It has been a challenging week, but I know that grief and sadness need to be processed, need to be felt in the body, in order to release them. I hope you are finding safe places to do that as well.
I know I was planning to start a series on clinical trials, and I intend to start that next week. But this week, I think it is more important to hear from people of color on their perspective, to highlight voices that are often unheard. I love the poignancy of this 3-minute Tyler Merritt YouTube video, so I encourage you to watch.
I am committed to help end racism and also to help us unwind the “traumas” that black bodies, white bodies and police bodies have suffered. This is why I practice yoga. This is why I dance. This is why I take time each day to breathe and pay attention to my emotions.
Sometimes the situation in our country can feel hopeless, like there are so many forces pushing against justice. And other times, like when one of my yoga students told me today that the book I recommended, My Grandmother’s Hands by Resma Menakem is actually sold out in all the places she tried to find it, I have great hope.
Here’s to learning more about each other, and teaching ourselves to love all, and extend justice to all.
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.
This Saturday I am in Duluth, Minnesota. I have had the ability to drive a bit up the north shore and also explore the south shore more than I have before (actually in Wisconsin, the state where I was born).
On Thursday, my body beckoned me for a drive on the south shore. While I drove I re-listened to the episodes of a podcast I have loved, called Becoming Wise by Krista Tippett. It is the short form version of the On Being podcast which is the longer form interview style show.
I just noticed that there will be another season of this show even though the first season was released in 2016. The first episode is with Paulo Coelho, author of many books including The Alchemist. It was beautiful, on the principle of pilgrimage as a journey into the question “Who am I?”
What I love about this short form is that she distills the beautiful essence of her conversations into such wisdom. My very favorite episodes actually contributed to my decision to start a yoga teacher training certification.
The conversations with Matthew Sanford, a paraplegic yoga instructor, entitled “Compassion for Our Bodies,” as well as “I Feel, Therefore I am” with Eve Ensler and “Trauma and Resilience Land in Our Bodies” by Bessel Van Der Kolk, are all pure gold. These are short and lovely episodes, 9 minutes long and less. Many other episodes I have listened repeatedly as well. Krista Tippett has such a gift for eliciting these amazing conversations.
If you want some audio nourishment as you go about your weekend activities, I highly encourage you to check these out. There are also transcripts if you prefer to read rather than listen, though I think the audio/voice experience can add much.
I was not proud of my angry response to an inflammatory post from someone in my WordPress feed over the weekend. I was temporarily unable to step away and I got side-tracked from the intention I had for that morning. It made me want to fight, defend and debate.
In reflecting on this phenomenon later, I realized that I had been “triggered” but that I had a choice about how to respond. Eventually, when I realized I was not going to get anything productive out of the interaction, I stepped away and disengaged. I re-directed my attention and moved on to more fulfilling and satisfying endeavors.
In truth, someone who has been through trauma has a much more difficult time dealing with a situation that triggers them. I cannot recall any specific trauma that led to this response, so I was able to bring my frontal cortex back online relatively quickly from that amygdala “hijack” by telling myself there was no need to add fuel to the flames. There was clearly high emotion on both sides, and we were not able to “hear” one another arguments.
I also realized in hearing the testimony of Dr. Blasey Ford, and the humiliation she endured after her assault, I deeply empathized with her story. I could feel viscerally that shame she must have felt, even though I am one of the fortunate few who has not suffered assault.
It occurred to me that so many women who have similar stories are likely feeling a little more vulnerable and emotionally rocked by the testimony. And it is good for those of us with empathy to be there to reassure our friends that their reactions are valid, and that we are willing to sit with them during their process.
Some time ago I became intrigued by some research on trauma and PTSD by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, who was featured in the On Being podcast episode. He explains that trauma leaves an imprint on the body, not just the brain, in sensory and hormonal systems. Of the treatment options, body-centered practices like Yoga help develop a body that is strong and feels comfortable.
In an article published at the Trauma Center, explains that “Yoga offers a way to reprogram automatic physical responses.”
“Yoga helps regulate emotional and physiological states. It allows the body to regain its natural movement and teaches the use of breath for self-regulation. What is beautiful about Yoga is that it teaches use – and this is a critical point for those who feel trapped in their memory sensations – that things come to an end…
The process of being in a safe space and staying with whatever sensations emerge and seeing how they come to and end is a positive imprinting process. Yoga helps them befriend their bodies that have betrayed them by failing to guarantee safety.”
