Resensitizing Grief with Sydney Gore

SA
Sydney, how are you holding up?

S
Hi Prinita! These past few weeks activated a new level of exhaustion that I had never experienced before. I’m an empath so I get drained really easily and with this particular situation I can’t really take a break. This is simply my experience as a Black woman and I have to live through it in real time during a global pandemic. I’m doing all that I can to nurture myself and those conscious efforts seem to be paying off. This week I’ve been feeling like the energy in the atmosphere is pushing us toward a fresh start and that invigorates me.

SA
Describe your energy today in three words.

S
I love this question. I had an energy healing session the other day and my practitioner basically told me that my root chakra is out of sync so I’ve been paying closer attention to that area. But back to your inquiry… The three words that describe my energy at this precise moment are: abundant, tender, and rooted.

SA
What does being ‘well’ in the revolution mean for you?

S
THANK YOU FOR BRINGING THIS UP. To me, being “well” in the midst of a revolution means prioritizing emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual health. It’s about turning inward and acknowledging how you’re responding to what you’re feeling. We have to address our internal wounds and the deep trauma that lies buried there. You won’t be fully equipped to do the work that is necessary to help others if you haven’t made the time to take care of yourself. Racism is literally a public health crisis… Waris Ahluwalia once showed me how “healthy self” literally spells out HEAL THY SELF and it blew my mind. The gut-brain axis is so powerful, I hope more people educate themselves about this vital relationship–I trust my gut more than anything or anyone else. Dayna Hunt recently outlined how advocacy, empathy, anti-racism work, speaking up, and holding space for others are all pillars of wellness and I couldn’t agree more. Also, let’s decolonize the wellness industry while we’re at it!

SA
Racial grief is inevitable in a racist world. The Combahee River Collective Black Feminist Statement reports that, ‘an early group member once said, “We are all damaged people merely by virtue of being Black women.” We are dispossessed psychologically and on every other level’ White supremacy perpetuates fragmentation, disconnection and disintegration experienced by all racialized people, particularly by women of color, especially by Black women. Grief can be a catalyst for collaboration, connection and bridge building. How do you navigate your need to mobilize, your need to grieve and your need to heal?

S
I have a habit of channeling my grief into productivity. Perhaps it’s a defense mechanism to distract myself from tapping into pain that I’m not ready to feel, but I always find myself keeping busy. It’s this constant state of “go, go, go” until I drive myself to a breaking point of exhaustion and the only way to avoid completely crashing is giving myself permission to rest. 

Following the murder of George Floyd, a switch went off inside me and for the first time in my life I felt invigorated to act—I refused to be silent about my experiences and with each passing day my voice has grown louder because the messages are no longer being ignored. I felt like it was my duty to raise awareness about the systemic racism that continues to poison the world so I threw myself into sharing resources to educate my network. 

By the end of the first week of protests, I was running on E and took the cues from my body signaling for restoration. I extended deadlines so I could have enough space away from work to process and reflect in real time without being overwhelmed. I’m still healing, but the steps that I take to nourish myself keep me grounded.

SA
Kwame Ture writing about the uprising’s response to the Vietnam war states: (They were) emotionally scarred, spiritually drained from the constant tension, the moments of anger, grief, or fear in a pervading atmosphere of hostility and impending violence. Where some of us channel our grief into rage and collective action, it is still necessary to sit with the mourning, to fully feel it and fully embrace it in order to move with empathy and affect. This concept of embracing grief becomes exhaustive when violence against the Black community is constant, it is daily. To detach from mourning is insensitive, but is it necessary for self preservation? 

S
As a diagnosed empath, I find it very difficult to detach from my emotions. I wouldn’t say that I’m desensitized to hostility, but when certain acts of violence become repetitive you sort of get used to hearing about them no matter how inhumane it is. I’m sure this is even more common for the generations that came before me and have witnessed the same injustices occur throughout the course of their lives. I don’t know how my grandmother is able to digest this material and out of respect for her I never ask because the last thing that I want to do is inflict emotional harm from a triggering topic. I have to sit with my grief in order to deal with it which usually means taking time to be in solitude with my thoughts and purge all the emotions that are bubbling deep inside my gut.

SA
Shock factor has been key in allowing folks on the other side to understand the plight of Black communities. Social media has aided this shock, where folks have been exposed to footage of death in real time. Lately, the amplification of Black death online has combined with the daily updates of lives lost to COVID19. The oppressors tactics of loss, fragmentation and disconnection renders the normalization of violence against Black and minority communities in America a spectacle. Do you think destroying the spectacle of violence is possible in an imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy? 

S
A few weeks ago I had a conversation with my mother where I asked her point blank if there was a moment during my childhood similar to what is currently happening because I couldn’t remember anything significant before 9/11. I didn’t have a political “awakening” until I went to college in 2011 and prior to that I wasn’t paying close attention to what was really going on. She told me that I was correct in my recollection, but pointed out this has become so intense in recent years because of our immediate access to information through technology and the Internet. The exposure that we have to these events on social media allows us to be informed immediately whereas when my mom was my age it would take longer for a report to surface about a non-local tragedy. Obviously, I have no desire to watch this type of footage whenever it surfaces online, but at least I have the choice to scroll past it. The fact that this is what it takes to convince people that violence against Black and marginalized communities is wrong is a bigger issue though. It’s exposure at the expense of our well-being.

SA
Over the past few days, we’ve seen spurts of online aggression towards Black women especially, by men who are not reluctant to give up their standards of toxic masculinity, men who are still attached to their ego and thus, essentially upholding the patriarchy. In her conversation with Boots Riley, Noname said it is difficult to fight the revolution when men who look like Boots are unwilling to acknowledge that they have a role in committing violence against femme identifying Black folks. As a brown woman, I empathize greatly. It’s hard to fight alongside male comrades when you know they are only fighting for themselves. Toxic masculinity renders machismo identity unable to present insecurity and vulnerability. (Most cis/hetero identifying) men often find it difficult to grieve and often this moves them into indifference. How do you think about this as something that needs to be dismantled in order to conquer the larger goal of destroying white supremacy?

S
I find it extremely frustrating and counterproductive that some Black men continue to be so unwilling to hold up their end of the bargain when it comes to protecting the lives of ALL Black womxn. It’s a glaring blind spot that hinders the growth of our community. There’s no progress without the involvement of Black womxn, PERIOD. We can join hands and shout about the evils of the white man at the top of our lungs, but this doesn’t absolve Black and brown men from their part in perpetuating toxic masculinity and committing heinous acts of violence. Misogynoir is a cancer and we need to cure everyone that is spreading it.

Noname was right when she declared that we are the new vanguard in the closing verse of “Song 33.” Weak minds are dangerous because they distract us from executing our mission. J. Cole and men that think like him are getting us nowhere with their half-baked dialogue. In Salvation: Black People and Love, bell hooks writes “It has not been easy for black women to maintain faith in love in a society that has systematically devalued our bodies and our beings.” Oluwatoyin Salau should still be here today–her tragic death could have been prevented. Instead, she’s another name on the long list of Black womxn that were failed. In conclusion, LISTEN TO BLACK WOMXN. 

SA
Reclaiming grief is necessary in recognizing it as a force to challenge oppressive structures. How might we begin to think about grief as a resource as opposed to grief as something that needs to be fixed?

S
My friend Mangda Sengvanhpheng, a certified death doula, describes grief as “the ultimate expression of gratitude for our losses.” I’m someone who struggles with uncertainty which stems from an underlying fear of the unknown, but have had no choice but to overcome my discomfort with death. I feel like this has something to do with being an only child and coming to terms with the fact that you might be completely alone someday. There is nothing to gain when you refuse to accept death as a fundamental part of life, but not everyone will experience death with dignity. By now, I hope history has taught us that oppressed people deserve to be protected while they are still alive. 

When my grandfather died at the end of 2018, I thought a lot about how he spent almost a decade preparing our family for that moment yet I still wasn’t ready for it when it came—I didn’t get to properly say goodbye the way I would have wanted to because my mind didn’t even consider that there would be no next time after that time. I agonized over his passing for six months because I felt that I hadn’t done nearly enough to show him how much I appreciated him when he was still alive. There are so many resources to prepare you for the next big steps in life, but the guide for dealing with the aftermath of death is a mess. 

Now as a way to move forward, I try to focus on finding different ways to honor his memory, striving to make him proud of the person I am becoming. My Pop-Pop once made this observation about me during our weekly phone calls: “You see the world for what it is—good, bad, or in-between—you see the world for what it is and you figure out how to navigate accordingly. That’s why I know I don’t have to be worried about you.” (Let the record show that tears were shed while speaking about this.)

Creating a Movement of Integrity with Fariha Róisín

Fariha Róisín is a multidisciplinary artist living on Earth. She is the author of the poetry collection How To Cure A Ghost (2019), as well as the novel Like A Bird (2020). Fariha founded Studio Ānanda alongside Prinita Thevarajah in May 2020. The pair recently sat down for a conversation on slowing down to reset our operating system and the significance in leading lives with integrity.

F
Hi love!

P
Hi! How are you feeling? You’ve had such a full on day. 

F
I’m feeling a few things — tired, exhausted come to my mind. My body (mainly shoulders) have been incredibly tender today so I’ve been feeling that constriction in my muscles, too. I’ve been smoking less weed these last few days, as I’m trying to sit with myself, and listen. But it’s actually so hard to keep that attention, to be mindful of my body’s needs, without assigning judgment. But then, my spirit today is also feeling conflicted: I feel joy that I’m here, talking to you, that I’m back in New York, but I’m also cognizant that I need rest. Always working within these bodily and mind conflicts I guess.  

How are you?

P
I’m also feeling a lot of different things this morning. I get out of quarantine in five hours. I’m excited to be outside and feel the sun directly on my skin, unobstructed by a window & to breathe fresh air!! Unsure about what my first few interactions with my family will be like, but overall excited. 

You’ve made it through a full week back in New York, and knowing your schedule, it’s incredible to me that you’re even able to make room for conversations like this one. I hope the weekend is deeply regenerative for you & that you’ll be able to restore fragmented bits of energy and call your spirit back to yourself. 

One thing that has always struck me about you is that even as you work on so many different projects at all times, the quality of your art and the passion in your presentation always comes through so strong. Where does that come from? I know what you’re saying is it does take a toll on your mind and your body, though the fact that you’re able to go for so long without losing steam… it’s incredible to see unfold.

F
Thank you <3 That reflection is so important for me because I think I’ve told you, but an astrologer earlier this year told me that I’m the type of person to do the work even when nobody’s watching, and I relate to that sentiment with my whole personhood. I am just dedicated to doing the work. I could explain that astrologically, I’m ruled by Saturn, so hard work is meditative to me. I find my best self when I get into that flow, which is what it is for me, a flow of motion. I do feel like a sorcerer, a magician, or an alchemizer, and that’s what all my work feels like. As if I’m channeling something. It’s so innate, so intuitive, that it’s really an energy that I tap into. Maybe it’s spirit, maybe it’s the ancestral realm that I’m dipping into, but I also think it’s a contract that I signed onto in this lifetime. I feel charged by something beyond me. 

But in the human realm, on the other end of the spectrum, I do suffer. As a child love was beyond me, and I have really worked to find that as an adult—in my community, in my friendships, at the very least. But I’m still bad at asking for help, or telling folks that I’m suffering. I’m very good at excelling while I’m barely surviving. Which I guess is a trauma response. 

P
I’ve known you now for about four full years and it’s clear that there is kinetic energy that flows through you. It’s tangible and I feel it in the spaces that you occupy, whether that be your home space or the way you manage your interpersonal relationships. There is a great deal of thoughtfulness that you move with, that you’re teaching me everyday. One thing in particular I’ve been thinking about is integrity. You operate with so much of it & I think it can be jarring for some, especially in an era where social media allows for a disconnected personality, to see that in action. The way that you’re able to be so vulnerable as a public facing figure, and yet at the same time struggle to ask for help, for me that is heartbreaking and another example of how you’re always trying to move without ego and in full transparency. 

