Last year, I had the privilege of having Alejandra Ramos feed the participants in both the Mythic Beings Retreat as well as the Yogawood Change is the Only Constant Retreat to Good Commons. This morning Alejandra shared her talent and taste with the viewers on Good Morning America. Check it out here:
On this New Year's Eve, Kevin and I went to watch the movie, "Wild." We both relished the memoir by Cheryl Strayed. It's her swan song. It's her big moment of claiming her life and she shares that process with the reader in full color.
Watching a cherished book transform into movie is always delicate. What will they edit out? What will they highlight and emphasize? I thought they did a wonderful job clarifying the central story for those who had read the memoir and those being freshly introduced to the story. I mainly wanted to see "Wild" adapted to film to know the scenery of the Pacific Crest Trail. It didn't disappoint. What surprised me a little was my own ability to visit her journey with fresh new eyes. I didn't expect to be able to find pain the most beautiful catalyst-- because that's the potential, right?
I've long had a theory that none of us makes it out unscathed, or put differently, that we all have a story. We all have scars, we all have been hurt. Some of us pretend otherwise. Some of us loudly proclaim our stories. In my own life, I'm seeking to transform the pain, to let the moments that hurt me most also propel me towards my best self. If there is a point, that's it right? Otherwise. Well, that's a darker investigation.
Strayed's grief lead her into her darkest self and then ultimately onto the trail. She literally learned how to carry herself again. She learned how to live again. It was an actual walk-a-bout, which has a pretty good track record for folk's reconciling with the great overwhelm.
I never hiked or backpacked a trail. I did blaze out on my own and it was scary as shit. It also taught me my mettle. I gained confidence knowing I could care for myself, that things are tough plenty, but there is a way through.
Kevin and I have been talking recently about that weird tension between loving and wanting to care for another but also create the space for independence and freedom. Of course, we try to do that for one another. That's the line between interdependence and co-dependence, right? That's the space we create for intimacy and vulnerability. That's the space we make for the important, deep living.
It feels pertinent that we shared this story on New Year's Eve, the big day of accounting for many of us. We tally up the last year's highs and lows and make some determinations for what's ahead. In the space of "Wild," I resolve to make the pain beauty. I resolve to make the pain beauty. I resolve to stay in it, all of it. I resolve to let it all be. The pain. The beauty. To be. I resolve.
Winter Mountain Retreat to the Catskills with Dee Joline and Carrie Sarlo-Randazzo
President’s Day Weekend
Friday Feb 13 - Monday Feb 16
Journey a quick three hours north for a warm and bright weekend at the Menla Institute in Phoenicia, NY. Enjoy six sessions of both vigorous and restorative yoga taught by two of your favorite Yogawood instructors, sleep in the gentle elegance of the Menla Mountain Lodge, be nourished by fireside organic vegetarian meals, book a treatment at the on-site Mahasukha Spa, or venture into the excitement of winter in the Catskills mountains. Know that Best-of-Philly massage therapist, Carrie Sarlo-Randazzo, will massage students while Dee leads practice. A short drive to snow tubing, enjoying the shopping or great dining in Woodstock and other neighboring towns, visit a winery, or ski in one of three mountains within a half hour radius. We’re told the most popular downhill ski mountain is Hunter. Yoga classes will be timed to give you a full day of skiing at Hunter on Saturday and Sunday. As many have off for President’s Day Monday, you may even get in some more trails before heading home!
In addition to this being President’s Day weekend, our retreat is also over Valentine’s Day! Bring yourself and let us cherish you or feel free to bring your sweetie and steal away for a snowy walk hand in hand. All are welcome.
Our retreat participants will be housed in homes on Menla’s campus. Examples of rooms are shown below:
Take both vigorous and gentle practices with Carrie and Dee in one of Menla’s beautiful studios:
Please email email@example.com if you have a preferred roommate. If not, we will pair you with another participant and make sure both of you are in communication and comfortable with the arrangements.
Dinner on Friday Feb 13. Three meals on Saturday Feb 14 and Sunday Feb 15. Breakfast and lunch on Monday Feb 16.
Yoga practice on all four days.
Optional Spa Treatments.
Skiing or other optional activities.
