Category Archives: What I’m Doing

Activism for Introverts and Highly Sensitive People

As you might already know, kind and gentle reader, I am an introvert and a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). Because of this I prefer dialogue over debate, connection over confrontation, individuals or small groups over large crowds, quiet over noise, calm over chaos. To be completely honest, most of the time I prefer to be alone.

I used to say, “I’m not a very political person.” I’d joke that if people were on opposite corners of the street carrying signs and chanting about the various ways they opposed each other, I’d be more likely to show up with sandwiches for everyone than to grab a sign and join a group on a corner. I had strong opinions, voted, donated money to various causes, used my social media and blog to share information and marginalized voices, but I wasn’t what’s traditionally considered “active.”

Now I understand that perspective as a manifestation of my privilege. I could stay out of politics because for the most part it had very little impact on me or my daily life. I’m white, married to a white man, a “dink” (double income, no kids), college educated, a documented citizen, able bodied, neuro-typical, conventionally-ish attractive, live in a liberal area, a homeowner, cisgender, pass as straight, work at a university in the College of Liberal Arts, a native English speaker, have health insurance through my work (along with paid sick leave and retirement), and have no criminal record. Did I mention I’m white? Things are pretty easy for someone like me.

So even with the election of this new president, my personal experience won’t necessarily change. However, what has become very clear to me, in the past decade in particular, is that isn’t good enough. It will never be good enough. As long as we continue to be a culture where white supremacy is embedded in every institution, and people who look like me willingly do harm to people of color, gladly oppress those who are different, actively generate suffering for others in order to maintain those systems and that privilege, I can’t be quiet or still.

And yet, this presents a clear dilemma for me: I am an introvert and a highly sensitive person. What does it mean for me to be “active”?

Here are some ideas:

  • Take care of myself. It’s important to prioritize self-care, for all the reasons we always hear about – not being able to pour from an empty cup, putting on our oxygen mask before helping someone else with theirs, that making an offering from our own suffering only generates more suffering. It’s essential to maintain my own sanity and wellbeing, so I can be of benefit. I must practice (yoga, meditation, writing), train my own mind, learn to work with my own emotions, feel what I am feeling. I ask for help if I need it. Sometimes that means a therapist, sometimes that means cancelling plans or texting a friend. I practice self-compassion. I pace myself. I take time for creative practice. I make space. I try not to lose my sense of humor, (my go to antidote here is to search YouTube for blooper reels from my favorite shows and movies). I loved what Ethan Nichtern had to say recently on the subject, “In times of fear and stress, sleeping, eating well, and exercise are the first things to evaporate. Let’s make sure they don’t. It all starts at home, and the first thing we need to do is take good care of our own bodies.”
  • Educate myself, about everything. I’ve been reading about the history of issues I care about, as well as the current state of affairs, trying to pay attention to as many people of marginalized and oppressed populations as possible. Besides reading, I also listen. I filled my social media feeds with those same people, along with many activists. Most importantly, in situations where I’m not an expert (i.e. pretty much all of them), I listen before I act. I check my own ideas against what’s already been said and done, and look to those already doing the work, those with the knowledge about skillful action, to understand what I can do to help. I’ve joined some really great mailing lists like My Civic Workout, subscribed to things like the Safety Pin Box, and am taking lots of classes like Hard Conversations: An Introduction to Racism.
  • “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are,” (Theodore Roosevelt). I asked myself, “What can I already do? What are my skills? What do I have to offer?” I’m a yoga and writing teacher, and a meditation instructor, so I looked for ways I could offer those things as service. I started to take local action, learning about the issues in my home town, county, and state, and the ways I could help make change where I live. I can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the national and global issues, but by bringing my view down to the level of my own community, my neighbors, it feels more workable to me. Doing good things for people I know, am connected to, is more doable.
  • Make offerings. I enable the activism of others, offer help, support them however they might need. I look to see who is already doing the work, and I donate and volunteer to help them. I practice generosity and kindness whenever the opportunity to do so arises. I lovebomb.
  • Use my voice. I can write my congress people, an op-ed, a blog post, or a letter to a person I know needs encouragement to hang in there or even to do better. I can use social media to share information and amplify marginalized voices.
  • Build confidence. I sometimes will challenge myself to just one hard thing, something I’ve never done before, and see what happens, knowing I’ll need to allow for extra time to prepare and time to repair after. For example, the first time I called my congressperson (gah, I hate talking on the phone), I wrote a script to use, but I still cried as I read it, in part because I was nervous but in part because I was so angry and concerned about the issue and was overwhelmed by it, and I needed a few days of rest after. Sometimes I’ll bribe myself, “if you do this, then you can spend the whole day in your pjs tomorrow, reading or watching tv.” I show up to things, taking a buddy if I can, staying near a door, taking breaks or leaving early if I need to. In situations where I feel insecure or unprepared, and where support is offered by someone more skillful and experienced, I get trained, certified, or otherwise empowered. For example, in a few weeks I’ll be starting the Coaching as Activism Program.
  • Cultivate community. As an introvert, I need time alone, but I also need to feel connected to people – really, truly, and deeply. Some of the ways I’ve done that are to: Start a book couple, (one friend to read and discuss a book with, rather than a whole group). Go to a movie, like “I Am Not Your Negro” (a documentary about James Baldwin), and then go out for dinner or coffee and discuss it. Get a group of my favorite people together once a month to share and support each other, maybe over dinner or a collective creative project. Designate an ally – a therapist or friend that is my “go to” person in a crisis. Surround myself with good people.
  • Seek guidance and inspiration. I look to the people and projects I admire and trust. I take their advice, follow their lead, allow them to vet what is important, and to recommend what I should pay attention to or take part in. I read, watch movies, listen to music – because art can be activism, and it can be medicine.
  • Focus my energy. I trust myself to know what to do, when, as well as when to wait or even opt out altogether. I know my limits and triggers, and I honor them. I maintain boundaries. I give myself the time and space I need. I limit my time online, am careful what I read, make sure to fact check everything, and take a break when I’m feeling overwhelmed — How to Avoid Being Psychologically Destroyed by Your Newsfeed was a helpful post in that regard.