F
Yeah, it’s honestly a battle. I struggle with it immensely. I don’t know if it’s my Cancer Moon (lol) or the fact that I’m a Jupiter Cancer. Probably not, I just think it’s instinct. My entire therapy is built around how I tried to make myself perfect and how I was still abused. It’s actually painful to think about. I think I was just raised by my sister and father with such incredible values. My dad is a man of his word. He’s one of the best men I know. Or people, period. I guess despite the kind of horrifying shit the three of us experienced, it encouraged us to be really caring and compassionate… and also not complain. Which is why I find it so hard to. I was sort of this court jester character in my family, always making people laugh. If my mother was having an episode I was thrown into the pit to calm her down. Sometimes willingly, but I wonder if a child ever really has a choice. I just saw myself, and my value, as a token for someone else. I didn’t realize that I could have my own life for quite some time. Now, many years later, I still suffer from not prioritizing myself or my own needs. The thought I could hurt someone always is what drives me. And it’s a lonely world being like this. 

I think the hardest part is people don’t believe what they see, and then they use it against me. That’s what Shaka, my ex told me a few months ago. I’m obviously not perfect lol and I have many flaws, but it is a really lonely thing to be dedicated to one’s word and to try to be the best example all the time. I’m just sort of always trying to be better. 

P
I’m reminded of the post-it note that sits above your desk in your office which simply says “just be good”. It’s such a simple yet difficult task for most of humanity to just be good.

What does prioritizing yourself these days look like?

F
I love that post-it note so much! Prioritizing myself means trying to locate how I feel at all times and letting that guide me. But because I was extremely abused, my senses are sort of dulled. Especially when it comes to being uncomfortable… so I’m trying to gain better fluency to myself so I can actually ascertain what I need in a moment. And that is a lot of work for someone who could never say how they felt (when it was bad). There’s a lot of deprogramming of such simple things for me, and I guess I’m just trying to be kinder to myself, show myself the compassion I give everyone else all the time.

P
I think it should be spoken about more how childhood sexual abuse and childhood abuse survivors in general have to literally rewire their brain in order to fully function as a capable adult. You are actively doing that work while on tour, writing a fourth book, running a studio and all the other bits and bobs that you fit yourself into.

What is coming up for me now is this slowness you drive, which is antithetical to everything that we have been taught. A slowness and a gentleness which ultimately says that, if you are not kind to yourself and others, if you are not slow with your journey and with the journey of others, then your practice will not be sustainable and your purpose might not be realized. It’s not an easy thing to move this way in a city like New York City especially. 

F
Yeah it’s incredibly difficult to have that kind of discipline. I learned this by trial and error and basically I’m a fast learner, and I don’t want to waste time. My own or anybody else’s. I think when I was in my early 20s I was messy enough times to realize that shit doesn’t work for me. I don’t enjoy it, it’s too shameful for me. I hate carrying that weight. I think all of us have moments of entitlement, where we feel we are owed things. Especially as a survivor. Then, I think by the time I re-entered New York, and especially after my last break up, I realized there were holes in my character that I had to address. It’s when my real first spiritual download happened, as if I was like Fariha 4.0, my system was re-energized. In plant medicine circles the human psyche is referred to as the “operating system” or O.S a lot, and I relate to that frameworking. What are you keeping in your body that is old hardware? What isn’t serving you anymore? To evolve basically means ending patterns. 

So for me, aligning myself with who I say I am was a very important step in the evolution of myself. I have high standards, but I’m a person that gives such high standards back. It’s something that I have to remind myself all the time, and actually that is what’s begun to (to refer back to your earlier question) help prioritize my needs more—just because I’m bearing witness to how I’m evolving.

P
Right – you are only expecting from others what you expect from yourself. That is a very radical type of accountability. Truthfully, as someone who is in their early 20s, I’ve never experienced a dynamic like ours where you really do hold me to how I say I’m trying to be in the world. Because, you’re right – a lot of us are carrying this really slippery entitlement that is often leveraged in terms of our past. But with you, you see it and you say ok, so now how are we going to move forward and be better and avoid repeating stagnant patterns. 

It’s not an easy way to live, it’s actually very uncomfortable and I respect you for your ability to be comfortable with uncomfortability. So much of the hope I have in the mission for Studio Ananda really does tie back into the way you and I both handle conflict, confusion and collaboration. 

On Wednesday our filler post was, ‘your greatest enemy is in your hearts and mind’ and we were informed that it was a line pulled from Thich Nhat Hanh’s letter to MLK, where he was writing about the parallels between the inhumanities in Vietnam and the civil rights movement. He was delving into this idea of – transform yourself first to transform the world around you. And that’s what seeps out of so much of the art that you create and the way you live your daily life. 

F
Thank you. Our relationship has taught me so much about the importance of reflecting your best self at all times. We are friends who ventured on this incredible, beautiful mission. It means that there always has to be an emphasis on full transparency. When I need to tell you something, that may be difficult to say, it’s actually so powerful for me to remember that I owe it to the both of us to be completely honest. Because our work relies on that transparency. What we are creating with Studio Ananda has never been done before. So it means that the way you and I co-exist, or even how we work with Sonia/Raver Jinn, has to be of the highest order. I think sometimes I feel like a monk, and I’m sure you know lol, I’m just really obsessed with integrity. 

The other day I pulled the Jaquar Card which is Integrity/Impeccability card in my Medicine /Animal Tarot Deck. It brought tears to my eyes. It made me think of my ayahuasca shaman Jyoti, who is somebody who has incredible integrity. That means she’s sometimes scary, lol. I don’t endeavor to be like her completely, but I think there’s immense value in bluntness, in telling the truth. And that’s the energy I want to bring to my work, to my relationships, to Studio Ananda. 

P
And ultimately, you are just helping me see myself a little more clearly as well. It’s cool that you’re able to do that in a way that is candid, blunt only to cut the BS and allow for a really clarified perspective on the situation. Which is super different for me to experience as someone who has only ever been met with a bluntness that was self serving and meant to harm rather than bring higher understanding, so thank you. 

What are your deepest hopes and dreams for Studio Ananda? 

F
To create a movement of integrity. I hope that people are moved by the discipline of evolution and encouraged by the people we talk to, the archive we build, the schools, the impact that we foster and create. I take deep solace in the Islamic Renaissance. Studio Ananda is a harking back to that time of enlightenment, to show people how reflection and healing are radical tools to dismantling systems. Now, in this lifetime, in order for us to work together and destroy capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy, we need to understand that there is a collective call to action. That starts with the self, of confronting the demons, the ancestral baggage, so you can be a true accomplice and comrade. All liberation groups were destroyed by the ego. We need to work seamlessly and understand the true way to truly liberate is to do so yourself. It begins with you and it becomes a mighty foundation to then inspire and motivate others, or to hold them up in their process. This is what we owe each other. This is the way we face the apocalypse. I want humans to evolve. I hope Studio Ananda helps on that journey.

P
Feeling very blessed, activated and grateful to be able to build this space alongside you and curiously waiting to see where the universe takes us with Studio Ananda. I feel very humbled to be able to stand beside you and offer this space as a resource to others. 

I know it’s getting late over there, how are you feeling right now? 

F
The feeling is mutual, my love! I feel good. I’m so excited for what’s to come. We are building, co-creating, a truly moving place. To watch us grow has been a gift. I’m also looking forward to continuing this conversation. There’s more to come, and more to say. We are expanding in so many different ways, and it thrills me to be on this journey with you.

P
Same!

Holding on to this thread of integrity, do you have any particular resources that come to mind, texts, audio, visuals that have encouraged you to stand strong in your practice of integrity? 

F
Oh I love this! Ok, what comes to mind is the John O’Donohue On Being episode, as well as his book Anam Cara. He was a poet, priest and philosopher. I don’t know why I find him so moving, but maybe because he’s writing about survival but through the lens of beauty, the importance of always keeping something beautiful in your mind. 

I also have been so called to action by Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and other abolitionists like Mariame Kaba. To be an abolitionist, I think, relies on integrity. It means believing something so beyond you, and so outside the realm of experience, but to dream for it anyway. To believe in transformative justice means to be better for it. If we believe in abolition, we have to transform ourselves, as a species and as people. That’s exhilarating to me. Same goes with the environment, in the hope of being climate warriors. I’ve been reading Earth Democracy by Vandana Shiva, and similarly, it’s such a hopeful book. This time, pandemic time — this portal itself — is asking us to push against our inertia so we can save this planet. 

P
Perfect, thank you for sharing these. Do you have any last words you want to add? 

F
I’ve been meditating on this quote by Joanna Macy, “We can sense that we are in a space without a map. That we’re on shifting ground. Where old habits and old scenarios, all previous expectations, all familiar features no longer apply. It’s like we’re unmoored, cast loose. In Tibetan Buddhism, such a place, or gap between known worlds, is called a bardo. It’s kind of frightening. It’s also a place for potential transformation.”

The Expansion of Wellness with Liz Tran

SA
Hi Liz <3

L
Hi darling! It’s so nice to be here with you!

SA
Yay! Yes for me too. You’re somebody I so look up to and I’m constantly inspired by you and how you move through the world. Which is sort of the reason I wanted to talk to you today. 

L
I actually look up to YOU. It’s so nice to have a friendship where we pull each other up. 

SA
Yeah, I know. I feel so fortunate that we have the same values as well as desire to build together. I know you’ve been working on a few things that are wellness oriented, like Reset, which I’d love to talk about but first off… I wanna know what led to you orienting yourself towards certain healing modalities? I feel like you and I are both really invested in taking care of ourselves. How did that start for you?

L
I didn’t start caring about healing and my health until I was 30 and I got divorced, and suddenly felt incredibly adrift and alone. My usual methods of coping (partying, being with friends, and finding support in romantic relationships) weren’t working any longer, and I realized I needed a hard reset. This was coinciding with my Saturn Return and Pluto transiting my natal Moon (one of the hardest transits you can have), so I decided that I needed to take 6 months from drinking and substances. I went toward what felt good: Buddhism, silent meditation retreats, reading self-help books, therapy, journaling and yoga. All those new practices folded in quickly, but then stuck over the years and became my new way of life. (I’m now 35). 

SA
I love this emphasis on a certain awareness that kicks in. I was also in toxic cycles with myself. Drinking too much, doing too many drugs, fucking too many people… it was making me feel — as you said — adrift. I felt disgusted by myself too. I felt like such an outcast, growing up under a Muslim way of life and then suddenly feeling so far from God. I felt too naive, so I wanted to “live my life” outside of restriction but I felt the more I did it… the more lost and abandoned I became. Maybe it was an act of self abandonment, too. Knowing that I could be better is something that’s become a compass for me. Wanting to be better for myself. Knowing I owed myself that… was sort of this return / relearning healing. Because some corny part of me believes that we all know ourselves far more deeply than we think we do.

L
Yes! That is exactly the feeling. I was accustomed to dealing with all my emotions by disappearing. I remember being six years old, and learning that if I disappeared, and just faded my needs and feelings into the background, then things were easier in my family. Drugs, sex, drinking, also being a workaholic helped me disappear. What you’re saying about “being better” is really correct- it’s actually about truly finding yourself. During this time, I had a regular calendar invitation on gmail that said “Try something you might like today” for 3 hours every Sunday. It wasn’t even conscious then, but I was trying to find my way back to myself, which took some time because I had been abandoning myself since I was a small child. 

My favorite quote is by Thomas Merton, “My highest ambition in life is to be what I already am.” I have it on all of our Reset stationary that I use to write notes to clients, because that is the work. It’s not about changing to be some aspirational self. It’s about being who you are, who your soul chose to be, before it was beaten out of you. 

SA
Yo. I feel emotional. That’s exactly it… I mean the splintering as a child. I remember learning how to disassociate. I mourn the girl who had to learn how to do that. It was really when I asked, “How did I first learn how to disassociate?” last year that I then gained access to the headspace in my mind where I was able to memory retrieve my sexual abuse. It was such a lock and key. And it was only until I was ready that I was able to call out to myself almost as permission to let me unfold and go deeper in my own psyche. But, still, I couldn’t believe that we are so much like computers, how we have all these things stored in our bodies, and that no matter how much you try, you can’t deny its existence. Living under Capitalism instructs you to be like a machine, so we aspire to be rational creatures and deem emotions as unnecessary when emotions are what teach us everything about our humanity. I learned early not to have needs. But yes ultimately life is such a journey to who you need to become, who you are. Talk about how this self interior process led you to create Reset?

