Throwback Thursday: Owning our bodies

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.

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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.

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Photo from On Being website link

“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. 

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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.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

Commitment honored

I am really proud to say I delivered on a commitment to myself that I had made back on June 8th, just before my vacation. My deadline to communicate was July 3rd, and I made it happen a day earlier.

I took a deep breath, scheduled the conversation yesterday with my boss in the morning and completed the conversation in the afternoon. I explained my plan to leave the company as of August 3rd and my intention to do independent consulting work after a break to pursue some family time and personal projects. He told me that he will always support any decision that I know is right for me, even if he does not like it (which of course, he did not, and he admitted that).

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I had written the points of the conversation ahead of time, and was able to convey 3/4 of what I had drafted. For me it was not critical to say all of it, but I wanted to have my explanations “in the bag” so I would not be dissuaded. He could tell by my tone of voice and the fact that I titled the meeting “decision” that I had already made up my mind. He did not try to change it.

He did want to talk with me later this week so we could map out a communications plan, to be sure that team members understand this was my decision, not related to company decisions or the budget we were allocated. I understand his concern: last year, there were a couple of non-voluntary transitions (which resulted in other positions within the company for the two people affected). People get nervous if they perceive that their jobs are at risk.

For now I am breathing a sigh of relief. I am grateful for his response, and for all the opportunities I have been given here. But I also realize that this is a strong signal of my commitment to the next venture, and now I have declared (to the universe effectively) that I will make this work. No matter what.

Do you honor commitments you make to yourself? What do you do when you are scared by the commitment required to move yourself forward toward a goal?

 

 

 

Truth and consequences

Yesterday I had a fairly vulnerable conversation with my boss about some ways in which I have not been fully “showing up” at work.

This was after my coach helped me draft out a conversation in which I wanted to have about my intentions to leave the team this fall. The night before the conversation I had woken up at 2 in the morning, unable to get back to sleep for a couple of hours.

Last night I slept very deeply and without disruption. Though I was not able to share ALL of the things I wanted, I definitely opened up in a few places where I’d been “hiding”. I was able to have a more authentic communication, and I will continue that process when my boss comes to town in a couple of weeks and we can talk face to face rather than by phone.

It was interesting to observe how telling the truth (even though I had massive fears about opening that conversation) released my energy and allowed me to relax. Aligning myself with truth, no matter the consequences, kept me in my integrity and my body seems to reward me for that.

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What a relief.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

Light, buoyancy and relief

Yesterday I got the news that the Senior Program Manager job I interviewed for was offered to another person. I was initially disappointed, since I saw it as an escape from the present role, which I will leave by August, regardless of what is next.

But then my body started feeling light, buoyant and happy at the thought of NOT taking on a super heavy commitment to learn a new job over the summer. I started realizing I can fully enjoy my vacation in June knowing that I will not be trying to prepare for a new job or transitioning out of the previous role. Tension leaving the shoulders and stomach…

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Ah, pay attention to your body when it gives you these signals, my friends. It will tell you what you need to know.

Love and happy weekend,

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Pausing, resting and noticing

On Thursday this week I opted to sleep in instead of blogging. Since I’d had some insomnia on Sunday (slept 2 hours) and Tuesday (slept 4 hours) it felt really good to get 10.5 hours of sleep. It was really good, juicy sleep. I know that I dreamed, but I did not write down my dreams right away, so they faded quickly. But the sleep felt cleansing and nourishing, so I know my psyche was working out whatever needed processing.

I was fortunate to be able to work at home so I had some “think time” in between my conference calls. I took a little extra time to meditate, and to work on planning during my quiet time. I wrote in my journal. It is a handwritten, old-fashioned sort of practice for me. It is a way I slow down my brain long enough to process thoughts and feelings, to pay attention to what is going on in my body.

