What more can I say about last Wednesday’s siege of the U.S. Capitol by white supremacists that you haven’t already heard from journalists, writers, and elected officials? I am tempted to share my outrage and anger but those emotions have already been strongly reverberated on media outlets and social media so I don’t feel the need to contribute more. I’m interested in offering something else. I want to explore how we can metabolize what happened in a way that creates a pathway for healing using my own experience.
Oppression is a process of estrangement and one of the first things oppression estranges us from is our very own bodies. Our bodies are often the site of violence, especially for people with marginalized identities, but a supremacist society conditions us to dismiss the signals that our bodies send us to let us know that we are hurting. With our somatic awareness suppressed, we become less able to process our violent experiences and heal, and the unresolved energies eventually transmute into trauma. I grew up being taught to suppress unpleasant emotions like sadness, grief, and anger, and subsequently I forgot how to listen to my body. It took years of working with a somatic therapist for me to unlearn a lot of internalized oppression and remember how to pay attention to my body. This remembrance allowed me last week to maintain awareness of what was going on in my body as I witnessed on TV the violent mob taking over the capitol building. My body was tense. My stomach was pins and needles. My pupils were constricted. I noticed these sensations and knew what was happening. My body thought I was in physical danger, specifically racial danger. Growing up in the U.S. as a racialized Asian person has exposed me to countless racial microaggression and sometimes overt, physical aggression. My body has learned to be hypervigilant, staying ever alert for the threat of white assault on my Asian body. My body recognized the violence on TV and it started to feel deeply afraid even though my mind took longer to come to the same realization. As a person of color, I did not have the privilege of only feeling shock and outrage, which I did feel, but I also felt profoundly endangered. I had trouble leaving my home for the rest of the week.
Liberation starts with getting reacquainted with our bodies, which while being the site of much violence, are also the source of healing. I tapped into the healing intelligence of my body. Instead of telling myself that I should not feel angry or afraid, I gave myself full permission to feel angry and afraid. I honored those feelings by carving out space and time to feel them deeply. The counter-intuitive truth I have learned about bodies after years of practicing somatics is that as soon as our bodies believe they have been heard, they will let go of whatever feelings they are holding onto. I also gave my body lots of time to rest. Work was not going to come first. I follow the wisdom of Nap Bishop Tricia Hersey, who explains that when white supremacy culture wants us in a constant state of urgency, learning to rest is an act of resistance. I lived last week in the fullness of my being, rather than in a state of inadequacy, of not-enough-ness. Giving my body all the care that it needed enabled me to metabolize the violence I was witnessing and eventually recover to a state of wholeness and Buddhic peace.
Healing starts with our individual bodies and it must also occur on the level of society. In this arena, healing requires truth and accountability. I am reminded of Senator Lindsey Graham who tweeted last week that Congress should forego the idea of a second impeachment so that the nation can heal. The irony and hypocrisy of his statement is laughable, but it is actually representative of what so many white people believe — that racial healing and reconciliation can occur without white people acknowledging and taking accountability for the legacy of racial harm. President-elect Biden asks the nation to unite, but makes no pathway for our nation to talk about Wednesday’s attempted coup, which continues a long line of white people asking society to come together without acknowledging the past. White people ask Black people to move on from slavery even though the United States government has never atoned for its sin and attempted reparations. White people want to uphold the myth of Thanksgiving and harmony with Native people when America has not apologized for genocide, land dispossession, and boarding schools. White people claim to be color-blind, never bring up race, and want everyone to just “get along” when the police clearly see race every time they terrorize Black and brown communities. Martin Luther King Jr. explained that there can be no peace without justice. All relationships in conflict and abusive relationships, from those between individuals to those between the state and its people, need a full accounting of the harm done before any reconciliation and healing can occur. If this nation is to truly heal, we must all participate in a process of talking about things that have happened and taking accountability for them.
While last Wednesday’s event was traumatic, I am reminded of my American privilege by my husband, who grew up in a country that was under a twenty-year dictatorship that the United States helped put in place. American presidents, both Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative, have orchestrated CIA-backed and military-backed coups in other countries that have led to the destruction of democratic governments and the rise of dictatorships. Last Wednesday’s attempted coup by a U.S. president should not be shocking. The only difference was that a U.S. president tried it on his own people. Americans experienced for the first time a glimpse of what the United States has been doing to other countries for decades. In order for us to heal, our truth and accountability process must also take into account this aspect of American history.