We understand that things come up. As this is a sweet, spontaneous offering, we can only transfer your tuition to another participant if you make the arrangements. To keep our obligations to our providers, we are unable to offer refunds.
There is no cell reception at Menla. However, there is free wifi in the yoga studio to check in with loved ones.
Friday Feb 13
Check-in and arrival 3 pm
Rigorous vinyasa 5-6:30 pm
Dinner 7 pm
Saturday Feb 14 & Sunday Feb 15
Rigorous vinyasa 7:30-9 am
The day free to ski, snowboard, snow tube, explore towns, hike, arrange a spa treatment, or snuggle with a book!
For those sticking around Menla, lunch 12-1 pm
Bonus afternoon practice with Carrie for those enjoying Menla!
Restorative yoga practice 6-7 pm (with adjustments and massage from Best-of-Philly massage therapist, Carrie!)
Dinner 7-8 pm
Monday Feb 16
Rigorous vinyasa 8-9:30 am
Lunch 12- 1
Check-out 1 pm
Good winter gear! A warm coat for appropriate for outdoor activities, including Menla’s lovely trails, good snow boots, gloves, and hats!
If you plan to ski, bring what you have and hope to have.
Yoga attire appropriate for 4 sweaty practices and two gentler practices.
The studio has mats & props. If you’re especially attached to your own mat, bring it!
Downtime clothes good for reading, going to meals, or taking a stroll.
Sleepwear and warm slippers.
A good novel for evenings of any time you spend hanging out.
I told Kevin that we nailed it, or are in the process. He smiled at me, "You know how it drives you crazy when folks tell you what to do with really complicated situations or how to feel when things are especially intense?" I nodded.
Years ago Kevin I landed in Banos, Ecuador. I felt an overwhelming urge to settle into that valley and write the stories around me, within me. Instead, I heeded the voice in my head saying, "Go on! You're in Ecuador for a limited time! Go to the Galapagos! See! Experience! Write later."
I regret that now. I didn't fall in love with that trip the way I did with almost every other. I think a lot why I felt off was because I didn't listen to something intuitive and something off the script.
I'm getting better about that.
The day we lost our beloved Lazarus, Kevin and I listened to his impulse to go north. He packed us bags, found some bed & breakfast online, and we drove north. The next day, we bumbled around the small town, let ourselves cry, ate food as we wanted to, and just listened. We found our friend Taina's poster for her concert the following weekend in the window of a bookstore. That seemed like an invitation inside so we heeded it. Kevin found his weird esoteric books and settled in with a hot coffee. I wanted to read about death as a beautiful, natural, and spiritual process. I picked up some Pema Chodron, a tea, and tucked in next to him. The book sat on the arm wrest and I felt the call to write. Instead of talking myself out of it-- "I write faster/better on a keyboard"-- I picked up my notebook and pen and let go.
Passages from what I wrote:
"Hudson is design-y, art-y, kind of industrial, cold, and beautiful. I like it but I don't think I'd be content anywhere right now.
But it's a place that feels like a place. It feels like 'America,' like it knows itself confidently. It feels dilapidated and charming.
I've been wearing the same clothes for two days. Kevin packed me fresh clothes but I just don't care enough to change.
Yesterday, I was nervous energy in motion; changing the bedding, as I've been doing multiple times daily. Airing out the pee pads. Washing the peed on clothing, bedding, and towels. More laundry. More ensuring Laz's haunts were comfortable and clean. Cautiously vaccuuming. I wanted this latest vet to be convinced of our care.
When the tasks were done, I took a short run. After healing from a broken foot, I'm so grateful to run. I breathed and the air was cold. My body felt warmer. My mind didn't feel settled, but like the volume of the buzz decreased.
The latest vet, a referral from our regular vet, came and confirmed. Inoperable tumors on tongue and gums. Renal failure. Thyroid, Rotten tooth.
I heard some. Kevin heard some.
In later reflection, I asked Kevin, "how did we miss this?" And he reminded me that she'd said, "rapid onset," "quickly developing." We didn't miss anything. We did everything we could.
The only option was pain management. Most cats with mouth tumors die of starvation.
The feeling I'd had for days was confirmed. It was time. It was simply time.
Ever since he was a kitten Laz couldn't abide confinement. He howled and escaped if we didn't give him access outside. We didn't intend him to be an outdoor cat. He insisted.
