For several years, I have been saying that “one of my jobs is to get massages.” I actually think, one of my missions in life is to get pampered, in general, actually. As in, I think one of the reasons I decided to have a body was so that I could experience the bliss that is a really good massage or other form of physical nurturing. I’m still in the process of making that a paid gig. In the interim, though, I thought it would be helpful to share about some of the many alternative healing modalities that are available in this wide world of ours and to share some of the pros and cons of many of them (the ones I’ve experienced, at least). This also gives me an excuse to seek out other practitioners and methods I’ve yet to try 😉.
For a long time, I used to give massages. My parents tease me about the fact that my first business venture, at 12, was to rename myself “Madame Majestic” and stick a sign on my bedroom door that I was offering massages. My primary clients were my step-mother and my grandmother (There’s also that one occasion where my brother convinced me to give him a 30-minute massage for 4 bucks. It was a perfect early lesson in the folly of setting your prices too low!).
I can say, without hesitation, that I was really good at my massages. My hands are really strong and I had an intuitive ability, from very young, to follow the threads of energy in a muscle, to relieve the tension and to relax my clients. I also used to massage animals from time to time and once had a dog melt with joy from a petting session that turned into an impromptu puppy massage. It wasn’t until I’d been rubbing said pup for about 30 minutes, that his owner came over and remarked that his dog was usually very wary of new people and he’d absolutely never seen him draping his body across a stranger in an attempt to get more pets. My response was nonchalant but I felt a sense of pride and pleasure that I’d been able to make another being feel so good that they were able to relax and be at ease where they might usually be anxious or uncomfortable.
One of the best massages I’ve ever received was when I was in college. There was a massage therapist with a little private boutique in town that I’d heard others speak of and who had an amazing rate for 2 hours of treatment. The entire experience was delicious and wonderful and set the standard for what I hope for in a massage experience. It was soothing and relaxing and intuitive and I could tell that he definitely took pride in his work and his ability to bring ease and flow to muscles that had been tight and restricted. If I had it to do over again, I would go back and make it more of a priority to get massages from him before I graduated.
The main issue that kept me from going to see him initially was the fact that I didn’t know what to expect. I was concerned about safety and there was a part of me that was held back, observing what was happening, in case things took a turn. I’ve had that experience in other places as well, and it sucks. I’m not yet at a place where I can get a massage once a week, so any time I am able to get one is precious and it doesn’t feel good to realize I’ve wasted time worrying when I could be savoring every moment.
I got the idea to do a brief overview and “what to expect” during a massage at a Chinese Reflexology Establishments. So, I’ve decided to start this Pampering Series there.
Chinese Reflexology Establishments
Pros- Usually Affordable, can be very easy to find, and accept walk ins
Cons- Language barriers, adjusting massage routine may be difficult, sometimes not private
I’ve often come across these places in mini malls. The prices are usually extremely affordable which is why these have been my default for years- especially in times when my money was as tight as my muscles.
There is usually a map of the soles of the feet hanging in the window with the correspondences between that area of the sole and some other part of the body. I’ve experienced places where the massages were all done in one big room with clients seated side by side. I’ve seen places that had curtains that could be pulled closed between clients. And I’ve been to places where there were small rooms with individual massage tables set up. One of the great things about these is that they are usually really open to accepting walk-ins or making an appointment for as soon as possible if they happen to be full at the moment.
The possible challenges of Chinese Reflexology Establishments include language barriers. The person giving the massage may not speak any English and the person running the front desk may speak limited English which makes it hard to make specific requests (which I almost always have after years of dance injuries and mommy neck from extended breastfeeding and then years of working at a computer). Because they may not be as private, sometimes the noise of other clients chatting can be overheard during your session. I’ve also noticed that the massages usually follow a specific set routine and therapists may not be intuitive in their massage or be able to deviate from the routine.
Overall, I still think these places worth it to check out, though. I will say that the way to get the best experience is to go in with an open mind and little attachment to outcomes. The prices are great (hopefully, allowing you to tip more generously) and I always find some benefit to taking the time to relax and receive a massage, even when I don’t have the best experience of my life.
The Best I’ve Ever Had- Once, when my SO and I were on the outs, I consoled myself with a 3-hour massage at a Chinese Reflexology place near my apartment. In addition to a full body massage, I also got another full neck and back massage, targeted focus in specific areas of discomfort, a tiny woman stood on my back and used her feet to give a deeper massage in areas that remained tight and I also got some cupping done. That was a delicious experience and was one of the few times when a massage was actually long enough for me.
Do you ever have moments where Goddess takes some decision you make, looks you up and down and says, "Oh really? We'll just see about that."? Because I have them pretty regularly. And however molded you feel when your behavior gets checked by another human being, it doesn't really compare to the feeling of having the Divine check you all in your face.
