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!

Writing with Heartache

In this week of Valentine’s Day—a week when I’ve been teaching bell hooks’s Feminism Is for Everybody; sharing love notes that amplify hooks’s words; and meditating with students about love as action, commitment, and a call to authenticity—I’m sitting with heartache.

Heartache that gun violence continues unchecked and that proclamations of love are flooded by the pain and fear of regular, normalized, and numbing violence.

Heartache that a series of online and phone conversations all concern bullying in schools—bullying of kids because of marginalized race, gender, and other social identities.

Heartache because this talk about bullying reminds me of my own experiences with Valentine’s Day and the hurt associated with not getting cards from classmates and of classmates playing hurtful jokes on others (that is, bullying) via the exchange of Valentines.

Heartache that enduring violence—in youth and adulthood, through actions of Othering and extinguishing life—dig in deeper and deeper scars, deeper and deeper trauma.

I take this heartache and choose to feel it.
To acknowledge and not deny it.
To speak it aloud.
To share that it’s here, calling for healing.
To learn from its wisdom.
To commit, again, to love.

Committing again to love—love for justice—I sit with adrienne maree brown’s “Love as Political Resistance: Lessons from Audre Lorde and Octavia Butler.”
brown calls us to action:

“This Valentine’s Day, commit to developing an unflappable devotion to yourself as part of an abundant, loving whole. Make a commitment to five people to be more honest with each other, heal together, change together, and become a community of care that can grow to hold us all.”

Sitting with heartache, I say, YES! I make this commitment toward growing spaces/communities “to hold us all.” Especially now as we’re asked to confront ever-increasing violence, may we invest in collective healing toward collective liberation.

This post is written by Beth Godbee for For more posts like this one, you might try “Swinging from Sweet to Sour,” “Holding Space and Being Present: Two Resolutions Following the Las Vegas Shooting,” or “Today Resistance Looks Like …” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

Do Vegans Kill Spiders? Recognizing Fears and Others’ Right to Exist

During the holidays, I visited family in Tennessee and Florida, where we encountered multiple spiders. They were doing what spiders do in houses: walking along baseboards, in and out of shadows, with seemingly little or no interest in human co-habitants.

From growing up in the Tennessee mountains, I’m familiar with spiders. I’ve studied which spiders’ venom is likely to impact humans. I’ve encountered black widows, watched for brown recluses, and investigated spider bites on my body. I’ve also realized that my fear of spiders—a fear that I’ve quieted over time—is not a rational fear of venom. Instead, it’s a fear of any and all spiders, simply because they are spiders. And I worry a lot about fearing something because it exists. Such fear literally kills people, as internalized fear of black men (fear of black and brown bodies, especially by white women) is well-documented. It’s essential to explore, spend time with, and really understand this fear.

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When I think of fear (and spiders), I think of this wisdom from poet Nikki Giovanni (who also grew up in the Tennessee mountains):

I killed a spider Not a murderous brown recluse Nor even a black widow And if the truth were told this Was only a small Sort of papery spider Who should have run When I picked up the book But she didn't And she scared me And I smashed her I don't think I'm allowed To kill something Because I am Frightened

Giovanni’s “Allowables” reminds me that when fear is in the driver’s seat, it can do real harm. Fear is linked with violence, with the limits of coming to see or care about another being, another person. Fear is linked with dehumanization, with injustice, with denying life. Literally, such fear undermines another’s right to exist.

Though fear has a role in play in our lives, that role needs to be considered and measured. For author Elizabeth Gilbert, fear belongs in the backseat. Though it can offer suggestions and give information, we must determine how to act with that information.

More and more, I realize that whenever I’m tuning out fear, it grows louder in its insistence to be heard. And the louder fear is, the greater its potential for taking over and short-circuiting mindful, committed action.

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It’s taken me years to shift my attitude toward spiders, but now when I see spiders in houses, my instinct is to observe them and, typically, leave them be. I’ve learned that their self-determined path is to disappear into nooks and crannies, and their presence won’t harm me. That’s why I was taken by surprise by my family’s reaction to spiders.

