Move your mind, Move your body, Move your soul.
In the last two weeks, I have witnessed people at work "calling out" the facial expressions they see their colleagues wearing.
"Look at your face, Pam!" my new boss said to my colleague, "I promise, this is actually going to be fun."
I wasn't sure what she meant. Pam asks really good questions and she looked, to me, like she was thinking & processing what my new boss had just said.
It is not just her. On multiple occasions lately, I have heard:
"I can tell by Janet's face that she doesn't want to talk about it."
"What do you know? I can tell you know something."
"If you are ever feeling like you need a laugh in a meeting, pan your camera to Amanda's face."
It is not funny.
Some might say that these are harmless comments, bringing some levity to a heavy business conversation. But when I talked to those who were "called out" - for their faces, no less - what they heard was questioning their competency, their interest, their dedication, their self-awareness.
They heard: You're negative/pessimistic. You're not on board. You're not trustworthy.
What may have been presented as a joke really isn't funny at all. It also is not accurate.
It is not True.
There have been many studies and articles discounting this practice. Two were recently published this spring as some companies are attempting to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to identify emotions based on facial characteristics.
The long and short of it is: emotions (which are varied and not sufficiently understood) can be expressed in all sorts of different ways. Expressions can be informed by social and cultural norms.
The Atlantic article notes that the assumption that we can "read" others' faces for emotion is biased, often upholding the systemic oppression of BIPOC, women, and other communities. Black people are deemed angrier, for example, or certain people are happier than others.
All this to say, it feels as if it's become the new "Smile, honey" and I'm not up for it.
I am grinning that my title for this is "Teen Life", like the old magazines of my youth - Teen Bop! etc. Not quite sure how to wrap words around it, so "Teen Life" it is.
I have always felt pride in the fact that I haven't really be-moaned the passing of time. I have made every effort to be present with my kids in their lives and to take each phase in stride.
I haven't wished moments away or tried to "stop time" or any of that. I welcomed in each new year and said good bye to the old. Well-meaning parents note that once they go to college I might feel different, or once the youngest is gone, or or or. They may be right. But I haven't felt that pang of loss until recently.
I've worked from home since before it was cool (and before COVID made it mandatory). I have loved being here to greet them off the bus, to be the one who is able to make all the sporting events, the one who can drive the friends around. The one who is here to hear about their day as they grab the after school snack.
The COVID-year changed things, of course, and there were plenty of moments when I wanted to be alone, when I struggled with meetings while "home-schooling", when it was too loud and there were so many emotions (from all of us). Moments when I just wanted to be alone.
And now that my kids are all vaccinated and they are going back into the world - and it's summer, which means no school structure -- well, I'm feeling it, parents. I'm feeling like all of a sudden, they have left me alone.
They are in and out in scattered timelines. I don't always hear about their days. I don't hear what's going on with friends. It does seem like just yesterday that I knew when they last ate, pooped, had class, saw a friend, etc. I used to go on their playdates with them, for goodness sake.
And now - they are all just-- OFF. In a million directions.
I almost feel silly or stupid writing these words for all to see. Like OF COURSE they are off. One is almost 18, another 15, and the youngest 13. Their jobs, friends, phones are much more exciting than I am. Their friends encircle them with warmth and acceptance. It is age appropriate. I am grateful that they have strong friendships and are having fun after this past sh*t year.
I want to make these summer memories and they don't have any interest. The swims at the river - I head down alone. "Want to go to the beach?" "Not really." I ask what they DO want to do and it's see the same movies at the same theater with their friends. Go biking. Do henna. But not with mom. So I go to the river. I bought myself a mountain bike. I go to the beach. I'm still here when they get home in the hopes they will tell me about their day.
I am glimpsing it though. The fact that it goes by so incredibly fast. And it's a daily reminder to cherish it all.
I heard something the other day that made me bristle. It was a white woman in wellness talking about how we can use our bodies & our intuition as a "barometer of truth."
There is a lot of talk about this in the wellness space. That we "know" the truth for ourselves. When it comes to filtering through stories, information and perspectives, people are called to "use their discernment".
On the surface, I buy in to this.
Like many with trauma histories, it has taken me a long time to feel that I could trust myself - my decisions, my body, my intuition. My body does house my history, and I have used talk therapy, yoga, writing & creative tools to regulate my nervous system and to move outside of the fight/flight/freeze/fawn trauma response.