I felt like he was clawing for release again. In the worst moments of the last days he cried and howled inconsolably. I would prepare the softest food for him. He didn't want it. Fresher water? Sitting together? I think he was asking me to release him.
Kevin needed to hear that there were no options. I was so anxious seeing him like that-- I wanted him free. But Kevin was right. In retrospect, we needed the comfort of knowing it was time.
After, I finally felt calm. Depleted. Sad, but relieved.
We headed north and a wall of exhaustion hit on the NY Thruway.
Kevin and I are a good balance in crisis. Most importantly, we're good to each other. Some of my everyday worries wandered in and out of my thoughts. I simply don't care. Death feels more real. I keep thinking of the Mexican saying of putting bodies in the ground. Knowing we're all seeds."
The windshield wipers swung against the fast and wet snow while Kevin and I shot north to the Catskills. I crawled in the back seat and tried to make a nest out of our hastily packed bags. Kevin was going to put on his ear phones to hear podcasts on his iPod. It made me feel alone, so he turned on the radio and listened to podcasts he'd already heard. So we could hear the same thing.
I checked my phone and saw an email came through. Friends of ours made a donation to an animal shelter in Lazarus' name.
I get a lump in my throat writing this.
I never understood, before, how kind it is to make tribute at the time of loss.
I told Kevin and he shook his head. "Sometimes I don't know how to handle other people's kindness." I agreed and told them that.
There are so many rituals and cultural norms that I often feel like I missed out on. I don't quite get the importance nor significance. I'm starting to understand. These gestures make me feel like Laz was important to others, not just to Kevin and I. They let me know that we won't be the only two remembering. Others will remember too. It makes the loss less final. The impact of this precious being continues.
Kevin and I started talking about the herbs growing in our yard that we could gather to leave for Laz. I realized the practice we were discussing. It's a visit, a remembrance, an understanding of xantolo, that sometimes the veils between what is physical and what is spirit are thin.
I've lost before but this loss taught me how much I don't know about this experience. It's taught me how unique and distinct each loss is.
This loss is "clean." I never took Laz for granted. I loved the crap out of him and he absolutely knew it. I have no regrets. I just miss him. I miss him so much. The grief is adjusting to this new reality. He's OK. Everything is as it should be. It's simply a transition.
There are losses that are far more complicated.
The other evening Kevin and I held each other and looked at the portrait of Laz our friend Mike photographed. It hangs in our dining room and will stay there. I said to Kevin, "I keep thinking of the Rilke quote about our joy being proportionate to our sorrow. We're getting really joyful right now."
Mike's portrait of Laz
I think of the pain it takes to understand so many of these experiences that are universal, that deepen our understanding. I'm grateful for deepening compassion and trying to stretch into the discomfort. It hurts worst when it's resisted. When I make space to feel, the pain mutates. Nothing is permanent.
We called him Lazarus R. Cat. We thought he spoke with a British accent. When Kevin rediscovered his love of baseball, and connected to his favorite team, the Baltimore Orioles, I joked that Laz was a Yankees fan.
He was regal and ridiculous.
I was told that he was a Persian Ragdoll and invented stories about that too. His long hair could elegantly disguise sand? (I know nothing about Persia.) We thought he deserved a pampered life with scented water and peeled grapes. I think he agreed.
He was born when I was 14, but we adopted him when I was 15. He wasn't quite a year, but he did stay with his mother longer than most cats. All of that time to nurse may have given him a foundation for the health and longevity he enjoyed.
His mother's family called him, "Co-Pilot," because he would perch on driver's shoulders in the car. We quickly ruined him on cars because we only drove him to vet check-ups. When he was 16 he got an ear infection. We had to drive him to the vet for his follow-up visit. He HOWLED. Afterwards, we found vets who offered home visits. That was his last trip in the car.
When I was 18, I went to college in Massachussetts. I got to see Laz on visits, but increasingly sporadically. I missed that cat. I lived the transitory life of someone in that age range-- various dorms, apartments, but never with permission to keep an animal.
When I was 21, I moved in with Kevin to shared house in Pennsauken, NJ. They had several rescue dogs and a big back yard. When I was 23 we got a message from my Mom: too many family members had cat allergies. She asked us if we wanted Laz to come live with us.
