September 1, 2020

Talk for CIIS Staff and Faculty Retreat, from Megan Lipsett, core faculty of Integrative Health Studies

When reflecting on the idea of an “inspirational talk” it struck me (like so many things in our world today) as a little absurd. We often hear the term inspiration used to connote joy and hope. Yet, the history of the word refers to imparting a truth. As I reflected on this I thought, is it truthful for me to orient towards joy and hope when the world is facing a global pandemic which further reveals the weaknesses of both our government and our social systems? Is it truthful to invoke a comfortable joy when so many lack access to healthcare, nutrient-dense foods, and access to nature? Right now, we are facing the truth of social inequity, environmental degradation, and political incompetence. 

And yet, we as a species endowed with metacognition and volition recognize that there also exist so many personal and social acts that have brought us into awe and wonder. There are countless humans, many of us included, who are heading the call of social liberation, who are organizing communities of passionate individuals, who are examining healthcare policy changes towards an integration of wisdom and community values into our systems of care. We are truly in a moment of dark uncertainty, and yet, the brightness and ferocity of those individuals committed to social liberation appears that much clearer in contrast. It is this humble persistence – the willingness to find the “and yet” in these moments, that has been the undercurrent of all social change and social connection. 

My aspiration today is to create space for collective inspiration by inviting each of us to connect to our own truth through reflection questions for our time. Let us first take a moment to connect the imaginations of our minds to the wisdom of our bodies. I ask that we all take a deep breath together right now. And notice, if you would, that we have been conditioned to respond to the request I just made with an inhale. With the sense that we need to collect and reserve energy for safe keeping. And yet, this moment in our history, to me, seems like a moment of exhale. A moment to release embedded and unconscious patterns, a moment to reflect and orient to what truly matters, and moment to make space for what Charles Eisenstein calls “the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible”. A moment to practice being empty, a moment to trust that – without any act of force or control on our part – this act of becoming empty will allow us to align with the natural law, and to open a space to receive the next breath, to receive the truth that each moment has to impart to us. In this time of great uncertainty, may we release reactive attempts to find solutions and instead to practice the kind of deep listening which guides us towards asking the questions that bring our lives purpose and direction. What inspires you? Who inspires you? How might you empty yourself in this moment to allow that inspiration to seep into your being more fully? 

This moment is asking us to be willing to inconvenience ourselves – to avoid a much needed embrace with a friend, to juggle the needs of our children with those of our work more acutely than ever before, to reflect deeply and consistently on the ways in which we may be complicity in the supremacy of white bodies. Of course, we are also dealing with experiences that extend beyond inconvenience into deeper suffering and injustice – whether the loss of loved ones to COVID-19 or the historic and chronic injustices held in our bodies. This moment is calling us to look beyond our perspectives of privilege to know the difference between inconvenience and injustice. And not to prioritize the former at the expense of the latter. 

Community organizer and trauma specialist, Resmma Menakem, speaks about the opportunity for suffering to reveal to us the inextinguishable pulse towards life and belonging which each of us has. Of course, this realization that we can embody a way of being “beyond our limited sense of what is possible” must be operationalized through engaging in “small and consistent challenges to our own comfort”. The global pandemic most certainly has offered us challenges to the comfort and convenience of our American lifestyle. Opportunities to build distress tolerance for the sake of humanity, for the sake of an equitable society. So, what small and consistent challenges to your own comfort (taking into account the privileges afforded to you in your life) are you willing to take for the sake of liberation? 

There is a big question beneath our collective experience right now – one that I hear being asked overtly and subtly in many spaces – what is it that truly motivates lasting and enduring change? Great thinkers like Robin Wall Kimmerer urge us to work with the natural law - to take lessons from the tress and the mosses. For me, I am surrounded by them up in Oregon right now. It is the persistence of the mosses that astonishes me. Kimmerer points out that they have lived through 350 million years of social and environmental movement by being adaptive and giving a little more than they take. From where do you draw inspiration and persistence? What urges you forward when you have spent months on end zooming in your sweatpants? What generates encouragement when you are met with those personal and collective behaviors that have been merely suppressing an underlying need for cultural liberation? And, what connects you to that sense of awe and wonder which we know is associated with prosociality and altruism? 

Menakem and others urge individuals, and especially white-bodied and progressive individuals like myself, to give attention to creating a culture of anti- racism, to understand that these movements are built through community and “living a somatically attuned life”. Our community here at CIIS has committed their lives to self-realization, to scientific inquiry, to embodied leadership, to thriving mental health, to inclusivity. It is time now to apply that dedication to deepening our ability to tolerate the distress that comes with challenging our own “decontextualized and internalized white body supremacy” – to inconvenience ourselves for the sake of personal and collective liberation. May we bring this transformation into our bodies to create culture and practices that enact our aspirations and that heal the intergenerational trauma that justifies the unconscious perpetuation of inequities. May being with the angst in our bodies energize transformation. May we apply the motivational and energizing quality of deconstructing these embedded ways of being as motivation for liberation, may that clarity of purpose potentize our courses, to build inclusivity in our curriculum, to re-vision our administrative roles, to be an institution of liberation. What energizes and uplifts you? As community organizer Elandria Williams recently asked me in an interview, How might you leave each interaction with those around you feeling more free? 

We have the gift and the privilege of belonging to a community of inspired and dedicated individuals. I truly hope that everyone here feels that sense of belonging. And if you don’t – if you feel like you don’t belong, you are not alone. And to the extent that humanity is experiencing crisis of belonging, may we as a community connect to a demonstrate the kind of vulnerability that dissolves cherished social notions of “invulnerability”, and in our humble exposing of that – may we be reminded that we need one other. And that is a strength, that ignites willingness to celebrate difference, that inspires creative solutions to building resource sovereignty and resource equality. And may we all work on behalf of those who have experienced belonging uncertainty, resource scarcity, and worse. The word humility is derived from the word humus, the soil. Let us live into the medicine and the wisdom of the soil – to be generative, to be steady, to celebrate microbial diversity. What generates the feeling of belonging within you? 

Knowing that this collective liberation and all of its salacious values is nothing if it is not lived out in the daily actions of our bodies. And yet, the ideals we entertain in our minds can be daunting to know how to inhabit. Change is gradual. And although personal change is gradual, collective change is transformational and immediate. The mind can imagine change instantaneously, the body has to operate through gradual process. Trying to make huge changes at the personal level can feel like trying to make a 90 degree turn on a motorcycle at 100 miles per hour. There is a momentum to life – we must lean into this change – to orient (again and again) toward liberation. The distance between where we think we should be and where we actually are can be both inspirational and debilitating. So what is it that determines which one it will be? What is it for you? Acknowledgment of how far we have come? Reminding yourself about the skills you have applied in the past and how you might bring them to bear in the present. Thinking of those who have lost there lives for this movement and honoring that loss? 

Change only happens in the present moment – right now, and in the internal present, is an opportunity to orient towards liberationism. How might your life, *our society* change if we each spend more and more of our moments orienting towards liberation? 

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