The Power of an Education

I recently read (read=consumed) Educated by Tara Westover. Several elements of the story she recounts in this award-winning memoir are familiar to me: a secluded childhood, a paranoid father, & fundamentalist religion. However, Westover’s education did not start until she began, as a teenager, to self-teach in order to take the ACT & be admitted to Brigham Young University. This is where my story drastically differs from hers.

My mother spent 14 years curating, delivering, & facilitating an enthralling education for myself & my two sisters. She bought entire curriculum sets with my father’s hearty approval (which I am certain were expensive) that we followed devotedly. As I recall, the middle school & junior high curriculum was heavy with historical fiction that brought Native American customs, the U.S.A. before, during & after the Civil War, & the World War-era to life via narratives about children my age. I peeled through chapters nearly every day, moving freely from my bed, to my desk, to sitting against the wall (this is an important detail as I am a kinesthetic person–sitting still is extremely difficult for me– now teaching children in an environment that offers only tables & hard chairs for 8+ hours a day), as my mind lit up with imagination.

In high school, the curriculum shifted to a classical program that was steeped in WASP ideology (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) & theology. Still, it emphasized reading entire books & I read The Social Contract, The Communist Manifesto, The Last Days of Socrates, & an entire book by Frederick Douglass (I do not remember which it was), among many others. I distinctly remember walking up & down our driveway as I read the entire Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin in one day. Despite the stimulating challenge of deciphering these texts, I rebelled against this curriculum primarily because I found it boring, lacking in diversity, & biased. I like to think that my arguments against it were well put together. The ability to put an argument together well: that came from my education.

Tara Westover’s book ends with a powerful & succinct attribution of all the changes she underwent, that wrought freedom in her life, to an education. That resonates profoundly with me because regardless of the content of the books I read, in reading entire works of classic literature, I learned to see a viewpoint through to its end, to follow lines of reasoning to logical conclusions, among other important skills.

Most of all, the thorough education that my mother brokered (& my father sponsored) for me prepared me for college, where I learned to trust my intellect over backward religious ideas, & to believe in the capability of knowledge to liberate & empower anyone–regardless of their social standing.

To this day, I love to read, to think, to argue. Those are gifts I attribute to my education. I believe every child deserves such an education. This belief is a big part of why I go to work every day. I am a teacher now, of various subjects, & passing on what I have learned–and continue to learn–gives me a sense of purpose. I hope that what I do empowers a new generation to harness their intellect for the sake of true freedom.

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Whiteness

The past epoch of my life is divided primarily into two time frames: before Chile (and an onslaught of mental illness that flared during & after that life-abroad experience) & after Chile.

Before Chile I wrote & spoke very little about how not to be an asshole to black folks. Some of my dearest friends were black at the time, but when I was with white folks, I rarely defended their experience or contradicted the pro-institution (pro-white supremacist) statements that white friends were made. At the time, I thought this was respect for my elders (most of my white friends, particularly the uber-conservative & racist ones, are well older than I). Now, I see that it was something I didn’t do because, due to my personality type & experiences I had within my family’s structure, & in the conservative protestant church, I identified with black Americans more than with white. Subconsciously, I equated my experience to theirs. It was a very naive & mistaken way to see things. No matter how great my suffering was as a young person, it was in no way comparable to the American black experience. That’s an apples to oranges comparison. Yet in some ways this time was beautiful in a simplistic, temporary way. I really just enjoyed being with people who I saw as being very similar to myself,. I was able to show great empathy & compassion without doing the same annoying shit most white people do in interactions with POC. .

At that time, I saw my role in undoing the horrendous & continual effects of the translatlantic slave trade, Jim Crow laws, & the global history of racism against POC, as primarily involving my own interactions with black folks.

Fast foward to AFTER Chile. I returned from 5+ months of life abroad with severe mental illnesses on my tail. Integration back into United States university culture only heightened the depression I had, & gave birth to a new illness: Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Not only was I wrestling with an illness I had known since adolescence, now I grappled an unfamiliar monster.

Needless to say, this mental/emotional cocktail brought the worst out of me. (Rumi said that the wounds are where the light come in, but I’d like to ask him what he has to say regarding the times when the wounds are where the darkness gooshes out? Anyway…)

I returned to Little Rock, hoping to reconnect with friends (white, black, hispanic, asian–everybody!). In interactions with black folks I immediately noticed strain. Strain that hadn’t been there a year & a half ago when I had moved away. I heard myself saying things to black friends that had made me cringe to hear white folks say in the past. Things like, well, you just have to work harder sometimes, or mentioning skin color off hand. Also, I would compulsively do things to “help” them & their families, buzzing around like a grandma on thanksgiving, instead of sitting down, listening, showing compassion & love–like FRIENDS do. Only recently did I realize that I had moved from treating black folks as subjects of their own stories, to objects of mine.

