Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Chakra Meditation for the Hardest of Times

[I started doing this meditation in my classes right before the 2016 election. It became even more essential after the election.]

right hand on lower abdomen:
may i be grounded
may i be held by the earth

may i be connected to my ancestors

may i have deep roots

left hand on navel:
may i be safe
may i be protected from harm
may i feel secure in all circumstances
may i be sheltered and nourished

right hand on upper abdomen:
may i be recognized
may i be seen
may i be my fullest self
may i know who i am

left hand on chest:
may i be loved
may i give and receive love abundantly
may i be filled with compassion and courage
may i be a source and receptacle for unconditional love

right hand at base of throat:
may i speak my truth
may i express myself
may i not silence myself
may i use the full range of my voice

left hand on forehead:
may i see clearly
may i see beyond the visible
may i open to intuition
may i trust my vision

right hand on crown of head:
may i open to spirit
may i connect to higher source
may i receive wisdom
may the infinite in me be part of the whole

Sunday, November 13, 2016

ME AND GIGI, GROWING OUR SOULS


In the wake of the presidential election, I look at everyone differently. I had mistakenly assumed that we all agreed that Trump was a joke, not worth our time, and definitely not worth our vote. But now that I realize that over half our state’s voters—including a smattering of brown people, Muslims, immigrants and more—chose him, I look around and wonder, was it you? did you vote for him?

I’m wondering, not to blame, but to understand. The fact is, we’ve all been participating in a broken, oppressive system resulting in our current fascist state. What I want to know is why did “you” vote for Trump?

One Facebook friend mentioned with a broken heart that her Chinese immigrant mother was a Trump supporter. Why? She didn’t fit the stereotype in the least: rural, white, conservative, racist. This friend realized it was because her mom felt scared, alone, anxious, and wanted some semblance of change and hope, regardless of how unlikely the source.

Larry Sparks, a longtime presence at the Boggs Center, often remarks that most of us are “living lives of quiet desperation.” Like my friend’s mother, most of us feel alienated, economically strained, frustrated, with little relief in sight. In such a state, we will fall for almost any snake oil.

In the last decade of her life, Detroit’s transformational visionary, Grace Lee Boggs’s mantra became “Grow our souls.” Instead of trying to replicate the old structures of the 20th century that no longer are feasible or relevant in the 21st century, we need to develop a radical inner revolution, that requires major changes in lifestyles and values, Grace iterated over and over.

But what does this mean?

I heard an interview with an iconic elder Detroit artist and activist, John Sinclair. He described how he coaches young artists who ask him for advice. He gives them the unwelcome message of “you need to take a vow of poverty.” He went on to describe that any artist or activist committed to their work needs to prioritize it, and that it will probably require significant economic sacrifice, if they are to have enough time and energy to develop and live up to their vision.

This sounds harsh to most of our ears. I mean, we’ve been coached in capitalism’s properity gospel, and made to believe that our success and self-worth are based on our financial prowess, and that abundance is defined by dollars. Even on the left, we’ve been taught that the good fight is for resources, and more equal distribution of wealth. The Occupy Movement was based on wresting the wealth of the 1% to give to the 99%. Even Bernie Sanders’ revolution was based on restructuring government and economics on a material level.

These may be worthy goals, but they don’t address this “grow your soul” business. What Grace meant, and what Sinclair may be alluding to, is the need to wean ourselves from dependence on old, outdated systems and structures.  I would rephrase Sinclair’s advice to say, if we are determined to integrate our values with our lifestyle, we need to redefine wealth.

Growing our souls may very well, to the outsider, look a bit pathetic, or foolish. I mean, I drive a 2001 Honda Civic with a smashed rear bumper and rust-eaten front end. My friends and I affectionately call it “Gigi.” I did get an insurance settlement when Gigi was rear-ended at a red light, but I didn’t spend the money on body repair, because I decided it was better spent on housing, food, and other expenses to sustain me for a good half-year in Detroit. After all, although the car looked like shit, it ran great.

Capitalism tells me that at my age, I should have accumulated a hefty retirement portfolio, be at the peak of my career and earning power, and be well-settled in my own house that is growing equity. Well, I have no retirement account whatsoever, live pretty much hand-to-mouth, and have just enough savings to replace Gigi with another 100,000+ mileage car when she finally gives out. Yes, I’d say I’m at the top of my game as a 20-year veteran in my career as an Iyengar Yoga teacher, but this does not translate financially, in a low-income city like Detroit.

