My Heart is Broken But My Spirit is Free

My heart is broken
But my Spirit is free
I’m unraveling rapidly
Into my Whole Self
An ongoing releasing
Of layers of ego and IRS
Built to survive in a world
Of violent whiteness

Discovering my spark
Vibrating energy in my root
Calling me home to Self
Directing me to inherent joy
Expanding with my breath
Leading me to my truth
Revealing pieces of me
Hidden deep in shame and fear

Studying the narratives
And threads weaved within
My family and faith
Primed by white supremacy
Separating us from ourselves
From divine and humanity
Wreaking havoc through
Oppression and violence

Naming and resisting
Relearning the narratives
Grounded in radical love
Expanding consciousness
Holding the suffering
Connecting to pain
Staying present and active
Leaning in with courage

Overwhelmed at times
Grieving the losses
Fearing the rejection
Embodied trauma
Cycles of whiteness
Sneaky shame
Critical voices
Stuck in despair

Celebrating healing
Increasing tenderness
Building resistance
Inviting rest
Nurturing my body
Returning to joy
Finding community
Discovering Me

My heart is broken
But my Spirit is free
Rejecting duality
Holding space 
Non-linear thinking
Returning to my breath
Conscious union
Trusting the universe

A broken heart keeps me
Grounded in love
Committed to the work
Knowing we are One
A free Spirit keeps me
Rooted in joy
Connected to my power
Seeing liberation

My heart isn’t broken
My heart is feeling
My heart is conscious
My heart is connected
My heart is expanding
My heart is healing
I am healing
My Spirit is free

Humanity includes me.

For as long as I can remember, I have pushed myself toward growth and change with a self-punishing and shaming mindset. I experience this energy as very “shut it down! It’s bad! Do a different thing! Panic!” yet, it’s only been within this past year that I’ve been able to name just how much pain I have caused myself in this unquestioned practice. I have hated myself for being white. I have punished myself for being white. I have shamed myself when racism creeps into my mind or spirit or practice or behavior. I assumed I could keep striving toward change and growth in this shut-it-down way, especially since it’s “worked” for most of my life.

This year, it stopped “working,” This year, I’ve noticed that I feel stuck. I’ve noticed a block in the flow of growth, and have come to know that the way I dehumanize myself has caused the clog.

I haven’t wanted to claim anything that isn’t “mine.” Haven’t enough white people already claimed humanity as ours? Haven’t enough white people understood ourselves to be most deserving? Fear enveloped me as I explored this incoming wave…if I choose to radically love myself, if I choose self-compassion and empathy, won’t I be “taking” too much? Are humanity and compassion and empathy not scarce?!

As I sat in this, I started to feel a roaring and glorious anger rise from deep within me. Fuck this! White supremacy has stolen from me, too! White supremacy demands that I sever from myself, demands that part of me dies, so that I don’t truly and deeply feel the horror of racism and the ways in which I participate in it and perpetuate it. My eyes are opening to the ways in which dehumanizing and punishing myself into “change,” is actually an extension of the dehumanization of white supremacy…demanding that I stay numb and out of touch and shut off from myself, all the while performing to “perfection” like a productive machine. This shut-down energy toward myself also leads to a shut-down in my energy for the community. My feelings aren’t so easily compartmentalized, and in shutting off my self-love, I limit my capacity to deeply love and feel for and with other humans. My shutting-off and self-shaming has continuously led me to a place I have never intended: with less air for myself and less to offer others.

And lately, what rises up within me is fuck that! I REFUSE. I REFUSE to sever from my own humanity. I REFUSE to allow part of myself to die, for the sake of white supremacy. I want to FEEL. I want to BREATHE. I want to see and experience myself in the fullness of my humanity, knowing and trusting that (as Brené Brown has said in her own words) empathy is not in scarce. I do not need to refuse it for myself, for fear there won’t be enough to offer others when the time comes. I am experiencing that in fully loving myself–all of myself (what?! My evangelical upbringing asks me if this is even “allowed!”)–I open. I can breathe. The clog breaks up. The energy can flow. And, I feel deeply that I have more than enough empathy and love to offer myself, which expands me and grows me and creates more and more empathy and love for my fellow humans. More grows more grows more. Opening opens and opens and opens and opens.