Kevin drove out to get Laz. As he parked the car, a big, white, fluffy cat ran from the pines and into Kevin's arms. He carried him to the door. When my Mom arrived she said, "Laz has been roaming for a few days! I wasn't sure we'd be able to find him!"
He found us.
We gradually transitioned him to living at our home. We had a big, beautiful, black rescue dog named Misa. We were clear with Misa not to corner Laz. She was so kind and gentle and gave him a wide berth while he acclimated. Laz took full advantage and found advantageous positions of height-- like a table or bookshelf, so he could swat at her knowing she wouldn't retaliate.
They loved each other. I would find them curled like Yin Yang symbols.
Laz loved dogs (some, not too rowdy) but hated other cats. It was like he resented that anyone would try to approximate him. He and our housemate's cat battled endlessly. Laz *tolerated* kittens we rescued when we found them and their mother, who passed in the woods by our house. Laz would bristle and back up, but he didn't mess with them.
He played his whole life. He had relay races in the upstairs hallway. My hoodie strings were always enemy combatants. Freshly washed locks of hair should be attacked too. He maintained his independence and spent a lot of time outdoors. He liked to hunt too, which often cut down on our responsibilities to him.
I know this sounds crazy, but he was funny. Not like, silly cat doing things I interpret as funny, like he knew what he was doing. Knew he was funny and was funny. Like, dry wit.
When he was about 14, he roamed for two weeks. We were so nervous we coated the neighborhood with flyers. One night, I heard him. I ran down to his cat door and found him! I grabbed him and took him to Kevin. I remember that night laying beside him and praying, "I promise to never take him for granted. Thank you so much for bringing him back." I never did. I was so happy to come home to him and watch him run down the steps to say hello. Kevin and I always said he was the best part of coming home. On summer nights, we pulled up in front of the house to find him wandering the front yard. We would lie on the grass and watch the stars with him.
He had two health issues. Two. Once, he got some type of fever. We didn't know if he drank contaminated water or just had a virus. The vet treated him and he recovered.
The second time he had an ear infection that was treated with antibiotics. He had a proclivity to get ear mites, so Kevin and I became proficient at cleaning his ears. Which he absolutely hated.
Apart from that he was strong and solid. We would shave him in the summer so he could feel cool in our house without AC. He seemed to resent the process but enjoy the feeling once it was over. His coat always came back, thick and full, by late August.
He was a huge and integral part of our life. In the early morning, he snuggled next to us and ran to the kitchen as we blearily woke. When we came home, he ran to the door to greet us. Our nightly routine was always Kevin and I fighting over who got to take him with us to bed. He laid between us until we fell asleep, and then he got up to do his rounds. We called him our "chaperone."
When we worked in the garden, he came with us. When I hung laundry on the line, he played by my ankles. If I weeded, he rolled around in the lavender and smelled delicious. He's our every day, domestic life. He made us giggle and want to be home. When I was sick, he laid with me to binge watch Netflix. When he saw us pull out suitcases for a trip, he turned his back and gave us the cold shoulder. He was communicative, smart, and hilarious. He was my best friend.
I'm so grateful to have grown up with him. He knew me since I was a teenager. Taking care of him made me a warmer person. Today I heard a quote from Rainer Maria Rilke, "The great secret of death, and perhaps its deepest connection with us, is this: that, in taking from us a being we have loved and venerated, death does not wound us without, at the same time, lifting us toward a more perfect understanding of this being and ourselves." I'm thankful for him. I'm thankful that I've always known what a gift he is.
Our beloved cat, Laz, was old as dirt, pushing up against 20. He may have even crossed over-- we can't quite remember when he was born. He came into my life when I was 15, but he was born when I was 14. Either way, old as sin. Old.
He was old, but solid and strong. I don't know what it was, but this cat made people fall in love with him. Multiple visitors and house-mates tried to steal him. I am not kidding. It's like, Laz knew himself. And he just compelled you to know him too.
In the last few weeks it seemed like he crossed over to being elderly. I noticed how much more frail he had become. I became much more gentle. I kept asking Kevin, "Is this new?" Kevin felt like I may have been a little blind, but it hadn't been long.
