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I’m Learning About Being a White Woman

I am devoted to creating a more loving and equitable world.
Navigating this commitment can be challenging. The purpose of this post is to share some things I am learning as a White, middle-class, cis-gendered, able-bodied woman saying yes to the challenges, staying committed to running this marathon, and making every effort to keep my heart open and to keep learning.
 
ChallengeStaying involved amidst the challenges means I am willing to face the realities of injustice and violence that folks who have been marginalized face daily and for centuries. It means recognizing when my actions play into those patterns of behavior and being humble when I make mistakes, growing beyond my sheltered life experiences, learning from my mis-steps and from others, showing up to the best of my capacity even when it’s hard and uncomfortable, bearing the emotional weight of keeping my eyes and heart open, staying active, listening deeply for what is being called of me, and remembering that the challenges I feel are nothing compared to what people of color and other marginalized folks face all the time. Lately I’ve been called out and called in for my mistakes, I’ve been mucking through the messiness of equity and justice work in a small community, and I’ve been struggling to get clear about where is ‘my place’ as a White woman committed to racial equity.

As Glenn Singleton said, “We have never lived a day without White supremacy. This will not come easily.” None of us know for sure how to create a more equitable and just world. Some have more relevant experience than others. And, as Marisol Jimenez said in a recent conversation (something to the effect of), at some level, we’re all bumbling around trying to figure this out.

Lessons I’m learning/ things becoming clearer:

  • It will get personal. Don’t stop because it’s uncomfortable. Sometimes I mess up and that sucks. People are mad or upset or frustrated with me. Relationships get strained. Some folks want to address the conflict. Some folks don’t want to address the tension and the issues don’t have closure. Sometimes I see a mistake I made and feel remorse. Sometimes I feel that I am being misunderstood. And yet, to be in the work I must accept that it will get personal, it will be uncomfortable and don’t give up when that happens.
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  • Screen Shot 2017-06-30 at 2.10.41 PMAll levels all the time. My mentor and friend, Tuesday Ryan-Hart, stresses that when working together across differences, we must pay attention to and recognize that “all levels all the time” are operating and influencing one another — the personal, interpersonal, organizational, systemic, and structural. Sometimes people are upset about something that I, Ashley, did. Sometimes they are upset that I did something that “White people often do.” If I am part of a group or in a relationship with someone, I might think we are interacting strictly as people who are friends or colleagues with history to our relationship (personal/interpersonal) and I lose sight that my Whiteness is playing into the interaction (systemic or structural). As a White woman, I can forget that systemic oppression, a long history of discrimination, ignorance, defensiveness and denial can be effecting my interactions with people of color. It’s not just the intentions that I, Ashley, have when I do something. My actions also carry the baggage that comes from a long legacy of systemic ways that White people have been given access and ease, have used and abused our power, have taken advantage of other people, and the list goes on. And I am seeped in the socialization and point of view afforded me by my White skin and so there are things that I do that are hurtful and I am unaware. Sometimes I act in ways that are hurtful or harmful to another person or larger equity goals. Sometimes I take action and another person sees my actions as what White women do. The lines between what is personal and what is systemic can get blurred. And… The systemic is personal. The personal is systemic.
     
