Playing Through the Pain

I’ve written recently about violence in our everyday lives, in our shared social world. For many of us, this violence is internal and personal as well. Even though I aspire to self-love and self-care, I fall back into patterns of negative self-talk and “playing through the pain.” I continue to push myself even when I recognize the desire to slow down. I do violence to myself even when I set the intention of being gentler, kinder, and more forgiving. With this recognition, I’m setting an intention to re-purpose play in my life—to redefine what it means to “play through the pain.”

I set this intention during a guided healing session last week, in which I embraced the affirmation: I flow freely with life.

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This affirmation invokes a sense of playfulness, lightness, wonder, awe, and joy. Still, I walked out of that healing session and set to work, not to play.

Within a day or two, my back started speaking up, getting louder in its complaints. I continued over-working and over-stretching. My back responded with more pain, enough to limit mobility and enough that I had to STOP and LISTEN.

I have a history of back pain (degenerative disc disease), which has motivated me to learn and practice yoga, Reiki, and other healing modalities. This history has taught me how to manage acute pain. Care includes specialized pillows and heating pads, homeopathy and balms, and gentle movements like rolling on the floor and floating in the pool.

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To care for my pain, I took to the swimming pool—a place where I also have a history, but a history with good memories. I think of warm summer days, fieldtrips with friends, and the summer camp I longed for year-round in childhood. I remember unexpected triathlon training during graduate school that allowed me to find strength as a lap swimmer. I love swimming not only for this history, but also for the fun of movement. I repeat mantras and think through complicated questions as I propel myself forward. I kick and flail and float and surely look silly. I allow my body to make big movements and to take up space. And after this play, I soak in the hot tub, taking time to relax. Truly, I enjoy myself.

Despite my love for swimming, I don’t often do it. I complain about the time involved. I complain about putting on goggles, washing off chlorine, and drying out swimsuits. I get hung up on the details. I don’t prioritize play.

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As I found myself in the pool this week, paying attention to sensations in my back, hips, and legs, I kept repeating: “I flow freely with life. I flow freely with life. I flow freely with life.”

I felt myself floating. Flying. Flowing. And I laughed when I could see that acute pain had gotten me to the exact place where I’ve known play, where I experience play, and where I prioritize play.

Apparently, I had chosen to “play hard”—to wait for pain to motivate action—instead of “playing easy” and choosing joy. It took a serious problem to get me into the pool. What if I actually allowed myself to act on affirmations and intentions even when they conflict with productivity or ideas of what I “should” do? What if I resolved not to “play through the pain,” but to PLAY throughout, alongside, and for the pain?

*     *     *     *     *

Along with violence, there’s so much pain in our shared social world—so much pain in witnessing, internalizing, and participating in injustice. Thinking about swimming, I’m struck by how racism marks this activity and how layers of privilege (race, class, ability, size, sexuality, age) show up here, as in other places.

Like my back pain, this pain has much to teach, including the importance of play. I am reminded that commitments to justice must be JOYFUL—full of potential, vision, and hope. I am reminded, too, that embracing play in a time of pain (a different version of “playing through the pain”) builds stamina, momentum, and even resilience. Lightness, wonder, and awe are qualities that support the seriousness of attempting to live for justice.

Going forward, I embrace PLAY. Not to ignore pain, but to recognize and heal it. To heal myself so that I can show up more fully, more vulnerable, and more true.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Attending to Anger” or “Potato & Kale Casserole (vegan + gluten-free): Finding Comfort in the Growth Zone.” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

Imperfect Meditation and the Desire to “Slow Way Down”

Lately, I’ve been craving time to feel-think-move my way through transitions and even physical pain, as my lower back has been speaking up again. In response, I’ve been practicing daily meditation: sitting for just 10 minutes on my yoga mat each morning. Even when practicing imperfectly, I find that meditation gives me the permission, the opportunity to slow down.

I’m finding that the more time I spend in meditation—breathing, noticing, releasing thoughts, and being curious about what arises—the more that I’m desiring additional stillness, silence, and softness. Additional time for listening and for what Adrienne Maree Brown calls “slowing way down” in her essay titled “The Scale of Epiphany”:

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The irony is that I’ve had to slow down a little—enough to listen with curiosity to my body and to the signs and signals of everyday life—to understand this desire for slowing WAY down.

