Entry 53: Strike, Then Flow: How dance taught me to let go of a grudge

AccidentalPerfectionistBlog

Feel the ground underneath your feet, keep your knees soft, says Maria.  Hold, but don’t clench, the abdominal muscles. Then twist from the core, rotate shoulders, and strike with the heel of the right hand.  Keep the left arm and hand close to the side body. And vocalize!  

I strike with my right hand, and let out a satisfying grunt. Huh!  

Next, breathe in, swivel the core, and strike with the left.  Huh!

We march forward, 1 – 2 – 3 – 4, and strike: Right! Left! Right! Left!

March back, with feet stomping, and repeat Huh! Huh! Huh! Huh!  Four precise strikes, while a rock song with a heavy downbeat plays over the speaker.  

I am in a Nia class, a style which draws upon jazz and modern dance, tai chi, yoga, as well as tae kwon doe, and regularly incorporates punches, blocks and kicks into dance routines set to inspiring music.  

I sense my brow getting furrowed, and my focus zeroing in on the mental image of someone I am angry with – someone at work who had lied about me and was ruining my reputation.  This is one of the worst things someone can do to me. I channel my heated energy at an image of their face, then strike: Right! Left! Huh! Huh! I imagine the strikes land on their stomach.  It’s violent, I know, but I figure it is a safer way than most to channel my aggressions.

While we dance, Maria demonstrates a new pattern:  She marches forward, 1 – 2 – 3 – 4, and does two strikes – Right! Left!  Then she adds two freestyle moves – freeflowing arms with her hips jiving to the beat and legs loose.   

Our turn. 

March forward – 2 – 3 – 4.  Huh! Huh! Then, I freeze. My body refuses to do freestyle moves.  I stand with fists clenched and arms rigid.  

March back – 2 – 3 – 4.  Huh! Huh! I try again. I manage some herky jerky moves, probably resembling the ‘robot’.  I get angry at what Maria is asking me to do – I was in the zone and wanted to stay aggressive.  

I could not loosen up my core and arms, in order to pull off any moves other than the strikes.   

Next time, I know it’s coming, so I try to prepare.  I do my strikes, and then try to loosen up, but my body doesn’t acquiesce.  My mind is almost dizzy at the attempt, and can’t find the rhythm in order to time my freestyle…  

After one song, we move on from the martial arts movements to other dance steps, and I am relieved.

After class, I wondered, why was this so challenging?  I tend to pick up dance moves pretty easily, but this one – firm attacks, interspersed with flowing, loose movements – was a struggle, for both my body, and my mind. 

I observed that these sensations – aggression and flow – had associated emotions – anger and forgiveness – which were also hard for me to balance in my real life.

When I feel hurt, threatened or angry, it is difficult for me to come out of that to feel relaxed, joyful, or happy.  Once I am physically tense, my body is not able to easily relax. And once I am angry, my mind tells me that if I let go of the emotion, I will be condoning whatever made me upset in the first place. 

I don’t know which comes first, the mind’s stubbornness or the body’s rigidity. In either case, the mind and body reinforce the tension and prevent its release.   

I reflected that this pattern has shown up over the course of my life in the form of holding grudges.  

The most extreme example of this occurred many years ago.  After college, my sister and I had moved back home. After a painful and dramatic incident, we did not speak to each other for several months.   It started with screaming and crying, and evolved to sidestepping each other with tension and awkwardness. I soon escaped by moving into my own apartment.

This habit seemed to run in my family.  My mother had a couple of years when she didn’t speak to her brother.  My father didn’t speak to his sisters for a couple of decades.  

Thankfully, all of those rifts had been resolved, but I felt there was more to discover.  

At the time, I had also noticed that I had a very hard time cooling off after an argument with my then 7-year-old son.  Even after he had moved on, and approached me lovingly, I couldn’t fully open to him, because I retained the tension of the interaction in my physical body.  Once I was aware of the pattern, it seemed absurd. I made a cognitive resolution to change my behavior, my plan complete with self-flagellation and harsh critique.  

Meanwhile, in dance class, I continued to follow Maria’s instruction.  In every class, we had strikes, punches, blocks and other martial arts movements integrated into the dance.  I would mimic to the best of my ability, focusing on the strike moves, and then releasing to allow organic dance movements.  It remained the hardest part of the dance for me to follow. 

