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”:
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.
Too 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.
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.
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?
I’ve been particularly exhausted, as is so often the case at the end of each school year. I often feel that the further I get into spring semester, the more I become tired, grumpy, and on edge. It’s as though my brain becomes over-worked, my body under-utilized, and my balance thrown totally off.
This year I’ve also been experiencing exhaustion as more than regular semester stress, and I feel certain it’s due to the routinization of daily assaults on personhood. It’s now routine to open social media and see violence, hate speech, and seemingly benign but still-hurtful comments indicating that the world isn’t burning up. Yet, my internal compass (and external thermostat) indicate that the world is on fire.
Just a few examples: This week I confront anew campus shootings and stabbings across the United States—direct, physical violence resulting in serious injury and death. These occur within campus rape culture in which students are writing to process sexual assault. Even as I hold final class sessions, I’m aware that others aren’t able to—blocked by the threats of physical harm and literal fear of assembling as a group. And my final classes take place against the backdrop of fifteen-year-old Jordan Edward killed by police this week and Congress now acting to further restrict access to healthcare. Assaults on personhood feel more immediate than ever.
I feel very much like I did in November when about all I could write for my first blog post was “Arrrrrggggghhhhh!!!!!”
Today, alongside this clear embodied anger, I feel a new weariness, an exhaustion that’s clouding my head. So, I want to listen more carefully and kindly to my heart, knowing it can help me figure out how to use my hands.
As a way to listen to my heart, body, and soul, I’ve been tracking this week where I’m losing energy. Whenever I notice a new heaviness or tiredness, I’m asking with curiosity:
As a contemplative practice, RAIN suggests four actions or steps that help with exploring, questioning, and (un)learning the conditions of everyday life. These four steps are:
R—recognizing experiences, thoughts, feelings, conditions, etc.
A—allowing the states of being, no matter how bad, embarrassing, or privileged.
I—investigating deeply to gain new or additional understanding.
N—non-judging or non-identifying to avoid attachment with the experience, emotion, and even understandings (toward embracing impermanence).
While there is an implied sequence or order, RAIN can be practiced again and again, so that later steps like investigating and non-judging create space for new recognizing and allowing.
Tracking energy loss this week, I’ve come to some new awareness and, more importantly, new lovingkindness toward myself. Rather than being down or disappointed that I’m exhausted, I’m working to let this experience be. Exhaustion can characterize this time in my life, and it can lead to new discoveries, possibilities, and even activism.
Here’s a view into my current work with RAIN:
Recognition: I am frequently, daily experiencing a sense of tiredness, depleted energy, and even exhaustion. Though I’m also noticing occasions of energetic gain, excitement, and joy, my overall energy reserves are running low.
Allowing: Rather than ignoring, silencing, or pushing down these tired feelings, I honor them. I allow myself to name that I’m running on fumes. Through allowing this experience, I also receive what information it delivers—like reminders to take care of myself lovingly and to dedicate even more time to rest and refuel.
Investigation: As I investigate energy loss, I’m also noticing how much my emotions and overall energy are linked to interactions. I’m losing energy, for example, (1) when focusing on others’ reactions instead of my own actions, (2) when holding back or perceiving that others are holding back in conversation, and (3) when not knowing what’s mine versus what’s someone else’s. I’m working to name these and other sorts of energy loss. In doing so, I hope to find patterns and themes as I record each instance. Like the qualitative research I conduct and teach in school, this process invites me into the role of investigator. And as an investigator, I assume a more active and action-oriented stance toward understanding my exhaustion.
Non-judgement: With curiosity instead of judgement, I notice guilt and shame as they arise around exhaustion, noting underlying expectations that I should be able to catch and prevent burnout before it occurs. The more that I shift gently toward non-judgement and non-identification, the more I feel and experience exhaustion without being exhausted. I can recognize, allow, and investigate this state without defining myself according to it. It simply is part of my life right now.
Exhaustion and energy loss are friends right now, friends who are helping me pay better attention to my emotions, to my heart. And my heart is heavy with grief, anger, and frustration. It’s no wonder that I’m feeling tired when carrying this extra weight.
Still, I believe in both/and: I can be both getting depleted from energy loss and learning to better shore up my energy reserves. I can be both disheartened by the assaults on personhood and wholeheartedly encouraged by people articulating and acting on commitments to justice. I can both launch a sharp critique of current injustices and soften into the introspective practice of RAIN. I can track both energy loss and energy gain.
