Friday, August 6, 2021

Navigating White Fragility Can Feel Impossible: Keep Practicing

Three months ago, I went on IG Live to respond to the question: “Who is qualified to be a professional tarot reader?” The short version of my conclusion is “everyone.” The way I answered was by demonstrating my self-awareness skills and allowing others the opportunity to practice theirs. That’s the only thing necessary to hold a healing space for someone.

This is not a unique skill set for tarot readers, though. Becoming emotionally mature is something every human can pursue for themselves and nurture in others. It is also required for anti-racism work, on which I am particularly focused.

[Note: Some trauma support calls for specific additional training. I am not suggesting it does not. Knowing one's own limits is part of being mature. Everyone specifically focused on helping others to heal would be wise to learn about trauma-informed practices.]

If you go through my IG posts since then, and even before, you will see some of my reasoning. Here's a summary: 

  1. Measuring worthiness is a white supremacist habit.
  2. No one can prove their self-awareness capabilities or gather complete evidence of someone else's.
  3. Claiming authority over tarot when you do not belong to the GRT community is cultural appropriation.

I offered it the way I did as an attempt to circumvent the behavior that is white fragility. As it so happens, those behaviors were triggered just the same. So my next talk may be about how it presents itself.

  • Be aware: I am a heretic to white-centered worthiness culture. Honoring my existence will rouse shadows seeking to condemn you for this heresy.
    Violence: We attempt to destroy anyone who dares to challenge the supreme authority of whiteness.
  • Burial: Rather than acknowledge its existence, we hide it below the surface. We try to provide proof of our “goodness” while still perpetuating racist constructs.
  • Avoidance: We want to stand our ground when confronted with racist (or other unhealthy) behavior, but we are still building the stamina for being uncomfortable. So we withdraw into our extreme independence, relying on only ourselves. We let fear and self-doubt keep us from practicing healthy conflict to maintain connection.

The last bit is the part that I’ve been wrestling with since then. I’ve been the focus for a lot of projection from others, and it’s taken me a minute to get clear on what’s mine to hold. It brought up some unresolved childhood trauma around being on the receiving end of undeserved rage. Those injuries needed tending before I could consider returning.

What changed? I got a huge dose of laughter at the absurdity of how I’m being portrayed. It arrived in the form of an over-the-top missive about me (and at least two other folks) that is blatantly untrue. It was a caricature of my inner critic, and it helped me see how ludicrous it actually is. That story was all about the storyteller, which has absolutely nothing to do with me.

Blonde white woman looking at cell phone with hand covering mouth. Text: When someone points out that you might have food in your teeth, do you get mad about it?  Or do you find an accurate mirror*? *Unless you're speaking with another human, this is not one.

Does the unfair perception make me angry? Yes. Does being willfully misunderstood suck? Also, yes. The levity is in acknowledging and accepting that what’s been said, written, and shared about that version of "me" is wildly inaccurate. No one has even bothered to check with the source (me) to make sure that what I said matches what they've heard from or about me. And no one who knows me recognizes who I truly am in any of it.

For now, I’m going to continue identifying behaviors rather than naming individuals. That’s what this work is about: identifying habits without making them the sole identity of the individual. Having an unhealthy habit doesn’t make you a bad person. If you recognize yourself or someone else as participating in a habit, that only means you’re human. We all have unexamined stories that inform how we live our life. Acknowledging and accepting that everyone has blindspots is part of gaining maturity. 

Fair warning: Eventually, I will start addressing how grace, forgiveness, accountability, intervention, and consequences are also important aspects of building an anti-racist community.

If you're interested in joining a group of non-melanated humans focused on creating a culture that de-centers whiteness, see my website for more information. Right now, I am specifically gathering a cohort of divination practitioners, but I am collecting interest from others as well.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Resilience Is Your Birthright

If you are reading this, you are resilient. You have survived everything life has placed in your path. It may not have been easy, but you are hardwired to overcome obstacles. However, from the moment we come into our human experience, we start learning things that restrict our direct access to that inner reservoir of resilience. We are told stories by our caregivers, our community, and society at-large. They attempt to create containers of safety, both real and imaginary, but do not always succeed.

