Inside the Chrysalis, or Experiencing Mess, Mess, and More Mess

It’s not uncommon for me to ride emotional roller-coasters with swings from sweet to sour as I go about my days. More and more, I’ve noticed these swings as I’ve tuned in with my emotions and embodied self through Reiki, yoga, and other contemplative practices. The more I do inner work and the more I embrace mess, the more the messiness of being an always-incomplete, imperfect human inevitability shows up.

Still, if I’m being honest with myself, the past few weeks have felt messier than I’d like to admit. I’ve had a piece of a broken ceramic bowl in my foot, a mostly mild but sometimes excruciatingly painful attention-getter. My podiatrist tells me to be patient and let my body release the piece naturally. Yet, I’m impatient and complaining about this regular reminder that I’ve got broken pieces within myself to heal and release before moving forward.

What I’m realizing, as I work the healing process that requires patience with pain, is that I’m in the midst of chrysalis, or the gruesome transformation caterpillars undergo to become butterflies.

In the past year, as I’ve announced career changes, moved cross-country, and continue to reflect on and refashion my identity, I’ve been seeing many caterpillars and butterflies and excited to think of myself as “in transformation.” Now that I’m fully in itin the midst of big changes—I’m remembering that caterpillars essentially digest themselves, dissolving their past bodies while creating new ones. They transform into another being that moves so differently, eats so differently, and experiences life so differently that they aren’t recognized as the same being. How much disintegration, discomfort, and dis-ease must be involved in that transformation?

Screenshot of astrologer Chani Nicholas’s Instagram post reading: “Butterflies are horrific creatures when you catch them mid-metamorphosis. If we focus on the gruesome stages of our growth we’ll never find our wings.”
I have my friend Briana to thank for first alerting me to the gruesome chrysalis process when I was recovering from a concussion earlier this year. More recently, astrologer Chani Nicholas posted about how butterflies are “horrific creatures when you catch them mid-metamorphosis”—just the reminder I need to be patient with myself.

So, what does chrysalis (this time of mess, mess, and more mess) look like for me?

More days that I’d like to admit …

  • I’m spending many hours in one place, curled on the couch.
  • I’m eating irregularly.
  • I’m waking from vivid and sometimes-scary dreams.
  • I’m crying often and at unexpected times.
  • I’m all over the place, teeter-tottering as I walk, carefully balancing on my injured foot, and yet feeling completely off balance.
  • I’m creating art and climbing and falling and calling friends and seeing a counselor and writing, writing, writing—all toward processing big changes and even bigger legacies of personal, family, and social trauma and wrongdoing and lingering hurts.

I don’t know yet who I’ll be when I emerge from the messy and often-painful chrysalis, but here are two embodied experiences from inside it:

Experience #1: On a day of bingeing sugar and TV, I find myself pulled into a documentary on hooking up via dating apps, which highlights rape culture, sexual violence, and the ways in which systemic racism and intersectional oppression manifest in technological innovation and intimate relations alike. It’s not until a headache gets me to turn off the TV that I recognize that my body is incredibly tense. I’m physically holding onto, remembering, and witnessing anew this violence. I need to hold myself, quiet my mind, and notice my body’s wisdom before I can process my own experiences and reactions to what’s surely shared (collective) tension.

Because I can’t look at another screen when my head is pounding, I walk around the block and meet a postal worker who acts with such gentle kindness that I find myself crying. In the exchange of mailing a package, I feel energetically how the person before me holds hope and good will in the words, “Have a bless day.” I’m lifted by human connection, and I’m blabbering about the beauty of this brief loving interaction, as I’m still releasing through tears the heartache of how much we, as humans, hurt one another.

Experience #2: I find myself fidgeting and biting my cuticles as I struggle to find words to write about complicity within systemic violence. I’m remembering several recently painful interactions in which I see myself contributing to harm (scenes for another blog post), and I’m turning that harm inward while writing. It’s not until I draw blood that I realize that I’m literally making myself bleed from my fingers—the instruments of writing expression.