In one of the early Undoing Racism trainings I attended with the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, a white woman shared during a white caucus breakout session that she was feeling angry and sad about all that racism and white supremacy had taken from her in understanding her ethnic roots. At the time, I inwardly shook my head, judging her for thinking any of us in that white caucus space could possibly be deserving of claiming our own sense of loss to racism. I felt she was taking “too much,” and that as white people, we were deserving of “taking” absolutely nothing (haven’t we already taken and claimed too much?!). My reaction reminds me of the spaces I have been, and the spaces to which I could easily return without tender care and intention. For years, I have been attempting to self-punish and shame and shrink myself into the anti-racist mold I envisioned for me. I have punished and shamed and shrunk way too much of myself in the process. And, all of me wants to be liberated.

My spirit is opening to collective liberation, and I am finding that (much to my absolute surprise) I need to be liberated, too.

And so, I breathe. I check in with my body. I move. I drink water. I feed myself when I am hungry. I identify and name my feelings when I can. I sit in what I feel and allow discomfort. I allow myself to name discomfort, and am gentle with myself for feeling it in the first place. I digest my thoughts and feelings in my body, taking a walk after intense conversations and spaces, allowing the sensations to move through me. I deserve to process and release that which does not need to be held. I do not need to cling to it in ferocious shame and fear. I ask for help when I need it. I rest when I am tired. I reach out for connection when I crave it. I sit in quiet and stillness when it’s all been too loud. I laugh. I create. I dance. I cry. In these ways, I love myself, and honor the fullness of my own humanity. I live in my body. And I practice loving me, her, completely.

I am understanding, for the first time in my life, that this embodied and humanizing self-love is radical, and it is sustaining in the sacred long-haul work of racial justice. Imagine what I will do with all of the energy I used to use against myself?! Imagine where it can go! Imagine who, in my fullness, I can be!

An Invitation from My Root

(A New Way of Being for the Family History Project)

My hips have been hurting for a while now. As I am learning to ask them why they’re hurting and what they need, they are communicating powerfully to me. I am learning about my pelvic bowl and all the emotions and truths held there. I am understanding the connection between my pelvic bowl and my root chakra…my grounding. I am hearing my hips express some deep fear of releasing the emotions and truths around my previous grounding — family relationships, identity (faith, work, sexuality) — and they are navigating a tender, timely release with my spirit and mind. 

Recently, a shame response led to necessary shadow work that ended with a powerful invitation from my root. In my shame, I noticed the ways I have been stuck in a place of sorrow, despair, and victimhood. In this place, I am seeing how I put my trauma on others and use control/manipulation. I notice that I can use words to name my trauma to others without sitting with the trauma, which ultimately is avoiding the trauma by putting it onto others. I am learning the difference of sitting in my trauma and using words when they are needed to heal versus using words to avoid healing. Also, I have known for a long time the role I have played within my family dynamics of keeping the “peace” in relationships. I thought I was using my empathy and insight for good, but am seeing how I often was actually trying to control and manipulate outcomes for my own comfort…avoiding the discomfort of necessary conflict and boundaries.

As I looked at my shadow self, I heard, from deep within my root, a reckoning and invitation. A compassionate reckoning with my shadow, acknowledging that I was navigating hard things with limited skills, which led to causing harm despite my intentions. I was so separated from my Self, that I was not trusting that I could sit in the discomfort and trauma and find healing, so instead, I relied on control tactics. The invitation gently revealed the growth and healing in my connection with my Self and reminded me that I literally have everything I need within me to be in the hard places and heal. I know I’ve been told this for a while now, but I guess I needed to hear it from my Self.

Now, the connection with the family history project. I’ve been navigating family relationships (especially with my dad) without fully trusting my Self. So, I’ve been working so fucking hard to figure out how to communicate with my dad in a way that he will finally see my humanity…obsessing and overanalyzing my communication and showing up in a hypervigilant state. Without being conscious of it fully, I have been functioning under the mindset that if I find the “right” words and ways to express my heartbreak, that my dad (and family) will be able to meet me in that tender, overwhelmed place of grief. I’ve been manipulating and controlling with all the best intentions to get the love from my dad that I have always sought. I used to manipulate and control myself by submitting to the expectations that would garner the love from my dad. Lately, I’ve been manipulating and controlling with words. Neither of these are working. The family history project started in this same pattern for me. I was viewing it as a tool to use words to get the love and acceptance I desire from family and ultimately from myself.  

This invitation from my root is showing me that I have everything I need to be in relationship with my family and my ancestors without trying to manipulate the outcome. The love and acceptance I desire is within me. Being separated from my Self, I’ve been disconnected from the Source who is the giver of Love and acceptance. With my breath I can bring consciousness to my root, to my Knowing, to the Source. So, when I am with my dad (or family) and notice the weight starting in my chest and pressing down into my gut causing me to shrink, I will breathe. I will ask what I need and find it within me. When I begin to be overwhelmed with grief, anger, or shame as I work on the family history project, I will breathe. I will ask myself what I need and find it within me. 