To give a sense of what I mean, I’ll share the thoughts that arose during one morning’s sitting meditation:

  • Wow! The seagulls are especially loud this morning.
  • Maybe the pain is more in my left hip or knee than my lower back?
  • These areas are all about the root chakra, grounding, security, and trust.
  • I think there’s a future blog post here about managing back pain.
  • I need to write about why I value collaborative writing in my research statement.
  • Will I be able to keep up this daily meditation practice when the semester begins?
  • I wonder if my mom’s rocking was her form of meditation.
  • I haven’t ordered more Epson salt yet. I need to do that today.
  • Oh! Next time I meditate, I could use candles and crystals. I should set up an altar.
  • Those snapped rubber bands. Those aren’t just coincidence. Rubber bands bend and hold, stretch and conform. When they snap, they’re over-stretched or stretched out. Oh … That’s totally what I’m feeling. Over-stretched. Stretched out.
  • Thank you—deep gratitude!—for this beautiful message and sign of the snapped rubber bands.

Though I keep coming back to my breath throughout sitting meditation, I also notice the thoughts that arise. I notice how questions and reminders manifest as implied should statements (e.g., I should meditate daily even during the semester, I should order Epsom salt, and I should set up an altar). Whether big or small, these should statements are keeping me in a busy, getting-things-done mode. Even when sitting down to quiet the mind and listen to my breath, I’m still thinking about my blog project and research statement. I’m aware of the upcoming semester and what work needs to get done.

I’m also deeply grateful that I can recognize in these thoughts the impulse to stay busy—a state that prevents the reflexive self-work that’s needed for de-routinizing injustices in everyday life and for inspiring new ways of relating. Relating with the self, with others, and within social structures.

2017-07-19 12.55.38Too often, I stay busy, checking off what’s next on my to-do list. And that busy-ness is likely why I’ve been finding so many snapped rubber bands. In the past week, I’ve found no fewer than 10 snapped bands. At first, I didn’t notice them. Then, I thought they were just interesting. And, finally, as the repetition became too great to ignore, I became curious: “What’s up with these snapped rubber bands?”

The amazing thing about slowing down—even a little—is that the answer appeared. I could see the symbology about being over-stretched and stretched out. It was only minutes after stepping off the yoga mat that I came across Adrienne Maree Brown’s post and her words:

“i’ve been slowing way down. no one likes this. everyone likes it in theory but they still want their things attended to. it’s OK. i got a turtle tattoo to whisper ‘go slow’ in my ear.”

Ah, “go slow.” Slow way down. To feel, to think, to move. To step away from the constant getting-things-done. To do the work of heart, head, and hands.

I don’t like it either. I want it. I desire it. But, ahhh, do I struggle with it. Yet, I commit again to be in the struggle, this struggle with myself and this struggle for justice.


This post is written by
Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Gentle Yoga Practice for Healing,” “Practicing Yoga Through Writing,” or “Welcoming Winter by Looking Within.” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

Reframing “Independence Day” as a Day for Truth-Telling and Committing to Justice

I really struggle with July 4th. It’s a holiday that presumes to celebrate “freedom,” but freedom for whom? By what means? Under what circumstances?

It’s a holiday that celebrates myths like meritocracy and “the American Dream,” while keeping hidden systemic racism and other ongoing oppression.

It’s a holiday that normalizes narratives and displays of patriotism, which underlie white nationalism, tribalism, and the logics of “we” versus “them.” The “we” must be “better than” or “the best,” even when assertions that the United States is “the best country in the world” are wrong, as Shaun King documented this week. Still, such assertions persist, especially around this holiday.

This year, the 4th of July left me feeling a physical pain (tightening and nausea) in my stomach. Pain at the many falsehoods. Pain at presumptions that this holiday is celebratory. Pain at attempting to go-about-the-day-as-usual when there’s no avoiding the systemic racism underlying all the red-white-and-blue attire, explosions of firecrackers both day and night, closure of public places in commemoration, and other patriotic displays.

So, I allowed myself to feel the pain, to grieve, and to seek sources for reframing this holiday and my experience of it.

I found initial relief through truth-telling—with deep appreciation to the blog “What’s the Meaning of the 4th of July to Marginalized People?” and the video “No Country for Me”:

I found inspiration through seeing friends reframe “independence day” as “interdependence day,” shifting the focus from colonialism and individualism toward a relational worldview.

I found a vision of a what Native Independence Day might look like, a vision of righting wrongs, redressing harm, and enacting equity and justice. Such a vision involves making visible the histories of genocide, human rights abuses, slavery, and oppression in the United States. It also involves acting with response-ability (as in the ability to respond)—moving from truth-telling and remembering to repairing and healing. It involves acting on what the truth compels.

