Unlearning Oppression (Lesson 2): Breathing into Fairness

Covid-19, civil unrest and curfew means we are in our homes. Miraculously, many formerly house-less people are sheltered. This is a good time for unlearning racism, by examining closely the root of this tree. California passed the Unruh Civil Rights Act (No Discrimination in Business in 1988, to try to prevent steering and blockbusting. “All person within the jurisdiction of this state are free and equal, and no matter what their race, color, religion, ancestry, or national origin, they are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever…” (California Real Estate Practice, 9th).

Part of the Dialectial Behavior Therapy approach to dis-ease to undertake to change our thinking patterns. You practice the action that embodies the thinking, while staying in contact with your body and the present moment. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that when we touch deeply the present, we can transform the past and the future. In essence, our awareness, our attention and our love can transform our reality–for the better.

I started this practice of looking inward in my early twenties. As imperfect as I am, as we all are, I’ve worked to not repeat the same mistakes. I try to grow, do better and master myself. Yet, mastering oneself requires intimacy, silence and introspection:

Lesson 2: Meditate, pray, study, journal or contemplate the Unruh Civil rights Act implemented in California seeking to understand the root necessity of such legislation. Why was this legislation necessary? What are the consequences of steering and blockbusting to the families involved? Spend 10-20 minutes daily on these questions.

Who we are as a people is defined by our actions. Our deeds in the world will inspire awe and be remembered-no matter what we do. Only by looking deeply into the present, can we unlearn the unspoken. We are taught to look past and through one another. Together we can unlearn the damaging ideologies that puts a value on skin color and enforces that projected vale with systemic violence. It’s time to heal. It’s time to do the hard work or turning inward, in silence and loving kindness, a Gift of the Spirit.

How to Maintain Mental Health Through Ritual

With unexpected changes happening every day, I’ve found that it’s important to find a routine or a ritual. For me, it is walking in nature to breathe the air that refreshes and heals, taking warm showers with luxurious soaps and salts that soften and cleanse, and drinking the teas that bring forth healing and wash the worries of the day away. These sensual indulgences link my body, mind, and spirit and allow for optimal psychological and spiritual health.

Mental health, our internal heaven, sometimes seems to elude us but is always available to us. A fragile, steadfast friend, it wants to stay with us — through connecting with our friends and our family, scribbling in a journal with tattered pages; a trusted and empathetic psychiatrist or counselor, or the paintbrushes tucked in our studio. 

Respite and Revival

These rituals simultaneously connect us to and vehemently release us from the realities of life, while life makes it possible to enjoy and revive our bodies and souls. With our staunch collective obsession of all that is new and theoretical in our Western society, coming back to that which is tried and true can be a welcome respite from the pressure to be different.

Still, a mysterious danger remains of being stuck in the past, present, or even future instead of being edified by it. We must embrace cycles in their full spectrum. Cycles are not just a hallmark of fertility although that is certainly significant; these cycles are cues that allow healing, sleep, emotional development and stability, calm. 

Alleviation of Emotional and Psychological Pain

These rituals and cycles — circling, and spiraling — undo the knots of symptoms such as anxiety and anger. Our internal revolutions unfurl the painful memories locked into our psyche and cells and are expressed as inflammation. Whether you call these experiences cytokines or prostaglandins, rituals to remove stress can stop the overabundance of pain.

We also stop the pain with laughter, the ultimate healing ritual amid the friction that can be described as systematic subjugation. I laugh with my ancestors: they get the joke, the absurdity that we should have to fight oppressive forces all this time.

Finding my center

My rituals help me to tap within, to figure out why we do what we do. Where do we fit into the seeming madness of the world? It seems like we all have desires that appear to be at odds with each other, yet make up a composite mosaic that is reflective of our collective experience.

Let’s Face It: Everything Is Political

Can we talk about politics on Karma Compass blog? I say, Heck, yeah! I know we have probably many difference in how we see the world, but hopefully we can agree on a few basic things. Everyone, no matter their gender, political leaning or socioeconomic class should be able to vote without encumbrances to the ballot. Can we agree on that?