Yoga also teaches us to use the breath. Western culture tends to solve our issues through means from the outside, rather than teaching us how we can master our own physiology. This is where the intersection of these practices can and should be used in conjunction with “modern” medicine in the treatment of trauma and its effects.
Perhaps this is why I am such a big “evangelist” of yoga and why I am developing a course on “yoga and mindful leadership.” Based on my own consistent practice of yoga and meditation, I have seen the effects in my own life. I am always grateful when I also come across strong research to back this up.
So, what to do when we are triggered? The first thing is to breathe deeply a few times and slow down. We can realize that our physiological response is real, but that it does not reflect present danger. We honor that part of our primitive brain that is trying to keep us safe, and recognize that we need timely self-care to calm our nervous system. Over time, with practice, it is possible to heal with the right support.
I would like to make a toast to the end of patriarchal rule in America. Why?
It seems to me, with the almost daily revelations of men who have inappropriately groped women, or used their power to threaten and intimidate those with less power than them, we are reaching a new consciousness in our culture. It is a consciousness that will help women and men to feel empowered to fight the power structures that do not serve us.
I told my husband yesterday that I have recently discovered that about 99.9% of my women friends have had at least one (most more than that) of the following traumas in their lives: 1) being groped or harassed; 2) being intimidated, bullied or abused; 3) hating their body or suffering from an eating disorder. It is really astonishing.
All of these traumas are ways women (and men) are held hostage to a patriarchal power structure. But to me, bringing all of this out into the open, revealing it, confronting it and discussing it, is the first step to healing. The balance of our planet has been disrupted. The yin and yang of feminine and masculine energies need equal measures to be most effective. We must move away from toxic masculinity toward a more inclusive world view.
Strangely enough, I think the shock of electing a president that has a history of woman abuse may have unleashed a powerful tide of feminist action. After the initial shock of the election, some of us realized we would need to get to work in a more deliberate and strategic way to start dismantling patriarchy in any and every way we can.
For me, I had to take some time to reflect, journal, take care of myself and do some checking in with what types of activism will sustain me over the long haul. Back in my 20’s I was the campaign manager for a successful city council race. Despite being an introvert, I had the fire of Wellstone’s recent death in my soul. My desire for more progressive leaders to carry on the work fueled my efforts.
It was exhilarating, exhausting and satisfying. It cost me more money than I had, my career as I took time away from work to campaign, as well my family (a year after that my husband and I divorced) and possibly my sanity. I would not trade that experience for anything. But at the same time, I knew direct action in politics could not be my choice this time.
This blog is a part of my activism and commitment to be part of some larger story of the evolution of our culture. I work in a corporate patriarchy right now. While there are amazing efforts made to recognize that diversity drives innovation and better decision-making, it is still highly masculine in its structure. I do my part in creating an inclusive culture where I work. Sometimes I have to confront the “machismo” of the Latin American cultures as well in my quest.
Overall though, what I know is that patriarchy and corporate bureaucrazy do not serve us. These concepts are linked in my mind and I will explore the connection in a future post. When our political and organizational structures are not designed for inclusion, we all suffer. When women cannot be heard, or men must suppress their feelings in order not to appear weak, we all suffer. When we cannot fulfill the totality of our human experience because cultural norms teach us this is unacceptable, we all suffer.
I will be happy to toast the sunset of patriarchal rule because we are ready now to step beyond it. As a human species, we continue to evolve as we grow and change and develop new understanding about our interconnected natures. When we fully embrace all genders and all people as valuable and with potential for contribution, we all succeed. When all do better, we all do better. Women and men. Yin and yang.
I am not naive about this process. Like many movements, it will have a dance: two steps forward and one step back. So many of us believed our nation had evolved significantly in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected President. It is true, we had evolved since the turbulent 60’s when civil rights were at the forefront. But then, it felt like we stepped back again in 2016 when we regressed to a person who’s treatment of women is unacceptable.
But I find hope in the fact that his 62 million votes was 3 million less than her 65 million votes. Only a patriarchy would find a way to “invalidate” the math of the majority in an artificial way of maintaining the states rights slavery preservation that originated the electoral system…but I digress.
Will you join me in toasting the sunset of the patriarchy?