I was listening to women's empowerment coach, Connie Chapman, talk about how we wear masks to hide aspects of ourselves. That's not a new topic for me. Most of my adult life I've been checking in with myself to see if I'm being true to me. It shows up in leaving full-time corporate work to start two of my own businesses, in being a poet and artist which allow me to examine and express my truth, in my religions practices, in what I say "yes" and "no" to, in the boundaries I set, in my day-to-day choices,
Yet, there was a different level of truth I uncovered when I began to seriously think about the masks I wear and create a list of them! I'm quick to hide what I consider to be my emotional messiness, my neediness, my vulnerability, my roller coaster, my moods, my selfishness, my anxiety, my fears, my sensitivity, my uncertainty, my anger, my demands and expectations (which often are cover-ups of my insecurities). I want people to see me only as put together, grounded, wise, giving, generous, zen, emotionally mature. I pride myself on how I want people to see me. I reject the parts of me that I think are "too much" and "extra."
What I'm learning (light bulb moment!) is that if I'm to live my life authentically, I have to accept the less than perfect parts of me too -- the parts that I am embarrassed about because somehow I took on the belief that they are unloveable. I have to hold space for all of me and recognize that to love is to not judge. No one is perfect and I'm only harming myself when there are parts of my personality that I deem "less than."
When I think about self-love and acceptance, I'm finding it means taking responsibility for my messiness but also loving myself because of it. The parts that we deny are what's needing our love and embrace the most.
I have friends who see the cracks in my mask. They've seen me cry from having my heart hurt. They've seen me be less than gracious with others when I've had a tough day. I even have one friend who has seen all my broken pieces (God, bless him). He handles it well, mostly, but the truth is, he shouldn't have to. Not without me showing him my well of beauty, which exists just as well.
Being authentic means being true to yourself and living in alignment. It doesn't mean throwing your baggage and fears onto others expecting them to heal you. It means saying, "This is who I am -- all of me," and loving yourself...enough.
I think in our society and culture, it's challenging to be exactly who you are. Maybe this is especially so for women and even more so for Black women. I'm not sure. But I know for me, so much of the lessons I am now having to unlearn -- like, always be polite and make space for others, make sure you're always at your best (which is more than everyone else's best), give more than you take, etc -- came as a result of our culture and a woman's role.
How can we -- you and me -- show up as we are, knowing that who we are authentically is whole and brilliant? How can we release the fears that hold us from being fully present to ourselves as ourselves? How can we live in alignment with our inner being with the sense of security that the right people will come into our lives at the right time? How can we have a sense of ease and depth that we are enough and we welcome all of who we are -- even the messy, wild, un-neat parts of us? How can we love her in a way that honors our whole being?
As much self-work I have done over the years, I'm still learning and healing. And I'm learning to be patient with myself. This isn't about being perfect and maybe it's not even about "being better." Maybe it's about being more real, more alive, more in love, more available, more honest, more authentic, more free. Yeah, I think that's it.
So, as I leave, I would like to invite you to do what I did with Connie to create deeper awareness:
Sending light and love,
It was the last Sunday in February that my Dad preached his last sermon. And every last Sunday in February since, I think about how we had no idea as he led the pastoral prayer and later took his text, that it would be the last time he would mount the pulpit. It would be the last time we would hear his words and guidance as a pastor.
We lived in Detroit at the time and it was a winery weathered Sunday. That week, he traveled to Ohio for a conference, retuning that Saturday, March 2.
And that's when he had a massive heart attack. I was with him. It was the last time I saw my Dad alive, vibrant.
Hours later, in a private waiting room, the doctor told me, as if it was a script, "He didn't make it." That moment would change my life forever.
If you know my story, or at least this part of it, you know that his passing and my grief process birthed The Word Project. You know that I believe it was poetry that served as my altar during a time where I felt surrounded by impenetrable darkness. You know it was the writing -- the poetic mechanics -- that made room for me to find my breath again.
For more than 20 years, I've been in that space, helping others grapple with their pain, trauma, sadness. I believe making space for those feelings and emotions are vital for us getting to the other side. But grief, is a process without an end date or timeline. It comes and goes. It's messy and fluid. It surprises you. It's not in a box, neat and perfect.
