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.

2017-08-03 14.19.25

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.

2017-08-04 10.00.42

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.

2017-08-04 15.42.05

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”:

Screenshot

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!

Swinging from Sweet to Sour

A roller coaster of emotions. This isn’t a new experience for me, but one that’s becoming an every-day, every-week norm. I swing from moments of real hope and sweetness to moments of real hate and sourness. This roller coaster can motivate resistance, and it can send me back into the cave to confront both personal and collective shadows.

Here’s what these swings look like.

In the past few days, I’ve witnessed the acquittal of the Minnesota officer who killed Philando Castile and the layers of this miscarriage of justice. In the midst of deep discouragement, I revisit Awesomely Luvvie’s “The Stages of What Happens When There’s Injustice Against Black People” and feel awesomely encouraged by powerful photos of Juneteenth celebrations.

In similar fashion, I find myself deeply grateful when visiting Sanctuary Vegan Café in Knoxville, Tennessee, and seeing this “inclusive restroom sign”:

This sign and the spirit of this café seem to represent the intersectional, ecofeminist approach to veganism that I’ve been thinking and writing about, especially in the past week. Within a political climate that dehumanizes people to the point of making people illegal, it feels significant to see this visible affirmation of trans rights.

This sweetness then turns to sour as I am newly confronted by the cost of racism in Milwaukee, the most segregated city in the United States. I live downtown—in a problematically gentrified and expensive area—and I’m moving only 3 blocks away. This move takes me from east of the river (an area historically white) to west of the river (historically black). When my partner calls to update our auto insurance, we learn it’s going to be $10 more per month, which represents almost a 50% increase from $23 to $33. When pressed for an explanation, the insurance agent says “location is the only factor.” The location is still downtown, still in this area that necessitates class privilege to afford the rent, and still predominantly white. From what we can see, historical racial divisions are the defining features of “location.”

There’s lots written about the costs of being poor and the costs of being a person of color experiencing the racial wealth divide. Similarly, it’s legally allowed and well-documented that people pay more for insurance based on who they are or where they live. Though none of this is new, it is grossly unfair. I see again first-hand the everyday cost—as in concrete, material cost—of being a person who’s devalued in the United States. It says volumes that my insurance was $23 (what I imagine to be much less than what many others pay) and that my privileged “locations” have been those not additionally taxed.

As a white woman with racial, class, and other privileges, I experience not the consistent experience of being beaten-down, but the ups and downs of the roller coaster. And so I experience the swing from upbeat, energetic moving energy into the visible sourness of systemic racism. A sour stench that lingers.

*          *          *          *          *

I learned about the Philando Castile verdict in the bathroom pictured above. I went from a surge of hope, as I snapped that photo and stepped into that bathroom, to feeling flattened when looking at my phone.

And as I sat down to my computer, I had a similar slap, learning that a former Milwaukee officer was found not guilty in the shooting of Sylville Smith. In August, Smith’s death set off volatile protests, a city curfew, and arrests. The pain is real and raw, and my heart hurts thinking about families (like the Smith family) for whom the denial of life is not sour, but stolen. As in life stolen, money stolen, land stolen, history stolen, rights stolen, stories stolen.

So I write while facing not news, but injustice. And “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

My desire for sweetness is not to run, look away, or deny the ever-present injustice. But it is to cultivate and share the motivation, resilience, healing, self-love, and community to carry on the work—the work for justice. And the work itself is so so sweet. The work is joy from connectedness, hope for the ought to be, and possibilities of summer solstice.

May the sweet bolster and sustain us, for the sour is all-too-real.

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!

Exploring Exhaustion and Energy Loss

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!!!!!”

aaargh_bw

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:

What might be the source of this energy loss?

Using the RAIN meditation practice I learned through mindfulness-based stress reduction classes, I’m working to recognize and allow feelings of exhaustion in order to investigate them through a gentle non-judging stance.

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.

So, here I am attempting to “make good art,” identifying as an artist, and following Toni Morrison’s call to “go to work.”

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.

Answering the Call for Artistic Activism: Yes, I’m an Artist!

“Do you consider yourself a writer?”

I’ve been teaching for almost two decades, and throughout this time, I’ve routinely asked this question on the first and last days of the semester (and often in-between). I’ve found my own strong YES to the question, asserting: “I don’t just study writing. I write. I am a writer.” And I hope that students, colleagues, friends, and family will similarly see themselves as writers, as people who write (who do the embodied act of writing). I believe there’s power in claiming this identity, as writers are positioned to speak up and speak out.