And then, overnight, it changed.
Sunday morning I woke up and Kevin said that Laz had peed on the pillows he slept on. Laz has communicated his ire at us traveling or changing his food by peeing the bed before. This felt different. This seemed like an accident.
I called his vet immediately and she said she thought he was shutting down. He was likely in renal failure and probably had a bum thyroid too.
At 2 am Sunday night/Monday morning, Laz yowled. I got up and found him bumping around the hallway, disoriented. He was upset and confused and it seemed wrong. I tried to console him with fresh food and water, but none of it satisfied. Eventually, I got him to come to bed with me, curled in my arm how we slept every night.
I didn't go back to sleep.
I got up normally at 4:45 am to teach 6 am yoga class. As I'd planned to, I began to lead chanting. The students in the class were experienced students who knew the chant and we sang together. Suddenly, tears were pouring down my face. I kept the chant going to give me time to pull it together. I was a little unsure that I'd be able to. I composed myself and taught class.
Something had changed. It felt like a switch went off. It was simply time. He was ready.
Everything escalated. Overnight, Laz's care intensified. Daytimes were hard. He would have his episodes of inconsolable confusion in the afternoons. Laz was always intolerant of confinement. We hadn't intended him to be an outdoor cat, but he insisted on it, escaped, and maintained his access to the outside world. I felt like he was howling to be let out of this experience. It felt like he was pawing at an intangible door.
Kevin and I were hit with waves of grief. Our lives switched to balancing cat care. I didn't know how to keep my "normal" life afloat, but I didn't know how long this intense care would persist, so I made appointments unsure if I'd have to break them. My sleep schedule began to mirror his. The middle of the night bouts of yowling and confusion became consistent. I would sleep a bit at night and try to nap in the afternoon if he let me. Towards the end, it was hard to get sleep.
The house was covered in pee pads as Laz could no longer control himself. Laz had stopped grooming himself, so we periodically cleaned him with warm, moist towels. We knew he had problems in his mouth, but were waiting to get confirmation on what exactly. We made his food as soft as possible. He didn't eat for two days, ate a lot, never ate again. He lost about 15% of his body weight.
We had glimpses of him as we knew him. Sometimes it gave us false hope.
I had this unshakable feeling that it was simply time. I became anxious and insistent that we euthanize him. I couldn't handle his pain and disorientation. I felt like I was betraying him. He'd had such a good life. If he wasn't released on his own, I wanted to help him have a good death.
It was like a switch had gone off in me too. Weeks ago my Aunt gently prepped me that this might be a future possibility. I was shocked and horrified. I hadn't thought of it. In retrospect, I'm glad that she let me know it might come to this. I'm glad that she prepared me.
Kevin needed certainty and he was right. My reflexes in crisis mode made me anxious to act, but after the dust settled, I might have had doubts and regrets. We brought in the second vet, the second opinion, at her earliest availability, which turned out to be Thursday. She confirmed everything our vet thought, but also clarified that the problems in his mouth were many: rotten teeth and inoperable tumors on his tongue and gums.
These type of tumors kill cats by starvation. Our only option was pain management.
(And then, how did we miss this? The vet assured us the tumors grew rapidly. We didn't miss anything. It was just his time.)
We knew. Three separate friends recommended House Paws. I called them and it seemed like they wouldn't be able to come until the following day. I felt a fresh wave of tears. I felt like he was trapped. He was suffering and I just wanted him to have peace. Then, the dispatcher saw there were vets in our area. They could be there in a half an hour.
The vets were there so quickly. They were kind and gentle. Laz yawned and was so at ease. He went quickly without any pain.
He's buried in our backyard. Kevin and I packed bags for somewhere. We decided Catskills. We found a well-reviewed bed and breakfast in Hudson and I drove. Snow started falling as we crossed the state line to New York.
We love that cat so much. I'm so grateful to have lived with him for so long. He was daily light and warmth. As hard as it was, I'm grateful that we could help him move from suffering to peace. As soon as he transitioned, Kevin and I felt calm. We knew we did the right thing.