If we in the United States want an annual celebration of freedom, then I’d ask that we wrestle with hard questions about whose freedom matters and why. How freedom can be achieved for all. What response-abilities are needed for collective, shared freedom.

Truly, liberation involves knowledge of the past, reckoning with the good and bad, and willingness to make right. It involves seeing one’s “freedom” in relation with others. How can one person be free when others still aren’t? Appreciating Nelson Mandela’s wisdom: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

We have a looooooooooooooong way to go toward freedom. A long, long way, which is why I can’t celebrate the 4th of July. It’s not a celebratory holiday, though perhaps it could be a day for truth-telling and re-committing to justice. A day for valuing interdependence and everyday practices on the long haul toward justice.

I’m appreciative that this year my body reminded me through stomach pains that I can’t go about the day (or any day) as though it’s business as usual. For the usual is unjust. May I choose to tread another path, a path toward justice.

Sieving Life: Keeping What Nourishes and Releasing the Rest

In the past week, I moved—just three blocks away, still in Milwaukee and still downtown. Yet, the move feels significant for the opportunity to reassess, rearrange, and reimagine.

The physical move has allowed for downsizing, letting go of possessions, and deciding what to keep. And why. This physical sorting has also invited filtering of my past, as I’m posing questions like:

  • Which narratives about myself, my life, my communities, and my commitments are still serving me? And which aren’t?
  • What are sources of strength or nourishment from my past, and how I can identify and keep those “nutrients”?
  • What are the sources of heaviness or pain that are weighing me down? Is it possible to leave them behind, as I’m leaving behind possessions?

To answer these questions, I’ve been working with images of sieves, sifters, and strainers. Physical items that my Reiki teacher Marty Tribble suggested I use to think about filtering.

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These items separate what’s wanted from what’s not.

Toward this goal of sieving my life, I’m working to identify and keep what’s nourishing, while allowing the gunk I’ve been holding onto to dissolve or be filtered out.

For example, in re-assessing my book collection, I noticed how many books reminded me of the hardest moments in graduate school, the moments of taking into my body what felt like mansplaining and other hurt. By letting go of those books, I can see more clearly the books that remain. The books that make me smile, motivate me to stand tall, and shape my understanding of justice. And by choosing the nourishing books, I choose narratives of inspiration, rewriting the trauma of graduate education.

Another thing I’ve kept—a worn teddy bear named “Larry” who accompanied me to summer camp from the age of seven—reminds me of adventures that motivated my love for caves and hiking. In contrast, I’ve recycled old yearbooks, which document me frowning and even crying in class photos. (And, yes, I’m noticing a theme around school, an area for more self-work and healing.)

I’m sharing this metaphor of the sieve because it’s one I’m thinking about daily, as I sort and shift. As I imagine what can be. As I affirm my desire to rewrite old narratives.

And I’m curious: what are you filtering at this time? What are you keeping, and what are you purging?

Why I’m Vegan: Ecofeminism

I’ve been holding myself up, preventing myself from writing about why I’m vegan and how central food is to my understanding of justice. I’ve been holding myself up because this writing feels especially important, like it needs to be good, and, therefore, is triggering my need to counter perfectionism.

I’ve also been holding myself up because it’s so damn hard to write about being vegan without re-inscribing notions of whiteness and privilege. Especially from my positionality as a privileged white woman. For example, check out the commentary “Here’s Why Black People Don’t Go Vegan” or the edited collection Sistah Vegan.

I’ve been holding myself up, too, because I want to amplify vegan voices of color and question how to put my voice in the mix. Vegans of color are explaining how meat is linked to white supremacy and an intersectional web of oppression. I’ve mentioned before the blogs Black Vegans Rock and The Sistah Vegan Project. If I could accomplish nothing else, I’d hope to send readers to these and other great resources.

Against this backdrop, I still want/need to explain why I’m vegan, and a sense of urgency is becoming clear. In just one week, I’ve had three different people ask me the familiar question: “Why are you vegan?” I’ve been invited to a vegan potluck, asked to provide vegan snacks for a campus event, and asked to support a student’s vegan activism. It’s clear I need to claim and explain why veganism means so much to me.

My first two answers to why I’m vegan—cookie dough and doing something small and sustained—are pieces of the larger puzzle. For this post, I’ll attempt to share a more philosophical piece: ecofeminism.

