Just because you’re enlightened doesn’t mean you’re woke

“Just because you’re enlightened doesn’t mean you’re woke” – Chai Chats podcast, 2017

 

I was listening to Chai Chats, one of my favourite podcasts (the one on boundaries literally changed my life – and I’m using literally literally) yesterday and one of the hosts was talking about their interest and subsequent critiques of Buddha and Buddhism. Religious philosophy isn’t really my jam and I have been sleeping an average of 4 hours a night for 3 weeks so I was just about to drift off, when the above quote jumped out at me. “Just because you’re enlightened doesn’t mean you’re woke.” Holy fuck, the truth of that statement hit me with the kind of realness that travels from the mind to those deep places in the soul that are so easy to ignore as we move through life.

 

I love self-care, I have felt the benefits of mindfulness, meditation and I strongly believe in practicing yoga on and off the mat. I also believe in the power of collective care and get lost in daydreams of a future built on justice, equity and reciprocity. Unfortunately, sometimes communities that promote the former do so at the detriment of the latter.

 

Late capitalism, first coined by German economist Werner Sombart and later popularized by Ernst Mandel, originally referred to the period between 1945 and the early 1970s. However, the meaning has adapted as the so-called golden age of capitalism has come to an end. Late Capitalism could easily refer to the ultra rich kids of Instagram, the Kardashian/Jenner clan or wellness and yoga movements that co-opt, commodify and pervert the true meaning.

 

Last summer, I saw a sign outside a yoga studio that said “Namaslay”, once I was done audibly groaning, I snapped a photo and posted it online. A bunch of people I have on social media responded with both words and emojis showing they too were annoyed at this obvious appropriation of a sacred word (namaste) and a popular term in African American Vernacular English (slay). I felt slightly better that I wasn’t the only one upset but this sign. This was comforting at the time, but actually made no difference. This studio’s websites that’s that, “We believe in the power of breaking down doors of tradition and structure to introduce variety, music, and a taste of our own rock and soul.” That’s great, hun, but it’s not your tradition to break. The studio, similar to other yoga studios and various lululemon locations, employ phrases like “sweat tribe” or “find your tribe”, the words “zen”, “namaste” and various sanskrit terms are plastered everywhere and I have seen more white girls covered with imagery of mandalas and Hindu gods and goddess than in all the temples I have ever been in.

 

This is not to say that white people or non-Hindus can’t learn about and embrace the spiritual, and at times physical, benefits of yoga and Hindu philosophy. Unfortunately, many people involved in western yoga/mindfulness/wellness circles embrace this kind of faux spirituality that appropriates and then commodifies meaningful cultural practices and traditions.

 

Those in the wellness/yoga/hippie/new age (I know these can be different but share some common traits) often borrow and patch together “eastern” traditions while simultaneously benefitting from black culture to create sometime lucrative business and trends. Golden milk seems suddenly trendy as does big hoop earrings and long nails. I feel a certain bitterness at this. I’m not complaining about the ease of buying earrings or fresh turmeric, but it stings to think that they same people who once mocked my yellow stained fingers and who made “the bigger the hoop, the bigger the hoe” a catchphrase throughout high school now are all over IG with golden lattes and the so-called ‘baddie’ aesthetic.

 

I am not above mentioning my own guilt in this. There was a time when I embraced the ‘hippie’ aesthetic of “zen” and images of Buddha without having any knowledge of the cultural significance of these traditions and practices. We all fuck up. We all fuck up multiple times. What we have to ask ourselves is, are we learning from this? Can we admit our guilt without be frozen by it? Guilt is not useful unless we are using it to grow our understanding and change our practices.

 

My own yoga practice, along with my journey of healing from anorexia and related traumas, is meaningless unless it ties practices of mindfulness and wokeness. I can’t fully embrace the healing power of yoga if I’m not unpacking the historical trauma that colonialism has inflicted on my peoples. I can’t continue learning and unlearning – because woke is not a destination but like yoga it is a practice – if I don’t learn to care for myself. I can’t embody gratitude and peace if I do not embody liberation and practice intersectional solidarity, in both the personal and public spheres.

 

Enlightenment ™ , as exemplified in late capitalism, will not lead to true enlightenment and liberation if the majority of our earth’s populations are suffering the effects of systemic oppression. Care and liberation must go hand in hand. This is a journey and a process of learning/unlearning, so be gentle with yourself, admit your mistakes and move forward. That is a path to enlightenment that just may work.