Again, my body offers such a clear message about the relationship between personal (internal, self) and collective (systemic, shared) harm. My counselor uses language that’s familiar to me after years of writing about the relationship between the micro and macro. She tells me that processing my own lived experiences involves looking at broader family and community dynamics as well as social-cultural-historical conditioning.

What this means is that binge-eating sugar and binge-watching TV, as two examples, aren’t only about my actions. These “bingeing” experiences are also about cultural scripts that make “sweets” and “favorite TV shows” soothing salves for a harsh world. Sweets and shows stand in for or serve as reminders of good memories, loving relationships, special occasions, self-care, and much more. Streaming services like Amazon and Netflix start next episodes before previous ones have finished. The examples go on and on, pointing to the need for personal healing in the context of larger collective healing. For changing personal habits in the context of changing current conditions and cultural scripts.

Within the chrysalis—when experiencing headaches and bleeding fingers—I am lifted by human connection and the possibilities for personal, ancestral, and collective healing. And being lifted, inspired, and guided matters.

Grounding matters, too, which is why I suspect my foot has manifested the consistent, not-easily-forgotten reminder to keep releasing broken pieces. Pieces internalized and unseen. Pieces under the surface and buried deep. Pieces asking to be released if I’m to be transformed.

I suspect I’m not alone in facing the gruesome reality of the chrysalis, as there’s so much work to be done in reckoning with broken-and-brutal injustice and envisioning a more just world. May I brave the chrysalis, readying myself for this work. May we brave the chrysalis together, readying ourselves for transformations to come.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Welcoming Winter by Looking Within,” “Countering Resistance Fatigue with a Both/And Approach,” and “Today Healing Looks Like …” and Please also consider liking this blog on FB and following the blog via email. Thanks!

Do It Scared

“Do it scared.”

I have Docta E (Dr. Elaine Richardson) to thank for this mantra that I keep close at hand.

A couple of years ago, Docta E talked with my “Writing for Social Justice” class about her book PHD to Ph.D.: How Education Saved My Life, and students asked Docta E to share advice for writers. Similar to the advice Luvvie Ajayi shares in the TED talk “Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable,” Docta E talked about pushing through fear and showing up for the work anyway. In the simplest terms: “Do it scared.”

I hold this advice close because I’m so often scared, and recently I’ve been looking deeper into fears and noticing how much they influence (and limit) my life.

One example involves a recent hike in which I had an amazing experience walking on my own through twilight into dark. I strolled more than hiked, paying attention to my breath, senses, and the scenes around me.

I noticed, for example, how sound changes along the trail, especially when walking next to bushes alive with insects and crossing from one side of the mountain to the other. I could feel the ground—packed dirt, flat stones, and jagged rocks—and how each traveled up my body: from feet to ankles to knees to hips to my back. I experienced day turn to night—witnessing not only the sunset but also the twilight and darkening of night. My eyes adjusted, my perceptions changed, and the moon became more and more pronounced.

Truly, I love being outdoors at night and in the wilderness on my own, but I so rarely allow myself either experience because fears are driving more than back-seat riding. For a number of reasons, this evening was different.

To begin, I’d already thrown caution to the wind: riding across Phoenix to get to the trailhead during rush hour traffic. On a typical day, I’d give up hiking to avoid a car ride. Perhaps being out of my routine helped me open to what I too-often restrict.

The conditions also helped me feel secure. Though hiking in 105-degree heat, the trail was crowded with hikers every few feet, so I felt sure that rattlesnakes would stay far away. I had companions on the trail—people I knew were walking slower and faster than me, making me feel that I wasn’t out “on my own.” I had water and a cell phone, too. Sturdy boots and a hat helped me feel prepared.