I have everything I need…

Aiming to please.

it’s hard for me to admit that it’s taken me this long to be honest with myself. for three years i’ve been in this work, and it feels like a major blindspot that i am just now realizing my why – this why is one that i didn’t know i was hiding from myself.

in reflecting on the prompts, i came across a quote from my journal from a few months ago. while processing a dream in which my desire to be given love in any form was shown, i wrote “what if i valued my spiritual self as much as i longed for my material and physical self to be valued?”

i know why i struggle with self appreciation and love: for many years of my life, i spent time carefully figuring out how to make others happy – which, in turn, lead me to learn how to make people like me, how to make them say “yes! great job emily!” if they like me and they like what i do, they’ll be happy when i’m around and they’ll be pleased that i’ve done so well!

i can recognize that this was a form of survival thinking that came from my childhood – my mother and my sister dealt with mental illness, and i felt that i had to be strong for my family.

so, why am i here?

i feel that it’s the right thing to do. but, what does that say about how i feel about being here? sometimes, i feel that it’s an obligation, not necessarily done out of what i thought was the goodness of my heart, but rather, to look good.

LOOKING GOOD STRATEGIES. INTERNALIZED RACIAL SUPERIORITY.

i hesitate to share these thoughts. i don’t want to retraumatize black and indigenous people of color who have already experienced white women who pretend to care, to come from a place of disingenuous intentions, or who don’t see themselves clearly enough to know when they’re hurting someone because they have the privilege of getting by without accountability.

i think it is interesting to see how i pretended to myself in order to dive deeper into looking good.

the question of how i have grown, though, is evident and relevant here as well; i think the reason that it took me so long to see and finally admit this to myself is because i am working toward self-acceptance, and with that, honesty.

i will also allow myself to feel courageous. i still remember a day in 8th grade history class when, the white female teacher demanding that someone volunteer a guess, i froze, my hand ready to raise into the air, but my gut saying “no, if you’re wrong, that would be the worst thing ever.” the fact that i feel very wrong at not having been able to see this truth about myself, but i will share it, shows that i can forgive myself for the moments when i was too afraid to try, and i can do better now. i hate being wrong. that is my IRS, but it doesn’t have to who i choose to be.

instead, i am learning to love myself, even when i have to admit hard truths. i know that by doing this, i am reclaiming my humanity, and allowing others to have more of theirs as well. it’s not necessary for me to pretend to be someone i am not in order to make other people feel good. i have to love the part of myself that is struggling to accept that the more i choose to please others instead of myself, the more i lose myself. the more i feed into a system of oppression, proving our worth, racing to nowhere. even when the way that i am choosing to look good is by being a part of antiracism activism.

it doesn’t feel like this means that i don’t want to be here. i’m trying to trust the process of seeing what shows up, accepting the possibility that this may not be the right time, but also giving this new awareness space to be. i’m reminding myself that my sense of timeliness in figuring this out is yet again, a facet of IRS.

i do not have to prove that i am worthy of being here. i just have to show up, and keep showing up, not only for the people in this group, but for myself. because i am human, and that means that i’m worthy of being here, as long as i can continue to look for and see that humanity in myself and in others.

“what if i valued my spiritual self?”

i’ve been learning more about my strengths that we found in YROL yoga teacher training. 3 of my top five strengths are relationship building strengths. two are executing – achiever (no shock there, hi timeliness) and restorative – i like to fix things. i wonder if my restorative strength, combined with lack of self appreciation, makes me think that if i can fix racism, i will finally be worthy.

what i have thought a lot more about is how my strengths of empathy, harmony, and connectedness make me focus so so so much more on building relationships with others than with myself. add in achieving, and i now understand why my main motivators are succeeding at helping people.

i want to spend some time focusing on helping myself instead. putting myself first. it feels so foreign, and also so corny. but i want to push back and say, Emily. you deserve to love on yourself. i have said this before, but i can’t name many action steps i’ve taken to hold myself accountable to helping myself. a couple, sure, but more often than not my instinct to help someone else is stronger, and without me realizing it i’m back in the pool of IRS.

i’m scared to push ‘publish’ on this blog. what if i wrote something wrong? i’m learning that i can’t control what anyone thinks of me. i’m learning that i have a hard time believing that people reading this blog don’t want to tell me i’m wrong and make me feel small, but want to encourage me and hold me accountable to the things that i’m saying.

if i want to love myself, i have to truly go do it. i have to show up.

it’s hard for me to write this and trust this part of the process – the part where I’m honest and know that I am safe. likely because, without self acceptance, i don’t believe that anyone else can accept me.

that’s some victim mentality IRS right there.

here are some affirmations that i will say to myself to work on this acceptance.

i am not perfect.

we are all impacted by racism. we have to keep working on it together.

i don’t have to always look good. i can’t control every outcome, but it can still be okay.

i don’t always have to feel comfortable, but i am safe and loved.

i’m not in this alone. i am apart of something greater here.

