Rhythm Connection with Jay Daniel

SA
I’m really so grateful to be sharing this space with you today. How are you feeling? Can you describe your mind/body/spirit today?

J
I’m feeling great 🙂 the weather is opening back up. & I’ve been in a really creative headspace which is good.

I’m glad you hit me up about this because I’ve been wanting to discuss these types of topics.

But things are really aligning & I’m just grateful 🙂

SA
Same, I’m happy we synced up in this way & I’m looking forward to digging into some of the ideas I’ve been thinking around sound as a tool for spirit. 

When I re-heard Paradise Valley a few months ago after returning back to Sydney, it instantly transported me back to spring mornings in BedStuy. I had such a visceral reaction to hearing that track, it reminded me of walking down Marcy Ave and meeting loved ones for a coffee in the park. I think it was a moment of intense emotional and spiritual connection, kind of like, I was calling my spirit back to my body from where I left her in BedStuy. What do you think about audio and sound as a way to connect to spirit?

J
I love hearing people’s experiences with music that I made, because it lets me know that what I put into it is working. I think from a recording standpoint, music becomes visceral when you realize that you’re capturing the essence of a moment in time. I have had times with music that I haven’t even released yet, when I listen to it I remember where I was coming from & what I felt. I think the fulfillment you get from creating is like no other & it really transmutes when others feel something similar from it.

SA
Do you have a particular spiritual process around music making you can talk me through? Do you incorporate rituals or practices into how you make music? Is it always intentional in that way?

J
Well for one, I have a lot of plants in my studio. So whenever I come in there, I immediately feel their energy lol. They’re big so it kind of feels like their studio as well. I like to light incense & burn sage but I think just the plants being here is such a vibe & makes it so much easier to create. It kind of separates me from the rest of the world. 

SA
Do you think the end product of what you make would be different if you didn’t have that connection to nature via your plants? 

J
Yeah definitely, plants are a reminder to us that we should take our time. And be patient, and that is also very imperative in music. If I wasn’t as connected to them I think I would feel some of the same stress I feel outside of the studio while I’m making music. But because my space is kind of consecrated, it makes it easier to discern between profane time & sacred time.

SA
I love to think about the way the nature we are surrounded by, their energies get transmuted into our creative practices. I believe plants, flora, fauna have and hold spirits that have been here before us and it’s really, as you say, such a sacred way to create.

J
Even the way the sun shines affects our mood. If it’s overcast one day, you’re gonna feel it. We’re definitely connected in that way, that we both need sunlight & water to sustain us.

SA
Right, we live in this divinely interconnected ecosystem where all flourishing is mutual in that way. Recently I’ve been thinking about how ancestrally, song and chant were a form of prayer, since the beginning of time. I’ve found that when I am listening more closely to God and my own spirit, the music I listen to is reflective of this. Less lyrical, more rhythmic and vibrational sounds. What do you think about audio as a transmission and communication from both God and ancestors? 

J
Rhythm & melody animate the spirit, to grieve or to praise. Certain tones evoke certain emotions. To express our emotions and be aware of them is such a big part of our livelihood. When we deny our emotions we deny a certain part of ourselves, and in turn our spirit.

Lately I’ve been watching footage of early jazz musicians on youtube, & everytime I watch it feels like a transmission from the past. You can feel the energy & intent in what they were doing.

SA
Yes!! Just recalling our brief convo yesterday on cosmic jazz, and here I’m specifically thinking about Alice Coltrane, and how the sounds she was creating in records like Ptah The El Daoud were like this ancestral fusion – for me, that’s not only a glimpse of the past but also a blueprint of how we can all build together, intentionally in the future. Have you found that your spiritual evolution has gone hand in hand with your commitment to your practice as a musician?

J
Definitely!! I think this past year alone, not being on the road. Being at home in solitude, I can finally practice the piano. I haven’t played drums this often since 08. Really the drums have been my saving grace all my life. So it makes sense that I’d have all this downtime to get back in tune with that part of me. It goes back to the thing about making time sacred, it’s very hard to do when you’re always on the go. I haven’t been able to sit & make an album without going on the road to DJ since 2013. Which is crazy to me, because like how lol. You can’t start a book then keep leaving and expect the narrative to not change you know.

And spiritually, just being away from the nightlife has been so gratifying. I know there’s nothing there for me. I’m content where I’m at.

SA
That’s a very profound realization to come to as a musician. I feel the lesson of the past year has been slowness, and nurturing the isolation despite all the catastrophe that has unfolded, but nurturing the ways that we’ve been able to see ourselves and others like never before. What has music shown you about yourself?

J
Just listening to songs I haven’t heard since high school, now with a more keen ear. It’s like revisiting times in my life when I may not have been happy & telling myself it will be okay. And again, just how important human emotion is. We can’t show each other the love we used to be able to, so we have to find ways to love ourselves & new ways to love each other.

SA
Do you think synchronicity through sound can shape the way we interact with each other on a communal level? Can a spiritual connection through sound be a gateway to collective liberation? It’s obvious that religious structures use music as a way to bring people together, but pushing past that framework, do you think that can sound usher a collective awakening?

J
I think so. It comes down to the narrative behind your music. The purpose behind the music is what people gravitate towards. So basically it’s up to the musician to take people there. You have to be there already or on the path at least.

SA
Right, and that’s the responsibility that comes with tapping into and uncovering your purpose as an artist. I kind of want to go back to what you said earlier about nightlife not being as gratifying anymore. Can you speak more to that? I’ve personally found that my earliest connection with community has been on dancefloors – but, recently I was doing an interview where I was speaking about how I felt safest in my body when I am on dancefloors. Tada Hozumi, who I was interviewing, asked me to question that safety because, in reality, I also had to rely on substances to get to that level of safety. Are dancefloors still a gratifying space for you + what makes you steer away from nightlife?

J
I think from a DJ’s standpoint, dancefloors can be liberating, but all in all the culture of nightlighte promotes disorder. You know, drunk, sloppy lol. These are the things I think of when I think of clubs  because that has been my experience, especially in Europe. I just don’t feel at home in clubs because it’s not my space. I’m triggered just thinking about it lol.

SA
I hear you & it’s truly horrible how in electronic spaces especially, the way non Black folks have both profited off Black culture & take up unrequited space. 