Under the surface though, I question it the whole "your body is a barometer of truth". Especially in the world today where violence against black people being filmed and disseminated.
Police officers "seeing" guns in people's hands when it was really candy/a phone/nothing. Women putting keys through their knuckle-creases as they walk in a parking lot, sensing that something was "off" - but no one is there. A young child sees monster in the corner of the room, which turns out to be a pile of clothes.
These feelings, no doubt, felt very real to the feeler. And yet, here are instances of your intuition leading you astray. None of these situations were truly threatening, but the person sensed a threat none the less.
And what of the bias that is steeped in our culture regarding the "threat" of black people? Of course we use language to demonize and de-humanize black and people of color. We also have built in biases FELT in the body when we see black bodies. Crossing the street, averting eyes, assuming wrong-doing. It is highly prevalent.
So how do I reconcile these two things? Does your "body as barometer" hold true? Or is it just upholding our fears, biases, and past traumas?
I've come to the conclusion that our intuition *might not be* magic. I don't want to say it isn't magic, because there are still elements I can't quite explain. But the brain is magic, after all, and intuition is a brain function.
Our brains are constantly predicting what is about to happen in order to keep us physically safe. So in this sense, the brain is total magic. These predictions are based on previous experiences (inclusive of thoughts, feelings, and actions). The predictions help us navigate through our lives so that every occurrence isn't a complete shock to the system.
Intuition is knowing something "without evident rational thought and inference." Intuition is still our brain trying to predict the future - just without our conscious involvement.
But what about the tingling in the stomach? The feeling of a cold shadow? What about The Body Keeps the Score? Yes. We feel memories in the body. We have these sensations and we have attached stories to them, patterned it in to our bodies, and we feel it. It is a programmed pattern.
The intuitive senses we receive are predictions based on past situations. They are shouts of "making sense" that our brain offers to us. AND, our intuitive senses can be wrong. They are delivering our past to us as present. Including all of those old thoughts, movies, songs we listened to, emails, past boyfriends and side-ways glances, past slights and digs and lost loves.
Just like our brains and our bodies, our intuition is also steeped in our culture, our education and experience, our families, etc.
Our intuition is just as racist as you are - maybe even more than your conscious awareness! Since intuition is often subconscious, it is mired in the implicit bias that might not be at your attention in any moment.
So what can be done?
Keep growing, keep opening up, keep finding new perspectives.
The more that we broaden our experiences and concepts (thank you, Lisa Feldman Barrett), the more you open your mind to new predictions. It is possible to continue shaping and honing your intuition.
We TRUST our intuition because we are NOTICING when we are right about it. The more you notice it, the more you see it. Our intuition is the "barometer" of truth because you are shaping your perception that it works.
The next time you sense there is danger ahead or feel like "the right next step is x, y, z", I'm not saying don't listen to it. I'm not saying DO listen to it.
I'm saying - get a little curious about it.
Could you intuit even more when you start to move outside the box?
For many years, I wanted to be right and good.
My well-meaning parents, my education, my friends, and my community programmed this “rightness” and “goodness” into me at a very young age. Before long, I was hiding, people-pleasing, and self-shaming with the rest of ‘em in order to be Right. Because being right and good meant being loved. And like all of us, all I wanted was to be loved.
In the past couple of weeks, for obvious reasons, I have re-invigorated my anti-racism work. Dismantling white supremacy and becoming anti-racist forces us to look at our role in structural racism. How do we benefit, why are we silent, etc. It shines the light right onto you (me) and looks at those parts that might be hidden away, or that we don’t want to think we have within us.
On social media, in workplaces, and in families, people are being called out on their behavior and language. I have participated in some of these discussions. Our Black colleagues and community members are cautioning against “performative allies” – those who give lip service to Black Lives Matter but don’t take action to support and empower Black people. I believe this performance stems from the desire to be “right” and “good” without being truly honest, soul searching, and getting to our shadow selves. People are afraid to be wrong and/or to say the wrong thing.
White people want to separate themselves from racists or white supremacists. We want to feel that we are right and good (and loveable), and for some, this is stopping us from doing the real work. Because you cannot be afraid to be wrong and do this work. You have to be willing to be wrong. Again and again.
