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.

The Spaces in Our Togetherness

risk everything.

And nothing.

I found you whole, a perfect imperfection.

Saucy and hot!

Stay close, hug up on me, bump me–again, worry, smile, cry, mansplain, masseur, get provisions, pay the bills, pick up G, wake up too early, laugh, grade papers, water the garden, teach, teach right after, teach some more, learn two or three things from your wife, get takeout, walk up the hill, put out the bins, close up the house, deliver my bud, check your email, call your siblings–

all kind as love!

And, just this morning.

Edissa mentors artists and writers of all ages in alignment with her conviction for working in radical solidarity to achieve social justice.

Featured photo by Jason Reyes for Living Artist Project.

Burning: Inside and Out

Experiencing personal racism is exhausting. It’s on the news. It’s in my mail. At work when I get some. It’s even in my family.

As I navigate this heat,–let’s call it Traumatic Racial Stress Syndrome, because that’s what it is–it’s as if the land around me is burning. The air is choked with its gritty scent. My home and possessions are threatened by active danger.

My retreat is to a place within where I have learned to cool my embers with the balms of healing. Even so the heat, smoke and flames are always at the door. They wait at the supermarket. Lurking in the woods is commonplace. Don’t even think of getting your brows done.

This is what it’s like to be a Black-Skinned Woman in 2020 America. It’s hot all the time–fires burn on every TV show. Every dinner party is laced with it. My actions are never good enough. I must learn my place or pay the price. I wear my papers on my skin: I do not belong.

Edissa completed production of a short documentary September 2020 and submitted it to several film festivals. She’s working on her next film and hiring a new Contributing Writer for Karma Compass.

On the Pains of Xeriscaping: Toward Waterwise Living

It’s hard to have an ugly yard in California. Many residents in Southern California pride themselves on lush gardens with blooming flowers and Tennessee Bluegrass, but for environmentally-conscious people, watering thirsty plants in this hot arid land is untenable. Add the challenge of the dry Santa Ana winds from inland that desiccate the land and summer temperatures that rocket to the triple digits for weeks at a time. Basically, transforming a garden to a waterwise feature is not easy in the high deserts of Los Angeles County.

Owing to SoCal’s intense heat, gray water makes inhospitable ground for new plants, even adapted species and natives. The water here is mineral rich, causing calcification to household appliances like dish and clothes washers. One needs imagination to maintain efficiency will modifying a typical garden to a draught-tolerant, water-wise and creature friendly environment. Like all major changes, the transformation is not always easy to bear, to see or experience. Homeowner’s curb appeal may be temporarily reduced. That’s why many people pay gardeners and landscapers to do the work. But not me! I like to feel the dirt under my nails and the strain of my back as work this good earth.

Gardening always embodies mindfulness: One must pay attention to everything. I learned that the earth here is packed solid as rock in summer–especially without persistent watering. The soil is dense and claylike and water does not penetrate the top layer. It remains on the surface until the sun and wind evaporate it midmorning. The earth acts like a terra-cotta planter; roots cannot penetrate the solid surface. This hurts plant roots and hinders growth. All this means a gardener must use plants that will tolerate less water and consolidate plants in areas where water is used efficiently. Even so, to keep such a garden content, soil amendment is required.

Among the challenges of xeriscaping a property is adapting to the local conditions and climate as well as finding plants and arrangements that optimizes water use, while minimizing the demands for potable water, an increasingly scarce global commodity that is essential for life. I don’t mind the awkward transitions; xeriscaping my property gives me hope, because I can model a patient approach to land stewardship that embraces the local environment and creates a sustainable environment for all of us.

A happy draught-tolerant Palo Verde tree after soil amendment for better drainage.

Edissa is cultivating an organic edible garden and xeriscaping her SoCal property.

Get Uncomfortable! (Unlearning Oppression: Lesson 20)

Another week, another inexplicable shooting of a black person. And still it is very difficult for many White Americans in the United States to accept America’s racist foundation–as old as our country. The simple, difficult truth is that that our government invested long ago in the myths we unconsciously live by. But, like a concentric circle, our actions ripple through time and touch lives in myriad ways that we may never understand. Even so, we can begin to awaken from the stupor of willful ignorance–abandon the dark caves and step into the light of day. We don’t need to dwell in the past, to acknowledge it.