As I strolled, I witnessed the beauty of the moment, wanting to soak it all in and linger in the possibilities. I found myself thinking about fear and its partner, trust. What if I trust not only snakes but also myself? What if I trust my feet to be sure-footed? What if I trust that I’m prepared to speak, write, and stand UP when action is needed? What if I trust that I’ll learn and recover from the riskiness, hurts, and whatever else fear is warning me about?

These “what ifs” remind me that building trust involves practice: doing what scares me even when it scares me. Especially when it scares me.

To open my heart and trust more boldly and bravely, I’ll need to do it scared. In this time of vast injustice and needed resistance, Docta E’s advice is what I need to hear and to say to myself time and time again.

“Do it scared.”

 
This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Mantras to Stand TALL for Justice,” “Choosing to Tread Another Path,” and “5 TED Talks for Developing Emotional Literacies for Racial Justice.” Please also consider liking this blog on FB and following the blog via email. Thanks!

Single-Serve Chocolate Avocado Pudding

This summer, in the midst of a cross-country move and big career changes, I’ve found myself falling into old patterns with sugar. I’ve been binge-eating sugar only to propel myself into a downward emotional spiral and increased inflammation—stirring up old back, neck, and other embodied pains.

In the process, I’ve been getting clearer on what I want to change about my relationship with sugar and noticing when—and why—I’m craving sweets.

With greater awareness of the cravings, I’m more often choosing to drink water and vegetable broth instead of turning to sugar. At times, I’m making my familiar banana, cacao, and peanut butter mash that typically satiates cravings. And, because my naturopath recommends daily avocados, I’ve been allowing myself avocado pudding with dates used for sweetening.

Here’s the recipe for single-serve chocolate avocado pudding. It’s not only sweet and chocolatey (fulfilling emotional cravings for sugar), but it’s also vegan, gluten-free, nut-free, soy-free, and refined-sugar-free.

There are many recipes online for chocolate avocado pudding or mousse. What I like about this one is that it’s simplified (few ingredients and no refrigeration required).

Combine the following ingredients in a Vitamix or other high-powered blender, and blend until creamy:

  • 1 large avocado (or 1 and ½ smaller avocados)
  • 2 tablespoons of cacao powder
  • 2-3 dates, depending on the sweetness desired (more dates = sweeter)
  • ¼ cup of unsweetened almond or other plant-based milk
  • ½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon

This recipe can be easily doubled or tripled, if making for two or more people. It also keeps well in the refrigerator and can be used for snacks throughout the day.

My relationship with sugar, as part of my larger relationship with food, is important for healing—for turning inward and learning more about who I’ve been and who I want to be. Though I’ve shown up to this relationship inconsistently, I want to build a more loving, truthful, and committed relationship for the long haul.

This long-haul commitment to self-love is the same long-haul commitment I make to staying in the work for social justice. May I keep showing up to/for myself and to/for work that matters in the world. May I invest in a nourishing relationship with food toward participating in nourishing, affirming, and accountable relationships in all aspects of life.


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

A New Spell for a New Space

These past few weeks I’ve been focused on moving and settling into a new home. The move has called attention to all sorts of stuff, habits, and emotional swings—things I’d like to keep and release, to shore up and tear down. This process has reminded me, too, of the contemplative practices that contribute to a sense of grounding: grounding needed to stand TALL for justice.

One of these practices is spell-casting, which I learned from activist-writer-healer adrienne maree brown. In Episode 10 of the Healing Justice podcast “New Years Practice: Cast a Spell with adrienne maree brown,” brown shares what I’ve similarly come to believe from my experiences writing, teaching writing, and researching writing. That is:
(1) Words have power.
(2) We can channel this power through writing.
(3) Writing mantras and other wishes-desires-intentions helps bring them into reality.
In other words, writing supports manifestation. To put these beliefs into action, I write what I want to manifest in life.