Still, pain, grief, sadness can be transformed. Healing isn't just making room for the worse. It's making room for the worse so you can work through it for there to be room for the best. There is a Part B to the work.
The healing process is something you go through. Yes, in your own time and with your own rules, but you can't stay where you start and call that healing You can't remain on the same level of your pain and say you've made it through.
I've learned that the best this year. You see, I've been blessed to have someone to journey with these last several months and be a mirror to the pain I've still been holding. He didn't sign up for that job but it's what happens when you're in an intimate relationship (by "intimate relationship" I mean being vulnerable). And, here, I'm going to call him Barbour.
Barbour has pulled up all my shadows that I didn't know existed. They have been laid out, stretched on a table, for me to inventory. Now, these shadows didn't all have to do with me suddenly losing my Dad, who was also my best friend, when I was 23. But I see how I skipped lessons in my 20s and 30s that now need my studious and loving attention.
And what I've learned in this year-long journey with Barbour is that healing does not include wallowing or being coddled (though we often want to be there because it's easier). It means putting on your big girl panties and continuing to do the work. It means practicing radical self-love, forgiveness and acceptance. It means making peace with your past and realizing the present is perfect. It means, yes, giving space to the pain, but not staying there.
I see this with those I work with through poetry workshops -- how people want to defend their pain, be defined by it. They become comfortable in their grief. They wear it like a tethered sweater, passed down from generation to generation.
How do we balance this -- making space for pain while being open to light? How do we not rush through what we're feeling so we can honor each step of the healing process? This is our work, I think -- to figure it out, To practice. To observe. To put one foot in front of the other. And to do with with less and less judgement and more and more compassion.
We don't heal in a vacuum (thank God) though our healing is our responsibility alone. Every relationship, every moment is a part of our healing. Our life is designed for healing. Our journey is to wholeness, if we choose it. That doesn't mean it will be smooth and that we won't meet people who will "trigger" us, but that, too, is a part of our healing.
I'm thankful for my time with Barbour at this juncture of my journey -- for how we are both growing and learning and healing. I am learning, too, even more, what it means to be still and allow God to do the work we can't do alone. What it means to not stay in your pain and act from a place of pain.
I'm thankful for the gift of poetry that illumines the places, too, that are dormant, and that allow us creative ways to be transformed and to open our minds and hearts to the life we deserve.
I'm thankful, as I type this on this last Sunday in February, that my heart is making its way, as gracefully as it knows how, to Part B. And for the love and light my Dad still shines on me, and the many other beautiful souls who travel along-side me, propping me up when things get a little daunting.
This healing journey isn't an easy one but it's one worth trusting.
"Having to go slow, literally, because my body wouldn't and couldn't do what it did prior to surgery, taught me to be gentle with myself. And that slowness and witnessing my body heal naturally after the surgery taught me how to fall in love with all parts of myself in a way I didn't know before."
When the doctor's office called to say my surgery was scheduled for December 18 (2019), I didn't give that date a second thought. December 18, 1960, is when my Dad preached his trial sermon, and when my brother was called into the ministry, my Dad chose that date for him to preach his trial sermon (1988). So I felt December 18 was a date I, too, should say yes to.
And on the one year anniversary of my (first and hopefully only) major surgery -- one that afterwards the doctor told my family was more severe than they thought, one that caused trauma to my body -- I cannot help but to think of the miracle this year has been, even with a pandemic.
During my quiet time this morning, looking back over the year, I could clearly see that this has been my "year of recovery." And I was prompted to share some of what lessons I took to heart this year...
I am thankful for a year of rest and reflection. I am thankful for my growth that continues to show itself. I am thankful for the angels God sends to be by my side. I am thankful for the miracle of life and the healing journey. I am thankful for the past and even more thankful for what is ahead!
I've been thinking a lot lately, as many of you I'm sure, about how to prepare for the election. I don't mean having a plan around voting, though that is important, but rather how should I prepare for the election's results. Is there something different I need to do this week? And the answer is, yes.
