Move your mind, Move your body, Move your soul.
Shit is getting real (for white people).
After hundreds of years of countless Black deaths, all major systems (political, justice, healthcare, education, banking/credit, etc) built on white supremacy, things are at a "tipping point". Why now? Is it because now the murders of Black men are being filmed and circulated? Is it because COVID-19 has brought things to a halt - we're at home, millions are out of work, we are tasked with educating our children, people are dying, etc? Is it because we have an overtly racist asshole in the White House?
On #Blackouttuesday, I found myself posting this message: Don't go silent.
I first heard the term "White Silence" when I started working through the Me and White Supremacy workbook in December 2018. One of the questions stuck out to me, "Why do you stay silent?" and a prompt about whether or not you/I leave conversations when they get uncomfortable. Me and White Supremacy talks specifically about race. And as I worked through this particular piece, I realized how often I walk away from many conversations that make me feel uncomfortable, agitated or distressed.
It is almost easier for me to stick around and NOT be silent about race and Black Lives Matter because it's not about me. Because it's about justice and re-humanizing. But when I dig deeper, my White Silence, and my silence in general is 100% about me. (PS, that's the point of the whole workbook. I suggest you buy the book and do the work).
It's ironic because on the one hand, I am drawn towards taboo subjects, loud & opinionated friends, and speaking up. And on the other hand, I am afraid to say what I believe or dissent because I am afraid of losing love or respect from others.
I am so deeply afraid of rejection and abandonment, that that is why I have stayed silent.
If people abandon me for my ideas and beliefs, what then. Does that mean that I am no longer valuable or lovable. Does it change my inherent worth if people leave me? Of course not, right? And yet, a look at my history...
When I look at my relationships in high school and college, I was the cheerleader for the (White) men in my life. I let them lead completely. I stayed in the background, the supporter. I let my BF's friends be my friends. I didn't invest in my own relationships beyond that of me and my BF.
Often with men, I would pretend that I didn't have an opinion, to be seen as "cool" or easy going, or "not like other girls". I pretended for so long that eventually I had to do a lot of work figuring out what I felt and knew and wanted.
Early in my marriage, my silence came through as passive-aggressiveness. I wouldn't say how I really felt because I didn't want to rock the boat. I was afraid I would say the wrong thing. I was afraid if my husband really knew me then he would leave me. In fact, that is what I ultimately told him in our therapists office three years ago when we nearly divorced. I'm afraid if you know the real me, then you won't love me.
Glennon Doyle talks in Untamed about how girls look to each others' faces to see if they are hungry. I caught myself the other day doing this exact thing! Looking to my kids' and my husband's faces to see if they thought the movie we were watching was funny. Was I looking to see if I should laugh?
In my work place I often stay silent, too. When I owned the yoga studio, I was silent about the financial distress that we were in. I was silent about how others' cut me down. I believe that my silence brought down that business.
In the corporate world, I find that I am silent because I don't want to be wrong. I'm afraid of making a mistake and being laughed about or fired because of my incompetence. Rejection.
Funny enough, an anti-racist rant that I had over email made it's way to a "big boss" at my company. (Thank you Universe) I was so scared that I would be judged or worse because of my words. Instead, I received a thoughtful response and a reminder that it is more than ok to speak up, it is expected.
What I am realizing about my silence today is that Silence IS Violence. It's violence towards Black people when we don't stand up and say that Black Lives Matter. And it is violence towards myself when I don't speak the truth of my heart. Silencing your heart is self-harm.
The core wound for me here is abandonment. This is the work for me today.
What is your work?
What do you see in these eyeballs?
This was me, last Wednesday. And I was so effing afraid in the moment I took the photo. I wanted to capture it "just in case" something happened to me. Sounds morbid? Maybe a little melodramatic?
When I was newly nine-years-old, my mom left me alone for the first time when she went to the store. I was pumped. An introvert, artist, writer - I LOVED being alone. With older siblings, however, I never actually FOUND myself alone. So this was a gift. My older sister was nearby, at a neighbors, and my mom would be home in a short time.
The long story short of it is that a man came to the door. He was selling - or maybe fixing?? - vacuum cleaners. Electrolux. I answered the door (ugh) and let him know that my mom would be home soon (double ugh). He pushed his way inside and went to the living room couch. "I'll wait."
I am not going to go into the whole story. I was not raped. It's sad that I feel as though I have to say that. For years, people would tell me how lucky I was (to have not been raped). But I never felt lucky. I felt robbed of my innocence. The whole experience left me terrified of people in general and of men, specifically. I feared being alone, answering the door, walking on the street.
I have experienced a lot of healing. I am so thankful for all the work I've done, all the exercises and tools at my disposal. But there are still times...
Our oven is broken and I have been putting off calling the repair man for months. I was embarrassed to be scared of having a repair man in the house. But I am scared. Logically, of course, I know that it's all ok and I'm not going to die-- but in the moment? It really does feel like life or death. Once the time window (10a-12p) was set, I found myself disaster planning. I asked my husband to keep his phone on - LOUD. I checked windows, unlocking them in case I needed to jump out for a quick get-away. I put my car keys in my pocket, phone in my hand.
And then I took this picture.
For years, I tried to make the fear go away. Now, I notice that it's there. I do what my brain needs for a little bit (plan, prepare, talk to myself), and then ultimately, I tie my brain to a mantra and focus on my breath.
My mantra on Wednesday was "I am safe." I remembered to breathe.
- breathe in 4 count,
- suspend the breath 4
- breathe out 4.
