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!

Gratitude for/on Earth Day

Earth Day snuck up on me this year.

Though I wasn’t thinking about this annual event, I was in the midst of writing blog posts about why I’m vegan, how hiking supports my commitment to justice, and why there’s cause to be alarmed with the world right now. All of these posts communicate the importance of environmental justice and connections between how we treat the earth and how we treat each other. In other words, environmental justice is also about racial justice, indigenous rights, the poor people’s campaign, and related movements for justice.

So, I’d like to honor Earth Day, its efforts to make visible a larger grassroots environmental movement, its too-often unacknowledged roots in indigenous epistemology, and its call for a different relationship with “the earth”—with land, water, animals, and more.

Truly, there’s so much work to do, and I appreciate the people who marched for science today. Today I needed to take a break, to spend time recharging outdoors, and to experience the healing power of nature (or ecotherapy).

As a way to honor this day—Earth Day—I’ll share a few statements of gratitude:

For national and state parks that need public support, funding, and protection to guard against escalating attacks (like Kohler-Andrae in Wisconsin), I am grateful.

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For the love of being vegan and for more readily-available vegan options (like this avocado reuben sandwich from Urban Beets in Milwaukee), I am grateful.

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For the privilege to experience healing through play, I am grateful.

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For seeing two muskrats, who give me courage to swim in emotionally murky waters (to dive deeper into introspective self-work), I am grateful.

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For befriending a cat who reminded me of my childhood companion Fuzzy Fat (and being guided by this cat to remember formative emotional experiences), I am grateful.2017-04-22 20.15.12

For the ability to write, reflect, and share this gratitude, I am grateful.

I’d love to hear how YOU are honoring the earth, your earthly self, and Earth Day. Stories to share? Calls to action? Photos from marches? Hope from the light of spring?

Potato & Kale Casserole (vegan + gluten-free): Finding Comfort in the Growth Zone

These days I’m experiencing a lot of stress, finding myself quick to cry, and noticing both tightness in my chest and shallowness of my breath. Undoubtedly, this stress is both personal and political, particular to me and shared in our collective. Conversations throughout the day address concerns about the Muslim ban and travel restrictions, ongoing deportations and abuses of power, challenges to health care, an unwillingness to look for missing black and brown girls, and countless other injustices.

At the same time as trying to understand these matters and to take action (and too-often feeling small and powerless in the process), I’ve got a lot going on and getting churned up in my personal life. As I approach my year of “up or out” for tenure and promotion within the university, I’m reminded of one mentor’s insight: “No one gets tenure without getting black and blue.” And here’s the interesting thing: my body is covered in bruises.

You see, when I had acupuncture and cupping earlier this week, my body bruised at almost every needle point. The cupping left darker circles than usual, and I’ve been adding to these bruises by bumping into furniture, walls, and other physical objects. I hadn’t made the connection to my mentor’s line about “getting black and blue” until my Reiki teacher, Marty Tribble, pointed out this literal, physical manifestation.

So, I looked in Louise Hay’s Heal Your Body app, and I found this information for bruises:

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As is so often the case when I look in this app, the “probable cause” feels right. I am feeling (and internalizing the feeling) of many little bumps. And I am being awfully tough on myself: from scolding myself when I walk into walls (like I’ve done over spilled milk) to holding deeply onto ideas that I’m not doing enough (even when I’ve got sticky notes around my home saying “I am enough,” “I do enough,” and “I am worthy”).

I believe—no, I know—that self-love is of critical importance, especially for confronting white fragility and dismantling white supremacy. I know that “Only love can heal the wounds of the past” (hooks 5). I know that I can’t show up for others (in classroom, online, or activist spaces) if I don’t show up for myself.

So, I affirm new thought patterns:

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Seeking Comfort as an Act of Cherishing Myself

Comfort isn’t a word I gravitate toward, as it seems to communicate stasis or a sense of being OK with the world as it is, instead of as it ought to be. I remember first becoming concerned about “comfort” when realizing that students sought this within classrooms, a space where “discomfort” is more typically the goal. As a colleague taught me during graduate school: “There’s no growth in the comfort zone and no comfort in the growth zone.”

Now I share this mantra often when teaching and mentoring, as it communicates the importance of valuing openness to learning, change, and growth (even when growing involves growing pains). As a learner and teacher, I want to be growing, striving, challenging myself, and reaching beyond what is to imagine and enact what could be. I believe there’s power in prioritizing growth for learning and unlearning, making and remaking, writing and rewriting. And the goal of growth typically runs counter to the goal of comfort.