A few years ago, I spent a couple summers working as a tour guide and Resident Assistant for an organization that was helping international students improve their English skills while also experiencing the joys and doldrums of tourism in San Francisco. There were kids from many different countries: Spain, France, Poland, Italy, Taiwan, and Korea. It was fascinating to notice how much older, more worldly the kids from the Western European countries initially appeared to be. Their clothes tended to be trendier, they were more vocal about what they wanted to try (and also what they didn't want to do). But they were also more difficult and some of that worldliness did not necessarily translate to greater maturity. Particularly with the Italian students. Kids caught trying to sneak out past curfew? The Italian students. Kids caught buying weed on Hippie Hill at Golden Gate Park? Italian (and French) students. It seemed that every staff meeting we had, there was some kind of update on what the Italian students had gotten up to. At least in my mind.
Let me take a moment to detour and say that I have been a teenager looking for fun and stories to gather during my own tour of Europe at 15. We went to Italy, Switzerland, France and England and I wanted to have some adventures to speak of. That trip was my first experience of a club (it was hot and rank and some guy with sweaty hands kept trying to flirt with me but I danced up a puff in my hair and had myself a very good time), my first time ever ordering an alcoholic drink (it was an Amaretto Sour and, for years, that was the only thing I would order, for the most part because I didn't know any other drinks), my first time ever meeting a man who smelled like sunshine (Nico, in Venice. He was a gondolier and I can still smell him if I focus on the sun or see clothes hanging out to dry).
I even participated in a miniature group rebellion. We had a free day and the only assignment was that we take some time, at some point during the day, to visit the British Museum. My group went and spent the day doing what we wanted (nowhere near that museum) and then, with 45 minutes left before we had to meet our chaperones again, we raced over to the museum on the Tube. By the time we got there, we only had about 10 or 15 minutes before closing. I came up with a plan, we'd grab pamphlets and each girl take a floor, run around and find something that we could report having seen in case of any questions (which were never asked, actually). I decided to go to the Egyptian floor (because I love Egypt!) and race around like a madwoman. Almost everything was a blur but I think I saw the Rosetta stone and I know I saw a mummified red-haired man in a pressure treated glass case. I now love leisurely strolls through museums, but I still think that 15 minutes of madness was some of the most fun I've ever had in a museum.
But that was then and this was now and now that I was an adult, my allegiance was firmly with the adults and, frankly, the quiet kids were the easy kids.
I decided, after those two summers of obnoxious Italian boys and spoiled, snotty Italian girls, to consciously embrace a full fledged prejudice against Italians. I actually thought it out. I tried to challenge myself, "Really? That's not what you're about. It was just a group of kids. Blah blah blah." But, based on the "brats" who'd been shipped over, I rejected all of those considerations in favor of a perspective that they were spoiled, entitled, racist, and there was some terrible parenting taking place over in Italy.
Sometime later (but still recent enough for the momentous conscious prejudice decision to still be fresh in my mind), I took a class in my Women's Spirituality program at CIIS where I had to research my motherline. I talked to my grandmother and then traced my genealogy using ancestry.com and was proud that I was able to go all the way back to my 4th great grandmother, Georgina, who was the first of our ancestors (as far as we now know) to have been freed from America's slave system. I also traced my mitochondrial DNA (which is passed only from mother to child) and was proud to find out that I am a true Daughter of Eve- my motherline DNA goes all the way back to 70,000-150,000 years ago, just before the time when scientists place the first migrations out of East Africa.
Then I decided to do another test to find out my ancient ancestry- who are the people I am most closely related to on this planet? It just happened that I got my test not long after my acceptance of my prejudice against an entire country's people based on the rude behavior of approximately 40 of their teenagers. (Do you see where this is headed?)
Who are the people I just happen to be most closely related to? Mediterranean people, and particularly Italians! Seriously, there were just dots (representing ancestral connections) all up and down that damn boot. I also had dots in Egypt, East Africa, and Turkey. But on a list of 20 of my "top native population" connections (meaning people who had experienced minimal migration in the last several hundred years) half of them were connections to somewhere in Italy. Half!
What was that you were saying about Italians again? Would you care to repeat that?
When I got my results, all I could do was laugh. The Goddess checked me, folks, and she checked me HARD.
Part of what fascinated me about my results was that I had a lot of ancestral connections to places in the world I'd always felt strong connections to, like Egypt. I'd been in classes with Lucia Birnbaum, author of The Future Has an Ancient Heart and heard her speak about ideas like ancestral memories and memories that we can receive through our DNA. Frankly, I'd been skeptical of all of those ideas. But seeing the ways that my longstanding cultural fascinations were strongly represented in my genetic connections grabbed and held my attention.
I started this article a few weeks ago and paused to see what else might like to be added to it. Then, Guido Barilla, chairman of the Barilla pasta and food brand, decided to air his consciously held prejudice against LGBT people on an Italian radio station when he said
“I would never do [a commercial] with a homosexual family, not for lack of respect, but because we don’t agree with them . . . Ours is a classic family where the woman plays a fundamental role. He added that if gay people “like our pasta and our advertising, they’ll eat our pasta. If they don’t like it, then they will not eat it and they will eat another brand.”
Each of us is a whole entire Universe and all of us together are an interlocking Universal system. To consciously decide to cut off a part of the Universe is the height of arrogance and ignorance. Especially since you never know when what you are cutting off might be a significant part of yourself.