Now, I have my own convictions. I know what I want, and know when I want it and I know why I want it. I’ve come to recognize this as an extraordinary gift. So many people don’t know what they want. They can never get it, they can never articulate  or visualize the thing they want. Not I. I pretty much move to my win, in almost any situation, as early as possible. The factors for consideration include:

  • Gratification: delayed and or immediate
  • Motivation: Personal, familial and or societal necessity
  • Agency: capacity, skills and ability
  • Values: meaning, impact and intent
  • Information: Do I have enough to make a good choice?

Taken together a priority will emerge. Some items on my list need not be employed. Others must constantly be assessed, like values in a professional setting.

Once you weigh out your options, perhaps making a list and contemplating important decisions, you choose. Once you identify and name your win, you can work to get it.

My biggest win these days, is getting a new president. I’m tired of his lies. I dislike his careless disregard for children and sexism. His anti-immigrant rhetoric fills me with rage, and his incompetent mishandling of the Coronavirus pandemic further solidifies his lack of humanity, compassion and generosity. That is why I want to have him replaced. But, it’s not enough to know what you don’t want, you have to name the thing you want.

I want to see Joe Biden and maybe someone like Michelle Obama or another whip-smart woman of color as vice president this year, as soon as possible. I want doctors and scientists to find a vaccine for Covid19, as well as the education of all children in the US, which requires a proper census. My dreams are political. I want to transform society.

 

What Kind of Teacher Are You?

I was a teacher for many years. I’ve worked with nearly age group, from infants with diapers to elders in my English classroom. As any teacher will tell you, teaching is its own set of rewards, gifts and teachers. You want to learn to do something well? Teach someone else how to do it. Teaching requires you to find the words, the tone, the language and knowledge necessary to even begin to impart it. That is why I’m grateful for teachers. I mean all the teachers, no matter grade you teach, how much money you make or whether your students will ever hug you. Thank you.

In one way or another we’re all teachers. We even learn unintentionally from contexts and outcomes of the situation. What kind of teacher are you? I’ve had all kinds of teachers over the years, but no matter who my pupil may be, my philosophy is to tell the truth. That means sometimes letting a person know when things are done well and merit celebration, or when it’s done poorly–so called negative feedback–and needs redoing. Both are important truths.

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When an adult speaks truth to a child, it’s every bit as important as a husband to a spouse. It builds trust. Over time, the lesson will solidify and reveal it worth. Truth-telling is a source of liberation; speaking the truth with the right words to open understanding, using a tone that conveys love, while holding high expectations is a gift.  This kind of attention, what I call a loving gaze upon the pupil, used to benefit the student by correcting behavior in order to allow for personal empowerment. The loving gaze is humanizes the personal and intimate relationship between teacher and student. In this context a powerful bond can form. It is the opposite of othering.

It’s critical for my student to understand a valuable mistake for a time when the stakes of failure may be high. The student must first trust me to be open to my lesson. This also gives her the ability to choose her path, armed with the knowledge and feedback necessary to make a choice. Also, telling the truth means that I will have to look them in their eye and tell them, “You can do better” with love, respect and confidence, knowing the compassion behind my words. It’s possible to tell him what he needs to know to overcome his weakness without breaking his spirit or his back. It’s the kind of teacher I’ve always valued and want to be. And relationship permits, even creates, a dynamic wherein the pupil may also challenge and correct the teacher. This leads to growth for everyone.

One thing I’m sure of, however, is that I will speak the truth with love and compassion IMG_5841until I’m gone from this earth. That’s my pedagogy. This is my gift. And if over the years, I’ve stepped on your foot, forgive me. I’m still learning. I was not raised in a gentle world. I’m quite fortunate to have a great pair of new teachers: My preadolescent niece and nephew. They’re teaching some of the lessons of the heart. As I brave this newly forming world, I armed only with my truth, ready to learn.

 

Stay Woke, Adapt and Wear a Mask!

I cried most of the day yesterday. If you haven’t had a day like that yet, you will. Give yourself permission to feel all the powerful emotions that COVID-19 Pandemic has unleashed on the world. This is a reality check. Find hope. Stay connected, and pay attention. Now more than ever, we need to watch our leaders. Apparently, it’s power-grabbing time for many. We need to be the ones that drive the direction of our nation. Personally, I want to live.