I’m glad that you’ve been able to cultivate a more safe and nourishing environment for yourself where it sounds like, your practice has been able to evolve further through these realizations. What have been some ways you’ve been able to ground during this time? 

J
Yeah, it just feels weird playing Black music in Europe. And I was thinking about what you said about relying on substances to feel safe, it took me a second to process what you meant by that. But that’s another reason I don’t like nightlife. I have been reading a lot, listening to weekly youtube videos on astrology. I have been drinking chai with lion mane & ashwagandha every morning. That’s definitely been keeping my spirits up.

SA
I feel like as we’re entering the Age of Aquarius, more people (hopefully) are coming to understand the importance of not dissociating through substances + creating more healing, sober spaces to grow in. It sounds like you’ve found some really transformative modes to heal and I’m looking forward to seeing/hearing all that comes out of this abundant time for you! Do you have anything you want to add as we come to an end?

J
Thank you again for sharing this space with me, my next album will be out within the next two months!! 

Jay Daniel is an electronic musician, producer, and selector from Detroit, Michigan, United States

Finding the Cure for Pain in the Pain with Shadi Sankary

SA
Hi Shadi, are you keeping well?

S
Hi Prinita – thank you, I am! I feel I am at new heights of my wellbeing these days. 

SA
If you were to describe your spirit using your five senses, what would it sound, taste, look, smell, feel like?

S
What a beautiful question. My spirit would sound like a Ney (middle eastern flute) played softly at dawn and taste like whichever earth i happen to be standing on; it would look like my favourite golden hour of the Sun setting, and smell like Sandalwood. It would feel like the cloth of a hot air balloon..flying over the hills of Cappadocia in Turkey! 

SA
Where in the world are you located?

S
I live on the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. With my gentle steps on this earth, I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging, and acknowledge that my modern privilege was built upon the injustices of colonisation that disrupted their original existence on this land. 

SA
What has your experience living in Australia been like?

S
I first came to Australia in 2004 having grown up in Tripoli, Lebanon – My parents migrated here in the late 1970’s but eventually settled back in Lebanon just before my brother and I were born a decade later. I was eighteen years old and knew that I had some important self-discovery to do – I also sensed that the relocation would give space for a slightly bruised adolescent in me to breathe. Like millions before me I quickly came head to head with ‘assimilation’. My identity was suddenly also in the hands of the communities I gravitated towards and cherished: The middle eastern communities of Western Sydney, the student activist bodies on my university campus, and the Queer communities of Sydney with their loving embrace. 

But ultimately, my experience of living in Australia will always be centred around a daily gravitational pull to remember, acknowledge, respect, and cherish the traditional owners of this land, past, present and emerging. 

SA
What is Avicenna as a massage therapy and how did you arrive at it as a practitioner?

S
Avicenna or Ibn-Sina (980-1037) was a Persian Polymath who gained an important position in the medical world for centuries to come with his five-volume encyclopaedia, ‘The Canon of Medicine’. It was subsequently referred to as the Holy book of Medicine in the Western world, and includes in its section on ‘Preservation of Health’, information on 8 types of massage techniques and their effects and techniques. Ibn-Sina systematized the medical information gathered from dispersed Ancient Greek sources, and updated them with his own observations and practice. 

On the very first day of anyone’s Certificate IV in Massage Therapy – in the first chapter of their handbook, they will read of Avicenna and the earliest documented writings on massage therapy in China dating back 3000 years. For me, Ibn-Sina had been part of my psyche since childhood, along with many other guides from that time, philosophers and poets and scientists whose names I admired so much growing up such as Ibn-Rushd (Averroes), Al- Farabi and Jalaludin Rumi. Yet still, I needed the reminder on that day, and his name in that book instantly re-lit a fire that I now get to gratefully watch burn against each evening’s sky. 

SA
For some, massage therapy is a way to relax and work out minor aches and pains, for others, it can mean massive psychological breakthroughs and relief from chronic pain. How does massage therapy allow for the release of trauma blocks?

S
What motivates me the most in my massage therapy practice at the moment, is the notion explored so long ago by Avicenna in his work – describing that massage involves the evacuation of unnecessary substances from the body – which had in turn corresponded to explanations he had learnt in Ancient Greek medicine. Much like Avicenna,  I feel I have recently arrived at a junction where a new level of lived understanding awaited to be explored. What excites me at this junction now, is that the touch that our hands are capable of, allows therapists to gently penetrate through the many layers of our existence, starting with the most elemental and exposed of all – the skin – and travelling to the most sensitive, and deep, and personal. 

I’m grateful to now have my own opportunity to explore my belief that the release of trauma blocks is much like that journey of the hands across the skin. 

I often hide behind poems and I have learnt to love that about myself, haha – they always seem to come to my rescue. Rumi, in particular : “The tambourine begs, Touch my skin so I can be myself. Let me feel you enter each limb bone by bone, that what died last night can be whole today” 

SA
How have you seen massage therapy benefit some of your clients with deep seated traumas?

S
That is a question and a conversation that I hope to be having for many years to come, for the benefit of all of us. Let’s keep this conversation going forever Prinita : ) 

On a personal level, I feel I am now at a junction where my ‘my old work on myself’ and ‘my new work on myself’ have a playground where they can dance safely. I now see Rumi’s verse ‘The cure for pain is in the pain’ in a shinier light. 

Professionally speaking, I view myself now as an ’emerging practitioner’ therefore I generally feel a certain prematurity in vocalising my observations perhaps. But I already sense that in this new level of understanding, my own healing has the potential to become my clients’ healing-  and theirs, my own. 

SA
Do you believe western medicine could benefit from a more holistic approach to therapy?

S
One of the most exciting aspects of becoming a massage therapist for me was studying Anatomy and Physiology. It felt like a breakthrough on many levels, and I imagined that on a much larger scale, the process of anyone becoming a doctor would feel similar, or as exciting, as my discovery that all of the structures of our modern medicine are built on ancient foundations that no one can really forget. That would literally be dangerous! If all electricity was to go out in any city tomorrow, the doctors and nurses who still remember their traditional intervention and treatment methods will be the superheroes. And as our world is showing us at every beat, we need our superheroes strong now more than ever, and we need all of us to remember how to be healthy in a wholesome way. 

Western medicine should not be waiting for patients to have to take their own initiatives to integrate natural therapies into their treatment plans.

