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The Revolutionary Act of Living

for the Indigo Children

just trying to live

and feel

in a world that has always been too much.

I have been hibernating. Incubating. Gestating. Growing a baby, and giving birth to a dissertation that feels long overdue.  My silence will not protect me, but sometimes it does preserve me. I have learned not to speak until I am sure of what to say… especially when it seems that every intelligent, political thing to be said about this moment has already been said or written by my own heroes. I have learned, through the murder of my little brother, that testimony is a powerful tool. Our own story is often the only one we are truly qualified to tell, and no one can tell it better than we can.

When I first tried to write about Michael Brown, and Eric Garner, and Ezell Ford, and John Crawford, and the countless others whose murders have recently been brought to our attention, I realized that I had already written about the devaluation of Black life, and a vigilante police state that protects private property over living beings. I realized that although the players change, the story is a continuing loop, and we need new narratives. So I decided to write something from the heart instead; something that may not change a soul besides my own… something for the Indigo Children, the introverts, and the highly sensitive people for whom it is often necessary to hide, and feel, and mourn in silence before we choose to speak.

The recurring questions in my life these days are, “What is my role in the movement? When and where and how do I enter? How do I sustain my community and myself when I don’t have the wherewithal to lie down in the streets, or even leave the house?” My short answer is to write. But what about the times when I can’t breathe? When I choke on my words? When my throat chakra collapses in on itself, trapping my eloquent prose before it can escape? In those moments, when I feel so small, and so tired, and so ineffective, I write words that only I will read. I have conversations with small groups of people, trusting the exponential river-like ripple that my influence will have. I sit with my sangha and we meditate, cultivating peace first within ourselves before sending it infinitely outward, like radio waves through quartz crystal. And I give deep thanks for my loved ones at the forefront of this movement. They carry the torch for all of us who feel immobilized by grief and beat down by the world.

In a moment when my entire Facebook timeline seems to be endlessly filled with bad news, disrespect, and cultural appropriation, it brings me joy that the unveiling of my baby brings joy to those I love. It makes me so happy that my mother, who carries the weight of the world on her shoulders, can be excited about her first grandchild… and that my father, who lost a son and a brother this past year, can look forward to something new in this recurring nightmare.

And of course I worry, every day, about this little Black child growing inside of me. I worry about their physical health and development, but I worry more about how the physical world will affect them once they have left the safety of my womb. I worry, just like I worry about my baby’s big, beautiful Black father when he goes out into the world. I worry because I know that it doesn’t matter if I have a boy or a girl in a world that eats its young; where a little Black girl sleeping in her bed is as vulnerable as an unarmed Black man. I know that this militarized police state will snuff out the light of a Black child as quickly as it will choke the life from a grown Black man. I realize this. And yet, I am shepherding in a new life. I am the conscious conduit for a new light. And although I have worked in my own small way to make this world better for all of our children, I know that it is not yet enough. But I also know that every single one of my heroes inherited the troubles of a world that they did not create, so I trust that this child, every child who stands on the shoulders of the ancestors, will be their own link in the chain.

I can’t breathe, and yet I must, because my breath is not just for me anymore. The little life inside of me proves that life must go on. It has to. I’m not doing anyone any favors by not living my own Black life fully.  I am grateful for the chance to be a caretaker and guardian and teacher for someone other than myself… for the chance to carry, sustain, and nurture Black life, which certainly feels like a revolutionary act in these days and times.

I reclaim my health, life, and vitality in the name of the fallen ones: Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, John Crawford, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Ikenna Uwakah. I bring new life into the world in honor of the lives you lost too soon.

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For 2013 and Beyond…

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Deer Park Valley, 12/31/2012

If good intentions pave the road to hell, then what paves the gilded road to heaven? Perhaps the bricks in that road are cemented with discipline, and a mindful practice. 

On this first day of the fresh new year, as many of us call forth our aspirations and name our goals, I also reflect on 2012 and the powerful transformations and liberations that it brought me. I journal to curate the touchstones of my own life—and not just the sweet, beautiful moments either. The sad, scary, embarrassing stuff is part of the story too, and I think those are the elements that actually make me fully human.  Looking back through the archives of my life, it’s clear that 2012 broke me. Broke me down, open and through in so many ways.  The self I thought I knew shattered into a million pieces, and the dust resettled in such a way that things couldn’t go back to how they were before, because those old grooves and spaces no longer existed. The only option was newness: new fits, new ways to be. I was forced to put myself back together differently, and in so doing I was transformed, emerging with a heightened knowledge of self.  