That, friends, is the ego. The ego LOVES to scapegoat minorities. (See: all of western history.)

Noticing the lack of health in these relationships, & my growing frustrations as I continued to buy gifts & “help” these friends (unsolicited, mind you! This was all me) without allowing myself to see them as humans & receive the beauty of their stories & relationships, (Note that not many of my white friendships were going well at this point, either. However, it is easier to dance around the ego in spaces that offer no hierarchy of being/ingrained subject-object bluepring for interaction.) Finally, I took steps back & lowered my interaction as much as possible with POC.

Sounds bad, doesn’t it? Real bad.

Yet I am glad I distanced myself. No one deserves a friend who gives & gives only to get more frustrated with the person who is passively recieving ! No one deserves to be the warm body in a race-based ego-tango!

I wish I had some gorgeous epiphany to share regarding race & what I have learned, & how enlightened I am now. I sure don’t, though. The insights into why I did what I did, what racism had to do with it, & what I needed to do to stop being white supremacy’s puppet, are what I wanted to share here.

I hope to circle back around, as my  heart heals & the ego’s sway over me weakens, to those beautiful relationships that had been built on mutual trust, shared experience, & radical generosity (on everyone’s part), despite GREAT odds. But I will wait. I will wait until I can interact without responding to external impulses. I will wait until I can love my friends as people, as sacred individuals, not as sounding boards for my latest black/white realizations or observations. I will wait until I can have a conversation in which I smile due to joy — not because I have to somehow acknowledge the blackness of another person. I will wait until my anxiety is healed enough that I can carry my own weight in a conversation with someone who is different from me, & refrain from perpetuating racism in my words & actions.

Sometimes, all I can do is try not to be another white asshole. That’s it. I can’t save black people from the continual injustices. That was never my job. (I couldn’t anyway–talk about ego.) Sometimes I can’t even INTERACT with black folks without wearing a forced “I’m white, you’re black,” smile! That’s the embarassing truth. Racism lives in me, fuck it.

I show myself grace because I am human. I am allowed to be human, to mess up continually. I am just not allowed to be racist & EVER think that is okay. I am grateful to artists like Tayari Jones, Ava DuVernay, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Austin Channing Brown, & others, who give me a window into a world that is far different from the one I live in. By grace, I can learn.

Watching When They See Us helped me see that my role is to engage whiteness & white supremacy’s hold on my people. The incarceration of those 5 innocent boys happened because of two white women who spun a racist story about them, & pinned them with blame. We have to reckon with this part of our history, our present, & our future. It is my job to engage white folks more than it is my job to “rescue” black folks. It is my job to rail against the system. To vote for black life. To shop at black-owned businesses. To champion black authors. To defend truth & justice at dinner tables, post offices, classrooms, etc. It is my job to look my (white) loved ones in the face & say, “that was racism. That needs to change.” Over & over. Until things get better. I don’t do these things because of what happened in the past. I do these things because I want to live a good life. I don’t want to be an asshole. I want life to be better for EVERY GOD DAMN HUMAN ALIVE.

Until there is justice for all, there will not be peace for any of us.

 

Donate now to help make a change.

 

“Don’t say, “Oh, it’s not really race, it’s class. Oh, it’s not race, it’s gender. Oh, it’s not race, it’s the cookie monster.” You see, American Blacks don’t actually want it to be race. They woud rather not have racist shit happen. So maybe when they say something is about race, it’s maybe because it actually is? … Don’t say “We’re tired of talking about race” or “the only race is the human race.” American Blacks, too, are tired of talking about race. They wish they didn’t have to. But shit keeps happening. Don’t say, “Oh, racism is over, slavery was so long ago.” We are talking about problems from the 1960s not the 1860s. …Finally don’t put on a Let’s Be Fair tone and say, “But black people are racist too.” Because of course we’re all prejudiced…but racism is about the power of a group and in America it’s white folks who have that power. … White folks don’t get denied bank loans or mortgages precisely because they are white and black juries don’t give white criminals worse sentences than black criminals for the same crime and black police officers don’t stop white folk for driving while white….Try listening, maybe. Hear what is being said. And remember that it is not about you. American Blacks are not telling you (non-American Blacks) that you are to blame. They are just telling you what is. If you don’t understand, ask questions. Sometimes people just want to feel heard.”

~Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah , 2013, p. 403-406

 

*DISCLAIMER: This post is about ME. This is a personal blog. Racism & the black experience in the USA is not, never has been, & never will be about me, or any other white person. These are my encounters, my growths, my shames, my confessions as they relate to my whiteness & the injustices I see (& have learned about having happened) in the lives of black Americans. I do not & will not speak for any POC ever, & should not be seen as a spokesperson for the black experience. Never lived it. Never will. I am extremely limited in communicating around this issue, but I wanted to share my experience. It haunts my days & nights.*

Why Yoga?

Yoga matters to me, especially right now, not because it is something better than the other somethings. It is not the hobby to put all hobbies out of business. It is not the one true religion.

Yoga matters to me because it is what I have right now. In days past, I had Jesus. I had the words of Jesus, my sweet tattered Bible, and the Christian community (a tad unreliably but nonetheless,) surrounding me. Those days were imperfect but that study, the weekly and daily rituals (praying before meals, attending a service weekly, eventually spending hours in prayer and meditation), blessed me, and kept me from spinning my wheels in the mud of meaningless suffering. Now (praise ye the gods!), amidst hard financial and emotional times, I have the practice and study of Yoga.

I didn’t realize how much it has come to mean to me, and how much this ancient study/practice has blessed me until I was at a workshop in a neighboring town (holla at ya, Conway) yesterday, and heard a teacher talking about why she sticks to the more pure forms of yoga (the closer to Krishnamacharya–the better! was her angle). The impact it has on the mind. The connection to the Divine as the motivation behind it. The beautiful (albeit fundamentalist ;)) chants before and after each two-hour-long practice.

I realized as she spoke that if I did not have yoga right now, my little hands would feel awful empty. The presence of something on my palms–be it yoga or religion, study, or exercise–actually helps me open up to receive and release. Yoga, like the words of Jesus, draws out the Divine in me. These ancient prescriptions conjure up spells of light, love, and hope, and without spells, my days would be much darker. I shudder to think where I would have been without the words of Jesus nurturing my soul. This year, I have been to some dark places, and it is yoga that is helping me emerge.

At a Vinyasa (movement with the breath) class today, my Yoga teacher, Sherri, guided us through breath retention and some hella-difficult classes. After a brief savasana (corpse/resting pose), we engaged with her in listening to a song with repetitive lyrics in Sanksrit (holy language of ancient India/the yogis/inis). Singing along, I felt movement rise from my hips to my head and, in spirit as in body, I was at church again. Moving with the beautiful sound, we were alive together, plugged into source like blue Omaticaya Avatars seated, entranced, around Home Tree. Tears soaked my face as the words resonated with a magically unidentifiable part of my being:

Oh, my beloved
Kindness of the heart
Breath of life
I bow to you

And I’m coming home

Ong namo guru dev namo

Divine teacher
Beloved friend
I bow to you
Again and again

Lotus sitting on the water 
Beyond time and space 
This is your way 
This is your grace

Ong namo guru dev namo

Guru dev, guru dev namo

This is your way
This is your way
This is your way

(Bryan Kearney / Snatam Kaur / Thomas Barkawitz)

 

That is why yoga, for now. I am grateful for the teachers, preachers, and friends who create space that is safe and holy enough for the scared and lost parts of us to come home. Spaces that are big enough for tough emotions, and small enough for Love to fill, are resting places on the journey.

Praise be to Ganesh, remover of obstacles, praise be to Lord Shiva, inspiration of many asanas (yogic postures), praise be to Buddha, for being the Awakened One, and always, ever always, praise be to Jesus, for loving me first.

I’m coming home.

 

Grace & Peace,

 

Lydia Nomad Bush

Tapa(s) That Mountain

 

Climbing Pinnacle Mountain today was difficult. Stomach problems made it painful internally but it was not even an *Arkansas* hot day. There was a breeze that accompanied me as I wheezed, heaved, & groaned my way up the East Summit.

Damn, I love that mountain.

Every bit of the experience was familiar to me (though I did not used to be this challenged on the way up…). The contours on boulders smoothed by hundreds of feet scaling them each week, the canopy of leaves overhead, the friendly faces who greet & cheer you on as you ascend & they descend the steep trail. I adore the crags on either side of the worn path. I love the coolness afforded by the vines and greenery all around. I love the feeling of my chest rising & falling at the summit as I gaze for miles & miles, soaking in the sherbet sunrise. I hear firecrackers, set off not far away & roll my eyes.