Back in November, when I first brainstormed the outline for this post, I couldn’t find much already written on the subject. Since then, more has been written, and the search results were much better when I tried again.

What I’m Doing: Fat Acceptance

joel-peel-99630

This blog started with my “life rehab.” After years of a toxic work environment and two significant personal losses, I looked at my life with a new clarity and realized I wasn’t happy. As I dug a little deeper into the “why?” I realized I’d been in a long term abusive relationship — with myself. As I untangled the “why?” there, I discovered self-aggression directed at my body, which manifested as disordered eating and overexercise, a self-loathing that at times turned suicidal.

I started therapy, directly focused on the disordered eating but which uncovered deeper suffering still. I worked a lot with Rachel Cole. I read a lot of books, did research, took classes and went on retreats. I stopped dieting, quit starving myself. I stopped working out with my trainer. I became a yoga teacher and meditation instructor. I did a little more therapy.

I started making choices about what to eat and how to move that were about feeling good and overall wellbeing, rather than about a number (weight or clothing size or BMI) or how it would make me look. I embodied what it meant to love myself. It’s been a lot of work, effort and energy and attention, and I’m still not all the way “there,” (whatever that means).

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What I realized the other day is that because of the work I’ve done for myself, it’s natural for me to advocate for others who suffer in similar ways. Because of my increased awareness and sensitivity, I see things other people might miss. I understand suffering and love in a way some people won’t even allow themselves to consider. They choose instead what is easy, embodying willful ignorance — pettiness, hatefulness, bigotry.

Take this video, for example. Someone shared it on Facebook the other day, with the caption, “Inspirational ❤ .” I watched it and had a completely different reaction. I felt sick to my stomach, then I cried. The more I thought about it, the angrier I got — white hot rage.

The video was made by Edeka, the largest supermarket corporation in Germany. As I write this post, it’s had 2.6 million YouTube views, and on their Facebook page it’s been viewed 33 million times, been shared close to 450,000 times, and the reactions range from like, love, and “haha.” There are 16,000+ comments on the Facebook post, and many are in German, so I didn’t spend time reading them and can’t really tell you exactly what people were saying.

The video is blatantly fatphobic. It portrays fat people as lazy, satisfied with eating the same gruel day after day. They eat lunch at their desk as they work or while waiting for the bus, and even their pets are fat. They dress in muted dull colors and are shown restricted to the city, with its concrete and lack of nature. The clear message in this representation is that fat bodies (people!) are lazy, boring, joyless, unhappy, and essentially immobile.

At a key moment in the video, a young boy notices a bird outside the window. Seeing it fly gets him excited about the prospect of flying himself. We all know humans can’t fly unaided by the technology of a plane, or at the very least a hang glider. No matter how thin you are, a bunch of balloons or a pair of cardboard wings won’t enable you to actually fly. And yet, the video shows differently.

latestrawberries

The boy tries everything he can think of, but always fails, clearly because he’s too fat. Then one day, he sees the bird eating berries, so changes his own diet to berries. I’m sure you can guess what happens next. It’s pure “body transformation = happiness” porn. The boy looses weight because of his new diet, and makes a pair of cardboard wings that allow him to fly just like the bird. The final scene is of him relaxing in a lovely lush meadow, “finally” happy in his new thin and therefore apparently magical body, popping a single berry in his mouth. A caption in German reads, “Eat like the person you want to become.”