SA
What are a couple of your go-to grounding practices?

S
As a dancer I will always find a lot of grounding at the Centre of my dance. The whirling meditation at the heart of my dance practice asks me to connect with my body’s centre in every moment and to stay there  – However fast or strong the gravitational pull of the movement gets, the head is unaware of the feet, and the feet are unaware of the head. ‘ Neither cares, they keep turning…’ 

Another important grounding practice for me as a massage therapist is my daily routine of self care – it spans the whole day, much like my best companion ( Joey, my red heeler puppy ) , and involves a variety of little practices and rituals in and around my therapy space and the home.. I also spend a significant amount of my time in water ( in the shower, bath or Ocean) self-massaging different parts of my body. 

It’s also grounding for me to share my lived knowledge and experience during the sessions with my clients, and to learn from their experiences and bodies.  I hope there will always continue to be a sense of shared inspiration between us as a result, and I hope to nurture that in my practice for many years to come. 

Also, I chase the Sun! ‘Shams’, the Sun, is my fuel…… : ) 

Shadi Sankary is a dancer, visual artist and massage therapist living and working on Gadigal land. His work explores the infinitely spiralling conversations between the human body and its environments: molecular, earthly and intergalactic.

Centering the Nervous System with Manoj Dias

M
Hello!

SA
Hi! So nice to be with you here today. How are you feeling?

M
Thank you, likewise. I’m feeling a little hazy after a weekend spent in the desert, but very much looking forward to our chat. 

SA
I hope the dessert brought with it some nourishment and wishing you rest post today’s interview. Where in the world are you right now?

M
Nourishment in many ways. I’m based in LA (Santa Monica) at the moment, I relocated here from Melbourne in September. From one lockdown to another, it seems. 

SA
I relocated from NYC to Sydney in September. It has felt like switching universes almost. Can you tell me a little bit about how you arrived at A—SPACE and your practice as someone who is rooted in a path of wellness?

M
This makes me slightly homesick 🙂 A—SPACE was the meditation company I founded in 2015 in Melbourne, along with a friend of mine. At the time it was Australia’s first drop-in meditation studio. It was a lovely, quaint studio we opened up maxing out two credit cards with nothing but a dream and some audacity. My partner left in 2018 and carried on with the company.  I was exploring taking the A—SPACE online via an app, until 2020 happened and my investors who were based in NYC were fearful of the impact COVID was having on the world. Sometime after that partnership fell through, a friend of mine introduced me to Raed, the CEO of Open, which was at that time a small breathwork and yoga studio in SF. I initially began advising Open and supporting the launch of their digital platform, but Raed and I quickly struck up a friendship and realised we were trying to achieve the same thing – a mindfulness company that was accessible, equitable and built for the world, today. 

SA
What a journey. Accessibility and equitability is something Fariha and I think about daily. If the ‘sustainability’ of a holistic health and wellness structure must be rooted in anti capitalism and pro liberatory frameworks, what does a business structure based on integrity and ethics look like to you?

M
It’s difficult to articulate and even more difficult to execute. We are a venture backed company, A—SPACE was not. What we could never do with A—SPACE we can now do with Open, this includes paying our teachers a worthwhile salary, support causes we care about, create space for those that have been marginalized and offer our product at an acceptable price point. Beyond that building a company with two other men of colour and a diverse representation of teachers was (and is) important to us.

SA
One of the biggest challenges for us at Studio Ānanda is understanding how we can continue to make work we believe in without being burnt out due to a lack of resources, so I appreciate your honesty. I think it’s a lifelong learning experience.

I want to pivot to an interview I read with you a few months ago that was released on In Bed. There was a part of the interview where you brought up the physical effects that surfaced while you were working in marketing and finance. How did you navigate that and do you believe the career path you were on was physically impacting you?

M
It’s hard to make a generalization about the career path I was on – what didn’t work for me, works for millions of other people. My nervous system couldn’t handle the rigours of the work, the conditions in which I found myself in as well as the lifestyle it brought with it. My health became impacted firstly through chronic insomnia, then high level stress and anxiety followed by a whole host of other mental and physical ailments. Would I have been able to handle it if I knew how to take care of my mind? Who knows, hindsight is wonderfully nauseating. I do know that the way we have been conditioned to view our lives through work can take its toll, in some way shape or form.  

SA
How have you been centering your nervous system in the past year?

M
Wow, what a year to prioritize it. To be honest, I have struggled tremendously. I sold one company and launched into a new project, juggled a long distance relationship with the anxiety of trying to obtain a visa to the US + working remotely. I also wrote my first book, Still Together – Finding Connection Through Meditation (while I was disconnected from everyone) so… 

That’s a long winded way of telling you I allowed myself to fall apart. I’m very good at holding things together, I did this for others in my personal and professional life but rarely do I give myself the grace to break down. I figured a global pandemic was an opportune time to do so. 

SA
I feel that even in giving ourselves that space to completely let go, we can learn so much about what we need and how to take care of ourselves. 

M
Yes. Last year felt like a year of collective trauma. Old wounds were exposed and our usual ways of self-soothing and tending were taken away. As a man, the narrative about being strong for the world around me was stripped away and I allowed my heart to break, which it did multiple times. Allowing myself to grieve and be held by the earth and the wisdom of my teachers and one sage therapist was the best gift I could have given myself. The breakdown was perhaps long overdue. 

SA
On giving ourselves gifts, what are some ways you honour your own body, your physical vessel? 

M
I lean on my elders and I remember my ancestors. I remember their wisdom in my practice. I also honour the fact that I am a human before I’m a teacher or father. I’ve learned over the year to give myself a break and offer it tenderness and compassion. Above all there is permission to feel my anger and my sadness, two things that were wrapped in a lot of shame historically. I also remind myself that meditation isn’t a solution to what I’m experiencing, it’s usually a wonderful preventative but when strong emotions arise, I simply have to experience them. Crying has helped, alot. Dancing, breathing and simply lying down on the ground with a hand over my belly and heart has felt tremendously healing at times.

SA
As a father, what are some of the key ways you are teaching the importance of expressing both anger and sadness? 