    What I have learned through many of these experiences is that when this happens, the primary thing I need to do is sit with the discomfort and keep listening. Allow it to be personal – to be about Ashley. Listen for where there is something for me to learn, where perhaps there is something that I am missing, where I am perpetuating patterns of inequity. And also to recognize in my core (and not necessarily out loud) and discern when it is about “White women” or “White people” and not necessarily just about Ashley.
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  • History matters, whether it’s history from centuries ago or from a few days ago. historypic2
    I can’t run away from the fact that the ways my skinfolk acted in the past deeply influences the way someone perceives my actions in the present. Even if I have a relationship or friendship with someone, that will not necessarily be at the forefront when I take actions that are similar to or actually are ways of oppressing other people. It is extremely unhelpful to my longterm goals if I am defensive or surprised when I am called out because my actions resemble the actions of other people with light skin who made efforts to keep power and maintain dominance. Part of being in this work is that I want to short circuit some of the entrenched historical patterns of power, money, and influence remaining in the hands of people of European descent. This means I must be keenly aware of how history is playing into the present.
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  • My view of social change is becoming clearer. I believe it will take all of us.
    My perspective is that for humans to experience freedom from oppressive systems and biased beliefs that tare apart the heart and soul of humanity, change must involve liberation for those most oppressed. And the process of getting there involves all of us working together. I am devoted to doing all that I can to cultivate a world that works for all, to bring about societies/communities/groups that operate with more equity, justice, love and compassion. When it comes to changing the dominating and destructive systems that society is currently built upon, I believe that those who have been the most marginalized and have found ways to survive and even thrive — those people are the leaders to follow. They have had to navigate outside of the dominant culture and thus their wisdom is tested and proven. Often these are folks of color. My path forward is deeply guided by the wisdom of these people. That said, I also feel that I have gifts to contribute. I am called and trust the calling that there is a place for me in liberation work.
     
    HandsMyceliumFacing my Whiteness and its implications is a mandatory first – and never ending – step in this work. Showing up with humility is a close second step. This is the pre-work required for me to be part of inter-racial, equity and justice work that has any depth and hope for developing trusting working relationships. (What else is necessary pre-work?) Sometimes it will be essential for people to gather in closed groups like all Black folks together and all White folks together or queer folks together and straight folks together. Other times it is most valuable for us to work together across our differences. In order for us to work across differences and not replicate patterns of White Supremacy and Whiteness, there is a lot of experimenting that we must do — trying out different ways of being in meetings, getting work done, making progress, listening to one another, addressing conflict, being in relationship and so much more. We haven’t done this before and it will not be easy. Marisol Jimenez caught my heart when she said “Where does mercy meet accountability meet grace meet growth?” I feel that we are all in this together and it will take all of us to see change. I am drawn to grow and build with other people who are devoted to finding those places where mercy meets accountability, meets grace, meets growth… the places where we might actually experience living as Beloved Community.

So… in this time of learning lots of lessons, I am also seeing some reactive patterns that I’m not proud of but are real. I have to learn how to navigate these urges inside of me. I’m not proud of them because I feel weak and fragile. I look at the constant onslaught of discrimination, racism, threat to personal safety, and injustice that people of color face all the time and I feel the contrast of my daily privilege. It illuminates for me how fragile I can be when things get hard. And, I have to be real that I am a sensitive human being, these are some responses that come up for me, and it is my journey to learn ways to navigate these responses.

  • Sometimes I feel paralyzed by overwhelm. I am flooded by emotional responses and reactions – both personal and systemic. I feel overwhelmed by too much stimulation from staying attuned to all that is happening for individual people and society at large. The weight of the grief and loss is crushing. I feel intimidated by the height of the mountain we are trying to climb, shook at my core by anger and sadness for the unjust and cruel systems that have so much power and control and impact on people’s lives. And I feel discouraged when I make mistakes, folks are angered by my actions, or when I can’t discern where to invest my energy and efforts.
  • Sometimes I want to shut off. Go back to my White, middle-class, the-world-generally-works-for-me bubble. I want to reconnect with my (White) friends who I feel estranged from that seem to be living such happy and joyful lives. I want to find a way to pretend, for even a moment, that the horrors and traumas aren’t happening. I want to pretend to be in a place where I don’t know how bad it really is.
  • Sometimes it just hurts and I have to sit with the discomfort. Embarrassment. Regret. Confusion. I make mistakes. My actions or presence causes pain, mistrust, agitation, or anger for someone else. My intention was ultimately to create a more loving and equitable world, but I act in ways that cause others to feel harmed or triggered. It pains me to know that I am the cause for another person’s suffering or anger. I don’t like getting it “wrong”. Perfectionism. Saving face. Being seen in a positive light. My ego gets hurt. My feelings get hurt. And I can loop in my mind. Worry.