2017-04-07 10.26.23
View of my writing activity.
Writing and the relationships built around writing have the potential for countering injustice and bringing about more equitable relations. As I have explored in my dissertation and subsequent publications, writing has the potential to challenge and transform power relations. It has the potential to clarify and make actionable commitments to social and racial justice.

But what about art?

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the relationship of writing to art, and I’ve been asking myself a twist on the familiar question, contemplating: “Do you consider yourself an artist?”

This question has been lingering since I wrote “It’s Time to Go to Work—Time to Write from the Heart, Head, and Hands” for the Assembly for Expanded Perspectives on Learning (AEPL):

Version 2
To read this post, visit <aeplblog.wordpress.com>.
In this post, I respond to Toni Morrison’s call for action, call for art in tough political times: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work.”

picture1

And I think: artists … Artists go to work.

Early in my life, I was quick to call myself an artist. I loved painting, drawing, sculpting, storytelling, and dancing. One of my earliest memories (around the age of three) involved being in big, big trouble for decorating the apartment door with crayons. Throughout elementary and middle school, I loved visual art, photography, calligraphy, and clogging classes. I put myself in charge of constantly changing seasonal decorations. I created my first books—a novel and scrapbook—in fourth grade. My mom found the owner of local bait and tackle shop to teach me crocheting one summer. I designed my first science fair projects to focus on art: understanding the color wheel and visualizing rock sediments with layers of colored sand. I submitted photographs to 4-H youth competitions. And I learned to bake, to make bracelets, and to write poetry. My memories of youth are full of creation. (Growing up rural East Tennessee pre-internet days, creation came naturally.)

Yet, somewhere along the way, I began to struggle with this self-definition, as I internalized a sense that only some people could be artists, and those people were ones who produced “great works” recognized by others. Though I still flirted with art and briefly considered minoring in visual art, I let go of the self-identification of “artist.” I considered friends—those who really studied and perfected their crafts—to be artists. I learned to hold the identity of “artist” at arm’s length—likely for the same reasons that many of my students hold the identity of “writer” as something “out there,” something that others can claim only after recognized achievement.

Today I’m wondering if my reluctance to claim “artist” might be another form of playing small. Might this be another form of internalized inferiority, especially since my art was often feminized and I’d learned not to associate myself too closely with the feminine? If so, might claiming the identify of “artist” be another way to embrace feminine energy and feminist activism?

Recognizing the need for encouragement, I’ve started speaking to myself as I do when mentoring students, urging myself to claim the identity of artist. Since childhood, I have continued to create art—writing, storytelling, taking and editing photographs, designing cards, creating recipes, crocheting, and now blogging. I choose to believe the identity of “artist” is in the doing, just as I believe that one becomes a “writer” simply by writing.

2017-04-07 10.14.22
View of my artistic activity.
As further encouragement and a great synchronicity (or “god wink”), I’ve been listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast, and this week’s queued episode was titled: “Who Gets to Decide Whether You’re a Legitimate Artist?” As you might imagine, the episode made the sort of argument I’m making here: it’s important to focus on the doing—the verb—of creating, making, writing, artist-ing.

So, if I embrace this identity—artist—and want to answer Morrison’s call “to go to work,” I can ask some new questions:

  • Where do I find inspiration, and how might I inspire others?
  • What needs to be said now, even if it’s been said before?
  • Whose voices need to be amplified, cited, credited, and made visible?
  • What am I called to create, and how might I listen to and hear the call more clearly?
  • How might creation help to imagine and enact visions of the “ought to be”?

I ask these questions on a day in which students and I have generated lists of the genres (types of writing) through which we “write for social justice.” We showed each other the work we’re engaged in and the possibilities that lie ahead. One student urged me to “blog about this class”; another suggested creative nonfiction; and still another encouraged me to keep working on my academic book project. This encouragement reminds me that students see me as a creator (a writer, researcher, and artist), even as I’m encouraging as them to step into and claim these roles—to become writers and artists for justice.

I also ask these questions on a day when a friend shares the article, “Finding Steady Ground: Strengthening Our Spirits to Resist and Thrive in These Times.” Of the seven behaviors outlined here for strengthening ourselves and taking strategic action, #5 pops out to me: “I will be aware of myself as one who creates.” How about this for an affirmation? For a reminder that art isn’t frivolous, but part of resilience and resistance?

As I create—as I write, teach, research, blog, and share my work with others—I must say, “I am an artist.” And as an artist, I encourage artistic activism. I hope you’ll join me. I hope you’ll claim the identities of writer, artist, and activist. I hope you’ll create and act in the world, countering passivity and taking up Morrison’s call.

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:

2017-03-26 00.00.10

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:

2017-03-29 22.28.02

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.

2017-01-16 17.57.27


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!