L
I grew up with food, money, and housing instability. We were on food stamps and generally, the only meals I had were at school or at friends’ houses, so I dreamed about growing up, being 30 years old, living in NYC, and being RICH. I imagined I would have my own space, a pantry full of food, fancy clothes, and walls covered in books. When I turned 31, I looked around, I had all those things, including a job where I made half-a-million dollars a year, but through finding myself, I realized that I didn’t have anything that I, my true self, really wanted. It was an evolution where as a child, I felt unworthy because I didn’t have money, in my 20’s I was “proving my worth” by making money. And in my 30’s realizing that money was not making me happy as I thought it would. I looked around at a team retreat my company was hosting at a $1,000/person/night luxury retreat- everyone shooting guns, and riding ATV’s, and I thought- how did I end up here? My life is empty. I have no one who loves me for who I am. I do soul crushing work. This is not me. So, I made the decision then to create a space and content that could help people find out and nurture who they truly are. It seems simple to find yourself, but our society actually makes it very hard. Selfishly, I wanted to find other people, like me, who were doing that very scary thing of trying to discover who they really are and what they really want. 

SA
What a beautiful journey you’ve had. It’s actually something I think a lot of people can relate to. I had a not so similar thing but as you know, grew up poor, similarly wanted money (we also both have major Capricorn placements… so, we like nice things) and struggled for a long time to make any money. It was around the same time that I was in partnership with my ex who was raised with a lot of money and had a lot of money, is a director in Hollywood, so works in an industry where he’ll always make money, and I really convinced myself that I deserved a good life. But then of course, this year happened and something shifted. Being raised by a Socialist/Marxist I was actually really ashamed of wanting nice things. My dad would always say shitty things that I’ve held onto about my Capitalist spirit lmfao. Which is meant as a slur. He’s also like the most amazing person when it comes to integrity. I’ve never met someone that stands by their values so much. I’m lucky to have had such a genuinely thoughtful father. But in my 20s I rejected his politics because I felt like I wanted a good life and I didn’t wanna feel about it. Then, this year with the pandemic, I was really like nah fuck that shit. It happened in tandem with realizing that I started making more money than my parents ever had and yet I was buying dumb shit so I realized something had to change. And though I will still want and buy nice things, how can I do this more thoughtfully? How can I truly learn to divest from wealth and try to make more equitable choices? I’m a semi-known artist, so I have access to cool jobs with money. I still struggle with myself but I’m really thinking about ensuring that whatever money I’m making that I’m always giving back. Muslims have something called zakat. Literally a percentage of your wealth that you give away. Because, like… is being a millionaire ethical? No. So how do we confront that? And there’s been a total jump for me there. I feel like plant medicines have helped me with that too, realizing we all owe each other more. That community is everything. That’s something I really see you investing in. Do you relate to that?

L
100%! I want to hang out with your dad! First off, I completely relate, because we both have planets in Capricorn and I believe we were going through the same thing with Saturn, Pluto, Mars, and Jupiter all transiting there this year. This summer changed my entire relationship with money. I lost a number of 1:1 clients because of the pandemic, I was $20K in credit card debt, owed $20K to the IRS, and a loan that I had taken out to build out the Reset space (which had to close for the pandemic), and I was still paying it off. In total I was $100K in debt and making almost no money each month! This was so triggering and upsetting for me. I thought I had ruined my life by starting Reset. I felt like a huge failure. I was crying every day. I had no options, no ways to make money. I did the only thing I could do, which was to let go and love myself. I said, “I am the poorest I have ever been in my entire life, but I am still, and will always be, a worthy, loveable, deserving human being.” I am so grateful this year, because I would have never learned the depth of my own self-love if not for hitting rock bottom. It’s easy to love ourselves when we look beautiful, are successful, and are getting a lot of validation, but the real self-love is to accept yourself at your worst. Since then, I have paid off nearly all of my debt and have gotten many new clients, all from some miracles happening and waking up and just trying to do meaningful work that is helpful to others.

SA
Liz. Wow. I had no idea my love. This is so fucking real. I struggle with the kinds of projections people put on you, too. They see you’re successful in any way and they expect everything to be completely perfect. I think a Capricorn trait is also being really still and protective of yourself and not being able to ask for help and then inevitably just becoming depressed because your own self-expectation is so high. How do you feel about everything now and what are the lessons you’ve learned?

L
The biggest lesson I learned is one that I am pretty sure I will always be learning, over and over again in life. That lesson is that I cannot control anything that happens to me. Dammit if my Capricorn-Moon-self was going to let myself be a failure. I worked so hard- day and night, trying to figure out how to bring in that cash. At the end of the day, it wasn’t my path. I was always supposed to hit that rock bottom. There was no way to avoid it. It was a part of my soul’s journey to evolve to an even higher frequency. I had to be in the dark, depressing, desperate place in order to take the next leap of knowing myself even more. The lesson is to let go of control, and trust that whatever is happening to you is 100% the best thing for you, even if you can’t see it in the moment. Looking back, I would not trade those dark days for ease and comfort, because I think, for the first time in my life, I can say I love myself unconditionally, even when I felt like my business was a failure and I spent all the money I saved. The second lesson I learned is that money comes and goes, and it has literally nothing to do with how worthy you are. Money is just energy. It is meant to be distributed around, not hoarded and grasped onto. I honestly was pretty depressed that I had spent almost $200K to build out the Reset space, only to have it close down in less than a year, and I thought, I’ve lost everything. I am a LOSER.  But then, over time, I reframed it, and I thought, “Wow! I spent $200K helping other people to grow and to find their true selves. I can’t really think of any ways to spend my money that feel better than that!” That way of seeing things feels much more true to who I am and what my values are. 

SA
Absolutely fucking amazing. I’m so moved! Yes. I deeply relate. It was embarrassing to me when at the top of the pandemic I lost all my jobs and I had no savings and I was like… am I gonna go back to Montreal? There were some dark days. I was also working on Studio Ananda, and there were all these costs, and I felt like such a failure. Because I didn’t have anything and I only survived because I made a newsletter and people sent me mutual aid. Otherwise, I was contemplating just letting go. It’s different with you obviously because so much money went into Reset, and that’s a different kind of process I’m sure, but I feel like I had to hit rock bottom (which for me has been a lot of 2020) to really have any insight into myself. But I’m going on another 8-day ayahuasca ceremony (sacred warrior retreat) at end of the year and apart of me is like fuck my fucking life as if I need more hardship lol. Like, we’ve talked about this, I hate sitting in ceremony. I don’t enjoy being on ayahuasca. But I don’t think anybody does. You do it because you must, because you are being called to face deep wounds. I’m so proud of you for facing this and realizing… wow, right, my goal isn’t this. Or, this doesn’t even come close to determine my worth or my value. How are you feeling about Reset now and what are the next steps of evolution for you with that?

L
I love my work with Reset right now! Thematically, 2020 is the year of Rock Bottom & Finding My Voice. (Which, I hypothesize is the same for a lot of people out there). After I closed the studio, I pivoted my work to focus on coaching. I am coaching several founders and executives at tech companies, all of whom I love and I get to fold in my holistic healing practices into the business coaching work I do. I took a long break from the Reset podcast, which I used to do with two dear friends, and am now doing it solo — because it’s a way to honor my voice and to let myself shine. Lastly, I have been creating lots of new coaching and healing frameworks to do with my clients. I think my soul finally found the work it wants to do. To be honest, I am a real business person at my core, as much as I hate to admit it because it seems so basic, and boring and Capitalist. And I am equally, a healer who is guided by my soul. I am finding ways to bring these two parts together and to love all of who I am, even if it’s not what I think of first as being “cool.”  Oh! And, I am applying to go back to school to get my MFA in creative writing. The idea came to me one night as I was journaling a few weeks ago. Logically, logistically, financially– it doesn’t make sense at all to do this, and that’s why I want to do it. It just seems like it would be a lot of fun, and honestly, after a decade of being very calculated and strategic about my career and my life, I am finally ready to do something just because my heart wants to. I have learned that I deserve that. We all deserve that. Every person deserves that. 

SA
HOLY SHIT!!!!!!!!! This makes me gloriously happy. Yes to fun! Which is what brings me to my last question. I honestly could talk to you forever, and I have so many more questions, but I’m mindful of your time. So… How have you been finding joy recently? And, is there anything that you could recommend that’s felt like a magical sign from the universe that you’d like to share? Something that felt like a remedy for the soul?

L
Let me first say that this is such a beautiful question, because honestly finding joy has been hard lots of days. I often wake up feeling like my aura and all my chakras are buried under a giant pile of darkness and trauma that we are all collectively experiencing. I find a lot of joy in helping people (which is why my coaching work and advocacy work is uplifting for me), and included in “people” is myself. I have been doubling down on my self-care practices. Because I literally thought I might be homeless this Summer, my inner child has been very rattled because that’s what she was terrified of, so I nurture her. I do things that she needs to feel safe. I cook delicious meals, I take long baths, I draw, I read, and I reach out to my loved ones for support. Remedies! I read a book called The Power of Receiving recently that changed my life. I have been chronically someone who hasn’t wanted to appear weak and reach out for help, and I have been learning that there is great strength in letting yourself be supported. 2020 has helped me see my life and all the people who are in it as one giant trust fall. We are all taking turns holding each other up, AND it can be lots of fun to do that.  

SA
What an enduring, important sentiment. Honored to be your friend <3 Thank you for this conversation. 

L
I love you! I am honored that you asked me to do this. You are the mother of all healing, so this is very cool. Go us! 

The Practice of Self Care with Sundus Abdul Hadi

SA
Hi Sundus!

S
Hi Fariha!!!

SA
I’m so honored to be doing this with you! I was just thinking back to the first time we met, which was (I believe) on your radio show in Montreal… and you had me on as a guest and we talked about self care! So it’s kind of a full circle now. I get the sense that that’s kind of what our relationship is like, that there’s these universal themes we traverse through different mediums, and we’re in constant dialogue with one another through different platforms. I find your work around “self care” so profound and important. Can you tell me a little about how you first started to think about self care and how did it develop into what it is today?

S
I remember that day so well. Actually, I had given you the catalogue for the Take Care of Your Self exhibit, which was only a few months old at the time. Speaking now makes it all feel so full circle indeed. I actually just finished reading Like a Bird—I read it in 3 days, and was eager to finish it before we spoke. I can’t wait to speak to you more about that too. It was so beautiful in so many ways. Congratulations for this work of (he)art. 

I just received the first copies of Take Care of Your Self: The Art and Cultures of Liberation. I spent the past three years writing it, and it is rooted in that exhibit, featuring the work of 20 artists whose work intersects with the concepts of care and struggle. The book is about the transformative potential of art, and how care, community and culture are intertwined in the journey towards lasting, decolonial, liberatory change. I’d say that the starting point for all my exploration of self-care was definitely through writing and illustrating Shams, my children’s book about trauma and survival, based on a little girl made of glass, named Shams. I wrote it because I needed a book like that when I experienced my own trauma(s).

It’s funny, with self-care, and my whole body of work around the practice of it, it is always rooted in my lived experiences, in the self. Recently, I have been coming back more and more to terminology and the words we use. I have started to drop the word “self” from the phrase, because I am realizing how that is really just the starting point for care. Approaching everything from the space of moving from microcosm to macrocosm, I feel like care as a concept has so many layers…

SA
I want to unpack that with you. Could I ask you for more explanation? 

S
I would say moving from my work as a visual artist to being committed to making books – a more accessible medium – I started to think much more about the idea of community. My lived experience is unique to me, but once I started thinking about how this experience can become a source of knowledge for others, it shifted my perspective from one that is centered on myself, and more about what the collective experience is, particularly for those of us who have experienced systemic injustice rooted in colonialism. I started to see the importance of changing the narrative around some of the universal experience that we have all been trying to face and heal from. Trauma is a universal experience that is at once extremely personal yet wildly relatable. Writing and illustrating Shams was my first offering in this journey. Simplifying the very heavy concepts of trauma, loss, displacement and collective suffering through a character made of glass, and the idea of putting yourself back together again after shattering is a reminder of our potential to heal.

SA
I really feel that looking at and reading your work. It’s so holistic. Studio Ananda is trying to do a similar thing, talking about healing as art — trying to expand what that means, how that looks? I feel like the more we can unlayer it the more we can heal… and I get the sense you feel similarly, which is why you wrote Shams as well as Take Care of Your Self. I was watching an interview with Michaela Coel about I May Destroy You earlier today and she was describing the feeling of being a mirror, and how honorable that work is. How noble it is to excoriate yourself to write and think about trauma and how it lives and thrives in us. What made you want to transition from making art for the market into art that is more accessible, like books? I don’t know if that’s correct… but what was the catalyst for that transition?  

