“We’re All the Ages We’ve Ever Been”

As much as I value self-care, there are times when it flies out the window. I’m no longer the adult caring for my inner child, but I’m the toddler or teen full of emotion and pursuit of immediate pleasure.

This week, I’ve been really in touch with my 2-year-old self, who’s been demanding attention. When it’s running the show, I’m inclined to emotional meltdowns, sugar binges, irregular sleep, over-tired crying, and resistance to naps. I readily settle in front of the TV and need an adult to get my jacket and take me for a walk. When back from the walk, I find myself whining: “But I don’t want to take a bath …” even when baths are among my favorite things and absolutely calm me down.

There’s nothing like embodying my toddler self to remember that I have access to all my former ages and selves—and not only as memories but also as immediate actors and agents in my life.

Some years ago, when taking children’s literature courses, I remember hearing and repeating the line: “we’re all the ages we’ve ever been.” Versions of this quote have been attributed to Madeleine L’Engle and other authors, but I attribute it to my storytelling professor, who regularly stepped into characters of herself as a child, a young mother, an established researcher, and an elder storyteller. Through these characters, I could see such love for life and willingness to re-play past experiences. My professor performed the sort of deep revisiting of the past that I imagine my 2-year-old self is asking me to do when I’m in resistance mode.

Interestingly, in this week’s total toddler takeover, one of the few things I wanted to do was coloring, a form of art I’ve craved from a very young age. I also chose to color images of owls, symbolically associated with wisdom and aging. The more I layered colors, the more I could see the wisdom in honoring all my ages and in looking backward to look forward.

Colorful image of owls with hand-written mantras: "I am all the ages I've been. I honor the wisdom of past and future selves, loving the child me and the aging me. I love and approve of myself."

For now, I’ll hug myself close as I work on being a better parent to this 2-year-old who needs veggies and sleep. I can see (again) that there’s much to heal in my past if I am to make change in the present and future. I commit to this healing, as I commit to justice: work that involves deep revisiting of what’s old, what’s hidden, and what’s nevertheless demanding attention.

This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Reclaiming Childhood Power with Coloring Books,” “Playing Through the Pain,” and “Banana, Chocolate, and Peanut-Butter Mash: Changing My Relationship with Sugar and Rethinking Self-Care.” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

Snapshots of Support

This week I’ve felt stretched thin—waking up earlier and heading to bed later than I’d like. One moment, I’m reviewing students’ midterm portfolios. The next, I’m scripting a hard conversation. While attending to microaggressions and facilitating tricky online and in-person conversations, I’m also sharing hopeful-yet-emotional announcements with family, friends, colleagues, and students.

In the midst of such frenzied and frenetic activity, I’ve been finding support through everyday practices and joyful reminders that past-me put in place for present-me. To give a sense of what I mean, here are some views into what’s keeping me grounded in gratitude this week:

For re-centering and re-committing —

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My practice space: yoga mats, blocks, and foam roller.

For doing self-inquiry as a daily practice —

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Journal for the 40-day Lent practice I’m leading for a local, predominantly-white church on “Building Resilience for Racial Justice.”

For healing the cold that’s been holding on —

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“Initial Defense” herbs recommended by my acupuncturist.

For everyday divination

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Divination apps I use for guidance throughout the day.

For a breakfast that feels decadently sweet

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Banana, chocolate, and peanut butter mash.

For inspiration and imagination of the “ought to be” —

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Books I have positioned around the house for visible inspiration, even when not reading.

For prioritizing art and play

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My coloring book and some recent creations.

For remembering the love of family and friends —

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Kitchen wall with photos, poetry, artwork, and prayer flags.

Certainly, there are other snapshots I might take, but these are a few for which I feel particular gratitude. And slowing down enough to recognize and experience gratitude is its own sort of healing, energizing practice.

I’m curious: How do you create support for those times when stretched thin? Perhaps this post gives some ideas, and I hope you’ll share additional suggestions through comments.

With gratitude and love! ~ Beth

This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Exploring Exhaustion and Energy Loss,” “Gratitude for/on Earth Day,” and “Imperfect Meditation and the Desire to ‘Slow Way Down.’” 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 Heart-Head-Hands.com. 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!

