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

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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. 

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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.

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.

when an old friend doesn’t give up on you

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This afternoon I had tea with an old friend. I am in awe of how powerful it is to be in someone’s presence who has known you for many years, and really knows you. Knows that your circumstances and your story and your struggles are not you and don’t define you. The ability to pick up where you left off after not seeing each other in years is not something to be taken for granted. The ability to hold one another and hug after sporadic phone call catch-ups is not something to be taken for granted.

I met this friend my first week of college. Our lives took very different paths, but our core beliefs stand strong. I find myself reflecting on the glory that is finding a kindred spirit. Finding “my people.” It doesn’t happen all at once or in a big group the way we are often told. But it’s there, and even if geographical distance is a challenge, today made me remember it doesn’t need to be a defining factor in the relationship.

I am so grateful to the people in my life who didn’t leave when it became really hard. When I became a symbol for something most of us never want to think about if we have a choice. Many did not stick it out. Hard times test friendships, and today I make the conscious choice to dwell on those that still stand by side, not the ones I grieve. That is how I can keep going.

thank you thank you thank you