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On Yoga, Resistance and Letting Go

Content Note: Eating disorders, racism, harassment, objectification 

I don’t want to write this post. I have been turning the words over in my mind for two months, I have been holding these message deep in my body. I Sharing my struggles with anorexia, sharing my anger and frustration at social oppressions and whatever else I feel a pull to write about has helped me explore my own thoughts and reduce the self-imposed isolation that my eating disorder brings. I am writing a workshop on yoga and decolonial healing for a conference by and for women of colour, I’m also facilitating this workshop in a week at another event, so I should probably finish it, but before I can do that, I need to need to write these words.

 

I started casually practicing yoga midway through my undergrad, mostly through home practice and the occasional free class. As someone living with chronic pain, yoga was the go-to suggestion of health practitioners, and as annoying as that is, it has been a great coping mechanism for me. Yoga hasn’t taken away my chronic pain, but offers arguably more significant healing.

 

I was trying to remember a time where my body felt like it was consistently mine. Sure, I have had moments: making the decision to move out east, and 1,421km away from toxic relationships, the first time I went more than a month without purging or restricting, breaking up with a long-term love. My body has been exoticfied, objectified, controlled, shamed for being, but when has it been mine? My experiences are unique to me, but in no way unusual. Countless women will tell you how their first experience of a man objectifying and harassing them was when they were around 11 or 12. Thousands of people, of all genders, struggle with eating disorders, and pretty much every person of colour has felt othered and often exotified.

 

I recently realized how tired I am of explaining the colonial histories and diasporas that allow for my existence. I don’t feel like my body belongs to me in those moments. I don’t feel like my body belongs to me when men stand too close on the bus or a professional meeting ends when a hand on my lower back. I don’t feel like my body belongs to me because we live in a world that has consistently confirms this.

 

Since I was 13 years old, I have attempted to take control of my body back by destroying it, by trying to become invisible enough to fend off unwanted words and touch, to erase myself into whiteness. My eating disorder became a safe haven. My mother wanted me to eat pasta during the same time I was being told my anger was unwarranted (and unattractive), refusing dinner became my resistance. I destroyed myself as a form of misguided resistance. Women refusing to eat dates back centuries and is often connected religious sacrifice – the woman who is free from needs and wants is the most holy. My resistance was just what our patriarchal and white supremacist society demands of women. I detach from my body as a mode of survival. I stopped having desires because my desires to be heard were too much ™ I am still figuring out how to accept that being too much ™ is exactly what I should be.

 

Almost a decade after my eating disorder began, I started doing yoga. However, it wasn’t until my roommate invited me to try hot yoga with her that I truly began to connect with yoga, my inner self and finally my body. I lay on my mat after my first class feeling sweaty and giddy. I survived an hour long class in a hot room surrounded by strangers while wearing half the amount of clothes I normally do. I was thrilled, I was proud. I felt a little high. I joined the studio the next day and began a journey towards my body.

 

Eventually, as my body got stronger, I could move through asanas with ease and have fun trying (and falling out of) new poses. I lie on my mat before class and wait as the anxieties of my day slip away. I take a few cleansing breaths and take back my body and mind. I am not thinking of the dissatisfaction with my body (ok,sometimes I still am, but that’s why I’m doing all of this), I’m not thinking of body as the exoctic other, or as on inconvience,I am not thinking of my career or debt or anything but keeping my breath and settling into my body – as a whole, as mine.

 

Some of my teachers read a quote or tell a story at the end of the class, as their words float through the now quiet room, I lay on my mat and let them wash over me. I chose to come to my mat, I made choices in my body that felt right, I let myself breathe, and began to connect my body and mind. I have found the concept of decolonization confusing; I understand it on a political level, but when I would hear activists talk about decolonizing the self, I felt lost. It wasn’t until I surrendered myself to my practice that I began to understand. As I write this workshop, I realize that my work to decolonize my self will be ongoing, because the act of colonization is ongoing.
We speak of colonization, racism, and even sexism as things of the past. We’re colourblind now. The Canadian government pretends that their colonization of Indigenous peoples has ended. Women have jobs or something so we don’t need feminism. We speak of our body and mind in similarly disconnected terms. We were asked to write a letter to our body as part of my treatment program, I was viscerally uncomfortable for many reasons, but when I moved from “You” (my body) and “I” (my mind) to “We” (body/mind/soul), I felt as if I could breathe again, the lump in my throat grew smaller and I began to write. This is what we do when we practice yoga, this is what happens when we listen to the wisdom of our ancestors. This is where the healing begins.

Unpredictable Fulfillment

“Between now and April 15, I will be imaginative and ingenious in getting my needs met. I will have fun calling on every trick necessary to ensure that my deepest requirements are playfully addressed. I will be a sweet seeker of unpredictable fulfillment.”

-Rob Brenszy

These words entered my consciousness and buried themselves deep within my desires. I am feeling stuck. I have begun at least three separate blog posts and I can’t even think of the words to describe writer’s block to y’all right now.