Here’s the thing. All of this is worth it to me, because I believe that another world is possible. 2010 Tee Shirt art id 8287412
I believe that we have the power to see one another as humans and create a world that works for all of us — or at least more of us. And, I know that in order for us to get there, it will take facing these dark realities, allowing our minds and cells to be unsettled and disturbed, and being bold enough to try new things and genuinely connect across our differences. In order for us to actually embody new ways of being with each other, seeing each other, and creating social systems that are rooted in love, equity and fairness — we must see and walk away from the cultural and behavioral patterns of White Supremacy (patriarchy, colonialism, capitalism, etc.). We must be unsettled by the challenges in order to truly shake off these vicious and deceptive ways of acting and perceiving. And then we must be vulnerable and courageous to experiment with new ways of showing up, interacting, and taking action.

As I continue to take steps forward, I am currently wondering — Where do my gifts fit? Some feel there is no place for White folks in racial justice work. I know that I am called to contribute to seeing change in this unjust and inequitable local community and world I am living in. In addition to continuing to work on myself, I wonder –

  • Should I focus on working with other White folks, creating spaces for education, learning, practice?
  • Should I focus on using my light skin advantage to navigate the systems of power and influence, to encourage change in institutions through working with local government, business owners, people in positions of power in our local institutions?
  • Should I focus on trying to create more economical opportunities for people of color? More equitable and fair learning opportunities for youth of color?
  • Should I be more of a worker bee, following the leadership of people of color in organizations and efforts they are leading?
  • Do I keep trying to find and build with others who are also committed to living the vision of Beloved Community, learning and practicing together, discovering what can translate into other environments?
  • Where do my skills fit? Where are my contributions valuable and where are they harmful because they are delivered through my White skin?
  • How can there be more financial support for this work, particularly for people of color, and also for folks like myself who would make this their full time job if it also covered costs of living?
  • What combination of all of the above is sustainable for me and allows me to live in ways that are healthy for my body, heart, nervous system, and quality of life?

Thank you for reading my reflections and thus being on this journey with me. Putting the content of my inner world and the complexity of what I’m learning and experiencing into words has been a task. I am sure my words are imperfect, but they offer a taste. As always I welcome your feedback, insight, curiosities and stories of your own about what you are learning these days. May more and more of us with pale skin find the courage and strength to be with the discomfort, commit ourselves to learning and changing, and find the strength and grace to be even more courageous and effective for the marathon that we are running together.

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I Needed to Stop & Recalibrate

eyesOn January 18th in Halifax, Nova Scotia, I had one of those somatic moments where my body vibrates and catches my attention. Often when I look back, it’s moments like that one that indicate my life is about to change. A friend and colleague was talking about the sabbatical she is on, her daily routine, the things she’s saying NO to, and the self-care she is prioritizing. My whole body shivered and bellowing within me I heard, “Is this what you need to do? Can you take 3-6 months to pause?

While the doubting parts of me quickly began discouraging such a dramatic and risky move, the questions didn’t surprise me. A couple days prior I had given a talk about “Living on Purpose” where I admitted to the group of 200 university students that my professional success these last four years has been at the expense of my own self-care and work-life balance. Could I really take 3-6 months to intentionally assess and re-balance my priorities? Could I afford such a shift? What about all of my responsibilities and people that were depending on me? Could I really make caring for me a priority?

Success Checklist

Slide from lecture at Dalhousie University

 

I talked it over with friends and family, prayed on it, and by March 15th I had officially begun my process of Stopping & Recalibrating my priorities. I committed to living with greater health, more creativity and a clarified direction. I was fortunate to be supported by Mycelium in this decision, both financially and energetically.

It is a profound privilege to be able to take this time. I am deeply grateful. I feel that I deserve it. And I have faith that this gift to me will in turn serve others. Here’s more of the story about my process.