To this last both/and—exploring energy loss alongside gain—I’ll share Neil Gaiman’s 2012 commencement address, “Make Good Art” (an address I love sharing at this time of year, a time of exhaustion and also euphoria on college campuses):
Whenever I’m down, whenever I’m experiencing energy loss, I like to re-watch Gaiman’s address and his reminder to make good art:
Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do.
Make good art.
I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn’t matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.
I am tired. I am experiencing energy loss. I am also learning and unlearning what’s causing this loss. And I’m hopeful that more contemplative, introspective practices like RAIN can bring us all home to ourselves and to more humanizing and harmonizing orientations.
This fall I returned to Milwaukee after a year in Washington, D.C. The move back home allowed me to re-see familiar spaces, including where I practice yoga-asana and where I write. Though seemingly unrelated, yoga and writing have blended for me, as I’ve constructed a single contemplative-working space. In this week’s post, I ask about the spaces that energetically nourish, revitalize, and activate work for justice.
My return to Milwaukee allowed me to feel/sense more clearly the need to change my home space. A lot still feels off about my home, and I’m still thinking about how to downsize—a choice rooted in privilege and mobility that calls for greater responsibility. I’m thinking, for example, about how to take up and heat less space in a household of only two people.
Within this context of re-seeing space and re-thinking hOMe, my desire for a blended yoga-asana and writing-work space became and remains absolutely clear. That is, I want to have my writing desk physically positioned within dedicated yoga space.
It doesn’t follow any logic (and certainly not any design advice!) to fit yoga mats between a bookshelf and writing desk. I’ve considered other layouts, other spatial arrangements. Yet, the only thing that feels right—the only strong YES in my body—is the close proximity of yoga to writing props. In this way, close proximity represents a close relationship.
In the fall, as I was arranging this space (and buying a large new rug to tie it together), I had a vivid dream. I saw myself moving with strength and grace on the yoga mat—practically gliding from a standing half-moon pose into the chair before me. I visualized an easeful movement from the mat to the desk, from my fingers gripping yoga blocks to pressing laptop keys, from eyes softly glancing downward to facing forward toward the screen.
In the few months since returning home, visualizing this movement, and following my strong YES to create shared yoga-work space, I’m beginning to see my dream materialize. I’m noticing more and more that I’m practicing yoga through writing.
So, why am I sharing this post about my yoga-writing space?
Because it’s reminding me to listen to inner guidance, to the strong YES. Even when (especially when) intuitive messages counter all-best-advice, I need to honor the wisdom within. For too long, I’ve prioritized external measures or guidance over my own knowing. I want to re-prioritize, which means getting better at listening to myself. Currently, the yoga mat and the keyboard (two seemingly unrelated, but for me deeply connected objects) invite deeper listening.
Because the more that I align my everyday work (writing and activism, especially) with my spiritual life, the more I am able to flow freely. This yoga-writing space represents, for me, a tangible reminder to align all aspects of life with my deepest commitment to justice. To find alignment, I need to feel within my body, yet also abandon the “shoulds” defining how my yoga, writing, or other practices take shape.
Because this week has been so intense that I’m still writing, writing, writing about all that’s occurred—and not in a way that I’m ready to share yet. Again, listening to the strong YES, I know that I need to write, but be willing to let the writing sit and simmer and take its time before emerging into the world. Again, I can see connections with and lessons from my yoga practice, including the reminder to write daily—and without expectations, including the expectation that I’m ready to share.
Certainly, there are days when I feel guilty about writing instead of spending time on the yoga mat. There are also days when I feel guilty about prioritizing asana over what’s due next. And then there are days when I let go of guilt and see a more holistic version of yoga—one that includes and is practiced through writing. This more holistic version is represented byand nourished within physical space.
Whether on the mat, in the chair, or curled around the laptop (as I am now), may I learn to stand TALL and TRUE through daily practice. I send love for the work, the resistance ahead.
I’d also love to hear about your practices and your spaces. What fires you up, ignites action, or allows you to emerge more fully into the world?
How do we work to align feelings, thoughts, and actions (heart, head, hands) with the world we’d like to see? How do we go about our everyday lives for the “ought to be,” for justice?
