I learned a few things while walking my dog Sasha the other day: 1. She is incredibly bougie, 2. We’ve gotta get out more, and 3. Despite the inglorious task of picking up her poop, I found the whole ordeal therapeutic. It got me thinking about why such a menial task that often makes me gag was such a source of relief. I thought about the normal course of my day and how it usually follows one of two courses: utter busyness or sheer laziness. This dichotomy in our state of being as humans isn’t easily balanced. It’s usually driven by a strong desire to make money or recuperate from those efforts of making money. It’s a draining cycle of monotony in the busyness and laziness. Although both courses of action lend towards spontaneity, they don’t usually leave room for mindfulness, a practice which I find most useful in the decluttering of my mind. This is where walking Sasha becomes key in aiding my mental health. With constant thoughts of homemaking, work efficiency, and ways to escape boredom, I realized I was either being busy or lazy, but I wasn’t always present. I required balance and I had to create a third space.
In my youth, I believed that if I wasn’t doing anything, I was lazy, but if I was busy, I was productive. In the Black community, we are urged to occupy the first space of busyness with this hustler’s mentality instilled in us from youth. As a child, I watched my divorced mom work harder than anyone I know to provide for my brother and me. I’ve watched my uncle work hard to provide for himself and his daughter. I’ve even observed strangers in public as they hustle and bustle down the sidewalks of Newark, New Jersey to their respective 9-5 jobs in hopes of job security and financial stability. The phrase “Working for the weekend” comes to mind, and it saddens me because people are always in a hurry to do nothing, myself included. We’re constantly working to reward ourselves at the end of the workday or the weekend where we get to do nothing. We make these times of nothingness sacred because we feel we’ve earned it when it should be simply because we deserve it. We, humans, have been trained to work on a reward-based system from childhood; if we work hard in school, we get good grades, which is then rewarded with a range of things from parental praise to a new car depending on your social class. This reward learning is a type of reinforcement learning that strives to improve productivity, but all of this talk of productivity makes no room for rest, the third space.
The third space is a carefully cultivated place where one sets aside the time for mindfulness. In a perfect world, I would have a work-life balanced career that fulfills me and supplies for all my financial needs. At this present time, this is not my reality, so I find myself working for the weekend and getting naps where I can like the rest of the population. I thought this was the only way to trudge through my days while sheltering in place until I came across a Lavendaire podcast the other day. In episode 150, Aileen interviewed Leeor Alexandra, who spoke of her early beginnings with spirituality, breathwork, and meditation. Her words brought me back to my childhood and my early love for God without context. When I say without context, I mean I loved God without goading or mention of His love for me. The love and knowing of The Divine was already there, much like Leeor’s experience. Everyone’s experience with The Divine however is not intuitive like ours and requires some education and practical guidance. Leeor reminded me of this and the need to create space for mindfulness. This mindfulness helps me to connect to God and she also reminded me how to alkaline my body through breathwork, a practice I’d long forgotten. After watching her brief video introduction and reading the benefits, I decided to do these exercises and monitor the results for seven days. I can honestly say the test worked. It has truly been a tremendous help in slowing down my thoughts and keeping me mindful. The deep breath in through the gut is carried up to the chest before exhaling. It’s almost like you’re extending one breath into two. I enjoy the exercise because it’s simple and I can do it anywhere at any time.
Practicing mindfulness doesn’t have to be a drawn out production that occupies your whole afternoon, although that can happen. A lot of guided meditation videos I’ve come across take anywhere from 5 minutes to 35, maybe more. Most days, I don’t have the time, so I practice breathwork while washing dishes or showering. There is something about warm running water that calms me. I also implement it while walking Sasha as walking outside is always therapy for me. Perhaps the next time you are stressed you can try one of these methods. I desire to carry these practical applications of mindfulness through life because it gets stressful. There will be moments where I get lost in my work and familial matters. Others, where I will be likely to forget that I’m not alone in this and help, is all around. It’s the little things however that keep me going, like this furry little face full of love and mischief that makes my heart smile. My openness to love and guidance keep me centered, and an inner knowing serves as a gentle reminder to help me decompress one deep, guided breath at a time. It is this knowledge and love that I pass on to you, praying that you all breathe a bit easier today and every day.