I live modestly in one room, on Medicaid and food stamps. If I am fortunate enough to live another 20 years, I hope to be able to die at home, wherever home may be, with some level of autonomy, and in the company of loved ones. I will not string out my life in long-term medical care or an institution. If Gigi still runs, someone come and get her! That may be my only material residue.

I also readily admit that the reason I am able to live on less is because I have spent most of my life in middle class comfort and security. I don’t have an economic security net, and as a person of color, will remain outside mainstream America, but I will always have my educational and social privilege.

Those who have for generations been denied financial rights by white supremacy understandably want their fair share, and may find the privileged person’s “vow to poverty” insulting and offensive. They should absolutely pursue their American dream to whatever extent they can muster, and only they can define what that looks like.

But a great many may find—if that dream involves an enjoyable well-paying job with benefits, built without exploitation, and granting enough time off for other pursuits—such jobs are few and far between. It’s not their fault if they cannot find favorable work conditions. Many businesses and even nonprofits are doubling down to make ends meet, and requiring more and more of employees. Some folks are recognizing that our society’s emphasis on jobs as the cure for everything is misguided, and that the physical and emotional toll paid for financial security is too high.

And so we circle back around to “growing our souls,” when outer conditions will not meet our most important needs, and we need to “make a way out of no way,” as Grace also actively coached.

“You are very brave,” Grace used to tell me, whenever she asked me about the intentional community I was involved in building a few years ago. I wasn’t being brave at all, I was just trying to integrate my needs for community, shelter, and livelihood. Others would say I was incredibly foolish, hubristic even, outrageous, and just plain stupid. I would describe to her how we were coping with limited heat and electricity, unfinished plumbing, harvesting rainwater for toilets, while building enterprises that we hoped would sustain us.

I ended up leaving that intentional community after a year, for the usual kinds of obstacles that ambitious projects face: lack of resources, differences in priorities, interpersonal strains…. But even after the first cohort largely disbanded, that household continues and develops. That is, we may not see or directly benefit from the fruit of our effort, but hopefully others will.

Growing your soul will look differently for each person, and mean something different for each of us. It involves relinquishing that which is holding us back from leading our most meaningful, fulfilling lives, renouncing our former desperation and replacing it with something constructive.

For many people, it may mean quitting stifling jobs, and learning how to live with less money. It may mean moving out of houses that guzzle fossil fuels, or bicycling, walking, or taking public transit instead of driving. It may mean we replace shopping with gardening and swaps, eating out with potlucks, and entertainment with community-based art-making. It may mean leaving relationships that do not support our new lives.

Growing your soul may very well involve renouncing social capital, not just economic capital. That is, I’ve needed to put myself in the position of learner moreso than teacher. I’ve needed to apprentice myself to folks much younger than me, or who have radically different life experiences, who have important lessons for me. I’ve needed to hold my tongue and listen instead, and not just listen with my ears, but with my heart, silencing the shouts of my ego that tell me I am right.

Growing my soul also means silencing the shouts of my ego telling me to be quiet when it’s necessary for me to speak up. Ego flares in both directions: taking up too much space, AND sometimes taking up too little space in a gesture of false egotism. Growing my soul has meant being visibly vulnerable, making and admitting mistakes and shortcomings, and asking for help.

As we grow our own souls, we will attract and connect with others on parallel paths. And this is where Trump supporters come in. If many of them voted for him, not because they are secret KKK members, but because they are looking for something, someone, anyone, who promises to lead them out of their “lives of quiet desperation,” they may be willing to open their hearts and minds to a new way of thinking and being, that has more to do with connection than hatred.

I’m thinking of my Facebook friend’s Chinese mom. I’m thinking of the 45% of white women, the people of color, queer folks, Muslims, who, voting against their own self-interest, fell for Trump’s message, because they want and need some path of hope. Unless we look at the bigger picture of the 21st century—globalization, technology changing the nature of industry and labor, and the depletion of natural resources, including our capacity to grow food—we may very well want to point our fingers at any convenient “other.”

The next step of growing my soul will be to reach out to family, especially the folks who think I’m nuts, and the ones I avoid. I avoid them because I don’t want to get into ideological arguments, or listen to them gloat over material achievements, or get sucked back into definitions of success that I’ve rejected.

Instead, let’s reach out to one another, discover our common struggles, and support each other in growing our souls. What does that look like for you? Let’s get concrete, specific, real, and day-to-day. How do you expand your inner capacity for change? How do you evolve yourself? Beyond your silo? How do you lovingly engage with family members, colleagues, neighbors, and acquaintances who voted for Trump? How do you take yourself out of your comfort zone, and navigate this new territory with courage and compassion?


