[6 minute read]
I am not an activist.
Over the last 8 months or so I’ve been caught up in my feelings. Tending to my immediate needs, responding to my trauma(s), and figuring out who I am as I emerge into next-level adulthood (*le sigh*). It is an enlightening obstacle to pull myself away from what I think I *should* be doing and focus on what I need to be whole and authentic. Graduate school – which I finished in December, praise – poured salt into the open wound that is my evolving practice of letting go of my “shoulds” and allowing the deepest, most authentic parts of me breathe deeply.
When I stopped teaching “my own” weekly classes at the Phoenix Center in early 2016 the decision was the culmination of many conversations spread over multiple therapy sessions, discussions with friends and family, as well as emotional breakdowns (and breakthroughs!). I wanted so badly to fulfill an image of myself that others had come to see me as – strong, wise, capable of doing it all, capable of holding everyone else’s pain in addition to my own, making a huge dent in the yoga industrial complex. In retrospect, by holding on to the class I was searching really hard to figure out exactly what it was and mold myself into it, instead of simply being me, instead of fully practicing what I preached at the beginning of our group practices and even in this very blog.
The exploration of what it meant to let go continued throughout the year, at times deepening, but often only as shallow as a few inches of water. I was in the practice of healing but I was also sabotaging myself; my implementation manifested more as a trial and error, with mostly errors that turned into difficult moments of reflection and learning. I observed myself holding on tightly to idealized versions of myself as I collaborated with peers to plan programs that actually just drove my anxiety up the wall, as I put in hours I didn’t have outside of school and my field placement driving back and forth to Detroit to network for the sake of my job search, as I dated men who only spoke of feminism, love, and vulnerability, and as I consumed way too much fried food and alcohol in order to tolerate being with friends and classmates who projected their own anxieties into me. I gained weight. I spent money I didn’t have. I held in emotions for fear of burdening others. I ironically pushed away opportunities to reveal my own vulnerability and connect with community members over the relentless violence spiraling out of our social and political circumstances. I was knee-deep in a romanticized, overly-indulgent form of “self-care” in order to overcompensate for the over-exertion I expected of myself to look a certain way on the outside.
I think the vacation I blogged about just under a year ago symbolized a tipping point, that I had to give myself time and space to sit with my discomfort and piece together what it meant for my healing. After that, my final semester of school I withdrew for the most part, only selectively spending time with others, for better or for worse. I’d always assumed I was an introvert, the artistic kind, on an ‘Eat (and eat and eat), Pray, Love’ adventure. My therapist challenged me to consider that when I want to withdraw, I’m actually quite anxious. I pushed back even though I knew she was right. Even though I knew my Myers-Briggs personality type (LOL) rendered me an extrovert, desiring to be around people, energized by the healthy relationships in my life. Even though I knew community is crucial to personal healing and radical social change. It was almost like I went to the opposite side of the spectrum of where I’d been before. If collaborating with others, drinking with others, or networking my ass off wasn’t me, then I guessed I needed to chill alllllllll the way out.
I don’t want to be too hard on myself here: so many of the qualities I long to embody are truly a part of me, but the expression of them – how I wanted others to see them – has sometimes been misguided to my own detriment. Instead of letting my highest self ebb and flow as is natural to life, I squeezed it all out of myself until I was empty and exhausted.
Graduating, moving out of the small, dirty ass apartment I called home for a year and a half, getting a J-O-B, and instituting a new rhythm to my life laid the groundwork for a more honest and holistic way of taking care of myself. I’m frustrated that this is what it took, but I’m humbled to finally be here. I’m learning more about what balance looks like. I’m learning more about how the ways in which I honor myself translate into my work as a Health Coach, a Therapist, a Yoga Teacher, and a friend. Before, I intellectually grasped the concepts I find critical to these professions and I did practice some of them, but I spoke about them way more often. A year and a half after I really pulled back my teaching practice and I’ve just now began to give myself time to reconnect with my body, which I’ve unfortunately hated for the last year and a half, which I was angry at for being heavier, for being injured, for not doing what I wanted it to do when I wanted to do it.
I’ve never really identified with the word ‘activist’ but I do think it’s an identity I aspired to for a long time. I’ve been really fortunate throughout my whole adult life, but especially in the last 6-12 months to call real-life organizers friends. I’ve witnessed their genuine dedication to radical movements because it is right and this rightness breathes life into their being. On the other hand, I’ve also been fortunate to have friends and mentors, especially boss women of color, who have shown me how to preserve myself whether I am or am not deeply intertwined with equity and reparative efforts. They have shown me how to own, and not be defined by, my own mental and physical health positionalities. Who have reminded me that I don’t “owe” anyone anything but that by locking arms with others I might find that sense of fulfillment my therapist also challenged me to seek.
I’m making time to be more intentional in my action in the spirit of Humanism, Black Feminism, and critical, radical Public Health Social Work. I feel strongly that while there may be moments when I embody a sentiment of “activism” the expression most authentically manifests within me as a verb, not a noun, not an identity, and that is ok. I realize that in a year, or even a few months, I will have similar feelings about where I am now. There are aspects of my past I think fondly of even though there are also aspects that caused pain and humiliation. I am more comfortable with the fact that I am constantly evolving, that I am at once perfect and imperfect, but that in order to move forward I must nurture myself, be honest about when I desire support, and only then work outwards in support of other beings. I understand I will always be figuring it out, but I hope the trial and error will feel less destructive. I do not have to fulfill a false ideal of activism to be of value to my communities. It is indeed my responsibility as a human to do my best to make an impact in collaboration with others, but I simply cannot do so if I am not grounded in my own self.
I am reconnected to my asana and meditation practices. I am energized by my work with my clients. I am beyond grateful for all my truly amazing friends and my family. I am ready to begin teaching yoga again. But not as an activist. Not as a sage. Just as a person who is learning a whole lot and is in a more stable place to join with others as they do the same. Just as Raina.
Special thanks to Verónica Caridad Rabelo for editing this piece.