How is your organization supporting individuals, particularly people of color, to talk about what happened at the U.S. Capitol and heal from it? How is your organization supporting truth and reconciliation within the organization and out in society in general?
For truth and healing,
We worked hard the past few months to revamp our website and we’re excited to announce that it’s finally live! Check out the new Daniel Lim Consulting website, which features a new aesthetic and more importantly, new language that more fully communicates who we are and what we do. The new website presents our vision of liberation and renewal, explains our regenerative and liberatory framework and how it defines our practice areas, and describes the full scope of consulting, facilitation, and training services we provide to organizations and communities.
Executive Directors Learning Circle
Daniel Lim is excited to partner with Yoojin Lee and the Asian American Federation to launch an Executive Directors Learning Circle this spring. The learning circle supports executive directors of nonprofits that serve communities of color in New York City to practice regenerative leadership and successfully navigate their organizations through this time of great upheaval and uncertainty. The learning circle offers a much-needed space where ED’s can honestly speak about the challenges they are facing, build relationships, and learn critical skills through peer learning such as fundraising in the time of COVID-19, dismantling anti-Black racism in one’s organization, and practicing mutual aid.
Tips & Resources
Somatic Awareness Exercise
The supremacist society that we all live in has taught us that unpleasant feelings and sensations are bad and that we should suppress or expel them from our bodies as soon as possible. The truth is that there is value to feeling the more difficult feelings in life such as anger, rage, grief, and sadness, since they are our bodies’ way of letting us know that we’re alive. The exercise below is a powerful, but low-risk practice that simply asks you to pay attention to the feelings and sensations in your body without changing them. It is powerful because it helps you become reacquainted with your own body and it is low risk because it accommodates the fact that many people who have experienced assault or abuse may feel unsafe going into their own bodies. The simple invitation towards observation keeps the exercise relatively safe and accessible. Our DLC team likes to do this exercise at the beginning of workshops to help participants ground themselves. You can do this exercise at the beginning of workshops, high-stakes meetings, in your personal time, and really whenever.
- Get into a comfortable state. You may sit or stand. Close your eyes if you wish.
- First, take notice of your breathing. You are simply observing your breathing. You are not trying to change it. Your breath can be fast or slow. It can be shallow or deep. Let it be what it is. Your job is simply to observe your breathing.
- Now let’s move on to your head. What sensations do you notice throughout your head and face? How does your hair hang if you have hair? Do the roots of your hair feel tense or do you not feel them at all? Do you feel tension in your forehead and eyebrows? Do your eyes feel tired or refreshed? How do your cheeks feel? There are a lot of nerves throughout your head and face, so simply take stock of all the sensations that you might be picking up now that you’re paying attention.
- Let’s move to your neck and shoulders. Does your neck feel strained or relaxed? Any special sensations on the back of your neck? Are your shoulders open or closed?
- Now let’s move to your arms and hands. How do your arms hang off your shoulders? Are they tense or relaxed? What is the temperature of your hands?
- Expand your attention to your back. Can you sense the curvature of your spine? If you’re sitting, allow yourself to enjoy the pleasure of your back being supported by the chair or couch. Let your body sink into the chair and the earth and feel its solidness and how comforting and safe it feels.
- Expand your attention to your abdomen. Our gut has a lot of neurons so they are often the first organs in our bodies that perceive and experience external stimuli before our heart and brain even register them. How does your stomach feel right now? Does your gut have any tingly sensation?
- We move our attention now to our legs and feet. What sensations do you feel there? Do you feel any localized pressure points? Do your feet feel cold or warm, dry or wet?
- For the remaining two minutes, simply maintain awareness of all the sensations you’re feeling throughout your body without changing any of them. Simply relish in the awareness of your body.
- When you are ready to do so, close out the exercise by saying ‘Thank You’ to your body. You can give yourself a hug if you wish. Open your eyes if they are closed.