More recently, I’ve begun questioning how my attachment to growth (and growing pains) may actually be a form of harshness or hurting the self. I cringe when I hear the line “there’s no gain without pain,” but I think I’ve subtly/subconsciously been holding onto this idea in my body. (Sorry, body! Sorry, Beth!) I’ve been willing to experience pain for productivity. I’ve been willing to push myself beyond boundaries (physical, emotional, and relational boundaries) that play important self-protective roles.

Seeing Louise Hay’s affirmations to be kind and gentle toward the self, I realize just how much I’ve been craving—truly, truly craving—a little comfort, as in snuggling closely and cherishing myself within a warm comforter (quilt/blanket). This isn’t to say that I don’t value growth or that I’m settling with the world as it is. In fact, quite the opposite: I hope to recognize and affirm the right to desire comfort, especially at a time when discomfort and growth are already defining everyday life. I suspect this is part of recognizing when greater kindness and gentleness toward the self is needed. I suspect this is part of self-care.

Finding Comfort in Food

So, if I’m seeking comfort, what is it?

Comfort (noun): a state of physical ease, freedom, contentment, or coziness; the easing or alleviating of grief or distress (example: “I found comfort and solace among friends.”)

Comfort (verb): to ease, console, support, strengthen (example: “The crackling fire comforted me after being soaked by the cold rain and gale-force winds.”)

When I think of these definitions, I see that comfort can bolster or build the strength, support, and readiness needed to make change, to grow, and to act on commitments. The trouble is if we stay with contentment or want only coziness. This sort of sheltering is what my colleague’s mantra warns against. The trick seems to be avoiding all-or-nothing thinking about comfort: not settling and also not disallowing.

Clearly, I don’t have the answer about when comfort is desirable and when it’s obstructionist. But I do have a strong sense that in the midst of current turmoil, I’m craving some comfort as a bolster. And the sort of comfort I’m especially craving is “comfort food”: those foods that are carb-loaded and heavy; those foods that remind me of the best, most loving memories from childhood; and those foods that fill me up and leave me feeling full.

Comfort foods” are so often associated “guilty pleasures” that I’ve internalized a sense that craving these foods is bad or wrong. They’re typically often less nutrition-dense and less colorful. Yet, if I let go of these negative associations (like my negative associations with “comfort” more generally), I can appreciate my body’s wisdom.

Specifically, I crave comfort foods at times when I feel ungrounded, disoriented, or overwhelmed—as though too much growth has me tilted off balance, threatening my ability to stand firmly rooted and tall. And comfort foods (at least for me, and I suspect for many others) tend to include potatoes and other “root veggies” as well as tomatoes and other red foods. What’s so interesting is that foods from the ground (roots!) and foods that are red similarly represent the root chakra. I am totally amazed at my body’s wisdom in asking for the foods that will provide grounding support, that will help me get connected to the earth, even if only by feeling weighted down.

Recently, for example, I’ve been eating the following comfort foods (all vegan and gluten-free):

  • Grilled cheeze-and-tomato sandwiches with tortilla soup
  • Refried beans with roasted root veggies
  • Tomato and pea stew
  • Cherry and cranberry smoothies
  • A favorite potato and kale casserole—a vegan twist on my mom’s “ham, cheese, and potato casserole” that I enjoyed as a kid.

It’s this casserole I’d like to share with you, as it’s been nourishing and healing me these past few days. (And how appreciative I am for leftovers as I write!)

Potato & Kale Casserole (vegan + gluten-free)

Ingredients:

  • Several potatoes (3-6, depending on size and type)—sliced for layering
  • Bunch of kale—pulled apart into bite sizes
  • 1 cup of shredded vegan cheeze—my favorite for casseroles is Daiya cheddar shreds
  • 2 tablespoons of vegan buttery spread—my favorite is Earth Balance
  • Creamy sauce—when I don’t have time to make my own, I use a full jar of Victoria Vegan’s Alfredo Arugula Pesto
  • 1 cup of almond or other plant-based milk—to pour lightly over each layer
  • Salt and pepper—to lightly cover each layer
  • 1 teaspoon of safflower or other high-heat oil—to grease casserole dish

Optional Add-ins:

  • Additional greens (e.g., spinach, chard, or a larger amount of kale)
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions, shallots, and/or leeks
  • Crumbled tofu or tofu ricotta
  • Textured vegetable protein
  • Crushed nuts or no-harm parm