Let's face it, this year has not been easy for anyone. COVID, the deaths of John Floyd and Breonna Taylor, along with many others, have put us in a tailspin of grief and anger.. And each day there is news that can make us sick to our stomach, including what's happening politically. There's a lot we cannot control and one may argue that as BIPOC we have no control over the basics (our home, land, body).
So again I think about life after the election -- regardless of who wins and by how much -- and the importance of self-care more now than ever. As I contemplate my own rituals and what I need to increase or suspend, I developed this list that I want to share with you. And ask that you add to this with what you're doing or planning to do within the days and weeks to come.
I do a lot of these now, in my everyday life, but I am mindful that I need to create boundaries and space to deepen my care. As someone whose work is holding space for others and their emotional weight, I know that it is paramount I do the same for me. And I cannot think of this outside of my lens as a Black woman and the weight we carry and have for generations.
The goal is to get on the other side of what many are feeling as trauma and threats with peace and assurance. One path is self-care. It's being in the moment and not allowing all the "what ifs" to take over. It's doing the best to take care of yourself and those you love so that we are strengthened and not weakened.
Take deep breaths, my friends. Expand the chest so the heart has space to freely be. Do what you need to in order to feel safe. And please take deep care of yourself.
(Add in the comments what you're doing to deepen your self-care!)
So, this isn't like my other blog posts. Instead of writing, I want to share an "In the Healing Room" podcast where I talk about my personal experience with poetry as a healing tool, as well as how I use it with others.
You can listen to it by clicking here.
Years ago, in my Atlanta days, I went white water rafting with a guy I was dating. It was one of those “fun,” “let’s do something different” types of date for us.
As we rode the bus to the rapids, with others who decided to join this early morning activity. the guide shared safety tips. I listened closely and repeated to myself what I heard just to ensure I knew what to do in case of an emergency. It was my first time rafting so, knowing me, I probably asked a question or two.
Minutes later we were on a raft with maybe two other couples and our guide. We had our life jackets on, I had my toes tucked under the tube, as instructed, and my hand on an oar. I was ready.
We hit a few rapids hard, had a few bumps, laughs and screams. And then, next thing I knew, after hitting a rapid full speed and the raft spinning, my upper body was flung into the water: my head submerged under water while my feet stayed stuck under the inner tube.
I knew from the brief orientation we had on the bus that someone was going to pull me up. The guide talked about how this would work in the event someone would fall out. So, I wasn’t worried; I waited (after all, I couldn't move with my legs being stuck). But no one did. No one pulled me back in. Instead, they pushed the rest of my body out.
After the seconds I spent in shock and confusion I immediately crossed my arms over my chest (a tip shared in the orientation), kicked my legs straight out, focused my gaze on the sky, and floated with the rapids.
I was angry, frightened, alone.
But, there I was with no other choice than to be there. I had to let go of my anger in that moment to allow my body to relax so I could allow the current to guide me. I had to work with it and not against it, though it was the last place I wanted to be.
I eventually found my way to a large rock that I could lean against, and I waited for what seemed eternity. (And yes, the guy I was dating came for me -- in a lifesaver type raft.)
Later, when we met back up with the group, I was told by the guide that when I fell out of the raft my head was too close to a rock, and that if my head hit the rock while they were trying to pull me up, it could have cost me my life.
Why am I sharing this? Because I realized in the wee hours of this morning how that lesson fits other situations in my life, and how there are times we find ourselves where we simply don’t want to be.
For you (as it has been for me at times) the boat is a job or a relationship or some other situation. We think, though, that the “boat” is where we are to be. It’s our rightful place. It’s safe and dry. It’s part of the plan. And there is nothing wrong with that.
But then, something happens. Some current comes and there is a shift. You’re somewhere else, somewhere unexpected. Maybe you’re half in and half out, and you want someone to pull you all the way in.
You wait for someone, perhaps, to tell/show you they love you. Or you wait for someone to give you the promotion. Or you wait for someone to save you because clearly they must see you struggling. Clearly, they can, but why won’t they?
And they don’t. They don’t pull you in. They don’t say what you need to hear. They don’t save you. Not only do they not pull you in, but they push you out. Still, you might want to return. After all, this is what represents safety for you – not “out there,” where it’s cold and undefined.
So, what do you do?