M
I teach my daughter that her feelings are valid and that there are no good and bad feelings. These are states that arise through causes and conditions. Our contemporary view on emotions and feelings will have us believing that we can purchase a product that will eradicate ‘bad feelings’ however this is rarely true. Expressing feelings can be as simple as identifying where in the body the feeling is and sometimes, allowing ourselves to lose control—without creating a narrative around it . Suppressed anger – which is what I have been navigating, is wholesome to the outside world, you are seen as a good boy for being polite. However the toll this can take on your mind and body cannot be underestimated. I tell my daughter to trust her feelings and be OK with making mistakes. It doesn’t make her a bad person, it makes her human. 

SA
That teaching of locating, identifying and accepting is so simple yet so revolutionary and transformative. I like to imagine what effects an education system built on those teachings could have for the next generations. What gives you hope to continue the work that you do? 

M
What gives me hope in general is the next generation. My daughter and her friends are growing up in a world where they see the destructive nature of greed, aggression competition and want something else. I see a generation motivated by empathy and softness, gendreless, open, curious and engaged. I genuinely believe they will save us. The next generation will carry this work and innovate it, make it more accessible to more people and hopefully bring some depth to the word wellness. Suffering has never been more rampant than it is now, the ability many of us have to liberate from that and to create the conditions for the future generations is what motivates me. Also the reclaiming of Black, brown and indigenous bodies + these practices is exciting to see. 

SA
Beautiful. What are a few rituals you go back to stay grounded?

M
Tsoknyi rinpoche teaches a practice called Handshake. It’s a meeting of our body with a hand of awareness and the hand of compassion. In this practice we spend a few minutes sitting with our body and noticing what is present, usually what wounds are present (sadness, anger etc.) and we spend time tending to it. This practice has been tremendously healing for me, daily. I also love to spend time in a bathtub, as long as I can, usually watching a documentary or dharma talk. 

Born and raised in the Theravada Buddhist tradition, Manoj Dias is an animated speaker, humble teacher and always a friend. Once tethered to a life of self-management, instead of self-awareness, he now intimately understands what it means to be healed from the inside out. Through mindfulness and meditation, Manoj has helped thousands of people around the world trade mania for pause, so that they may live fearlessly in honour of a happier and more meaningful life.

Going Deeper with Massage Therapy with Fabian Fernandez

SA
One of the reasons I wanted to talk to you was because you have such a holistic understanding of the body, because, I wanna get this right, you’ve had Ankylosing spondylitis since you were a teenager?

F
Right, and because of how long I’ve had it, at first it wasn’t even clear what it was. It was first a holistic chiropractor who identified it, and then later an MD. 

SA
And what was the diagnosis from that?

F
Well that’s the diagnosis, the chiropractor called it Marie Stumpell disease, which I guess is a very old way of identifying it. Or, a common way of identifying it. 

SA
And living with this, I imagine, has helped you a lot with understanding how to prepare holistically, for your clients, and to help you understand maybe the deeper elements—

F
Well that’s why, when I decided to try to move from being just disabled and go back to work, it was in no small part inspired by years of physical therapy, medical care, had a little bit of acupuncture and massage. So I wanted to see if I could do something good I guess, something with the knowledge that I had.

SA
Was there a turning point for you, where you felt like this made sense?

F
All throughout school, part of it was learning from my classmates, who didn’t know how I was doing what I was doing. I had one friend who said— “I didn’t see it happening, I didn’t see how you would finish school.”

SA
Wow, why?

F
Because when I first started school, my posture was more like this — it was very difficult to even have a straight, forward head appearance because of the way my posture would change from arthritis. It changed in no small part, with lots and lots of acupuncture. It’s really been a combination of west and east for me.

SA
So east, with acupuncture … What would you include massage in?

F
Um, so straightforward massage, Swedish massage is helpful, like what they do at Swedish Institute, because even there now, they teach, they have more emphasis on Thai and Shiatsu. Pacific College of Health and Science, formerly Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, that’s what they did differently, they always taught the Asian body work—Thai, Shiatsu, etc. So I learned it as a way to create an integrated style. That’s the only thing I knew, because of how I was taught. We’re taught acupoints for massage therapists, and within that curriculum at Pacific College, they teach east/west courses that cover basic Chinese medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine, so at the end of a year and a half, two years of our education, a massage therapist should have an understanding of the five elements, the elements of Chinese medicine work, and a rudimentary understanding of the channels of chinese medicine work. 

SA
Can you explain to me the five elements are?

F
Right, wood, fire, water, metal, and what did I leave out? And earth. 

SA
And what do they each correlate to?

F
So wood is the liver and the gallbladder. Fire is the heart, the cardium channel, the small intestine channel. Water is the kidney and urinary bladder, metal is the large intestine, and Earth is the stomach. They break those two extra into fire, that’s what comprises the twelve channels. Because fire has three organs, versus the others that have two. 

SA
So what is the synthesis of these many different styles of medicine and learning that you’ve created, how do you feel like that helps the body in your opinion?

F
Well, that we’re all both physical and energetic beings. Especially in New York State, massage therapists have to get a little over eleven hundred hours, and an individual is taught both the Western science, so as an individual practitioner you understand the science of what you’re doing when you’re moving circulation, moving blood, and manipulating bone. For example, I’m doing rib compressions. I have to understand that this is a very delicate structure, and if I compress more than just a little, I can cause somebody great harm. I can crack the ribs, the ribs can go into the lungs, lungs can puncture. It can go from something very easy, superficial, feels good, to something very horrible. So the education for massage therapists is in part, how to keep the client safe, how their basic body systems work. Same with the Chinese medicine aspect, or the asian medicine aspect, which is how the body works but from an energetic perspective that’s been studied for thousands of years. What’s often lost in the west about acupuncture, that it’s a very ancient modality with lots and lots of experience underneath it. And in modern times the chinese government actually does a lot of studying, but in the west sometimes the studies are not looked at as authoritative.

SA
To anybody who might not, I mean I’ve come across this a lot, even people I know who might be interested and have come across these sort of modalities, to them acupuncture feels so foreign, how do you explain that to anybody…

F
We have lines of energy in our body, we’re physical and energetic, Chinese medicine has discovered that these lines of energy have a back and forth, a two and fro, and they go up a circuit, and when that energy is blocked or stagnant, not just the flow of our energy but the flow of fluid, of water, the flow of blood. They’re given many iterations, like phlegm. We think of phlegm as something that comes out of our face. In Chinese medicine that could be anything that’s fogging, the phlegm of the mind. They’ve understood there has to be a free flow of fluid, energy, blood, etc. If that circuit is free flowing, the healthier the person is. The more stagnant it is, the more deeply pathogenic it can become. In Chinese medicine a pathogen is not just an infectious pathogen, it can be a behavior, the wind with our neck exposed, the wind hitting our open pores can be a pathogen. 