The night before he died I dreamt that I lived in an apartment in the top floor of an old Victorian. My apartment was all glass and kind of an atrium. I looked to the neighboring building. Same height and design. I saw Laz in the sun, wandering around, happy. I didn't remember the dream until I woke up in Hudson, NY Friday morning. I told Kevin. It gave me such relief. Laz can't be with us anymore but he's fine. This is simply a transition to navigate but he's at peace. It's all OK.
Ram Dass: 'In most of our human relationships, we spend much of our time reassuring one another that our costumes of identity are on straight.'
Kevin and I donned our teenage costumes once more: me as Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill, Kevin as Henry Rollins of Black Flag. Not that either of us has actually been these people before (that we know of...?) but we both have been more overt in our love of punk.
Senior year of high school I was inspired and saved by Riot Grrl culture. I listened to the music, went to the shows, pored over the zines, and announced my affiliation in fishnets and red lipstick. It was huge for me to watch women try on being girly, aggressive, hugely creative artists, and truly effective advocates. In 1998, Riot Grrls kind of had a uniform but also really didn't. There was a visible toying with performing womanhood.
Kevin was politicized by punk music, shows, and the scene. He learned about class, race, and gender politics. He actually listens to the lyrics! When friends put on a Black Flag song Kevin automatically hit the ground, punching the floor in a accurate depiction of Henry Rollins, but also in a way that felt completely authentic to Kevin. "That's always an inch from the surface," he said grinning at his swollen knuckles.
Halloween is growing on me because it feels honest. I didn't really get it before but now I see that on this day we get to be up front about how much we perform. "I am trying to convince you all that I'm a fully functioning grown woman. I am doing my best impression of someone capable of this job. I am telling you I know who I am." On Halloween I'm a gremlin.
And we're all of that. We're fully functioning, we're a mess. We're our teenage selves, and we're our selves today. We're super hero characters and villains. We're our fears and we're angelic.
When one of my friends saw my costume he said, "You didn't dress up." I never wear make-up and I feel flummoxed by fashion. It felt nice that he still knows my heart bleeds loud and raucously.
Were displayed over the weekends. Spiderwebs, we usually vigilantly shoo away, were spread across windows. Skulls, usually buried deep, hang on the walls.
Fear of social encounters? The doorbell rings ceaselessly.
Fear of presenting yourself? Maybe chose the costume of an employed functional adult.
Fear of ably caring for ourselves? Have some more candy.
Halloween feels like playtime with fear. Toying with harvest time, fallow fields, and stripped bare trees.
And then Day of the Dead. A celebration of those we've lost, a recognition that there not completely gone, a reconciliation with death. Remembering that sometimes we have the capacity to hold all of it.
I practice yoga. I lay in savasana. I play dead. I feel so peaceful and I pretend to be a corpse. I am a corpse. I am at peace.
About a year ago, Beth and I booked Good Commons for a Yogawood fall splendor Retreat. When thinking about the thematic content, Beth blurted out: "Change is the only constant!" So true, and so readily apparent in the glory of fall.
The retreat quickly sold out and developed a waiting list. Our group coordinated carpools up to New England.
Behind the creaky old farmhouse, owner Tesha Buss landscaped a meandering path through the ferns. Beth and Susan took it in with a cup of coffee.
The retreat opened with a yoga to shake off the travel and a great meal. The first full day was sunny and luxurious. After morning meditation, yoga, and then lunch, most of the group decided to hike Deer Leap.
As Tesha put it, the summit offers the most bang for your buck!
Saturday was rainy and steel grey. I actually loved it.
Obviously. We practiced silence on the second morning to offer up more space for reflection and presence. When we did reintroduce our voices, it was with awareness that presence is really our best tool to be receptive to constant change and motion.
Before driving home, some participants took a morning walk.
And we had to hug and giggle with each other a ton.
Given the response, it seems fall in New England serves! That's the goal of these retreats-- to create a pause in a place that feels meaningful. I'm already hunting for 2015!
I'm thinking a lot these days on how political awareness relies on emotional capacity. As a white woman who works to be accountable to my own white privilege and an ally against racism, I have a lot of conversations with other white folks about race. Probably not as many as I should have. It's exhausting. But, not as exhausting as being constantly assaulted by racism. So.
Often in conversations with white folks about race, I have said or heard:
1) But, I have friends of color...
2) But, I grew up poor/rough/abused...