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Food Trauma, Gentrification, and Asian Food for White Folks



How does an asexual Korean American yoga-nun crone celebrate Valentine’s Day?

With a kimchi party, of course.


Friends gathered as we mixed gallons of napa cabbage kimchi in deep red pepper brine, with garlic and carrots and scallions, then stuffed into jars to sit for a couple of days to ferment to one’s taste. What could be more celebratory and heartwarming than bright red jars of homemade kimchi sitting on windowsills in the winter sun?

But the community center where I live didn’t necessarily agree. A staff member, a 60-something white man, asked me later that week, “What was that smell coming from the kitchen? It smelled like….bathroom.”

“Oh, that,” I explained cheerily, telling him about the kimchi party, and how delicious kimchi is and how good for our health. But inside, I was shrinking, receding into a too-familiar feeling of embarrassment and shame.

My mother took care of my father as if he was a child, as all good Korean wives are trained do. I remember she would not feed him kimchi in the morning. He enjoyed the traditional Korean breakfast of soup, rice, and a variety of banchan (sides), which never included kimchi, while we kids indulged in the toxic sludge of sugary cereals. She said it was because she didn’t want him going to the office reeking of garlic and fermentation.

And so I learned the language of shame, at the breakfast table, denying ourselves the cultural heritage and health benefits of our national food, as an effort to fit into mainstream white culture. I took my mother’s practice as a matter of course, and never had kimchi for breakfast, until I moved to Korea for a sabbatical in 2014.

I lived with my friend Jung-In, who, herself, was in the process of rediscovering Korean culture after 9 years of American schooling. I happened to be there during kim-jang, when the entire month of November is dedicated to harvesting all the cabbage on the peninsula to pickle into kimchi for the year to come. Every school, church, temple, home, and community center devotes itself to big kimchi gatherings, that everyone pitches in to, plastic-gloved and elbow deep in huge tubs of kimchi.

All that to say, during my time in Korea, we ate kimchi morning, noon, and night. Probably my internal flora was the most robust it had ever been. I came to realize that Koreans in Korea didn’t have my mother’s silly rule of no kimchi for breakfast, didn’t have the worry about smelling of garlic, because we were unified and supportive of each other’s foodways.

For American foodies now, kimchi is de riguer, and you can find it at farmer’s markets in tiny mason jars with rustic labels slapped on, for $15 a quart. At a fancy grocery store in Toronto, I spied Italian style, deep-fried rice balls with pork and kimchi. The possibilities, as white folks have discovered, are endless.

But instead of undoing the decades of internalized shame, I mostly feel angry.

Dr. Mario Martinez points out that inflammation is a response to an inner wound of shame. At first I resisted this idea, but after some frank inner inquiry, I understand that shame has lain beneath much of my experience as an Asian American. The same way our faces turn red when we’re embarrassed, with a flush of circulation, when we feel ashamed, our whole body inflames. Over years, it becomes autoimmune disease.

Every one of my immediate family members has died of shame, ie autoimmune diseases. No heart disease or cancer for us. Instead, we go off in a blaze, our bodies’ immune systems turned inward, attacking itself in self-flagellation.

The inflammation moves around my body like a tourist. Mostly I bear it in my respiratory system, nose and sinuses, or worse, lungs and bronchioles. Sometimes it’s in my gut, the deepest parts of myself churning. Other times I experience it on the skin as eczema, which homeopaths say is the healthiest reaction on the spectrum of healing because it’s on the outermost layer of the body.

So when a Thai restaurant owned, staffed, and catering to white people, called “Katoi”—derogatory Thai slang for transgender femmes—opens up in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in Detroit, how do you think I’d react?

I haven’t always identified as a cisgender woman. I’ve only recently stopped buzzing my hair, as an experiment to see if my hair is playing a role in my overall health. On the spectrum of queerness, I place myself primarily as asexual, and my boyish, androgynous frame seems to reinforce this. For a number of reasons I have happily been choosing non-sexual forms of intimacy with both men and women, and have been partner-free for the past 6 years.

Nowadays with my longer hair, I don’t routinely get called “sir” anymore, but I still bristle at impositions and assumptions of gender, and support gender nonconformity. Meanwhile trans folks, especially when brown and black, are the most victimized, ostracized, at-risk members of society, experiencing the most extreme oppression and violence, on the furthest peripheries. Apparently none of that deters cis owners of Katoi restaurant from appropriating the most superficial aspects of gender nonconformity for fun, coolness, and profit.