In one spider encounter (after some yelling and shoe-throwing), a family member challenged: “If you don’t move it, I’ll kill it.”

At that moment, I heard my fear speak loudly: “Beth, if you try to move it, it might bite you.”

I’ve learned from educator Margaret Wheatley that looking at what surprises and disturbs me is a good way to see my assumptions and beliefs. In this moment, I could see shame that my old fear of spiders was still driving (not backseat-riding). I could see how fear was preventing me from interacting with spiders, much less seeing myself as truly in relation with them. Even the language of “it” held the spider at a distance, making me question the depth of my relations with other humans and non-human animals.

Thanking fear for these lessons, I luckily found a glass and a holiday card to trap the spider and move it outdoors. After a few deep breaths—of feeling how fear was undercutting relations—I looked down to see that the card held a much-needed message:

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That line—“to every creature great and small”—is the sort of holiday greeting that communicates a desire for connectedness with all beings. It’s a sentiment offered to snow-people and birds, but what about to spiders? What about to humans deemed less-than-human? What about to those who are deemed expendable, whose right to exist is constantly called into question?

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As a framework or orientation to the world, veganism helps me recognize and relate differently with fears. Through striving to relate with “every creature great and small,” veganism helps me notice when I’m afraid of others and to question—and not continually perpetuate—those fears. Veganism, too, helps me notice when fear is driving instead of backseat-riding. This noticing arises through a commitment to ecofeminism: a commitment to counter exploitation, oppression, and injustice and to affirm social, racial, gender, economic, and environmental justice.

It’s not by chance that Nikki Giovanni, a Black woman born “during the age of segregation,”  wrote “Allowables.” Lived experiences facing dehumanization and white supremacy provide insights into the experience of being feared, killed, and written off. Of being dis-allowable. And such dis-allowing is why veganism must be intersectional—working not only against speciesism but also against racism, sexism, classism, -isms.

When I think of what’s most urgent in the world at this moment, I think of what’s allowed and dis-allowed. I think of who’s allowed and dis-allowed. And I think of the urgent need for a white woman to leverage courage toward combating fear. For, truly, white women’s fears have historically bolstered white supremacy, and so working with fears is essential to countering dehumanization and super-humanization (inferiority and superiority).

My hope is that by relating more humanely with spiders, we learn to relate more humanely with humans. May valuing spiders’ self-determined paths allow us to value all humans’ rights to existence and to self-determination.

This post is written by Beth Godbee for Feel free to check out other answers to “why I’m vegan,” including environmental justice, ecofeminism, and doing something small and sustained. 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!

Caterpillars and the Butterfly Effect: Noticing Small Signs and Taking Small Actions

2018. New Year’s Day. I am with family in Florida and noticing many interesting insects, including these caterpillars and moths:

Curiosity leads us to watch, take photographs, and later look up the species, learning that these are oleander caterpillars transformed into oleander moths.

I keep seeing caterpillars and moths, so I begin researching their symbolic significance. Suddenly I realize this is another example of everyday divination and miraculous timing, as caterpillars are helping me see the potential of birthing new projects and ways of being in the near year. They ask me to look more carefully at changes in my life and to ask what transformations I’d like to experience this year.

The symbolic significance of seeing caterpillars may be small (like the caterpillars themselves), but what’s small can have BIG impact.

2017-12-31 12.57.06

Just as caterpillars transformed into butterflies can influence weather patterns miles away, the butterfly effect reminds us that actions can create far-reaching ripples. A flap of the wing matters.

With the caterpillar’s reminder, I’m entering 2018 attentive to small moments. I’m asking myself in what moments am I closer to my best self. When am I truer to my commitments? When am I standing TALL? When am I acting in ways that might ripple outward toward social action and social justice?