SA
Yeah, it’s like the mysteries of the body and the mysteries of ourselves are explained through these ancient modalities. 

F
Right, they’re seemingly unafraid to speak about things that are kinda weird about the human experience. In the west, if you ask a doctor and they don’t know, they’ll tell you they don’t know or they’ll come up with a theory, but they’re very reluctant to speak in esoteric terms. Even though, human life is in part very esoteric. 

SA
Exactly. What have been some surprising elements of this work for you, as a massage therapist, have you had any breakthroughs when working with people? 

F
Most surprising this is how disparate parts of the human body are. I constantly bring up the children’s song, the “head bone is connected to the tail bone,” you can touch places that have the weirdest connections, somebody’s hip thinking, or no, it was their shoulder, I’m thinking, I’m getting nowhere with this shoulder, and they would also complain about hip pain. I went to work on the hip pain, with seeming satisfaction with that, went back to the shoulder, and the shoulder was completely open. It was my first year, I was like, I don’t understand! But then, we have a shoulder girdle, we have a pelvic girdle, so that interrelation, it’s not something that’s immediately clear. If somebody has a stiff hip, they might have a stiff shoulder. If you have a stiff ankle you might have a stiff neck because of the way we move. 

SA
That’s something I’ve learned a lot. I think this is the beauty of, and also what I’m trying to explore with you, the way that somatic healing breaks through layers of trapped knowledge, or trapped information in our bodies, things that we’ve accumulated over our lives, and all of a sudden something in your body can let go and you can understand things more clearly. It doesn’t make any sense but—

F
Yeah, one of the things I appreciate about essential oils is that because I’ve had that experience where I’m in palpation just trying work with the client, and it’s so stiff, I have an idea about what I’m gonna do but I’m like wow, this is really tense, I give a person a mixed blend of essential oils to inhale, the one I create uniquely for an individual, and go back to palpation, and their body is softer. Just the inhalation of a pleasant aroma, changes the physical body. It’s the interaction between the lymphatic brain, or the emotional center, so something happens for some people when they inhale that aroma that’s pleasant, that can change their whole physical experience in seconds. It isn’t a cure, but in that session, any change that’s for the positive, is a positive. It is a mystery, because you could follow the logic and the science of how aroma flows, but that doesn’t completely answer how the rapidity of how someone can find relief from inhaling a pleasant aroma. There’s something deeper going on there.

SA
Yeah, I’ve never seen someone work with essential oils like you do, can you talk to me a little about how you came about understanding their use?

F
Well that’s also part of the massage therapy education at Pacific College, and I learned from a very gifted practitioner named Marc Gian, he’s both a massage therapist and an acupuncture specialist, he’s also a dream specialist, and my mentor. His mentor is a guy named Jefferey Yuen, who’s a worldwide renowned lecturer and healer and acupuncturist extraordinaire. What Jeffrey Yuen discovered is that the essential oils were a part of chinese medicine. He did scholarly work called Materia Medica. So he studied about 80 oils, using Chinese medicine concerns, parameters for data, and connected these 80 oils or so, to the practice of Chinese medicine, and by the time my mentor is learning from his mentor, and me from him, we’re understanding that – in Chinese medicine, each level of a fragrance matches to a healing level. Once you’ve matched the healing levels, once you’ve learned the safety concerns and what each oil does, you can start applying a very rudimentary chinese medicine principle to the essential oil you want to use. Depending on what a person’s feeling, happy, sad, and everything in between, they tell you how their emotions are, whether or not they’ve been sleeping, any little thing, the oils aren’ a cure but they can help a person tap into themselves. And essentially deal with themselves. So they seem to open a pathway into healing by getting us in touch with ourselves. 

SA
Did that encourage you to study the oils as well? 

F
Well it was part of the curriculum and then I got attached to the subject. And then I went from being a student, to a licensed practitioner, to a teaching assistant. Then I wound up teaching with, and working for, Marc Gian—and eventually now I’m teaching the course. 

SA
What’s it like teaching the course? 

F
It’s pretty fulfilling work to be able to teach people that essential oils are a tool that can help make a massage or even an acupuncture therapist more effective. It’s distinct, but since it’s from plants, the earth, connected to us — there’s this affinity between people and plants. In Chinese medicine there’s something called the Jing, it’s our life essence, and there’s a theory that essential oils are that life essence of a plant. So it’s the Jing of the plant connecting with the Jing of the human being. 

SA
How many oils do you work with usually?

F
I try to keep my blends limited to three to five oils for a client if I’m doing something particular. The idea is to create a blend that’s complementary to the functions of the oils, coinciding with what’s happening with the client that day. Not creating a blend where the ingredients cancel each other out. So, peppermint and ginger are hot and cold, why put them together, they’re cancelling each other out. Not to mention they’re going to be very intense on the skin. 

SA
Do you have like, miracle, go to essential oils, for specific things?

F
The closest thing to a miracle essential oil is frankincense, but it comes with the caveat of, we’re destroying the planet. So frankincense is truly an ancient healer, There was this story in Oman, how a writer went on this trip, and by the time they got to the trees, you would’ve thought the plants were safe because they’re so difficult to get to, meanwhile, they’re over-harvested. So as this ancient healer is becoming over-harvested, the one hope is, people are realizing, why don’t we just make orchards of these healing trees? Instead of wiping out their ancient brethren. The question is, will these orchards be created, and allow the ancient tree fields to survive? Because right now, it’s a contest.  

SA
Because it’s becoming more and more commercialized. 

F
Yeah, there was an article I read, where it was a part time family tradition. Like going back generations, maybe hundreds of years, if not thousands. And that person was doing it more often, because it’s just so lucrative. It’s become very lucrative, but at the same time, they’re worried about the future of the tree. So it’s created a dichotomy where people need income to survive versus these trees that they love. 

SA
Yeah, and this oversaturation of the market. 