Some powers – like currents – you just can’t fight. You have to flow. You have to surrender. You have to let go. And it feels like a death.
Same with heartache. You have to grieve (even though it is frightening). You have to surrender (even though you don't understand all that's going on). You have to know that the waves won’t overtake you (even though they are massive).
And, you have to know that maybe being pushed out is what you need in order to find your own way. And sometimes, maybe, you have to push your own self out, trusting, eventually, you will end up where you need to be.
[Take a deep breath.]
But it doesn’t stop there. There is another layer, which I didn’t know about at the time this event happened to me. You have to also deal with the trauma.
It’s not enough to be on safe ground again. It’s not enough to count your blessings and thank God for getting through it. You have to heal the trauma so it doesn’t become stuck in your body. Learn the lesson but not the fear.
And then you begin again.
In my dream last night, I left a class full of employees on their last day of our series, which I was the trainer. I’m not sure what the topic was but I remember having planned everything and feeling well prepared. I had my outline, I had arrived early to set up, I was ready to celebrate our coming together over a number of months, I knew how I was going to “test their knowledge.” Etc.
But I realized, once everyone had arrived, that I had forgotten something I needed. I was certain I would be able to run and get this item and return before our official start time. As dreams would have it, I got lost on my return to the class.
I was traveling franticly through this campus trying to find my way back. Each turn I took seemed to be the wrong one, taking me further away from my destination. I had been gone for what seemed like hours, and I was certain that many, if not all, had left the class, and that the person who hired me was furious I had been gone so long.
There I was, not sure what to do when, without my asking, a young lady who I had never seen before approached me and said that she would show me the way.
The route back to the class I was holding was a long one. I was amazed by the beautiful scenery. Stairs covered in lush vines making them undetectable (“The stairs there – just go down them and they will lead you to the pathway.”) And the size of the beautifully carved doors my guide told me to go through -- ones I never thought were available for "anyone" to pass (“You’ll use that wide wooden door. Just pass through the office and on the other side…”).
I followed this guide’s cheery voice through beauty in the midst of my angst. The vivid colors and personalities of random strangers who popped in and out of my dream spoke to all of my senses so much so that I woke – before arriving back to the class – with the question: “How do you pivot within the moment when plans aren’t enough?”
Literally, that was the question. I wrote it down on the pad I keep on my nightstand as soon as I woke – before coming here to share it with you.
As an artist, facilitator, and entrepreneur whose “day job” often carries the title of trainer, I know the layers of this dream aren’t coincidental. We could dig into this dream and talk about its messages and metaphors – that would be fun – but for now, what about the question? And the answer? I believe the general insights are universal and timeless., and worth sharing.
“How do you pivot within the moment when plans aren’t enough?”
I’m a recovering planner. This time in isolation is helping with that, I think. It’s helping me see myself clearer, with more honesty. Example: I write out each evening what I plan to do the next day. Sometimes I belabor it, but when the next day comes, I don’t go according to the written plan at all. Something comes up that’s often better: a new idea, a phone call from a friend I haven’t talked to in a while, a nap. I’m learning to be okay with that, to not feel I’ve let myself down, or someone else, if every moment isn’t filled being “productive.”
But there is also what the question implies: that plans sometimes aren't enough -- they don’t cover exactly or everything that is needed. Think about what we’re experiencing in the midst of this global pandemic. There are national plans for better care and response. There are plans for financial support. There are plans for more, fill in the blank. And those plans constantly change and we have to change with it.
Yet, whether we look at what we are collectively experiencing or our individual work, we have to admit that we cannot plan everything. Our contingency plans may not cover us either.
So what do you do? The question gives the answer: you pivot.
But how? For me, this dream doesn’t just pose the question, it also provides the answer. If I go back to what happens before the question is offered, I see three keys to pivoting, which I would like to offer:
Be honest about your plans not being enough. It’s great to have plans and guidelines and benchmarks, but there comes a time in the creative process – when you are exploring and expanding – that the plans are blueprints and not promises. This is true in every aspect of life. Look at what we’re experiencing now – there is data and there is speculation. It's okay to admit that you don't have all the answers all the time. It's okay for plans to fall through, as disappointing as that may be. Being honest and accepting that is how you move, how you pivot, from one line of thinking to the next, as seamlessly and gracefully as possible. And I don't mean gracefully as in not falling on your face in front of others (at some point you don't care what people think), I mean gracefully in the way your body on a cellular level handles change best.