Some of those stories are helpful:

  • Look both ways before crossing the street.
  • Hot things will burn your skin.
  • Don’t run with scissors.
Some of what we’re told isn’t true:
  • Boys don’t cry.
  • Girls should be demure.
  • Our outward appearance defines our worthiness.
Most of what we hear wasn’t originally intended to harm us. Over time, though, we became separated from the context, and those “truisms” are often repeated through generations without question because that’s the way we’ve always done it.

Rewriting the stories that no longer serve us, and perhaps never did, can help us uncover the resilience we were born to claim. This is both challenging and rewarding work that’s nearly impossible to do on our own. No matter how much we want to change, we are still looking at ourselves through colored lenses and reflected in a distorted mirror. With the assistance of a skilled friend, therapist, partner, guide, or other relationship with healthy boundaries, we can begin to hear how those stories sound spoken by another voice.

In my post about potential, I wrote about the somatic consequences of having received the message that “dumb should hurt.” I’d never really questioned that quip or how I might be teaching it to - or using it against - other people. When my own somatic therapist said to me “What a horrible thing to say to a child!,” I realized he was absolutely right. That outside perspective allowed me to recognize how it impacted my life, to strive not to repeat it, and to change that story into a helpful one. Now I can easily accept that I couldn’t possibly know everything or do everything perfectly on the first try. “Dumb” is only what we are when we haven’t learned differently - and we can always learn new things. That process, though uncomfortable, does not require pain.

A resilient way of moving was always inside me. It was only temporarily hidden by words that were not mine to carry or repeat. In discovering our truest, most authentic selves, without the restrictions of the stories we have inherited, our resilience has the opportunity to reach its greatest potential. We can learn to live with joy, serve the greatest good, and more easily recognize when the world tries to hide our light again.

Friday, March 27, 2020

You Can Stay Home, You Are Resilient, Help Is Coming

When you stay home, you are helping to save someone's life - you just don't know whose. I'm looking at everyone whose job is not directly involved in sustaining human life. Small and large business-owners selling random things to distract us, neighborhood and chain restaurants, online boutiques, colleagues who believe their touch is medically necessary, people who are waiting for the government to force them to stay home. Please stop working for the good of us all. 
Humans are resilient and can recover from a lot, even self-destructive behavior. It will be over sooner if we all join the struggle together. I'm a self-employed bodyworker. I have skin in this fight. I can empathize with those who think working is better than the alternative (it's not), but I don't have a choice. I'm at your mercy to get this thing shut down.
Once you acknowledge that truth, it's going to get harder. The first thing we need to accomplish is putting on our own "oxygen mask." I've seen too many people skip this step entirely. ("I'm going to work now I'm working from home. Same thing, right?" Nope.) The sooner you attend to that, the sooner you can be a resource and example for the people in your life.
Take a day or two (or five) to disconnect from the world and get in touch with your fear. (If you need support with that, find someone who has their own mask on already.) Prepare for a metaphorical marathon. Eat, drink, rest - whatever your body craves (that you already have at home).
The storm will still be raging when you emerge. But you will be better equipped to be a strong resource for others and to find creative ways to have your own needs met.
My oxygen is flowing. How can I help?

Monday, March 16, 2020

The Isolated Introvert: Why Am I Not Exhilarated?

Under normal circumstances, the thought of sequestering myself away from the rest of the world would be an intoxicating prospect. I've been known to go on vacations and want nothing more than to sit by the fireplace or to breathe fresh air in the sun (depending on the season) with a thick book or a crafting project. Why, then, is this pandemic's requirement of "social distancing" such a challenge for me?

The answer occurred to me after a recent conversation with a colleague about the way the nervous system works. When we're in imminent danger, our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) takes over with a fight/flight/freeze response. The reverse can also happen. If we're frozen for some other reason, such as needing to remain still for a dental cleaning, it can trigger the sensation of being afraid.

I realized that being required to stay away from people is reminding my nervous system of what it was like to feel depressed. Even though staying home due to depression might seem like a choice, it really isn't. The impulse to make social contact is non-existent. So having that choice taken away from me, whether by government guidance or by the state of my mental health, it feels the same in my body.