You may have noticed that crystals in the form of bracelets, necklaces, tumbled stones, etc. making a rise in popularity. Because crystals have become a trend, it is easy to get confused as to their purpose, and how and why people use them. Here’s a brief breakdown on the benefits of working with crystals, and some of my favorite places to purchase them.
What are Crystals?
A simplistic definition of crystals is that they are elemental stones/gems that have specific energic properties that can enhance, or alleviate, certain ailments and conditions of the wearer/user. Everything and everyone vibrate with energy, and crystals can be used to help bring a persons energic field into balance, or in some cases protect a person from the negative energy of those around them.
The energy that a crystal carries depends on its composition which is why not all crystals can, or should, be used for the same thing. Some of the more common categories that crystals can be grouped into are: cleansing, chakra balancing, healing, protection, and grounding. This list is of course in no way exhaustive but provides just a general overview for those looking to begin their crystal collection.
How to Use Crystals
The first step when thinking about how to use your crystal is to answer the question, why do you want or need it? Are you trying to attract more self-love? Are you working on dream recall? Do you live or work with energy vampires? Do you travel a lot? Are depression and anxiety hindering your ability to function? Are your chakras, or a specific chakra, out of balance? Does your business need help? All of these are common reasons why people purchase crystals, and each question has a different crystal as an answer. Once you determine your why, you are then ready to purchase your first crystal or crystals. Generally, I would recommend going into your local metaphysical store to see which crystals call out to you. However, in the time of COVID, I recommend purchasing them online. However, be mindful of where you purchase them from. You want to make sure that the crystal dealer is reputable so that you can be certain that you are actually getting ethically sourced crystals as opposed to imitations or glass. So, Walmart and Five Below for example may not be where you would want to look for these purposes. Three online crystal stores that I recommend are Queendom Cultivation, Chakra Zulu, and Hella Vybz. Each store provides information regarding the best uses for each crystal, and starter kits for those looking to just cover the basics.
Once you have selected and received your crystals, you should cleanse and charge them. How this is done depends on the type of crystal. For example, some can be cleansed with water while others are water sensitive. If you are unsure, Sage, Palo Santo, and other similar cleansing agents should suffice. After you have cleansed and charged your crystals, you want to set your intention for the crystal. Intention setting is a form of manifestation and allows you and your crystal to be on one accord, which is especially useful for crystals that have more than one metaphysical purpose. You can also use crystals during meditation and mindfulness activities. For more information on mindfulness, please check out my November post “Free Your Mind.”
Recommended Starter Crystals
If you are looking to begin your crystal journey, here are a few crystals that I recommend that have come to be my favorites.
Clear Quartz – This is a stone that can help clear out negative energy, protect, and charge other crystals you may have.
Black Tourmaline – This is a grounding stone that helps protect against negativity and is also good to carry if you are someone who travels a lot.
Amethyst – For those who want help with dreamwork, this is a great stone for that purpose.
Rose Quartz – This is a stone that is especially useful in helping to call in self-love and self-affirmation.
Sodalite – Sodalite is useful in helping with balancing emotions and is great for those who deal with anxiety.
Citrine – For business owners, this stone is a must! It helps to call in wealth and abundance.
This is of course a short list to get you started. Remember, crystals are just a tool and they do not replace deep, introspective grounding and shadow work. They instead just make doing the work a bit easier at times. May your crystal journey be fruitful, and your energy balanced!