S
Well, first I want to acknowledge that we – as in me and you, and our peers, our communities – and I’d say a lot of people around the world, are experiencing a pretty significant collective consciousness towards healing intergenerational trauma like never before. It’s a decolonial force. I see it, I feel it. I think the revolutions we are witnessing around the world are drawing from that energy. I think that is partly due to the stars and the planets, as we are moving into a planetary dynastic shift, and also something algorithmic, in both an ultra connected tech sense and in a spiritual sense. 

I also want to mention that I never saw myself as making art for the market. The capitalistic aspect of being an artist was never appealing to me, in fact, I was always really critical and aware of the ills of the art industry. I’ve carved out my own space as a fiercely independent artist since the very beginning of my journey. I also found a really beautiful community along the way – other artists who were engaged in the same independent practice, often working along the lines  of care and struggle. Moving into writing was very… interesting. Although I was drawing from the same creative space, and had been writing for self-expression since I was a preteen, I had never identified as a writer. Coming into that space was not easy, but because my work has always been so transmedia, writing just felt like another way to communicate intention, knowledge, and critical thought. It’s another conduit for imagination. I’ve always been obsessed with books. Books as an object, and a medium for knowledge. They are accessible, and the written word is one of the oldest media in the world. Books become legacy, they are for the future, as much as they are about our past and present. 

SA
I totally feel that presence and commitment in your work. I’m a Capricorn stellium, lol. My Saturn is in Capricorn, it’s annoying. So I feel like I really struggle between wanting to be identified with traditional forms of power while simultaneously wanting to critique them. That’s why I wondered if there was a hurdle in coming from one world to another, but you’re right — it’s sort of almost like you adapted into another medium, and it’s breathtaking. One thing that I felt immediately when reading Take Care Of Your Self is that I rarely felt seen in such specific ways… and I mean mainly in Muslim ways, I guess? There was such a relief to read lines of the Qu’ran, or an explanation of nafs. I see so much of your own consideration of Islam in my own life, and I wonder how that plays into your work and into your own conception of self care?

S
Thank you Fariha, for engaging with my work as you have. It means so much.

A little note about industry… in the beginning of my “career”, I was trying to get “accepted” by the art industry, hoping for opportunities that simply didn’t exist for a young independent Iraqi female artist. At a certain point, I realized I need to stop seeking out validation from an industry that so vividly suffered from a lack of care. Our creative industries, as they currently exist, can be so hostile, so exclusionary, and so damn colonial. They don’t reflect my community, my beautiful, rich, diverse community. That’s why I started curating my own shows, creating our own opportunities, outside of the so-called industry. The way I saw it was, if they won’t give us space or the validation to craft our own narratives, then it’s up to us to create those spaces, and if we go at it for long enough, they start watching. By then, we won’t need their validation anymore.

I felt the same way reading Like a Bird… definitely, this feeling of being seen, and narratives that I can relate to having the full space to breathe, is so rare. It’s not marginal anymore. It’s centered. And that’s the way our experiences should always be. I even stopped using the word “marginalized” or “colonized” because I feel so disconnected from the idea that we have to be labelled as secondary, inferior or compared to whiteness. By we, I mean the deeply rooted people. I think that’s the root of being empowered… not trying to share just the little bits and pieces of what makes us ancient and wise, but all of us, all of our ancestral glory.

While writing Take Care of Your Self, my friend and fellow artist/writer Suhad Khatib reminded me that my experience was worth writing about. She encouraged this idea of the book becoming an accumulation of knowledge that I had been gathering over the years. Actually, even before I was born. I chose to write about the wisdom of my ancestors, my spiritual heritage, my culture. Stories about the matriarchs in my family, and of Iraq are a well of knowledge that I wanted to share. As for the role of Islam in my life, I’d say it always reminds me to be intentional, whether its in my daily life or in my creative practice. I’m so grateful that it came through.  

SA
Thank you so much for saying that babe. Yes! I want to talk to you about Like A Bird! I can say that it’s such a lonely experience to put out this kind of level of work for me. I felt so many things as the book was coming out… and despite genuine (positive) surprises so far, I’m still processing so much grief. So much isolation. 

I want to bring this back to what you said about ancestral glory. When you access that kind of deep place it becomes a very arduous process on the soul. I feel like that’s something I try to contend with. It’s a dark thing having to retrieve a lot of my familial secrets which are all about power and sexual abuse. So much sexual abuse. There’s been such a shift I feel like in the Muslim World about the concept of abuse, and I feel like there is such a community reckoning happening when it comes to that, as well as anti-blackness. But that work is deep work, and not everybody has the capacity for it all the time. Yet, for us, we have to keep going. I don’t personally feel like I have a choice. It would actually hurt too much if I couldn’t let these things out. I really think I’d kill myself if I couldn’t. It’s dark, but true. Recently I was praying and I started to thank God for giving me writing, for showing me how to use this tool so early on. I’m trying to look at my own despair less, and maybe reorient it to see how I feel about it upside down… what if I could feel gratitude all the time for being this vessel? Rather than being upset by the burden of it?

I want to ask you who you wrote Shams for, and what did it mean to put it out into the world?

S
Thank you for sharing that vulnerability with me. Inshallah writing will always be a tool for you to dig out of the darkness into a space where you feel held. I hear you.

I think that you and I are the only people I know that put out two pretty significant bodies of work in one year, and during a pandemic, no less. The isolation is real. I was supposed to go to Palestine for the Arabic book launch of Shams the week after the global lockdown. I was really nervous about putting Shams out into the world, and having to travel for the book launches. In a way, I’m kind of relieved that I can do all that public work in the privacy of my home. 

My creative space is full of light and shadows. Reading Like a Bird, I kept thinking about how much work you have done. Not just work as a writer and creative thinker, but as a spiritual being, as a descendent of your lineage, as a survivor of trauma. It made me think of all the young people who would read your book and how it will transform in their own hands, and how these printed words become weapons, tools, wisdom for their own path. I hope that will make it feel less isolating, because books truly have this incredible transcendental power. You may never know the people who have been impacted the most by the work, but it’s enough to have put it out into the world. 

I feel exactly the same way about Shams. I wrote and illustrated Shams for the youth. For the next generation. I wanted her story to become a tool for others who need to know, innately and intuitively, that healing and survival is within us. That dark space is not always our enemy – as you and I know, we can draw much creative energy from it – but the trick is not to let it retraumatize us, or traumatize others. There is this idea of trauma sometimes leading to a point of transformation, where we literally evolve, as beings, spiritually. I think I’ll never be free of the mental or physical anguish that I experience when I’m visited by my shadow self, but if I can keep my soul, or spirit, in the presence of God — light —- and practice gratitude, even when things are absolutely terrifying, then I’ll be OK. 

Shit, that was really deep. Too deep? Haha… that’s all my pisces moon for you, and my twelfth house cluster!!!!

SA
Hahaha, babe you know I love this shit. I’m a Cancer Moon and Cancer Stellium. My Jupiter in Cancer is in the 12th house and Venus Aquarius is in the 8th house… so I’m just so happy we can go here with each other. I absolutely feel you. 

I think as you were explaining the concept of shadow self something clicked… it was all in the phrasing “I’m visited by my shadow self…” that’s so uff, it’s so real. And it also made me realize how much autonomy we really have over ourselves but how difficult it is to maintain that level of integrity with yourself at all times. I’ve been feeling that a lot. Loss of friendships when you’re living your truth and putting up boundaries is something I’ve been dealing with a lot, and it’s a painful examination to accept that standing in your truth comes with casualties. Not everybody wants to see things objectively. Ironically, for as a society that prioritizes “science” and “fact” so much I wonder why we’re ruled by such pettiness and misplaced emotionality as a species. I’m also a North Node Aquarius in the 8th House LOL. 

Ok, I don’t want to keep taking up your time, this conversation has been so healing for me actually. One last question I wanted to ask, however, is what are the active ways you take care of yourself everyday? 

S
I’m loving this conversation. And I’ve moved back inside and I’m being able to do this while my kids are playing and it feels just right. 

I’ve always been a private person, because my partner is such a public figure. I keep my circle really really tight, and since the pandemic, it’s gotten even smaller. I’m critically aware of how much and what information we consume and share on a daily basis can impact our mental health, especially on social media. I’m really close to my family, and my world revolves around my children, who are both homeschooled and at home with us. I never sent my children to daycare, either, as a personal choice because I gratefully had the choice, so my pandemic situation hasn’t been extraordinarily different than before 2020. I do my creative work at night after they sleep. I’m very much in my own little bubble, but with Shams and Take Care of Your Self I feel like I now have antennas reaching out into spaces I’ve never visited or reached before. All this to say, the active way I take care of myself every day is by protecting this sacred space of self, home, family and motherhood, and by practicing gratitude every single day, even on the hard days. More than anything, I’m still constantly learning my own boundaries again and again. One thing I’ve done for myself recently was downgrading from an iphone to an old school nokia flip phone. That has been so liberating, and has given me back a sense of agency I was extremely worried I was going to lose completely as the world becomes more connected, and more dependent on algorithms and surveillance. I want my kids to see that we don’t need to have that constant connection to exist in our daily lives.

I don’t know what else to say I think 🙂 Not sure that’s a very strong ending from me…. 

SA
I actually love this ending, because it’s just refreshing to talk about boundaries, and the need for privacy… which I deeply relate to. I don’t really like my life as a “public figure” and don’t gain much from that in a lot of ways, but there’s a certain accessibility to art making that necessitates that I keep going. Having said that, I also have a really hard time writing about trauma sometimes… and battle with people’s assumptions of me and all that wild shit where people start treating you as if you have any power… and you’re like mate I’m barely surviving, lol. I’m still broke. I’m still getting by… so this question of “caring for oneself” is just always on my mind. My therapist asked me how I care for myself last week. I realized I just work as a way to care for myself because it’s actually where I gain the most… which is kinda fucked up. I found that the pandemic made me a workaholic but I was always feeling like I was on fire and I had to transmute that into something. So it was a big surprise (but not really) to realize the reason I was exhausted is because I’m literally exhausting myself. It’s kind of ironic for a person who writes about self care and wellness so much that I’m actually constantly trying to be well, and learning how to care for myself… like I haven’t arrived anywhere.

But, maybe I’ll ask one last last question though, has there been a quote, or anything you consumed over the last few months, that pertains to self-care, that really struck you? 

S
OMG Fariha. I feel exactly the same. After submitting the final copyedits for Take Care of Your Self, I definitely went through a classic burn out. Well, it was more like burn out after burn out. Its so ironic, isn’t it? I need to get better at taking my own advice.

The other day, I was doing a pre-interview and the person described me as an “expert” on care and trauma… and I was like, NOOOOOOO!!! First, I still struggle with my own practice of self-care, being a mama to two small children. Time is a privilege I don’t have access to like that. Secondly, I am so uncomfortable with the idea of anyone being an expert, an authority figure or influencer on anything. Even the word “author” is connected to authority, authoritarian, words I really don’t connect to, in fact, I resist these ideals. For true care to exist in our society, we need to be able to practice free and critical thought, intentionality, bringing ourselves closer to our spirits and our roots to actively decolonize our care practices, our industries, and our archaic racist systems.

The interesting thing for me coming into this conversation on care as a new writer on the topic is that I don’t have that kind of huge social media following. The publishing world has shifted into publishing books mostly by people who already have thousands or millions of followers on social media. The pressure is huge. They’re trying to guarantee their sales, I get that. So, I’m an anomaly in that sense. Social media platforms, the algorithms, and the industries that rely on them… they don’t care about us as real human people. It can be so harmful to consume, and to be consumed. I even toy with the idea of completely defecting from social media, for my own self-care, which makes books, as objects, even more of an important medium. 

On the Path of Reparenting with Fatimah Asghar

SA
Fati, my love, how are you?

F
Hey boo! I’m feeling pretty tender today. I got some hard news yesterday so just sitting with that, and recalibrating a little. How are you?

SA
I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me love, I know how difficult these days are. How do you usually navigate hard news?

F
That’s a good question. It’s different news, day to day. But yesterday I cried, then I thanked the universe for the opportunity to be alive & for the joys that came from the lessons of the heartbreak & I asked the universe for permission to make more art. Then my friend and I went to the beach and I cried to the ocean. So just oscillating between grief and gratitude, and being present with what comes up. 