The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor coincided with my re-reading How Emotions Are Made. This incredible book by Lisa Feldman Barrett talks, among other things, about how we form concepts, utilize language, and co-create reality within our communities.
Our brains are predictive in nature; our brains take past experiences, simulate what might happen next (in order to keep us safe), which helps form our perception of the world. Our bodies experience the world and our brain works to make sense of what’s happening. We use language to describe these experiences and knowings in order to make them real. I’ve talked about this in past blogs, about the need to name something.
We can change our future (perceptions) by opening ourselves up to new experiences and new concepts. This is partly why the anti-racism work is so important. Listening to others’ stories, learning new language (white fragility, white silence) broadens our minds and understanding of our world.
Collectively, we impact each others’ experience. In community, we actually help regulate each other’s minds & bodies through words, touch, and “vibes.” We can physically impact each others’ energy fields. We can use
Anytime you are certain that you are right (and good), take a pause. Certainty closes the door to dialogue, action and change.
Beyond being open to new concepts, we can also re-frame our perceptions in new ways and use new (more granular) language. When we cultivate what we want in this way, we truly construct a new future. What is the future you want?
After decades of saying “I don’t know how to cook,” I decided that I wanted to change that self-perception. I actually did know how to cook, what I lacked was confidence. I was afraid that I was a terrible cook and I was perpetuating that as my reality. I would highlight when I burnt dishes or nearly set the kitchen on fire. I was scared to cook.
One day, I decided that I would rather be wrong about my cooking ability. I changed my words. “I cook,” I started to say. “I’m going to go chef it up in the kitchen!” and “I’m making dinner tonight!” I would say to my wide-eyed children. I felt them thinking uh oh. I watched videos, tried recipes, and I cooked. I made mistakes, I made some terrible dishes, I also found a dish that I cooked well and everyone liked! A year later, I make dinner for my family more often than not (rather than leaving it to my husband). I changed my perception and thus my reality.
But, I had to be willing to change it. And I had to be willing to be a beginner, to suck, to try and fail. I realize this is a tiny example in comparison to systemic racism. But I know that the same practice translates across every aspect of our lives. Be open & willing, re-frame your concept, add words, repeat.
We are un-learning racism. We are de-programming ourselves. We are breaking down the systems/concepts we have created in our society in order to build something new. It truly starts with each one of us. Just think of what we could do.
Shame game is on over drive in FaceBook and Instagram worlds. Shocking.
Please remember, Self (and others) that being open to different perspectives encourages our growth and collective evolution. Being open doesn't mean agreeing or being complicit or being wrong or right. Being open means taking a little more into your lens of reality.
It could mean reading/following/listening to people who don't look like you, believe what you believe, of different political persuasion, older or younger, mask wearing or not.
For many years (most of my life), I championed "Being Right." I felt that if I was right, then I was good/accomplished/successful and worthy of love. At one particularly difficult marriage counseling session, our therapist looked at me and asked, "Would you rather be right or open yourself up to feel loved?"
I see the need to be right in members of my family, in my workplace, and on social media. If we let ourselves be wrong - or even simply open to the fact that we *might* be wrong - we could receive a whole new perspective.
Our brain is constantly predicting and sorting our experiences (whether out in the world or inside our bodies) in order to make meaning of our lives, keep us safe, and create order/normalcy. The more we open to wider possibilities, the more concepts we develop, the more our future (perspective) changes.
This is literally true.
It is also true that it's easier to be open (mind) when our internal landscape is working right (nutritious foods, moving the body, and sufficient rest all help in this regard).
And if you feel crappy? Or closed off? The fastest way to re-set that internal landscape is to move your body around. This changes your brains predictions. Second thing you can do? Change your location/environment.
I did this today. I was spiraling down the interweb pathways, reading articles, barraged by emails, feeling "meh." Nearly every day for the last two months, I have taken a walk around my 3 mile block. It's great to move my body, but I felt like today I needed a change of scenery. So I walked somewhere new.
A little thing. A little change-up of my routine. I nearly cried at the beauty I noticed around me. My "after" photo found me positively glowing. I felt giddy and excited.
We can do hard things, as we are often reminded. Sometimes we can do easy things. And it makes all the difference.
You gotta feel it to heal it.