The message is clear: fat = unhappy & unhealthy. And to change yourself, simply change your diet. There’s so much wrong with this that I don’t even have space in a single blog post to dismantle it completely. What I do know is “the cake is a lie,” (essentially, your promised reward is merely a fictitious motivator). There are plenty of studies, books, articles, and research that debunk this simple formula, and even more personal stories that make it clear that diet and exercise don’t automatically lead to happiness or health.

Eating good food is a choice, but more importantly YOU get to decide what “good” means. For me, good food is what appeals to me, satisfies my eyes and nose and mouth and stomach, tastes good and makes me feel good — sometimes that means I feel more energy, sometimes it means I feel more relaxed. Sometimes that means eating a kale salad, but sometimes it’s a slice of cake, and none of my choices have anything to do with my worth as a human being, because what I eat isn’t about morality. Same goes for movement — I do what brings me joy and feels good to my body. It has nothing to do with trying to chase a number or manipulate the way I look. It has nothing to do with being pleasing or acceptable or valuable to anyone but myself.

The bottom line is this: One’s choice to treat others with generosity and compassion, to be a sane and wise person in our dealings with other people, should be based in our common humanity, NOT the way our pants fit. I guarantee if you turned your effort and energy towards loving people, towards easing suffering in yourself and in the world, you wouldn’t have time for all this other nonsense.

lovebomb07

Some resources that might be helpful:

What I’m Doing: Begin

begintoknowwhy

When I got a package from Sabrina Ward Harrison recently, a thank you for a GoFundMe project of hers I’d donated to, on the back of the enclosed thank you note was the above — most likely it was a practice sheet or something that didn’t turn out quite how she’d imagined. In that way it was a reject of sorts, and yet ever since it came in the mail, I’ve had it on the shrine that’s on my writing desk. The “real” artwork she sent is still safely tucked in it’s envelope, but this is out.

This is where I am: at the beginning. And any time I feel discouraged, like I don’t know what to do or that what I do is never going to be enough, I remind myself — simply come back and start again, let go and come back, (which is what my teacher, Susan Piver, always says), and to lower the bar (that from the brilliant Rachel Cole), all the way to the ground if necessary, meeting me wherever I happen to be.

I can’t really do much more than rest and heal right now, after my surgery. And I won’t lie, even though I’m doing okay, it’s not easy — I’m tired and sore and can’t really get completely comfortable to fully rest. This is my “work” right now, and it is workable. And yet, even with all this stillness and rest, my mind keeps on going, continuing on in confusion and contemplation.

Here’s what I feel like I know: After all the overwhelm of the first initial weeks of the new administration, all of the frantic scrolling and reading and listening I did, meeting with other like minded people to do a lot of “wtf?” and “what do we do now?”, I’ve narrowed down all the issues to one core problem — white supremacy.

Every single action taken by this new administration has been an effort to maintain white supremacy, to strengthen systems already in place and to dismantle anything that contradicts them, including engaging in the ongoing oppression of people who don’t happen to be white.

I’m not gonna lie, this is hard to acknowledge when you are white. When there is no way to opt out or undo your whiteness, your privilege. At first, I literally couldn’t see, having worked so hard to maintain blind spots, put so much effort towards being willfully ignorant. Once I chose to see, the weight of that reality was overwhelming. Then once I decided to do something, it can feel like I will never be able to do enough, no matter how hard I work at it.

So I come back to the one thing I can do: begin. That has required a lot of deep listening, specifically to people of color. I’ve also been reading a lot, doing the work for myself rather than asking someone else to explain it to me. It’s meant being uncomfortable and confused. It’s meant joining classes and communities where I can get support for doing the work, where I get assistance understanding from people who’ve already figured it out and want to share. It’s meant helping, even before I’m entirely sure what the right help is. It means I make a lot of mistakes. It means I allow my position to be decentralized. It means I step back and let others speak. It means that even when I feel uncomfortable or confused, I don’t make it someone else’s responsibility to fix that. It means I show up. It means I don’t give up.

 

What I’m Doing

zafe-zone-sticker

I completed Safe Zone training at CSU this week. I stayed after and talked with the Assistant Director about offering some of my Crazy Wisdom classes, either to their staff or some of their student groups. As I already mentioned the other day, I’m finishing up 37 Days of Activism, and just started Hard Conversations: An Introduction to Racism and Healing from Toxic Whiteness, all really great online courses.

