This past June I ran into one of my regular blog followers at a meditation retreat. We hadn’t seen each other in a while, and she asked me if I’d been working on my book (which I mostly haven’t been), and said again how much she appreciated my blog. “You trust your readers,” she said definitively. I must’ve looked dubious, because she repeated it a couple more times, “you trust your readers.”
Do I? What does it mean to trust my readers? Am I not writing much these days only because I’m back to my busy life and don’t have as much time as I did when I was going through cancer treatment? Or am I not trusting my readers as much about other, non-cancer-related struggles and experiences I’ve been having?
I so appreciated the reflection, support, and sense of community made possible by blogging about my breast cancer journey. While I’m still working on healing some from the cancer and cancer treatment, it has not felt like something I need or want to write about regularly. The ways going through cancer treatment compelled my attention in multifaceted ways have slipped away: the minute attention to the changing sensations; the awareness of the no-longer-taken-for-granted assumptions about day-to-day life induced by a brush with mortality (could this be the last time I get to do this thing?); the sweetness of reaching out in a time of need and finding support; and the enforced slowing down. These have all ebbed, and the tide of full-on-engagement with everyday life has rushed in.
I’m embarking, though, on a new healing journey, and I’m thinking about whether it’s one I can or want to share publicly in a similar way. This illness is one that is much more chronic and widespread, and much less well-understood and more controversial, than cancer. And my manifesting it is actually causing more obvious symptoms for other people than for me, though I’ve become convinced it is also silently contributing to my own ill-being. The disease is called whiteness.
Okay, so smarty-pants metaphors and melodrama aside, I’m serious about embarking on a process to heal the trauma of white identity, for my own sake as well as for the sake of others. I’ve known how important this is for a while. The community I live in is one of the very worst in the nation as far as black/white racial disparities, and along with many other folks in Madison over the last few years, I’ve been trying to figure out what to do about it. CORE, the organization I’ve been co-leading, has been working on this too. And because I and the other folks in CORE are committed to working at the intersection of personal and social change, to me this is not just about changing the social institutions “out there,” but involves inner work as well.
The personal work I need to do was brought home to me vividly recently. This past April I participated in a 5-day “transformational fundraising” training conducted by generative somatics that focused on the challenges of ending “racialized capitalism.” I was supposed to be a coach in the 7-month program following the 5-day training, but I was so triggered by various things (including trying to live up to my sense of the expectations of being in a leadership role there) that I was asked to step down from my coaching role.
This painful process reminded me of something I first learned years ago in Re-evaluation Counseling: that my own wounds from my life experiences, when left unexamined and unhealed, lead me to act in ways that, when I’m in a position of relative privilege, land on others as racism and classism. At the April training, there was a lot going on, a lot of intersecting identities, and a lot of things that were challenging for me, but one simplification is that I was feeling insecure, and seeking reassurance from others that I was a “good” white person, a “good” owning class person, a “good” Jew. In doing this, I was recapitulating patterns where people with relative privilege unconsciously take up more space and expect emotional caretaking from people with less privilege.
Initially, I think I felt too ashamed and confused to want to write about this publicly. Yet hindsight suggests that, had I been journaling during the workshop in the Spring with the level of mindfulness that I brought to my cancer journey, I might’ve been able to move through some of the learning faster and with less negative impact on myself and others. For instance, there was at least one moment when I thought, “I’m in over my head.” What if I’d listened to that voice, and said something to the teachers and program organizer, rather than waiting for them to figure out a way to raise it with me? Instead I kept trying to get it right. As it turned out, the leaders’ communication with me about demoting me was initially quite difficult for them due to my economic power as a major funder in the project, and as a result was even more hard on me than it otherwise would have been.
We’ve sorted that through, with our respect and caring for one another intact, and I am grateful to them for their courage and honesty with me. I’ve also committed to working on the shaping that made it difficult for me to show up how I’d like in that kind of setting. I’ve signed up for three different learning/healing processes, which I hope will turn out to be complimentary medicines, this fall.
First, at the suggestion of the gs organizers, I’ve signed up for a series of somatics coaching sessions on “healing shame.” This is a process that gs has developed, and they suggest that I go through it twice, once focused on healing the shame of my own experiences of oppression via sexism and anti-Semitism, and a second time focused on the shame associated with my race and class privilege. I’ve just begun getting to know the coach I’ve signed up with, and delineating our goals or “conditions of satisfaction” for our engagement together.
I’ve also begun to participate in an online coaching group for white people called Authentic Allyship, led by Tada Hozumi, author of The Selfish Activist. Tada is a Japanese-heritage genderqueer body-centered therapist who came to my attention when Don sent me their article “Why white people can’t dance: They’re traumatized.” Their basic idea that spoke deeply to me is that in order to be “white,” we’ve had to mostly dissociate from our embodied sensations and other experiences that don’t match how we’re supposed to behave according to dominant culture.
I imagine I’ll have lots more to say about these as my experience unfolds. For now, I can just say that I find reading and participating in Tada’s online community to be profoundly supportive and a huge relief. I’m confident that this will complement the healing shame coaching, since Tada also views shame to be a central part of the problem. Their work has already helped me understand why healing shame is important: following Brené Brown, they define shame as an emotional process by which we repress aspects of ourselves. As a result, shame interferes with both self-awareness and self-regulation.
The third thing I’ve signed up for is the local Madison Groundwork anti-racism training. I’m not sure how it will relate to the first two, but it feels important to me to connect with more of the local leaders in this work, and to explore different approaches. I expect this one will focus more on information about structural inequality, which is important not to lose sight of as I work to connect inner & outer change. I’m aware it may trigger more feelings of shame… which could be a great thing if I can process those feelings sufficiently to move through them, rather than just shutting down.
Which brings me back to the idea of journaling, and blogging, about these processes. Returning to the beginning of this post, I’m deciding to “trust my readers” to accompany me on this healing journey also. Knowing you are following me and expecting another installment will, I hope, help me hold myself accountable to the practice of reflective writing about it. This supports slowing down and paying minute attention to sensations and to taken-for-granted assumptions.
And there’s something about healing shame through confession that’s an age-old practice, that may help as well, though I don’t want to feed my tendency to seek absolution – rather, I want to increasingly learn to take what the somatics community calls “centered accountability” for the impact of my own actions (not over-accountable, but not under-accountable). So, while I’m trusting my readers to bring at least a modicum of non-judgmental empathy, I’m trusting you also to not let me off the hook too easily!! And I know at least a few of you have traversed a lot of this territory ahead of me, and others who are on the journey at my side, so I trust we can all help each other navigate.