Triangulating the Heart, Head, and Hands for Justice

This spring I’m teaching a new course titled “Contemplative Writing.” I’ve visualized the course design through triangulation, or three intersecting points that rely on the others for fuller understanding. Like a compass, triangulation helps with navigating complicated terrain. It shows locations (or ideas) in relation to each other, highlighting multiplicity. In the case of “Contemplative Writing,” triangulation brings together three semester-long focuses, audiences, and goals:

  • 3 intersecting focuses = writing, justice, and contemplation/mindfulness
  • 3 audiences (or spheres of interaction) = self, others, and institutions
  • 3 goals = rhetorical flexibility, self-awareness, and courage in writing/speaking

To cover this complicated terrain, the students and I are journaling and doing regular (almost-daily) contemplative practices, while also pursuing “Projects That Matter” (research and activist writing). To keep me writing and practicing alongside the students, I’ve been doing some form of contemplative journaling, meditation, or movement daily.

Some days, I’ve been responding to the writing prompt that gives this blog its name, checking in with my heart, head, and hands:

  • Heart: What am I feeling?
  • Head: What am I thinking?
  • Hands: What am I going to do?

Through these check-ins, I have been triangulating intellectual, emotional, and embodied knowledges.

Recently, I discovered a yoga-asana (movement) video that essentially asks the same questions through a 25-minute “Head & Heart Reset”:

This Yoga with Adrienne video has resonated with me because I want to build physical strength to carry a hiking backpack, and it includes several strength-building poses. While I typically prefer gentle and super slow asana, this flowing practice seems to be opening the energetic pathways connecting my heart, head, and hands (as well as my gut, tear ducts, and held-within knowing).

The practice opens with wrapping arms around the shoulders, giving myself a hug, as I’m striving to do daily. It ends with deep breathing to carry energetic connectedness off the mat and into all communication.

While in the past I’ve practiced yoga through writing, now I’m channeling writing through yoga. I’m reminded of the importance of nurturing my body and its wisdom in order to create and share wisdom through writing.

Such realizations are also showing me that triangulation is much more than a navigation tool, research method, or course design. Triangulation is why I understand writing as connected with embodiment and everyday living. It’s why I associate yoga and other contemplative, spiritual practices with the work of countering injustice and investing in more equitable relations. And it’s why I strive to connect the heart, head, and hands.

Said differently, triangulation helps me not only navigate complicated terrain but also remember that no guiding principle stands alone. May I continue to learn and make meaning in multiple ways. May I continue to open to what emerges through varied contemplative practices. May I continue to weave triangulated webs of striving (with an attitude of try-try again) to live a life for justice.

This post is written by Beth Godbee for For more posts like this one, you might try “Gentle Yoga for Releasing Burdens,” “40 Days of Yoga Nidra,” and “Practicing Yoga Through Writing.” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

What Is Justice?

What does it mean to strive for justice in everyday life? This question is front and center for me most days, but especially now, as I’m teaching two undergraduate courses focused on justice and as I’m offering a 40-day practice for a local church on “Building Resilience for Racial Justice.” These teaching spaces—the university and the church—are predominantly white and marked by whiteness that obscures understandings of race, racism, white supremacy, and systemic oppression. To uncover what’s hidden, there’s a need to slow down and examine every assumption, including what we’ve learned (or haven’t learned) about justice.

I start my course, “Writing for Social Justice,” by asking students to define “social justice”—a term we’ve heard and often use without really understanding or unpacking. Together, we cover the board with words and concepts, asking questions like:

  • What’s fair?
  • What’s equitable?
  • What’s impactful for local and global communities?
  • Who do we imagine as community members?
  • Who’s centered/normalized, and who’s marginalized? And why?
  • Who’s considered human, and whose humanity is undermined?

These questions become more than intellectual inquiry. They help us with processing interactions, course readings, and other texts. They help us with re-telling stories and guiding actions and everyday living.

From asking these questions and sharing our felt-sense understandings of social justice, we read Lee Anne Bell’s “Theoretical Foundations”—one of the framing articles from the excellent collection, Readings for Diversity and Social Justice.