We all know it happened. Slavery happened. So did a whole bunch of other unfortunate historical events. Even if our grandparents did something, we don’t need guilt or shame–just awareness and consciousness about the legacy we’ve inherited. Denial won’t change the truth. On the other hand, Radical Acceptance can help us come to terms with the total and complete truth of our collective and personal histories. In fact, a contemporary, unapologetic approach to truthfulness allows us to recognize and reconcile our personal truth with those of our community. This can bring healing and restore lost trust and hurt where we need it most: In our hearts.

Lesson #20: Watch the documentary, The Uncomfortable Truth with your accountability, church, sangha or reading group. Discuss how the legacy of slavery has impacted all of our lives. Explore how individuals in your group confront their personal and ancestral truth in a healthy and safe manner.

The work of creating a just society requires a commitment from all of us. If we each own our own stuff, take responsibility for our words and actions and tell the truth, we’ll have a roadmap for a new dawn. We deserve that. Our children deserve that. The truth matters– no matter how uncomfortable it may be.


Featured Photo by Jason Reyes for Living Artist Project

Contributing Writer Edissa in her home art studio, thinking of ways to connect to her neighbors with compassion and kindness.

Boundaries: An Important Complement to Healing

As part of our ongoing discussion of healing our own ailments, it’s time to consider the ways we invest in our well-being. As the old adage say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I believe it. Whether it’s PTSD, a physical injury or an emotional trigger point, the more an element of pain is activated in our bodies, minds or psyches, the more we are primed for recurring illness. That’s the law of the land. In a sense, our pain receptors, physical nerves, emotional buttons and hyper vigilance to trauma get atrophied in the “on” position.

In the same way that we cannot heal a sprained ankle by running on it, we cannot cure ourselves if we continually reactivate our pain receptors. Unfortunately, by design, our pain receptors are more easily activated than our joy and happiness and positivity receptors owing to our wiring that enables our auto-responsive defense mechanisms. In other words, we are built to feel pain quickly and easily so we can get out of the fire fast, with the least amount of damage. This generally works great most of the time. But, many of us unconsciously keep the fire burning when we don’t need it, and constantly insert a hand in it to see if it’s still hot. You may laugh even if you’ve done it yourself.

Maintaining a strong physical, mental or emotional boundary is akin to dousing the fire that threatens to consume everything in your path. So why are so many of conditioned to believe we have no right to personal boundaries? This is a rather important question to explore with a mental health practitioner if possible. And, even if counseling is not possible for you in this moment, I give you full permission to put up health barriers that protect and insulate your emotional, physical and mental health from any and all forms of disease, harm and dangers, including all of the following.

Learn to create, protect and enforce Your Personal Boundaries in all these areas:

  • Toxic people: relatives, family, friends, coworkers and strangers
  • Physical threats: aggression, micro aggression, trauma, violence, sexual assault and abuse from people or animals or other entities
  • Predation: energy vampires, financial drains, sabotage, time waste and unreciprocated/one-way investments that deplete your resources and ability to thrive
  • Personal harm: activities, foods, sounds, media, relationships or areas that trigger negative sensations, fatigue or the release of stress hormones
  • Learn to understand what are Healthy Boundaries with this worksheet

Of course, there are many ways to enforce our personal space to protect our loved ones from injury. Mindfulness, awareness and contemplation are important tools for discerning where the fires are, so that we can give them our loving attention. Just as you wouldn’t allow a child to run in front of a car, you get to erect a beautiful boundary around yourself that reduces any future harm and pain, so you can concentrate on healing past situations. Once you you are able to protect your boundaries as part of your routine self-care, you can look to remedies like tea, medication, therapy or Reiki to bring your equilibrium into a normal range.

Reiki Master Edissa is working to heal from 49 years of life as a Black Woman.

Photo by Ashton Huntsman for Living Artist Project

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