I’m thankful for Jardana Peacock (of the Liberatory Leadership Project) for modeling a contemplative writing practice that I’ve been using to think through these questions. At the end of each day, I’ve been filling in the answer to her prompt:
“Today resistance looks like …”
I immediately connected with this practice and the way I see Jardana enacting it in her life—situating self-care alongside community care and direct action. I see a connection to my focus on the everydayness of living a life for justice. I see how variable answers help us see resistance as many different things, including writing, reading, work, play, connection, friendship, reflection, practice, art, awareness. I see the potential for self-reflection—for noticing and questioning my habits and the privileges associated with these habits. And I see how this writing prompt makes daily resistance seem both possible and sustainable, especially in a time of chaos and uproar.
So, this past week I’ve been recording my own daily (and horribly incomplete and messy) responses. I’ve debated whether to share these responses, engaging in self-doubt, vulnerability, and fear. My inner judging voice has spoken up, lodging concerns that I’m not doing enough, that I’m doing more harm than good, that I’m doing only the sorts of “resistance” I find fun or comfortable, that I’m showing my privilege, that my ego is acting out … and the list goes on. Let me tell you!
Against this backdrop, I’m sharing my responses because I believe we must act, however imperfectly. I really struggle with perfectionism and with all-or-nothing thinking, but I see how both shut down the very real work we need in the world. Instead of listening to my inner judging voice, I want to listen to the still-small-and-quieter-but-brave voice that says, “Share. This might give others ideas or inspiration.”
I’ll always be writing from my position as a white woman with layers of privilege shaping my perspective. Still, I’m coming to believe that my voice is needed, too, if only to get other white folks to think about privilege, to act with the responsibility that comes with privilege, and to develop the readiness and resiliency needed for a lifelong commitment to justice.
So, I’m sharing my responses to Jardana’s writing prompt because daily writing can bring mindfulness and intention (in addition to reflection and recording) toward daily acts of resistance. I’m also sharing some of the stickiness—like my ego getting in the way and my privilege stepping out—that’s come up through this list-making exercise.
Here goes. Deep breath.
What resistance has looked like for me this past week—followed by some observations:
Today resistance looks like …
sleeping in (so greatly needed after a LATE night following nationwide bans, detainments, legal actions, and airport protests);
rewriting an article abstract (arguing for cross-campus collaborations for community-based learning);
enjoying my dad’s first-ever visit to Milwaukee—with brunch at the local café and the afternoon attending a friend’s concert (an activity my dad dearly loves that gave me time to really think and feel with the music);
drafting an initial publicity plan for an upcoming racial justice workshop; and
working to observe and affirm my boundaries by repeating my now-nightly mantra: “I release and bless the energy of the day.”
Monday Today resistance looks like …
taking time for a LONG processing conversation with a best friend;
affirming self-care (sustenance and sustainability for the “long haul”) through emails and phone calls with friends, family, and colleagues;
teaching and conferencing—and then writing about these relational acts through an advising philosophy statement;
starting a new e-course with guided meditation to call back energy by Chani Nicolas;
appreciating a network of campus and community partners who are teaching me about WordPress, Medium, and other important-for-the-work tech stuff;
signing a few more online petitions and continuing to post via social media; and
wearing snow pants to/from school to honor my desire for warmth, especially on a very cold day!
Friday Today resistance looks like …
finding my way back to the gym after almost a week away (it’s been a wild week!);
designing a new course I’ll teach in the fall—focused on writers’ rights and asking, “Who has a right to speak? To write? When, where, and under what conditions? How does our social positioning (i.e., race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and other intersectional identities) impact our rights as writers?”
nourishing my soul with friends and colleagues over lunch and dinner meetings focused on firing things up in writing, teaching, and community engagement;
processing with my mom some hurt through social media and thinking about our own participation (and how to stay in the work and be true to ourselves);
continuing to heal longstanding back pain through acupuncture and cupping;
gathering groceries and pre-cooked meals for the weekend from a local coop;
responding to plans to hold a teach-in on February 17th (in alignment with plans for a nationwide general strike);
curling with my spouse, while sending Reiki for collective healing; and
getting back up after only an hour or so in bed when my heART desired writing more than sleep.