So, Why Am I Vegan?

Short answers include the following:

  • Veganism presents daily reminders for me to acknowledge and to counter violence in all its manifestations. It asks me to look at myself, my positioning, and how I’m relating (or not) with others.
  • Structures of oppression build on each other, and so I want to break down speciesism alongside and as part of racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ableism, ageism, sizeism, etc.
  • I want to affirm rights, including human rights, civil rights, linguistic and epistemic rights, and—yes, animal rights.
  • I value “all my relations,” including with animals and the earth, and I continue to learn the wisdom of interconnectedness through Malea Powell’s and others’ scholarship on indigenous epistemologies and relational worldviews.

These and other answers have emerged over decades of thinking about and reframing many relationships, including with what I eat and why. I’ve been vegan for more than three years, since December 2013. Before that, I’d been vegetarian since 2000. Though the transition from vegetarian to vegan was surprisingly smooth, I still end up at restaurants and in gatherings where options are scarce and where people look at me with tilted heads in total disbelief.

I’m frequently asked the question at the center of this series: “Why are you vegan?”

Related questions include:

  • Was is hard to give up ______ (fill in a popular food)?
  • How do you get enough ______ (fill in any vitamin, mineral, or protein)?
  • Aren’t you still doing harm by eating ______ (e.g., quinoa, grapes, almond milk)?
  • Aren’t you still killing plants?

As a recovering perfectionist, I recognize in these questions all-or-nothing thinking—or the idea that only a perfect/complete solution is a solution worth seeking.

In contrast, I believe we must invest in small and sustained actions—in whatever form they might take and however they might look.

Clearly, I was vegetarian long before vegan, and my reasons for being vegetarian are largely the same for being vegan. This is why I start with my “origin story” of learning about and wanting to strive toward ecofeminism.

Ecofeminism

Perhaps the trickiest and yet most true answer to why I’m vegan is that I believe in ecofeminism, which is a feminist belief in the equity and rights of all beings. I believe in countering all instances of exploitation, oppression, and injustice. And in affirming all forms of justice, including social, racial, gender, and economic justice. Relatedly, I see instances of injustice/justice as intimately woven together. To begin unweaving the tapestry, I take a thread that’s possible to pull. This thread is my relationship with food.

In one of my first women’s studies courses, I remember studying a pyramid like this one:

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This hierarchical structure places god over men, men over women, women over children, children over animals, and animals over the earth. It represents domination and helps with visualizing the interconnected nature of –isms. The closer to the god, the more godly, good, worthy, and worthwhile. The further from god, the more exploited, demeaned, undermined, and devalued.

The goal of ecofeminism, then, is flattening hierarchies. This means seeing all beings—god, men, women, children, animals, and the earth—as worthy and worthwhile, as all having innate value and rights. This means not prioritizing men over women or humans over animals, but asking tough and sticky ethical questions that imagine relations of equity and justice.

It was studying this pyramid and imagining flattened, interconnected relations that led me to become vegetarian while still in college. From this starting point, I have continued to learn, and the more I learn, the more I see the need for everyday practices—like eating vegan—that lead to more questioning, more learning, and more desire to make change.

Dismantling systems of oppression involves, I believe, dismantling the hierarchies that are both internalized and normalized. And dismantling this pyramid is about not only countering sexism, ageism, and speciesism, but also countering white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, capitalism, and other forms of oppression. This is similarly what intersectional veganism seeks to address.

Ecofeminism is why I embrace animal rights, while emphasizing and affirming human rights. People have historically been dehumanized by being associated with animals (e.g., “dogs” or “monkeys”). As a strategy to deny human, civil, linguistic, and other rights, the association of humans with animals assumes that animals are lesser-than and unworthy of having rights. If we affirm animals as beings who also have rights, then we can disrupt dehumanization and the related stripping of human rights. Black vegan feminist theorist Aph Ko has an AWESOME video about how animal oppression relates to human oppression.

There’s a LOT more I want to write about why I’m vegan, which is why this is just one post in an ongoing series. What I can say simply is that my commitments to feminism and racial justice relate to environmental justice and veganism. So, one answer—and the one that defines my origin story and shares my philosophy—is ecofeminism. I’m certainly on a path to live and learn more, and I look forward to following where this philosophy might lead.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. Feel free to check out other posts in the series “why I’m vegan” or vegan + gluten-free recipes. Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

Three Chocolate Smoothies for Fueling the Road Ahead

This week’s post picks up on threads about changing my relationship with sugar, rethinking self-care, engaging in everyday resistance, and refueling for continued action.