There were signs that this change was necessary:

  • I had lost touch with the vibrancy of my life force, life’s colorfulness had dimmed. I felt passionate about my work, but was going through the motions to accomplish what needed to get done. I felt drained even when the content inspired me.
  • I was exhausted and often wanting to sleep.
  • I noticed myself worrying about to-do’s I wasn’t getting to, tasks I hadn’t completed… but I wasn’t worrying about the fact that I hadn’t eaten a healthy meal or gotten up to go for a walk.
  • I hadn’t fully burnt out, but I was on the edge. I would take days to recover, get enough energy to be “back in the game,” but it wasn’t integrated. The renewal was temporary.
  • I was feeling called to a future that I didn’t yet have the spiritual, emotional and physical skills nor the community support to show up for. I needed to spend time focusing on personal practices, creative expression and growing relationships with myself, my spiritual family, and my community in order to show up for the chaos and complexity that I sense will be asked of me.

While I wasn’t certain that I needed to stop working, it was clear I had to stop being a producer for a few months. For me, a producer is someone who can see a big picture vision, articulate a strategy to bring it to life, and oversee the process of it coming to life with integrity. While I am good at this, for big projects it requires a huge amount of energy. Tracking all of the small and deep details of bringing Mycelium the organization to life with integrity while also launching transformative learning programs and tending to the relationships being cultivated required tremendous output. My self-care was frequently falling to the back seat with the wellbeing of the organization and the people we served in the front seat. I was not practicing what I preached. I was not modeling the type of leadership I believe in.

Spending Resources

Slide from lecture at Dalhousie University

 

I recognized that my goal-oriented, product-focused, analytical and logistical brain space was dominating. It was overshadowing my nurturing, creative, emergent tendencies that are also very important to my authentic expression and well-being. I had to stop being at the center of initiatives, leading them forward. I needed time for an out breath from the 4 years I invested in co-founding Mycelium. I needed to focus on the personal, daily practices that keep ME centered in the work I do and life I live. I needed to strengthen my spiritual and emotional practices that deepen my faith and ability to navigate uncertainty and chaos. I needed to strengthen my physical body for more endurance and healthy living. I needed to rest. I needed to trust that even if this move felt irrational and incredibly privileged, it was essential for the long haul.

slow-down-300x200It’s been 7 weeks now. I am seeing and re-writing patterns in myself, forming new neural pathways, letting go of unserving habits and beliefs, grieving and celebrating. I am slowing down, tuning into my heart, and listening to what is really calling to me at this time. I am taking the time to heal and nourish myself. I am reconnecting with my family and community. I am reflecting on my life experiences. I am weaving new possibilities. I am learning how to be me… unapologetically.

While I still have a lot to learn, I am beyond grateful for this time and what has revealed itself so far. So many lessons about myself, my beliefs, my work in the world, the conditions that help or hinder me thriving, and the challenges and learning experiences from starting a social enterprise. I have slowed down, but I don’t believe I’ve fully stopped. I imagine this will be a lifelong lesson for me.

Future possibilities are just beginning to whisper. A warrior in me is being beckoned. Conditions for how I will operate in this next stage of my life are revealing themselves. The focus of my attention is getting clearer. A daily personal practice that can nourish and sustain me is taking shape. I am recalibrating my presence, my frequency, my focus, my expression, who I am in relation to the many parts of myself, who I am in relation to how I work in the world and the type of work I do, who I am in relation to how I engage relationships and cultivate family. I am healing and recalibrating.

I am reflecting on this process as best I can, and I know there is much more to harvest from this time. Thank you for reading about my journey. Please feel free to ask me questions if they arise for you, as they might help me better integrate what this time has been, what I’m learning and where I am right now.

And stay tuned as I share the seeds that are emerging!

sprouting-seed-micro-photography-hd-wallpaper-spring-nature-stock-photo

Image Sources: Eyes, Slow Down, Seed Sprouting

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Playing in the Waves


My life feels very interesting right now!! Some personal story telling.