Revealing

Over this year, I have grown in patience – with myself and with processes. I have grown into holding some more (and some more tenderly) the parts of myself that I have a harder time expressing – the direct, firm, strong boundaried, pessimistic, judgmental, dominating parts of myself. 

Motherhood has been a transformative growth process for me. I feel into the humanizing truth that everyone is a mother’s child. And the process of creating a birthing life has affirmed my power and ability to trust my body in a deeper way. I have grown to be both more soft and more firm. 

This year, I’ve had opportunity to steer with enjoyment in my body rather than evaluation of what I’m good at. I still fear failure, and I am growing into a growth mindset. For example, thinking about what role I play in future WWG, I know I enjoy facilitation so moving forward with that rather than evaluating all the ways my facilitation skills fall short of where I’d like them to be.

I feel less imposter syndrome. I am showing up as my full self to different spaces and in different roles. 

I notice when I’m rushing more.

When I see people, I see their joy.   

In many ways, I’m more easeful. I am allowing things to take the time they need a bit more. I see this playing out in the ways I have conversations about racism with my family. We talk more often about race and racism, and I engage in conversations with less of an “I must change their minds now” agenda. 

I am growing more awareness of the pervasiveness of my individualism. 

I am more okay with not being productive. 

I also feel myself gripping onto material resources less. That feels humanizing. I am connecting more deeply with things that whiteness historically took away – my connection to feelings and my body. And I see this growth as part of honoring the people I came from. It’s also how I love my mother.

And I’ve also seen and accepted more this year that growth is not linear. From that understanding, I also make space for the possibility that things that don’t look like or seem like growth to me are absolutely part of my growing. 

Before this year, In my mind, I’ve believed it to be true that there are many different ways to be an agent in dismantling systems of white supremacy and institutionalized racism and this year I feel that truth more fully in my being. Through the radical shift of how we come together without gathering in person, prioritizing time with Marcel and early bedtimes, and just the patience of having a longer view of sticking around (Pittsburgh, friends, family, work) – I now feel the everyday-ness of destroying regimes of white supremacist power and co-creating a new world. 

Also, I recently took a course “How to Raise an Anti-racist Child” and among the goals of the course, one was listed as, “help your child develop a positive racial identity”. That one stood out to me and I felt some resistance and confusion when I read it. Can I really encourage my white child to have a positive racial identity? Even with all our understanding of the violence inherent to whiteness and the harm perpetuated by white culture? In the course we talked about learning your ancestry before they became white and lifting up white people in the past and present who fought against racism as part of the process of creating a positive racial identity.  I hear that and I also know how much of Marcel’s ability to be critical of whiteness while not hating his racial identity is about me living out a positive racial identity. 

While this change is just beginning for me, I do feel a shift ideologically that I can have and want a positive racial identity – or at least to be okay with my whiteness. I know there’s more to it for me than the steps laid on in the workshop and I’ve resisted the urge to google answers for the how-to process. I think it will be connecting further with my ancestors, naming the part of myself (and others) I am most critical of, going back and joining others in writing a love letter to manifestations of IRS, and in all aspects of life embracing being critical as part of love. This year I’ve named being white more as a neutral identifier not just a condemnation. I’m curious about and in the process of developing a healthy racial identity. There is so much work to be done, but a shift is underway.

I have been working toward integration. From how my body digests food to how parts of me all form 1 whole. And so, to love myself I am inviting more and more of myself in. I hear one voice and I recognize myself. I’m reorienting to the parts of myself I fear with reverence and curiosity. Recent trauma has made this work take center for me as I learn about my nervous system and regulation through integration.