How the sun glimmers and glistens through Valley Oaks on a rustic hillside. How the warmth permeates amber honey skin and a tense body loosens. How the ground cover of fallen autumn leaves aches of a soothing vibrancy. How I breathe between these happenings. How yearning for more makes the muscles weak, turns the heart to a tiny blue egg, an oval shape, a crack on all sides as if someone took it and threw it into the night sky. How the brittle shell was adorned with cornflower and flaxen. How I came home to myself after the breaking, half-human, half-bird. How winter frost is arriving again. How a hunger remains. How the Burrowing Owl and the American Robin observe, witnessing all of this. How they don’t swallow time in the same way or long for difference. What if all of this was enough?
Photo by Georgina Marie, Autumn Leaves, Lakeport, CA
In my October post Watch Your Mouth!: Self-Care Through Self-Affirmation I provided a few tips on how to affirm yourself to stay grounded and centered in the midst of social upheaval and general chaos. This month, I’d like to continue this discussion with an emphasis on mindfulness and meditation to help you free your mind.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a form of meditation that invites individuals to detach from external stimuli and be present with and for themselves. Mindfulness can involve breathing techniques or guided meditations. It can also be movement based through fusing meditation with yoga, Tai Chi, or other sports. It is important to note that mindfulness and meditation do not require you to change who you are to practice it. In fact, as you begin living a more mindful lifestyle, you may find out more about who you are and gifts that you had locked away, or traumas that need to be uprooted and addressed.
What are the Benefits of Mindfulness and Meditation?
Taking time to check in with yourself is one of the most important things you can do for your health. By taking brief moments throughout the day, or even a dedicated time once per week, some stress related health issues can be avoided, or the risk diminished. Let’s look at some of the other benefits.
Stress Relief: Mindfulness and meditation help relieve stress because it’s a way to take a break from the chaos of your daily life. The world privileges grind culture and treats us like machines which we are not. It’s okay to understand that your capacity has limits, and meditation is one way to step away and reset when it has been reached.
Helps with Anxiety and Depression: A large percentage of society is impacted by anxiety and/or depression. Whether the anxiety and/or depression are seasonal or chronic, mindfulness and meditation can help alleviate the symptoms. Of course, these techniques should be used in conjunction with other treatment options depending upon the severity of the anxiety and/or depression. Mindfulness and meditation can help alleviate certain symptoms because in checking in with yourself, and detaching for a moment, it enables to you calm down and discern the root of whatever triggered the anxiety and/or depressive episode if it is situational. If it is not situational, these practices can still help you recharge after an episode.
Improves Concentration: Since mindfulness and meditation require a level of focus, these practices help you learn to filter out background noise efficiently.
Keeps You Physically Fit: When mindfulness and meditation are fused with sports and other movement practices, you’re able to care for your body and mind simultaneously.
Helps Unlock Creativity: If you are feeling blocked, try meditating and you’ll be surprised to see the ideas begin easily flowing.
How to Begin a Mindful, Meditative Lifestyle
Determine which type of mindfulness and/or meditation works best for your lifestyle. I personally enjoy meditating with crystals (check back next month for my article on the healing properties of crystals) and also through practicing the afro-Brazilian martial art Capoeira. Others enjoy meditating outside barefoot to connect to the earth’s energy. Some prefer traditional meditation. There is no wrong or right way to be mindful.
Begin! Mindfulness and meditation are more than just trendy buzz words, they are things that we are all inherently capable of doing if we give ourselves permission to stop for a moment and be present differently.
Self-care isn’t selfish, take time to check in with yourself. To paraphrase En Vogue, free your mind; rest, healing, and so much more will follow!
We have made it to the fourth quarter of 2020! With only three months of this year to go, many are feeling emotionally and existentially tired. With things running together on what seems like a continuous feedback loop, many may have fallen off their usual self-care routines. The fourth quarter is where games are won and lost but, in the words of Ms. Lauryn Hill, “how you gonna win when you ain’t right within?” Practicing self-care in your usual ways, traveling, going to the gym, attending family events, may not be practical right now. In a climate rife with complaints and murmuring, the easiest way to maintain self-care, and remain in balance, is through the practice of affirmations.
What Is Self-Affirmation?