F
When I first started teaching the course, aromatherapy and essential oils was 5% of the market. Now it’s already up to 16%. So it’s tripled in a very short amount of time, and if it keeps growing, exponentially, I don’t know how the oil business will survive, unless it’s all controlled planting grounds. Because the wild growing, the organic growing, will get harder to exist with that much pressure on nature.

SA
You bring up something that I think about, today even, for example, the ethical concerns of burning Palo Santo, and I think it’s a similar thing, of what you were saying about frankincense, what are our options, just to use it less?

F
That’s something I’ve been doing, using it sparingly, if I use it, I’ll use it well. There’s a purveyor called Sunrose Aromatics in Maine, and they sell the Indian strain of frankincense that’s been grown in an orchard. So I’m gonna order that and try that, it’s not the ancient strain, but it’s still frankincense. 

SA
What is frankincense good for, by the way? 

F
About everything! So it’s a vulnerary—that term means it’s a healing agent, and helps break down scar tissue, and it’ll close a wound and help it heal. I can fall and bang my head, and put frankincense on it and it’ll heal in half the time.

SA
You’re kidding

F
It’s anti inflammatory, it’s generally benefitting towards the skin, it’s antispasmodic, it’s an antidepressant, it’s a sedative, in Chinese medicine terms it calms the mind, it’s an immunostimulant, its an expectorant – that means it has an affinity for the lungs. It smooths and improves the flow of chi, which means it can help relieve pain, it has a kind of mysterious analgesic quality. Because in Chinese medicine, stagnation is what is causing pain, so frankincense improves the flow of chi, which can help degrade pain. 

There are consequences for our choices in healing. One of my favorite oils ever is rosewood. A South American tree, mostly found in the Amazon rainforest. Well, that’s part of deforestation. There’s a purveyor down there called Enfleurage. Very ethical. They only source their rosewood from places that don’t do deforestation, or rosewood trees. So if one chooses rosewood, because it’s also a healing essential oil, you have to make sure you’re not part of the problem by getting rosewood from deforested trees. Because the only place to source rosewood is from the center of the tree. 

Oregon lavender, is maybe not as nice as French lavender, but you know you’re supporting a local farmer in the United States, they’re growing it in a field, a pretty basic way of growing. So that would be one way of sourcing an essential oil that somebody wants — know where it comes from. Enfleurage.com and Sunrose Aromatics are two places to start. 

Fabian Fernandez is an integrative health practitioner offering therapeutic massage based on Western massage science and the basic tenets of traditional Chinese medicine. Combined with aromatherapy and energy work (Reiki) Fabian’s bodywork empowers patients and clients to maintain their health and enjoy life.

At the Ruptures of Intersectional, Liberational and Decolonization with Birth Worker Eri Guajardo Johnson

SA
What strikes me about your work is this devotion to survivors and I feel similarly. Yesterday, I woke up feeling so heavy… I just wanted to sleep, which is very unlike me. Then when I saw the news, I already knew on some level. To contend with the reality that our bodies, and I speak as a femme person, our bodies are not safe. Something like a mass shooting that targets women (even if there are other casualties) has such a nefarious component. So your work is ever important today and that’s why we are here. Also, it’s why we have to keep going.

E
Thank you, first and foremost, for inviting me. The previous conversation we had before this recording made me so pumped to meet you. It feels like we have already worked together and I really look forward to this relationship blossoming. 

My name is Eri Guajardo Johnson and my pronouns are she/they. I am biracial. My dad is white, predominantly of German descent and my mom is of Mexican descent. I am queer. I am located in the mid- west, the Detroit metro area which is located on Anishinabe and Native American lands. And I am a birth worker, a rape crisis peer counsellor with San Francisco Women Against Rape. I also provide, in terms of my own individual practice, holistic peer counselling utilizing a foundation of indigenous healing modalities. In terms of my own practice of two different kinds of indigenous healing modalities, I use that foundation to support folks connecting to their ancestry and connection to their mind, body, spirit connection – however that means for them – and I work with survivors and their significant others. I guess, two other things..

Sometimes I think I wear too many hats…I also specialize in supporting survivors of sexual violence through the birth experience. I provide birth consultations which allows folks in four to six sessions. We go in depth in preparing folks for birthing – whether it be a home birth or a hospital. Helping folks brainstorm strategies and connect to their resilient practices. To minimize the chance of being re-traumatized through the intensity of birth and reproductive care. Helping folks connect to the tools can be really helpful in having an empowering experience. The last thing is, I am also the founder of Birth Bruja which is an online educational platform devoted to intersectional liberational de-colonial approaches to birth work, healing and life.

SA
So many hats and I am so glad you wear all of those hats because we need all this work and I am so grateful to you for doing it. I am curious to what – and only talk about what feels comfortable and what feels safe for you to do so. But was there a moment for you that clarified this work that is the trajectory of your life. Because there is a theme.

E
I wouldn’t say a moment but a time period… I am a mixed-race person and my parents divorced when I was two. So I have had very two different worlds all my life: ethnically, socio-economically, culturally. I also am queer and for a long time it was me being in two worlds at the same time. I wasn’t queer enough to be counted as queer but I wasn’t straight enough to be with folks calling me straight. Just like how I wasn’t brown enough. I wasn’t comfortable in white spaces. So that in betweenness in a lot of realms. Gloria Anzaldua, an activist and an author, talks a lot about that in her work being mixista, a mixed person belonging, connecting to everywhere but belonging to none and nowhere. So I mention that because flash forward to my young twenties. When I started to do work in the rape crisis movement I also started to rally engage my own healing journey. A healing journey as a survivor of sexual violence of multiple assaults in college. Also as someone who has on both sides of my lineage, sexual violence is everywhere. Like murder, incest, domestic violence – all the nasty horrible things – all those threads tie into my lifetime here and now. So therefore, spirituality was a really important part of my political education and vice versa. Then flash forward a little bit more, I studied Ayurveda which is from India – an indigenous modality. I also studied folk Mexican healing traditions. Ayurveda was the first indigenous modality that I was invited to learn. I want to pause and acknowledge this lineage specifically because I studied for four years at a school called Vedica Global under Archarya Surya and that healing and spaces allowed me to unpack the complexity of Catholicism and how I wrote off so much of my Mexican heritage because of the toxicity of Catholicism, that I thought it was one and the same. Also the complexity around gender based violence and gender oppression with the machismo culture. It was tied up together and through the study of Ayurveda and learning how to honor ancestry and lineage in the blood and spiritual realm gave me that spaciousness to unpack that. Also, towards the end of that study — that program was four years -– at the end of it, I realized I cannot authentically show up in this practice without doing the work of acknowledging my own ancestry and uncovering all of those practices as well. 