Thank you for hearing me.

my rabbit died.

he was born with a cyst on his intestine but nobody knew it until it was too late.

the day before he died i tried to help a woman eat her dinner and there was that sameness of trying to feed her the way i had been feeding him for weeks, Tiff had been leaving kale stems and carrot tops at my door, someone had sat the woman up in bed but her head had fallen sideways onto her shoulder and i put it back up against the pillow and asked her if she would like to try some cake and she said okay but when i put it in her mouth nothing happened and when i held the straw to her lips she couldn’t suck it.

after dinner she was doing that breathing my dad did and when i went in at 9 she was dead.

my rabbit died on my bathroom floor the next night after the last time my bunny sitter checked on him but before i got home from work. he couldn’t move anymore so i had left him laying in his box with some kale stems and pear twigs hoping he would hang on until his doctor’s appointment on monday but they probably wouldn’t have done anything and maybe the blessing was for him to die before he had to go through all that anyway. everyone at the nursing home wants to go home. i didn’t want to go but because of the covid everyone was quitting.

my other rabbit came into the bathroom and started eating the dandelions he hadn’t eaten, a woman was laying there after dying of renal cancer while my coworkers passed out her cans of orange pop. after i was cleaned up the body of a woman with kidney failure i put some of her reeses in my pocket. my mom gave me my dad’s shampoo.

every time i went into a woman’s closet i forgot to shut the door all the way and every time she told me to shut the door all the way until she had a stroke that paralyzed one side of her face and closed her throat so she couldn’t eat or drink anything anymore and her son said no to a feeding tube. when i went in to visit her before she died i told her that her closet door was already shut all the way so at least she couldn’t tell me to do that and she laughed out of one side of her mouth.

her son said thank you and hugged me when he came to go through her things and i said thank you.

once after her stroke i saw the trueness of everyone in her face.

in the morning i moved my rabbit out of the bathroom and onto the kitchen floor and me and my bunny sitter laughed about how he didn’t care about anything except food, how he would pee right next to the his litter box and then sit down in it.

the next week i went up to the hospice floor for the first time to visit a man who was dying of colon cancer but because of the covid i didn’t even know if they would let me in, people said it just depended on who was working the desk that day, but they did let me in and his sister was there and we stood by his bed and laughed about his spicy v-8 and his pretzels and how he was always falling out of bed and i told her about the time when there was 3 of us in there trying to get him back in bed and he said are you going to call my sister? and the nurse said you know you can call your sister any time you want and she thought maybe he was falling out of bed just to get us to call his sister.

there was the sameness of that too.

i kept wanting to reach over and pet my rabbit and then i would remember that he had died and it was different now and there was some celery on the floor and i kept wanting to push it closer to him and then i would remember that he had died and it was different now and a woman with a brain tumor died about an hour before i got there and it was only after i wanted to stop the funeral home man from putting the sheet over her face that i remembered she had died and it was different now.

i helped him slide her onto the gurney and there was that sameness in the feel of the bodies of her and my rabbit.

maybe someone put a sheet over my dad’s face after we left.

maybe someone will put a sheet over mine.

my therapist says it will be all of us but i can’t believe it.

when the she was dying i tried to sit with her but my mind would go all over and before that i would hold her hand and try to talk with her a little and once i called her son for her. i made her repeat his number about 5 times and she said about 5 different numbers but i dialed one anyway just because and he answered.

all evening i walked past a woman with congestive heart failure doing that breathing but she wasn’t mine to care for that day and i didn’t feel like going into her room and then later when she was mine and i finally went in to take her temperature it was too low and when i turned on the light she was dead.

i bought a card and sent it to her daughter. i wrote that i had the honor of working with her mom and i knew she really cared about her. i wished i had gone in there before she died.

a woman’s covid test came back positive about 5 minutes after we took her to the bathroom and put her in bed and although i tested negative she died six days later and i had this survivor’s guilt.

i bought a card and sent it to her son. i wrote i had the honor of working with his mom and i knew she really loved him. she was always saying his name.

my grandma and my dad both had brain tumors and i was almost done painting a picture of poland on my kitchen wall when my rabbit got sick. when i sat in front of the picture i felt like i didn’t need brain cancer anymore.

i asked my mom about her dad and she said he liked to draw and she used to see him sketching little pictures on pieces of paper. she didn’t know what he was drawing though. my mom took me in his room when he was dying and he cried and said my hand was warm. i looked for his dad’s grave in the cemetery near my house but i couldn’t find it. i found a dad wreath and put it near where the deer walk.

one of the nurses died and some of my co-workers put money together to get purple forever in our hearts t-shirts made with her face on them and i bought one too.

purple was her favorite color.

because her vitals were bad and her bloodwork was bad and because she was a full code which meant they would have to try to revive her if she died the nurses were sending a woman with lung cancer like my grandpa to the hospital. and because i was afraid i wouldn’t see her again i went to her room but i didn’t know what to say so i just asked if she needed anything and she said no honey i’m okay right now. i thought about holding her hand while we waited for the paramedics but i didn’t know if she wanted me to.

my therapist said consent is a big thing in society right now but sometimes it’s not possible and if she were dying she would want someone to hold her hand.