Book cover for Readings for Diversity and Social Justice: An Anthology on Racism, Antisemitism, Sexism, Heterosexism, Ableism, and Classism.

Bell defines “social justice” as a process and a goal: both the means and the ends of achieving equitable relations. Justice includes the right to self-determination for all people and the ability for individuals to direct their lives as agents and actors. It also includes social responsibilities and interconnectedness, underscoring the importance of an equitable distribution of resources and shared participation in decision-making. Social justice, therefore, must ensure the rights of individuals, while also positioning individuals to act within larger social networks and communities. Social justice invites thinking about how we—as humans—relate with each other, with non-human animals, and with the earth, as all are interconnected and impactful.

To envision living for justice (equity, liberation, peace, full humanity), we need to understand and spend time tracking the contours of injustice (inequity, oppression, violence, dehumanization). As I’ve learned through research with co-authors (thanks especially to Rasha Diab), we must engage in BOTH the critique against injustice (problem-posing) and the critique for justice (vision-setting). Engaging in either without the other can leave us feeling frustrated or at a loss for how to respond, what to do next.

This spring I’m reminded again that it’s important to move beyond purely conceptual understandings of justice (head) and into emotional and embodied understandings (heart and hands). Using the heart-head-hands reflection prompt, I’ve been thinking with students, colleagues, and community members about how we experience systemic oppression, white supremacy, and other injustices in our everyday lives. To enact justice, we must feel into its definition, considering what opens space in our bodies and, alternatively, when our bodies intuitively constrict or send signals through pain.

There’s always more to learn, and so pursuing justice involves humility, resilience, and other emotional literacies needed for learning and un-learning. With the recognitions of (1) knowing only a little and (2) always needing to learn more, here are three of my guiding principles for pursuing justice in everyday life:

  1. Since justice is not only the goal but also the process, small and sustained actions matter. In the words of organizer Myles Horton: “We make the road by walking.”
  2. A commitment to justice needs to be “actionable” across everyday spheres of interaction: with ourselves, with others, and within institutions.
  3. Justice requires working against dehumanization, on the one hand, and super-humanization, on the other. To pursue justice, we must work with internalized inferiority and superiority and recognize our own and others’ humanity (and related rights to existence, self-determination, and much more).

So, what is justice? And what does it mean to strive for justice in everyday life?

Like the passing of days, answers to these questions accumulate and deepen over time. Still, it helps me to remember these guiding principles—and the teaching conversations, conceptual knowledge, and emotions that underlie them.

This post is written by Beth Godbee for For more posts like this one, you might try “What I’ve Learned in the Week Since Charlottesville: Five Lessons for White Folks Who Care about Racism and Racial Justice,” “Reading Martin Luther King, Jr. as a White Woman in the Work for Racial Justice,” and “Going Public as an Educator.” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

Going Public as an Educator

I’ve been investing recently in spell-casting and other contemplative practices that help identify and manifest inner desires. I’m investing in these practices, as my whole being (still concussed from a recent fall) is craving a more embodied, experiential way of doing education. I’m investing in these practices, too, because the quiet winter months invite the sort of introspection that helps me know myself and my commitments more clearly.

In the spirit of spell-casting (and with a lot of hope and a little fear), I share now my desire to offer what I currently teach as college courses more widely—within and beyond higher education. I’d love to co-learn and co-teach publicly—with others committed to everyday living for justice. I’d love to share the contemplative practices, writing prompts, small-group exercises, sequenced assignments, readings, and other materials I’ve developed over the years. I’d LOVE to “go public” as a writer, educator, and activist.

I share these desires as I’m in the midst of teaching two courses this spring:  (1) Contemplative Writing and (2) Writing for Social justice.

English 3210 Spring 2018 Flyer Contemplative Writing

English 4210 Spring 2018 Flyer Writing for Social Justice

I’m also in the midst of developing a 40-day practice for a local church on strengthening emotional literacies to counter white supremacy. Increasingly, as I step in and out of classrooms and other teaching spaces, I’m thinking about how to make such learning experiences more widely available.