As I did back in January, when recovering from a concussion, I’ve written a spell of mantras to help ease the shifts (the letting go and calling in) that I’d like to experience in my new space. This spell now lives under my bed and again taped to my bathroom mirror.

Printed copy of the spell (words that appear in this blog post) taped to a bathroom mirror with a colorful shower curtain showing part of a tree reflected in the mirror. The photo has a pink tint.

I share this spell here as an accountability practice—holding its potential not only in physical space but also in digital/online space. I hope it might motivate others to write. I can already see that it’s inspiring me toward further writing to make commitments to justice actionable in everyday life.

A New Spell for a New Space

I detangle my self-worth from my productivity, release goals of perfection and positivity associated with white womanhood, and believe instead that “I am enough” (neither better-than nor lesser-than)—affirming my own and others’ humanity.

I release the pattern of “butt in seat” to get work done and instead allow myself to write-work-play-move wherever I am called, including curled on the couch and sitting alongside the bouldering wall.

I embrace play: swimming, hiking, climbing, and moving my body regularly toward shaking up/off what I’ve internalized and still hold within my body as trauma, as pain, as injustice.

I make decisions based on my “strong YES,” asking regularly which way brings me closer to my divine purpose, listening for what’s next, and engaging in discernment, even/especially when the answers don’t seem to make sense.

I look for direction in everyday life, slowing down to practice divination as a meaningful, woven-through-the-day contemplative practice.

I keep talking with my future self and my ancestors, working to heal backward and forward in time.

I get comfortable working on my own and enjoying my own company, while noticing who shows up as accomplices, companions, and guides in the work for social justice.

I read “for fun,” and I learn through reading-listening-witnessing how to amplify the voices of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), especially feminists and womanists of color.

I nourish my physical, emotional, and spiritual self: heart, head, and hands. In doing so, I invest in my relationship with food, building a relationship that’s full of integrity, consistency, forgiveness, appreciation, and love. I absorb nutrients and release inflammation. I show love to myself through the foods I take into my body.

I learn more about what it means to show up as my authentic self, getting to know Beth.

I treat myself gently, with tenderness and humility. I open my heart to forgiveness and peace. I allow myself to receive and give love.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Spell-Casting and Other Contemplative Practices for Reflection and Recovery,” “The Pain and Pleasure of Moving,” or “Mantras to Stand TALL for Justice.” Please also consider liking this blog on FB and following the blog via email. Thanks!

Against the Tyranny of Positivity

On this day of the lunar eclipse in Aquarius, may we allow ourselves to feel.

To feel whatever comes up.
To feel deeply, expansively, expressively.
To feel a fuller range of emotions than we’re typically taught is appropriate or agreeable or allowable to feel.

To grieve for Nia Wilson, for Markeis McGlockton, and for many people whose lives are deemed expendable.
To rage against white supremacy, patriarchy, colonization, and oppression.
To push past easy, ready, and first emotions.
To resist “the tyranny of positivity” that limits the ability to name violence, wrongdoing, and injustice.

The question

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about what psychologist Susan David calls “the tyranny of positivity,” or the over-valuing of positive emotions to the point of blocking the ability to feel sadness, anger, fear, regret, guilt, and other “negative” emotions. These emotions are needed to reckon with—to remember, resist, redress, reconcile—harms done in the world. Harms done to and also by us.

I’ve felt this “tyranny of positivity” when a colleague expressed concern about me writing on the trauma of graduate education, cautioning me against being “too negative” and suggesting that “writing needs to stay positive to attract readers.”

I’ve felt this “tyranny of positivity,” too, when responses to my writing on trauma included statements like these:

  • “Career counselors are some of the most positive people you’ll meet.”
  • “If you look for the good in graduate education, then you won’t feel the bad so much.”
  • “It’s better to invest in building one’s career than to linger over the challenges.”
  • “You did a great job with that piece: you kept it positive.”