me too.

the woman came back from the hospital later and i was ready to hold her hand this time but she died before i could.

the nurse said she’s gone and i still wonder what that means.

i made her look really nice in the bed before her son got there.

her name was jean too.

the flies started coming in my kitchen window and at first i shooed them away from my rabbit but they kept coming and they started to crawl in his nose and there was this smell. my bunny sitter said his body had probably already started to decay before he died.

these flies kept landing on a woman and she would try to shoo them off of her and i kept making myself go back in there with the smell and asking her if there was anything i could do. people said her body had probably already started to decay even though she was still alive. it wasn’t until later that i thought i could have said something to her about breathing in a way to make the whole thing easier but i didn’t know what.

cheyne-stokes is a kind of breathing that people do when they are dying sometimes and i thought my dad did it until i actually looked it up and learned what it was but the woman with the brain tumor was doing it while i sat with her. the pause after the breaths gets longer and longer until it goes on forever.

when i listen to my bunnysitter breathe in i imagine their diaphragm going down and their lungs expanding and their belly squishing out like they taught us in yoga anatomy. when they breathe out it all goes the other way.

my bunnysitter said my rabbit’s breaths got shallower and shallower.

it wasn’t until my bunny sitter held my hand that i let a woman at the nursing home hold my hand instead of twisting it away when someone grabbed onto it like i usually did.

she started to cry.

a woman said that i hurt her with my hands when i was changing her and i said i’m sorry i hurt you and she said it’s okay it only hurts for a few minutes and i said i don’t want you to hurt at all, you are important, and when i said it to her it was like someone was saying it to me.

What goes around comes around

The last year. Wow. I started a new job, fell in love, traveled, sat with my dying grandmother, bought a house, broke up with the man I loved, and thus far have survived a global pandemic. As I began to reflect on the last year – my growth, my ideology, my journey with anti-racism and my own humanity – I am overwhelmed. The year has brought me some great joys and other terrible losses. I have cried so much this year that when I sit with the year I feel raw. From exactly what I am not entirely sure.

During the last WWG3 Amanda gave us the questions from Felicia and a chance to silently reflect. Quickly I found myself separating things in my mind. My thoughts about “Ways I’ve grown” quickly shifted into ways I’ve failed. 1 point for perfectionism. When I looked over what I had written, I felt ashamed because most of it was “just personal stuff about life” not “about whiteness or anti-racism.” 5 points for dualism. That was until I remembered there is no where else to do the work of undoing whiteness other than in one’s own life and relationships.

This learning and unlearning, this living, is a process. Once I began to examine the year I saw connections between “just life” and anti-racism that I hadn’t previously considered. One big thing ideological shift I’ve made this year is in my understanding of boundaries. Raised Mennonite (a historic peace church that praises martyrdom) I struggle with boundaries. Over the past few years I’ve been learning to feel less ashamed for setting boundaries. I have been getting better at saying “yes” and “no” honestly and confidently. Yet, within the last 12 months I have been forced to confront my tendency to frame boundaries as other’s problems. Boundaries were about what the other person could or could not do, should or should not do. In this way others still had control of my actions – would they do the right thing or not? Today though I have learned (or more accurately – am learning) that boundaries are about me regardless of the other. What I can or cannot handle, what is or is not healthy for me. This small shift gives me great freedom. It allows me to actually consider me! It allows me to own my decisions. It allows me to speak my truth simply because it is mine. Simple? Hardly. It is surprisingly hard for me to stop acting as a chameleon to other’s desires and figure myself out first.

My experiences in the last year learning to own and name my boundaries for myself remind me of the ways I have learned to own my interest in ending racism (like in this blog post from 2018). Over and over I have been told that anti-racism work must be self-interested. It must stem from a place of knowing what I want and need for myself and why. If I do not consider self-interest, I easily slip back into the old, worn grooves of paternalism, maternalism, white-savior complex, and one-right-way thinking. I do things to look good, to achieve supposed perfection, to fit in. But this just hurts all of us and nothing is redeemed.

The idea that self-interest could be the gateway to greater health and healing is not at all what I was taught. “Surely,” I thought, “I must give up myself for others to live. Surely, I must be empty so they can be full.” Yet here I am in 2020 finally understanding more of the truth of Brené Brown’s research that “compassionate people are boundaried people” (The Gifts of Imperfection, p. 16). Isn’t self-interested anti-racism work just holding self-interested boundaries against the deformities of whiteness? Isn’t it just owning for yourself and for your own sake that you cannot tolerate certain behaviors and ways of thinking? That you will not participate in certain ways of being? That you will hold people accountable – not because they need it (although they might) but because it matters to you, to the person you want to be, and for the world you are building? When I consider it now I am surprised it took me this long to make the connection between self-interest and boundaries despite being told time and again.