At times, I found myself taking my strikes, huffing an inhale, and then moving into the flowing dance move.  It was a jilted move, and I was behind the beat, but I kept trying. Other times, I was so determined on making the flowing move, that my last strike would be wimpy and unfocused.  

After some amount of time (months, or maybe even a year?), one day I noticed that I moved from my strikes, focused and sharp, to my arms flowing, and core swaying gracefully.  I couldn’t pinpoint how I had developed the ability, and it didn’t even require the hyperfocus or trying that I had put in before. The ease was just there. I was ecstatic!  

Upon later reflection, I wondered whether this physical capability had any impact on my family or social interactions, so I made an intention to notice if there were any changes.  One day, during an intense interaction with my kids, my emotions flared up and I yelled. I felt my body and jaw tense up. I told the kids I needed to take a timeout and went to my room and closed the door.  After a few minutes, I emerged physically calmer, and emotionally cooler. When my son came to me, I was able to open to his embrace. We then discussed the situation, and I apologized for not communicating calmly.  

I have since realized that my physical tension stems from the sympathetic nervous system.  My mind and body believe I am in danger and trigger a fight/flight/freeze response. While I had known about this physiological response cognitively, it was only through my body’s practice that I was able to shift the pattern. 

The change happened in the safe space of my dance studio, with the compassionate support of my teacher, and without the harsh self-critique that I typically subject myself to. (A recipe to remember!)

I continue to be amazed at how the lessons I learn from my body are improving the quality of my life.  I am so very grateful for my body and all that it allows me to discover, endure, and experience. It is one of my most important teachers.

Entry 60: Where are you on your anti-racism journey?

AccidentalPerfectionistBlog

Here are phases i see people flowing through on their anti-racism journey. Where do you find yourself? Are you struggling or finding ease there? What are you doing to nourish yourself? What do you notice about how rest supports your efforts on the other areas?

Learn
-If you’re new to #antiracism , start here. Read/listen to experiences of Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) in books or on social media. Seek multiple sources because no one person can speak for an entire race. 
– Pls do not ask BIPOC to do this work with you without offering something in exchange.
– Consider these questions: what history or contemporary experiences of BIPOC have i been unaware of? Where was i (or where were my ancestors) during those events, and what was the impact on BIPOC? Do i feel any resistance, or defensiveness? Was there harm done, and is it possible to make any amends for that harm?
– Practice non-judgmental listening, reducing defensiveness and acknowledging privilege. These skills will reduce harm during cross-racial dialogues.

Evolve (your life)
-Examine your habits, relationships, and the way you invest your time, money, energy and attention. 
-Consider these questions: With this awareness of impact of history on BIPOC, what parts of my life feel out of alignment with my stated values? Are there shifts and changes i need to make in order to live within my integrity?
– Set intentions for those shifts, and share them with a coach or a trusted friend who can be supportive of your evolution. 
– This phase will likely cause discomfort. Care for yourself through the evolution. 

Advocate
-Take your learning out into the world. 
-Consider these questions: What areas of injustice are of importance to me? What organizations/ have already been active in that area? Can i support, amplify, conspire with them? 
-What assets do i bring to the work? What are the communities, institutions, districts i have influence in? What are obstacles for me to be a conscious ally? 
-Know what you need for rejuvenation. Plan for when you may feel the need for validation or ally cookies.

This work is hard, but i know each of us has the capacity for this work. 
#blacklivesmatter 
#consciouswhiteally 
#socialjustice

Entry 59: Dear Allies, What can you learn from #AmyCooper?

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Dear Allies,

What can you learn from #AmyCooper?

While watching the video of white #AmyCooper calling the police on Black #ChristianCooper, who did you relate to in the scenario?   Did you feel an urge to protect Amy or to find explanations for her emotions?   Pay attention to whatever it was you felt, because that is an opening for you to do the **internal** work of anti-racism.  That internal work is a **pre-requisite** to serving as an ally. 

Without doing self-examination, there is a chance you can do more harm to Black people.  All people in the dominant culture have done harm, whether you are aware of it or not.  The question is, are you open to learning about how to reduce the harm?  If yes, keep reading.  If you’re unable to right now, come back and finish reading at another time.

i believe Amy felt scared and threatened.  But why did she initially feel threatened and why did she become increasingly more distressed, when Christian did not move any closer to her throughout the time she was on the phone?  “There is a man, African American, he has a bike helmet.  He is recording me and threatening me and my dog….  [under more duress] I’m being threatened in the Ramble! Please send a cop immediately!”  

