Level Up on Self-Care with Intentionality

It’s definitely time to ratchet up self-care now that we know COVID-19 is not going anywhere anytime soon. Sigh! As much as it breaks my heart to know we have to go through almost another year of seclusion, I’m grateful for the basic habits that keep us well. Let’s face it, it’s exhausting to not go out, see friends or even live without fear. It’s on us to give ourselves the care we need to thrive in isolation. Rituals are the anchors of life; they’re why so many of us don’t want to change, and why we’re hurting without them. People can’t even stop themselves from going to the gym, because of the social rewards of that ritual. But we don’t have go without the people and things we love!

Bath time preparation includes music, candles and prayer.

One ritual I especially miss is going to the spa once a month. I’ve been doing this for years as a way of getting regular relaxation, fasting and a blessed massage–remember those? As I’m not able, nor do I want to go to a communal spa right now, it doesn’t mean I can live without that dedicated sacred time. I schedule time to have a weekly bath, do my hair, meditate and shave my legs. Recently, I found my Neti Pot in the back of drawer and was delighted to use it to clear my sinuses, which get clogged in winter; now the Neti Pot is back in rotation as part of my regular bath and spa ritual. Bath time is a precious gift of love for my family so I can bring my best, strongest and happiest self to our relationship. This ritual also sets a powerful example for friends and family to make self-care a priority.

Sea salt for the Neti Pot and a delicious candle.

Most of us function optimally when we’re in community—connected to friends who know and love us as we are. That’s the reason so many folks are having a difficult time adjusting to the loss of prayer and faith community. Here’s what I know: Even without church, you can make time for prayer individually and collectively. Hopefully by now, most churches have adapted to online presence or some outdoor community space. I schedule regular phone calls with my closest friends, many of whom live in distant places. Facetime calls and Zoom classes and groups keep my mirror neurons sharp. It’s really up to me to connect when I have the opportunity.

Emotional intelligence functions in many ways, not just during physical proximity. You can be a jerk over email, text, Facebook or Zoom as easily as you can be kind and generous in the same platforms. You choose how you show up.

My girlfriend and I pray over FT and set our intentions for the week ahead.

What’s more, the gaps in connection owing to COVID19 means that even casual contact with strangers is highly risky behavior. And yet, I need to see my brother’s face to know that his distress over the January 6 Insurrection is a force I counter with my compassion and humor. I want to see his mirror neurons fire, and see his face brighten into a smile because he’s been heard and appreciated. Likewise, new virtual friends and teachers need physical and verbal affirmation to know that instruction is on point and the community is well. I understand that too much isolation only causes problems for everyone, and although I’m an introvert who can happily go long stretches without social contact, I show up on virtual platforms as a gift of my presence to my community. By showing up for quality contact that demonstrates lovingkindness, good will and generosity of spirit, I help make sure that many isolated people in my community can thrive. Anything less than that represents a scarcity of resources or lack of the necessary traits to give to others. I am able to give for those experiencing deficit because I have enough resources and emotional intelligence to give from my surplus reserves. If and when I withdraw, it’s an intentional act of self-preservation, like staying home to keep my immediate family members, including myself, safe from Covid19.

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Creating a Third Space

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.

Charging Your Energy with Crystals

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!

Social Justice and the Mindfulness Bell Go Together

Please support the Plum Village Community with a purchase of The Mindfulness Bell Autumn 2020/Issue 85 and read the Venerable Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh‘s guidance for cultivating “Peace, Love and Happiness” during these challenging days. Plus, you can read my contribution, “Peaceful Warrior,” about how I’ve coped with COVID-19 in my new city.

But Did You Sage First? Clearing and Cleansing for an Energetic Reset

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:

Photo by Jason Reyes for Living Artist Project

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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:

Photo by Jason Reyes for Living Artist Project
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Communicate with Intention (Unlearning Oppression: Lesson 18)

Recently, I received a beautifully written “Out-of-Office automatic reply” that opened my heart with compassion and awareness. Without delving into too many details about the message, the author outlined her circumstances and the nature of her personal challenges; explained how her situation was impacting her work and her ability to respond to the needs of others; and requested the readers’ understanding and patience. Her message caused me to pause, breathe and re-read her note. It was obvious to me that while her message wasn’t longer than the usual content, the care and self-awareness required to write such a missive were unique.

She showed that she cares not only for herself and her immediate family, but that she also respects anyone who may try to communicate with her through her work email. Her impressive mindfulness is important aspect of communication. That she outlined a course of action and that her relationship to the reader is clearly important and worth her careful consideration were additional dimensions of her active good will. With deliberate thoughtfulness and kindness, she coveyed the boundaries she needs to thrive. For the reader there is no mystery, no loss of focus or confusion. She effectively eliminated any misunderstandings that may arise owing to lack of skillful communication.