Certainly I understand the power of “positive thinking” for leveraging potential, and I believe that a focus entirely on the wrong (the critique against) interrupts our ability to envision more just futures (the critique for). I even wrote “When Everything Is Horrible, Try Slowing Down and Noticing”—a piece about noticing beauty in rough conditions—in the same week as writing about trauma. So, truly, I’m trying to learn and live out a both/and approach that invites attention to pain and pleasure.

Yet, what I see happening here and through broader social expectations for positive emotion is a sort of spiritual bypassing tied to white supremacy. White supremacy, patriarchy, colonization, and other interlocking forms of oppression need denial to operate. White supremacy, patriarchy, colonization, and oppression rely on the policing of emotion, the forgetting of and failure to address deep harms that nevertheless live in the body.

Moreover, policing and blocking of emotions limit healing, creative response, and humanity.

Policing and blocking of emotions contribute to the epistemic injustice of being told you don’t even know what you know, and you don’t even feel what you feel, and you don’t even have the right to know and feel what you truly know and feel. And it’s epistemic injustice that undergirds trauma in graduate education and in so many facets of life.

In contrast, it takes the strength of working with trauma, sitting with vulnerability, and feeling what comes up to counter the tyranny of positivity. It takes love, and it takes anger. It takes a much fuller spectrum of emotions that those deemed “respectable” or “civil.”

So, today, when the astrology is inviting us to break down and break through (as eclipses invite “shadow work”), may we allow ourselves to feel.

  • What emotional work is waiting to be done?
  • When and how are denial functioning?
  • What emotions are asking to be acknowledged and named?
  • How can being truer about our emotions allow us to be truer about harms—those done to us and by us?
  • What emotional realness is needed for the long haul toward justice?
  • How do we break from the tyranny of positivity?


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Triangulating the Heart, Head, and Hands for Justice,” “5 TED Talks for Developing Emotional Literacies for Racial Justice,” and “Naming Trauma as Trauma.” Please also consider liking this blog on FB and following the blog via email. Thanks!

The Pain and Pleasure of Moving

My cross-country move from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Washington, D.C. has stretched over weeks turned into months. From traveling to find an apartment to now unpacking boxes, I’ve upturned almost every aspect of life. In the past weeks, I’ve sold my furniture, driven hundreds of miles, lost and found items shipped through Amtrak, lived out of suitcases in a temporary residence, and now moved into the apartment-to-be-home (hopefully for some time to come).

This moving process has offered numerous life lessons. Among them are the importance of qualities like humility and humor and the beauty of loving relations that keep me laughing even when crying.

In the midst of these lessons, I’ve been noticing again the function of both/and thinking for preventing a single story or flat understanding of lived experience. The more I hold onto the framework of “yes … and …,” the more I am able to think creatively beyond the lies of internalized superiority and inferiority. Both/and thinking helps to prevent the traps of either-or, this-or-that, divide-and-conquer, and conquer-to-divide, which enable injustice.

In the case of my move, the traps are too clear: I readily focus on pain without noticing pleasure. Likewise, I share stories of pleasure without noting the pain. Truly, life is richly textured in dialectical tensions (seeming contractions) that, together, get closer to truth. Toward truth-telling, here are some of these tensions I’m recognizing now, while moving:

1. Stuff brings both pain and pleasure.
Despite downsizing significantly in recent years, I’m still amazed by the bulk of my possessions. I’ve found myself complaining: “How can we have this much stuff? I can’t possible carry another box.” Moments later, I’m unpacking and hugging Larry, the teddy bear who accompanied me to summer camp in my youth, and I’m delighted and grateful for keeping at least some impractical stuff. The speed with which I’m complaining and delighting over “stuff” is a sure sign that it’s both: both painful and pleasurable.

A grey teddy bear sits next to a cardboard box, which is full of books.

