Image Description: A stick of upright incense in a bowl on a wooden table. The smoke curls in the shape of a heart against a black background. The title on the image reads: “On Healing Justice & Sacred Activism” with the URLs “lukayo.com” and “patreon.com/lukayo“.
(This article is one of a 5-part series written in the spring of 2017 for a spirituality and social work class.)
As my illness waxes and wanes, the crumbling of my body, the fog that smothers my intellect, and the surging tide of despair and rage that leaves puddles of hopelessness in its wake– all become factors and bitter seeds to chew upon as I reflect on how I fell out of my daily centering exercises. There are ways I tried to make up for it– I tried to exercise more every day. I tried to center myself on the subway– though inevitably I fall unconscious. I try, so hard, not to shame myself about it. And yet, shame I feel all the same. Did it begin with the physical examination? The doctor’s appointment that demanded that despite the levels of chronic pain I am in, exercising will help? I downloaded an app to monitor my sleep, food intake, and exercise quantity. Then there was the dentist appointment. She asked me to floss every night. I noted it and tied it to a before bed practice. The app could not add my daily centering practice. The app began to regulate my life, and the centering faded from my memory– as if I can only hold one daily routine at a time, as if the flossing, though not electronically monitored, replaced it within my mind.
I seek to return to the centering practice this week. I seek to absorb the lesson here. I have tried, throughout the decades to make lists on my walls, on my phone, on my computer, of routines I “should” do daily. Inevitably they are forgotten in a few weeks’ time if I don’t have a form of accountability attached to an external source. Often I shame myself that this is a personal failing. Now I contemplate that this, in fact, is a symptom of a gift that I have, of connection to others, of the sort of deep empathy I can cultivate because of my ability to attune to other people’s needs and align with a group’s values. I am driven into being useful to those around me– if a daily practice does not seem immediately useful in a way that can be externally and readily validated, it fades from my habits. Just like the flossing did years ago until I had a check-up. My thoughts are spinning on how to organize weekly meetings (online and offline) with a spiritual care group (of self- and community-care) where we write each other journal entries on our daily practices.
I also know of the dangers that my connection to others, what is sometimes called “reward-dependent” behaviour or codependent tendencies, can wreak. As Hanh (2005) points out, “We busy ourselves doing as many things as possible, taking refuge in doing more and more, faster and faster. The more we do, the greater the suffering becomes” (p. 13). It is easy for me to escape into the tempting lull of “busy”ness, away from my feelings and the hard work I must do in solitude or in difficult dialogue. In this, there is a revelation as I read Hanh’s piece on “Uprooting Terrorism”– there is a difference when I am compassionately there, as a counselor, a social worker, a being of connection love; and when I am a rescuer, a workaholic, a being that needs to keep busy and be rewarded for it. I cannot truly be there for others’ suffering when I cannot be there for my own suffering. I cannot truly be present and attentive when I am busy rescuing.
Such interpersonal lessons, of the terror and pain in our own hearts, and the terror-filled actions that I have done and received from individuals, also translates into social groups, and institutional terror wielded by the state. So often I see “allyship” and “solidarity” as words flung about in moments of self-identification, when in fact they should be used to describe a relationship. I cannot declare myself someone’s spouse having never met them, and yet people call themselves “ally” when they have not tried to contact the group of which they claim to ally themselves with. Walia (2014) talks about moving “beyond a politics of solidarity”, specifically in regards to Indigenous issues, by
taking initiative for self-education about specific histories of the land we reside upon, organizing support with the clear consent and guidance of an Indigenous community or group, building long-term relationships of accountability, and never assuming or taking for granted the personal and political trust that non-natives earn from Indigenous peoples over time (p.46).
This paragraph can be broken down into four different essays in themselves, about what self-education looks like, how to build accountability relationships, etc. However, it inspires me to see it all written out like that, and validates my approach to stop being a “rescuer” in all ways in my life, from my activism to my romance, and instead work together with people to liberate ourselves from terror and trauma so that we may achieve joy and peace.
But what would it look like to listen to my own suffering on a macro-scale? To understand the plight of my communities, of Pilipinx and QTBIPOC peoples? King’s (1963) “four basic steps” to a nonviolent campaign offer insight: “collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action”. Though I am well aware and even proficient in fact-collecting, negotiating, and direct action, it is the third step that strikes me. Self-purification. King describes his process for the Birmingham direct action program as “self-purification” when his group put on “a series of workshops on nonviolence” where they asked themselves soul-searching questions like to what extent of violence they would be able to receive and how they would respond nonviolently.
Here I believe is a service I both want to learn more of and organize and offer more of– the process of self-purification in our communities before we head towards direct action. Rituals of preparation, grief, rage, and contemplation as to our purpose and the desire for transformation and justice at our core.
Hanh, T. N. (2005). Calming the Fearful Mind: A Zen Response to Terrorism. Parallax Press.
King Jr, M. L. (1963). Letter from Birmingham city jail.
Walia, H. (2014). Decolonizing together: Moving beyond a politics of solidarity toward a practice of decolonization. In T. Kappo and H. King (Eds), The winter we danced: Voices from the past, the future, and the Idle No More movement, 44-50.
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