“Pathway”

Lesson 18: This week, before you pick up the phone, answer an email or leave a voicemail, take a breath to make sure you are calm and able to respond with good intention, so that you can communicate your message with love and kindness. Rely on your Accountability Group if you feel challenged by any emotional aspects of the communication

While not sufficient in itself, it is commonly accepted that the “Tool of Intention,” often utilized in prayer, meditation and contemplation, has the transformative capacity to improve outcomes. Whether intention is used for physical, mental or spiritual healing, intention sets a pathway to communication that relies of love and spirit to transmit good faith and harmony. During these trying times, we could all use intentional communication to ask for what we need, reduce harm and show good will.

Contributing Writer Edissa Nicolás-Huntsman at home, healing and working toward Social Justice

Reclaiming the Self: A Return to Ancestral Wisdom

The Black church is currently experiencing an exodus of its millennials who are seeking community and spiritual fulfillment elsewhere. Research conducted by the Pew Research Center stated that four out of ten millennials are likely to claim no religious affiliation (Cox, 2019). It is assumed that those who are leaving the church are becoming atheist or agnostic, however, this is not necessarily the case. As the church experiences an exodus, many millennials are finding their genesis in traditional African spiritual systems and the wisdom of their Ancestors.

What are African Spiritual Systems?

African spiritual systems are those that predate the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and were practiced on the African continent prior to European colonization. While the spiritual tradition varies dependent upon where one is on the continent, two that are most widely known throughout the diaspora are Ifá and Vodun. The practice of both systems has been vilified throughout history, but particularly after the Haitian Revolution because during the Haitian Revolution, an important Vodun ceremony took place at Bois Caimen that helped assist the enslaved Africans defeat and drive away their French colonizers. The vilification and demonization of these systems has helped ensure that diasporic Africans remain disconnected from their Ancestors, and therefore themselves. Though the systems may vary, there are a few key elements that translate between them.

Ancestral Veneration: It is often assumed that in African spiritual systems, people are worshiping those who have transitioned. To venerate means to pay homage to and show deep respect for someone or something. The Ancestors are given a high level of respect because they are their descendants’ first line of defense, and a connection to the spiritual realm. They are able to help guide and direct their descendants, as well as keep them from harm or unwise decisions. It should be noted that all cultures have a form of Ancestral veneration but may not realize it. For example, when going into an elder’s home, you may see that they have a collection of obituaries on their mantle, and photos of the transitioned all throughout their home. Though they may balk at the idea of setting up an Ancestor altar, they are engaging in a form of ancestral acknowledgement. Additionally, when one “pours one out for the homies,” it is a libation used to honor those that are no longer physically present. Elements of the African worldview and thought process are syncretized into modern day practices, often without a true understanding of where the traditions originate from.

Belief in a Divine Creator: African spirituality is often viewed as polytheistic due to the presence of Orisha (Ifá) or Loa (Vodun), who practioners can work with and call upon. However, there is still the belief in a singular Divine Creator who is not assigned a gender and is considered to encompass both genders.

Divination: In Christianity and Islam, one of the primary tenants is faith. However, African spiritual systems include divinatory abilities. Practioners do not have to guess if they are in alignment, making good decisions, or moving in purpose. With the ability to divine on a matter, practioners are able to move throughout the world in a more effective manner with a certainty that what they are doing is correct, or that what they are doing will lead towards harm.

“Bevier Pot” by Adrienne Cacitti for Living Artist Project

Why is Returning to Ancestral Wisdom Important?

2020 has shifted everything, including worldviews and ideologies. This time of quarantine and social distancing has allowed many to sit with themselves for the first time in years, or first time ever. During this time of sitting with oneself, many have come to realize that the ideologies and expressions of self they were taught to hate and fear, might hold the key to their wellbeing. The Ancestors are our first line of defense, as such, it is necessary to be still and listen to what they are trying to teach us. We cannot claim to be their wildest dreams if we are not taking heed to their advice, or diminishing their practices. It’s not enough to rally against systemic anti-Blackness if one does not address internalized anti-Blackness that is present through the demonization of one’s own traditions. Regardless if one chooses to participate in an African spiritual system, it should be understood that there are alternative epistemologies, and wisdom to be gained.

Secrets to Another Perception: How to Decenter in Difficult Times

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 Self

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:

Visual art

Breath

Daydreaming

Dance

Music

Discussions and lecture

Writing

Reading

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.