My Heart Hurts on Election Day

Against a cream background reads navy blue text: “There are many, many things wrong with U.S. elections.” Under this text is a sticker with a white background; American flag (red, white, and blue); and the words: “I voted. Yo vote.”

Election day morning:
I join a line that snakes around my new polling place. Like others, I pull my raincoat tighter against the cold and damp morning air, as kids squirm, jump, and cry around us. After 40+ minutes and only few feet of movement, I step out of line, knowing that if I stay, I’ll miss a hard-to-reschedule doctor’s appointment. I feel frustrated, disappointed, and angry.

Election day evening:
I re-join the line and, again, wait outdoors in the rain. This line is shorter, but, again, slow-moving. After 20 minutes or so, I make it indoors, where I face repeated requests to “squeeze tighter” and “get to know your neighbor.” Election workers explain that the lines have stretched outdoors all day, but only those people indoors by 8pm will be allowed to vote. The polling place is clearly beyond capacity. The conditions are clearly inhospitable. The workers are clearly doing their best, but the system isn’t designed to accommodate high turnouts, much less full voting of an engaged citizenry.

Throughout the day, I tune into my anger—an anger that simmers daily but burns brightly with each election experience. There’s long-rooted and widespread injustice written into U.S. governance, and election days highlight this unreconciled and ongoing wrongdoing.

To scratch the surface, here’s some of what’s wrong, wrong, wrong:

  1. We witness year after year all sorts of voter suppression: from outright obstruction of voting to long lines and limited voting places and hours. People can be dropped from voting registration rosters and can be turned away from polling places. People previously incarcerated are blocked from voting. And voter suppression particularly targets communities of color.
  2. We have active “taxation without representation” (the slogan on DC license plates) impacting many citizens—from those of us living in the District of Columbia to folks in Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa. DC, for example, has a population larger than several small states. Those states each have two senators, while we have none. Again, this disenfranchisement noticeably impacts folks of color.
  3. Our vision of “democracy” is particularly limiting when framed through representation and voting rather than active participation and shared leadership. Too often discourses that focus on elections pull attention away from questioning how we might better relate, participate, and organize ourselves as collectives.
  4. Systems like the electoral college, partisan gerrymandering, and “corporate personhood” show explicitly just how rigged and unfair U.S. elections are. Instead of designing systems to represent the people, power is concentrated in the hands of the already-powerful. And when systems concentrate power, they entrench the mechanisms that deny people personhood. More simply, elections illustrate how black, brown, and indigenous lives matter less under current governing structures.

The list goes on and on, reminding me that the system isn’t broken but functioning as it’s intended with white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and elitism at the core. The system is rooted in keeping power in power’s hands. It keeps us invested in where we are instead of envisioning where we could (should) be.

In the days leading up to this year’s U.S. general election, I took inspiration from “Elections in End Times,” an episode of the Brown sisters’ podcast How to Survive the End of the World. Featuring interviews with Three Point StrategiesJessica Byrd and Kayla Reed, electoral work is situated within larger organizing and movement work.

I so appreciate this work that adrienne maree brown, Autumn Brown, Jessica Byrd, Kayla Reed, and other black women and women of color are doing to hold visions and name what needs to break and be built. They remind me that voting is often, at best, harm reduction—about blocking as much as building. Both are needed.

As long as we in the United States are organized within this governing system, I’ll vote. And vote for and with black women, indigenous women, and women of color. And notice how and why my heart hurts on election day, so that I might witness and counter the many, many wrongs.

For election days to be days for truth-telling, I must start by feeling the HURT and speaking the wrongs aloud. With love. Toward justice. On election day and as everyday practice.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “What Is Justice?” or “
What I’ve Learned in the Week Since Charlottesville: Five Lessons for White Folks Who Care about Racism and Racial Justice.” Please also consider liking this blog on FB and following the blog via email. Thanks!

Hurting and Hollering in the Wake of This Week’s Violence

Bombs sent, guns shot.
And I cry.

Histories hidden, truths buried.
And I ache.

Hateful laws, escalating harms.
And I mourn.

White terrorism, everyday violence.
And I rage.

Black folks targeted.
Jewish folks targeted.
Native folks targeted.
Latinx folks targeted.
Migrant folks targeted.
Trans folks targeted.
Femme folks targeted.
Marginalized folks targeted.

Targeted, passive voice.
Failing to name the assailants.
Failing to name white supremacist, heteronormative, colonialist patriarchy.
And I cringe.