In the Fall of 2004, as I was finishing up graduate school, I was in communication with a non-profit that worked with teenagers in foster care. This program was located in North Carolina and they were expanding to include a camp for youth and families. Among other things, part of their aim was to provide these children a consistent place and community where they could return each season, reuniting in their village, held by the wilderness, joining with a community of peers and self-discovery mentors while uncovering even more of the wonders of their being and the gifts they behold. The hope was that they would receive support, find strength in their sense of self and feel like they belonged, providing ground for them as they prepared for the often abandoning process of aging out of the system. And most importantly, that they would know a genuine sense of home.

I was deeply engaged in the creative process of this new camp being born and had the great fortune of writing my own job description that was enthusiastically embraced. I was astonished by the blessings unfolding. About to receive a Masters of Education in counseling, here I was creating my dream job and being invited to live it. Wow! Amazing!

And… life is always filled with surprises! In November of 2004 I traveled to North Carolina to help facilitate staff training and to meet the team. And then in early December there was a sudden shift. Things had changed and this perfect unfolding of what was to be next in my life had another course in mind. I would not be working at the camp after all. Time to recalibrate.

So in January of 2005 instead of returning to North Carolina (where I had been living before attending graduate school in Texas), I set off on an adventure into the unknown. I stuffed my three new letters (M.Ed.) into my glove box and set out to experience the Pacific Northwest. I had many friends and colleagues between Seattle, Washington and Vancouver, Canada. At two other points in my history I had almost moved out to the northwest. It felt like now was the time to explore this region and see if it wanted to invite me to stay.

My plan was simple, give what I have to give whenever I can, wherever I am. Offer my skills and talents. Be open to what’s possible. Notice what emerges. Follow my heart when I hear something calling. I gave myself 6 months to try out living in this way and to see if I wanted to live in that part of the country. I figured if I was genuinely giving whenever I could something in the form of a job would open up. What else could the universe want of me? And if no job or practical plan emerged, well then I would hit the classifieds and take the traditional route at the end of that 6 months. Travels and visits unfolded… and in May I was offered a phenomenal job at a school in Seattle with a beautiful mixture of creative freedom in program development, a variety of ways to use my skills and talents, the joy of working with children and adults, and being in a thriving community of learners. And so began the next chapter of my life… the chapter which wrapped up this June.

I’m reliving the a fore mentioned pattern of surfing in the unknown, giving what I have to give, dreaming, listening, noticing, learning and following “the spark of yes.” This morning a big belly laugh of surprise caught me when I ran across the job description for the camp that I wrote in October of 2004. It actually splashed me in the face with an awe-inspiring, cosmic-laugh that barked: of course! The job description is posted below and the humor is in how clearly it expresses the path I am on right now, articulating the kind of work I would like to do more of wherever I end up landing next. You can compare it to the document that I wrote in June of this year (along with other information at my current website) talking about some of my current interests, passions and offerings. You might also notice that somehow in these last 4 years I got a lot more wordy! (grin)

I’ll be leaving the Seattle area on September 29th coming full circle as I head to North Carolina. Please feel free to help me dream forward a lively future and stay tuned as I continue swimming in the unknown, riding the waves of excitement and anxiety while holding sacred my dedication to follow my heart, practice deep listening and keep on learning!

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What’s your pocket wisdom?

Do you carry important words, quotes or poems around with you? Simple phrases that inspire you to live authentically and compassionately, taking time to breathe and experience as much of life as possible? If so, what are they?

And for the rest of us, are there a few words or phrases that inspire you, remind you to be vibrantly alive, help you feel joyful, content and accepting, invite you to be present and grateful? If you could carry just a few precious words or phrases around in your pocket, always having them there to reference and learn from, what would those be? What words would you carry?

graphic by wordle

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Self-Acceptance

A strong part of my journey lately (always?) has to do with self-acceptance. I relate to what Dan Oestreich writes:

There is so much hubbub around us about self-help and improvement that the key precondition of personal change — self-acceptance — often gets completely lost.