Saturday Today resistance looks like …
reading the first of three graphic novels in the series by/about John Lewis, March;
following up on a campus climate issue involving racial microaggressions;
sending activist love letters and thank you notes and other handwritten mail J;
getting organized for the week ahead, checking in with students, planning classes, and completing service responsibilities;
taking an afternoon walk along Lake Michigan in deep conversation and connection with my spouse (thanks, Jonathan!);
refueling via time soaking in an Epsom salt bath, talking with a good friend, and moving on my yoga mat; and
reflecting and setting goals while drafting this blog post and feeling my way through vulnerability.
Now I’m imagining Jardana asking, “What have you noticed through this writing exercise?”
Centering Resistance Around Education and Healing (My Work and Spiritual Life)
As soon as I began record-keeping, I noticed that my daily forms of “resistance” center around (1) my work as an educator (writer-researcher-teacher) or (2) my self-care and spiritual practices (e.g., yoga, meditation, Reiki, acupuncture, walking, and eating vegan). This surprised me, though it likely shouldn’t have. I’m an educator and a healer, so it follows that my resistance would center around these activities.
First, these observations help me feel especially appreciative for a job that allows me to engage in social justice work daily—with and alongside others and in ways that encourage both my own learning and my community engagement. I often grumble about injustices I witness at work, so it’s refreshing to feel appreciation. Through my work, I clarify and make actionable my deepest commitments. It’s a privilege to have a job that matters in the world. May I act on the responsibility that comes with this privilege. May I use it well.
Second, these observations help me value healing and spiritual practices as part of (not just the precursor to or the result of) activist/resistance work. Truly, self-work matters, as Jardana argues in “Winning Our Movements Inside and Out: Shifting the Social Justice Back into our Work.” I’ve had a number of conversations with white folks recently about how to be in social justice work for “the long haul,” for the lifetime. If we understand justice as both the end and the means (an idea I hope to address in a future blog post), then we need to enact now the lives we’d like to see. After all, we cannot get to justice down a road of injustice. Such work means healing ourselves and our inherited ways of being in the world (e.g., inherited and internalized white supremacy). Such work means rethinking how we take up, use, and exist within space. Rethinking our ways of being in the world. Rethinking our very being, which has been assaulted through racism, sexism, classism, and other forms of injustice that create deep hurts—trauma—for us all.
This trauma is NOT THE SAME for each of us, as we positioned differently across privilege and power, facing differences in degree and in kind. Yet, this trauma results from/in shared inequities that undermine humanity. For those of us conditioned by and positioned within white supremacy, this supremacy denies human connection, equal rights, and equality. Further, the trauma of supremacy underlies the dysfunctional ways we continue to relate with self, with others, and within institutions.
Together, these observations bring me back to the problem of white folks colonizing the spaces and practices of others. My resistance lists read clearly as the product of a white, well-educated, upper-/middle-class, able-bodied woman in the United States—someone fairly close to Lorde’s “mythical norm.” This means that my resistance involves a lot of un-learning, destabilizing, and upturning of what is assumed to be normative. It also means a lot of stepping in and smelling my own shit (and, interestingly enough, using frequent poop emoticons and metaphors, it seems) … It means getting good with the reality that I’ll always be doing harm, even as I’m trying to do good. It means living in paradox and mess.
Still, here’s the question I’m still not sure about, still wrestling with, still feeling shitty about, even as I press “publish” on this post: Does sharing lists of actions that are clearly “normative” uphold “the norm” that I’m working to de-normalize?
The Problem of Normalizing Particular Notions of “Resistance”
By raising this question, I hope to acknowledge that we not only show up for resistance differently, but these differences also represent inequitable material conditions. My privileged position enables me to participate in resistance more readily and to navigate to, from, and within resistive spaces/acts with relative ease.
To illustrate, this week I read a powerful Facebook post by Sagashus Levingston (of Infamous Mothers). Sagashus addresses how people (especially people with privilege) express a desire for more diverse leadership in social justice movements, yet at the same time, fail to recognize, value, or organize around these diverse experiences. Sagashus provides this insight into how we differently show up for the work:
“But we get uncomfortable when it comes to addressing or even talking about the REALITY of difference—the reality that they walked and you drove to the stage or that they stood in the food pantry line before you all’s meeting. You’re both there—the hero and the antihero—but the pathways to showing up this morning were different. For one, the road was smooth and clear, for the other, it was filled with hurdles and thorns. And while you’re glad they showed up, you’d rather not talk about how they showed up and what they had to go through to get there—even when, for them, their path was as normal as your morning coffee from Starbucks. Why is that?”
