returning to life: combining activism and spirituality to heal

I have felt dead inside for several months. Depression, grief, anger, fear. So many emotions coming up while processing and healing from violent sexual assault.

But in the last weeks I have felt reborn. A combination of circumstances, the dawning of springtime, the support of my loved ones, and hard personal work has landed me in a much better place. I can’t predict the future, or know that it will all be alright, but I am able to see a warmth returning to my present moment. A hopeful, reassuring warmth that maybe healing is possible. 

I find myself incredibly grateful that I am alive. I find myself noticing movement in my body that feels good and refreshing, not only the pain. I am suddenly able to experience joy, and really feel it. After months of feeling either numb or miserable, joy is delicious.

I know this isn’t the end of the struggle. Perhaps it will be a short break. But I also know that there were times during the winter that the hopelessness felt endless. I didn’t know if it would transform. And yet, like everything, indeed it has.

As a survivor who chose to tell the story of my assault to the public, and who knows that this process was (for me–every individual is different) a very crucial part of my healing, I would like to share a quote from a friend and incredibly inspirational hero, Wagatwe Wanjuki, from an interview on MSNBC“I really hope that survivors of all identities of color, queer, low-income, with disabilities, trans, gender nonconforming, from community college, in relationships, etc. – will find it easier have their stories heard.” – Wagatwe Wanjuki.

I stand humbled by my privilege and committed to working towards a world where this hope articulated by Wagatwe becomes increasingly possible.

In addition to the activism work I did in speaking out (again, something that is a choice some survivors make, but not something to be pushed on any survivor–healing is all about choice) I also have had to step away from the public, and even from other people, in order to heal. It can be lonely, but this inward time has also felt very necessary for me. Having a spiritual life has always been extremely important to me, and though I am exploring my Jewish roots, a politically painful, challenging, but also rewarding task, I also do not feel grounded in a specific religion, but rather, pulled to words, rituals, and practices that move my spirit.

Recently I have discovered a beautiful song by Sikh musician Snatam Kaur called “Servant of Peace” that includes a beautiful recitation of the Saint Francis of Assisi Prayer “Make Me An Instrument.” The words sung in her heavenly voice have been guiding and consoling.

“Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

-St. Francis of Assisi, 13th Century

It is with deep gratitude for the activists, artists, and seekers who have come before me that I feel able to connect with the universe in a new and rejuvenated life.

© 2015 Lena Sclove

healing in deep snow

I took a long walk this afternoon and trudged through deep snow, snow up to my knees, and I didn’t realize just how out of shape I was and how challenged I was by the exercise until I made it back to shoveled-territory and felt the easy of walking without sinking.

Sometimes we don’t realize how bad it is until we aren’t in it quite so deep anymore. Which makes the deepness feel all the more endless.

There are times I can write myself out of the deep. There are other times I choose not to write. When healing is happening in my body, and my mind isn’t able to catch up, writing feels like a disservice to my healing. If my body could write the traumatic energy that is being released without my mind passing judgements, perhaps I would write out of the deep snow.

For now, I follow what is moving.

what makes you feel like a warrior? please share your thoughts!

What makes me feel like a warrior? When I walk through the woods and feel sun on my face and feel the strength of the sun pulsing through me. When I sit up from a Network Chiropractic entrainment and feel my back spasms releasing and joy rising and power to do good returning to my being. When I laugh out loud with friends and remember that laughing is a way of fighting evil. When I speak the honest truth to the world. When I take care of myself.

These are just a few of the many things that make me feel like a warrior. I try to remember them when I feel the illusion of weakness.

And now I ask YOU, dear reader, what makes you feel like a warrior? Please leave your thoughts and ideas in a comment, I would love to hear from you!

depression, freedom, and the peaceful revolution

What if we were free and the system collapsed but there was not chaos or war because we were free in ourselves and the revolution came slowly, gently like a dance, and what if we were free?

This morning I woke up depressed and hopeless and was identifying with those emotions. And then I had a second of clarity and discovered I was obsessively trying to figure out why I was feeling so depressed. I was racking my brain for reasons, for something that was terribly wrong. But nothing was working so my anxiety was getting higher and higher. When I noticed this, I felt a separation occur in my mind. I felt the physical feeling of being depressed and I felt the chaotic stirring of my brain trying to make sense of the senseless. When this separation occurred the melancholy did not disappear, but a wave of relief did wash over me. And for a moment, I did feel free.

An unexpectedly light-hearted afternoon with a dear friend made me feel caffeinated. Jazzed up. A feeling of possibilities.

Many times this week I have wanted to skip town. I have wanted to escape because the work of healing the mind and the body is treacherous and a voice in my head suggests if I ran away from it all, I could reinvent myself. But I am reinventing myself. It’s just more painful than I could have ever predicted. I know my demons and ghosts would follow me on the bus or train or plane. But isn’t it wonderful to daydream, sometimes, about starting completely over? About a clean slate?

I am finding freedom in hopelessness. I have no idea what I am doing right now except healing. It gets very tiresome. It gets boring. It is my work. Though I often feel I don’t deserve the title, I still strive to be a freedom fighter in the most radical sense of the term. I am in the movement. I am in the peaceful revolution. But I am in my turtle shell for now, allowing my presence to be all that I can offer. Desperately needing that to be enough. What if I let go? What if I release my plans, and my need to succeed and my need to be somebody and my desperate need to be a good person all the time? What if in that separation between my depression and the monkey-mind brain nonsense trying to make sense of the depression—or between a traumatic event and the desperate attempt to find a way that I could have avoided it—what if in those slight chasms a world of freedom is opening. Beyond education and career and success and failure, maybe there is something bigger. Maybe I have been tied in an invisible net for long enough and as it becomes visible I realize I not longer need it. It is no longer protecting me. Perhaps it is time to give myself permission to be free.

