Reflections on My 2017 Sabbatical

I can’t believe its been a year since I published on this website! So much has happened. I have actually been writing pretty steadily but its been creating guides and handbook’s for organizing [much of which I will be releasing soon!] I feel the urge to pick this up again. So I thought I’d update something I wrote for BLM in February that I always meant to publish but never did. It a reflection on my Sabbitical that I took in December of 2017. These questions were developed by Erika Totten and I for when folks take sabbaticals so they can process their growth and communicate it to the tribe. As most of you know I have since left BLM DC but as I’m still committed to movement work, I thought some of you might be interested in some of what I’ve been struggling with. Most of this was written 6 months ago with a few more recent updates. More to follow soon!

  • What prompted your spiritual sabbatical? What feedback were you receiving that let you know you needed a sabbatical?  From what, where or who were you receiving that feedback?

 

 

My sabbatical was prompted by many things. I made a commitment to myself, in 2016, that I would take the month of December off as a sabbatical every year. In addition, I was feeling burnt out in May of 2017 and had resolved to leave BLM by September 2017. It has been coming increasingly clear to me that activism is not the work that I am on earth to do. After reflection, it seemed that organizing might not be it either. I needed to take time to figure out what it might be.

 

I sent around a survey to get feedback on how I had been showing up over the years. It has really informative if hard to hear some of the feedback. I spent a long time [a few weeks] really sitting with it. In leaving BLM a few months ago I was able to gain some perspective and then starting getting some feedback from spirit and needing to sit with that.

 

 

  • What have you learned about how you were showing up?

 

 

I was increasingly becoming aware that the person I am at our events, grouchy, short tempered and neuoritcaly focused on perceived failure is not who I really am. Through my previous movement work, I spent entirely too much time as that person. Thus, a sabbatical was needed. In addition, a growing number of women activist had been commenting, both directly and indirectly, about toxic masculinity in my actions in movement spaces. I sat with these comments for a long time and had a lot of useful accountability session with organizers I was close with.

 

I realized that there were multiple things happening. One, my anxiety about activism often feds a domineering habit I have learned from this society to limit options to control outcomes. This domineering is felt as toxic masculinity by many women I work with who then feel shut down. I say felt as, not because I don’t believe it is toxic masculinity but becomes I’ve come to see that is is more useful, to me, to talk about domination as a universal logic. My anxiety about the event going well makes me feel like I’m in conflict which triggers a scarcity response which leads me to try and control outcomes. This attempt at controlling of outcomes is domination that is read as patriarchy by some, middle class tendencies by others and still by others as an internalization of white supremacist urgency.

 

Everyone I work with, has both a personal and communal [identity-based] relationship to Black men showing up in that way. The type of women I am generally close too–strong willed, charismatic Black women, used to standing in their power, who have a personal experience with anxiety–react very differently than women I know less well. While some of the women were no doubt projecting their trauma onto me, as leader who wields power in my community I believe I am responsible for taking that trauma into account for how I move through spaces. I am reminded of one of my greatest recent lessons learned, you don’t have to be wrong in order to change. I essence, I don’t have to accept that I am doing something inherently wrong to understand that is a better, more feminist, more trauma informed way for showing up that I can practice. That being said, it is important to me to recognize that there were ways I was show up that were wrong, and not in alignment with the values I profess and believe.

 

In addition, thanks to Autumn and addrienne brown’s podcast on the intricacies of the latest star wars movie, I also realized that I have some more growing to do in unlearning patriarchy habits. addrienne talks about Poe Dameron and his relationship to admirals of the resistance [Organa and Holdo]. Poe’s masculine hubris is not like the self-serving egotistical Han Solo. Poe is not interested in his own life or even his reputation. While he is clear that he is the best pilot in the galaxy, he in generally concerned with fighting the empire. His issue is that he can only imagine opposing Empire through heroism. Though ego driven exultations to others the sacrifice themselves for the cause.

 

This, to me, represents what Horace Campbell calls “the patrichical model for liberation.” It is when militarism masquerades as revolutionary thought. Poe is unconsciously more interested in heroics than the true cause of revolution, which Rose puts well, which is to save what we love and not fight what we hate. His masculine bravado is not the problem, though I’m sure it is irritating. It’s his masculine sacrifice for sake of beating the enemy rather than getting and living free. This is my growing edge around unlearning patriarchy. I have a tendency to focus on a goal that I alone have decided is important and leading people to sacrifice themselves to attain it. I then fall into the trap of criticizing those who don’t want to sacrifice for my goal as not being fully committed to the revolution. Yet as Poe demonstrates, the patrichical model of liberation tends to get folks killed.

 

  • What lies were you telling yourself?

 

I think I was allowing my frustration, stress and some negative tendencies in the movement draw me into victim consciousness. I began to blame what I saw as a lack of progress to people’s unwillingness to commit themselves to healing. I told myself lies about the people I organize with that caused me to overlook their growth. I told lies about the slow, painful and resource intensive nature of my own growth as if I just decided to transform instantaneously to person I am now or that I am now fully formed.

 

I also told lies that I needed to prove that the principles of transformation I operate from are right and useful. I told lies about the proof of my value being in the explicit external recognition of my value or in the “flash-points” and concrete moments of transformation that I could isolate and point to as “mine.” Yet ultimately, no change occurs because of one person’s initiation. Our worth cannot be proven, only known. You cannot own transformation and you are not what you accomplish.

 

Ultimately these lies caused me to live a life of a lie. Activism and campaign organizing is not the work that makes my spirit sing. It is not the only way I can contribute to Black Liberation. If I’m honest, my commitment to Black Liberation is not about winning or toppling the systems oppression we face. I am, at my core, interesting in what we can achieve collectively through self-actualization. I believe that Black people are in a unique position to lead the world to self-actualization. I also just enjoy working with Black people. That is the real reason I do this work. I work to dismantle white supremacy because it stands in the way of the self-actualization of the human species.