I’ve noticed in the past days a few moments that might be small flaps of my butterfly wing:

  • Talking with a white family member about how the frame of whiteness limits our understandings, experiences, and relational networks.
  • Witnessing sexism impacting me and repeating to myself: “That’s not mine. I’m not taking it in. I’m investing my energies toward building gender justice.”
  • Instead of blowing up in a hard conversation, noticing myself get angry, allowing the anger, stepping away, and then re-engaging when ready.
  • Preparing and sharing yummy vegan foods for kids who ask for more: more strawberry smoothies, roasted potatoes, pancakes, tempeh sticks, and other foods creating memories.

The small signs of seeing caterpillars and moths are reminding me to appreciate small actions like these. In 2018, I hope to amplify, multiply, and learn to sustain these small actions. And I hope that like asking for more yummy foods, we ask for more of ourselves and our collectives. A sort of “more” that manifests in everyday, seemingly small, and consequential ways.

This post is written by Beth Godbee for For more posts like this one, you might try “Why I’m Vegan: Doing Something Small and Sustained” or “Today Resistance Looks Like …” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

Expect Miracles

Of the many lessons I’m still learning, an important one is to trust life as it unfolds. I struggle with trust because I struggle with letting go of perfectionism and perceived control. Despite these struggles, whenever I soften attachments to my preferred timing and open instead to possibilities, miracles occur. And the more I open to miracles, the more I find HOPE, which is so greatly needed on the long haul toward justice.

Recently, I’ve had an important reminder to expect miracles (or at least miraculous timing) in everyday life:

A few weeks ago, I lost a mala that Marty Tribble custom-made for me after several Reiki sessions of discussing my desire/need for greater grounding, spiritual connectedness, and trust in divine protection. Marty created this garnet bracelet and shipped it in a box with stenciled arrows, at the same time that I’d had an arrow drawn onto my hand during a summer retreat (pictured here).

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I took the arrows to be a sign of the mala’s significance for decision-making and directional guidance.

The mala must have been helping me trust, because when I lost it, I trusted that it was where it needed to be and would reemerge at the right time. I was somehow sure that the mala wasn’t lost to me, but just buried from my view or consciousness.

This loss happened about a month ago, before I started 40 days of yoga nidra—a meditative practice that I’ve been doing at bedtime. I often fall asleep during the guided practice, and I’ve been having especially vivid, symbolic dreams. These powerful dreams, I believe, have been a continuation of yogic sleep in actual sleep.

Through this process, I’ve become more aware of how much self-work and self-healing happen through dreams and sleep. I’ve also become aware of the mala’s hiding place.

Just before leaving town for a full month’s travel, I changed my bed sheets and moved my mattress away from the headboard. That night, when practicing yoga asana on the floor, I saw the mala under the bed. It had likely been tucked within the bed frame, near my head for the past weeks of yoga nidra. Despite my perception of having “lost” the mala, it was exactly where it needed to be: physically in my bed, supporting yoga nidra practice, and present for self-work during sleep.

The timing of its re-emergence has felt divinely orchestrated, too. Since I’m now traveling for a month, my home bed is no longer my practice space. By making its presence known, the mala is able to travel with me. I’m again wearing it as a bracelet during days and keeping it near my bed at nights.

I share this story of the lost-and-found mala because it’s the sort of everyday miracle that gives me hope at this time. It’s a reminder, especially in this week of the winter solstice and many religious celebrations, of the importance of trusting divine timing, especially when choosing to tread another path.

I share this story, too, because it’s opened for me a series of new questions:

  • What needs to change in my approach to everyday living if I am to act as though miracles are already present and possible?
  • What does it mean for miracles to be present at this time of great injustice? Might the recognition of miracles help with recognition of other often-dismissed phenomena like microaggressions, systemic racism, and epistemic injustice?
  • How do we undermine or block ourselves from noticing miracles and other magic that can give us life, even in the toughest times?
  • How might the expectation of miracles (or at least miraculous timing) aid in building resilience, commitments to justice, and long-term staying power?

I am excited to see what emerges as I learn to expect miracles. I hope you, too, will look for the miraculous in everyday life.

This post is written by Beth Godbee for For more posts like this one, you might try “Everyday Divination,” “Attending to Anger,” or “Sieving Life: Keeping What Nourishes and Releasing the Rest.” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!