After his incredibly idiotic mishandling of the early days of Coronavirus, when a few measured words would have changed the outcome for every human being within the borders of the United States, President Trump continues to misuse and abuse the power of his office. When we most need compassionate leadership, we are cursed with an abusive, immature and xenophobic hate-monger. He’s as bad as Kim Jong Un, sending missiles over South Korea to get attention in the middle of a global pandemic. Shameful! Is this our collective karma? Let us remember Trump’s words–he documents himself on Twitter and endless press opts. Let’s do this in order to hold Trump accountable for his actions. He’s costing lives and behaves unethically at every possible opportunity. Read about what he’s up to with the oversight of the COVID-19 Funding: (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/03/us/trump-inspector-general-intelligence-fired.html).

Even though Trump doesn’t seem to “believe in” Social Distancing or wearing a mask, we know better! We know because we can see the numbers for ourselves by looking at the Coronavirus Dashboard (https://ncov2019.live/data). We need to learn from South Korea’s efforts and try to imitate their best practices. We don’t need to make every mistake to learn. We can learn from the mistakes and triumphs of other nations–especially imperative when we pay with lives. Use a mask! The CDC recommends it, and it is at least a part of the solution in South Korea.

Do this so that more of us will live.

Leading with Love: Mayor Garcetti Heals the City of Angels

It’s hard to feel energetic in the mornings knowing people are getting sick. Our lives are disrupted. It’s spring but we must stay home. Besides cooking, exercising and checking in with friends all over the world, I’ve found some comfort in my new hometown. These days, Mayor Garcetti’s five o’clock briefing is uplift hour at my house. That’s when I turn on KPCC and listen to Mayor Eric Garcetti‘s update.

When Mayor Garcetti speaks, I know this is what compassion is. In the middle of the most confusing time of our lives, a global pandemic that few expected and fewer understand, when violence has grown intimate and our national leadership has flagged, Garcetti is solving homelessness in order to save as many people as possible. His message to “Stay at home” comes with the energy and commitment to galvanize LA city residents to protect the lives of some of the most vulnerable people among us.

Mayor Garcetti easily slips into my portfolio of heroes: People like Harriet Tubman, Dr. King, Jesus, John Brown and Ernestine Rose. I don’t have a problem including him on my list. I want someone to imitate. I need to believe in goodness at a time like this. Here is a man talking about CoronaVirus and using words like, “us,” “we” and “love” to talk about what’s a stake and what we must do to heal and stay safe. He urges us to engage with our best efforts and most positive outlook while providing concrete guidelines for behavior that mitigates risk to our families. He reminds us to stay home, take care of each other and advises us on what the city is doing to curtail the spread of COVID-19. Hearing him is healing my heart.

“LA Love” is a theme I can get behind, especially when it comes with direct action. When he tells us about getting manufacturers to make masks for public workers, or sadly explains why our beaches are closed or how new regulations will be implemented, it’s full of hope. He’s even raising money for locals who are unable to work or need extended shelter until the danger passes. Garcetti emphasizes the unity of Angelenos and is raising money for people who may need help.

I’m grateful for Mayor Garcetti’s leadership at this time. It reminds me to be still and step up when I can. We can all use some hope these days.

Let the Children Be Heard: Advice on Communicating with Children

I’m always looking for a way to strengthen my relationships with young people. More than anyone in society, children are vulnerable. They need love and support to thrive. They need to be listened to and heard to grow confident in their abilities. I work to give them everything they need. Everything I never had as a child—a protectress, an advocate, a joyful ally. I’m not afraid to be fierce for them, to stand up for their rights and defend them against unjust behavior. I would rather take the burden of pain on for myself than let them face a brutal world alone.

Too many children fall prey to the very people who are entrusted with their care. Whether these children are athletes, students or family, we owe them a debt if they have been harmed under our care. Predators get away with abuse because children  fear that they won’t be listened to or heard, and that no one will intervene on their behalf. Sadly, there is endless evidence of predation against innocent children. The Me Too movement draws attention to the numerous examples of professional women encountering sexual abuse and harassment, or worse, in the workplace. Yet movements like Me Too should ideally harness the energy of visibility to prevent further attacks on women and children. This is an important moment in history to work toward accountability in our society. Without individual accountability, we cannot change the outcomes and experiences of women or children, which we are now the focus national attention. It is simply not enough to look backward. We must demand accountability in the present moment as much as we seek accountability for past deeds.