Over the past few months, as I dealt with energy loss and the mind-body split, I also found myself eating so much sugar—more sugar than even is typical for me. Now, as I move into summer and invest in resting, recovering, and restoring for what’s ahead, I’m also practicing a deeper self-love through a diet with lots of greens. (Green brings heart-centered energy that my body seems to be craving to detox, to feel, and to follow my heart.)

For me, summer is typically a time for fresh fruits and vegetables, for salads and raw foods, and for smoothies. The warm weather allows my body to be happy with uncooked foods. (In contrast, I seek everything HOT during the cold Wisconsin winter.)

we make the roadSummer is also a time when I think-while-walking—walking that allows me to imagine the world significantly changed, to tread on different paths, and to make the road by walking. All this walking needs fuel.

So, I share here three recipes for chocolate smoothies (all vegan + gluten-free).

These are three of my favorite smoothies, three I come back to again and again because they can be easily adapted with what’s on hand, resulting in many variations on the theme. These smoothies also provide sweetness without sugar, deliver greens with every sip, and help me achieve a nutritionally whole meal. (For more on smoothie variations, check out Carly Graftaas’s “Smoothie Formula.”)

For each, I’ll list the basic ingredients. I use a Vitamix (thanks, Mom, for this high-powered blender!) that will liquefy most anything, including nuts and seeds. For less powerful blenders, some ingredients may need to be ground before blending.

Smoothie #1: Chocolate Shake

  • Frozen banana. I peel bananas and break them into 3 pieces when freezing. I typically add a full banana (or 3 pieces) to most smoothies, though I add more when craving a sweeter smoothie.
  • Almonds. The more almonds, the nuttier the smoothie. I add between 10 and 25.
  • Spinach. A handful (or about a cup of spinach) doesn’t impact the flavor, but does add good stuff. My dad couldn’t believe there was spinach in this smoothie; he was sure it was just a chocolate shake.
  • Plant-based milk. 2 cups or more, depending on how chunky or smooth you’d like the smoothie. I often add 3-4 cups of unsweetened almond milk to make a larger amount that I then drink throughout the day.
  • Cacao. 1 heaping tablespoon. I like raw cacao, but also use unsweetened cocoa.
  • Dates. Optional! In this photo, I’m adding 2 dates because I want sweetness, but it’s fine to add 1 date, half a date, or no dates at all. Many possibilities.
  • Vanilla. Optional! ~ 1 teaspoon to sweeten.
  • Stevia. Optional! Up to 30 drops—again, to sweeten … A note about stevia: I like liquid stevia because it’s just stevia extract and alcohol. Many of the powders have artificial preservatives.
  • Other Protein Add-ins. I sometimes add hemp hearts, pumpkin seeds, or more spinach to this smoothie. You could also try adding protein powders (I’ve just found that processed powders upset my stomach, which is why I stick with nuts and seeds).

Smoothie #2: Chocolate Cherry

This smoothie is the same idea as above, combining:

  • Banana. ~ 1 fresh or frozen banana.
  • Frozen cherries. ~ 1 cup.
  • Cacao. ~ 1 tablespoon.
  • Plant-Based Milk. ~ 3 cups or more of unsweetened almond or other “milk.”
  • Optional Add-ins. Spinach, kale, hemp hearts, nuts, seeds, etc.

Because the cherries add so much sweetness, I don’t add any dates, vanilla, or stevia.

Smoothie #3: Chocolate Orange and Other Twists of the Theme

Continuing with the theme, add banana and cacao with other fruits or veggies:

  • Banana. ~ 1 fresh or frozen banana.
  • Orange. ~ 1 medium or large orange.
  • Cacao. ~ 1 tablespoon.
  • Plant-Based Milk. ~ 3 cups or more of unsweetened coconut or other “milk.”
  • Optional Add-ins. Though it sounds strange, I love adding fresh mint for an orange-mint-chocolate combination. Alternatively, I sometimes add spinach or hemp hearts.

Instead of oranges, I also use berries, peaches, or even carrots (whatever the summer brings).

Why Smoothies?

  • I love smoothies because they are so adaptable and forgiving. Rarely are precise measurements ever needed.
  • The combination of ingredients helps me satisfy sweet cravings, while giving me sustenance to carry me throughout the day.
  • There’s little mental energy or time involved in their creation, freeing up head-space and hands-space for other meaningful work (e.g., self-care, writing, and activism).
  • Like cookie dough, smoothies represent what can be gained by eating vegan—delicious and life-giving foods that aren’t about limiting but expanding options.


