First, I want to say thank you to everyone who’s donated to my birthday fundraiser! So far it has raised over $2600 for CORE’s work! I’m going to take my time about sending hand-written notes of gratitude, so I can really feel the gratitude as I do it! This kind of taking my time is, in a subtle way, one of the outcomes of the healing shame work that I’ve been doing. More on that in a bit.
A not-so-subtle effect of the healing shame work is my continued progress on reclaiming my ability to sing. Slowly, and in fits and starts, I am disproving, to myself and to others, the story “I can’t sing,” which I believed my whole life. Last weekend I attended a wonderful training with the Institute for Zen Leadership in Spring Green, Wisconsin. During a go-round on the second morning, Ginny Whitelaw, our amazing leader, invited us to reflect on something we are willing to let go of. I was near the end of the round, and as sometimes happens, I spent far too much attention while others were speaking trying to come up with what I was going to say. (I did hear some of what they said too!)
Finally, when it was about three people from me, I decided what I needed to let go of was planning ahead to try to think of something authentic-yet-clever to say. I immediately relaxed for a moment, and let go. Then I realized, no, Becca, you didn’t let go until after you figured out your plan! So when it came to me, I told them exactly that sequence of things going on in my head. Everyone laughed appreciatively. Then I paused, and realized that I could take up more time, since others had, and then, truly without a plan, took a deep breath and sang. I sang the chorus of a song that I’ve been practicing, Holly Near’s “I am willing.” The words were apropos of the topic of letting go: “I am open, and I am willing/For to be hopeless would seem so strange/It dishonors those who go before us/So lift me up to the light of change.”
I managed to get through the four lines without a major glitch in my throat or a major contraction into fear or shame about how it sounded. And when I finished I said, “I’m willing to let go of the story that I can’t sing.” By this time I was shaking like a leaf, and had a major back spasm going on (perhaps from singing while sitting cross-legged on the floor, which I haven’t done much of), but I received a round of applause. Shortly afterwards we headed outside for some martial arts practice, and on the way out, three other women told me things like, “well, you might have had a story that you couldn’t sing, but I really can’t sing!” I said, “no, no, you don’t understand—that was me five months ago!!” I don’t think they believed me.
I calmed down and my back pain disappeared after some vigorous movement and loud “kiais” – another chance to open to my full voice. A bit later that morning, another participant, a man whom I had not connected with much at the workshop yet, and who had declared himself an introvert at the beginning, made a point of coming up to me. He said, “I just wanted you to know that I had a hard time believing that you had a story that you couldn’t sing, because you have a very nice voice.” I think I expressed gratitude and something akin to “you have no idea…”
I’m not completely “cured” of my story or my fear. I still have difficulties, moments where I can’t sing because I’m too afraid of getting it wrong. But if I needed any external evidence that my practice is paying off, I now have it!!!!
In the more subtle category of outcomes of healing shame, and at another level of trusting my own voice, I have begun to write a book. It’s not the memoir about breast cancer and living creatively with fear that I began making more writing time for. Maybe that project will still happen some day. Instead, what’s coming now is a science fiction novel about a sandwich-generation academic who believes that time is speeding up and goes on a scientific and spiritual quest to save herself and the world.
Like my blogging about breast cancer, and related to the project of healing racism, this project is helping me focus my awareness on an aspect of healing – healing my relationship to time. As I’ve become more aware of how shame and the fear of negative judgments (my own and others) play out in my life, I’ve realized that I am almost always rushing.
Rushing because I’ve crammed in one more thing to try to accomplish in the time available. Rushing to appease others if they are angry during a conflict. Rushing to plan a concise answer and get through my turn in a go-round without taking up more than my share of the time, as above. Rushing to keep up with the person in front of me on the cross-country ski trail, rushing to not annoy drivers behind me on the highway, rushing to try to have an orgasm, rushing to finish this sentence with something more innocuous so you won’t notice I just said that.
It is not lost on me that this relationship to time is heavily influenced by the dominant culture of patriarchy and what some call “racialized capitalism” which puts a premium on speed, punctuality, and productivity. I’m noticing more and more the sensations (tension, contraction, anxiety) that go with this habit of rushing, and the impacts it has on me, and on relationships. I’m practicing asking myself, “Why am I rushing?” And, like Rep. Maxine Waters and the billions of people following and expanding this meme, I am working on “Reclaiming my Time.” (It’s worth watching, if you haven’t seen it yet, this video of her using a procedural rule in the House Financial Services Committee meeting to stop Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin from avoiding answering her pointed questions by wasting time on complimenting her and other vacant blather. I also highly recommend this wonderful gospel rendition of the scene by Mykal Kilgore).
For the book project, in addition to writing, I’m doing lots of reading about time. The physics of time, the biology of time, the sociology of time, the anthropology of time, etc. It’s fascinating, and I plan to share some of what I’m learning here as I go along, especially since the book itself could take me a long, and hopefully unrushed, time to finish.