The man came. His name was Dan and he was kind and jovial. We laughed and I felt ok. But I kept my phone close and I patted the keys in my pocket. I kept breathing and counting my breath. And I was ok. I am safe. I am ok.
There is no climax to this story. Dan the repair man came into my home to fix an appliance. He was a regular person with no mal-intent. We interacted without incident. I was in fear, I breathed through it. He left. I am safe. I am ok.
I almost didn't write about this experience. The small moments in life that we don't share with the world. In the past, I have minimized my experience(s). I remember reading a post during the #MeToo movement when people asked "did it count"? The same thoughts of "you are lucky" that you weren't raped. I told myself I was ridiculous, silly, not worth expressing.
But seriously, fuck that.
Then I read a post by my lovely friend, Joanne. Telling her story of survival. And I realized that the world I want to live in is one where we express how we feel. Where we support each other.
You are not alone. You are safe. You are ok. And if you're not? If you need help, reach out.
I've been noticing lately a persistent thought ticker-taping across my brain, "I don't want to feel (fill in the blank)..."
As in, I don't want to be scared about the future of our country or the safety of our (and my) children.
I don't want to be mad/frustrated/pissed about the lies I hear uncovered in US politics, entertainment, ... everywhere.
"I don't want to feel." And the funny thing is - of course I want to feel it.
I want to feel all these things, because I know that it is through feeling that I get to healing. And yet, so many people, articles, books and media are telling us not to feel. Several weeks ago, a friend sent me this incredible New York Times essay written by Leslie Jamison.
Anger is a hot topic these days, and even more interesting when the emotion is extended beyond white men. We see anger coming out in domestic violence, self-harm, addiction, road rage, not to mention school shootings in the US.
So is it any surprise that I'm afraid to feel? You may have seen that viral video where Uma Thurman talks about not wanting to speak "until I feel less angry." Huh.
I get that. We don't want to say things we will regret. But is there more to it? Is there a... stifling of the emotion?
I know I do this, feel like I should stifle the anger or change it immediately into something else. I want to be jolly, I want to be sincere and honest and kind and loving.
I feel a little bit conflicted about this, about expressing anger in particular. I believe this is likely because I believe in the constructionist view of emotion. I believe that our brains are predictive based on past events, past senses and the stories we attach to those sensory responses. So we, in essence, create our emotions. More on that topic another time.
But anyhow, if we (our brains) are creating our reality at every moment.. does that mean I have control over my emotions? Can I truly stifle the anger? Can I change it immediately into something else?
What I have found is - no. I can't stifle it.
I use my emotions as information on what to do next. Anger is telling me that something is not right, that I need to alter my boundaries or speak up. Fear is protective, and in the absence of true danger, I can move through it.
And the how?
For me it is about quieting the body and quieting the mind. Dropping out of the stories and into my body as the learning tool it is designed to be.
It allows me to move, to jump, sing and to speak up.
We are living in a culture of "not enough."
Not pretty enough.
Not smart enough.
Not skinny enough.
Not enough sleep.
Not enough time.
Not enough money.
So naturally, I'm wondering what's up with that?
When did it start?
Some may argue that it has always been. I mean, look at Adam & Eve in the Garden. Talk about lacking from the very beginning! Our cultural foundations (myths and religions) have rooted us in a culture of deficiency. There was always a divide between gods and "mere" mortals.
While I recognize our underpinnings, I still felt called to search. Maybe it is because I hear so many folks (and the voice in my own head) thinking that they aren't enough. That "if only" fill in the blank, they would be happy. They would be ok. They would be loved. The would be worthy of love.
My search led me in two different directions - or maybe hues of the same. The first concept being that of "self esteem" and the second being the beginning of emotional advertising.
A Short History of Self-Esteem
While the first mention of "self-esteem" was delivered in David Hume's Treatise of Human Nature, Vol 2 in the 18th century, the concept was further developed by William James in the late 1800s.
William James then explained the concept of self-esteem as a capacity to develop the self. He said that if one had low expectations and high degrees of success, the person would have higher self esteem than someone with high expectations/low success.
The Baby Boomer generation founded the self-esteem "movement" with leaders Stanley Coppersmith and Nathaniel Branden. In the 1980s, a Californian politician first blamed self-esteem for societal woes such as teenage pregnancy and crime.
In the last decade, researchers and psychologists have questioned whether America's obsession with self-esteem has resulted in increased narcissistic personality disorder and increased rates of depression among our youth.
Feel Good Advertising
While David Hume was waxing philosophical and the industrialization of America in full swing, packaging became "a thing". As a society, we were moving away from locally sourced and purchased items. In fact, 1879 brought us the "folding box" - for cereal!
Mass production meant, well, more products. A lot more. And the we needed to create demand.
And the themes and words used in order to promote demand was around our feelings.
Feel BETTER with this soap, this clothing, this car.
Better than.... what?
I think this is a big piece of the puzzle. Bigger than what? It was also during this time, remember, that we first got television. A chance to see how other families, moms, dads, professionals, pick-a-label got to live in the world.
New definitions of achievement (part of the "self-esteem" equation) and needs (to improve our feelings) were sitting in our living rooms for the first time. Ever.
"Why don't we have what that family has?"
And subliminally, if not overtly we think, "She looks so relaxed. I want that."
Sometimes we don't get the things. Sometimes we do. And sometimes, we get the things, but we don't have the feelings we were trying to buy... What's wrong with me?
Not pretty enough.
Not smart enough.
Not skinny enough.
Not enough sleep.
Not enough time.
Not enough money.
You gotta feel it to heal it.