Over the next two weeks, I need to make some drastic changes for the benefit of my health. I am struggling with divergent emotions: fear and motivation, apathy and hope, insecurity and channeling my true bad bitch self.

As I struggle to make these changes, to take back control and to trust this process, regardless of how hard it may be, I think of the words above. I read my horoscope in our local free paper each week, mostly for fun, partially because I believe we can find wisdom in many things. “I will be a sweet seeker of unpredictable fulfillment.” The word unpredictable is the antithesis of everything I have created myself to be. I have had a five (and ten) year plan since I was a child and I like my life to be organized; there is not much room for mistakes and unpredictability. This aspect of my personality has allowed me to excel is work and school but I have also missed out on a lot of things. This horoscope coincided with the changes I need to make and caused me to take a step back and wonder would happen if I became a sweet seeker of unpredictable fulfillment rather than forcing myself into these rigid boxes I created many years ago?

Fear can be a motivation, it serves to warn us against danger or let us take a moment to notice we are embarking on something unfamiliar. Fear becomes detrimental when we let it take over. We wrap ourselves in fear as a form of protection, yet instead of keeping us safe, the fear weighs us down and we cannot move beyond it.

A few nights ago, my yoga teacher teacher suggested our intention for the class be patience and to trust the process – whatever that may look like for each of us. I am striving to trust that I will move through this fear, towards some kind of fulfillment and wholeness. Fear is not everlasting. Fear serves a purpose the same way feeling too cold or hot, it tells us something about our selves and our surrounding but is only useful if we listen to it. We need to check in with ourselves and ask: What do I need right now? Asking ourselves this, and then fulfilling those needs, is not selfish. It is an act of self-preservation and it may one day become an act of self-love.

Be patient with your impatience. We can’t change overnight, but we can begin to become sweet seekers of unpredictable fulfillment when we let go of the fear that holds us down and embrace the fear that motivates and moves us.

Not All Bad

I think we can all agree that last week (or three months or year) has been surreal. If you’re anything like me, it can be easy to spiral into watching the news and reading articles for a few hours and focusing too much on negatives issues in the world. Yeah, there are lots of fucked up things happening right now, but there are so many wonderful, positive things and people. It can be hard to focus on the good, but I have been blessed to have some positive events and amazing humans in my life to remind me to shift my perspective.

 

I had a chronic pain-filled, anxiety-ridden week and took some time to practice some self-care that ranged from re-centring myself through yoga, a bougie bath, and wine with good friends. After all these lovely, and challenging points of self-care, I feel more like myself again. I was inspired to write this post for a couple of reasons. The first being that Trump officially became the president of the United States yesterday (definitely a cause of my week of anxiety) and I know a lot of people are feeling very overwhelmed with anxiety, anger, sadness and shock. The second reason is much more positive and much less complicated. I went to a friend’s birthday this weekend and had to head back to the city in the morning. After having coffee with my friend, I decided to pop into the farmer’s market before I caught the bus. I had a 5 dollar bill in my coat pocket. I was checking my phone just before I walked into the market and realized I dropped the $5 somewhere, I was a little annoyed but there wasn’t much I could do about it. I wandered around the market, bought a yummy af morning glory muffin and walked back the way I came. As I got closer to main street, I saw my $5 on the ground! It was only a little thing and because I have the privilege to be employed, I could have survived without the $5 but something about it struck me. There may be terrible things happening in the world, but we shouldn’t forget to celebrate the joys of life. Too often we focus all our energies on the various oppressions and tragedies of life and feel guilty when we fully enjoy and celebrate the beautiful things in life. It can be hard to remember what those are, so I’ve written up a couple of lists in case you need a little posi inspiration.  

 

5 Happy Thoughts

 

  1. Upwards of 4 million people marched across the United States yesterday. There were marches all over the world to show solidarity with those in the US who are resisting bigotry, racism, sexism, xenophobia and fear.
  2. Baby animals and baby humans exist. If you are ever sad, there are a million Insta accounts to overwhelm you with cuteness.
  3. It’s getting a little brighter (and a little closer to spring) each day. More sunlight = happier people.
  4. We live in a country where we have access to excellent healthcare. I have never once had to consider if I can afford a visit to my doctor due to financial constraints and find it hard to imagine not having access to safe and affordable healthcare.
  5. The internet: OK, HEAR ME OUT. Yes, the internet brings the grossest and most horrible parts of the human mind out in the open, but it allows us access to information, connection and opportunities that we never could have previously imagined. That’s pretty fucking great.