To echo Sagashus: why is that?
Because it means that those of us who experience privilege and power within resistance (and I’m thinking of white folks, though there are many interlocking forms of privilege at play) need to do serious self-reflection about our own lived experiences, assumptions, worldviews, and complicity.
Because resistance needs to be more variable. It would need to address and confront different sorts of lived experiences, assumptions, worldviews, and complicity.
Because resistance means rethinking everyday ways of doing things (like choosing meeting locations accessible bus or foot instead of car OR rethinking systems of public transportation and the inequities that stack up around car ownership and the racialization of space).
Because resistance invites some serious self-work—personal and collective healing that goes layers and generations deep.
Because … the reasons continue, on and on …
As I end this week of tracking my acts of resistance, I’m thinking about how much needs to change, especially in how we conceptualize this word: resistance. Jardana writes about the need for change, asking:
“We need to honestly ask ourselves and consider: what does it means to build towards love and liberation for the long haul? What needs attention individually, in our internal structures, interpersonally, and collectively in order to realize more balance? What does wellness really look like for folks across race, class, sexuality, gender, and ability? How can we expand our definitions and imaginations to create a more dynamic and expansive understanding of healing? What needs to shift, change or be enhanced within ourselves, our communities, and in our movements in order for social change to be actualized inside of ourselves and outside in the world?”
Jardana’s writing prompt “Today resistance looks like …” has invited me to explore these questions and to take notice of my habits. I’m encouraged to see that I’m getting stuff done, despite feeling especially distracted, ungrounded, and emotionally roller-coasting through this chaotic time. I’m also encouraged to see the centrality of my work and spiritual life in resistance.
At the same time, I’m going forward with serious questions about how to upset normalized notions of resistance. I’m looking for broader definitions and depictions of resistance. I’m questioning how to write about resistance—how to encourage other privileged folks to act without taking over or taking up too much space. I’m thinking about how to shift from the stance of power over into stances of power to and power with. And I’m questioning the links between resistance (critique against) and vision (critique for).
Perhaps you’ll join me in these inquiries. Perhaps you’ll join me through contemplative writing. Perhaps you’ll join me by filling in the prompt: “Today resistance looks like …”
Mash the banana; then mix in the cacao and peanut butter (or other nut butter).
Enjoy for breakfast, snack, or whenever a boost is needed throughout the day.
This recipe has just three straight-up ingredients: ground peanuts, cacao/cocoa, and banana. Unlike many sweets, this one is exactly as described (no hidden sugar or artificial ingredients).
It’s full of iron, potassium, and other anti-inflammatory and mood-boosting vitamins and minerals that I often crave, especially whenever feeling low.
It allows me to feel that I’ve had a “sweet” without eating sugar, and the protein keeps me feeling full for a few hours after eating.
This snack helps with my ongoing struggle with sugar addiction. I now notice when I’m craving sugar and ask myself to reflect on “why?” while still enjoying this sweet.
Changing My Relationship with Sugar
SUGAR! Sugar. sugar …
Growing up, I loved Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster and identified with this character whose key personality trait was an endless appetite for sugar. Like Cookie Monster, I could easily down more than a handful of cookies (or other sweets) and would readily binge-eat.
Growing up, sugar of various sorts (cookies, ice cream, cake) became associated with holidays, seasons, and special events. I’ve found myself eating sugar to recreate feelings associated with these memories—feelings tied to a sense that “everything is ok.”
Growing up, sugar became my addiction of choice (especially as I don’t drink alcohol or coffee), and I’ve found that it’s taken a toll on my body. Now when I over-eat sugar, I often get sick and end up with derailed plans. It’s like sugar has become a coach taking me out of the game when I don’t recognize or act on my desire/need to cut back.
I’m still very much in the middle of figuring out my relationship with sugar and how I use it to harm (rather than heal) myself. Yet, these memories of “growing up” give me important clues into this troubled relationship—a relationship I want to better understand and to change so that I can fully show up in everyday and ongoing work for justice.
I’m noticing that I use sugar at different times to purge or hold onto, to comfort or disrupt, to numb or feel, to decompress or energize, to forget or remember … Sometimes I use sugar to “fill me up,” as though feeling full and sweetly satisfied will take the edge off vulnerability. Other times I use sugar to punctuate (like a period at the end of the sentence)—to mark the end of an interaction, encounter, or period of time. Still other times, I find sugar sweetening (like softening) what’s hard about getting through the day.