My own identity exploration and my own journey around healing is very much wrapped into decolonizing work. So years after that I studied at California Institute of Integral Studies in their Women’s Spirituality program. I was lucky and privileged enough to get my masters in Women’s Gender and Spirituality and Social Justice. A lot of my writings were on the intersections of identity, reclamation work, decolonial strategies and specifically spiritual and political strategies for ending rape. I feel like my whole life is a trajectory of weaving a lot of threads into these intersections. I feel like my identity forces me to continue to do this work. I am continuing to understand myself and my context in society and my positionality. So, I can’t get comfortable. It’s constantly changing and so I have this opportunity to revisit again and again what it means to be doing this work.

SA
My parents are Bangladeshi but were also mixed but that’s also confusing because of Partition. I never wanted to think about it and I have always had a lot of shame about not having answers and feeling really blurred as a person. Then understanding, coming to the earth, coming to the land…all these things that I have never understood has suddenly opened something immense in me. I am so grateful that you have named all of these things. Because I think not having all this awareness allows all this unconsciousness and more unconscious relationship in connection. I think what we need now more than ever – even though I hate that statement – we really need connection. The work that you do in a way is creating that connection. A connection where people don’t normally find that in birth work. I mean, I am sure people find it in birth work, but the people you are working with – survivors.

E
The concept of connection is, honestly, the backbone of spiritual  (and I say spiritual specifically instead of religious) relationship, as well as political work. “Reproductive care” is a professionalized realm. So when we are talking about professionalized anything, we’re talking about something that is most commonly positioned within the colonial perspective of professionalism, right? Which is mind based. It’s spoken in English. You need a lot of letters and acronyms after your name. You need a full page of trainings. It’s very capitalistic, exploitative, competitive, blah, blah, blah, blah. Similarly when people are talking about (in a professionalized context) when they are talking about a decolonial work, what I find is a lot of folks in a totally well intended and it totally makes sense… but a lot of times especially folks of privilege approach this like it’s a linear process. Like decolonial work or intersectional work like it’s a list of checkboxes that we can do. What happens is, again, Westernized thinking, colonized thinking, has us thinking very narrowly, very linearly. So, we miss that everything is about connection and relationship, right?  So, first and foremost, it’s about us knowing ourselves. Just like how you mentioned the complexity of your ancestry, one of the things that came up for me was that I identify as a person of color with white privilege. Everything is in comparison to whiteness in the United States. Even for someone like you and I, for us to be talking about decolonial work or intersectional work has to begin with you and I understanding who we are and our lineages of marginalization. As well as our lineages of privilege.  Only from there can we know what integrity looks like, what accountability looks like.

SA
We were just talking about this earlier. When you have people who are good hearted—dedicated and devoted to justice—but are unwilling to look at themselves to see how they might be perpetuating harm… I am constantly humbled by how much I don’t know, on an individual level. I’m not a perfect person, I’ve made mistakes but I also vow to keep getting better and whole so I don’t cause harm but that also means I’ve had to get stronger boundaries. Lots of people project shit so it’s a constant path that requires diligence. What happens is that people are willing to criticize others but not themselves, so people lose themselves in ego. But this kinda work requires a really healthy ego.

E
Yeah but I think that culture though, that mainstream culture of not engaging in this work I think speaks to the toxicity of A) colonialism, but B) That this country was founded upon trauma. Then on top of that, the complexity of how folks got here—whether it was a chosen immigration or not—so it makes sense that mainstream culture is based on survivorship. Which is scarcity, disassociation and these legit trauma responses that have become implemented into our family dynamics, our cultural expressions, and so we can talk until we are blue in the face describing the power of meditative practice, the power of slowing down and building connection with yourself and others. But that’s not going to mean anything to someone who has this built-in fear that everything will be taken away from them at any given moment. And that’s not even talking about those who have experienced acute violence in this lifetime—not even ancestral shit.

SA
And the layers in this. When you are a survivor, a child sexual abuse survivor as I am, nobody takes you seriously because sure they’re like “Oh that sucks” but they won’t really understand what it feels like in your bones, because how would they know how deep that wound is? They can only go by their own metric of what they understand about their own lives. I think people look at survivors and go “shut up” or they want what you have without understanding or wanting to carry all that you’ve carried to get to this point. Nobody has any kind of framework for understanding what it feels like to be betrayed by your parent on that level. You know? And to live with that your entire life. And then, inevitably what happens is that in these situations, according to my therapist, when one parent betrays you the glorification of the other parent becomes normal. So you create narratives in your homelife to create this binary that you can survive. So, of course what happened yesterday—the murder of eight people in a massage parlor in Atlanta, six of them being East Asian women, and sex workers. There are so many layers that as a society we are unwilling to hold at all times. We have our own limitations. But I think this time is necessitating the value and importance of hearing everyone’s story. It goes back to what you were saying about that means you have to engage with yourself and your privileges. You have to actually see yourself wholly and complexly and all the things that you hold. Then you can actually hold someone else’s full self as well. 

What does intersectional liberation and decolonization work look like to you?