Self-Affirmation is the process of speaking life into yourself. It is using your own ashe (divine energy) to shape your circumstances and reality around you. It’s not just positive thinking, thought that is part of it. To affirm yourself means to speak life over yourself from a standpoint of truly wanting to see those things come to pass. Affirmations also aren’t wishful thinking either. The affirmation needs to have actionable intention behind it. For example, if you are affirming that you are a top scholar, you have to do more than just declare that over yourself, you have to do the work and study. Words are the starting point, consistency brings it home.
What If I Don’t Believe the Affirmation?
Of course, believing the affirmation makes it all the more powerful, but as Donald Lawrence and the Tri-City Singers remind listeners, sometimes you just have to encourage yourself. You don’t always have to feel in the mood to affirm yourself though generally, it’s when you’re feeling down that you may need it the most. If you are having trouble speaking positively over yourself, there are a few ways to go about shifting that paradigm.
Therapy. For numerous reasons, within the Black community going to therapy is seen as weak or ineffective. There was a meme on social media that stated essentially that many are exhausted from trying to pray their way through things they needed to seek help for. Self-affirmation can be placed in this context as well. Sometimes, you need a licensed professional to help you understand the root causes of self-esteem issues and other troublesome patterns of behavior. Once you’ve dealt with the root, you can then begin to plant a new harvest.
Enlist the Help of Friends/Family. If you don’t feel that you are able to encourage yourself, try and see if you have family or friends who would be willing to offer you words of affirmation on a fairly consistent basis. Some people need to have things externalized before they internalize them. If that is you, get an affirmation buddy and make it reciprocal. You affirm them, they affirm you, and you build one another and by extension communities.
Meditate. Sometimes it may not be that you have an issue believing the affirmations. Your mind may just be too cluttered with the minutiae of life. Take a moment, or several, to ground yourself and align yourself to receive positivity. For more information on meditation and mindfulness, check back in November!
How to Begin Self-Care Through Self-Affirmation
There is no wrong or right way to affirm and care for yourself. But if you are looking for some starting points, here are some suggestions.
Scriptures, Proverbs, and Parables. Regardless of what spiritual system you subscribe to, if you subscribe to one at all, proverbs and parables abound. They also are prevalent outside of a spiritual context. Though many may find organized religion problematic, there are some gems contained in the Bible, Torah, Koran, Odu Ifa, the teachings of Ptahhotep, et al. that can start as the basis of your affirmation list.
Music. Music is powerful with a specific energy. If you need affirmations on the go, try looking for it in music. Some personal recommendations are any album by India.Arie.
What needs to change? Another starting point is by looking at what things need to change, or what things have died in your life. Once you are able to identify these items, you can move forward to speak life into them and build yourself up.
Social Media. Social media is usually seen as harmful to one’s sense of self. However, there are a few accounts that are great at providing affirmations. Two accounts to follow on Instagram are: @thenapministry and @blackselfcaretalk.
Whichever method you choose to begin, the important part is to get started. Start setting your foundation for 2021 now. Happy affirming!
As we head into the end of the third quarter of the year, it is clear to see that 2020 is still unrelenting. Many are trying to process compounded trauma and grief in the midst of “unprecedented and uncertain times.” Between increased, publicized, instances of police brutality and Black death, a pandemic that requires quasi-isolation (or complete isolation for some), Zoom fatigue, and loss, both personal and communal, people are carrying a lot. In the words of Erykah Badu:
Bag Lady you gone hurt your back
Dragging all them bags like that
I guess nobody ever told you
All you must hold onto, is you
– Bag Lady
Even though things are a bit haywire right now, before you can rush into dealing with the world, it’s imperative that you first check in with yourself. As people are turning to holistic wellness, it’s important to remember, you can’t meditate or manifest in a tainted atmosphere.
How to Sage Your Home:
Sage is an herb that is used as a cleansing agent that purifies the air and dispels negative energy. Sage can also be used to assist with meditation and checking in with oneself spiritually. To sage, the basic steps are as follows:
Determine what type of sage you need. The most common type of sage that people use for cleansing is white sage. Make sure that you have a bowl to put the sage in – safety first.