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Our bodies can provide a necessary “compass” for the messages in our soul, but so often we forget to observe our reactions as a visceral process. We are in go-go-go mode, always trying to learn something new, read another book, listen to another podcast or audio book. I certainly love to indulge in all of these “treats” as I think of them. But then I need to allow for it all to settle, and for my personal truths to emerge.

As I tuned into my body’s messages today, I discovered I do not want to go to Boston in May for a trip to a conference that is typically an annual event for managers on my clinical research team. The week after that trip I am scheduled to travel to Belgium for another meeting. Then I am planning a trip the week after that to Mexico, to work with a colleague to help orient and train a new team member.

First off: three trips in 3 weeks is an easy NO for my body. More like a “shit NO!” if you pardon my French…  Is it that Boston trip itself causing the objection, or just the idea of traveling 3 weeks in a row?

I’m not wild about the Belgium trip honestly (even though I have enjoyed past work trips to Europe). But since I am on a “farewell tour” of sorts in my current role, that trip is part of my closure process in orienting a team member who may be taking on some parts of my role after I leave.

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I am breathing through this decision and validating it by noticing the lightness I feel when I imagine skipping that trip. While I enjoy travel, I have come to appreciate sleep and a certain “life rhythm” in living well throughout my days and weeks. To be my most energetic and authentic self, I must respect that rhythm and notice when my body sends me these signals. When I ignore them, and press on, things tend not to go well.

In all honesty, there is no real reason I need to go to Boston for that conference. I have been to Boston before, and I enjoyed it, but I have no desire to go this time. My boss knows my career path is leading me to a new role. I have been upfront with him about that. He may not understand that my personal deadline of August is regardless of whether I have a job lined up specifically, or if I will simply take a break before my next gig.

I will honor that amazing compass of internal wisdom. It never leads me astray. Time to write the email to let him know my decision on this one…

Cheers & happy weekend, amigos!

Dissident daughters

Yesterday I read a line from a book by Sue Monk Kidd’s “Dance of the Dissident Daughter” that gave me a chill. It describes something about the transition state where I am in life right now and it summed up my feeling so perfectly.

When you can’t go forward and you can’t go backward and you can’t stay where you are without killing off what is deep and vital in yourself, you are on the edge of creation (page 100).

I took a deep breath when I read those words. Yes! Yes! She is describing how I feel right now. This was the end of her chapter on “Awakening” where she describes her journey out of a patriarchal understanding of her world and her religion into something deeper and mysterious.

There are times in our life when we may recognize there is something deep and mysterious calling to us. We sense that we are less of a “fit” with our old lives, and the systems in which we play a role. We know we will make a change of radical proportions, but we seek to understand the implications in our lives.

We begin to understand that wisdom is not something “out there” that we must find, or receive from someone else. Wisdom is here, inside of us, calling to us as though from an ancient source. When we begin to access that source, it has powerful consequences.

For so long, with images of God portrayed as a masculine figure in the sky, and religions that ordain men and not women, we as women begin to shrink from our own wisdom. We forget to question how patriarchy and dominant religion are entwined. In many indigenous spiritual traditions there are divine feminine and divine masculine figures. They coexist together, yin and yang energy.

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To me, that is a more natural sense of divine presence. When I feel disconnected from source, I realize I have cut off my feminine wisdom that exists within my heart and my soul. Perfectly understandable, I suppose. The culture might radically change if we honored both masculine and feminine qualities, in a divine dance, rather than always viewing one as “in charge.”

Even that very model, as a hierarchy rather than a partnership, as top-down rather than in a network form, seems artificial and constructed to me. As a scientist, always questioning what nature might reveal to us if we were to pay attention to her, I realize my spirituality is undergoing profound change. Paying attention to this inner wisdom rather than subscribing to a “Father knows best” world means taking responsibility for my life.

Nobody else can tell me where my soul needs to go. But I know at a fundamental level, paying attention to her is what I must to do honor what is deep and vital in myself. In time, she will reveal what is next. There is no hurry, but I am ready to listen.