 

5 Positive Things to do for Yourself Today

 

  1. Take a nap. Naps aren’t an indulgence and taking a nap doesn’t mean you’re lazy. Give yourself the permission to rest. Improve your nap experience with soft blankets, taking off your pants and cuddling with a human and/or animal companion.
  2. Make safe-to-eat raw cookie dough: coconut oil/butter/margarine, maple syrup or sugar, flour, vanilla extract, chocolate chips. Blend, eat, congratulate yourself on being a great human and also avoiding salmonella.
  3. Compliment someone else. Tell a friend how you appreciate their insight, compliment your barista on those lattes that keep you alive, thank staff in the store you’re at or tell your coworker that their jokes make your day better. We can forget to express our appreciation for the little things, but you never know how much it may mean to someone. Appreciating others also makes you feel better. It’s a win-win for everyone.
  4. Say ‘No’. About three years ago, I decided to make a concerted effort to say no to things that I don’t want to do, or that I don’t have the time for. It’s a skill that I continually work on. I still find myself double-booked and feeling guilty for taking time for myself, however, since I started to try to say no to things, I feel happier and more centred in myself.
  5. Say ‘Yes’. This is a challenge of another kind. It can be hard to say yes to things that we need. Say yes to an offer of help from a pal, say yes to a road trip, apply to a job you don’t think you’re qualified for, say yes to taking a day (or even an hour) to yourself, say yes to trying something you have always wanted.

These five things will not fix your problems or make you forget that a cheeto is now in charge of a powerful state, but they might make you a little happier and make your week a little easier. Take time to be kind to yourself and to those around you, I promise it’s worth it.

 

BONUS: photos of my stupid cats to brighten your day

To the dude to told me to chill

First off, boy BYE

Your sad little lines reveal more than a lack of game

Don’t worry, I see your fragile

masculinity

I won’t punish you any further with my magic and grace

I won’t make you sit across from a queen,

while you desperately try to think of ways to cut down

women made of stars.

I’m too high for you, boy.

I’m a chill right here, boy

while I rise beyond your greatest dream

I’m a chill right here

far from you and your small mind.

So chill boy,

I won’t trouble you with my vastness,

So chill boy, I’ll keep shining.

The Cult of Busy

If you ask me what I have been up to, I will tell you that I have been busy, same answer for what I will be doing. I – like many other people – am always busy. I am always on my way to an appointment, work or a meeting, coffee with a friend, or just running errands. When I’m not physically doing something, I’m thinking about it. Time for rest is rare and fleeting and I’m usually weighed down with a sense of guilt and anxiety of what I should be doing.

I am not alone in feeling like this, most of us feel like we must always be busy and occupied. Anything less must mean we are lazy.

I recently had a week off and for the first three days I was uncomfortable. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I felt bad for taking time off. I haven’t taken time off for anything other than a family emergency or medical reasons in years. I felt a bit lost at different times during the week – when I tried to think of what I should be doing or where I had to be, I realized I didn’t have to rush anywhere. The projects I’m working on are well underway, I would have plans to see a friend later, but there was no rush. It felt weird to not be stressed.

We equate being busy with being successful. If we are always busy, we must always being working and if we are always working, we are then viewed as successful. It may sound trite, but I blame capitalism for our obsession with busyness.

Under capitalism nothing is ever given. We trade labour for money; we trade money for things we need to live – food, shelter, coffee to keep us awake so we can keep working. Capitalism teaches us that nothing worthwhile comes for free. We must give something to get anything, but at the same time, we can’t expect anything in return. We often work – or stay busy – just for the sake of it. We have become so accustomed to working towards something – an education, a 15-minute break, money, or whatever else drives you – that we do not take the time to just be.

Halfway through writing this blog post, I came down with a cold. What I thought would be one or two days of sniffles and a headache turned into a full week of being sick and being sent home from work twice (thanks Nicole!) In my feverish state, I just went to work because that is what I always do. Taking a sick day, even though I was sick, felt like I was being lazy. Luckily, I have people in my life who are more sensible than me and made me go home.

During my forced time off, I had a lot of time to think, and since every time I moved I felt like I was going to fall over, I had to sit with my thoughts and let myself rest. It was uncomfortable, and needed.

Having a full life is not the same as always being busy. It is a hard lesson to learn, and one we will probably continue to forget. There is nothing wrong with having a lot going on in your life, but learning to focus more of what adds value to your life rather than being busy for the sake of being busy can lead to lessened anxiety, better sleep, and generally more enjoyment. There is nothing wrong with enjoying life; we don’t have to punish ourselves to deserve a break or a self-care Saturday. Capitalism teaches us that our only value is our productivity – we are so much more than our ability to work. It is a lesson we must continually learn in a society that teaches us the opposite. Be gentle and patient, doing nothing takes time.