Once you select the sage, take a few leaves from the bundle, and place it in the bowl. Most people burn the entire bundle of sage and while that is still effective, it is better to burn small amounts of the sage to preserve the life of it.
After you light the sage, blow out the flames once it begins to produce smoke. Once the sage is smoking you can either leave it in the specific room you are trying to cleanse, or you can walk the sage around the house for a top to bottom cleansing.
As you are cleansing the house with sage, don’t remain silent! This is the perfect time to explain exactly what you are asking the sage to clear out. Words carry weight, speak up about what is lingering in your house that is no longer serving you.
Make sure to open a window and/or door while working with sage. You don’t want to stir up the negative energies but have no place to dispel them to. My recommendation is that as you conclude working with the sage, open the front door and let the smoke out. After this is done, make sure to welcome the positivity and blessings that you are hoping to attract.
Don’t forget to sage yourself! When saging yourself, start from the crown of your head and work your way down. Make sure to affirm and speak over yourself. Also, don’t forget to lift up your feet to sage under them.
If you wear or keep crystals and tumbled stones in the house, saging them is a way to cleanse them so that they are ready to fulfill their purpose and intention.
Other Ways to Cleanse:
Not everyone enjoys the smell of sage but still believe in the importance of cleansing. If you don’t want to use sage, but still want to elevate the vibrations of your space, try a few of the following methods:
Cleanse with Florida Water. Florida Water can be found online and at most Botanicas. It is believed to have spiritual properties that enable the person being cleansed to be stripped of the negative energies they carry. It is a more superficial cleaning, but it’s a start until deep cleaning can be undertaken. To cleanse with Florida water, it’s important to apply it first and foremost to the head, because it is the head that carries the record of what’s troubling you. Florida Water can also be added to your laundry or other household cleaning products for increased effect.
Cleanse with Rose Water. Rose Water is similar in function to Florida Water. For added benefits, use the water directly from the Rose of Jericho which is a resurrection plant. When using the Rose of Jericho rose water, as you cleanse you can also call into being those items that have become stagnant in your life.
Take a Spiritual Bath. Spiritual baths are a deeper cleansing and can vary based on the impetus for the bath. Ingredients for a spiritual bath can be found online or discussed via a consultation/spiritual reading.
This is just an initial entry into the basics of cleansing. With four months left of the year, it’s time to lay down the burdens that the first eight month have placed upon you. Let’s raise our energy levels and honor ourselves by honoring our space.
One of the keys to effective decentering is cultivating mindfulness. Mindfulness is important because it allows us to become aware of the events, emotions, and thoughts that are occurring within and around us. Often, when one speaks of mindfulness, one can conjure visions of a Buddhist master, but the truth is anyone can achieve satisfying, powerful clarity through this practice.
The idea of The Self is an important one. It helps us to navigate a world where it is sometimes difficult to understand the place your dreams, desires, motivations, worries, and worldview start and end. If you are not aware of the nuances of this, you may need or demand too much or too little support from others, or they may ask too much or too little of you.
The sense of The Self also harbors fear. Fear can be a good thing — evolutionarily, fear has kept us from being attacked by predators. However, too much anxiety can interfere with our emotional and psychological growth. It also fosters rash decision making and inability to establish long-lasting and trusting relationships with others.
One example of this is the police officer that allows fear to cloud their judgment and ascribe far more danger to a citizen than necessary. When a person has this mindset supported by others that look like them, either by race or wearing a uniform, there is little incentive to stop and examine the circumstances through another lens. However, this support can prove to hinder your growth. When you are most comfortable and feel most supported is when you should decenter.
How to Decenter
One of the quickest ways of maintaining a decentered state is a routine meditation practice. Studies show that meditation reroutes pathways in the brain and reduces stress. Stress can aggravate and prolong feelings of fear, aggression, and unworthiness. While there are many books and videos on meditation, meditation does not have to be a process in sitting still and breathing.