SA
Uff, this is so painful. I asked, also, because I know that art is so tied to survival for the both of us. To me your art evokes this lost time, lost self, a past self with such tenderness, even though I know your early life was so tragic. I don’t know if that’s the word that you would use, but I feel the same way about my own childhood… and I know that art is a way to not only make sense of these lost parts and selves, but also a way to re-imagine ourselves. Does that resonate at all?

F
Yeah that totally resonates. I think I’ve always reached for art as a way of touching through parts of myself I’ve lost or as a way to re-imagine, to create safety for myself in a world that is so unsafe. I think so much of my childhood was so tragic, though I am just getting around to even admitting that in myself, which sounds so silly. I think I often have a guard up where it’s hard for me to admit that something bad is happening, because I’m looking at the layers of the beauty in the heartbreak as well. For so long I was like “I’m an orphan yes, but there’s so much good in my childhood.” And it’s true, there was/is. But I can’t only hold that narrative and not look at the incredible heartbreak of so much of what was happening, and really look at some of the situations more clearly as an adult and just be like– wait a minute. That wasn’t right. I think only even in the last year have I been able to really even admit just how abusive certain things were in my childhood. 

SA
I was talking about this two days ago with my sister because she’s a relationship coach and is very much a toxic positive person who raised me on Marianne Williamson lol so I feel like so much of my own life was seen through this almost martyred position of, “I give more because I can” kinda bullshit which is like… so enmeshed in my system because that’s how I survived but that I doesn’t mean I didn’t suffer silently the entire time. I couldn’t accept how bad my life was because I would’ve died in all honesty. Grappling with that totality of it is so hard because you have to accept so many things that failed you. I was telling my sister that seeing this clearly actually releases you from the burden and pressure you put on yourself by not telling the truth to yourself. How do you feel now that you’re facing all the sides of your life more? 

F
I really resonate with what you’re saying. I feel so much clearer, honestly. Even being able to admit certain things to myself, to affirm certain things to myself, I noticed the ways that I was able to just release so much trapped energy that I had in my body for years. To be able to let go of things easier. And to be able to understand myself and have so much more compassion for myself (& others) in the process of doing. And just: to rest in the complication. To rest in the complicated truth that some of these ideas of ‘bad’ and ‘good’ don’t even exist, or they don’t resonate for me. Things were what they were. To not turn away from the ugly things is so powerful. To really look at that and be like, how do I not let this thing run me anymore? 

SA
Yeah, “How do I not let this thing run me anymore?” That’s so deep! Because it runs so deep. I don’t think we ever fully have answers, or come to a point of full arrival or knowing something, but as an orphan, you experienced a very unique and phenomenal human experience. I can’t imagine it was ever easy, but then, it’s like you said, there were moments of goodness or softness, of love and magic, too. But through the day-to-day, did you ever process being an orphan? Or did that come much later in life? 

F
Growing up, most stories I read were about orphans. It’s so often these things about orphans then becoming superheroes or magical or something, and so many writers gravitate towards orphaning in storytelling because it gives their characters a tragic backstory they can play off of. But then, like– most people don’t know that many orphans in real life. Most people can’t fathom the loss of one parent, let alone two. Let alone that happening when you were a child– both my parents and both sets of my grandparents had died before I was 5. I think people can abstractly understand that, but I don’t think a lot of people actually know what that feels like, or can empathize with what it means to be so unparented.  

So, a lot of my life growing up, I didn’t talk about my dead parents. I actually got really skilled at not using past tense or present tense verbs when I spoke about them to keep it a secret. There were actually a lot of high school friends I had who didn’t even know my parents were dead. It’s so painful to have to announce that all the time. I don’t even think most people realize how much of your casual conversations revolve around parents and family. It happens all the time. But it’s so painful for people who don’t have that, or people who come from an abusive family. 

It wasn’t really until I was in college and started writing poetry that I processed that. And I remember the first time that I heard someone say they were an orphan– I was in college and there was a politician who had come to speak at this conference I was at, and she said “I’m an orphan.” I literally stopped listening to anything else she said– it was the first time in my life I had ever heard someone who was in a position of power be like “I’m an orphan.” And it just always really struck with me, that feeling, that naming– what it opened inside me. 

SA
It breaks my heart on so many levels that you were in such loneliness. As you were writing I was thinking about the cultural tropes of the orphan: Bruce Wayne/Batman, Oliver Twist… I mean then we have Prophet Mohammed in Islam, who was my first awareness of an orphan, so in my mind I always considered orphans to be people who garnered strength and heart through the devastation of their experience, but I guess that in itself is so flattening. Which I’m just grappling with in myself—all the ways I flattened my own experiences, too. I guess that’s the other part about naming things, we all need to name things for so many different reasons, otherwise the miscommunication of self continues and the father we get away from our truth. I’m so honored to witness your journey to finding your roots, in multiple senses, but I really think of it more of rooting into Mother Earth… which I feel comes with knowing or understanding yourself fully dimensionally, which means ancestors, culture. I know you’ve been gathering parts of yourself through ancestral healing, how has that been? 

F
It has been so deep. Because my parents are dead and because I am not close with a lot of my blood family, I’ve always struggled a bit with thinking through my ancestry. A lot of the ways that I grapple with ancestral healing in the past is through writing. But, because my parents are dead, there’s so few things I know about them. There’s literally only a handful of stories I know about both my mom and dad. Like, 5. And not even stories, but like: facts even. There’s so much I don’t know about them, so much that’s a mystery. So writing became a way for me to be in communion or conversation with them, or at least with ideas of what they could be. It’s such a motivator to me, that heartbeat: what could they be? What were they doing? What were they thinking? I think a lot of my poetry rests in that, a lot of my novel I’m working on– which you’ve read a draft of! It’s so interesting because so few people even know anything about that project. But I’ve also been communing with them outside of art in my own ways, and that feels so beautiful. It might sound silly but I think for so long that didn’t feel like a thing that I was allowed, because they were dead, and I feel like I’m slowly building up my access points to it and them. 

SA
I’m sorry you felt like you didn’t have permission but I’m so glad you did. You are one of my favorite writers and thinkers and beings and comrades. I feel lucky to call you family. Even though we had different childhoods, you’re one of the (maybe) three friends that I feel truly get this scale of violence and neglect, because it’s so specific. To be raised without maternal/parental love creates such a hollow existence and a hollow sense of self. But, finally we’re nurturing. I just made ghee and kichadi (or in Bangla it’s kichari) for myself before we started talking and I’ve been reading The Path of Practice by Bri. Maya Tiwari (which I was talking to you about) so I’m finally getting in touch with a true ayurvedic path, and it’s been so healing to just find some way back to this lost source because it feels like I’m tapping into an old DNA. It’s hard, but I’m happy. 

I love what you said about communing with your parents, being in conversation with them. The novel you’re writing is so about that as well, about accessing this life through memory but also creating a language and vessel where they spoke through you. It was surreal to read as someone that loves you and knows you I’d say quite well (but we are all eternal mysteries too!!) because it was devastating to read in all honesty. I could just feel the pulse of your baby self and your sisters, but also you parents. This book will be a salve to so so so many. For anyone who has had a similar circumstance to you, what can you say in terms of reparenting? Do you feel like you’ve learned (again a constant mission) how to reparent yourself? 

F
Thank you my love, that means the world to me. And you have to send me your recipe for kichari! I feel so deeply seen around you too. It’s so beautiful to not have to explain pain to a friend, to be able to say something and trust that they’ll make space for it. 

I feel like I am on a journey of reparenting that is daily. And that I’m constantly learning. But it’s so many things– the closer I get to a spiritual path, the more whole I feel, the more I am able to accept parts of myself and others and also to see with clarity. I think I pray for that most: clarity. To be able to see clearly, to be able to see past my own pain, to be able to see past my own wounds, to be able to see past a love that might blind me to the situation at hand, is important. To be able to see clearly, and still live in gratitude, live in abundant love, that’s what I want most. 

I think one thing is that growing up I defaulted to this sense of — well, people are just trying the best they can. I couldn’t see anything clearly because of that. I made up so many excuses for people, to cover up horrible things. There was this rhetoric that existed in some of my extended family of, “well we took you in when we could have sent you to foster care so why are you complaining. We kept you together so you should be grateful.” And I think I was– very grateful. But that gratitude kind of transformed at the expense of myself, and a “everyone is trying as hard as they can and I should just be grateful.” Then when I actually looked at things in my childhood I was like… no. Certain people were not trying hard. This was abuse. Abuse is not an idealized form of love, or being neglected is not love, or making myself small or knowing that I can live off very little is not the love that I want. I can be grateful for the lessons some of that taught me, AND know that I am capable of building a life for myself where I can be who I am with myself without judgement, where I can learn to love myself in the ways that I wish I had been loved when I was younger, when I can feel what it feels to be secure and blanketed by love. I think that’s a life journey. 

SA
This is such a beautiful note to end on. One last thing, I want to know how you care for yourself and also what you say to baby Fati to comfort her now?

F
I think of myself a lot when I was younger and just assure her that I have her now. Me and my therapist have done some EMDR, which is a tapping/somatic technique to help reparent. And we go back into hard memories and bring new resources in. In those memories, it’s always strongest for me when I bring myself now in. I just walk in, to my younger self, and I’m like– I’m here now. I have you. You’re not alone. You are loved because I love you. I promise, I love you. I’m sorry you had to go away from me for a while. Can you come back now? Can you trust that I’ll hold you now? I’m strong enough for you, and getting stronger every day. Will you come back home to me?

And I think that’s just it: is trying to show my younger self that I’m a safe place for her to be. That I won’t abandon her again. That we, together, are capable. We can build something together, our small safeties, the ones that we didn’t have before. It’s very important to me that I build my life to show her that. To show her she can be whole and free with me. Which means, when people come into my life and they cyclically neglect me, I can’t be with them, no matter how much I love them. Because I love her more. It means when I work at institutions that are toxic and do things to destroy my personhood, where there aren’t enough boundaries between myself and them, I can’t work there anymore. Because I can’t destroy myself for a company. I can work there for a bit with boundaries because we all need to live and pay rent. But not if it gets so toxic that it’s destroying my mind and body. It’s left me with a lot of trying to make a life for myself that doesn’t fit in the standards or norms of what people think of as success. But to me, success is trying to live a life that makes space for my whole self, and for the people I love’s whole selves. I want to be seen and I want to see. Fully. I want space for my joy. I want space for my pain. I want space to be whole, in this wild world. I don’t always know what that will look like, but it’s the most important thing to me, to try.

Fatimah Asghar is a poet, filmmaker, educator and performer. Her work has appeared in many journals, including POETRY Magazine, Gulf Coast, BuzzFeed Reader, The Margins, The Offing, Academy of American Poets and many others. Her work has been featured on new outlets like PBS, NPR, Time, Teen Vogue, Huffington Post, and others. In 2011 she created a spoken word poetry group in Bosnia and Herzegovina called REFLEKS while on a Fulbright studying theater in post-genocidal countries. She is a member of the Dark Noise Collective and a Kundiman Fellow. She is the writer and co-creator of Brown Girls, an Emmy-Nominated web series that highlights friendships between women of color. In 2017 she was awarded the Ruth Lily and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation and was featured on the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list. Her debut book of poems, If They Come For Us, was released One World/ Random House, August 2018. Along with Safia Elhillo, she is the editor of Halal If You Hear Me, an anthology that celebrates Muslim writers who are also women, queer, gender nonconforming and/or trans.

Moving from Abandonment to Abundance with Marlee Grace

SA
How are you? Thank you for being here. 

M
HOW AM I 

I am good 🙂 I just did an ab workout and have been enjoying getting stronger and doing some light weight training – I think I thought exercising wasn’t cool but I am getting into it and getting stronger feels awesome! 

SA
How’s your heart?

M
My heart is ok today, a little tender. I saw a picture of my dad holding a puppy today and burst into a full sob. I feel like I really miss my family and friends in Michigan today, they feel really far away.

SA
I’m sorry <3 I know that feeling acutely. Something I feel really drawn to about you, and why I imagine one of the (many) reasons we’re so close is that there’s this inherent depth to you with regards to family. You’ve had a complicated life in many senses, and you’ve experienced extreme lows, and I think no matter who you are, if you have gone to those depths, you’ve experienced some kind of abandonment. Does that make sense to you?