It's probably too much to hope that Mr. Barilla will uncover some latent homosexual tendency and make a public shift to a more conscious and open (as in, not just to avert negative financial impact) perspective. But I will hold out hope. And if the Goddess has anything to do with it . . . well . . .
Stop putting it off, waiting for space, waiting for quiet. It's not going to happen. Just write
Put pen to paper and fingers to keys. Just write.
Let it be a dialogue between your mind and your hands. Whatever you do. Just write.
Write all of the nothing you don't have to say. Something inside of it might serve someone. Just write.
Think of a feeling and give it its voice. Find sensation and re-create it with words.
Do what you have come here to do.
There are many different ways to cleanse and purify, or just move energy around. One of my favorites is the smoke bath. This is where you burn an incense that has the property you want or need in any given moment and consciously receive it into different areas of your body, as though you are inhaling it with that part of your body.
The Heart Math Institute has some great videos on YouTube about how to do heart based breathing. I really appreciate the work that they are doing. You are welcome to give that a try or do something different that's more appropriate for you.
There was a period of time, a few years ago, where I was doing a lot of smoke baths, on an almost weekly basis. (I tend to have a lot of energy to move around, Tower card lady that I am!). I'd cut back in the last couple years but have recently revived the practice in my home at a prompting from Spirit.
As you stand and receive the smoke, allow your focus to move over the entirety of your body, both internally and externally. If there are any areas that continue to feel stuck or stagnant, remain there for a while longer. If there are any areas that you feel blank or numb, that can be an indication of a spot in need of some additional focus.
It's simultaneously a very simple and complex practice because the majority of the working takes place internally.
* basic and obvious note- use sense and safety when doing any working that involves flame. Be conscientious when doing this, as we should all be anyway when doing the work of living a conscious life.
I was on a ten-day silent retreat and had just completed an amazing meditation session, feeling as though I'd just clicked over into some expanded altered state when the bell rang. I was feeling so good, that when we were given the choice of continuing to meditate or going to our rooms, I didn't even bother to shift my body, diving right into the next round of meditation.
We had already entered the portion of the retreat where we had been encouraged not to move once the session began, to remain in the meditation, sitting with whatever arose from moment to moment over the course of the hour. The last instructions we were given as the final people left the room was, "Simply continue to observe." Then the door closed and, behind my eyelids, the room became dark and cool again.
I was still proud of how good I'd felt after the last meditation, so I was looking forward to seeing how much farther I could go into that altered sensation on this meditation. I figured it would take a while to get back into the groove of it, so I tried to settle myself down to get back into that serene and expanded state.
Unfortunately, as the minutes ticked by, I noticed a tightness and a pressure in my right ass cheek. My method for dealing with these uncomfortable sensations during meditation was to dive into them, to tease them apart, study them, trace them back to their source and then watch them dissolve. I'd gotten very comfortable at it and had started to notice things like what I'd perceived as pain in my knees was actually tightness in the muscles around my knee cap which led me back to tightness in the outer muscles of my thighs, which reached back around to my hip and then up into tightness in my lower back. This had been the result of most of these ventures- find the sensation, delve into it, then dissolve it.
But the knot seemed not to have gotten the memo about the protocol and it refused to dissolve and leave me in peace. Every time my awareness returned to that knot, I dove into it, looking for the missing clue to unravel its mystery. But the knot remained stubbornly present and the pain from it kept getting louder and harder to dismiss or ignore. I felt my calmness draining away as I became increasingly frustrated at the presence of this damned knot that would not go away and was ruining my amazing meditation. I began to dread the sensations in my right butt cheek. Then I began to curse the knot, threatening it, damning it, hating it. It grew in intensity until it became The Knot and I was no longer even meditating anymore. I'd descended into a full fledged battle with my ass.
Now, I know that I could have simply moved, adjusted my body so that the pain went away and then gone back to the meditation. But by then, we were well into the hour and it was about the principle of the matter. I'd been having a great meditation, I'd reached some kind of altered state and could have been back there, happily exploring . . . something . . . I didn't know what, and at this rate I was never going to know because of this goddamned knot that was devouring my ass and then the entire right side of my body. I refused to move, The Knot would NEVER beat me!
I spent some time swinging back and forth between full on internal berserker battle madness and attempting to get myself under control. A few others around me were having their own quiet breakdowns and breakthroughs, some crying quietly or shifting to more comfortable positions. I realized that, in the throes of this internal conflict, I had completely not thought about the pain of my ass. I was reacting to the pain caused by The Knot, but I'd forgotten to have compassion for the first part of me being tortured by this invading demon, my own butt. I vowed, "I won't abandon you!" and then began to cry as I was suddenly overcome by memories of people in my life who had abandoned me when I needed them. I would not do to my butt as they had done to me! I recommitted to remaining there and remaining still while my poor body was victimized by this evil invader.
I heard people shifting around me. That was usually an indication that the hour was winding down. When I was in a good meditation, it was something to ignore as I sought to keep myself in the depths of the meditation for as long as I could. When I was in a challenging meditation, as I was now, it was a welcome assurance that I would soon be free. I now shifted to trying to guess how much longer the meditation would last, interspersed with moments of checking on that knot, confirming that, yes, it was still there, yes, my butt was still hurting and, oh hell yes, I was definitely still furious about it.