Be open to being guided. Truth is, you nor I can’t go this alone. There are those who support you, and those you support. Sometimes you know your guides and other times they “come out of the blue.” It’s okay to seek them out too, to ask questions, to admit you’re lost or confused or scared. It’s also okay to hold the virtual hand of someone who has offered theirs for support. Truly, we are all in this together and we will not get through this pandemic without each other, even with social distancing and virtual connections.
Be willing to be surprised. The beauty comes in the moment (and there is still beauty to experience, my friends) – not in the plans or the ego’s desire to execute those plans and accomplish those goals. In the dream, I was so overcome with anxiety that my only focus was on being where I was “supposed” and expected to be. I would have easily missed the beauty if I had stayed focused on where I needed to be and not on where I was in that moment. If you stay in the current moment even for a little while, miracles and surprises come as gifts. It’s hard to believe sometimes because we are conditioned (fooled) into believing that if we just stay in control that everything will be okay.
I believe we will all walk away from the coronavirus changed. We will be different in a number of ways which are yet to be seen. Let’s record the days and measure our time. Let’s see what we missed yesterday and if, today, we can catch surprises like we catch lightening bugs. Let’s take more time to be in the moment rather than chasing moments yet to come and curing others. Let’s meet the stranger who smiles in our dreams and shows us the way. Let's plan but more importantly let's learn to pivot within the moments of change.
Change can be exhausting, frightening, unnerving. It can also be exhilarating, welcomed, a relief. But, for many of us who are living life with coronavirus being front of mind, change seems constant and the pressure to stay above water and ahead of the ball, taxing.
So how do we as artists, professionals, ministers, leaders, employees, and teammates create, work, and live when rules about social distancing, when to seek medical attention, and how and when to apply for emergency funds change almost daily?
How do we create space to catch our breath and gain perspective when we feel we're being chased by something invisible that crosses borders without a passport and sees no color, age, gender, or social status? It shows no mercy.
I was wrapping up facilitating a two-day retreat when the news broke of the spread of the virus within the US. I had contemplated how I wanted to end our time together. On what note did I want to leave everyone? Something in celebration of their hard work and commitment? Or something for them to take as a nugget? How was their concern about the coronavirus going to play into my decision?
I decided to stick with a poem that came to mind during my planning process -- William Stafford's "The Way it Is." These following lines from the poem are what I emphasized to this group and what I want to share with you:
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change...
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
Just as I asked the team during the close of the retreat, I am asking you to think about your own thread. What is it that isn't changing, that won't change, in the midst of uncertainty? What will you continue to hold on to? What will give you strength, and perhaps, even guidance?
Maybe it's something you don't even think of because is it such a part of who you are, but I want you to name it, to thank it, to honor it, and to be renewed and reassured by it, knowing that no matter what around you changes, somethings -- that you can rely on -- will always be present.
I’m sitting at the one table I have in my home with serves as my desk, craft table, and occasional dinner table. It overlooks a rather usually busy street but on this Saturday morning, only a few are out. Joggers, one lady to whom I want to yell out of the window that she doesn’t have to feed the meter on today, someone walking their dog.
I imagine streets are like this everywhere. Everything is changing, in rapid time, for all of us: when and how we work, where and how our children learn, how churches and religious institutions lead worship. Our grocery shopping. Our staying in. Our social distancing.
It’s easy to get caught up in the panic and angst. How will we care for ourselves and each other? How will we be able to change, on the drop of a dime, our lifestyles and schedules? How do we manage now with different pay schedules, if there is pay at all? How do we work remotely or in isolation when our work is centered around participants, audiences, community?
Every industry is being hit hard, and without much warning. For artists and small arts organizations, the idea of a “slush fund” or cushion is just that – an idea. And so it is only natural that we react and try and fix and go into overtime to prepare for what remains a precarious situation.
But, I want to remind you – artists and arts organizations—of what you already know, of the muscles you’ve already been developing. In face of change (funding, patrons removal of support because they didn’t like the last performance, hard choices), you have been agile, responsive, and resilient.