The combination of the appropriation of Asian culture and the exploitative use of a derogatory slang term for profit has me waking in the middle of the night, recalling a variety of microaggressions that accumulate and manifest in my body as trauma:

A roommate walking into the kitchen while I was eating kosari, a Korean root vegetable. “Whatcha eating? Worms?”

My white ex-husband and various white friends, politely, or impolitely, declining to even taste my food. My white friend who told me she was afraid of my refrigerator because she didn’t recognize the food.

My white classmate in a dance class joking about how I smelled of garlic.

My children embarrassed at leftovers they took for school lunch, and begging instead for Lunchables.

A friendly cooking competition in which our team prepared a traditional Cambodian pork and ginger dish, and was told by a judge that it tasted like cardboard.

I’ll bet every Asian in America has been othered by their family foods, and has hidden it, been embarrassed by it, and internally experienced it as shame. But suddenly, it’s adopted by white people, who triple the price while halving the portion, top it with a sprig of cilantro, and serve it in a chic setting in a gentrifying neighborhood.

It doesn’t undo my shame. It reinforces it, as a matter of fact, because it reifies white supremacy, which tells me that I am less important, less trustworthy, less powerful, and less human than a white person. That my contributions need to come in a white package to be valued. If I am what I eat, unless I can fit into a certain kind of box, I am unappealing, even repulsive.

If you are a white person reading this, and you have, most likely unknowingly, been on the harming end of such actions, I hope you will listen without getting defensive. Believe me, I don’t need to hear your side of the story. Find a savvy and sensitive white friend unafraid to call you out, to process this with. If you go to your brown and black friend, they may feel a need to be supportive. After all, this is our training, a habit which took me nearly 40 years to break.

And to my Asian comrades, have some kimchi with your morning eggs. Dab it with some stinky fish sauce. Smell of garlic all day and night. Do it for your ancestors, who died for your freedom to be wholly yourself. Do it for the generations to come. May they, and you, be shamelessly glorious, in all that you eat, and do.


Thursday, September 1, 2016

Notes on Healing: Malidoma Somé—GRIEF, RITUAL, AND SACRIFICE



loss of parents—resulting grief and pain opens a vortex that sucks one in as if to remodel the familiar into something unfamiliar.
must allow oneself to be reborn.
nonlinguistic area of the self—psychic/spiritual part of us undergoes metamorphosis into something perhaps higher or lower, to get one to a new dimension.
loss calls attention to our possessiveness, good or bad/dysfunctional.
when that thing is removed, creates immediate vacuum.

connection between grief and water.
water is element of reconciliation, peace-making, purifier/cleanser.
every loss produces crisis that calls for reconciliation.
how do I reconcile myself with the loss?
“the amount of grieving I’ve done is not adequate to get to the other side.”
a whole lot more needs to be done to get to the other side.
a common/universal state.

water as an opportunity for further shedding—a different kind of grieving.
water as a principle element of our own genesis.
we lived in water in womb sea before birth.
what is it that water can touch in me? to turn moist, and liquefy, and remove from me?
beyond idea of cleanliness, seeking psychic bath.

village shaman in august when rivers are full, takes money into clay jar, walks into water, disappears for several hours, then comes out with clothes dry.

something in the water that is not just about drowning.
maybe this is the other home that we have left that we go to when we enter water.
“water people” to ensure there is peace and reconciliation within community.
also fire clan, earth clan, nature clan, mineral clan.
“the grand deal”/the great purpose inscribed in us before we were born—that we MUST fulfill it, stop at nothing.
we all want and look forward to giving our life to something bigger than us.

sacrifice—the cycle of life and death so ingrained in us such that dying and living intersect.
desire that death is connected with something grand.
exiting this world also means entering another world where a huge welcoming committee is waiting for you.
dagara people hold immense ritual for 3+days when someone dies.
escorts into other world.
the deceased becomes a sacrifice to the greater go.od of the community.

animal sacrifice—hard to explain, not to romanticize african culture.
not devaluing animal.
trees are most advanced beings—a consciousness that supercedes all other beings, wider and bigger—they look still—not going anywhere.
after trees, come animals, and humans are third or last.
the higher the consciousness, the more eager you are to offer yourself to the next layer of consciousness below, in order for it to rise.
lifting otherwise wanderer csns allows self to go further—a contradiction.
sacrifice repairs human mistakes.
no chicken killed just for food, but to repair something not working well—an offering.
sacrificed body is shared with spirit—certain key parts given to shrine of spirit, eg liver and heart—connected to main seat of csns of animal.