I remained in position until the bell rang. Shifting my painfully stiff body to get the circulation moving again. Initially, I felt defeated. I'd ended the previous meditation easily, breezing past the ending bell, but this time I felt like I'd clawed my way through the meditation, ending battle scarred and a failure. I hadn't even gotten close to that altered state again, nevermind going past it and onto something greater.
As I walked outside and began making my way toward the dining hall for lunch, another feeling emerged. I was triumphant- I'd beat The Knot! Suck it, knot. I'd made it through the entire meditation without moving. I'D BEAT THE KNOT! I sat down to eat; my senses seemed heightened by my triumph. As I ate, I began constructing the story in my mind, prepared to tell a funny tale about the knot in my ass that tried to take me down during one meditation and how I'd defeated it! I was smiling widely in the dining hall, forgetting to focus on meditation during the meal, not even trying to keep my gaze personal and to myself. I sat there, proudly oozing with self satisfaction.
Then I remembered our instructions and I almost burst out into screams of laughter. We had been told, "Simply continue to observe." That was the entirety of our instructions. No one had told me to go into battle. I'd done that all by myself. I suddenly realized, with a clarity brighter than the sun shining outside, all of the many ways I showed up to experiences, looking for conflict, because I'd brought the battle already taking place inside of myself out into the world and I had cast someone or something in the role of opponent.
I sat in a meditation hall, perfectly still and silent, anyone looking at me would have seen an unmoving, serenely meditating being but inside there was a full fledged war taking place.
Or, to put it in its total brutal, foolish honesty: I sat silently in a room and went to war on my own ass. For almost an hour, I was locked in a battle to the death with my butt.
That experience had a life changing affect on me and I love sharing the story because there is nothing that clarifies how silly most of our conflicts really are like saying, "Yeah, and I once had an epic war with my own ass."
A couple years ago, a teacher shared with me a question another teacher had once presented to her: "How do you expect to help create peace in the world if you can't even find peace within yourself?"
So, I end with this- I don't know what your battles are. I'm sure there are many that are worthy of being fought, where you are needed to be the hero/ine of your own story and life. To stand up to injustice and speak out for something. And, likely, there are a lot of battles you are fighting right now, that are draining you of time, energy, and focus, that you are fighting against yourself, and that are as fruitless as me fighting a knot in my own ass.
I ask you- "How do you expect to help create peace in the world if you can't even find peace within yourself?"
My first exposure to the concept of hair as a magickal thing came from my West-African step-father. Whenever my mother would cut his hair, he would meticulously gather up all of the hair to be buried. He said that it had power in it and couldn't just be thrown in the garbage because it was part of a person and someone could use it to do magick against you. At the time, wannabe cynical teen that I thought I was, I thought he and his superstitious beliefs were silly.
Now that I'm living full time in the realms of the mystical, I find myself saying and doing things that are way more "out there" than anything he ever said.
I have worn my hair natural for almost 20 years. I remember having times when my relaxer would start to grow out and I'd see the beginnings of these beautiful waves at the roots of my hair. I was intrigued by them, fascinated, but, for a long time, too afraid to take the next step to find out what my hair might look like, unstraightened by chemicals. I had dreams where my hair was natural, where I'd cut it all off and it had grown back thick and lush and beautiful like a night forest.
The day I decided to cut off all of my hair, I could tell something was going to happen. I'd been thinking about it all day, my heart racing. I'd read the book Good Hair: For Colored Girls Who've Considered Weaves When the Chemicals Became Too Ruff, revisiting over and over the section where she discussed her big chop. The next thing I knew, I was in the bathroom, wetting my hair and cutting and when I came out of the bathroom my mother said, "What did you do?!" I'd started a new journey that I plan to be on for the rest of my life.
It turns out that there was some beautiful hair being hidden by those chemicals — from tiny coils to larger curls, cotton and raw silk intermingled on my head in fascinating and unpredictable patterns that I’m still learning to understand. (I mean, really, who puts the tightest (aka driest and most delicate) curls in the center and front edges of a scalp and looser (aka most easily moisturized) curls at the protected back of a head where no one will ever see them and they are rarely touched? My DNA design team, that’s who.) I’ve also been learning about things like high and low porosity (my hair is low), hair types (which I don’t place much faith in), hair density (those dreams of thick lushness remained dreams) and a host of methods to care for my hair as naturally and as lovingly as I possibly can with as little daily maintenance as possible.
I was told once by a hair management specialist (is that an appropriate term for a hair stylist? Hair therapist?) that I have "cotton candy" hair. He sounded as though he was in ecstasy about it, cooing and primping and stroking the locks. I was pretty disappointed, though. "Fine as Candy Floss" is just fine when the time comes to wash and style (the less hair you have, the fewer two strand twists you have to do!), but otherwise, I want hair that's thick and strong like rope. Hair that metaphorically melts in the rain is not the business. Particularly since, I rarely straighten my hair but it never fails that when I do, I will have at least one incident where a flyaway strand will land on my face and I jump and shriek, thinking I've walked through a spider web.