I’m reading Big Girl: How I Gave Up Dieting and Got a Life by Kelsey Miller, just got done with The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae and You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson. Next will be something by Roxane Gay, either Bad Feminist or Difficult Women. She’s going to be reading in Denver in February and I’m hoping to go.

Michael Xavier

Tomorrow I’m teaching a yoga class. Our theme will be showing up as you are and being with whatever might arise, keeping your heart open, confidence in the way that Susan Piver describes it, “the willingness to be as ridiculous, luminous, intelligent, and kind as you really are, without embarrassment.” We’ll be opening our hearts, reaching and stretching, finding strength in our legs and balance in our foundation. Later, I’m going to see Moonlight at our local indie theater, the Lyric Cinema. On Monday, I’m going to the MLK march and celebration.

I started a group called the Hen House Collective. My intention was not to start a “movement” or a “revolution,” but to figure out how to help with what’s already being done, to have some company during this process, to help me filter through all the information and figure out what actions to take. There are going to end up being about 10-15 of us, and we’ll have our first official meeting the first Sunday of February. I suggested some prompts to consider before we meet:

  • What issues do I care about most?
  • What local issues or groups do I want to most help?
  • What special skills or knowledge can I offer?
  • What do I want to know more about?
  • What sort of action am I most comfortable with?

The invitation letter I sent went like this: (with special thanks to my dear friend and teacher, Laurie Wagner for the inspiration)


Farm Country
By Mary Oliver

I have sharpened my knives, I have
Put on the heavy apron.

Maybe you think life is chicken soup, served
In blue willow-pattern bowls.

I have put on my boots and opened
The kitchen door and stepped out

Into the sunshine. I have crossed the lawn.
I have entered

The hen house.

My friend and teacher Laurie Wagner shared this Mary Oliver poem recently on her blog. In her post, Laurie said “I’ve never been political. The truth is, I’ve been sleep walking in a field of privilege my entire life. I’ve been in the comfortable bubble.”

Like Laurie, I’ve never been particularly political. I’m fundamentally a peacemaker and as such have always had trouble “choosing sides.” As an introvert and a highly sensitive person I’m also uncomfortable with confrontation and chaos. I used to joke that if two opposing groups where having a debate, I’d make everyone sandwiches or hand out cookies rather than holding a sign or taking a stand. The truth is my privilege has meant getting involved was always a choice – I could decide to show up or I could stay out of it altogether.

This is no longer the case. As Laurie said,

I also never understood how one person could make a difference. There are so many issues, where do I start? Where will my money and my time be most effective? It’s dizzying for me.

But today, with Trump and his cronies at the helm, I realize that it’s not so much the difference that I might make that matters, or whether I know the right words to get into the conversation, but instead it’s the way I want to live and show up in the world that matters more. I’ve never felt a call to action until now, and I’m not entirely sure what my contribution will look like, but Donald Trump – if he’s done anything – has woken me up, and from the looks of it, has woken you up too. This is his gift. This is the doorway, the invitation and I’m grateful in my life time to get a chance to walk through it.

I feel called, as Laurie does, to take a different approach. To be uncomfortable. To take action, without reactivity or aggression. To read more, to listen more, to educate myself. To contribute – my time, my effort, my attention, my voice, my money. To find out more about my local issues, figure out how and who I can help. To do what Theodore Roosevelt said and, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

I’m wondering if you’d like to do this with me? Keep me company, do this in community? Here’s what I’m thinking:

  • Meet once a month
  • Be a combination reading, writing, and action group
  • Share what we know (links to articles, people to pay attention to, upcoming events, movies or TV shows to watch, etc.). There’s so much information to sift through right now, so many possible actions that I would love the help of some people willing to share the effort
  • Share what we are working on
  • Share what we are struggling with, confused about
  • Collectively do good work, local or otherwise
  • Do some creative work together
  • Use social media as a tool to support our effort
  • Support each other as we individually and collectively work through the best way to navigate this shift, to engage with whatever might arise, and to do so without becoming overwhelmed or burnt out

Anyone want to join me in the hen house?