The more I become aware of these patterns with sugar, the more I find myself asking: Why am I using sugar in these ways? What emotions underlie and lead to these habits? How might I heal what’s unresolved in my relationship to sugar—and to what it’s representing in my life?
Changing My Relationship with Sugar as an Act of Self-Care?
I understand changing my relationship with sugar (and I’m still far away from an actual changed relationship) as an act of self-care linked with self-love. And self-love linked with love for others. And love linked with justice.
That said, I’ve really struggled to write about self-care, because it’s so often watered down, meaning everything and nothing at once. It’s also really problematic when used to shame (e.g., fat-shame or body-shame). And because talk about food or movement is wrapped up with embodied experience, histories of body-shaming always linger around the discussion. Additionally, self-care (like pretty much everything else) is racialized so that a quick Internet search shows images of white women meditating or smiling, alongside images of outdoor and spa-like spaces. Even the images that just convey mantras (e.g., “keep calm and practice self-care”) invoke histories and contexts wound up with whiteness (in this case, motivational posters used in Great Britain during World War II).
So, self-care is nothing, if not tricky, and yet it’s absolutely essential to building resilience and resistance, particularly when under attack. As Audre Lorde wrote, when speaking from her positionality as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet”: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Lorde’s quote is so widely cited, so ubiquitous that it has deeply shaped how I understand self-care, even as I’m differently positioned as a white, heterosexual woman. Lorde names the importance of self-care as both an individual and collective, personal and political act. By naming self-care an “act,” Lorde ties it explicitly to activism.
Other feminists and womanists of color also name self-care as a “radical act—especially for black women,” noting the link between caring for and valuing one’s self (see the interview Evette Dionne). Similarly, Adrienne Maree Brown names the importance of “self-determined care,” which generates abundance for both self-determination and community-determination, naming the importance and interconnectedness of both types of care.
In reconsidering Lorde’s powerful quote, “feminist killjoy” Sarah Ahmed explains that self-care is an act of “warfare” because some bodies are always already under attack. To care for these bodies is to say that they matter. To quote Ahmed at length:
“Self-care: that can be an act of political warfare. In directing our care towards ourselves we are redirecting care away from its proper objects, we are not caring for those we are supposed to care for; we are not caring for the bodies deemed worth caring about. And that is why in queer, feminist and anti-racist work self-care is about the creation of community, fragile communities, assembled out of the experiences of being shattered. We reassemble ourselves through the ordinary, everyday and often painstaking work of looking after ourselves; looking after each other. This is why when we have to insist, I matter, we matter, we are transforming what matters. Women’s lives matter; black lives matter; queer lives matter; disabled lives matter; trans lives matter; the poor; the elderly; the incarcerated, matter.”
So, self-care signals mattering. Through self-care, we not only express our value or worth to ourselves, but we also invest in reassembling ourselves and our activist communities. In this way, self-care is related to “caretaking the collective” (part of community organizing) and other movement-building work that invests in relations, resources, and resiliency. It also invites attention to positionality and investment in making sure that every person has access to the time-space for self-care.
Certainly, self-care is differently experienced and differently needed because our positionality and attacks on bodies differ. Rather than flattening self-care, we can do more to think about inequities. Think, for example, about how leisure time, disposable income, and many other factors amplify both privilege and access to self-care. Think about how women, people of color, queer folks, and others are bombarded by everyday microaggressions, experiencing a greater need of self-care. Thinking along these lines, it becomes apparent that there’s a mismatch between access to and need for self-care—and this mismatch signals compounding oppressions (along the lines of double or triple jeopardy).
To address these inequities, we all need self-care, especially to build self-worth. And self-worth is needed in order to stop playing small. Self-worth is needed to stand TALL, to stand up for what’s right and what matters.
Practicing Self-Care as Engaged Refueling, Reassembling, and Resisting
The most powerful ideas I’ve encountered around self-care have come from feminists and womanists of color—like Lorde, Dionne, Brown, and Ahmed. I see that their understandings of self-care invest in bringing about a more just world. They also articulate a life-giving version of self-care, one that feels very different (and more consequential) than dropping in (and dropping out) of spas, yoga classes, or meditation retreats. Here I’m thinking about how dropping-in and dropping-out (and images of self-care associated with whiteness and white women) also invite dropping-in/dropping-out of one’s alignment with purpose, attunement with the body, and attention to emotional intelligence.