Since first going natural, I've been learning to embrace the fact that the stories of my ancestry are in my hair, the raw silk coils, the deep ash brown of it (a color that another hair therapist told me is very difficult to recreate in a salon), the cotton candiness of it and even the spider webbiness. All of those tell stories of blood, of DNA, of meetings and lovings that eventually led to me and on to my son. Those are things to honor, so when I'm feeling any kind of way about my hair other than appreciative, I take a moment to challenge myself- Which one of my parents would I choose to exchange in order to have different hair growing from my scalp? The answer is always neither.
I've also been learning, on this journey, that there are lessons in my hair that are guiding me onto new paths of existence in the larger world. I have had to completely shift my mindset and my approach to cleansing and styling my coils. To maintain its health, my hair requires that I treat it with gentleness, patience, tenderness, even reverence. The strands are too delicate to be individually manipulated, my hair is all about community, coils must be worked and styled as a series of teams. Gentleness and community are definitely the kinds of roots I want growing from my head and from my life.
And I have come full circle in the use of hair as magick. I am in the process of manifesting a home in a town that I am hoping will become our new home town, a place to put down roots, to continue our growth as a family, as business owners, as sacredly alive and authentic beings. Whenever we visit, I've been dropping strands of hair for birds and other creatures to gather, to twine and tangle in trees and bushes and to roll into the grass in playgrounds. My intention is to weave my own energy into the land as I petition ancestors of the land and ancestors of my blood and that of my family to give their aid, support and guidance, that things will all come together in the right place and time and that we are prepared to step into the opportunity when it presents itself.
Natural. Hair. Magick.
Before I became a mother, I was so certain I was going to be one of those A personality moms, take no guff, behave right or else, as any self respecting Black Mother "should" be. I vividly recall an incident in college, sitting with friends (other women of color) and watching children running wild at an event. We all shook our heads and commented that our children would not ever be allowed to behave that way.
But by the time my son, T, came along, my thinking had undergone a radical shift. I'd spent the intervening years focused on my own personal growth and development and had been gifted the opportunity to be exposed to other options like attachment and gentle parenting.
We still live in this world and this nation, though. I am deeply conscious that, while I am committed to raising my son in a style that supports him in having the freedom to explore his own emotions and thoughts (even where they will one day, inevitably, contradict my own), the United States is not as forgiving of young black men who make mistakes as it is of young white men. I cannot raise my son in the free style, do what moves you, go with the flow tone that I encounter in a lot of pagan/hippie/attachment/gentle parenting communities. He would be ill-prepared for the world and it would be a disservice.
So I'm raising him Sacred Sensual Style...
Honor the Sacred
I am a priestess, and reverence for the Sacred is expressed throughout our home and throughout the month, the seasons, the year. It's everywhere around us. But I also seek out ways to make a relationship with The Divine explicit for T. One of his first baby toys, a gift from a friend and our baby shower, was a goddess plush toy. He looks for and celebrates the moon, whether it's full and round or the merest sliver of a crescent ("a cup for wishes" we call it, a term that made it into one of his grandfather's poems). He spends time at my altar, standing on a stool he's dragged over and asking me about "the ladies" who live there. He helps me say my prayers and I now deliberately leave out a portion so that he can "remind" me before the prayers close. He makes wishes on eyelashes and repeatedly asks me to bring down my witch's ball so that he can play with it. The answer is, and remains, no.
My goal is to support him in developing this first relationship with the world of Spirit so that he already has the tools and the openness when he begins to explore on his own. The title of his path of faith is not my concern, though I do hope that he will choose one that honors love and respect of all people, all genders and all religions.
Another aspect of this commitment, for me, is that of sacred activism. A significant aspect of my life (and the conversations that happen in our home) is learning about, supporting the shift and, contributing to making the world a place in which all beings may be safe, nurtured, nourished, and find peace. Or, as I recently heard writer, speaker and activist Kiilu Nyasha say, "Revolution begins at home."
Celebrate the Sensual
I am a sensualiste. I believe that we are spirits having a physical experience because there are things we can only learn through the lens of our humanity. One of the most powerful realizations I've ever had while on retreat (and there are ALWAYS powerful realizations taking place while on retreat!) was about the magnificent complexity of the Universe right here in my body. I could conceivably spend years in silence, just getting to know that internal world. Part of my work of the last years has been to reawaken those aspects of my body and senses which have been shut down to provide a nice numb armor to protect me from the world.
We have bodies and we have senses to explore and meet the external world and those senses are beautifully alive in children. So my goal is to help my son be prepared to go out into the world, without beginning the terrible shut down process in our home. The world will try hard enough to close him off, isolate him from his own soul and wisdom. Our home must be a sanctuary where feeling whole and peaceful are paramount. For everyone.
So, if it's a consistent after-bath massage, encouraging him to really look at and smell his food (before deciding he doesn't want it ;), giving him space to feel and express his emotions, or something else, I am dedicated to supporting him to remain present in his body and connected to his own wonderful soulful self. He has a right to belong to himself, as do all children.