© 2015 Lena Sclove

IMG_3994

poem of the brain

How cruel to be this aware all the time. That siren. That strange glance. This unexpected sunset.

I think this poem has already been written. A thousand poets have said it in a thousand different ways in a thousand different languages over a thousand years.

This beautiful agony of being awake.

back on the guitar train

My guitar teacher Diane Sanabria and I have both been unwell. Yesterday after nearly two months we had our reunion lesson. We both felt rusty. I for one know that I was nervous. After many weeks not teaching, I watched as she re-inhabited her body and her incredible gifted self as an educator and music guide.

I was thrilled to see her, but worried my weeks of not practicing (full disclosure: did not even take my guitar out of her case even once in the last couple of months) would set me back completely. However, in the course of our time together I found my hands remembered more than my brain did. The body remembers in horrific ways, but the body also remembers the healing arts we teach it. I was rusty, but the music, the finger picking, the lyrics…they were still in me. I just had to turn my brain off and let the music flow.

My worries continued (full disclosure: I’m a worrier.) The lesson was amazing, but I dreaded the crippling fear of returning home and having to do the un-doable: take my guitar out of her case. All alone. Without Diane. Music is powerful. Diane tells me how healing it is, but also how emotional and painful it can be. It taps into places we aren’t always prepared to go.

I couldn’t do it last night. But this afternoon I took a walk in the frigid air as the sun was setting over the pond, and when I returned home I was determined. I unzipped the case. I tuned her. I opened my music binder.

I do not care if it sounded terrible. I do not care if it sounded wonderful. It is the pride of feeling back on the train after missing the last several trains that have gone by. I hopped onto the train. It still might be bumpy. But I’m going somewhere. All aboard!

y1pOWOFB6zIHYYAZ9Dp8NkPrDdvd1OhvM7gZCoC6WfMLEx3poMlewMZAa1aUJ8932zDsoi9Y7bO8iw

i want to check out all the books in the library

I want to go to the library and check out all the books. I know I won’t read all the books. But I never read all the books I check out, even when it’s a more reasonable number than “all the books.” Which isn’t even a number, really.

I want to check out all the books in the library and lie them out on the floor of my apartment (in stacks, because my room is very small) and I want to make intentional piles. Books I wish I had time to read. Books I really will make time for. Books I wish I myself had written. Books I wish had never been written at all. Books that look like they might cause me to experience an enlightened spiritual state and stay in it for the rest of my life. Books that genuinely look like they might end white supremacy and homophobia and genocide and depression and sexism and racism and environmental destruction. Books that were written only to make money.

These are just a few of the many categories I will make if I ever get around to checking out all the books in the library.

library-10

bayard rustin, a. philip randolph, “allyship”, and the 1963 march on washington

State of the Re:Union on NPR aired a wonderful segment today on the great yet often skipped-over Civil Rights activist Bayard Rustin. I had watched a fabulous documentary of Rustin called Brother Outsider in a most memorable class I took with Professor Elmo Terry-Morgan at Brown University called “Black Lavender: African American Gay and Lesbian Plays in the American Theater.” When I saw the film I was saddened, though not surprised, by how much I had heard about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and how I had never even heard the name Bayard Rustin. This in itself is an important story of how intersecting identities play out in the context of social movements.

Rustin was the one to introduce King to the ideas of nonviolent social action. He was the architect of the March on Washington, and many other nonviolent events, such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott. However, Rustin was also a gay man. What would it mean for the Civil Rights Movement to have a known gay man seen as a lead organizer?

I highly recommend you listen to the radio segment, or watch the film, for the entire story of Rustin’s full and complex life. Below I will just discuss one moment of the radio segment, but please know this is just a moment, not the story of Rustin’s whole life or identity.

Today’s radio program told of one crucial moment that made way for Rustin to be able to continue his work planning the March on Washington faced with a major setback: “The fall of the meticulous planning Bayard is doing: there are some things he has no control over. Bayard had been very frightened or worried that the gay issue would come up before the march. And Strom Thurmond [bitter enemy of de-segregation] took the floor of the Senate, maybe three or four weeks before the date of the march…and rails against Bayard and the march. He calls Bayard a draft-dodger, a communist, a homosexual, and includes details of his arrest. Panic spreads through the march’s office….But A. Philip Randolph would not be coward. Randolph calls a press conference because they have to deal with it, and Randolph, who qA nothing if not extremely dignified said that ‘how dare a segregationist like Strom Thurmond condemn someone for immorality. We stand by Bayard Rustin. He is our organizer. He is Mr. March on Washington.’ And it’s that moment really that is the end of using the gay charge against Rustin effectively. 

Activists disagree on whether the word “ally” is useful, or if it has been too watered down or become too problematic. Activists, especially in the context of organizing around rape and sexual assault, also have differing views on bystander intervention. However, if ever there was an ally move, what Randolph said at that press conference seems like the one. Standing by Rustin, having his back, and making it about the inhumane ideology of Thumond, instead of accusations against leader Rustin….to me it seemed like Randolph intervened in a way that not only saved the march and the movement, but saved Rustin from the pain and humiliation of yet another atrocious attack. Rustin went on to be the one to read the demands of the March on Washington after King’s I Have a Dream Speech. 

march

Later in his life Rustin would go on to be active in the gay rights movement, and use his organizing skills there. Through a long-term relationship, he was able to build more positive connotations with his gay identity after being harassed by it for so long. There is so much to say about this individual. For now I would just like to honor how history (and uncovering parts of history that have been hidden) can demonstrate (despite all the terrible news we are inundated with constantly), distinct moments when good steps were taken in the name of justice.