Autumn of 2012 was filled with hard lessons and many blessings. It was a season of “yoga moments”, where deep breaths and the courage to cry, sleep, eat, sing, dance and laugh when I needed to was all that kept me from the potential depths of my lows.  It was also a season of major milestones, achievements, and a new level of discipline that I didn’t even realize I was capable of. I’ve been grinding to get to this place, and I’m still grinding, so who knows where I’ll end up—but I’m certain that I’ll still be blessed. In the last couple of months I have created my own ceremonies and rituals.  I have called upon community when I needed to, cherishing genuine laughter and new friendships, but also rejoicing in my solitude, feeling loved and held even when I was alone.

Today I’m back in LA after spending the last 5 days at the Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, where I breathed deeply, ate slowly, listened with an open heart to myself and to those around me, and smiled to my joy and to my suffering alike.  Celebrating the arrival of the New Year in this way/ in this place was so powerful. My dreams were filled with clear messages and ancestral transmissions, and each mindful moment affirmed that I am right where I need to be—right on time, imperfect yet perfectly aligned. And on the last night of the old year, just when I began to think she may not appear at all, the moon came soaring fast and strong and bright from behind the mountain peaks, ascending to her place in the sky and eclipsing every constellation with the largest halo crown I’ve ever seen her wear.

I have so much gratitude for 2012. I surprised myself last year with my own capacity to forgive, to evolve and to surrender.  In 2013 I aspire to embody what I wish the year would bring to me –compassion, acceptance, vulnerability, honesty, authenticity, kindness, love without fear and affection without assumption.  I recognize how far I’ve come, how far yet there is to go, and how much joy is to be had in every step of this journey.  There are decisions to be made, but more importantly, there are intuitions to trust and listen to.  I’ll practice being still, breathing slow and deep, reaching out to the people on my heart, and smiling when I feel the sun on my face (and even when I don’t).

Each new moment is a new chance to get present and get free. In 2013 and beyond, I hope you all find balance, and the necessary courage and discipline to actualize the life you want to live.  May you all learn from your suffering, and release that which does not serve you to make space for joy and new blessings.

Happy New Year!

Why Environmental Justice Should be Everyone’s Priority

Chevron Refinery Fire
August 6, 2012

My heart is heavy with so many things. 2012 has been a year of distractions and distortion: from the Olympics to the election to our favorite guilty-pleasure reality shows.  Meanwhile, a new epidemic of racialized terror is sweeping this pretending-to-be-post-racial nation, where guns are much more quickly and cheaply available than therapy and mental health care, and murderous xenophobia is rationalized away by our twisted double-speaking corporate media. The value of Black and Brown life is as low as ever, evidenced by racially motivated attacks on innocent people, and the fact that there has still been no semblance of justice for Trayvon Martin, or Oscar Grant, or Manuel Diaz, or Kendrec McDade, or Chavis Carter, or the countless others whose lives have been wasted by similar kinds of state sanctioned violence.

I try to build a fortress of health around myself and those I love, doing all that I can to ensure our survival, but the poison still seeps in.  Everything is toxic… our food is tainted with chemicals and pesticides, the education we receive is laced with lies and inaccuracies, and the physical environment is so dangerous and damaging that our babies are sabotaged right from the gate. I often wonder with exasperation, “damn, can we just live??” And methinks the answer is no. Hell no. Obviously not. When has life ever been an easy option? When have people of color ever been more than a source of cheap expendable labor in this country? When has anyone other than us given a fuck about our survival? And although racism is clearly alive and very real, capitalism has effectively reduced ALL OF US to consumers whose value is measured in market terms. No living being who breathes air and drinks water is immune to environmental destruction. Zoom out for a second… look at an atlas or a globe and you will realize that this planet is smaller than we think. Nuclear waste in Japanese oceans will wind up on California shores in a matter of weeks, because it is the same Pacific Ocean, and all of the Earth’s waters and skies are interconnected.