3) But, I'm not racist...
Unfortunately, many of us grew up under challenging conditions.
I think it's safe to say that we all have prejudices and preconceptions. I don't think it's possible to have not been influenced by your parents (wonderful though I'm sure they are), teachers, religious leaders, and the media. Depending on who you are, where you were raised, and when, the messages might not have been about a black/white dichotomy. Were your raised in Colorado? There was likely more messaging against Mexicans and Indigenous people. Were you raised in the Dominican Republic? There was likely more messaging against Haitians.
I'm learning from some friends of color (there I go!) that some type of internal setting or resiliency told them at a young age that they would not be liked or respected due to circumstances beyond their control. While this is true of all of us, this is extra true for people of color in the United States. It is simply a fact that there will be judgment and differing levels of access for a person of color in the United States.
Given this fact, there's a different relationship to being liked or right. It's a different emotional maturity.
Some white folks have this too. Some white folks know that they might be judged or limited due to forces beyond their control. I'd wager women have experienced some level of this. However, when it comes to race, there is a quick defensiveness. "I want to be RIGHT here," I'm NOT a racist," "I am INNOCENT," "I get a PASS because of my friends or upbringing or..."
I'm wondering if there's a way that I, as a white woman, can be more comfortable being uncomfortable. I'm wondering if I can not be right. I'm wondering if I can not *accept* unfair judgment, but also have perspective around this type of tendency. Can I have an emotional core that offers me the resiliency to be wrong and still OK? Can I have the fortitude and strength for people to correct me when I'm wrong, share experiences that are outside of my range, and simply receive?
I want to. I want to because I love a lot of people who's experiences are outside of my range for any number of reasons. There is a lot that's outside the scope of my understanding and I'd like to be OK with that. I'd like to be sufficiently emotionally stable for everything to not be about me.
Maybe that's the crux: part of white supremacy and privilege is centralizing white experience as the norm. Can we all be sufficiently comfortable with not being centered? Is there a way we can fortify for ourselves and those closest to us a sense of wholeness and care that leaves sufficient space for others?
If you follow this blog, you know it sometimes comes in spurts. My work is seasonal. I find myself in time crunches and then with space. When I get breathing room, I'll sometimes write a chunk and schedule posts to be published in advance. This post was written on Sunday Sept. 14, 2014. Today, it's been well over 30 days since a cop shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. In the intervening time, like so many of us, I've watched, I've supported activist campaigns, and been surprised at my own unending shock. Why be shocked that Black men are being hunted? Hasn't that been the case since Black bodies were brought over the Atlantic as slaves?
And yet, I keep hoping for more. As a white woman, I keep hoping to see white people, white government officials, white police officers behave as humans. Recognize the humanity of Black people, like Michael Brown, and now his family rightfully demanding accountability.
Instead, on Facebook, I read white friends begging for patience and understanding for the police.
I read Black friends expressing their fear for their children's survival.
So much has been written and well. There have been multitudes of compelling articles, particularly by authors of color, writing about experiences of white friends not believing the police harass or that racism is real and current. And I keep wondering, what will it take for white people to get it?
I wondered when Troy Davis was killed.
I wondered when Tookie Williams was killed.
I wonder every time another person of color is killed.
Evidence amply demonstrates the brutal, fatal, murderous reality of systemic racism. Obviously, that's not enough. People operate from emotion more often than fact. What do white people have to *feel* to absorb the reality of Black experience?
I think that white people are feeling fear. And it's absurd, because the reality is that white supremacy and racism is creating TERROR for people of color. But isn't that often the case? The abuser lashes out over fear. The United States, harbinger of international power, militarily intervenes due to fear (founded or likely not). I think white people fear respecting people of color. I think white people fear that accountability means acknowledging slavery, lynchings, and the on-going incarnation of racism in our grandparents, parents, and ourselves. I don't think that white people know how to reconcile these horrors in people they love let alone themselves. I think this is the political and personal work that we have to do to evolve.
I'm grappling with a lot of latent fear myself and finding where it limits me. The antidote has surprised me: it's loving myself. The gentler and more patient I am with myself, the less I fear being vulnerable, intimate, and exposed. This kindness is asking me to be stronger and more self-confident.