Preparation Time:

  • 30 minutes, including time cleaning vegetables and slicing potatoes

Cooking Time:

  • 1 hour at 375F covered and then 15 minutes uncovered at 425F degrees

Instructions:

  1. Wash and then thinly slice potatoes.
  2. Wash and pull apart kale into bite-size pieces.
  3. Rub safflower oil, other high-heat oil, or even the buttery spread along the bottom and sides of the casserole dish.
  4. Spread a thin layer of the creamy sauce along the bottom of the casserole dish (just enough to moisten the first layer of potatoes).
  5. Begin to create layers: first, by laying out potatoes side-by-side, as shown in the photos below.
  6. After this first layer of potatoes (and after each additional layer), distribute 8-10 dollops (small bits) of the buttery spread across the potatoes.
  7. Sprinkle salt and pepper atop this layer, and then add either another layer of the creamy sauce or the vegan cheeze.
  8. Add a layer of kale (typically I use half the kale, though it’s possible to have a single, fuller layer of kale and to use it all at once).
  9. Then lightly pour the almond or other plant-based milk atop the casserole so that it soaks down into existing layers.
  10. Create a new layer of thinly sliced potatoes.
  11. Repeat steps #6-#9—adding buttery spread, salt and pepper, creamy sauce or vegan cheeze, and kale; then lightly covering the full casserole with plant-based milk.
  12. With remaining potatoes, create a top layer (typically, my casseroles have this third/top layer of potatoes, but if you’re running short on ingredients, you can certainly adjust the recipe and create two layers).
  13. Finish the casserole with salt, pepper, and a top layer of vegan cheeze. Be sure to add enough cheeze shreds to cover the potatoes so that the top becomes crispy.

Rationales:

  • Casseroles are incredibly forgiving. Both ingredients and cook times can easily be adjusted. Only a couple of potatoes at home? No problem: make fewer layers.
    Want more veggies? No problem: try variations. Need to cook at a particular oven temperature? No problem: just leave the casserole in for more or less time. In the past, I’ve seriously over-cooked casseroles, and they’ve still tasted great. I’ve made them both skinny/thin and stuffed/spilling-over-the-edges, and they’ve forgiven the poor composition.
  • Casseroles allow a lot of flexibility. In addition to being easily modified with different ingredients, cook times, and compositions, casseroles can be prepared hours and even days ahead of time. If I make a casserole Saturday morning, I can cook it that evening or on Sunday or Monday. And because casseroles make a good amount of prepared food (at least in my household of two people), we can eat leftovers for a few days. This means we can enjoy the casserole now, later, and both now-and-later.
  • Casseroles invoke memories. Growing up, my mom would cook on weekends, and I have memories of Saturday evenings around the fireplace, often wrapped in a heavy blanket—an actual comforter. Among my favorite meals were chili, lasagna, soups, and this potato casserole. To this day, I associate casseroles with Saturday evenings. I know it’s a blessing that I can associate food with love, and for that blessing, I am grateful. Stepping into gratitude, I see how privileged I am (in both the negative and positive senses of the word privilege) for the ability to seek comfort and to create vegan-friendly comfort food.
  • Casseroles are filling. At times when I’m seeking comfort food, I’m often feeling vulnerable, shaky, off-balance, and in need of support. Because casseroles are tasty (so I eat a lot) and heavy (densely packed with carbs and fats), they leave me feeling filled up and full—literally and metaphorically weighted down. Through grounding, I regain my footing. And with firm footing, I’m ready to root down to grow tall. I’m ready for more growth. I’m recommitted to the long haul toward justice.

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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!

Attending to Anger

“Anger is an appropriate reaction to racist attitudes, as is fury when the actions arising from those attitudes do not change.” —Audre Lorde, “The Uses of Anger” (Sister Outsider)

In my first post launching this blog (back in November 2016), I wrote about anger. I found myself sitting at the computer screen, typing “Arrrrrggggghhhhh!!!!!” I felt completely inarticulate, yet full of emotions—called to write, though struggling to find words.

Today I’m finding the words more quickly. I’m creating and yet still craving more and more time to write. Despite feeling that writing is helping me learn/process/release anger, my body is reminding me that there’s still much more to learn, process, release—and heal.