2. Habits are both hurtful and helpful.
Moving creates the conditions for reviewing routines and patterns of living. While it’s easy to abandon all habits (the good and the bad), it’s also possible to assess which work and which don’t. When something as simple as taking daily vitamins falls away, I’m noticing how my body responds. On the one hand, my belly begins churning, reminding me not to forget the heating pad and probiotics. On the other hand, adding back in vitamins one at a time allows me to figure out which hasn’t been sitting quite right and to create a new nutritional plan.

Similarly, a new neighborhood leads to discovering new foods, activities, relations, and embodied experiences. The move has me asking: Which habits are serving me now, and which are asking to be released? What do I want my days to be like? What habits are (mis)aligned with my commitments?

3. Emotional swings are both flattening and fun.
Dialectic tensions like pain and pleasure, hurting and helping also lead to emotional swings: from downtrodden to upbeat—from falling on the floor in exhaustion to frantically cleaning in bursts of energy. Such emotional swings remind me of the presence of sadness alongside joy, disgust alongside delight, effort alongside excitement. They remind me why emotional literacies help with valuing the full spectrum of emotions, which convey important information.

The move has me experiencing a wide range of emotions and really trying to recognize them as messengers: not blocking any emotions, but asking what each has to teach me. This process, I hope, will funnel back into decisions about which “stuff” and habits to keep and which to release.

As I continue unpacking, I hope these reflections highlight again the value of a both/and approach to life, activism, and more. And if you’re in or near or visiting DC, please know that I’d love to connect and build community, as I make a new home.

View from inside my new apartment of a window seat: two windows are framed with rose-colored curtains, a long grey cushion seat, two decorative pillows with prints of birds, and a green palm tree (indoor plant).


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Countering Resistance Fatigue with a Both/And Approach,” “In the Midst of Big Changes,” and “5 TED Talks for Developing Emotional Literacies for Racial Justice.” Please also consider liking this blog on FB and following the blog via email. Thanks!

When Everything Is Horrible, Try Slowing Down and Noticing

On a recent hike, I found myself complaining about the heat and mosquitoes. I was walking quickly, speeding up to get off the trail, and failing to notice my surroundings. It wasn’t until I took a break on the ground—literally sitting in the middle of the trail—that I noticed blooming mayapples underneath large leaves. All around me but out of sight when walking were flowers promising spring and the summer to come.

Image of the forest floor with brown leaves, green growth, and mayapples. The large mayapple leaves shield white flowers from the sun.
Large mayapple leaves shielding white flowers from the sun.

The more I slowed down and took breaks on the ground, the more I noticed the flowers and fungi there. The colorful, intricate, and delicate life seemed to be reminding me that there’s still beauty in the roughest of conditions, the hottest of days, and the most mosquito-y of times.

This hike happened when I’d been having conversations about the need to guard against resistance fatigue and to build resilience for the long road ahead. For me, time in the outdoors and along hiking trails offers new ways to understand the world and my role within it.

What I learned from these blooming mayapples (and the many plants I observed) is the importance of slowing down and noticing the fullness of life: the joy alongside the pain, the beauty alongside the ugliness, the visions for alongside the critiques against. In other words, I was reminded again of the need for a both/and approach to everyday living for justice.

When I’m hurting (or hot or being bitten), my tendency is to rush to get out of there: out of that place of discomfort or pain. Slowing down and noticing, however, allows me to tap into the generative and healing potential that comes with curiosity, meditation, and divination.

At this time when violence and wrongdoing are as frequent as bite after bite, I find myself sitting on the ground and looking for beauty around me. With that beauty bolstering me, I can notice better my emotions and embodied, conditioned responses. I can notice better how to interrupt that conditioning and to use my body, too.

When times are toughest (and everything feels horrible), may we look for reminders of joy and beauty and for those visions that keep us both grounded and standing TALL.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Mantras to Stand TALL for Justice,” “Choosing to Tread Another Path,” and “Countering Resistance Fatigue with a Both/And Approach.” Please also consider liking this blog on FB and following the blog via email. Thanks!