I don't know how to enact this type of emotional work on a national scale. I hear that it sounds woo and perhaps a bit weak. Maybe it is-- there's a strong chance that I'm absolutely wrong.
I am invested. I want hope for myself to be a different presence. I want space for the people I love, many of them people of color, to feel safe and seen.
Kevin and I have considered ourselves married for years, but we never made it legal. We also wore family heirloom rings until we both lost them in quick succession. Our relationship, like all relationships, is us. It's unique. We feel secure in it so we engage in the traditions that serve and shed others.
We had some time this past Saturday afternoon so we decided to venture to Manayunk, eat, and wander by the river. It had been awhile since either of us hung out down there. We forgot that the town is sporty! Holy cyclists and quinoa in my salad. Tres healthy for Philly.
After downing our avocado and sprouted mung beans we headed towards a Tibetan shop we spotted on the drive into town. Kevin has a lot of time while landscaping to listen to podcasts. Some days he just listens to silence, or his tools, or the neighbors. Others, he listens to a motley assortment of his latest obsessions. Recently, he's taken in a lot of dharma talks by Tibetan Buddhists. He was quite excited entering the store.
For those of you who know the shop, you know it mainly sells clothes, jewelry, and flags. I recommend you support it! Kevin had been hoping for some books. He was shy, and ready to slip out silently, but I asked the shop-keeper if he had any books in stock that we hadn't seen. He answered slowly and sincerely that he did not. Kevin opened up, explaining his practice of using work time to take in guidance that steadies him. The shop-keeper nodded solemnly.
"This is good. You need to practice. Reading only is limited. You have to practice what you learn. For you, you should practice the feet mantra. Before you wake, before you walk, you recite five times the feet mantra so your steps are respectful and intentional. It also prevents harm to insects. If an insect is accidentally killed in your work, this will offer them a quicker, easier death. You can google it."
The last bit was hilarious, but also our reality. Half of Kevin's dharma talks are from podcasts or associated with various apps. Our access to teaching has shifted dramatically.
The shop-keeper continued offering advice and insight from his own long-standing practice. I liked him. He spoke slowly. He made eye contact. He was considered.
I picked up a $2 pendant to hang from the rear view mirror. I wanted to compensate him for his time and teaching. Kevin began examining the rings.
The shop-keeper asked us if we were married and we nodded yes. "That is the most important practice. With one another, you must practice respect and compassion. You must always be most compassionate and respectful with one another. This will create happiness."
Kevin began testing the rings. "I'll replace the wedding band I lost. I've been wanting to."
I suddenly regretted the rear view mirror pendant.
I couldn't find a ring that fit. Kevin's was ill-fitting, but we both agreed the moment made it special. If he loses it again, no matter. We'll likely stumble upon another unexpected teacher hawking jewelry.
1) Read a poem about race. For context: I am a white woman. This poem attempted to situate me within race. This poem was about political being personal, therefore, about my family. Slaveholders. Racists. Humans. Like me. Read to an audience of many people of color. I was scared. Realized the worst that could happen is that people thought I was a racist, bad lady. The worst that can happen to people of color speaking about race is much, much different (see Ferguson).
2) In an online forum a white lady wrote, "GURRRLLL" with the neck swivel & another white woman called her on it. A discussion on white privilege & language ensued. In the end, folks began donating to the PayPal accounts of the women of color who had spent so much time and energy educating. It was a payment, an energy exchange, an acknowledgment, a drink at the end of a long day.
3) I walked into a party where women were speaking Spanish. I introduced myself, discovering one woman was from El Salvador. Shared I'd been there and was robbed. In the course of conversation, shared that I'd lead two yoga retreats in Guatemala prior to the El Salvador visit. A look of, "You did what...?" As the opportunity presented, I offered that these retreats are in part an attempt to orient participants more firmly in the globe. Shift perspective, engage with parts of the world where the narrative is perhaps one dimensional. I was explaining with shuffling feet.
I want to draw conclusions here. I'd like to paint myself in a flattering light. Instead, I'm going to leave these right here.
I wrote a poem about my ability to travel, practically unencumbered, in a world with so many heavily policed borders and people. The piece, titled "Access," was included in the Transformative Language Arts' Chrysalis Journal. I'd love your feedback--