The reason breathing is crucial is that, apart from the physiological changes when more oxygen enters the brain, breath is a repetitive movement.
Meditation is a process of cultivating what psychologists call “flow.” Flow characterizes what laypeople call being in the zone. Any athlete, artist, or another person that relies on the repetition of their skill can report a sense of peace when they “get in their zone.” Getting in the zone provides an acute sense of clarity seldom found in other activities.
Some activities to get in the zone are:
Discussions and lecture
Why This Is Important
As a law enforcement officer, your job is dangerous. You probably work strange hours and have seen the worst of the human spirit. Because of this, you can end up overworked and fearful. However, there are other professions and life experiences that cause others to be overworked, stressed, and afraid too.
If the police apprehend a woman, search her, and she physically retaliates, the police report says she was resisting arrest. The account may be accurate, but if you decentered yourself and listened to her story, you may find out that the way you gripped her arm was the same way her abusive ex-lover did two years ago. She suffers PTSD, and reacted the way she did because she was unable to decenter as well.
Decentering allows the public servant to detach and offer more effective service. It also allows the officer to see that decentering is part of his or her job. The “resist to arrest” no longer becomes about “degenerate citizens” but more about understanding how to diffuse a contentious situation.
I went to a class called Taming Anxiety to deal with the residual feelings of being threatened, anxious, withdrawn. Fear still resonates at a very high frequency in my body. I am filled with debilitating self-judgments. I am searching for community. I have come to listen to my body and my emotions. I have come to follow my breath.
Some years ago, ordinary nervousness grew into full-blown anxiety attacks: increased heart rate, tense muscles, cold sweat, nausea and the urge to scream gripped me every morning. My body provided clear reasons and visible signs, the type that even the doctor could not dismiss. I no longer wanted to leave the house.
“May I be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.”~The Four Divine Abodes
Sometimes people interpret symptoms of anxiety as a heart attack. I perceived it as insanity. I could not trust my body to stay dry after getting dressed. My perspiration was activated with proximity to school and the classroom. Where once my formerly steel resolve and confidence were paramount, encountering the violence of colleagues unnerved me completely. I was not only falling apart, I was imploding, feasting on my own nervous system. There was no peace to be found in or around me.
I would rather define self as the interiorization of community. And if you make that little move, then you’re going to feel very different about things. If the self were defined as the interiorization of community, then the boundaries between me and another would be much less sure.
Through a Buddhist lens, the loss of balance has overwhelmed me. Using this frame, there is a connection between the mind, experiences and society. In this context, heart and mind are the same.
“May I be filled with loving kindness.” ~ The Four Divine Abodes
My falling apart was not gradual but exponential. Trembling became customary. For a time, I could not drive. My eyes averted from those of passersby. My hair thinned as I looked in the mirror. My beautiful complexion lost its shine, morphing into a waxy and irritated skin. I attempted to hide so that no one would see me dissolving. Isolation was the only safe place. The violence of my professional life eroded my joy.
The more recent manifestation of my anxiety is milder, habitual, unfounded.
Rev. Keiryu Liên Shutt gives us a Koan, a question repeated verbatim to a respondent, who answers each time. Rev. Liên insists that we ask it again and again. The Koan works. It leads me back to myself, to the limitations I have imposed on myself by following my thoughts out of the present moment. The Koan challenges the beliefs that I’ve held for some time, that I am responsible for my expulsion from the academy. I have constructed a narrative that serves to form my diseased state, and results in a burden I carry, alone, in silence.
I think we are indebted to history—and not just familial history, but cultural history, political history and economic history—for our understanding of ourselves.
How does my anxiety limit my happiness?
While I perform zazen, concentrating on my breath, I feel myself moving around inside my skin like a small animal in a burrow. Once in a while I will sniff the air at the opening to see if I am safe.