 

 

Smoke and mirrors

This morning I woke up very early again (3:30) on the heels of a dream, but at least it was after 7 hours of sleep rather than just 4 the night before. I tried counting breaths, I tried a little meditating, praying and attempting to let go of my thoughts. The dream faded quickly and I did not write it down. But there were work people in it, and it did not feel like a happy dream.

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I tried paying attention to my thoughts (one meditation technique). Counting breaths got me up to 70, then 20, then I could not make it to 10 without my thoughts distracting me. One of the thoughts I kept having was that I no longer believe in what I do at work. I am supporting a system which is very dysfunctional. I feel like I am rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic sometimes, juggling unreasonable demands.

What also occurred to me is that I no longer trust my director. This does not feel good. But it is what emerges for me, a feeling of betrayal. He broke our group’s trust by taking on two more projects when he told us last November: no more new projects without new resources. I realize he defined this differently from me. I think of people (“headcounts” in corporate speak) as my resources. Yes, there is budget money. But when it comes to human resources, actual people to do the work that’s been committed, we are far below critical mass.

I wrote a long email to my boss and the other manager on our team about this last Friday. I scheduled a meeting for this past Monday to discuss. Since I was asked to work on a project for funding model innovation with a Senior Director of another division, I had to gather the data and face the reality. It is not good. We have 15 active projects and there are only 5 people in the “field clinical research” role in Latin America to execute, spread among 4 countries. True, about half of those projects are in maintenance mode, and are not very work-intensive. But we are fooling ourselves if we think we can continue like this much longer.

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Photo credit link – this is how I felt last year at this time.

A history of over-committing our resources means we are far behind many of the targets that were originally set when the work was committed. And yes, having to lose 3 real headcounts over the past 2 years has had a devastating effect that I could not really manage (from 8 down to 5). We were poised on the razor’s edge even before that in terms of work load. When upper leadership decided to dis-invest, it kind of broke something in me.

Last year at this time I hinted strongly to 2 direct reports that would no longer have positions on the team and needed to find other jobs. HR did not encourage this, but I am loyal to people, not a corporation. One of them found a better job, was relocated to the U.S. from Brazil. The other one found another job in her country’s office as well, so I just had to do one layoff, and it was a temporary one before she began her new position.

Now is not the time to be taking on more projects. That was what we promised the team back in June (and again in November) when we met to survey the damage. No more projects without more resources. My director broke that promise. I no longer believe in what I’m selling. And now I am fairly certain that staying much longer in my current role will actually hurt my career long-term. Aligning with a boss that cannot keep his promises and has lost the trust of his team feels pretty wretched right now.

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I have not yet figured out the next move for me. But no wonder I am losing sleep over this. It’s time I was honest with myself about this whole mess. I have been defending a losing proposition for a couple of years now. My team trusts me as well, and they will have to trust that when I leave, I still care about them as people.

A couple weeks ago I scheduled a trip to Argentina and to Brazil. It feels like a farewell tour for me. I know I will leave, and there is one particular colleague in Buenos Aires that I want to talk with 1:1. She has a lot of difficulty saying no to her boss when she is over-committed. He is a world-renowned electro-physiologist. I get it, but she will have to learn this skill. She returns from maternity leave next week. In my own heart and soul, I could not leave this role before her return. I feel a need to say goodbye, and to wish her well, to let her know I still care, which is why I need to leave.

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I need to surrender to the fact that people with higher “grade levels” than I in this division have made decisions that I believe are not good for the health of the organization long-term. Which means their decisions conflict with my values. Physically, my body refuses to cooperate with the smoke and mirrors act that we are forced to enact to survive here.

What a relief it is to imagine putting down my sword and no longer fighting this battle. I don’t even CARE what I do next. That’s how good it feels to be honest about where we are now. I need to stop fantasizing about an “exit package” and start plotting my exit immediately.