In fact, as I work to understand self-care and its importance, I realize that many of the ideas I’ve inherited around self-care actually run counter to refueling, reassembling, or resisting. Think of an image like curling up on the couch to binge-watch TV, while also binge-eating chocolate … Or of winding down the week through “happy hour” or other activities associated with alcohol … Or of over-working many weeks in a row followed by total collapse (characteristic of hectic semesters and long-desired breaks). So many images of “unwinding” or “winding down” are associated with binging (of one kind or another) and replace the goal of care with goals like immediate release, mindless retreat, or much-needed recovery. Self-care easily crosses into self-sabotage. Instead of being refueled, we can become further depleted.
Certainly, my relationship with sugar has been more about self-sabotage than self-care. So often, the short-term boost I get from sugar is replaced by long-term regret, guilt, shame, and other negative emotions. So often, the time spend eating sugar in front of the TV leaves me still feeling drained, still in need of refueling. So often, I end up questioning my own worth (a condition linked to all sorts of negative reactions, including white fragility and entitlement), instead of validating that I matter.
So, in changing my relationship with sugar, I’m working to understand self-care as truly showing myself that I’m of worth and, therefore, worthy to speak and act up. How might I invest in loving myself better? How might I listen to what my body’s really asking for, whether that be reflective silence, more engaged time with others, or something else? How might I learn more about the emotions or memories that sugar cravings are triggering? How might I befriend sugar?
In talking about and rethinking my relationship with sugar, I’m consciously engaged in loving myself and, in loving myself, opening myself to vulnerability, accountability, and responsibility to act. Self-care isn’t an out or a way to remove one’s self from the everyday life and activism; rather, it’s needed to fuel showing up with love within activist spaces.
These days, when I feel that I’m really gearing up for what’s to come, I need a version of self-care that lights self-love. May this simple recipe of banana, chocolate, and peanut-butter mash be one that energizes the work ahead.
In the past week, I’ve experienced some new/renewed lower back pain. And the pain has brought me back to my yoga mat and specifically to this gentle yoga practice:
I appreciate this video for the s-l-o-w movement, the focus on breath, and the ways my body responds. With each day’s practice, I’m feeling a little less pain, a little more openness, and a little more myself. This practice also invites a quietness for me, allowing me to listen—and not only to my body and myself, but also to the messages I’m receiving (and not really recognizing or processing) throughout the day.
Such a process helps enormously with healing—and not just with physical pain, but also with legacies of personal and collective trauma and injustice.
Healing the Mind-Body Split and Valuing Yoga as Spiritual Practice
I found yoga (or it found me?) in 2008. Both friends and physical therapists advised me to “try a class” and recommended Main Street Yoga, where I luckily connected with a few instructors and found some relief for back pain (when coupled with acupuncture and a range of other healing methods, which I’m sure to write about in future posts :-)).
At first, I understood yoga as asana practice—the movement, breathing, and meditation I did in classes. This focus on the body was empowering to me, as I had become so cut off from my embodied being that I remember asking questions like:
“You mean that I can actively change my breathing? … How?”
“What’s the pelvic floor? How do I feel it? How do I engage it?”
“How do I rotate some muscles in and others out—and at the same time?”
“Why do my wrists hurt so much?”
“My body—as in MY BODY—can go upside down? … No, really?”
Over time, I could actively feel in my body that tension in my shoulders was connected down my back, through my legs, and into my feet. I could tell that when my calf muscles were tight, my neck would also hurt. I could feel my breath and began to see how it was shrinking (becoming only a gasp) when I was nervous. I could recognize the link between pulling at my toenail cuticles (so that I’d soak my feet in Espom salt) and doing so at times when I needed grounding or courage. I could see that my body was desperately trying to communicate with me, if only I would pay attention.
In this way, yoga practice was helping me value my body and embodied knowledge, which I’d become cut off from. In the United States—and western, individualistic contexts, more generally—we tend to de-value the body, intuition, and feelings, while over-valuing the mind, logic, and rationale thinking. This is especially true in higher education, where I spend much of my life.