Embrace the Sustainable
As I stated in another post, I define sustainable as "something that is good for you, good for the Earth, good for your budget AND requiring no more maintenance than you can reliably agree to do consistently."
I am very conscious of the fact that I can say to T over and over, for years what I believe, but he is going to be most heavily influenced by what I do. I do not believe that our current Western styles of parenting (or working or living for that matter) are sustainable. Rates of stress, depression and illness have dramatically increased in the United States and we absolutely must make a shift. So, as I continue to deepen into this path, learning about the vital need that I have for slowing down and rest and self care and nourishment, I remember that it's not just because my body and spirit need it. It's because my choices are contributing to T's programming for what will be "normal," his wellness set point.
As I have been learning to be a better community member of the Earth, I have been pushing myself to share what I've been learning with my family in ways that convey the urgency of the situation without sounding like a proselytizing zealot. Whether or not I consistently achieve this state of balance remains to be determined. With T, though, I am enjoying the experience of introducing him to the natural world, while also expanding and adjusting my own world view- recycling, shifting our diets to eating more organic foods where possible (sustainable for budget, too, remember), growing our own little potted herbs or seeing him eat foods grown in his grandparents' urban garden, we are all making changes bit by bit which are adding up, over time, to great strides just within our family. These ripples matter and they spread.
This experience, as everything, is a continually evolving process. I specifically wrote here on mothering (as opposed to parenting) because my partner and I have some differences in our parenting philosophies and styles (which may be explored in a future post). Fortunately, we have enough places where we overlap that we're not speaking completely different languages (parenting from the Tower of Babel) and we've got great family and friends around us who are supporting us as we continue to find our own mothering and fathering voices and styles.
My body hurts, folks. For years, I have been threatening to let Daddy Booboo train me, since he’s a fitness maestro and whatnot. He recently took me up on it by issuing me a challenge. Now, when we take Sumbaby to the park on the weekends, he’s been giving me exercises to do while the kiddo runs wild with other muchkins in the park.
There are just a few problems:
1) I keep forgetting that I’m “training” so every time we get to the park, I start looking for a bench to relax and he’s like “Come here. Do this twenty times and then repeat on the other side.”
2) This past weekend, he had me do some thigh disintegrating workout (that he said was not even all that intense) that left my thighs in shock. Seriously, if they’d had faces, their eyes would have been bugged out and their mouths hanging open all the next day like “What. The. Hell. Just. Happened?!”
3) For the last couple days, I’ve been hobbling around like I thigh mastered a firecracker. Which is funny and all except that I’m also realizing how often Sumbaby jumps on, bumps into, climbs across, hangs off and generally abuses my legs- it’s a LOT, folks. A really really lot.
4) At one point during this workout, I suggested that stopping might be a good idea but then Daddy Booboo said, “Your butt looks really good doing that exercise.” and I was like “Was that 15 more you said? RAWR!” (I guess motivational manipulation does work.)
And then, when I complained about my post workout aches, his response was simply to laugh and say, “You gotta do it more, then. It won’t hurt so much next time.”
I was blessed to be invited to face my fears and say YES! to adventure when my sweetie invited me to take a trip to the top of the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge recently.
As soon as he asked me, my heart started racing and I started having surges of adrenaline rushing through my body. I am terrified of heights! I wanted to refuse, "NO! I'm not going! Never not EVER!" and I kept wanting to back out all the way up to the day of the trip. But I have made myself a promise that if the only reason I am considering not doing something is because I am afraid, that means that I absolutely have got to do it. So I breathed through the surges (flashback to good labor technique) and I reminded myself that the feelings of fear and excitement feel really similar to my body, it's only my mind that determines that one is good and the other is terrible.
It takes four and a half minutes to ride to the top of the tower and the entire time, I was trying to play it cool, act natural, like I take 4 minute rides 500 feet up into the air on a weekly basis. I know I gave myself away, though, when I asked our awesome guide and elevator conductor, Dennis, "Is this gate securely closed?" rattling the door just to be sure.
When we got to the top of the tower, the wind was blowing and the sun was shining. I alternated between shrieks of excitement and terror. I kept a death grip on the railing the entire time and when my honey tried to guide me to another part of the tower, I roared, "No!"
Aware of the amazing location and it's perfect placement between Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, I'd planned to take time to send prayers out for all of my Beloveds and communities. Instead, the prayers I offered were more of the "Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my GOD!" variety. I promise, the sentiment was there even if the format wasn't standard. And it was very real and very very raw.
Eventually, I found a calm place, where the wind was less gusting and I could simply appreciate the beauty of the setting and the wonder of being invited on such an amazing adventure by my honey. By the time we had to leave, I could fully understand how people can spend a couple hours on a mountainside or on the tower of a bridge. We had to leave because another group was coming up, comprised of another woman who was terrified of heights and a man who was proposing to his girlfriend. I left a prayer behind that that terrified woman find the same beautiful soothing space that I had and, as we descended the tower, I thought of the blessing and magick of being able to face a fear in such a glorious manner.