Warm Quinoa Cranberry Breakfast Cereal

Recently, I’ve felt the heat associated with anger flushing through my body, asking to be recognized. As I tend to this anger, I’m seeking nourishment that provides fuel for committed action—fuel that is sweet, but not sugary.

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Warm cereal with blood orange slices, cranberry-banana smoothie, and tea.

One of the meals I’ve been making for myself is quinoa cranberry breakfast cereal. I simply combine the following ingredients, press the “porridge” setting in my “fuzzy logic” rice maker, and wake up to warm cereal and sweet smells:

  • Quinoa — ¾ cup
  • Frozen cranberries — 1 cup
  • Pumpkin seeds — ¼ cup
  • Almond milk — 3-4 cups (2 cups at the beginning of cooking and more at the end)
  • Vanilla — 1 teaspoon
  • Stevia — 1 teaspoon

This warm cereal has been helping me feel well cared for despite being worn thin. I have been feeling incensed (burning up) and fatigued (burning out) by a constant barrage of sexual assault, institutional racism, ableist policies, gender policing, xenophobic rhetoric, and other bullshit. Not to mention the violence and open wounds on display vividly in headlines and news feeds.

Toward attending to anger and showing up with resilience, I recognize the need to care for myself especially well. I feel grateful for a programmable rice maker that allows me to press a few buttons and have warm cereals, rice and beans, and other grain-legume combos ready to eat a few hours later.

I mention the rice maker because I’m often asked about how I prepare home-cooked meals when juggling a LOT, including a lot of emotions. This device, along with my Vitamix and electric tea kettle, save time and mental labor. While these appliances are a true privilege, on the one hand, they are also a true investment in self-care, on the other. They are hands-down my favorite kitchen items and have replaced a lot of pots, pans, and other gadgets, simplifying the cooking experience.

So, with deep gratitude, I share this simple and sweet vegan + gluten-free breakfast that is supporting me right now—with the hope that it may support you, too. Whatever self-care may be calling to you, may the care involve attention to emotional intake, emotional readiness, and emotional resilience for the long haul toward justice.

This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Three Chocolate Smoothies for Fueling the Road Ahead,” “Banana, Chocolate, and Peanut-Butter Mash: Changing My Relationship with Sugar and Rethinking Self-Care,” and other vegan + gluten-free recipes. 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 Heart-Head-Hands.com. 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!

My Journey with Back Pain

Back pain. It’s a friend who’s accompanied me through most of my life, beginning in my early teens and really intensifying during graduate school when I had an “emergency surgery” after losing muscular control of my right foot. In 2006, when I had this surgery, I experienced intense pain: burning sensations that radiated from my low back down my right leg and into the toes that I couldn’t lift. It was a scary experience.

The last decade has taken me on an unexpected journey though understanding, managing, and healing chronic pain. Early on, I tried allopathic medicine: from pharmaceuticals that left me nauseous to injections that increased my stress and, therefore, my pain. I consulted specialists, worked closely with physical therapists and counselors, and even attended “back school” through a local pain clinic. And after a LOT of trial-and-error and a LOT of searching, I found my way to more integrative, holistic, spiritual means of healing.

This journey underlies why I so deeply value embodied knowledge and believe that our bodies have much to teach us. It’s also why I see a commitment to justice aligning with a commitment to healing—healing that involves not only the physical body but also internalized inferiority and superiority, dehumanization, and systemic oppression.

This journey has also been shaped by my embodied positioning within the United States, where economic privilege allows me access to holistic therapies that draw from many lineages and knowledge systems. My embodied positioning has meant, too, some really awful interactions with physicians (especially white men), which linked physical pain with emotional trauma and disempowerment. Instead of unpacking embodiment—the focus of many blog posts (and many more stories to tell)—I want to think now about managing moments of acute or especially intense pain.

Every few months, a friend asks for recommendations for pain management. I share my experiences not as a healthcare provider (I’m not!) but as someone who’s negotiated pain that has truly laid me low.