Anger is important. It can be a mobilizing force. It alerts me to injustice. It helps me wake up. Yet, I also need to recognize when I’m experiencing anger so that I can work with this fiery, passionate, and potentially brutal emotion.

Currently, my body is throwing different sorts of illness at me, reminding me, as Thich Nhat Hanh does, to attend to my anger. Because I believe that illness can act as an alert, I find it instructive to look for meaning in Deb Shapiro’s Your Body Speaks Your Mind: Decoding the Emotional, Psychological, and Spiritual Messages That Underlie Illness and Louise Hay’s app Heal Your Body. Here is how Shapiro and Hay connect symptoms to emotions:

  • Urinary infections = being “pissed off.”
  • Kidneys = criticism, disappointment (e.g., “lumps of undissolved anger” manifesting as kidney stones).
  • Conjunctivitis = anger and frustration at what you’re seeing.
  • Earache = anger and not wanting to hear; too much turmoil.

I know I’m not alone in the experience of my body alerting me to anger. It seems that so many people around me are sick (hence, how I picked up pink eye), and even those who aren’t sick are expressing more overt sadness, hurt, exhaustion, or related states of being.

So, today I thank my body for its wisdom and its reminder not to downplay or ignore anger. I’m still thinking about how I’ll tend to my anger, and I’d love ideas! Please share in the comments … In the meantime, here are my resolutions for the week ahead:

I plan to check in daily about how I’m feeling and to write through these questions:

  1. What emotion(s) do I feel today?
  2. How is this emotion showing up in my life?
  3. Why is it likely here, at this time? What might it be teaching me?
  4. Is this emotion alerting me to take any action or to do anything? Or do I just need to see, name, and honor this emotion?

In addition to journaling, I plan to give my body what it’s asking for. This includes cranberry smoothies, warm broths, and both probiotics and garlic in many forms. It also means eliminating sugar, as I can see that anger and stress have sent me on a sugar spiral, which, in turn, has weakened my body’s immune system (though I’ve also been gifted clear messages about anger). And it certainly means prioritizing more time for meditation and movement—activities I now realize that I’ve been de-prioritizing in the midst of turmoil.

Finally, I need to return to an old friend of mine, the mantra “I trust the process of life.” What’s interesting about these illnesses representing anger (those I’m experiencing in my life at this time) is that they seem connected to control and stasis. Instead of using anger as a generative or mobilizing force, I seem to be keeping it in (e.g., holding onto experiences, criticism, or disappointment) and shutting it out (e.g., not wanting to see or hear).

Certainly, my body wants to be unleashed: it’s done being gated/shielded/guarded. Holding onto anger without attending to it has been burning me up (literally through fever—another sign of anger) and burning me out (as in the problem of burnout).

So, to honor anger, I choose to work with it. To work with it, I choose to live bravely.  And to live bravely in the world at this time, I choose to imagine possibilities, to trust in Divine protection/guidance, and to see and hear with love. So, going forward, I repeat:

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Countering the Lie of “I’m Not Enough”

I like following the blog Raising Race Conscious Children because it helps me relate with the young people in my life, including my own inner child (my younger self). Among the blog’s resources are examples of scripted conversations and sample statements that align with racial justice. Such language helps me think about the language I use with myself, including language that reinforces an old lie: “I’m not enough.”

I’ve been thinking about this message—“I’m not enough”—as a lie since a student recently shared Jim James’s song “Same Old Lie.” At the start of my “Writing for Social Justice” class, we typically listen to protest songs. Students bring into class music that they enjoy, music that shapes their understandings of justice.

When the student shared this song, I listened carefully, following along with the lyrics. Then the student asked us each to identify a “same old lie” we’ve been taught.

At first, I wrote about internalized sexism: messages that my value is tied to being thin, pretty, and white; messages that I should wear make-up and should not have body hair. I could see how these “lies” are wound up with a much bigger one: that, as a woman, I’m not enough. Constant efforts to reshape, refine, and re-create the body all indicate this not enoughness.

As I wrote about the work I’m constantly doing to unlearn sexism, I thought about a different but related set of messages I’ve inherited about class, education, and even productivity. I often try to shore up my sense of self (to shield or secure myself) through credentials, educational attainments, honors, and other markers of “success.” I fall back on degrees and measurable productivity to create a sense that I’m doing well, that I’m meeting my next goal, and that I’m worthy. In doing so, I’m unintentionally upholding the Protestant work ethic and the social stratifications it creates. These old patterns are related to my perfectionism (something that’s served me well in the past, but is now tripping me up). They are also related to the deeply internalized message that I’m not enough as I already am—that I must be striving for something more, something better.