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“Mei Mei” painting by Christina Xu for Living Artist Project

The problem of abuse is more real than some of us care to admit. Children train in school to survive lethal gun attacks. They make few decisions regarding their own futures, and like women, are seldom believed. In that context, the least we can do is let them know that adults hear and respect their needs, their wants and their wishes—that even their dreams are sacred. Children deserve to have physical, emotional and psychological support and protection, and not solely after the fact.

It is up to women like me to act up on the behalf of children, to make sure history does not repeat itself. It is up to adults—every teacher, parent, uncle and grandparent, who cares to take up the slack. We must listen to children before there is a problem. We must be a person that a child will turn to for help and support. We have to give them grounds for the courage to speak up and tell the truth. We have to interrupt the violence and abuse perpetrated on others and ourselves as children witness. We can model behavior as we protect the future generation. No one gets a pass. We are all accountable. You may be asking yourself, “Where do I start?”

We can start by simply reading a book that gives us real, practical tools for working with and listening to young people. Below you will find a few gems gleaned from Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish’s book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. Start here, and read their treasure to learn more about how to be an ally to young people.

The following are excerpts from How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.

4 Ways to Help a Child with Their Feelings:

1. Listen quietly and attentively. 2. Acknowledge and accept their feelings with a word or sound. 3.Give their feelings a name. 4.Give them their wishes in fantasy form.

 

5 Steps to Engage a Child’s Cooperation:

1. Describe what you see or describe the problem. 2. Give information. 3. Say it with a word. 4. Describe what you feel. 5. Write a note.

 

6 Ways to Encourage Autonomy:

1. Let children make choices. 2. Show respect for a child’s struggle. 3. Don’t ask too many questions. 4. Don’t rush to answer questions. 5. Encourage them to use sources outside the home. (**Topic dependent. Use wisdom.) 6. Don’t take away hope.

 

Instead of Saying “N0”: 

Give the facts. Accept their feelings. Describe the problem.  Give yourself time to think.

 

Use Praise to Raise Self-Esteem:

Describe what you see without judgment. Describe your feelings in response to behavior. Sum up the child’s praiseworthy behavior in one word.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stepping to the Podium: Overcoming the Fear of Public Speaking

For whatever reason, it started in high school. I knew the answers to the teachers’ questions, but didn’t raise my hand to share them. When I was called on, I blurted the quickest response possible so as to avoid being the center of attention. This is when my fear of public speaking took root, the kind that made me suffer through classes all the way through graduate school, avoid certain social events, and ultimately, feel as if I was living below my potential.

It’s not uncommon to feel your palms sweat before a presentation or the rapid beating in your chest before delivering a speech. But throughout my young adult life, I often skipped out on the presentation or speech altogether just to avoid that uncomfortable feeling.

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“Milcah and Syrah” by Christina Xu for Living Artist Project

The result was to feel bad anyway. Worse, even, because in addition to the anxiety, I now had a heaping dose of guilt and regret to pour on top—for missing out on knowledge and growth, overlooking opportunities to collaborate and share, and letting myself or others down. To this day, I often regret that I didn’t attend my MFA program graduation, denying my family—and myself—the chance to celebrate this milestone. (My parents still ask why they didn’t get to go to a ceremony.) And all because I couldn’t fathom reading from my thesis to an audience.

Years later, when it came time to go on tour for my first published novel, I had to remind myself of the way my particular anxiety feeds on itself, hurting me rather than protecting me. Because this time, I was determined to show up.

Those prone to listening more than speaking still have a lot to share. Writing has been my salvation, providing me with an outlet for that reflection. The Hour of Daydreams represented seven years of writing and believing in my words, and I had to give it every chance to find success. This meant public speaking engagements, sometimes in front of more than 100 people. How did I tame my anxiety beast?