As a woman in a male dominated society, it is very possible that she may have had an experience where she, or someone she knew, was physically harmed by a man.  That could certainly trigger a threat response (fight, flight, freeze) in Amy.

But she also mentioned that the man threatening her was African American.  That piece of information was unnecessary and gives us a clue into her subconscious.  

i think somewhere in her subconscious, she has associations of Black men harming white women.  Those associations are planted throughout our TV shows and movies, news, and history books.  This is her #unconsciousbias playing out.  With that unconscious conditioning, her stress reaction is not surprising. 

So, what could help Amy bring the unconscious into consciousness?  Maybe she could read the history of #EmmettTill, a 14-year old Black boy who was accused of grabbing and menacing 21-year old Carolyn Bryant, a white grocery store worker in 1955.  Carolyn’s husband and brother-in-law kidnapped Emmett, then beat him and drowned him in a river.  When he was found, his face was unrecognizable.  An all-white jury found them not guilty.  Ten years later, the men publicly admitted they committed the murder.  Decades later, the woman admitted to exaggerating the claims. 

Amy’s unexamined bias turned itself into a weapon, as she played the role of a white damsel in distress.  White men also play a role in that narrative – to protect and avenge the honor of ‘their’ white women- just as Carolyn’s family did when justifying to themselves that they could murder a 14-year old child in 1955. 

Let’s play out the scenario with Amy and Christian: imagine the police show up.  Imagine they are white. Imagine they see a damsel in distress, and their own unexamined bias triggers them to action.  Amy’s #weaponizedwhiteness could have caused harm or death to a Black man who was birdwatching in broad daylight.  I am utterly grateful this showdown did not occur that day.   

I believe most of us don’t want to cause harm.  But it can happen, unless we are willing to make the unconscious conscious by learning the history, and reflecting on our reactions.  This can help override #unexaminedbias.

If you want more on #weaponizingwhiteness, watch Episode 1 of #WhenTheySeeUs, directed by #AvaDuvernay on #Netflix.  Reflect on how #LindaFairstein weaponizes her position of power in this true story (that also occurred in Central Park).

If you want a brave space to examine your unconscious, DM me.  I can help you become a #consciouswhiteally.

With fierce love,

Monica

#blacklivesmatter

Entry 57: Breonna Taylor

AccidentalPerfectionistBlog
I clean up the dishes from dinner, wipe down the counter top.  
I tell Ken that I’m heading to sleep.  
I brush my teeth, change out of my clothes, and get into my bed.  
I think about the next day - it’ll be a busy one.  
It’s been busy on the ambulance - the pandemic is starting to hit us in Louisville, 
and we have a lot of elderly who are at risk.  
I love my job, and know it is important work, especially now.  
Ken gets into bed awhile later, kisses me and we go to sleep.  

In the middle of the night, I awake, startled, by thundering noises, 
it sounds like a train coming through my front door.  
Someone breaks down the door.  What is that? I ask Ken.  I hear foot steps.  
Are we being robbed?  Are they going to kill us?  
Ken grabs his gun, he fires shots at the door.  
They return fire. I don’t know how many times.  
Eight of the bullets hit me.  
I am dead.  

I find out later, 
That they were police who 
Shot and killed me.  
Police who broke down my door. 
Police who forced entry into my house 
In the middle of the night 
Without showing a warrant, 
Without reading us our rights.  
In the middle of the night.
In my house.
I did not resist a warrant.
I did not resist arrest.
I was asleep 
At my home 
In the middle of the night.
At my home
In the middle of the night.

In memory of Breonna Taylor (1994-2020)


Entry 56: The scent and the thorns

AccidentalPerfectionistBlog
This moment contains the 
Agony of not knowing what tomorrow will bring, 
And the certainty that it will be the same.

It contains the fear of the dangers of the virus
And the knowledge that some have privilege to protect themselves

It has within it the gift of slowing down, for some, for myself,
And reverence for the teachers
It contains the struggle of being an ineffective substitute.

This moment contains my rage at those who say abandon your elders,
my disgust for CEOs who sacrifice their frontlines for profits.
It contains tender gratitude for our never-heroes: 
Garbage and sanitation, postal workers, grocery store employees.

This moment contains my breath and heart beat,
It contains my compulsive eating and elusive sleep

This moment contains healing for Mother Earth,
Cleansing her air and waterways.
It contains grief for the comforts we are leaving behind, 
And terror that we will design the same tomorrow.