I’ve been working with mantras to let go of this not-enoughness discourse, affirming daily:

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Still, I’m finding something new, something powerful in this exercise of naming “I’m not enough” as a “same old lie.”

I can see more clearly that this internalized and seemingly individual issue perpetuates and is perpetuated by larger systems of injustice—the holding down (denigrating) of some people and the holding up (elevating) of others.

I can also see more clearly the relationship between being rocked by internalized sexism (feeling that I must shield myself from awful feelings of inadequacy) and the inability to confront white supremacy and other forms of privilege (experiencing white fragility when faced with seeing one’s position as more-than-enough—that is, socially constructed as superior—within race, class, religion, ability, and various other social hierarchies).

It feels especially important to name the dualistic problem of not-enoughness facing people who experience both internalized oppression and internalized supremacy (for example— white women like myself). Imagine a single coin with two sides, one facing up and the other facing down. We can see only the side that’s exposed to us (this side representing lesser-than messages of “you’re not enough”).

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What happens if we don’t ask what’s on the other side? If we don’t turn the coin over? If we only focus on the feelings of being lesser-than? Then we fail to see the still present, though hidden, side—the side in which we’re actually positioned as greater-than (in a position of privilege, power, and supremacy).

My sense is that too often we don’t flip the coin, which explains why white women can deny or fail to explore participation in white supremacy. It’s as though the fixation on the lesser-than side makes it impossible to turn the coin over. Perhaps it feels too painful to touch the coin at all?

Though we may only look at one side of the coin, the other side is still present and simply hidden from view—though perfectly visible to others who are scratching their heads, asking why folks just can’t see what’s going on. What I’m hoping to explain through this coin metaphor is that there’s a close relationship between internalized oppression and internalized supremacy.

To step back for a moment, it might help to name the warrants (or assumptions) this metaphor is built on. I’m assuming the following:

  • That readers share a commitment of working to attain equity and justice.
  • That though we’re socially constructed as unequal, we as humans are equal (all valuable, worthy, and human).
  • That there’s a relationship between buying into internalized oppression (e.g., buying into sexism, even while feeling/experiencing its harm) and buying into the conditions of inequity (which keep us feeling/experiencing separation).
  • That buying into internalized oppression is closely related to buying into internalized supremacy, so that these ideologies can co-exist within the same individual, even when trying to hold ourselves accountable through self-work.

In my life, I can see that I’ve bought into internalized sexism at the same time as using class, race, and other positions of supremacy as a shield from gendered oppression. Only when looking at feelings of not-enough straight-on can I see my own participation in perpetuating the lie. Then possibilities emerge for seeing and changing my own participation in passing along the lie to young people—to my own inner child and to children in my life.

So, there’s BIG TROUBLE in the lie that “I’m not enough.” This lie limits the ability to see systems of inequity, injustice, and violence. It limits the ability to act. It limits the potential of undoing sexism, classism, racism, and other -isms. It limits the potential of imagining alternatives—a vision of the world in which we all are already enough, already worthy, already valuable.

To stop telling the lie, I affirm today that I am enough. I speak to myself as I would to a young child, affirming my humanity. Being human is messy, sure, and I’m sure to mess up. But the mess does not make me less. I remind myself to that I am worthy. And to step into worthiness, I step into the ability to stand TALL, to speak UP, and to act with COURAGE.

Living in Mess

This week I overfilled my hot cocoa, knocked the mug, and spilled sticky-sweet almond milk on the kitchen counter. Before thinking, I was already saying aloud: “Ahhhh, Bethhhh …” I could hear a parent scolding a child, over-reacting about spilled milk. And I was shaken—stopped in my tracks—because I would not like to respond in such a way to any person, let alone myself.

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Spilled cocoa = a minor mess.

Spilled cocoa. Sticky surfaces. Mess.

Mess characterizes life, and I like to think that I’m good with mess. As a researcher, I like to describe the research process as “incredibly messy” and to delight in scattered post-it notes, coded transcripts, piles of books and papers, and other materials. As a teacher, I like to announce: “This semester we’ll get to roll around in the messiness of understanding race/ism (or feminism or the writing process or other complex things).” Mess is perhaps one of my favorite words, something I run toward instead of from. I even describe myself as “a mess”—affectionately so and at moments when I seem to be experiencing the most growth.

