A note from Carl:
I hope you are well, healthy, and being generous with your care and compassion in these times.
Before I get into today’s writing, I wanted to share that we have a beautiful new podcast with Francis Weller, “In the Absence Of the Ordinary” exploring themes from his latest collection of essays on living in these times of uncertainty.
In April, I wrote about the qualities of initiation embedded in the pandemic, and recently, it’s felt to me like we are living in nesting Russian dolls of initiation. All of the grief, anger, and heartbreak around systemic racism in the U.S. and the world, along with all that is alive and continuously shifting in the Covid pandemic, with the looming backdrop of the climate crisis. We are in it, friends.
In all of this, I keep returning to one of the central elements of the initiatory process, which is the death or dissolution of an old identity and of an old way of being, and the emergence of a new set of eyes, a new way of being in the world. I feel there is such ripeness and potential for potent change on many levels.
Over the past few months, Erin and I have been steeping in Resmaa’s Menakem’s book “My Grandmother’s Hands,” which has been one of the most potent and illuminating books on race, trauma, embodiment, healing, and being human that I have ever read. If you are not familiar with his work, Resmaa is a trauma therapist who looks at systemic racism and healing (specifically in the U.S.) through a somatic lens, including the undigested trauma that gets passed down generationally in our bodies, whether we are what he calls white-bodied, black-bodied or police-bodied people.
“There’s a way out of this mess, and it requires each of us to begin with our own body. You and your body are important parts of the solution. You will not just read this book; you will experience it… Your body—all of our bodies—are where changing the status quo must begin.”
-Resmaa Menakem from My Grandmother’s Hands
I sense this book will be a kind of tipping point, both in terms of what it brings to the conversation on race and also in the recognition the author points to in many ways: If genuine change and healing are going to come, we have to address the patterns that live, often invisibly, in our bodies.
So much of the book returns me to contemplating Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais’ quote: “If you don’t know what you are doing, you can’t do what you want.” And many of us don’t know what we are doing on the subtle, and not-so-subtle levels, in our bodies.
But, we can learn.
There are a million things I could say in praise about this book, along with “please go read it.” Resmaa also did a powerful recent interview with Krista Tippett of On Being.
One thing Resmaa returns to over and over is the necessity of learning how to settle your body.
As Resmaa describes, learning to settle the body is a practice, a life-long practice. Settling the body is not just for the sake and benefit of this body, but a settled body can cause less harm while supporting more healing in the world.
I often return to these last words of Mary Oliver’s poem “To Begin With, The Sweet Grass”
What I loved in the beginning, I think, was mostly myself.
Never mind that I had to, since somebody had to.
That was many years ago.
Since then I have gone out from my confinements,
though with difficulty.
I mean the ones that thought to rule my heart.
I cast them out, I put them on the mush pile.
They will be nourishment somehow (everything is nourishment
somehow or another).
And I have become the child of the clouds, and of hope.
I have become the friend of the enemy, whoever that is.
I have become older and, cherishing what I have learned,
I have become younger.
And what do I risk to tell you this, which is all I know?
Love yourself. Then forget it. Then, love the world.
We need essential skills of self-care, self-soothing, nervous system regulation, and ways to integrate and heal our trauma. Then, can we de-center ourselves? Can we turn our care to the world?
“When practiced by enough people, these simple primordial activities can be seen to change the world, body by body.” -Resmaa Menakem from My Grandmother’s Hands
As this sign in our house often reminds our family, “We can do hard things.”
We leave you with these tenderizing lines from a newsletter written by our online friend Alli of Clean Little Secret.
“I breathe in the dank mold of hatred for black people and I breathe out a sea breeze of love for black people
I breathe in the heavy discomfort and unfairness of having black and brown skin in America, and I breathe out icy blue light waves of awareness of and freedom from this construct
I breathe in the crippling weight of systemic racial injustice and I breathe out golden wave crests of unlimited, unencumbered possibility for people of color
I breathe in the mudslide of societal turmoil, chaos, and fear and breathe out a bubbling wellspring of creativity, joy, and flow that will help us build a new world together
I breathe in the deflationary disappointment of white apathy and I breathe out rings of purposeful, effective, compassionate white action
I breathe in all the rock solid immoveable hatred of this moment and I breathe out the feathery whispers and tendrils of all the love of this moment
We are in the live long days of hard work. May we all take in as much of the suffering of the world as we can hold, and with intention and firm clarity, may we transform it and lay the foundation stones of a new and just world.”
With great love,