Toward this goal: in the coming months, I plan to expand to describe offerings. These might include in-person workshops, e-courses, retreats, consulting, or coaching. These likely will include more readings, resource lists, and suggested activities.

To move forward, I know I’ll need help. If you’re interested in sharing feedback or learning more, I’m interested in talking. Please reach out with requests or suggestions: I appreciate any support in moving these desires into manifestations.

May speaking aloud and sharing these dreams help bring them into being. May this time of metamorphosis—of quiet transformation from caterpillar to butterfly—realize new possibilities. May new possibilities fuel inspired, committed action.

This post is written with courage, love, and a little fear by
Beth Godbee for For updates, please consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

Reading Martin Luther King, Jr. as a White Woman in the Work for Racial Justice

Each year, celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Day in the United States brings new opportunities for mis-appropriating, mis-remembering, and mythologizing Dr. King’s legacy and the broader Civil Rights Movement. White people get the history wrong in many ways.

Each year, celebrating MLK Day also brings new opportunities for re-reading Dr. King’s words and re-seeing the work that he—and so many people working for racial justice—have envisioned.

MLK offers visions of the ought to be, of engaged activism, and of multi-racial movement-building. Such visions are essential to avoid getting stuck where we are and to spark imaginings of new and more equitable futures.

As a white woman witnessing, learning from, and participating in MLK Day, I’m reminded at this time of year how Dr. King’s legacy and wisdom can guide me in the work of visioning. His words keep me focused on what’s possible rather than thinking only about what’s problematic.

Specifically, three of Dr. King’s often-cited quotes keep me focused on my role in taking steps and speaking up, even when inevitably and always falling short of what I can, should, and want to do. With gratitude and humility, I hope to amplify these words and share how they provide guidance in my life today.

1. “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

Though I have trouble placing this quote’s origin, the King Center in Atlanta describes how Dr. King combined two scriptural verses into one to create this line. I’ve been repeating it for years, since noticing how white colleagues ask for professional development as a prerequisite to taking action. Ongoing learning is always important, yet I’ve seen how it can be used to delay, dismiss, and excuse away the responsibility to act.

Instead, taking some action, any action, matters. It helps us learn, gets us started, gives us practice, makes feedback available, and opens opportunities for additional actions. It helps us join and build relational networks, and it helps us develop habits or routines for taking action.

Taking a first step and a second and a third and so on adds up to sustained action, and the importance of “Doing Something Small and Sustained” is part of why I’m vegan for social, environmental, gender, and racial justice. Certainly, there are many more steps to take, but a daily commitment to taking steps helps grow momentum, while allowing for rest and self-care along the way.

2. “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

As part of the Steeler Lecture in 1967, these words remind me of the importance of breaking white silence, as silence does real harm. I remember the gut-punch I felt when watching many white friends and family remain silent after Charlottesville. After writing “For White Friends Using Social Media and Not Responding to Charlottesville,” some sincere conversations emerged with white folks who expressed “a loss of words” and the fear that they could do more harm by saying the wrong thing than by saying nothing at all.

Just as a fear of doing it wrong and the desire to “learn more” blocks taking action, a fear of saying it wrong and a desire to “listen more” blocks speaking up.

To these fears, I’d say that there are many ways to speak by amplifying the voices of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) who are already speaking up and leading the way. If you’re not reading and reposting feminists and womanists of color, consider doing so. Sharing the work and words of activists, scholars, and leaders of color help promote and make widely visible their leadership. Amplification is an important form of speaking and one that invites listening and learning too.

As a white woman, I also need to remind myself again and again and again to let go of perfectionism. The possibility of a “perfect” or even “right” way of speaking is another lie of internalized inferiority and superiority. I’m sure to trip over the words. I’m sure to do it wrong. I’m sure to confront my own limitations. But I’m also sure that I must speak up in order to practice, to get feedback, and to learn by doing (with the attitude of “try-try again”). And more than the importance of learning, the costs of complicity are too high.

3. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

I end with this line from Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” because it reminds me of the costs of failing to act or speak up. It reminds me why I must keep the reality of white supremacy and the commitment to racial justice at the fore throughout everyday living. It reminds me why an intersectional approach to justice is needed and why I have a role to play in this work. And it reminds me why imaginative, creative, critical visioning is so deeply needed.

