I come from a long line of intuitive leaders and healers. These are people that felt deeply. So deeply that the world’s pain was their own pain and in working to heal the world and the people in it, they were also working to heal themselves. I see this as my calling, as do many of my colleagues in faith-based community organizing. Through my fourteen years of organizing with the PICO National Network in California, New Mexico, and now supporting organizer development in five states, there are moments when the world’s pain turns in on me. I can feel a bitterness and a near haute suffering grow in my belly. It feels warm and comforting to know that my conviction will never abandon me. When does my conviction surpass my need for dignity and definition and become a hardened layer that everyone must now endure before being called beloved and human?
Our traumas are not just ours, born before the womb and given as birthrights to our babies. Unless . . .
Before I knew I belonged to this clan of intuitives, healers, and empaths, I thought I was manifesting all this pain in myself. I thought I was self-destructive, too serious, and always too agitated.
I was too full.
Too full to receive Rest or Grace or Mercy. One of the most difficult things for us to do in these political times is to give people the space to change their mind in their own way and in their own time. I desire to understand and be understood. I do not desire to be caught in a “gotcha!” moment of not being “woke” enough or not knowing my own Mexican-American history. And, at my worst, I have been the perpetrator of the “gotcha” because it can be extremely satisfying to the parts of me that have been weakened by oppression. That is where my emptying can occur.
We are called to empty ourselves so we may be fully ourselves. Media, politics, and, yes, even our faith institutions hope we dissociate with our intuitive traditions and healers, like Francis de Assisi and Audre Lorde, and instead fill ourselves up with what they have put on the table. I do not want to be consumed. Humility is not humiliation. Yet our emotions conflate the two; our ego, our pride come to protect us from humiliation rather than explore the humility. Humility and vulnerability are at the root of Love. Conviction protects that Love. This equation is vital in our journey to upend a hegemonic system where slavery, hunger, and systemic racism are compatible and necessary to its survival.
In my training and praxis with PICO and most recently Leadership That Works, I have discovered that I must explore my feelings of anger, sadness, joy, and fear, and how they play into how I show up for my communities, my work, and most importantly, my kids. Anger energizes us for protection, restores broken boundaries and that is where our dignity and conviction reside. If our anger is not honored, resentment manifests and it will sit in our bodies, in our bones, and do damage.
I have heard too many times that the somatic work, the work of the body and breath, is not necessary, takes too much time, that there is little value in our justice agendas for it. But did not our ancestors smudge sage? Baptize? I have a small bowl of eucalyptus water near my door for cleansing. Did the experiences of healing and cleansing miracles stop when the bible stories stopped? Cleansing and emptying ourselves out are acts of humility. Stubbornly, sometimes subconsciously, as a badge, we hold on to the hurt and resentment, refusing to empty. I know this feeling so well. Maybe you do too. In the stillness of my own mind and body what I hear is:
What will happen if I empty out?
Fear. And fear, in trace amounts, alerts us to change, gives us clarity and attentiveness. Fear does not like Breath. It does not survive with Breath. Exhalation is scary sometimes. I know; my own tradition made it a point to mark the very last breath of Jesus on Good Friday. I could feel the whole church tremble, afraid to exhale with the words. I thought it was just me trembling. As I grew older, I knew that in moments of deep sadness, anger, or anxiety, if I exhaled I would surely break into tears. So I would hold it in, fill up with pain, and store it away. This did me no good.
My family, I need us to exhale together. To make space for possibility and allow one another to honor your anger, sadness, fear, and joy. This is how we restore the flow of life. This is how I can see you fully defined. This is our way back to curiosity, because isn’t that what we ask of those in power? At the very least, can they be curious about the pain and experience of our communities? I miss the curiosity we once held for each other in our churches, neighborhoods, and organizations. That curiosity needs to be broadened more than we have ever practiced it before. We must expand our curiosity to the experiences, suffering, and joys of Black women and men and believe them. Expand our curiosity to the experience, suffering, and joys of immigrants, transgender people, Native Americans and believe them. I am called to be curious about my own biases, privilege, anti-blackness, and internalized inferiority. I am called to heal those parts of me because they do damage to myself and others. This is where our conviction and humility are the most potent, when perfected inward we can easily practice it outward.
I reach back to the intuitives and empaths in our traditions: Elizabeth, Mary, Isaiah, Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him), Jesus, Buddha, Eve, St. Francis de Assisi, Dorothy Day, James Baldwin. Who are yours? The ones that could see the future, hear people’s pain and hopes, and draw from those feelings, images, colors, people. They all felt deeply. They emptied out. They exhaled. If we claim to be heirs to their wisdom, then we must not sell away our birthright of our own emotional gifts and abilities that can help us heal and lead.