In some ways, I know that no matter what I do it will never be enough. I also know that no matter what I do, there will still be suffering. I’m also realizing how important it is to take care of myself, to not get overwhelmed or burn out, to not loose my sense of humor. And I am so so grateful that as I do what I do, I have good company and help — that includes you, kind and gentle reader. ❤

What I’m Doing

Kitchen counter love note

Kitchen counter love note

The other day, I wrote a little bit about what was true for me right now. I talked about a quote I’d heard somewhere, “do what you can where you are,” but at that time I didn’t do any research to find out its origins. Turns out it was Theodore Roosevelt, and the full quote is, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

That’s what I’m doing. I’m reading a lot online, posts from people who have been living with this shock, this grief for most of their lived experience, who knew that there was the lingering strong presence of this kind of misogyny, racism, bigotry, fascism, etc., and have been saying all along that this was going on, but I was an asshole living in a bubble and didn’t listen. I realize that now, and I’m going to do better. When I’m reading, usually if something makes me uncomfortable, touches a nerve, I know to lean in because that’s where the real work is for me.

I’m trying to educate myself. Besides reading as much as I can on the internet, I just ordered a copy of A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn (one for Eric too so we can read it together) and put The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan on my Kindle. I’ve got lots of other relevant and more current books on my Kindle, and some great reading lists to consult when I’m ready for more. I’m also going to sign up for Patti Digh’s next session of Hard Conversations: An Introduction to Racism. Any recommendations you have for websites, articles, movies, courses, people to follow, places to volunteer or donate, kind and gentle reader, please let me know.

I spent this morning donating. I gave to Planned Parenthood, because no matter what my own personal choices are, I want all women to be able to choose whether or not they have children, to be able to plan their families, to have access to safe and legal abortions, to have a place to receive crucial health screenings and sex education. Planned Parenthood is not just a place to get an abortion; they do so much more.

I also gave to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe DAPL Donation Fund, because it’s not right what’s happening there. It’s against treaties we signed, promises that were made. It was moved there because another white community didn’t want it, and yet it’s being forced on this native community. Also, the environmental concerns are valid and the greed that’s driving this is sickening. How this is being handled, the force being used against a peaceful and valid protest, is unconscionable.

Then I gave to the Southern Poverty Law Center, because they are “dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society. Using litigation, education, and other forms of advocacy, the SPLC works toward the day when the ideals of equal justice and equal opportunity will be a reality,” and I want to help them do that.

I gave to the Prison Mindfulness Institute, because someone I love very much is in prison right now, and after watching the documentary 13th, I’m even more committed to pushing for reform of that system. I believe that meditation is a powerful path to transformation, and the Prison Mindfulness Institute is committed to “transforming individual lives as well as transforming the corrections system as a whole in order to mitigate its extremely destructive impact on families, communities and the overall social capital of our society.”

Then I went to the grocery store, where people working with the Food Bank of Larimer County were handing out lists of the most needed food donations. While I was buying my own groceries, I bought the items on the list, and not only that, I bought the good stuff — albacore all white wild caught tuna and all natural peanut butter, for example. I was already donating money to their Thanksgiving drive, but they made it so easy for me to do this extra bit. No one should go hungry, and if I am ever in similar need I hope someone will step in and feed me too, without judging how I ended up in that situation.

Later today, I’m going to my first rally. As an introvert and highly sensitive person, I typically avoid large crowds. Even if they are celebrating and everyone is happy, it makes me panicky, so many people and so much noise. But I’m going to try anyway. Today is the Fort Collins Peace and Solidarity Rally, promised to be a peaceful event, because, “Countless Muslims, Immigrants, LGBTQ individuals, People of all Ethnicities, Veterans, Individuals with Disabilities, and Women have had their very livelihoods threatened. We are coming together to show our support that you are not alone in our community and we value you as equals, as Americans. We see you, we hear you, we love you and we stand with you.” Tomorrow, I’m going to try and go to another, the Fort Collins Standing Rock Rally & Prayer Gathering. “Please come and gather not as protesters but as supporters of the Standing Rock Water Protectors, Sacred Waters and our Earth Mother. This is a prayerful and peaceful gathering.

Tomorrow, I’m also going to sneak into the building I work in and love bomb it. It’s been a few years since I’ve done it, because we had to move out while it got remodeled. I put up tearable flyers in the employee mail room, bathrooms, and over the water fountains. They get taken down pretty quickly by facilities when they clean, but sometimes they look the other way for a few days before taking them down. This will be the third time I’ve love bombed Eddy Hall, and only a few people know it is me, (besides all of you).

lovebombmaterials

I’m also doing my best to take care of myself, because if I’m strong and healthy and well-fed and well-rested and practiced, I can do more. To help me do so, I’m continuing to follow Susan Piver’s model, 5 steps to establish genuine confidence, which seem on the surface so simple, almost cheesy, but when you put them into practice, they are so powerful. I’m also all in on Susan’s idea for a third party, which she describes here, I want a viable third party and I want it today. I’m practicing “like my hair is on fire,” being gentle and kind, and as always, doing what I can, with what I have, where I am. May you do the same, kind and gentle reader.