M
Yes absolutely. I feel like in the past year a lot of my inner work has been around how that surfaces in my relationship to my partner. How we both come to the table having been abandoned in familial structures, and in turn abandoned ourselves. This has really shown up in my private spaces and my public writing – what does it mean to reparent ourselves, to return to ourselves, and to not abandon ourselves even when it’s the most comfortable and safest feeling thing to do.

SA
Exactly. That’s something that really moves me about your mind, how you’re thinking about these things on such a level that also makes space to move through the sadness and to arrive at a place of wisdom and healing. What was the first time you realized you had to learn how to reparent yourself?

M
You know part of me wishes this moment happened earlier in my adult life, but I really have to give my current relationship credit. I so often found partners who would just sort of give in and parent me, or I was able to get away without many consequences without parenting myself – probably a mix of privilege, luck, being in the wrong places at the right time – alas! I found Jackie, my current partner – who shows up to the table demanding a really different energy in partnership. I won’t tell her story here but let’s say she uses words like “I need a partner who is strong and shows up and I can trust” and what that means to us is I have to build trust in myself with my actions, which requires me to reparent myself! WOOF! SO yah right about 2 years ago I really dug in.

SA
I mean so many people don’t ever make this kind of commitment to oneself, so really fucking applaud you babe. I think we’ve had similar timelines with the reparenting. For me it didn’t really start until I stopped talking to my mother just over two years ago. So for me, it’s a very specific parental grief that I’m reparenting, but I also know that I’ve known I had to do this for a long time. Long before I actually stopped talking to my mother I realized, for my sake, I had to take these certain steps to safeguard myself. 

I’m proud of both Jackie and you for taking such a leap into intentionality. Most of my relationships (if not all, sadly) were so aesthetic to a certain degree that that kind of vulnerability wasn’t there. What’s been the hardest part of this journey for you? 

M
I think the hardest part of the journey like you mentioned is accessing that grief. As a dancer I can really be such a performer sometimes, sort of performing my way through feelings. So part of the journey has had to be really FEELING the feelings, the ugly and scary ones. I think for me being in a relationship with my parents requires this interesting both/and space – of finding out how to be in the right relationship with them that isn’t codependent AND grieve what I didn’t get from them, or still don’t get from them. That’s still hard for me to hold – grieving someone you are IN relationship to. 

SA
Yeah, wow. You touched on something that I’m now trying to figure out with my dad… like what happens when a parent sometimes just fails you? Or accidentally betrays you? It’s hard because I really, really understand what he was going through, how difficult it must have been with two young kids and a mentally ill, abusive partner who is constantly trying to harm the kids. He never intervened. Ok, once, when my mother (trigger warning) pulled a knife on us. But that was it. And now I look back, and really, with the aid of my therapist, I’ve begun to understand that he really did fail me. And that’s OK, I can say that. I love him, and he’s actually such a good person and friend to me, but as a dad he’s had his shortcomings. 

How do you navigate these nuances in your own life? 

M
Yes to everything you wrote, this story lives inside of my bones and feels very ancestral to me. Like it started so far before me which makes me think of how the tools aren’t there for our parents. Today I was meditating and it struck me that I am about to turn the same age my mom was when her dad (who she was very close to) died. And I was like … whoa… if my dad (who I am extremely close with) died this year (which hell who knows when we’re all gonna die!) that would be really fucking difficult AND it’s absurd how many tools and people and programs I have to walk through something like that. Tools neither of my parents had when their parents died at young ages. So I try to hold that fact as part of navigating the nuance – like YES these people have their shortcomings or really didn’t show up in certain ways, AND they just simply didn’t have the tools. 

SA
How do you navigate ideas of their death when they’re far away? Is this something you’ve been thinking about during this pandemic? I have always thought about my dad dying, like a recurring nightmare. And even this week I was at my altar and I was just accepting that I know he will die like one day, lol. And I just don’t know what to do with that. It’s fucking painful. 

M
Of course you have that dream because I’ve had that dream since I was a very small child. It’s the same every time I am in a cherry market – no idea what a cherry market is. It’s like a farmers market filled with cherries. Anyways my dad always gets stabbed or shot and I can’t save him. I actually had a similar dream about my ex husband John recently where I tried to jump in front of someone who was about to stab him and woke up yelling and clutching my side. 

There’s something about both these people, maybe watery scorpio men who love me haha?! Who I just cannot imagine surviving their deaths AND have gotten to a similar place, especially with my parents. I mean at almost 33 I do feel really lucky I have had them this long when a lot of my closest people have lost one or both parents. I think especially for me as an American and  white person without a connection to a lineage or culture we just don’t really have tools for death, rituals for death, celebrations for death so it just feels …. Fucking scary. Jackie loves to remind me “we’re all gonna die” and feels so unafraid of death – probably because she has an intimate relationship with it affecting her – but yah! WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE

SA
Some really dramatic Spanish guitar just played as you wrote that. I felt like I was in an Almodovar film or some shit.

M
WAIT CAN U HEAR MY HEADPHONES. I’m confused. I was …… literally just listening to spanish guitar sounding brainspotting music. AND THE DREAM IS IN MEXICO, in the cherry market. Which I didn’t mention cuz felt weird and i’ve never been there. ANYWAYS OK WTF

SA
We’re always in sync! I love it. We are all going to die. It feels easy to say that but then to think it is just another process, but you’re right, there’s no death rituals I was taught (really, outisde of the one prayer you say as a Muslim when someone dies) and I feel angry about that. I think so much of my medicine work is about learning how to die and confronting (and also ayahuasca is called the vine of death) so whenever I sit with these medicines I feel immensely grateful that they’ve created portals for us to understand how to shift… but as people who are reparenting, what have you gravitated toward (rituals, books, podcasts) that have helped you on this journey?

M
I mean my biggest tool that I always try to sort of adhere to the anonymous traditions of would be 12 step programs <3 The tools and community there has taught me almost everything I know about reparenting, being in relationship to spirit, and trusting myself and others. 

My altar and journaling practice is really important to me, I journal every morning and pray. I pull my cards and light my candles. As you know, I’m always talking to God. The god of my understanding or the god of my not understanding you could say. Spirit of the universe, great divine, whatever it wants to be called today. Clouds, I really do that because otherwise my brain is ME TALKING TO ME and that’s not really a space I need to be in because me talking to me can start to get mean. 

And I love my comedy podcasts lol. Which isn’t reparenting specific it just keeps me joyful and laugh at myself and not take myself so seriously my favorites are Las Culturistas and Seek Treatment 

SA
What would you say to someone who never found a reflection of this before, but is starting to maybe come to terms with their early life, and maybe seeing how perhaps their parents didn’t fully look after them? What would you say to that person—who potentially feels scared to take certain leaps of even just accepting this new reality? 

M
Thank you for asking me these questions – first to anyone reading : it’s scary for me to answer them! So the first thing I would say is – do the scary thing, you will be held and you are not alone. Don’t wait to not feel scared to begin your journey.

Also consider looking for a book on being an adult child of an alcoholic – even if your parents don’t have a problem with alcohol specifically, it’s sort of like “adult child of a chaos parent” – I have found a lot of the language in that healing corner of the world to help me understand some of my own behaviors and what’s been passed on to me through many generations

And find writers and artists who continue to reflect this back to you in THEIR ART! This is why we need art. Read Fariha’s novel 😉 Find other books and writers and painters and quilters who are telling stories with their art – that is the other place I heal it can’t all be therapy and rituals and programs it also has to be beautiful and pleasurable and be in what I like to look at and consume

SA
I love this. Thank you for the shoutout my love. 

Last question, how do you care for yourself?

M
Caring for myself has really changed what it looks like in the past few years. I have no problem caring for myself in the ways of like : I take a lot of baths, love to nap, love to masturbate, love to put on a face mask, love to buy my favorite candles, love to dress hot, love to stretch, love to walk outside

Lately though (and now circling back) Caring for myself has meant esteemable acts and building trust in myself, like the reparenting kind of caring. Which for me has been a lot around money – paying off debt, getting solvent with the IRS, having money goals, putting aside under-earning and accepting abundance. Oh and trying to cook which I’m not good at lol

Marlee Grace is a dancer and writer whose work focuses on the self, devotion, ritual, creativity, and art making. Her practice is rooted in improvisation as a compositional form that takes shape in movement videos, books, quilting, online courses, and hosting artists. Grace’s Instagram dance project Personal Practice has been featured in the New York Times, Dance Magazine, Vanity Fair, The Huffington Post, and more.

 

The Somatics of Healing the Mother Wound with Romy Cole-Groth

R
Hi! 

I’m in heaven, I have rainforest sounds, my wheatpack at my feet.. Watermelon and tea 

SA
Ahhh! Good, I’m glad you’re cozy. How are you feeling?

R
Actually feeling pretty good, I’m excited to talk!! 

SA
I’m excited to talk to you as well. You reached out to me yesterday to ask me how I was feeling about Mother’s Day and that meant so much to me. How does your heart feel?

R
I’m happy? In a weird way, that I could be there to check in on a day as confusing and conflicting as mums day you know. I’m feeling better after mums day – the whole thing was kinda tense, I went away with my family to Jervis Bay but being away from home with family dynamics was a lot and made me pretty anxious. 

SA
I actually texted my mum yesterday cos I felt, guilty? Which I’m working through. But how do you navigate that tension? Do you find you have to be really firm with your boundaries when you’re around family + are they receptive to them?

R
Hmm, I can totally resonate with the guilt. I would feel really guilty if I were in your position; not because you should be – but because those obligations to family are… historic? Like of course you would still feel the need or requirement to be there; and of course, you love her. I think it’s testament to your love and not your response to guilt that you connected with your mum despite your conditions you all negotiated to create a better relationship. You know, that’s holistic; to be flexible and not regimented. With my family — everyone wants a piece of me lmao. I’m very adored, but it’s because I’ve been placed in this role of being the ‘fun,’ ‘affectionate,’ sibling, aunty, daughter, sister-in-law. So I’ve practised protecting my energy and my time.. By being more attuned to when I’m needed for ‘fun’ and ‘affection’. And that’s the difficulty in family dynamics right? We often find ourselves pinned down by characteristics that we outgrow or that aren’t our whole selves. Boundaries are constantly re-negotiated and my sister relies on me a lot to be there for her and my nephew, Joey, so it’s something I’ve focused on since becoming an aunty — and the change in boundaries when you become a caretaker, mother figure. 

SA
It takes a lot to know when you’re playing a role and performing instead of showing up fully as yourself around family. 

That’s so interesting that you mention how your boundaries, and maybe even, conception of Self in relation to family, changed when you became a caretaker for your nephew. I felt the same shifts when I became an aunty eight years ago. It’s when I first truly became depressed because I was seeing so many patterns being passed down. Has being a caretaker for Joey changed what you once perceived to be ‘motherhood’?

R
That’s really comforting to hear in an odd way—in terms of you noticing a shift and even going through depression, because that’s what I’ve been experiencing since Joey’s birth. It’s hard to witness and be a part of the sacrifice women or anyone who is placed in a caretaker role absorb. I’ve had evenings where I’m exhausted and just cry, because being maternal… is this tremendous emotional energy; someone else is your entire focal point. And I am already intuitively involved in children? If that makes sense… I really appreciate their spirit and I put a lot of my energy into resonating with them + then the role of being a mother figure just.. It’s another level. Sadly, it’s made me realise my own mother is not maternal at all and that’s been a shock, it’s mainly been revealing at how my own mum mothered me. 

SA
I feel like you and I have so many similar reckonings in the relationships that we have with our families. Because, yes, being able to relate to my youngest nephew who is neurodivergent is what really forced me into tending to my own motherwound. It’s such a tricky space to be in, when you’re reparenting yourself and also, in many ways, parenting your nephews + nieces. How do you handle the shock that comes with that realisation towards your mother?

R
I’ve said it before and I’m sure it won’t be the last time I say it. Our similarities are spooky. I honestly just take time to witness this wound. There’s also so much anger, grief and I’m sure layered resentment. It’s used a lot but I need to constantly check in that I’m being compassionate with myself – extending that compassion to my mum and her negligent parenting is a lot harder. The most efficient, yeah odd word to use here – but the most reliable tactic in not spiralling when I am exhausted from being an aunty to Joey and also healing my own motherwound is noting when I feel that wound, the exact time, what is happening, how do I feel in my body; have I felt it before, is it moving? To just draw attention to my body helps me resolve the heaviness and friction of shock. Does that make sense, I feel like I’m speaking garbled goop but I know you get me hehe.