Yet, I really struggle with mess, perhaps more than I know. When I spilled the hot cocoa, I not only needed to clean up right away, but I could also feel a wave of negative emotions wash over me. I could hear an old familiar voice asking, “What’s wrong with you?” And I could see my tendency to shrink, a tendency that runs counter to my current affirmations:

  • It is safe for me to be seen.
  • It is safe for me to stand TALL.
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Mantra sticky notes on my bathroom mirror.

Certainly, I’ve been on a roller-coaster this week, following (inter)national events, feeling fear within my body, and fumbling to move forward. Last week, I wrote about “mucking around in the mess,” and this week I’m still very much in mess and a mess.

One minute I’m signing a petition; the next I’m confronted by 2 or 10 or 20 new problems.

One afternoon I’m inspired by an exciting teaching collaboration with community partners; the next I’m intervening into a campus discussion in which one person disparagingly calls others “foreigners.”

One day I’m feeling uplifted (participating in, seeing friends’ photos, and reading great critiques of the Women’s March); the next I’m swinging low (e.g., asking why professional associations encourage action for some causes but not others—and realizing that rifts run deeper than I even imagined).

So, how do I navigate the current roller-coaster ride? What does it mean to be living in mess?

  • It means giving myself permission to feel my emotions and ask what they’re communicating to me.
  • It means giving myself permission to eat sugar and break out with acne and still work on cultivating radical self-love that’s needed for standing in solidarity.
  • It means welcoming the Divine feminine that’s struggling to break through the shadows.

It means a lot—a lot more than I can or am ready to unpack here—but it surely means asking questions and looking at the self and wondering why I’m so quick to snap or scold.

My Reiki teach Marty Tribble often reminds me: “We teach what we most need to learn.” And it’s clear that right now I’m learning about mess: how to live in mess, befriend mess, be truly ok with messing up …

So, some more mantras for the days ahead:

  • I give myself (and my home and my relationships and my writing) permission to be imperfect.
  • I allow my actions and activism to be imperfect, emergent, uneven.
  • I give myself permission to act out, smart off, play hooky, miss a week, fall behind, let loose, whine, cry, rebel, take risks, get hurt, try again, etc.
  • I give myself permission to be messy, a mess.
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Creating a new mantra, a new sticky note.

The Call to Write

In the aftermath of Trump’s election, I’ve decided it’s time to move forward with this blog project focused on feeling-thinking-doing for JUSTICE. I’ve been tinkering toward this blog for months, but holding myself back. Now my heart, my head, my hands are insistent: the time to write is NOW. So, I sit at the screen, hands poised over keys. Yet, the only word-like expression coming forth is “Arrrrrggggghhhhh!!!!!”

In the aftermath of Trump’s election, I’ve decided it’s time to move forward with this project focused on feeling-thinking-doing for JUSTICE. I’ve been tinkering toward a blog for months, but holding myself back. Now my heart, my head, and my hands are insistent: the time to write is NOW. So, I sit at the screen, hands poised over keys. Yet, the only word-like expression coming forth is “Arrrrrggggghhhhh!!!!!”

I often joke that I study language (composition, rhetoric, and literacy studies) because “words are hard.” It’s hard to come up with the right words. Or meaningful words. Or words that express how I feel, words that represent what my body communicates in breath, in pulsation, in temperature, in pain.

What I can say is that my whole body H-U-R-T-S. Now more than ever, I have no idea how to sit in meetings, classrooms, and presentations that normalize whiteness. Sitting makes no sense. My body wants to curl or hurl … to jump up or out …

My body speaks my mind. A few days ago, I burned my hands with jalapeno and then heated up the burn in a warm bath. The result = hands on FIRE. Aching to write-do-act, my hands, like my body, were literally incensed. Yet, the more I used my hands, the more the fire calmed. Or perhaps the fire was just transferred into its rightful place (in this case, an article tracing rhetorical interventions into microaggressions).

I am reminded of Audre Lorde’s “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism.” Lorde inspires me: “Every woman has a well-stocked arsenal of anger potentially useful against those oppressions, personal and institutional, which brought that anger into being. Focused with precision it can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change.”

My mantras for this time: I allow myself to feel my emotions honestly and fully. I allow myself to acknowledge anger as a powerful source, one with transformative potential. I allow myself to write imperfectly, emotionally, toward moving forward.

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I may be writing nothing but “Arrrrrggggghhhhh!!!!!” for a while.