As I spend MLK Day this year tuning into myself, I’m reminded that, like Dr. King’s words of wisdom, our embodied, lived experiences have much to teach us about how to act and speak up in the world. I’m resolving in 2018 to “Speaking Up by Speaking Aloud Embodied Responses,” even or especially when my body hurts and my voice shakes. I’m resolving, too, to use inner listening to learn more about when and where I can direct my energies, knowing that I have a role to play in the work for racial justice.

Version 2
Photo taken during one of several pilgrimages to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.

This post is written by Beth Godbee for For more posts like this one, you might try “What I’ve Learned in the Week Since Charlottesville: Five Lessons for White Folks Who Care about Racism and Racial Justice” and “Refueling with Feminists of Color.” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

Revealing the Cultural Patterns of Rape Culture

It’s been a few weeks since the #metoo hashtag prompted discussion about the widespread and systemic nature of sexual violence. As I’ve shared stories and listened to others’, I’ve been struck by frequent questioning: “Does ______ really count as sexual harassment or assault?” And that question has led me to consider the many moments of sexual intimidation that aren’t harassment or assault per se, but constitute violence and are part of rape culture nonetheless.

Here are a few examples from my life as a professor interacting with undergraduate men:

  • A student waits until everyone has left the classroom to confront me about his grade, raising his voice and moving closer until he’s towering over me.
  • A pattern emerges in which at least seven students (all men) walk into my faculty office and shut the door (only for me to re-open it), making me aware of the tension that arises in my body from their assumed control of space and uninvited move toward intimacy.
  • A student enters an otherwise empty elevator and stands in front of me, blocking both the exit and the keypad for selecting floors. My body stiffens up so that I wait until he’s left the elevator before moving forward to the keypad and pressing the button for my office floor.
  • A student brings his friend (another man) to his writing conference late in the evening when the department is empty. This friend sits outside my office, essentially guarding the hallway.

Whether intentional or not, intimidation operates in moments like these because they play into larger understandings of agency, ownership, intimacy, and control of physical space. They obstruct efforts to maintain distance, to meet in public, to plan exit routes, and so on.

While none of these experiences constitute sexual harassment or assault, they show how presumed ownership of space communicates domination. They show how rape culture, which is based in domination, operates in classrooms, offices, elevators, hallways, and other spaces. They also show how no one is immune: even the professor who holds institutional power can be intimidated and over-powered.

Rape culture is rooted sexism, heterosexism, and other interlocking systems of oppression, which we see reflected in attitudes, inequities, and everyday realities. Source:

I share these moments with the hope that we might better understand rape culture as a cultural phenomenon that is constructed and performed in everyday interactions. Moments like these aren’t ones I report to our Title IX coordinator, but they are ones that stack up the longer I’m in higher education. They are moments that come to mind when I think about how gender-based intimidation and invalidation—like other microaggressions—play out in many seemingly small yet consequential ways.

I share these moments, too, because they’ve become memories that sit alongside those of harassment, assault, and other sexual violence. When I think of my own stories and those shared by others, I see how moments like these are part of larger narratives of rape culture, or a culture that perpetuates deep injustice through sexism and heterosexism, including the objectification and exploitation of women’s and marginalized peoples’ bodies. Truly, such everyday moments make up the larger culture and have cumulative impact. They erode trust, provoke fear, and increase inequitable demands for emotional labor, among other matters.

I also share these moments because they reveal patterns—like the pattern I noticed of men shutting the office door. Just as there’s potential in looking for themes and outliers for everyday divination, there’s potential in identifying patterns of sexual intimidation and other violence. Identifying patterns allows us to better witness, name, and intervene into injustice. And the patterns supporting rape culture desperately need intervention.