But here I am. A year later. In some ways I don’t feel any different, more human, more humane. I still struggle and miss the mark every single day. I still need confession. And yet, I am learning. I have been learning. I will continue to learn. It is exciting to see the way owning my self-interest has helped me own my boundaries and I cannot wait to see how compassion will grow in me. I am eager to keep learning to speak with my own honest voice and with my own convictions. The way I can learn to prioritize things based on the values I choose not the ones of the world. The way I can work on becoming the person I mean to be. It is a long journey but here I am. Here I am.

unlearning, relearning, learning new things

Fall is my season. It contains my birthday month, my favorite pastimes and moods, weather, the promise of change and newness coming through the world. In reflecting on the past year, I noticed I continue to look at years as I did when I was a student: they begin in the fall. The student mindset offers me diligence, self-application, that sense of accomplishment, and a clear structure within which to measure myself. It’s both/and. Good and bad. Useful and limiting. Comfortable and tiresome.

One of the slowest, largest changes I notice over the past year is my ability to step beyond the role of student into other ones much less comfortable, ones that require taking more responsibility for myself and the way I use my power, access, and influence: mentor, gatekeeper, leader, collaborator. I can see the value I bring to other people in relationships. I’m growing into the ability to mentor other white women in this work without walking the familiar, damaging lines of teacher/student that I learned in school. I’m learning to manage in-between-ness.

White Women’s Group has always been a place where I can show up fully as myseful, able to trust in the support, challenge, relationships, healthy conflict processing, and guidance from each person in the group. Last month, I started seeing a therapist to work through all of the things that are intertwined with the work of WWG that also require specific, personal delving. I’m just starting to see the fruits of that new relationship, and I credit my openness to seeking therapy (again) to the practice of vulnerability I’ve had in WWG. Even when we received Felicia’s questions for this reflection, I noticed the instinct to hide—from myself, from the group, from our accountability partners—for fear of criticism. I processed that emotional response of fear and self-protection and ego and moved it through.

Therapy helped me find words for the main growth I want to share: I’m shifting from a punitive mindset towards white people and myself to one more centered in love, joy, connection, and accountable healing rather than judgment, measurement, or dogma. For a non-religious person, I’ve been a straight-A pupil of Puritanism. My capacity for shaming (myself and others, usually in my own head) runs really deep (generations deep). What would it look like for me to reach out to my family members I’ve written off? What would it look like to hold the good, bad, complicated, uncomfortable, joyful things all together and contend with that instead of separating everything and everyone into my good/bad dichotomy? I’ve already seen the shift in my own relationships. I’ve already seen that of years of working with my most conservative family members has turned into open dialogue. What could a few years more accomplish?

I’m making more space in myself for that vulnerability, for tenderness. I’m guarding against a culture of Strength and Power and Competition. I’m here for being sensitive and in tune with myself, and making space for others to do the same. As we look at this next chapter of WWG, I’m buzzing with the possibilities this curriculum and community sphere can offer to other white women who need to learn how to exist beyond the white femininity we have been cultured into. I’m nervous for the growth this will demand of all of us. I’m grateful to our community network and YogaRoots on Location for continuing to grow this beautiful web of people. Thank you all.

This last year- some reflections

When I think of the question how have I grown, the thing that keeps coming to mind is softer. It’s actually the only thing that keeps coming to mind so my spirit or my mind must really want me to hear it. I’m know I’ve grown in other ways but this feels like a foundation.  I’ve grown softer into myself. I’ve grown softer into relationships.  I feel sadder, softer, more joyful. I feel more. Boundaries are more firm, but the lines are softer.

This last year (2 years, really, because my experience of time merges them) has felt like a constant unfolding of the ways I’ve tried to remain bottled up, cause whiteness told me to. I used to think that once I cracked open, I’d be done cracking open, as though once is all I need. Thanks life, we did it, check that one off. That idea seems really funny to me now, especially since I feel like I crack open every day in many different ways. I know now that I’m going to continue to crack open and come back together over and over and over again. I see now the way that has always been true and led me to where I am in this very moment. And with this (ac)knowledge(ment), maybe my only option is to keep growing softer so I can continue to take shape with the cracks. 