I recently had a conversation where a friend asked whether or not it was important for people to speak up when they witness someone saying something ignorant or derogatory about a group of which they (the witness) are not a member. I stated that I believe that it is very important because when we are speaking on our own behalf, we also have to contend with possbile feelings of hurt and anger and pain at the burden of the entire issue. Another woman participating in that conversation took exception with a statement I made in that reseponse, namely that I believe it is up to white people to educate other white people about racism (as in, it is not the responsibility of People of Color). She was further offended by my response to her offense (which was, basically, that I was not interested in explaining myself to her) and, after making sure to let me know that she is raising her children to see people for who they are and not what they look like, she quit the conversation.
The entire exchange had me thinking and ruminating and I decided to write this article as a way of exploring my perceptions of the difference between being an ally and being a “nice person.” Because, I realized with crystaline clarity, that there is a very big difference between the two. I suspect a lot of conflict and disappointment happens because of people thinking they are being or dealing with one (the ally) when they are, in fact, faced with (or being) someone who is, actually just nice. I will put this in context and say that I do not know that woman and this is not in response to her. Our exchange was merely a catalyst for an alternate exploration and an opportunity to reexamine myself, my beliefs, and my responses. I will also say that it was an opportunity to act as an ally on my own behalf and that is never a bad thing.
I also realized, as I was thinking more on this topic, that there is something that I believe to be true, and, I think most of my communities understand to be true as well. But everyone who enters (or stumbles) into a conversation about oppression has not necessarily agreed to this same truth. It is this: We live in a world, where racism, sexism, homophobia, class/economic divisions and other -isms are part of the structures. They are built into the foundation, the walls, and the roof of our society. They are in the air we breath and the waters we drink.
These -isms are so much a part of our norm that, unless we start to look for them, we might not even realize they are there.
For those who may not know, this is the definition of an ally from Anne Bishop, author of Becoming an Ally, on her website www.becominganally.ca:
Allies are people who recognize the unearned privilege they receive from society’s patterns of injustice and take responsibility for changing these patterns. Allies include men who work to end sexism, white people who work to end racism, heterosexual people who work to end heterosexism, able-bodied people who work to end ableism, and so on. Part of becoming an ally is also recognizing one’s own experience of oppression. For example, a white woman can learn from her experience of sexism and apply it in becoming an ally to people of colour, or a person who grew up in poverty can learn from that experience how to respect others’ feelings of helplessness because of a disability.
I, personally, think of allies as people who do the work to examine and question their own privilege. To understand who they are internally, but also how their external appearance or membership in certain groups impacts their societal powers. Being an ally means willing to be uncomfortable, being willing to be wrong (and, unfortunately, doing that ish frequently) and trying again, over and over. It’s not so much about being right as it is about being unwilling to allow wrongs to persist unchallenged.
In contrast, being a nice person means being someone who doesn’t want to make others feel badly. It’s about the personal choices one makes regarding friendships and relationships. A nice person likes to see diversity at gatherings, but may not understand that “diversity” is not just people of different complexions or lifestyles (but who all have similar assumed world views and behavior patterns). True diversity is, at times, grinding and intense and messy and loud and awkward. I have seen, on more than one occasion, people who say that they really don’t want this or that injustice to persist, but they then check out when they are confronted with it’s existence in their own unconscious behaviors. Nice people don’t want you to feel bad, but if someone has to, they’d much rather it not be them.
I have my own “nice” patterns that I have to confront pretty regularly. I prefer for people to be kind and to get along and for things to work out in the end and I sometimes find myself wanting to push aside or rush through tense moments to get back to “nice” or easeful feelings. But I also have to be brutally honest with myself and recognize that my personal choices do not negate the reality of racism, sexism, homophobia or any other -ism. And if I willfully choose to ignore my own privilege because my personal relationships or beliefs contradict the ugliness of one of those isms, I negatively impact my ability to be an ally. I render myself ineffective as an ally.
Here are a couple examples: (and I am listing these because I have heard them more than once from different sources. I’m sure you can think of a few of your own.)
“Why are those (insert group here) so angry? I didn’t do anything to them.”
“My (friend/lover/relative/second cousin on my father’s side) is (African American/Asian/Latino), so I understand.” (the implication being “so I can’t be racist”)
“I don’t see color.” (Please take a moment and imagine white people standing around in a room full of only other white people and saying this- Does that even happen? When I hear people say this, the subtext, to me, is always, they actually do see color, they see your color, and they just want you to know that they like you anyway. You know, in spite of it.)
Racism- Dealing with racism in spiritual communities is how I entered the field of diversity work (I speak a little more on that in my article “Shedding in Creation” in the anthology Shades of Faith: Minority Voices in Paganism, edited by Crystal Blanton). I don’t much go into the specifics of my personal stories because one of the things I have learned as a result of my work in diversity is that, as a Person of Color, I have the choice of whether or not I share my personal experiences of racism with white people as an offering toward their comprehension of the existence of racism in the world and the harm that it does. It can be a very powerful thing, to reveal our own wounds as a way to shed light on a situation. It can also be a rewounding experience (especially when the response is along the lines of those all too common platitudes,”Well, maybe you just heard wrong.” or “Well, I’m sorry you feel that way, but I don’t think that was what they meant.” or their own pushback stories of facing “prejudice” that they managed to overcome.) The choice of whether to share or not to share is not one to make lightly. I choose, now, to be selective about where I share specifics of these experiences because they are some of the more tender and scary ones. Allies are those who understand that that can be the case and, at their best, do not allow their own discomfort at their unearned privilege (or even at ways they have been complicit in the maintenance of the status quo in the past) to justify someone else’s rewounding.