E
Thank you for asking that question. It’s something that I have had feedback in the past but it’s been awhile so I like to clarify why I say…it’s part of my business tagline: intersectional liberational and decolonization. First and foremost, yes, they can all be interchangeable in a lot of ways but they are also very different. So intersectional, for example is when one acknowledges the full realm of possibility. In the realm of reproductive care, it’s not enough to specialize in one dynamic. It’s important to educate ourselves on the full spectrum of what reproductive journeys can look like. Right? As a birth worker, it’s not enough for me to read books or read or listen to podcasts that center around people who have chosen pregnancy. Right? Like they intentionally wanted to get pregnant and have maintained their pregnancy and have beautiful birth experiences and are shiny and blah blah blah. Yes, that can happen and that’s very powerful. And, I would be doing a disservice and harming so many people if I stopped there. I needed to learn and listen to stories where this pregnancy was intended, unexpected or it’s really complex where they got pregnant and perhaps they found out their partner has been cheating on them, now they don’t know. Now this pregnancy is just a reminder of that pain. Of that infidelity. Folks who were raped and were pregnant and decided to keep it. Or they didn’t feel they had any options but to keep the pregnancy.  Or folks, like myself, where the infertility journey has been around for so long. For me personally, we actually decided to stop trying to have kids. But I have worked with so many folks where that grief of the infertility journey carries over into the pregnancy. Even though they have their goal of conception, it’s just a living example of all the miscarriages that came before. It’s super complex. That’s just one example of what intersectionality can mean. And also intersectionality is led by understanding the connection between identity and experiences. So understanding a birthing person in a Black body is way more likely to have experiences of microaggressions in the doctor’s office/OB care. They are way more likely to be not taken seriously in the birthing room during their labor when they are talking about their pain levels. They are way more likely to be perceived as problematic and confrontational if they are (during a contraction) getting pissed because a nurse is talking to them. Meanwhile someone white and light skinned will be written off as, oh that’s just a person in labor being normal. That’s the thing about intersectionality is there’s not just the full spectrum of what’s possible, but tying and correlating experiences with identities and vice versa. 

The next word is liberational. 

I was really frustrated with being in a lot of activist-y where folks come together with others in connection with our pain and our wounding, that’s where we can put words to the struggles we have been feeling inside, what happens is sometimes folks are hyper-fixated on liberation that specifically impacts them, the way they have been suffering that what happens is when they talk about their own liberation they end up envisioning the same cycle of hierarchy, but with a different person on top. So, for example, Feminism. A lot of women, specifically in the sexual violence movement, rightfully speak about patriarchy, toxic masculinity and offer a lot of legit critiques that often involve male identified people. But what ends up happening is people just start to talk shit, saying stuff like, men are trash, masculinity is trash. And while the anger is legit, I get it, but that does not speak to liberation. That doesn’t acknowledge how one in six people who were socialized as male will have experienced sexual violence by the time they are eighteen. This doesn’t talk to the full spectrum of gender.  How there are a lot of masculine identified – whether be trans or non-binary folks who just — masculinity is part of their experience and part of their identity so where does this leave them? So what ends up happening is just a regurgitation of a hierarchy but this time putting women (white women, particularly white cis women) at the top. 

What is now known as US and Canada is founded upon the exploitation of land and peoples and specifically the exploitation of Black and indigenous peoples. Knowing that it all goes back to that point, we can see how anti-Blackness and anti-indigenousness contributes to so many societal systems of oppression that we have now. So by focusing and prioritizing on Black and indigenous liberation we are able to focus on liberation for everyone. We can’t talk about Black Liberation without talking about prison abolition. We can’t talk about indigenous liberation and indigenous sovereignty without talking about environmental justice and sustainability. And we can’t talk about either of those communities without talking about access to healthcare in this country. Or, access to food, right? Knowing food deserts and food swamps are something that are really big issues within urban and rural areas as well so …yeah, by centering that it gives us a strong foundation for the intersectional approach and the liberational approach I previously mentioned.

SA
There’s a lot that you’re focusing on, that you’re thinking about, that you’re clarifying, that you are working towards. And I thank you for all of your explanations. And I think of this in my own life when I use words such as liberation I often wonder if I even know what I am talking about. So it’s always useful and helpful to talk to somebody about what does this word mean? – can we deconstruct together and communally and not for individual gain, which is the way of capitalism. But people don’t want to necessarily think too deeply. I see that a lot right now, this over saturation of the “right language” but it’s still within these toxic dynamics and behaviors. True liberation cant be supremacy over another person or another people. However, anger is an important thing to talk about in these spaces as well. You know, the righteous anger. To go back to working with survivors’ narratives and the complexities of narratives of pregnancy. For me, I am thirty-one, and I’ve always wanted children but after my abuse clarified a little bit more for me, I realized I didn’t actually know if I could carry children. So your work has created this reality that I didn’t know existed. That people are thinking of people like me and thinking about my body and what would happen to my body if I were to get pregnant.

E
Oh my gosh. Thank you for sharing all that. I know there are a lot of folks who are going to hear your words, and be like, oh shit, I never thought about that. Or folks who are (and I am sure you are aware) there are a lot of folks who are survivors but because of memory repression and also how normalized sexual violence is in our society – that a lot of folks are survivors and have that trauma encoded in their bodies or haven’t identified as survivors or they haven’t recognized that experience as violence. There are a lot of folks who are survivors who have given birth and it was intense and confusing and all these things and then years later unpacking that experience for the first time and drawing those connections together.

SA
Oh my God, wow,  to do that in reverse?

E
Going back to one of the powerful things about indigenous medicines that I appreciate is how it acknowledges that time and space is not a linear thing. That we can be grown ass people and actively be healing our child selves. We can be in this lifetime and in this body and be contributing simultaneously to the healing of those who came before us and the healing of those who come after. And yes, I am talking about blood lineage, however, we are not just blood and bone, right? Spiritual lineage as well, whether that be queer communities or spiritual communities, or even the community of residing on a certain land. Therefore, it’s never too late and there isn’t a step one and a step two.

Eri Guajardo Johnson (She/Her, They/Them) is a queer, bi-racial, trauma-informed birth worker, rape crisis peer counselor, holistic wellness coach, community organizer, and host of the Birth Bruja Podcast.

For over 13 years, Eri has been dedicated to supporting survivors of sexual assault (with an emphasis on serving marginalized populations); has studied indigenous Mexican and Indian healing modalities to learn about mind, body, spirit, & communal wellness, herbalism, and food as medicine; and has taught and organized countless classes and community events centered around the healing and empowerment of those most marginalized in our society.

Eri’s emergence into birthwork became a natural extension of her passion for intersectional, liberational & decolonial work. They believe that the immense power of birth and reproductive care can be harnessed as a mechanism for individual and collective liberation. Eri’s services include birth support, birth consultations for trauma survivors, holistic peer counseling for sexual violence survivors, & community education.

The Birth Bruja platform is a manifestation of Eri’s passion for building community & cultivating intersectional, liberational & decolonial approaches to birthwork, healing & life. Join us for monthly gatherings & recorded workshops that span the full range of this transformative work.

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.