I recently realized that I was still striving to get to a place where I wouldn’t mess up anymore. Like, I would say out loud that I know it’s something I’ll do forever, and in my brain-heart have been striving to get to the place where it won’t happen anymore. I’ve been curious about what it means to fully embody my fullness- moment to moment. Like reaaallllyyy. To really work with the knowing that I’m going to mess up in many ways and many contexts until the end of time. Because I’m human and perfection is a lie whiteness sold to me to keep me anxious and subdued. What would it be like to both live in my values and hold space for falling short at the same time. The  realization that I haven’t actually been doing this is newer and I think there are still parts of me that think I can work my way out of this…so I’ll keep you posted. 

The experiment/practice of offering myself grace has offered space to extend others the same. Again, something I thought I was doing- which sometimes I do very well, but here I am specifically thinking about my family relationships — which continue to grow as I do. I realized that I was expecting perfection from them, which blocked me from seeing them and their humanity. There was a time where we couldn’t share space without steam coming out of my ears. Complicated histories and presents, unprocessed and unbroken patterns, and victimhood. I’ve been practicing meeting where we both are as a foundation for our relationships. Something that feels much easier in my friendships and more casual relationships with others, I’ve finally started to offer that same space to my family of origin. And THIS…has offered much more space for sharing and healing. For trying to get to know who we are. Thank you, friends, for the nudges.

This year has reiterated that life is short and anything can happen at any moment. I’ve been trying to cherish these moments and this time and access deeper parts of myself and my lineage in it’s (and our) entirety. I’ve been working on letting my intuition lead, even and especially when it feels scary. I’ve been practicing listening. My understanding of community has grown. Saying you’re in community and Being in community are different things. Being in community has meant more vulnerability, practice receiving and asking for help, offering and receiving accountability, moving through conflict and staying in relationship, and releasing some of the ways individualism shows up and harms me and you.

We have come to the part of the post where I’m not sure what else to say. I love you. 🖤

This year, I named what I want.

This year, I named what I want.

Of course it’s not the first time I’ve named what I want or named what I didn’t want, but it’s been a minute.

The current of anti-racism work that I jumped into six years ago has been a powerful tide. I have ebbed with its no’s and accountability moments and destructive rearrangement of relationships. I have flowed with its momentum and expansion and opportunities for mentorship and new growth. I have also tried swimming against the current (to the point of exhaustion) while maintaining my white lady poker face — and sometimes not. I have felt at times like the current was being done to me, as if the call to live into my life’s purpose was greater than me, as if my work fit a critical niche, as if saying no to its power was not an option, as if it would take me where it pleased whether I liked it or not. (These things are true and also, not true.)

This year has been one of grieving and recognition and discernment and healing. I have made great strides in letting go of my attachment to the victim narratives in my head even as I process the hurt of things out of my control. I have felt self-assured — really felt it! I have felt that I do in fact have everything I need. I have exposed myself and shown my Self and I am still here.

Trauma Container: Healing from Patriarchy by Amanda K Gross

In the WWG space, specifically, I have realized, interrupted, and corrected a pattern of — what I will call — deceptive power sharing. This has happened before for me in the discontinued spaces of WWG1 & WWG2 and again at the end of WWG3’s first year, in which I invited a non-hierarchical version of decision-making. This year, I invited folx into a strategic planning process, a collective collaboration from the ground up. This process fit all my anarchist ideals of using my gatekeeping power to power share. The process wasn’t bad per se, but even though we used a spiral-shaped framework, the energy and the utopian words and the hours of work neither ebbed nor flowed but rather swirled around in a incessant, ungrounded, pool of stagnation (In transparency, I’m exaggerating here to make my point.). I realized that I was asking these very patient and loyal white ladies to do work which was my responsibility as the leader. I questioned how my ideals were holding me back from engaging with reality in a way that honors my skills and affinity for being in charge. I recognized that I was avoiding offering my vision and opening up to the possibility of rejection. Once I did my own work of clarifying and offering a concrete vision, it initiated a more focused conversation and allowed us a way out of the whirl pool.

In claiming what I want (and taking responsibility for it), I have named wanting a shift in my role with WWG and, (drum roll, please) a desire and readiness to leave Pittsburgh. In doing so, I am leaving generations of martyrdom behind. I want sunshine. I want clear skies. I want greenery all year round (or at least most of the time). I want breathable air and a congestion-free throat. I want joy with my tea and fun in my relationships.

Now that I feel clearer about what I want, I feel even less clear about the process of getting there. Which is fine, she said with the grouchiness of impatience. I also feel open to the (many) possibilities and committed to sustainability in our shifts. I feel held and supported by those from WWG who have engaged in this process. I feel grateful for your support and for sticking with me through our ebbs and flows. I am excited for our accountability meeting and curious and as ready as I can be for the unexpected.