This post is written by
Beth Godbee for For more posts like this one, you might try “Me Too: Standing Against Sexual Violence” or “Microaggressions Matter.” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

Speaking Up by Speaking Aloud Embodied Responses

Several times in recent weeks I’ve found myself in conversations in which things were going wrong. White folks were talking over folks of color. Men were taking up far too much space. White, cis-gender, able-bodied women were sharing their experiences as though they were universal truths. In each of these occasions, I found my stomach churning, my heart hurting, my chest tight, and my mouth dry. And in each of these occasions, I found myself entering conversation simply by naming my embodied responses as a way of identifying that something was wrong.

Essentially, I used my body’s guidance system to enter conversation, saying: “This is scary, but I need to speak up because my stomach hurts.” I then explained what I’d witnessed about the interactions, attempting to name what my body was registering. In each instance, I felt like speaking from/about my body was taking a real risk because we tend to value explanations and evidence from the realm of logic (the head) more than emotions held within the body (the heart and the hands).

What I learned from these occasions is that naming my body’s responses served as a strategy for getting the group to stop and discuss what was happening. This strategy opened space for others to name their own tensions or felt-senses that things were going wrong. Further, because I entered conversation without the language to name or shift group dynamics—but with recognition that the dynamics weren’t working—this strategy invited others to share insights and the responsibility for the disrupting dysfunctional communication patterns.

I’ll certainly continue to reflect on this strategy, and I can imagine times it wouldn’t work … but I share what I’m learning because I know that it’s too easy to remain silent in the face of injustice because the words (the explanations for the problem) remain out of reach. What if instead of identifying the problem, we simply identify our body’s signals that there’s trouble underway? What if we commit to speaking aloud our embodied responses—whether they involve anger flushing heat or sadness leading to a contraction of one’s shoulders? What if speaking up took the form of saying, “Hey, my heart is hurting, so something’s not right”?

Going forward, when I can see that conversations need disruption but I’m not sure what to do, I’ll try naming my embodied responses with the hope that saying something—even if it’s only that I’m nauseous—might reroute conversation and the direction we’re headed.

This post is written by
Beth Godbee for For more posts like this one, you might try “Disrupting the Mind-Body Split” or “Heart, Head, Hands: Explaining the Blog’s Name.” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

Me Too: Standing Against Sexual Violence

I didn’t learn to drive in drivers ed. In fact, I never drove the car that whole semester because the teacher was a creep.

When girls would drive, he’d start off complimenting perfume or jewelry or clothing. Then he’d lean into the driver to observe them better (the perfume or jewelry or clothing). From there, he’d put his hand on the girl’s leg, sometimes leaving it there and sometimes moving it higher along the thigh. All of this with two additional students in the backseat. All of this with students feeling powerless to do anything.

That semester he asked me multiple times when I’d like to drive, and I always made one excuse or another. In the meantime, I sat in the back of the car and watched. I never told another teacher because everyone at school already knew, and nothing would be done anyway.

My parents knew, and they knew I wasn’t learning to drive. That became the immediate concern, as it seemed to relate to my physical safety. To me, physical safety meant never getting in the driver’s seat next to that instructor. I’d take my chances on the road itself.

This is one of many, many stories that come to mind as I add “me too” in solidarity on friends’ FB posts. This is one of many, many stories of sexual harassment, intimidation, and violence that are so normative, they are simply everyday. This is one of many, many stories that bring to mind the costs and consequences of this violence—with the loss of drivers education a small piece of the stories I hold, stories I bear witness to.

At what point do we say ENOUGH?

I see posts online saying that the past 24 hours of “me too” responses have been triggering as hell. I see posts online saying that one person facing this violence is too many. I see posts online questioning the political efficacy of this outpouring of raising hands and storytelling.

As I sit with the emotions, memories, and physical pain that arise, I also feel deep gratitude for the storytelling, as it feels like a moment of building trust when trust is so corroded. It feels like a moment of affirming that “yes, this really did happen” and of countering the epistemic injustice that underlies women (and people facing prejudice) not being believed. It feels like an important moment for saying aloud—again, STRONGLY—that no one should face this violence and that we must stand TALL in the commitment to justice.

This post is written by
Beth Godbee for For more posts like this one, you might try “Microaggressions Matter” or “Trusting the Alarm Behind Supposedly ‘Alarmist Rhetoric.’” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!