good thing my credit is excellent, and I foresaw the shortfall a few months before it became mission-critical. Also good thing that I spent 10 months before I left the previous job in serious preparation for this time away, putting away extra money and hiring coaches to position myself for a break. I do not take that privilege for granted.
Though I will someday try a self-employment venture again, I was honored last week to accept a position at the University of Minnesota as a Program Manager in the Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute. I will begin on June 10th (my birthday!) and it feels like an amazing gift. As it turns out, the recruiter had contacted me originally on March 8th regarding this position. So it was about a 3-month period of messages back and forth, phone interviews, in person interviews, interacting with the hiring committee, and eventually the hiring manager (3 in person experiences).
I kept pursuing this one because I see it as a unique blend of an opportunity to build something new in an academic setting but at the same time apply my expertise in clinical research. At the same time, I had a hard time pursuing corporate positions, because I just do not see myself in that sort of role for now, so I did not bother.
Because I was having a positive experience with the interview process, I made a leap of faith and did not do much searching in the full-time realm for other jobs. I front-loaded my YTT studies, knowing that a full-time job may mean less time for focused study of yoga. And I am bringing my coaching practice to a mindful close while I allow lots of energy and time to learn the new job without too much distraction.
I am grateful that I took the leap, learned so much in the interim, and found myself a role that, though it pays less than my previous role in the corporate world, allows for a sustainable and regular income for my husband and me. It is on my “growth edge” and will stretch me in new ways. I am excited and a little nervous, as anyone might be in a new role. But I will embrace it. The faith I have developed in my own resilience serves me. And wherever the road bends next, I know I can meet the challenges ahead.
This week I have the privilege of enjoying some time near Lake Superior. My friend is attending a conference and I will be caring for her two kitties (one of which is pictured below) while she is away.
It was lovely to have some time to catch up with her for a day and a half or so before she leaves. It struck me how similar our career pivots have been in recent years. She is about 5 years ahead me. And while she left a tenured professor position at a University and I left a corporate position, I can tell we have some “threads” in common.
For one, we are finding that recruiters and hiring managers do not always “get” what to do with our experience. As knowledge workers, we often specialize in a particular area for a period of time, say 10-15 years. But then some of us get an “itch” to extend our skills, to stretch outside our comfort zones, or maybe to find work that speaks to our souls. Perhaps we found ourselves living someone else’s idea of success. At the time, it made sense to take that road, to fully immerse ourselves in an area of expertise. And then suddenly (or gradually) we grow out of it.
Many people think we are crazy. “Why the hell would you leave a secure job as a professor (or a clinical research operations manager, in my case)?”
Futurists often tell us that the work place is changing. We should expect to make major career moves every 5-10 years. It keeps us nimble, fresh and innovative. But the reality is that structurally, recruitment and sourcing professionals are not hiring this way. It is still about “ticking the boxes” and following a formulaic approach to look for talent, sadly.
My own timeline is such that I will likely head back to full time work soon, probably within the next month or two. I was feeling sad about this a few weeks ago, wondering if I had failed at this attempt at self-employment because I had not planned well enough. I had not narrowed down my niche properly perhaps, or I may thrive under conditions where I have a bit more structure than this wide open landscape.
However it is not failure if we learn from our experiences. And this time I will go back to the drawing board understanding myself better. I know more about the support I need to be productive. I have piloted and tested some ideas and workshop offerings. I have enrolled in yoga teacher training. I am moving forward.
Even if I do need to regroup and re-capitalize a bit, the dream endures. This retreat is an opportunity to go inward to get clear about my deepest longings. I am so grateful for the time and space for this process.
This post is a re-blog of an original I wrote in December, 2017, with some editing. On Thursdays I aim to review and edit some previously shared content to give myself more practice on the editing side. Thanks for your patience as I build my skills and allow myself to re-examine some favorite themes.
After my peaceful and grateful post yesterday, I dove into a few blogs based on some recommendations by WordPress. I read about women as superheroes, and encountered some powerful writing about racism and privilege in America. It hit me pretty hard, but the point landed, this idea that white people of this country built their foundation on treating black people as sub-human.