“May I accept myself just as I am.” ~ The Four Divine Abodes
After a time, the Koan makes me laugh. It is as funny as the absurd games I play on myself. It becomes clear to me: Anxiety has pushed me out from the unsafe world into a space I have cultivated with compassion and care. This new place is good for me though I am slow to adapt. The tools I need for my serenity are provided by my anxiety, a sounding board in my body, leading me to a world where I can breathe without hyperventilating, without erupting in stress-inducing illnesses.
“May I be peaceful and at ease.” ~The Four Divine Abodes
I only have to learn the signs and see the pattern to understand the hot burning is not healthy. My anxiety has liberated me from the bondage of suffering, given me the courage to confront my reality. I would never have willingly walked away from my livelihood. I was too fearful to face the consequences without a strong push.
The tools offered by psychiatry are intended to attack the symptoms of emotional suffering, not to promote emotional flourishing. Other emotions do not destroy equilibrium or the sense of well-being as soon as they arise, but in fact enhance it—so they would be called constructive.
How is my anxiety valuable to me?
It’s so easy to internalize dysfunction, to own and embody a condition that reduces our sense of self to ourselves and within our communities; it limits our ability to navigate in the world. We are less comfortable with looking at the external forces that play a role in our well-being or lack of it.
“May I have inner and outer safety.” ~The Four Divine Abodes
The myth of happiness is woven into the American consciousness. This ideal has not been designed for women and people of color, yet we allow the myth to enter our framework of self-identity and suffer for the shortcomings of that comparison. Until we learn to see ourselves as products of an oppressive society, individuals, who are ill equipped to bear the weight of these burdens, we must carry the imbalances that arise from the pervasive oppression under which we toil.
“May I hold my pain with mercy.” ~The Four Divine Abodes
There is a demand, an artificial one, that insists that we show up in society at 100% at all times. The sense that we cannot fluctuate from that norm is pervasive. With my students, a deep sense of failure was often articulated over an inability to master a technique that is only being tried for the first time. My answer was always that Doing one’s best on any given day is not the same as being perfect, operating at one hundred percent every day of our lives. That impossible goal is overdue for demystification. Aiming at that kind of perfection is not only impossible, it is also detrimental to our health and the health of our communities. It’s a myth that insists we show up as something other than our real selves. It is a myth that perpetuates anxiety, guilt and shame over our true selves rather than fostering a foundation of compassion wherein we can strive and grow into our evolving selves. It is a myth that breeds fear and isolation, components of anxiety.
“May I be undisturbed by the coming and goings of situations.”~ The Four Divine Abodes
The anxiety I feel is useful as a warning system, reminding me to stay in community—to seek it out if necessary. My anxiety pushes me to get help and to find the courage to move beyond the limits of my emotions and to examine the root causes of my dis-ease.
At the height of its grip on me, my anxiety was activated by the unhealthy racial climate at work, which was established over many years, designed to alienate me, and anyone who looks like me, consistently and strategically in overt and covert ways. The absence of friendliness and kindness took their toll on me. After ten years of absorbing toxicity from those in power, my body and my mind worked together to awaken me from my torpor. I could not ignore my anxiety if I meant to survive.
“May I hold my joys and sorrows with equanimity.” ~ The Four Divine Abodes
Ten years is long time to not belong. I had to get over the shame of not succeeding in an environment that never wanted me. Next, I named the climate that actively dehumanized me and treated me as inferior, made me feel out of place in the academy. I abandoned my systematic willingness to enter the war zone, crossing boundaries littered with landmines, peopled with hostile agents, looking for my happiness. I relearned compassion for myself and my oppressors.
“May your happiness increase and never leave you.” ~The Four Divine Abodes
I can see that during the entire episode, my anxiety guided me toward safety. My anxiety acted as a warning system, alerting me to the changes needed to ensure my well-being and happiness. I may not have caused my anxiety, but I am responsible for the state of my life. With this awareness, I’ve set new intentions to listen to my emotions with a heartmind toward Justice, Peace and Healing, and to foster the conditions under which I thrive. I don’t want to dwell in negative emotions, but I do need to investigate them and use them as catalysts to avoid self-harm, because I am fully aware that I am worthy of love and compassion. Three and half years ago, when I had my first anxiety attack, I never imagined I’d be on friendly terms with this emotion. Now I see anxiety as my friend and teacher.