SA
You’re making SO much sense to me. The somatics of healing the motherwound is sooooo intriguing to me. And here, I’m also thinking a bit about how you and I both live with chronic pain that affects our reproductive systems. Healing and navigating my vaginismus really became something that felt very ancestral to me, healing through the generations of trauma women in my maternal lineage felt. Do you ever think about that in relation to your endometriosis?

R
Okay, firstly, it’s wild how this is all resonating with me. What just popped up into my head was that video I sent to you that my friend Jess made for me where you cup your tailbone and meditate; and that is such a protective.. Nestled space where we once had a tail, if we were in pain it would be between our legs. Just thinking about ancestry and the somatics of healing the motherwound. When I think about cupping my tailbone my pelvic floor melts like butter on a pancake .. (haha). Yes, I think about the women before me every day. I thought about a particular woman on my maternal side who would always complain of pain and that she would ‘relentlessly’ be plagued and express the pain she had during periods. It’s something that I feel very deeply in my heart, that this endometriosis tissue has manifested in me; but didn’t begin with me. Usually when I think of these women before us, I think about the men that didn’t prioritise or acknowledge/believe female pain. I think of history a lot when it comes to my endometriosis. It all feels really historic, because if women were accounted for in medicine, our reproductive and sexual health would have adequate treatment and diagnosis.

SA
I once read something on intergenerational trauma that said, ‘If it’s hysterical, it’s historical.’ Totally, the reason the patriarchy has persisted, and why even misogyny exists in every single corner of the universe, is because people haven’t healed from their motherwound. From the deep abandonment they once felt as children, and then project that into institutions as adults… It’s daunting to think about but clarifies so much for me.

Have you noticed changes in the way you are in your body since you began reparenting?

R
Hmm I feel that culture of motherwound in institutions very deeply here in Australia :/ My pelvic floor I feel holds a lot of resentment and shame. I’m really working on shame, it’s one I forget about easily because I’m so used to being ‘ashamed’ of myself. Not of anything in particular but just an inherent need to feel shame. And I feel that in the delicate parts of me like my wrists and although my pelvic floor isnt delicate I feel a lot of stored resentment there. I think the pelvis is so powerful – but I think I have layers of anger, shame and resentment there. I do a lot of hip openers and stretches, it sounds SO basic, but those small measures of physical therapy release a lot of tension for me. Both emotional and physical tension. 

SA
I have to remind myself constantly that the pelvis is part of the psoas muscle which is our emotional center. And then, that emotional tension you’re releasing, I think about the sacral chakra, which is located above the pelvis and is all about sexual healing and creatively expressing. It just makes so much sense that our womb area has such kinetic energy that is potent and passed down. And it really warms my heart to know that despite all the pain, you’re able to access that healing through your body. Just thinking about how when we’re in the womb, we’re attached through the umbilical cord that’s located around this chakra and the psoas, it’s really moving to finally have the understanding, the language, and also the connection with women like you who understand how important this work is. Thank you.

Ok, I don’t want to take up too much of your time, maybe to end can you tell me a couple of things that you have been turning to lately to keep you grounded and help you come back to your body?

R
God, yes!!! I am. In love with the pelvis hahaha. I feel so rooted in it; it feels like this (sometimes, painful) but magical cave I have within me. I wish there was less mystique to it – although I love mysticism. The unknowns of the pelvis again comes down to medical preferential treatment of cis-men. Grounding for me right now revolves around paying less attention to other people, I had that brief hiatus from IG and it allowed me to only pay attention to myself or to friends through text. Simplifying my routine is a necessity for me right now – and that involves being honest with myself to what I can commit to; and not feeling shame about committing to my health. Or, rather, feeling the shame I feel and acknowledging it as a pattern of neglecting the needs of my body. Another realisation through re-parenting has been taking a departure from friendships that were formed from old narratives of myself. I’m bewildered and fascinated by how your body feels once you say good-bye to people. 

Romy Cole-Groth is an abstract painter based in Sydney. Rendered in soft pastels and metallic paints, acrylic ink and marker pen, her gestural, expressive abstract paintings are a record of the artist’s research into shape and colour; an instinctive, spontaneous exploration of an innate visual language.

Her work is concerned primarily with a consideration for colour – or at least the impression of colour – and its synchronicity.

Romy’s work is then involved in articulating the loosely narrated stories that are purely visual. These stories are impressions of her close interpersonal relationships and their moments of intimacy, love and sharing.

Healing As Future Ancestors with Jamila Reddy

SA
Hi Jamila.

J
Hello!

SA
I wanted to start by asking you, what does holistically healing through a revolution mean to you?

J
Well, first of all, I want to acknowledge that we’re always in a revolution. Whether that be socially, politically, or within the inside of our lives. So it’s a beautiful question because as people who are always evolving, we need to figure out what is required for us to be well and to function at our best. So, to answer your question, holistically healing through a revolution means to pay attention to every part of yourself — your mind, your heart, your body, your soul — and respond to what these parts are asking of you. Holistically healing is about allowing Yourself the space to prioritize thriving across the multi-dimensional parts of you. 

SA
Mm I love that. On your podcast, Deliberate & Doing it Afraid, you have an episode that speaks to preparing oneself for, what you call the ‘grief olympics’ … which is a season of hardship, a valley. How can one know they are approaching this period in order to prepare for it?

J
If you are alive right now, know that you are approaching a season of hardship. That season could be years away, but it is inevitable. Grief, pain, loss, death – they are inevitable parts of the human experience. None of us are exempt. Knowing that this is an unavoidable part of what it means to be alive, there are things we can do to be able to navigate those moments with a sense of agency and empowerment. Hard times will knock us down, and we can equip ourselves with practices and perspectives that help us get back up. We prepare ourselves for grief by prioritizing joy. And ease, pleasure. Connection. These things enrich our lives so much so that when they feel far away during periods of grief, we find hope in knowing that they are possible. I think emotional intelligence is a muscle that can be strengthened over time. When I say emotional intelligence, I mean your ability to first feel your feelings — to recognize when you you’re having an emotional response and to be aware of how it manifests in the body —  and then your ability to name the feeling, be with the feeling, and then release it or transform it. A lot of people are so busy avoiding feeling their feelings that they never get to experience the beautiful process of an emotion. I think we prepare for grief by engaging in this process as often as possible. So that we know what to do with grief when it comes. 

SA
Do you think that avoidance of feelings is always intentional? Considering we, in the modern world, live in these systems that are built to distract us from healing, it often feels that only those of us who have the privileges to heal, can heal. Do you think it’s a tactic to not teach things like emotional intelligence to young children, through our educational system? 

J
I don’t think that avoidance of feelings is always intentional. As children we learn how to behave based on the adults in our lives. If we practice a behavior often enough, it becomes a habit. And when things become habitual, they often happen on autopilot. Which means that we are acting from our subconscious mind instead of our conscious awareness. A major part of healing is waking up. Moving from subconscious programming to conscious, empowered choice. I think it’s a tactic of the system to convince people that healing is something that belongs to only a few people. If we don’t believe that healing is available to us, we’ll never pursue it.  I think a lot of people have been programmed, or trained, to avoid our feelings. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that feelings are major motivators. I like to think of feelings as teachers. As Master Guides. They inform what is important to us, they inform what our body needs, they inform our decision to make changes in our experience.  People who are connected with their feelings are empowered to respond to them — and to create the conditions externally that would support how they want to feel internally. Feelings create space for empowered choice. And, the last thing I’ll say about this, is that I think we are moving into a new Earth where children are learning emotional intelligence. I want to affirm and acknowledge that the culture is already changing. We are experiencing a mass Awakening, and the children are of course a part of that. Children now are growing up with adults like me, with resources that weren’t available even 20 years ago. I acknowledge this because I like to keep my eye on the vision, instead of the problem. If I’m going to put my powerful energy behind a thought, it has to be a thought that I want to manifest.

SA
Feelings as master guides is a very moving image. I found that one of the biggest reparenting lessons for me is in fact to connect with my heart centre instead of operating from my mind. I only just began this journey recently, I’m 25 now and I am becoming more and more aware of how necessary it is to yes – really nurture that loving space of tenderness with oneself that goes beyond the contemporary culture of wellness. 

How do you think about reparenting as ancestral work?

J
I love that. Connecting with the heart center instead of operating from the mind. It changes everything. Also I want to acknowledge that you did not begin this journey recently, it began when you came into the world and I am sure you have been asking these big questions for a very long time. 🙂 I think reparenting as ancestral work means that our healing happens in all directions. I believe that when we heal, we create healing for those who came before us and those who come after. I like to think of myself as a future ancestor. Whether or not I have biological children, one day I will be an ancestor. And I want to live a life that becomes an example of possibility for the people who come after me. So every cause I make for the sake of my growth, healing, expansion – is also a cause that I am making for  the people who will be here long after I’m gone. I want to be a model for what is available. I think that people often don’t pursue something they’ve never seen. It makes sense. It’s like going into a restaurant and being handed a blank menu. What would you order? I want to fill out the pages, so to speak. I want people to be able to look at my life — to look at the ways I’ve transformed myself and my life for the better — and say, “I can do that.”

SA
Right. And I think about how, if we all moved with a knowing that each of us has a soul, that each of us are holding an infinite amount of consciousness, that could really shift so much of how we connect to ourselves and each other. I wonder if the work of reparenting can seem more tedious for those of us who may not be directly engaged or involved or even interested in our lineage? And maybe, what does it mean to be people who are displaced and reparenting as a way to build forward?

J
I definitely think the work of reparenting is more tedious for some people than others. I think that anything you do without willingness is tedious. That’s what’s so powerful about acceptance and surrender. Reparenting is going to be a wildly uncomfortable experience sometimes. It’s not going to feel like you’re taking your inner child to the playground. So I think doing that work is the most useful when we hold space for the discomfort of it. Reparenting is a way to build forward because so much of what we learned and experienced as children is running our lives. So many people get stuck in a belief or a narrative or behavior that they inherited at a very young age. Going back and engaging with the childhood part of your spirit can create an opening — Can create new possibilities and pathways. When we are able to release those mental/behavioral blocks that are holding us back, we’re able to move freely towards the life we really want.

SA
How did you come to this work, yourself?

J
As a kid, I was very encouraged to be curious. I was encouraged to ask questions and to engage my critical thinking mind. I have always been wildly curious about the human experience and – why people do what they do, what motivates our choices, and most importantly, how do we move through this life in a way that enables us to experience the maximum amount of ease, Joy, Wellness, pleasure. This is my life’s central question. How do we have the best Human Experience possible? So asking this question for myself set me up to be able to share what I found with other people. I believe that because I share wisdom that comes to me, it continues to come to me. I understand that I am a channel and a vessel for wisdom, so I make myself available for it, and then do my best to put it into language so that other people can experience the benefits of that wisdom in their lives. 

I don’t know if I answered your question! 

SA
I think you answered a question with a very important question – how can we have the best human experience possible! That’s so powerful. To be constantly asking yourself, in every decision that you make, am I showing up for myself. And I think, even the title of your podcast, Deliberate & Doing It Afraid, really resonated with me when I stumbled upon it because – initially, having the best human experience possible, for me at least, was choosing to be counterintuitive with my decisions & also, in some cases, isolating myself. And here I’m speaking specifically to the distance I need from my own parents in order to reparent. So I wonder if you have any thoughts about the inner conflict some of us experience on the need to separate ourselves, with boundaries, from our maternal parents. I’ve observed that the ‘no contact’ phase some of us need to go through can be so isolating yet integral for stagnant energy to move forward. 

J
I’ll start by saying that everyone is their own expert. Everybody has a different journey and a different truth, so there’s no one-size-fits-all to any form of healing. I think it takes a lot of practice and skill to be able to hear your intuition. To be able to hear the voice of that wise teacher that lives inside each of us. So, I think it’s important that each of us know that nobody can tell us what’s best for us, except us. Now, to answer your question, it is inevitable that dynamics are going to change in our relationships whenever we grow and evolve. These changes can evoke a lot of grief. Even though they are for the best, any type of change is a loss. You lose the person you were before; you lose the ways you used to engage with people and move through the world. So there’s going to be grief. It’s a natural response to change. It can be really painful to experience the breakdown or evolution of a friendship or a relationship with our parents, even if we initiated the changes. Even if the changes are for our highest good! I think it’s important to remember that just because it feels painful to let something go, does not mean that we should hold on to it. We are allowed —  in any moment — to choose the course of action that is best for us. And there are going to be a lot of uncomfortable feelings that arise from that. But, in my experience, the more I practice during the temporary discomfort of change, the easier it becomes for me to initiate it when I know it’s what’s required for my growth. 