None of our lives, our love, our bodies, have ever mattered to the Chevron corporation, for instance, whose massive fire plume is slowly choking out the oxygen over Richmond and the entire Bay Area as I write this. What can I even say to my friends and loved ones who have been mandated to stay in their homes, barricading themselves against the acrid poisonous air, as if you can really fully protect yourself from air… Do I tell them that I am worried for their lungs and their brains and their skin, because they will have to come out sometime, and they can’t hold their breath forever? And where could they even go to seek refuge? The entire world is being exploited beyond belief. Beyond habitability. And although we have all been trained by formulaic horror flicks to wait patiently and ignorantly for the zombie apocalypse, “the end of the world” is a bit of an inaccurate statement. The world (as in Planet Earth) will be here long after us: just as it was here long before the malignant cancers of industrial profit-driven capitalism and environmental racism.  This planet has survived ice ages and global warmings many times over… we are the fragile ones, so “the end of humanity” is perhaps more precise. It hurts to think about it, so we try not to notice that the future is rapidly becoming the present, where drone warfare is real, and our water is being hydrofracked until it is literally flammable, and the mountaintops are being blown off, and the icecaps have already melted more than scientists thought possible for another three decades.  And although people of color are the first to suffer and the last to get relief, all living beings have a stake in environmental justice because it is our bodies and our children and grandchildren’s bodies that will bear the brunt of these toxins in the form of cancers, neurological disorders, respiratory diseases, etc. for generations to come: just as we who are living now still grapple with the traumas of oil spills and wars and genocides that occurred before we were born.  I am passionate about environmental justice because it is about human survival: a feat that is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve.

As is often the case, Tupac Shakur said it best: “I was given this world, I didn’t make it”. I inherited this world, like an old run-down but nonetheless beautiful estate, and it’s definitely a fixer-upper. Fixing it up isn’t easy and I definitely can’t do it alone, but I’m doing my best.  As small as I may feel sometimes, doing what little I can to educate and protect myself and my loved ones from premature death feels like it’s better than nothing. And re-membering the powerful symbiotic relationship we have with the Earth as human beings is my way of refusing to sit shrouded in numbness, watching helplessly as the world becomes a wretched, burning dystopia. Will you join me?

what, to the revolutionary, is the 4th of July?

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.”

~”What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” Frederick Douglass July 5, 1852.

My least favorite holiday is upon us once again. The 4th of July is easily the most paradoxical, PTSD-triggering, carcinogenic holiday that is forced upon us in this country. As I write this, the walls of my house shake and rattle from the thunderous boom of ceaseless explosions. By tomorrow, South Central LA (and San Francisco, and Oakland, and anywhere else I might try to escape to) will sound and smell like an ash-filled war zone–all in the name of freedom and American patriotism like most war zones usually are. Animals and sensitive people (like myself, returning soldiers, children and the elderly) will flinch and cringe at every blast, never quite ready for the next one.  Dizzying displays of stars and stripes abound, and the proud flutter of confederate flags reminds us that the collective consciousness of this country is still filled with gaping holes.  Americans (along the spectrum of privilege from the very wealthy to the miserably oppressed) will take to backyards, front stoops and neighborhood parks to burn the flesh of exploited animals, adding the charred smoke of blazing barbecues to the smoldering firecracker air. And never mind the ozone layer, because it’s unpatriotic to criticize dynamite-caliber explosives in the name of air quality, health and safety. Americans who are fortunate enough to have jobs in this moment will gather today to savor a rare day off work, to celebrate a lopsided historical narrative of freedom, and to pretend for the day that we all enjoy the fruits of imperialism, of colonialism, of capitalism. But in truth, we do not and we never have under the current system of government. The proposed freedoms and inalienable rights never came true for the majority of us and our ancestors in this nation. Even those among us whose economic and social capital has afforded them the kind of amenities and leisure time which characterize privilege are suffering too, in less visible ways: in long-term ecological ways that affect all living beings, and in karmic ways at the level of the soul. 

I had the privilege of attending Grace Lee Boggs’ 97th birthday party in Detroit earlier this week, and she eloquently reminded us that the very document we revere on this day, the Declaration of Independence itself stipulates, “…whenever any form of Government becomes destructive (of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness), …it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness”. In other words, it is our right as Americans to question, critique, dismantle and recreate any system of governance that no longer serves us. It is our right to abolish the current system that is more invested in surveilling, incarcerating and killing us than educating, feeding or sustaining us. It is our right as Americans to dream new ways of being in the world, and resurrect ancient practices that allow and encourage our survival and happiness. We have borne witness to numerous “Frankenstein systems” that were supposed to serve us but grew out of control. It is time (long overdue) that we reclaim and dictate the terms of our own systems.

As we embark on yet another 4th of July and recognize (as we should) the amount of privilege that we have in this country, may this Independence Day also be about collectivity, freedom dreaming, building the world anew, and not believing all the hype. There is more to being an American than flag waving, charbroiling and blowing things up. Let’s explore what else we have to offer to the world.