returning to life: combining activism and spirituality to heal

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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

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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!

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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

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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

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poem of the brain

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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

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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!

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consumerism: “the dirty life” by kristin kimball, reflections part 1 of 3

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I just finished reading The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball and as is the case when I finish a good book, I have so many thoughts and I am bursting to share them. I certainly recommend the book, and if you would like to read summaries and reviews, there are many. However, I feel more in the mood to reflect than review.

Adjusting to a sudden change in lifestyle, from city life to farm life, Kristin Kimball writes, “The last old habit to fall away was shopping. I could feel the need to shop building up in me during the week, like an itch. I’m not talking about shopping for clothes, or shoes, or any of the other recreational kinds of shopping people generally do. I mean only the oddly comforting experience of flowing past shiny new merchandise, the everyday exchange of money for goods. In the city, most of the landscape is made up of objects for sale, and it’s nearly impossible to leave your apartment without buying something–a newspaper, a cup of coffee, a bright bunch of Korean market flowers. When I went for days without buying anything, without setting eyes on commerce, without even starting the car to burn up some gas, I felt an achy withdrawal.” (Kimball 156).

When I read this passage my first thought was that Kimball was so honest to share this longing to shop. To me, it isn’t the most appealing quality, and it is just one of so many strikingly honest confessions that she makes in the book. But my second thought was realizing how I completely have this too. And since reading the passage I’ve been conscious of it more than ever. Specifically because I am having a challenging time right now, there is a constant capitalist rhetoric repeating in my mind that if I just buy the right thing I will start to feel better. This is made much worse by the fact that I work in a bookstore. Sometimes when I am cleaning and organizing the self-help, religion, spirituality, and poetry sections I begin to observe the inner conversation in my brain:

“Maybe if I buy that book and read it I will break through my depression.”

“Get it from the library.”

“But what if I want to write notes in the margins or underline my favorite passages or dog-ear a life-changing page.”

“Get it from the library first, if you even end up reading it at all and really do love it so much, you can always go back and buy it.”

“But I want the copy that gives me such a life-changing transcendental experience to be the copy that is mine, that I own.”

“Just get it from the goddam library.”

Or something like that. We have been told so many times, over and over again, that money and material goods will make us happy. I can know in my heart and soul that this is not true, and yet I still wrestle with the constant message that we just don’t have enough, and that if we did have enough, we would be enough. This is one of the core tenants of consumerism and capitalism, connecting our quality of life with the things we purchase. I know it’s not real, and yet every time I work at the bookstore I usually find a book that I fixate on for most of the shift. Leaving work and not buying the book feels unsatisfying and disappointing and an emptiness is certainly there, but halfway through my walk home I usually forget all about it. Wanting to heal is real. Buying things to make it happen isn’t.

Taking stock of all the changes my life has abruptly undergone in the last year and a half, I can certainly relate to Kimball’s “old habits that fall away.” Some of them needed to leave. Some of them I want back, and I need back, and I am working to get back. But the big thing for me is noticing. The fact that I have been observing my desire to fix my problems by buying books, and that I have not been buying them, has been challenging but also made me aware that I am not my thoughts, nor problems. I don’t know what I am, but I know I am glad not to be my “achy withdrawal.”

sexual assault and the language of justice

Right now I am thinking about justice and how we say we will “work for justice” but sometimes work isn’t a strong enough word for me.

TRIGGER WARNING: SEXUAL ASSAULT, RAPE, RACISM, HOMOPHOBIA

I just read an article about male sexual assault survivors and specifically a case at Brown University. The article references my case and the current federal investigations at Brown. I feel overwhelmed by anger and grief and horror that this is still happening like this. I stand in such strong solidarity with survivors everywhere, and am so glad people are able to come forward. I wish we were being listened to more powerfully and swiftly.

Thinking about racism, classism, homophobia, and their intersection with rape culture, the concept of working for justice just doesn’t feel enough for me in this moment.

I work for justice.

I also CRAVE justice.

I HUNGER for justice.

I CRY for justice.

I PRAY for justice.

I SCREAM for justice.

I SLEEP for justice.

I SURVIVE for justice.

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There are too many of us and too little is being done and yes we need to work but we also need to honor the parts of ourselves that NEED justice, whatever that means to us. Justice is more than an abstract concept to be worked on. Peaceful, non-violent, but POWERFUL and REDEMPTIVE and LIBERATORY justice. I stand in solidarity with male survivors of sexual assault and with Andrew at Brown and with survivors everywhere, whether we come forward or not. I also think it’s time we start conversations about the language of justice, and what we really need from institutions and support networks in order to feel that social justice is in fact more than a fluff term. I want more meaning in the words. I want more done with the words. I want us to talk about what we don’t have the words to say.