Not all is lost, though. The nervous system can be persuaded to change its perspective and can be convinced that the two situations are not equivalent. A quick way to do that is to access the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) via the vagus nerve, which offers calming support. Here are a few ways that can happen:
  • intentional breathing - If you are anxious, take care to exhale longer than you inhale.
  • cold - A frigid compress/shower, or an iced beverage or frozen food, stimulates the "rest-and-digest" aspect of the PNS. (I suspect that's why sitting down with a pint of ice cream can be so comforting!)
  • vocalizing - It doesn't matter whether you talk, hum, sing, or laugh. Using your voice connects directly to the vagus nerve.
The above suggestions are only the first step. They can help create a safer space where you can discover and resolve whatever the underlying issue (injury) might be. That's how I realized my own connection between isolation and depression. It also gave me room to formulate some ways to feel better about being physically disconnected from others.

Here are some of my ideas for getting excited about my unexpected alone-time:
  • Create a schedule. Uncertainty feels overwhelming. Having a plan, no matter how inconsequential the individual tasks are, builds a foundation. 
  • Offer Reiki to our collective circumstance.
  • Connect with loved-ones to catch up and with colleagues to collaborate.
  • Work on cross-stitch projects that have fallen by the wayside.
  • Write posts for this blog. I've had lots of ideas but not as much focused time as I wanted. (This isn't a topic that I intended to write about, but here we are.)
  • De-clutter my living space - and take the time to figure out why it got that way in the first place.
  • Practice being gentle with myself. (i.e., Progress, not perfection.)
  • Find ways to bring my business offerings into virtual spaces.
How are you planning to use this time? How might I support you?

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Allowing Your Potential To Grow

With the approach of spring, I’ve noticed that a seed is a lovely metaphor for human potential. Just as a seed contains everything it needs to become a plant, each person contains everything necessary to grow into an easeful life. If a seed is tended in the optimal way, nothing will stop its progress. We all have the same potential to become our best selves.

Unlike a seed, which will push through its outer layer no matter the required struggle, humans create stories to keep ourselves contained. These stories tell us that we’re safer where we are and breaking out isn’t worth the risk. We pull that outer layer close and fortify it, keeping our possibilities hidden and restricting our movement. Imagine if a seed was able to do the same thing. It would rot wherever it fell, never growing into what it was meant to be.

Consider just a few of the stories that strengthen our outer layer:
  • Failure is not an option.
  • Curiosity killed the cat.
  • Children should be seen and not heard.
When you read those words, do you notice where you may have unwittingly integrated them into your life? Or do you recognize them as untrue? Unless we are mindful, we repeat these phrases to ourselves and disburse them into our community without questioning whether they are helpful. 
One of the stories I learned as a child was “dumb should hurt.” The implication behind it was that if you do something “stupid,” there are painful consequences. Through somatic therapy, I discovered that particular phrase had taken up residence in my sacroiliac joint (where the hip bones meet the spine). It created an inflexibility and discomfort that no amount of massage therapy, chiropractic work, or acupuncture could budge more than briefly. 
Without realizing it consciously, I had equated not knowing things with being “dumb,” which also meant the possibility of experiencing pain. The belief itself was holding me back and ended up being the cause of the pain. With support, I uncovered an ability to be kind with myself while I'm learning and gracious even when I stumble. I don’t need to be perfect (or “smart”) all of the time. Once I re-framed that old belief, I experienced an new ease of movement and the discomfort dissipated. Along with the increased physical flexibility, I also found myself willing to try new things imperfectly.
When a seed lands in a place that is less than ideal, nature will carry it to where it can grow and bloom. We are capable of carrying ourselves to where we will flourish, and we can seek assistance when moving seems too difficult to do on our own. We can stay curious about the stories we tell and explore the ways those stories might be holding us back. Our bodies can show us where our internalized beliefs live and how to reveal our inner strengths. With patience and persistence, we can find our seed of potential, rewrite the stories that contain it, and give our best life the nourishment it needs to grow.