I didn’t. I had to accept that it was there and plow forward anyway. It’s all too easy to wait until you’re “ready” before taking a leap, large or small, but “ready” can be elusive, and one can wind up staying stationary for too long.

I don’t believe in changing for others’ sake. I believe in choosing the spaces where one is comfortable, where one thrives. Readings are not a requirement of being published. As much as my publisher encouraged my journey to becoming a public author, the desire to share the background, process, and inspiration behind my work ultimately came from me, not the press. That’s how I knew it to be genuine.

Before stepping to the podium, I knew there were things I could do to make the process easier. I opted to sign on for a small number of key appearances versus the quintessential 20-city tour. I came prepared for each of these events, practicing my excerpts aloud and reviewing the themes they cover. I cleared my schedule before a reading, making time to relax and breathe, to enter a space of mindfulness and quiet. I found little things to bring out the joy of the occasion, like wearing a new dress (always blue or purple to match the book cover), or planning a special dinner. Along with bookmarking the passages I’d read from, I tucked Kleenex into the pages of my novel, because nervousness makes my nose run. Through all of this, as many times as I felt nervous or afraid, I also felt excited and grateful, and came to realize how much these emotions are intertwined.

And even though my heart felt like it might explode before those readings, as the words came out, it calmed. I’ve found that like writing, sharing aloud brings out a whole new energy, opening up others to share of themselves in turn. Again and again, I’ve found renewed appreciation for friends, family, peers, and strangers with whom I share the love of literature and stories. One of my fears has been to make mistakes, and I’ve made many in this process. I try not to replay them too often afterward. I try to forgive and accept my limitations.

Speaking in front of a crowd is easier now, but still feels unnatural to me. Perhaps it always will. And that’s okay too.

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“Dali’s Dahlia” by Musa Jaman for Living Artist Project

 

Renee Macalino Rutledge’s debut novel, The Hour of Daydreams, has been dubbed “essential reading” by Literary Mama, “one of 24 books to get excited for in 2017” by The Oregonian, and a “captivating story of love and loss unlike any other” by Foreword Reviews. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she works as a nonfiction book editor, writes the “That’s So Alameda Column” for Alameda Magazine, and regularly explores the tidepools and redwoods with her family.

 

Watchful Patience

The messages of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela remain relevant even in a world where ideological confrontations and invasive totalitarianism have been overcome. They are messages of hope, of faith in a society’s ability to overcome conflict through mutual understanding and watchful patience. To achieve this, we must rely on our belief in human rights, the violation of which—whoever the perpetrators may be—must provoke our indignation. We must never surrender these rights. ~Stéphane Hessel

 

I wonder whether it is enough for me to do my work, to write my story, to create my art. I can no longer take liberty for granted, if ever I had. I have the urgency to stay awake, and yet, I also feel a tremendous responsibility to foster peace in the world, in my heart, in my home. The more I am afraid of the future, the more I cling to my sense of purpose, the calling in my life and to caring for myself, and others, with compassion, serenity and love.

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Elliott C. Nathan

It is easier to deal with the external manifestations of racism and sexism than it is to deal with the results of those distortions internalized within our consciousness of ourselves and one another.*

We must not permit our backs to be pressed against a wall, dogs to run us down like fugitives, or bars to close in around our hearts. If we are free, then no one can take that. And, we must believe that we are free—we have to know it. We have to own our freedom and live accordingly.

I say, keep your peace. Make room for your joy. Make sure that when the storm passes, your house is standing.

I believe I do not have to burn things to be part of a revolution —though I honor and recognize that those who must burn structures, effigies and ideals are necessary to the cycle of change.

I am writing about an anger so huge and implacable so corrosive, it must destroy what it most needs for its own solution, dissolution, resolution.*

I tend my garden, write like a mad woman, connect with my people, cry into my pillow, sculpt my ancestors, sand the teak table that has stood out in the blessed rain all this long winter. I do these things, and I watch, as Hessel prescribes, with a patience that is steeped in long-suffering and the alertness of a new season.

In our struggle for justice, peace and equity, we owe it to ourselves to nurture love, self-care and harmony. These are critical responsibilities for liberation workers.

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Elliott C. Nathan

We get to thrive. We get to love. We get to live.

 

*Audre Lorde