I ask again and again:

  • Where, when, and how am I complicit?
  • Where, when, and how am I called to act?
  • Do I act on these callings? Do I block them? Where, when, how, and why?
  • How am I hurting myself? How am I hurting others?
  • How do I break from these habits?
  • How do I intervene differently? Speak up? Act out?
  • How do I fall short?
  • How do I pick myself up and try, try again?

Failing and trying,
failing and trying again,
failing and trying again and again,
I write.
sign.
discuss.
walk.
eat.
breathe.
bathe.
read.
envision.
create.
unlearn.
relearn.

I continue to sob, to shake, to storm, to strive, and to seek justice.

And I share these questions in hopes that they may be helpful to others, especially white folks, christian folks, men folks, folks for whom disengagement is an option, at this time.

Because …

“If we’re not alarmed now, then when?”

If we’re not engaged now, then when?

If we’re not enraged now, then … truly … when?

Black text against a pink background, reading: "If we’re not alarmed now, then when? If we’re not engaged now, then when? If we’re not enraged now, then … truly … when?"


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “For White Friends Using Social Media and Not Responding to Charlottesville,” “Holding Space and Being Present: Two Resolutions Following the Las Vegas Shooting,” and “Triangulating the Heart, Head, and Hands for Justice.” Please also consider liking this blog on FB and following the blog via email. Thanks!

Blessed Change

What does it mean to turn our lives upside down?
How might looking at the world differently inspire new perspectives?
What new perspectives are needed to enact more equitable relations?

This card from Doreen Virtue’s “Magical Mermaids and Dolphins” oracle deck says “Blessed Change” in large letters at the top. An image appears below these letters and in the card’s center showing a mermaid floating upside down among seaweed, coral, and shells. At the card’s bottom appears the message: “A major life change brings you great blessings.”

In recent weeks, I’ve been pulling this “Blessed Change” card whenever using Doreen Virtue’s “Marginal Mermaids and Dolphins” oracle deck as part of everyday divination, a meditation practice for grounding and interpreting lived experience. I started pulling divination or oracle cards seven years ago, when I began learning Reiki. I chose this deck because of its blue color scheme (water colors and themes), which connects to my love of swimming, Epsom salt baths, and, more generally, immersing my body in water.

As a practice, the use of oracle cards helps me see patterns and seek guidance, slowing down to notice and reflect when I’d otherwise move too quickly through the day. I don’t pull cards for fortune- or future-telling, but instead as a sort of meditation on life. An openness to listening to what I might be blocking. A willingness to open my heart to divine guidance. A reminder to expect miracles in everyday life.

Over time, I’ve become frustrated with this deck’s mythical-norm representations of people (gender, race, size, and more) and its reliance of Christian symbolism (another part of what Audre Lorde so aptly named the “mythical norm”). At the same time, this deck has taught me a lot about trusting wisdom when it comes in unexpected ways. It continues to teach me about sifting through complicated emotions, imperfect situations, and kernels of truth.

Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that I’ve been pulling this card regularly in recent weeks, as I’m deeply inside the chrysalis, or experiencing mess, mess, and more mess. In many ways, I feel that my life is upside down, up for review. Nothing is too small to question. Everything deserves consideration:

While asking these questions, I’ve had several conversations reminding me that I’m not alone in feeling upside down at this moment. I’m not alone in wanting a different way to live that honors life and builds justice rather than seeing some beings as valuable and others as expendable. I’m not alone in grieving and desiring deep change. And I’m not alone in struggling to see this moment of possible change as a “blessing.”

So, in the midst of grief and anger and fear and trauma, here are some questions this oracle card raises for me, as I seek “blessed change”:

  • How might the pain (vast injustice) of this moment be prompting changes that too many of us might be too comfortable to confront otherwise?
  • What does this moment (I write during the Kavanaugh hearing and #WhyIDidntReport) have to teach me about what needs to change, personally and collectively?
  • What changes might I prioritize today? Tomorrow? Going forward?
  • What changes bring me closer to everyday living—falling down, turning upside down, and still striving again and again—for justice?

Postscript:
One thing I know from years of practicing yoga is that literally getting upside down (inverting the body or getting the feet above the head) does wonders. Legs-up-the-wall pose is both calming and stimulating, both quieting and energizing. It’s both deeply embodied and deeply contemplative. What I realize when thinking about being upside down is that changes, similarly, are full of both/and qualities. Perhaps it’s the recognition of both/and that will help move us toward blessed change.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More days that I’d like to admit …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Do It Scared

“Do it scared.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do it scared.”

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

A New Spell for a New Space

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

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

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

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

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

A New Spell for a New Space

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Against the Tyranny of Positivity

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

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

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

The question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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