Sexism- When I was in the Women’s Spirituality program at the California Institute of Integral Studies, there were a few occasions when I saw men who identified as feminists who would join a class, and then be surprised by the intensity of the comments that came their way from some of the women. These were usually white men, used to a certain amount of privilege afforded them in our society. One man explained to me, somewhat frustratedly, after his own experience, that the women hadn’t even taken the time to get to know him, that they were just coming at him because he was a man. My response to him was, “Every day, I leave my house and I am a part of a group. People see me and I am a black woman. They do not know me. Your assumption that you get to be seen for who you are as an individual is, actually, part of your privilege as a white male. You are a man and men have done harm, why do you think you have a right not to hear about it?”
(A pause to note that while I’m very aware that, when it comes to matters of racism and sexism, I fall into the categories of lesser power or privilege, I would like to clearly state that my awareness of my position of general societal disadvantage does not, in any way, equate to my feeling powerless as an individual. There is a difference.)
Homophobia- Here is the arena in which my privilege flaps in the wind, where I roar my ignorance to the world in my (sometimes fumbling) attempts to be an ally. The hard thing about being an ally is that you have to get it really really wrong a lot of times before you can genuinely start to (sometimes) get it right. I am a heterosexual woman. I have been an ally, to the best of my ability, since I was in high school and joined the GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) or maybe since the summer I was 10 and witnessed someone coming out for the first time. I have been fortunate to witness more than one of my friends coming out to their communities, saying “I am a gay man.” or “I am a lesbian.” I have had opportunities to participate in numerous spiritual communities and activist communities and performance communities which have often been largely populated by people who identify as gay, queer, lesbian, bisexual, trans, or placing (or finding) themselves in a variety of ways on the spectrum of sexuality and identity. Despite that, I still often feel as though I have no idea if what I am saying or doing is the “right thing.” I read, I learn from conversations, I speak up when and where I can (and not always skillfully) and have felt the need, on many occasions, to check in with friends and ask, “Is it appropriate for me to say this? Is it offensive if I say or do that? Is it okay if I ask you a question as my “gay” friend? And let me know if you don’t feel like being the voice of LGBT America today.”
There are no definitive answers to any of these. No clear rules about “always say and do this” or “never say and do that.” I haven’t even touched on things like pretty privilege, educational privilege, ableism, and a whole host of other forms of oppression. (I’m thinking there might be some benefit in going on my own research mission to root out the -isms in our world. That may or may not result in another article if I do it.) These are complex issues and it can take years to begin to understand the depth of impact any one of these has on an individual life. To go from there to looking at ways they overlap and intersect and then expanding out to a globe full of people who are all being impacted by injustice in a variety of ways . . . it’s overwhelming to consider. We all know that activists burn themselves out on a regular basis, trying to conquer Oppression Mountain, and no one person can do the exact right thing every single day. But we do lighten the burden when we each take on something.
I have a feeling that I will be revisiting this idea many more times in the future, but for right now, I’m sitting with this final sense I had of the difference between being an ally and being nice. I started this exploration with the thought that I was trying to acknowledge and accept the reality that some people will never be allies, that simply being “nice” is enough of an accomplishment. I understand that that is the truth we live within. But this final element tipped the scale for me and actually makes me wish for more people to abandon niceness and claim their roles as allies (in whatever ways they can.) Here it is: “Nice” people do not remain nice for long in conversations about the -isms and their own privilege. This is because looking at and addressing these uncomfortable realities actually challenges one’s self image as a “nice” person and an attack in response is, unfortunately, often the result (and the cycle of wounding takes another turn). If we can simply have the courage to strip away the veneer of niceness, show up authentically and with compassion (for ourselves and others), we have the chance to begin to be extraordinary (if imperfect) champions for one another.
One last note: I am completing this article as we transition from February to March, from Black History Month to Women’s History Month. I feel very aware that there is a lot of shared triumph and conflict in the history of the efforts for African Americans and women to gain access to certain rights and privileges in this nation. That feels significant somehow, and I complete this article with a prayer, as one who straddles these two lived experiences, that each day I strive to do my best not to add to the burdens of others who are trying to get through the day as authentic beings in a world that can, at times, be distressingly cruel. And I go beyond that to pray that I do my part to serve our collective awakening to our own radiance as a species and our return to harmony with the Divine (in its many thousand names), the Earth, and the fellow beings that exist here with us.
Nadirah Adeye is an able bodied (privileged) pagan (non-privileged) heterosexual (privileged) woman (non-privileged) of color (non-privileged) who has been fortunate to have many wonderful educational opportunities (privileged) which have resulted in entirely too many student loans (mixed privilege and non).