God, I love this place.

This walk triggers a plethora of memories. When I was a child the mountain seemed so long, the trek lest arduous but definitely more lengthy. During high school for a time I climbed the mountain weekly with a fierce group of young women. We explored the crags & swung off tree branches. It got easier for us every week, but never lost its’ lustrous challenge, it never stopped reminding us of the warrior-women within. None of us spoke out loud of how powerful it showed us to be, this weekly strength practice–we were taught to be docile & dainty–but I know we all felt it. And secretly shared it. If the other girls do not remember, then I will be guardian and remember-er, and secret keeper of these memories.

In yogic philosophy  there is an idea called “tapas”. According to Deborah Adele, Tapas is the fiery determined effort we can make to offer ourselves up to transformation, by way of strength training, meditation, or any other focused practice. Tapas is discipline, it is taking the difficult action because in your gut you know it is the right action. Tapas is the courage to step into the fire for the sake of being purified.

Pinnacle Mountain has been a place where I have cultivated Tapas. That summit has been & was again tonight the altar where I offer myself to God, to transformation, to my higher, truer, better self.

I love it. Oh, I love it very much.

Here’s to more cardio & less carbs.

Feel the holy burn, friends!

 

Lydia Nomad

Ida & Pingala

Ancient Tantric (Hindu) texts speak of Ida and Pingala, Ida being the left side of the body that represents the moon and feminine energy, while Pingala is the right side of the body and represents the sun and masculine energy. (St. Francis of the Christianity referred to the sun and moon as “Brother Sun”, and “Sister Moon”.) This is a gross simplification of the idea, but simple often does the trick.

Upcoming events in my life are causing me to reflect on some sweet and difficult memories from the past 5 years (give or take), and I like to use this idea of Ida & Pingala– energies of Brother Sun and Sister Moon–as a sift for reflecting on different kinds of moments.

Exhibiting or acting out of masculine energy has nothing to do with the state of being male. Just so, demonstrating moon or feminine qualities or behavior is unrelated to being female. These are energies of the spiritual world, beheld only from a spiritual posture, and the spiritual being knows not the polarities of gender (that we get caught up in physically).

The Ida moments of my life relate to times of rest, rejuvenation, renewal, and cleansing. Most nights over the past 5 years I spent alone, or in a house with people from whom I felt disconnected. Channeling my Ida energy, I often played a worship song, hymn, or lullaby on my phone, as I held it close to my breast and cried myself to sleep. It was Ida energy that brought a smile to my face the first time I held a brand new baby in my arms at the hospital. Ida energy has compelled me to stay in bed or in the back yard when culture’s roar of masculine hurry would have had me run my weekend away in the exhaust of traffic and retail stores. Ida energy is meditating and meditating again when anxiety resurfaces like acid in the throat. Ida energy is unhurried, balanced, and essential to thrive.

In vibrant contrast, Pingala speaks to high energy action, standing ground, pushing through challenges and rising in the face of insurmountable odds. Pingala is our energetic radiance, the wise channeling of muscular, robust energy (in balance with the rest and surrender of Ida). When I put my foot in the dirt and decided that I would take steps to spend my life with the man I love, no matter the wait required, I channeled Pingala. Placing copies of Bible passages to read at the end of each lap I swam in order to strengthen body and mind was fierce utilization of Pingala. This energy led me in discipline (Tapas, in yogic thought) when I started using a timer to create space between bites of food in order to liberate myself from eating to nourish a wounded soul instead of the body that could best tell me what to eat and how to eat it. Pingala energy is strong, creative, and ground-breaking.

The funny thing is, both energies piss people off. And a healthy balance of both? Prepare for boundary conflict, my friend. We often do not find ourselves worthy of one or the other, or we naturally gravitate towards cultivating one and neglecting the other. Unfortunately, when we deprive ourselves of one or the other, we often resent our neighbors for having a healthy balance, or for tipping towards our weaker side. Working with these energies, we may be judged, we may find ourselves sitting in judgment of others. Either way, they are ideas as gorgeous as Brother Sun and Sister Moon in the sky above us, integral parts of our Divine selves.

In remembering, I give thanks. In giving thanks, I remember Who I Am.

Love,

 

Lydia Nomad