 

I understand that to get free we will have to do some work that doesn’t make our spirit sing but I am convinced that it shouldn’t be more than 25% doing work you hate. Honestly. It’s too draining otherwise. I hate doing logistics for events.  I hate reminding people of things we agreed to do. I hate constantly having to convince people to do things that I see as important.

 

What I love to do, what makes my spirit sing, is to help people figure out how to get what they want. Once someone knows what they truly, deeply want [not just what they think they can ask for] I love strategizing about how to get there. I love helping facilitating learning in others and giving people frameworks to better navigate the world. I love organizing coalitions of organizations with a clear sense of direction and commitment.

 

Community organizing, in this moment, is more about building relationships, helping people identify the real problems, convincing them that it worth trying to solve them and bringing them into a formation with others to wield collective power. I’ve done that before. I’m not bad at it, but not great and it doesn’t make my spirit sing. Its crucial though. Without it, we can’t get free. But there are other people doing that who love it whom I can support.

 

  • Describe the process of shedding. What part of you had to die to give birth to your new self?

 

More of my beliefs centered around an illusion I have that I can control outcomes had to die. More of my investment in the illusion of certainty had to die. More of my investment in the protection my ego provides had to die. Perhaps most importantly, my binary thinking around right and wrong had to die. As my new revelations about how I had been showing up came to me and as I gained wisdom I began to see more and more flaws in my previous way of thinking. I was hesitant to accept these newer, more useful truths because it meant, at the time, saying that I had been wrong. My friend Erika helped me realize that thinking of it as wrong is a function of my ego. A more useful story is to say that I had been transformed and know had a more complex and complicated understand of the truth.

 

The process of these deaths was deep internal reflection done in absolute solitude. I was alone and disconnected for much of my sabbatical which was a gift and a curse. Being alone and secluded in my room was not actually physically healthy for me even if it was spiritually useful to an extent. My body started hurting from hours of sitting down and reading with no movement or fresh air. I also became drained without social contact. I was reminded that I need to resist going to extremes whether it working 16 hour days or retreating into a hermit’s life. I have to find a way to consistently engaged in the world while being grounded and spacious with it.

 

  • What have you been reflecting on?

 

I have been reflecting on the person that activism brings out in me. I have been thinking about my tendency to shift into deconstruction and critique and immediately see all the flaws in plans and people when I put on my activist hat. I have also been thinking about my tendency to throw myself into the work and shut of parts of myself when I go into movement work.

 

A few months back from my sabbatical and I’m sitting with what it takes to bring your whole self into this work. How much energy it takes to process each emotion and feel it all the way through. How much time it takes to not let your home life suffer for the sake of the moment. How many more skills you have to develop when you don’t have time to spend hours disconnecting into to slowly process just enough of the emotion to bottle it all back up again.

 

I’ve been reflecting on the role identity can and should play in movement for liberation?  What is the nature of the state and how could you coordinate human activity at the scale we need to in order to address climate change without it. While those questions seem abstract and theoretical I experience them as visceral. The might determine whether I should continue building all Black space or build Black spaces only for Black nationhood. What could a Black nation look like without a state? Should I be organizing to transform America or leave it?

 

I have also been reflecting on what this moment in history is, what is needed and what role can, should and do I want to play?

 

  • What new commitments are you going to make moving forward?

 

I committed to centering practices that give the spaciousness I need to show up in ways I want to. This means developing spiritual practice that allows me to move from center at the start and end of everyday. It means prioritizing work and only taking work that aligned with my values, commitments and vision.

 

I have committed to allowing myself and others to be human. To realize that we are not always skillful, rational, connected or grounded. We make mistakes and stumble and get confused. The more I allow myself some compassion and grace the easier it will be for me to have patience with others.

 

  • What new sources of joy, sustenance and resilience have you found to support you moving forward.

 

I’m still struggling with this, even six months after the sabbatical.  I still have so much anxiety and stress. I think I’m still working on leaving commitments that don’t serve me. I’m still trying to figure out want balance looks and feels like. I think one thing I have learned [from some reading on Taoism] is the importance of holding without grasping. Of noticing unmet needs without increasing desires unnecessarily by pinning for them or thinking of them constantly. Eat when you are hungry rather than keep working but fantasizing about eating. When you finally eat you will overindulge because wants can never be satisfied only needs.

 

This has been a big lesson for me. I’m a dreamer. Any my ability to dream is so important for the creative visioning I do. I didn’t realize that vision and fantasy are very different. My fantasies cultivate a desire for revolution tomorrow, for fame, for acceptance, for recognition. They aren’t just ideas, or neutral fantasy. As the Buddhist say, you are always practicing something. I’m learning to hold unto my vision for my life without grasping for tomorrow. I think that is becoming a major source of resilience for me. Just to be here, in this moment, accepting this as what is without accepting it as what has to be.

 

  • What ongoing support are you going to need going forward and from whom?

 

I’m going to mostly need support from myself, to let the things die that need to die. To stick with this path of unraveling, to see it to the end. I’m going to the support of loved ones and friends in ways that I will communicate to them privately. Mostly I need support in asking for support lol.

 

  • What kind of accountability do you need to show up differently?

 

I want people to tell me about myself. The feedback I receive is helpful. I also want people to make explicit asks of me. I think I spent so long doing where I thought I was needed that I forget the necessity of being invited to support. I think people I know are so used to me just doing what I’ve always done that they don’t ask, it’s assumed. When I do things that people don’t like, often there is silence and I won’t hear about it for weeks at a time. I think the more feedback I can get and more direct asking I receive the more spaciousness I can carve out for myself.

 

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