Though this is a bigger, global change in which the full impact is yet to be known. We’re knocked off course. We cannot make forecasts and predictions. We’re not sure of what we need to do or who we will be when we come out of this storm.
Yet, we move forward. Somehow, we everything we have learning on our journey so far, and with all of our hope, determination, and creativity, we take one day at a time with the hope that we’re all in this together, moving forward towards something better.
I was asked a few days ago what I thought we should do as artists in the midst of this pandemic. I know enough as an artist to say that it’s up to the individual to figure that out. But here’s what I would like to offer to one of the largest groups who thrives in the midst of change, and one of the largest groups that will be affected by this--
Take this time to take care of yourself – your inner space from which your creativity rests and runs. It’s okay to rest. You don’t always have to be productive. Allow this time to be a gift to nurture yourself. Hopefully, soon enough you will be back there running from audition to audition, rehearsal to rehearsal, school to school, meeting to meeting. Take this time knowing that it will aid in you being better fit – mentally, physically, creatively.
Don’t feel pressure to “rise to the occasion” as an artist. Sometimes, our community will look to artists to be healers and problem-solvers (which we our) but remember that you’re going through this crisis, too. Take your time to process your thoughts and feelings. Mull over what’s next. This is part of the healer/artist role.
Reach out for help. Many need external stimulation to create and to be well. Make sure you have a good core group you can reach out to. Set up Zoom or FaceTime chats. Stay connected as much as you need. There are also emergency relief funds for artists in need of financial assistance. Check with your local arts council as well as some of the organizations/funds you will find here
Keep a routine. This might be a good time to start a morning and/or evening routine, if you don’t have one already. Or an exercise routine. With no one knowing how long we will need to practice social distancing, having some semblance of normalcy helps ground and moves us forward.
Be creative, even in isolation. This doesn’t have to mean create pieces of art, but it does mean keep your creative juices flowing. Take an hour a day to write, or paint, or play the piano – perhaps something that isn’t your first love. Watch a TED Talk or YouTube video. Take an online class (there are a lot of free ones out there) that will help you stay in touch with your creative impulses and learn something new.
We’re all figuring this out as we go. What may work for your colleague or peer may not work for you. That’s fine.
It’s easy, as artists, to go into fix it mode or to come up with answers. That’s needed and there is space for that. But it’s also important to take space for yourself, even with questions and answers unknown and, to a degree, trust the process as you trust your own creative process.
It's been years since I've blogged here and at 3rd Spaces, but the times call me to be more intentional about writing, 1) as a way to document all that is happening in face of this current pandemic, and 2) as a way, in addition to poetry writing, to make space for my inner voice.
To say that life as we know it is changing every hour, is no exaggeration. Globally, we are all in a state of unknown, and depending on who you talk to this is either a grave time or a hopeful one.
As a poet, facilitator, and coach, I talk a lot about the importance of "creating space." I have recently been asked (and I ask myself) how does one create space in the midst of chaos and the depths of uncertainty in which we find ourselves. I'm not talking about creating social distancing. Rather, how does one create the inner space when so much outside of us is begging for our immediate attention?
No matter what is happening around us we still have control of what is happening within us. How we respond to what we're hearing is key. This doesn't mean we wear rose-colored glasses and pretend that everything is "normal" or will be normal. but it does mean having control of our thoughts and emotions -- letting them come and letting them go.
With this in mind, there are a few reminders and suggestions I would like to offer as you consider creating space in the midst of chaos:
And, just as we create space for our wellbeing, we must give those around us the space to do the same. How might you support those with whom you work to process what is changing in a way that is healthy for them? What might you offer your family and loved ones as they walk this path., too? How might you show up to those who depend on you but to whom you know not what to say? Authentically, I hope.
It's not easy, when life is difficult, to create space to feel everything, but I find it is important in aiding with our daily healing. We are all suffering, to a degree, and it requires us to be more intentional about coming out of this better than how we entered.
A creative spirit, coach & corporate professional, Jacinta White shares how she merges, what she calls, "the sacred messiness of life" & her love for all things artsy. Follow for tips, prompts, musings & more!