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,” other vegan + gluten-free recipes, or the series of posts answering why I’m vegan. Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

Choosing to Tread Another Path

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently on paths. Established hiking trails and sidewalks, escalators and even rock crawls marked by arrows.

And I’ve been especially appreciative for the healing that comes from this time walking—not only hiking, but standing, marching, experiencing the mobility associated with movement, strengthening and using my body, contemplating my embodied existence, and examining the various privileges and positionings associated with this embodiment.

While walking these varied paths, I’ve also been thinking about how much needs to change about our current world. Making change isn’t as simple as swapping out elected officials or taking part in the political process. Rather, I think we’re at a critical point of needing to re-rethink everyday and taken-for-granted ways of being. To de-routinize the routine. To let go of what’s become normalized.

Because oppression is everyday. Marginalization is routine. Violence is normalized.

Choosing Alternate Paths

Thinking about paths—and the ways that we’re conditioned to follow established ones—I’m wondering, as Sara Ahmed does, whether we might need to stop treading on familiar paths and instead create some new ones. Ahmed observes the possibility that when we abandon well-trodden paths, their lines fade:

“We can see the path as a trace of past journeys. The path is made out of footprints—traces of feet that ‘tread’ and that in ‘treading’ create a line on the ground. When people stop treading the path may disappear. And when we see the line of the path before us, we tend to walk upon it, as a path ‘clears’ the way. So we walk on the path as it is before us, but it is only before us as an effect of being walked upon … Lines are both created by being followed and are followed by being created.” (Sara Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology, p. 16)

There are important functions to paths, such as making the world easier to navigate. Yet, “going along with” the established path is the sort of “going along with” that prevents questioning, much less interruption, of the everyday route and routine. And questioning seems important to noticing, imagining, rethinking, and healing. When I walk down a different sidewalk, I certainly see different bits of the world. How might I see the world differently—and change it—just by choosing alternate paths?

Walking Backward on Moving Walkways

Paths offer a useful way to imagine resistance. Beverly Tatum describes systemic racism as the airport’s moving walkway, using the metaphor to help us see the different consequences of actively pursuing/doing harm, remaining still/complacent within an existing system, and intentionally taking action (like turning around and walking backward) to resist:

“I sometimes visualize the ongoing cycle of racism as a moving walkway at the airport. Active racist behavior is equivalent to walking fast on the conveyor belt. The person engaged in active racist behavior has identified with the ideology of White supremacy and is moving with it. Passive racist behavior is equivalent to standing still on the walkway. No overt effort is being made, but the conveyor belt moves the bystanders along to the same destination as those who are actively walking. Some of the bystanders may feel the motion of the conveyor belt, see the active racists ahead of them, and choose to turn around, unwilling to go in the same destination as the White supremacists. But unless they are walking actively in the opposite direction at a speed faster than the conveyor belt—unless they are actively antiracist—they will find themselves carried along with the others.” (Beverly Daniel Tatum, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? and Other Conversations About Race, p. 11-12)

Like following the established path, standing still on the moving walkway perpetuates systemic oppression that is already part of everyday life. Such metaphors help us think about how everyday and familiar actions—like walking—can do harm, even when the intention isn’t to harm. And this distinction between intention and outcome is important for understanding how we all do harm. Microaggressions happen many times throughout the day, often without the intention to harm, but are harmful nonetheless.

From my recent experiences hiking, I think about how trails cause erosion. When the land becomes too hurt, signs are put up asking hikers to stay off fragile areas and to use bypass routes toward helping with restoration. Like recognizing that erosion comes from simply walking on established trails, I hope to explain that harm can be done by simply “going along with” what’s familiar, what’s already established, what’s already moving forward.

Certainly, walking off trail or turning around to walk against the moving walkway requires many kinds of strength. And I believe the emotional strength for de-routinization and de-normalization requires courage, self-love, and willingness to see one’s self doing harm. Rather than denying that my hiking causes damage to the earth, I recognize that I contribute to erosion, and I try to figure out how to hike with lower impact. Similarly, in recognizing my own contribution to systemic –isms (racism, sexism, classism, etc.), I commit to ongoing and necessary steps.

Together, may we let go of the established paths and work to build new, more equitable, more just walkways. In other words, may we choose to tread another path.