SA
I really needed to hear that today. Before we come to an end, can you talk me through a couple of your grounding practices that have been helpful for you over the past few weeks?

J
With pleasure. A new practice that has been super helpful for me recently is energy clearing. I recently completed a 6 weeks course called Energy is Currency, led by Maryam Hasnaa and Kenneth Jover,  and I learned about the process of clearing energy from your aura, or energetic field. The process involves feeling into your own energy, noticing if it feels dense, or heavy or stuck or blocked, or  if you are carrying energy that does not belong to you (like ancestral energy, collective energy, familial energy, the energy of the people you spend time with, etc) .  It’s helpful for me as a big feelings feeler and I highly sensitive person 2 notice when I have picked up someone else’s energy. Now, I’m able to notice when my energy has shifted, and died myself through a process of releasing an authentic energy and calling my energy back to myself. 

Beyond that, Meditation is one of my favorite grounding practices. The breath is such a powerful tool. I feel like breath is a bridge. It’s the path from one state or experience to another state or experience.  A simple deep breath can truly transform your reality.

Jamila Reddy (she/they) is a lifestyle designer and empowerment coach passionate about helping people become conscious creators of their lives. Through coaching, courses, guided meditations, and their podcast, “Deliberate and Doing it Afraid,” Jamila supports leaders, creatives, and entrepreneurs as they do the work to transform, stand in their power, and become fully who they are. Her practice is informed by traditions of meditation, sacred movement, breathwork, energy work, and plant medicine Jamila has spoken and written for TedX, The Loveland Foundation, Afropunk, Ethel’s Club, Greatist, The Body is Not An Apology, and Shine. Learn more at jamilareddy.me, or follow Jamila on Instagram @jamilareddy.

Discovering the Inner Mother Wound with Bethany Webster

SA
You’ve written this incredible book called Discovering the Inner Mother and you’ve been doing so much research, well individual research on yourself for upwards of 20 years it seems, is that correct?

B
Yeah, I think it’s been 24 years now. Dedicated time. Its crazy

SA
It’s crazy because I actually really relate to you in that sense, I think there are actually a lot of parallels between our stories, and that’s another thing, I’m just so moved that I get to connect with you about it all. How are you today?

B
Ahh thank you for asking. I’m kinda in this dreamy space today. I don’t know if it’s because of Jupiter in Pisces or what’s happening, but I just kinda came off of a lot of teaching, so I’m kinda feeling this combination of exhaustion but such powerful inspiration. My book just came out in Russian recently.

SA
Wow

B
And I’ve just been doing research on all these things like Pussy Riot and all the things that are happening in Russia right now. I’m really moved by it. Russia was the first country that wanted a translation of my book because women there have it pretty rough, with domestic violence recently becoming decriminalized. And its illegal to be, well I’m not sure if its illegal, but it’s very unsafe to be openly LGBTQ so I’m really moved by the fact that women in Russia are gonna get access to this book because it’s really about how to dismantle patriarchy within ourselves and the insidious ways patriarchy gets passed down from mother to daughter and the ways we learn to oppress ourselves and oppress one another. So I’m feeling really honored and happy and also sad, a mix of emotions, but I’m feeling really connected with myself and the world and what’s happening. So I’m really excited to talk to you today from this place.

SA
What a beautiful answer. I mean we’re all existing in this hyper liminal space right now. And it’s exactly what you just said about being able to hold the multiple dimensions of this very complex time and all the things, every single day, in this sort of rapid shift of emotion too, and then to put out, I imagine, a life’s work, out into the world during a pandemic, and having to both sit with the pride, I imagine of doing this, though I wonder if that’s a very complex feeling. 

I put out a book after 18 years of working on it last year, also during a pandemic, and so, no one was really asking about the grief that i was feeling, and I wonder if that’s something that you’ve been feeling as well, you know this is not an easy book to write, nor is it to live, and to synthesize all of these things and then, as you just said, having to contend with the different worlds that women exists in to this day in different countries and the access to what they have and what knowledge they can seek and all of that is so boundaried in the way it isn’t for us. So I guess there are a lot of complex feelings and then of course also youre talking about the mother wound, and you’re talking about something that is so visceral a feeling, that for me personally, is very tied to war. And a sense of worthlessness. So i’m wondering, in a broad sense how have you been feeling now that this book is out?

B
Yeah thank you so much for voicing all that, voicing that there is so much complexity there to hold and it feels exhilarating because it has this joy and deep extenstinstenal kind of grief, there is this sense of wow, this is what it means to really be alive and feel it all. Which feels like a victory for me because so many of us grow up with our worth being contingent upon our ability to suppress ourselves. And to self-abandon as a way to survive. So it’s redefining my relationship to my emotions. Which I think is the biggest thing I’m proud of. Even beyond the book and finishing it, it was such a massive birth process which I’m sure you know. 

Despite that conditioning and the pressures to be complicit with my own self-abandonment, I’ve managed over time with support to create a new default which feels increasingly more default by the day. Learning how to lean into the discomfort, the mess of it, and finding again and again treasures there. Reclaiming and pivoting towards the self rather than away from it. Every time I do that, it feels like a win. So the book is the product of fighting for myself, fighting for my own life, and yeah, I feel like no matter what happens with it, I’m really happy with where I’m at now with my life. I feel really grateful for all the support that I’ve had from various people, and people I’ve met, people I haven’t met. You know, books I’ve read, people, random strangers even. And also the close people. So there’s so much there, and it’s been so worth it, I think you know. 

SA
This reminds me of a paragraph in your book. I’m actually gonna read it outloud, it just struck me so hard and I’ve been thinking about it all week:

“What constitutes a harmonious relationship with an authoritarian mother will also involve some loss of self. This is because this style is inherently disinvested in cooperation and mutual growth. Mutuality is actually seen as a defeat and loss of power for mothers of this style. What makes it even more confusing is that the mother can unpredictably take on an authoritarian tone when she is triggered and sometimes, when in a more positive mood, comes from a place of mutuality which the child cannot predict. This results in an intermittent reinforcer, the most powerful form of reinforcement in which the mother is sometimes empathic and loving, but when triggered, becomes controlling, hostile, or cunning. This constantly shifting dynamic keeps the child on a`never ending rollercoaster of emotions and fosters a sense of instability within her.”

And I wanted to say that because i think it’s really important for people who are reading or listening to this interview, or even just as an archive, to start here. A place where people are able to understand this context youre talking about. This sense of abandonment and loss of our mothers. I think for me it was very much understanding the mapping of my own body, and really sort of tracking disease, tracking my lack of wellness, I was very unwell kid, constantly having allergies, being sick, I have IBS, I was always navigating these parameters of being very very uncomfortable in my own body. And I think that at a certain point, I couldn’t look away anymore. My journey also started with an abortion at 19…

B
Really??

SA
Yeah. So when I read that in your book I was like holy crap. Like you, I was a very good girl, and that’s how I still function. I’m a very good girl, I’m a very good person, I’m a perfectionist, I like being very kind to people. I’m very nurturing, caring, and I got the same sense in reading you, this articulation that I really felt so alien my whole life, because I have, time and time again, felt very naïve in social settings because I am “good” and I find most people don’t prioritize that. 

It seems you had this aesthetically perfect family. And so it was easier to play that role. I don’t  know, I would love to hear about it, then the transformation that came from that, and the sort of unfolding it’s very relatable and the fact that you’re doing it just so moving to me. But yeah, talk to me a little about your childhood.

B
Yeah totally, um, so I thought that I had a normal childhood for like you know, for my whole childhood, it wasn’t until, at 19, when things started to fall apart and I started to discover more, but yeah, I didn’t realize, but what had happened was, my parents got together, they were like childhood sweethearts, so they both came from really troubled families, my dad was from an Irish-american family, very working class. A lot of alcoholism and illness there and then my mother’s side was a little more well-off and so they got together basically to escape their families and then they had children young, and then they never did any work on themselves, they were just like ‘I hope we don’t fuck up our kids’ you know, bu that was the extent. but then they both struggled with their own traumas, and alcoholism and things and I mean there’s all sorts of things that happened, and they were very unconscious about it. So I was a perceptive sensitive child and I think I just fell into that role of a family buffer and sponge. I was in a lot of fear. And I realized something that I’m really excited about thinking about more was that my mind became my mother. I had this voice inside of my head, in fear of being a mother, so I was just hyper vigilant, and I would just be on top of everything, because it felt like nobody was at the wheel. I became the mother hen, like trying to hold my own psyche together, and that’s just how I survived, and that was reinforced by my parents who were very much wounded children in adult bodies. So they of course benefited and were falling into that, so they reinforced that role for me, and I thought that was normal and natural. 

I definitely thought of myself as a very kind, loving, generous, giving person. But inside of that mask, I was terrified basically all the time. I’m a Cancer, so I’m very much loving nurturing humans, by nature, but I wanna rinse that true nature of these oppressive, you know, dynamics, because, to be truly loving can’t be authentic if it’s just a knee jerk reaction to fear. So I’m interested in learning more about this part of myself, how do I embody that in a truly authentic way. And I think for me, the whole journey of discovering my true self underneath all these layers of accumulated patterns of things, from patriarchy and my own family, I developed a hunger around that 19. Around that 19 years old, early 20s, there was this hunger for something real. I started to see that the mask I was wearing was useful, and helpful, in one way, but that I was dying inside of that. 

That was not real. I started to really hunger for like, what is real? No matter what that cost is. And I think that’s been a lifeline for me, just trusting that, and I think in all the years of my life, just following the intuition of what feels right, what feels true, and following through on that, just like a cell following that path of warmth, you know, just intuitively going towards what feels real and what doesn’t feel real and learning to pivot towards that, even when all the other goodies appear to be around the fake and the false, and that kind of false nourishment.

SA
Not having listened to yourself for 19 years, what made you shift?

B
I think it was when I was a freshman in highschool, I could finally be out of the house. So I was able to escape, and so I basically was not home much my entire highschool life, and I was lucky because I found a community of artists and writers and you know, older people in my community really creative people, and there was a really vibrant art scene and I basically hung out with them. Like skateboarders and graffiti artists, and things, and I was able to flourish a bit. And I rebelled. And that rebellion really helped me and I’m actually right now, I’m befriending this protector part of my psyche who has combat boots and doesn’t listen to people. Someone who has their own opinion and says fuck off. and I think she helped me, and it’s really interesting because that was also a defense against the traumas. She did bond with the oppressors, so there’s a part of her that still believes in that complicity and conformity, by kind of feeding me the narratives of my childhood as the true route to my safety. So I’m working on that part of myself to really help direct her rebellion to the true place it needs to be. You know, instead of repeating the narratives of my childhood. My mother had a sadistic side, so there was a part of her that really got off on seeing me suffer. So I do have the ability to run a tape in my head that goes, you’re alone, you’re gonna die a bag lady, no one really likes you, these are things she would say to me. And sometimes if I’m in a fearful place, those records will start to spin, so that protector part of me was trying to protect the really young part of me, because there were no adults to. So I’m working with that part to see, to direct those combat boots towards, you know, the fear, rather than repeating the fear. So I think just generally, helping to have that space to get away, to be a teenager, helped me to see theres other ways of being, there’s power in vitality, in being different, and saying no, and I did get some support as a teenager that helped me kinda feel that visceral feeling of I’m safe when I protect myself. so… I have that side as well as the good girl, so that was kind of a saving grace.

This is the first part of our conversation with Bethany Webster, the second will be coming via our new podcast. 

In early 2014 Bethany Webster published an article entitled “Why it’s Crucial for Women to Heal the Mother Wound” based on a body of work she had been developing in isolation over the course of 15 years. Overnight, the article went viral as women around the world shared it on social media, discussed it with their friends, and began referencing it in new blogs and podcasts. Since then, Bethany has built a global community of thoughtful women who are committed to ushering in a new, internally-driven era of feminism.

Bethany Webster, Mother Wound expert, is the author of the book entitled: “Discovering the Inner Mother: A Guide to Healing the Mother Wound and Claiming your Power,” that was recently published by William Morrow on January 5th, 2021. Bethany speaks, consults, and mentors around the world, sharing her growing body of work that is raising the standard of women’s leadership and personal development.