fabric of modernity makes it difficult to understand sacred killing.
csns associated with animals is source of inspiration behind mythical stories that sustain communities.
through these stories children are taught community mythology.

in malidoma's culture, those with deformity/infirmity/chronic impairment highly valued and sought after—permanent living shrines.
they need mobility in community as reminder that they are surrounded by something bigger than themselves.
they provide a sense of humility.
thermostat to prevent overheating of one’s grandiosity.
desire to marry disabled person—because you live permanently with the sacred.
a natural attraction.

modernity has ruled out the sacred—we can stare at the otherworldly and not see it—the sacred has been de-sacralized.
cause for grief—getting rid of something most important to us.
very strong excavators needed to go to the places sacred has been buried and dig it out.
simple rituals of honoring trees, plants, offering tobacco etc harness enough power to open a few more eyes to sacred around us.

struggle in day to day life—difficult to build shrine today for ritual tomorrow.
our own conditioning makes us blind to sacred, makes us rigid—we need to stay in the water for a few weeks to soften up!
the inner preparation is a personal duty/assignment.
is it possible for each of us to meet privately and concertedly with the trees and plants with the purpose to excavate the interior of self?
looking for those elements inserted by culture that do not belong to us.
when the time comes, we can then carry that which does not belong to us to water.
then give it to the sacred, because the sacred as a csns will know what to do with it.

we define all offerings as good—but not always true.
the earth can take all trash, water can liquefy filth, plants can take energy away from us to purify.
all are offerings.

think of something grand you want to act on behalf of, someone struggling, think of self as an offering to something bigger than yourself.
become a sacriicial element, there is dignity in giving yourself to something grander.
do not seek perfection in the immediate.
“here I am, I know nothing, but I can show up”—qualifies you to be hired by the spirit to do the impossible.
learn as you go, don’t need to gain expertise first.
eventually you get most of it by the end of your life.

each of us present here may have been woken up by an ancestor and placed on this path to try to do something grand.
the nature of this may not be delineated now—because of difference between conscious and unconscious, and info lost in the middle.
as long as we’re driven by this humble thought, nothing else will matter.
not about another tradition imposing on another—color doesn’t seem to matter eventually in the eyes of spirit, because something else is going on.

very uncivilized to show up for something like this.
nothing lost in suspending disbelief, tho this is probably hardest thing to do.
why should we want to do the easy thing?

before you go to divination, you take ash and go to the shrine of the ancestors with the problem bothering you.
say to ancestors “take this ash and produce a shield, take cowry shell payment, and ingest all” to lead me to the answer.
ancestors will tell the diviner what to tell you.
if you have access to one ancestor, they will share it with others in spirit world.
can resolve many issues this way.
not about us posturing as beggars.
also go to trees to hang out, not just when we have trouble.



Friday, July 8, 2016

Notes on Healing: What I Know So Far


when we dare to step fully into our bodies and open up parts of ourselves—our chakras, our organs, the systems of the body, the mind, and breath—we open up our capacities to respond and heal
we open up truths and wisdom within ourselves
the body is part of the unconscious mind and can be called forth into the conscious mind
each part of the body has a message, and is speaking to our conscious mind

put our karmendriyas—organs of action—to work in service of our wounds
the parts of ourselves that are suffering
the parts of our communities that are hurting most
as you tend to the community of the body, you tend to the greater community, our city, and our society

what parts of yourself are neglected, abused, misunderstood, marginalized?
what parts of yourself have been violated, colonized, disempowered?
ask yourself how you can recover, reclaim, and heal those parts of yourself
listen quietly for the answers certain to come

we are microcosms of the macrocosms
whatever you do for yourself will ripple outward into the community
showing up for yourself gives space for others to show up for themselves
one of the most effective and radical things you can do is practice self-love by practicing self-care

the body is both a site of trauma and a site of healing
a place of hurt and a place of recovery from hurt
the body is designed to heal, when properly supported

rest is one of the main ways we can support our bodies in healing
the breath is a constant presence, a doorway, and a tool for healing
giving attention is a form of love, and can be enough to begin the cascade of healing

cultivate a space inside which is eternal and infinite
we are embodied beings living in the particularity of time and place, and thus, culture
as we know, certain embodiments are far more vulnerable and prone to harm than others
we must vow to protect each other
we must vow to put our bodies on the line for each other
we do this by making ourselves both strong and supple as possible
able to withstand the storm and flexible enough to move with the wind