My introduction to yoga countered this problem of disembodiment. Still, I faced another problem, which I’m coming to understand as the flip side of the same coin: by focusing on asana/movement, yoga practice became entirely about the body. Again, in the United States—and western/individualistic contexts—yoga is associated with exercise rather than spiritual practice. Rather than seeing the body as connected with one’s mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual lives (as giving insights into and helping us experience our spiritual selves), popular notions of yoga treat the body as the end goal. In this way, yoga = exercise; yoga = muscle strengthening and toning; yoga = de-stressing the body; yoga = physical healing …
Over time (and I’m still very much learning today), I’ve come to understand yoga as a larger spiritually-focused and culturally-grounded practice, a practice that aligns with ecofeminism, veganism, and decoloniality. Through studying the Yoga Sūtras(alongside other spiritual teachings and Reiki practice), I now come to embodied-movement-based asana as a spiritual practice, as prayer.
Even when returning to my yoga mat because of back pain, I ask throughout asana practice: What is this pain trying to tell me? What does my body have to teach me about myself and what I’m not consciously acknowledging? How is my body expressing my emotions, and why am I feeling those emotions? I listen closely, planning to take action as guided.
Healing from Whiteness and Practicing Yoga for Justice
The post can’t end here—with my valuing of yoga as spiritual practice—because I can’t write about yoga without thinking about whiteness. Deeply troubling, in the United States, yoga is raced, classed, and gendered so that it’s associated with middle-/upper-class white women. Yoga magazines, websites, and advertisements feature not only white women, but images of whiteness (the social construct). Similarly, yoga studios manifest whiteness through spa-like environments, unspoken codes related to respectability politics, and other features of this social construct.
I’m a middle-/upper-class white woman. This means that when I look for yoga instructors or videos online (like the one I share above), I typically find people who not only look like me, but who also share much of my background and beliefs. Such common ground goes deeper—and is more insidious, still—as numerous privileges associated with my identity allowed me to stumble my way into my first yoga class and, from there, into a meaningful yoga practice. Even the ability (time-space-mobility-access) to practice yoga asana represents layers of privilege.
Such privileges call on me to consider cultural appropriation and the problematics of yoga in the U.S. (western/individualistic) context. There’s much work to be done toward changing the ways we [read: “we” in the United States, particularly white people, people in the yoga community, and people with privilege/power] understand, construct space around, talk about, and otherwise “do” yoga.
I think that yoga—particularly the 8 limbs of yoga (with asana being just 1 of 8)—has much to offer on the long haul toward justice. Concentration (dharana), contemplation (dhyana), and careful study (svadhyaya) are all absolutely necessary for self-work. Similarly, nonviolence (ahimsa) motivates anti-racism and other movements for social justice, including current work to decolonize yoga. Here I think especially about the resources Decolonizing Yoga and Sistah Vegan Project (both of which offer extensive content—and blogs I follow). Following the spiritual practice of yoga should help us uncover systems of inequity and injustice and to develop the resilience and insights needed for intervention.
For me, such work—striving toward the “ought to be”—brings me back to my yoga mat and includes asana practice. With the larger spiritual and justice-oriented practice in mind/heart, I need the time-space for quiet, slow movement. Currently, it matters to me that the practice is gentle, as the gentleness toward myself (non-judging lovingkindness) allows for gentleness more broadly (non-judging toward uncovering internalized prejudice, developing bias literacy, and kindly correcting myself for the harm/wrongs I do).
Too often, I realize after-the-fact that I’m back in a spiral of beating myself up for the crap I inevitably do as a white person (as whiteness itself is a pathology that means always messing up and living in mess). To choose differently—to humbly acknowledge the mess and to step out of pathological hurt—I need gentle practice. This gentleness is not to excuse, explain away, or allow for white supremacy. Instead, it is to work on healing the wounds and white fragility that manifest as back pain.
With hands (and feet!), I’m working to ground myself and to heal not only my recent flare-up of back pain but also the pain underlying this physical pain. I’m also “taking it easy”—practicing slowly, mindfully, even cautiously—and using my favorite gentle yoga video to do so.
Going forward, I’d like to think more about yoga during illness, as too often it’s illness (or physical pain) that brings me back to asana practice. I’d like to honor my body’s wisdom when it speaks to me in whispers (and to hear the quiet whispers and not just the screams of pain). I’d also like to explore the links between spiritual practice and resiliency. I’d like to commit now—today and every day—to embodied self-care for justice.