It is a birth, as well as a death.  
It is the flowering of seeds planted long ago.

The flower is opening, 
Infinite beauty contained 
In one unfurling petal.

It contains thorns, too, and a sweet, sweet scent.  
It is a birth, and a death.  
i will not design the same tomorrow.
i will hold the scent and the thorns.

Entry 55: Dualities in Daily Life

AccidentalPerfectionistBlog

Like most people, the activities of daily life have been completely altered by the arrival of #COVID-19.  At times, it feels turbulent, as if I’m inside of a bowling ball, hurtling towards an unknown destination.  My mindfulness practice has helped me recognize the moments when I am feeling out of control, overwhelmed, anxious, and also those moments of connection, joy, and stillness.

Through my reflection and meditation, I am discovering an awareness of certain dualities in my daily life.  While I cannot claim to have done extensive learning on this concept, what I understand is that there are opposite or contrary ideas that actually coexist in nature.  This concept is often represented by the #Yin-Yang symbol from ancient Chinese culture, with Yin representing the receptive, female, dark and Yang representing the active, male, light.  These opposing forces not only co-exist, but live in complement and can transform into each other. Over the past few weeks, I have felt a strong recognition that certain prevailing beliefs are now being met with an opposite belief, and somehow coexisting in this moment.  I’m curious to hear if anyone else has noticed anything like this?  

The first set of opposites relates to the cultural belief about #self-care.  Prioritizing one’s self-care is usually thought of as indulgent, selfish, weakness and a detraction from being productive.  Now, sequestered in our homes, self-care – which includes illness prevention, personal care, rest, mental health and stress management – is turning out to be a selfless act.  I find it surprising and energizing to see an alignment between actions that benefits others while also benefiting ourselves. (I do acknowledge this is not true for our friends and neighbors who are serving in essential roles to keep our society healthy and functioning.  But by staying home, we are doing what we can to keep them safer.)

Another set of opposites relates to our #physicallydistancing.  It surprises me that in this time, I have felt as close as ever to some of my friends.  Friends who live across town or across the country, friends I haven’t connected with in months or years, are connecting through texts, phone calls, #zoomconferencecalls, Instagram or Facebook, gift deliveries…  When I think of someone, instead of saying, “oh i should call them sometime…”, I reach out. And in so doing, the relationship seems more palpable. The content of the connections also feels rich – we’re saying to each other the things we may sometimes hold back – deep appreciation and gratitude for each other, and the offer of patience, compassion, a listening ear or practical help… it feels vibrant and has been a gift.

A third opposite is one that challenges my own limiting belief about my capabilities to set boundaries.  I was worried that setting boundaries would be impossible given the proximity of the family being together all the time,  My kids would say, it’s a regular occurrence for me to resort to yelling (often when I haven’t set up an expectation in advance).  Somehow, in these unusual circumstances, I am making it a priority to ask for what I will be needing throughout the day – quiet space for my meetings, time to attend my virtual dance class or meditation.  I wouldn’t say it has become a habit yet, but what is surprising is that I feel less guilty about asking for what I need. I know I need to sustain myself and that this is an investment in my health. #boundaries

Have you noticed any opposing beliefs that coexist in your life at this moment? 

Entry 54: A Difficult Mother

AccidentalPerfectionistBlog
By many counts i am a 
Difficult mother.
With a tight jawed glare
i scold without a word.
Loving order and tidiness
A chore is always available for you.
i do not have stamina for
Endless playing,
Or the patience for 
Fantastical stories.
i am adept at extracting fun 
from nearly any adventure.
i repeat myself until i, too, 
become bored of my sage advice.
With fears grooved into my brain, 
my power unseized and 
dreams unfulfilled,
i pass these on as a blueprint for living.
i cannot imagine how it would be to 
be my child.

When you laugh unfettered and carefree, 
i may loosen into a smile, or 
Shudder and crave an underground cave.
Your patterns are familiar, 
until they become unknowable.
We build a routine, 
until it crumbles.

Mothering, for me, encompasses all of these things, and 
that is why i find it difficult.
But, i suppose, without the 
peaks and valleys of the EKG, 
we would be pronounced dead.

But sometimes, 
i can’t bear to feel 
incompetent 
one single minute more, 
then
i speak the right words, 
at an appropriate moment, 
with the right intonation, 
it is met with understanding, and
i loosen into a smile,
until
...