It is difficult to talk about this, to acknowledge it and to understand what it is like to be cast as the “other” when we are part of the dominant culture. As a pale Latina, I pass as white every day. And yet, part of me strongly identifies with this Otherness. When Philando Castile was killed in Falcon Heights, Minnesota in July 2016, I was in shock. This is not supposed to happen here, I thought.
But it happens everywhere. People are mistreated merely because of their darker skin or for their gender. Assumptions are made, and are reinforced. Political campaigns barely veil their “dog whistles” that appeal to the base, racist beliefs of their base.
There is a powerful dialogue from On Being with Krista Tippet, with Junot Diaz that keeps coming back to me on Radical Hope. One passage that keeps coming back to me as an empowering framework for re-considering how we view the body.
“I would remind us that, coming from a reality where our oppression was ineluctably linked to our bodies — that we had, for centuries, no rights to our bodies and that all of the traditional pleasures and all of the traditional freedoms of human agency were forbidden to those of us of African descent in the New World, for a long period of time — the body, in such a murderous regime, under such nightmarish conditions, becomes chapel, cathedral, dogma. It becomes nearly everything…
…for people like us, for people who come out of the African Diaspora in the New World, simply to fall in love, when you have historically been denied love, the right to just connect to the body which you have chosen and that has chosen you, means that an act of love is not only revolutionary, it’s not only transcendent, but it is the deific. It is Godlike. It is a taste of the omnipotent.”
I see parallels here in how slave ownership reflects a framework in which ownership of the body is central. It is a means of control and it is a means of denying basic humanity to people based on color.
I also see the ownership of body as a tool from a woman’s perspective and a feminist one. From our cultural lens, we have transcended a period when it was legal to own the bodies of African Americans. I also recently learned that early in our history, the practice of enslaving Native Americans occurred though was not explicitly legalized in the same way. (Listen to Hidden Brain’s “An American Secret” to learn more.)
Conceptually, I believe our patriarchy claims “ownership” of women’s bodies in a similar but more subtle way. Through creating laws to regulate women’s health, and their choices and ownership over their decisions about their bodies, we legalize yet another form of slavery. By judging appearance and “scoring” women on a scales of beauty or attractiveness, our media participate in this denigration of women’s bodies.
Recent disclosures of male authority figures using coercion and manipulation of women’s bodies against their will has shown the pervasiveness of this idea: women are routinely denied full access and ownership to their bodies. Women are “owned” and traded, consumed and marketed as commodities, products, objects that can be served up at will.
As I have come to a better relationship with my own body in my yoga and meditation practices, I now see how “radical” it is to reclaim our bodies. For those women (or men) who have endured assault or other violations of the body, there can be a numbness or a disassociation with parts of ourselves. Even for those of us who have not endured physical violence, the objectification of women’s bodies in so much of our daily media have taken their toll.
We disown parts of ourselves, perhaps our hunger, or our sexuality, as an attempt to distance ourselves from what is portrayed as dirty or distasteful. This is not a coincidence, nor is it a benign reality. Listening and attending to our bodies is a powerful tool. Disconnecting from the body separates us from our truth.
Churches that advise us to transcend the “carnal” and embrace the spiritual do us a disservice. For when we separate the body from the spirit or the soul, we disconnect what makes us whole as people. Sadly, this is more of a lived reality for women than for men in our current ethos.
What I would like to suggest is a radical and necessary step is for women to reclaim ownership of our bodies, in both real and symbolic ways. I see this not only as a personal and a wellness imperative, but as a political act. This is certainly not a new idea. Back in the 60’s and 70’s when the women’s liberation movement was at its height, this was certainly one of the goals.
Even my own personal weight struggle has been a process of coming to terms with loving and appreciating my own body. I recognize the ways in which I appropriated the body hatred that was rampant around me. It is a bad habit, this criticism of our body, diminishing the instrument of joy we have been given. But it is a habit that can be changed. Accepting and embracing our bodies and our feelings is a tool for empowerment. It is the place we must begin for full political and personal agency.