Here’s what I’ve turned to time and time again, doing many of these at once, depending on the degree and type of pain:

  • Sleeping with a pillow between or under my knees.
  • Sitting on an exercise ball or with cushions, a lumbar roll, and heating pad. Also, standing, lying down, moving throughout the day, and limiting time sitting.
  • Soaking in warm Epsom salt baths and gently floating/swimming in pools.
  • Applying essential oils and balms to the primary site of pain and wherever nerve pain is radiating.
  • Applying castor oil and a heating pad over the site of pain.
  • Using a TENS unit, which took me several years to learn about, but has become a real lifesaver whenever sitting for several hours (e.g., when traveling by car or airplane).
  • Receiving acupuncture and cupping, and consulting my acupuncturist about which herbs may help. I tend to take just a low dose of turmeric, as my stomach is sensitive, but my acupuncturist always has suggestions.
  • Taking homeopathic tabs and/or applying homeopathic rubs, such as Rhus tox and arnica. I particularly like Community Pharmacy’s homeopathic blend “Injury,” and they ship across the United States. Community Pharmacy also has knowledgeable staff who can make recommendations for other integrative therapies, and they make customized flower essence blends, which can be combined with homeopathy.
  • Becoming way more mindful about my eating, and sticking with an anti-inflammatory diet. It’s taken me YEARS of working closely with a naturopath to learn which foods increase my inflammation, so I recognize this is a long-term investment.
  • Increasing my intake of potassium and magnesium through bananas, avocados, and coconut water toward calming muscles and my nervous system.
  • Minimizing activities that create flare-ups: for me, these include driving and attending meetings.
  • Increasing activities that support the body: examples include slow walking and gentle yoga (the sort where I’m lying on the floor for asana practice).
  • Adding essential oils for relaxation to my pillow and dehumidifier at bedtime.
  • Meditating, especially with Deb Shapiro’s “talking with your body,” body scans, and chakra meditations, which I now couple with self-Reiki.
  • Repeating mantras suggested through Louise Hay’s Heal Your Body A-Z app. Some regular ones include: “I love and approve of myself. I trust the process of life. I flow freely with life.”
  • Reviewing and integrating into my daily routines the movements suggested in Pete Egoscue’s Pain Free—building strength slowly and only after the most acute pain passes.
  • Working out sensitive and sore spots with a foam roller—essentially, giving myself a massage.
  • Noticing which of these therapies feels right at a given moment, and remaining open to other therapies, as there’s always more to try and learn. At times, massage or craniosacral therapy has felt right; at other times, I’m talked about stressors with friends or returned to physical therapy. It feels important to remain open to what healing is needed and how healing evolves over time.
  • And if the pain is really bad, then taking ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or other pain relievers.

Managing back pain has meant befriending pain. Instead of cursing it, I’ve learned to get curious and ask, “Pain, what do you have to tell me?” Often enough, pain acts as a messenger, asking me to notice what I’ve been avoiding/hiding or to make changes that involve confronting fear, anger, and other emotions. Truly, in Deb Shapiro’s words: “Your Body Speaks Your Mind.”

I’ve only come to this place of befriending pain after embarking in 2011 on a process of self- and spiritual-discovery with Reiki. With the willingness to undo years of trauma to my body—from the surgery, taking medications to numb/dull the pain, and storing emotions as physical tension and rigidity—I’ve learned that pain is part of the heart-head-hands connection. As a friend, pain has ushered in daily yoga practice, a commitment to live a more contemplative and justice-oriented life, and the realization that I really love being in (feeling, experiencing, and moving) my body. From a place of gratitude, I can now say—12 years after back surgery—that I’m deeply grateful for the pain and its reminders to show up as I am: messy, human, and truly me.

From this place of gratitude, I hope that sharing what’s worked for me—how I respond to acute pain and what I’m learning through my healing journey—offers some insights or ideas for others facing pain. With love, may you/I/we heal ourselves and our world.

This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Attending to Anger,” “Gentle Yoga for Healing,” or “Playing Through the Pain.” 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 Heart-Head-Hands.com. 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!