I don’t know how to fix things. I don’t know how to make things work again once they fail. I’m no engineer. I am a tinkerer.
I know how to listen. I listen with my ears. I listen with my mind. I listen with my memory. I listen with my heart. I listen with my intellect. I listen with my emotions. I listen with my eyes, my experience and my pen.
Each listening hears differently. Each listening possesses its own attunement. Listening is a teacher, a healer and a decision maker. Listening is passive and active. Listening is an ancient form of communication, a dance with the moving molecules of existence.
How do we listen to one another? How do we listen to the beloved? How do we listen to God, to history, to our deepest self?
These simple questions, unpacked, can tell us about how we hear and process the world.
In many religious traditions, a time of quiet contemplation, reflection and solitude are prescribed for a special kind listening and hearing to happen. The challenge in contemporary society like ours is to value and consecrate time to the practice. We unfortunately view quiet and solitude as suspect, luxurious or superfluous. Without dedicated time for listening and stillness, we cannot hear our highest calling—we are not able to listen for our next steps. And, instead, we fill all of our time with noise, in essence, censoring our own receptors from the deep hearing our souls need to thrive.
With what do we fill our lives? For some, life is endless talking without pausing to digest, listen or consider. Next, we permit ourselves to be saturated in the constant bombardment of media from televisions, radios and other sources of media. We are addicted to social-media platforms, unable to eat a meal without a device in one hand, consuming tasteless food and ingesting unexamined content with our eyes. Whether we fill our time with other people, fictional or factual content, sounds in any form, we cannot reconcile without some sort of retreat into solitude and serenity. In the second episode of the deeply grotesque and compelling series, Black Mirror, the main character tries to lie down silently in his room; unable to shut down the endless stream of programing that is forced upon through all of his waking hours, he shatters one of the many screens lining the walls of his room. Even this does not afford him even a temporary reprieve from external stimulation.
The metaphor in the episode is only partially hyperbolic. We are under the constant pull of instant news, messaging and reminders. Only when we are about to burst will we try to shut the devices down—even then, we may not be able to sever ties to the technology that plugs in to the noise. We may not pay in the literal sense that the show depicts, but we come close. Serenity, the show suggests, becomes the domain of the wealthy, but I’m not sure that the wealthy are any better at getting quiet or sitting in stillness.
We all need to step back from life, devices, Internet, news, chatter, magazines, regularly. For some, a daily retreat in the form of meditation or prayer is necessary; for others, a periodic abstaining from external stimulus or a foray into nature will suffice. The dedicated time needs to be intentionally gifted to the self, an official offering of the heart, for renewal to happen. If we don’t make a conscious choice, our bodies and minds will often decide for us. That can be a very painful process.
Clearly, I am not an expert on how to patch up broken moments. I am a woman who was once desperate to repair important relationships, holding to an uncompromising optimism about outcomes and drowning out the pain with business. The surrender for me came when I could no longer exact effort, forced into isolation by physical ailments and immobilized by emotions owing to my inability to repair the damage to important relationships. At that time, I found the opening into radical acceptance, a place of listening and hearing, a knowing that was the entirety of the experience—sitting with my pain with my raw emotions. At first the solitude and quiet turned into an enormous dragon, my monstrous failures eating me alive. Gradually, the dragon settled into a protective guard dog, alert and vigilant, yet utterly gentle and loving, a new experience of the self.
Now I seek moments of solitude, reflection and silence regularly. Cultivating the practice of retreat in myself, I allow for serenity and stillness, to make the necessary peace with my life. Peace requires turning the external world off periodically. We can lose so much of ourselves in the process of life. We are prone to forgetting our priorities when we don’t make time for introspection. The process of retreat is necessary for compassion and healing and opening. The reconciliation with the self, returning the self in loving kindness is the only possible way to find peace. We must cultivate that peace in ourselves.