With all the books and tapes and learning groups out there, it is very easy to fall into the pit of constantly attending to the gap between the ideal and the real — what I should be rather than what I am.

I can easily “over-focus” on my own ideals, losing sight of the fact that human change is mostly not a linear journey, but an organic one that paradoxically begins with awareness and acceptance of the parts that are not changing.

With acceptance comes grace, comes healing, comes change into our lives, and they come from someplace beyond ourselves and yet in a way that is completely intrinsic to who we are.

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am,
then I can change.”

–Carl Rogers

I came up with a new practice recently to help curb this tendency of mine. When I notice that I’m being particularly hard on myself or focusing strongly on the what-I-should-be rather than the who-I-am, I make myself stop every hour and write down one thing that I’ve done well in the last hour. Sometimes it’s easy and other times it’s hard to find something that I feel proud of, something that I recognize as being good enough… or especially great! The things I’ve written down vary in scale from making a healthy lunch, stopping to breath or notice a bird, or doing something kind for another person…. or even doing something kind for myself!

I love to grow… and sometimes I over-focus on all of the parts of me that provide me with opportunities to grow! This practice helps me notice what I’m doing well just as often as I notice where I could improve. At times I recognize that the hour is approaching and think, “Oh, quick… I’ve got to do something that I value!” And then I get to celebrate what I’ve done!

Here are a couple of other posts on change from Paul Cooper and Chris Corrigan that have caught my attention recently.

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Categorizing and Illustrating People’s Experiences

As I’ve mentioned before I started a new website and project called Rituals for Healthy Living or Rituals to Invite Balance and Well-being. I’m slowly posting over 40 rituals that people have shared with me.

Posting these rituals has been an interesting practice in and of itself. At the beginning, as I would reread the offering, I would listen for words that I thought best categorize the rituals shared. Those became my labels and now as I read, I figure out which categories to apply to the new ritual. This is my first real introduction to tagging. It’s hard! Especially with the rituals, I wonder what other juicy words might be descriptive. I wonder how best to categorize.

Reading through them also is a sort of meditation… I read through the ritual, kind of try on the ritual that is being shared, notice what parts of me are drawn to parts of the ritual, and contemplate the words that come to me to categorize the experience that is being offered.

The other part of this posting practice that has been an adventure is picking a picture to accompany the ritual. If you find yourself reading any of the rituals over there, please feel free to share ideas for other words to categorize the ritual… or let me know if there is a different picture that would capture some of the essence that is being shared. This was my favorite picture so far!

photo source

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Rituals for Healthy Living

Over the last couple of years, off and on, I have been experimenting with healthy living rituals. I tend to be a pretty spontaneous person, following what is most alive for me in a moment. I try to listen to what I need (my mind, my heart, my body, my soul, my relationships, the whole) and take action from what I hear. However, I recognize that I lack discipline in my life and that often I favor what my heart wants over what my body needs. Imbalance has a way of creeping into my sense of order, causing a lack of order. If I listen carefully I notice the sounds of disharmony inviting me to pay attention to some aspect of my being. I belive that rituals, activities that I do regularly and purposefully with the intention of adding value to my well-being, can help support me in maintaining balance… and so I experiment!

Some of my experiments have included meditation, dancing, toning, singing, yoga, journaling, walking, prayers, breathing practices, and practices to help me tune deeper into experiencing the moment. In this mode of exploration and inquiry, I realized one June day that I have an incredible network of people and I bet some of them do rituals to help keep their life in balance. I decided to inquire and find out. So far 40 different people have shared with me the activities they do to help nourish their life. What a gift! I couldn’t keep these treasures to myself so I have started a new webl where I will be posting all of the rituals I recieve. Come have a peek…

Rituals for Healthy Living is the new site and it’d be great if you came and joined the inquiry that we’re in over there! And if you have rituals of your own to share, please do.

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