Image by Susan Prescott
Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation,
and that is an act of political warfare.
- Audre Lorde
As highly sensitive canaries, we're heart-wired to fight and protest against abuse, prejudice, inequality, oppression, disenfranchisement and privilege by stubbornly embodying the suffering that the rest of society often denies. Somewhere, somehow, the message from source (or even Jesus, MLK, and other messiahs for that matter) that self transcendence after full-embodied actualization and enlightenment is not the same as being a half-cooked sacrificial lamb, got lost in translation.
If this pandemic pause pushing your buttons and revealing your limits, use this information to make a paradigm shift.
Retrace your current mode of operations and any mix-ups to their root cause. It started with internalizing the oppression we experienced, imploding it inward as frustration, hurt, grief, self-blame, self-loathing, not-good-enoughness, depression and anxiety because on some level, we squashed our anger and agreed with the oppressor and oppression to maintain skewed harmony. It kept us safe, fed, sheltered, sane, functional, alive.
This gets complicated by another layer of feelings, catch phrases, core beliefs and stories fueled by a sense of selfishness, disloyalty, shame and survivor guilt when moving toward wholeness, individuation, setting limits and practicing self-care (when considering others with similar trauma and implosion patterns) and a sense of dissatisfaction, unfairness and injustice (thinking that this is letting the “oppressor” or the one with the explosion pattern who hurt us, or the terrible act, off the hook).
Moving forward becomes a double-bind.
What do we do to alleviate the stuck feelings and discomfort caused by this implosion and double-bind? Most often, we vicariously tend to our pain by projecting it on others (we experience it as empathy and compassion) — without realizing how much of this is our own pain and that other people may or may not experience or alchemize their wounding in quite the same way we are, and may have different ideas and views about healing than we do.
The true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations which we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us.
- Audre Lorde
This is also how/why we experience vicarious trauma when we hear about other people’s trauma and suffering - we are 1) unable to individuate and 2) it activates our own unresolved stuff.
This fuels and motivates us to do something about “the suffering and injustice in the world” in a way that robs each person of their unique healing journey, but fulfills one of our needs.
It soothes the wound and feels like a soul purpose and healthy outlet for our depressed energy (it pushes the energy back out and resembles the other-blame explosion aspect of the curve): we become externally-focused, do-gooders, activists, shake up the status quo and challenge complacency with messages fueled by our anger and a relentless need to end suffering now — not aware that underneath whatever is triggering us on any given day are your own unhealed wounds.
Why is this an issue?
If our own healing work hasn’t gone through a deep wringer, the solutions we are able to envision for others remain on the duality level we and those around us are familiar with — we focus all of our energy on leveling the playing field by providing safety, educational, social, legal, political, financial, social, nutritional, professional, medical, psychological and other practical support and resources to those in need and mostly are guided by ego-mind, good-bad, life-death survival polarities.
In conjunction with these goals are battling and stopping the oppressors in every possible way, and influencing others to adopt either one of these life strategies or both.
This work is important and must go on. What’s in our blindspot, if born and raised in modern Western societies or have lived here long enough, are the limitations that these culturally-biased, ego-mind worldviews and catch phrases and stories can impose on others and their complex healing processes that we are not only robbing them of but also robbing ourselves of.
Take the word privilege, for example. In general, the definition of being privileged is you have it “good”, you have it better than those who aren’t so privileged.
Social justice means ensuring that everyone has the same privileges. But here’s where things get tricky because reality is not so linear and clear-cut. Often times, receiving or having these privileges creates a confusing conundrum. Guilt or shame for having them - an implosion pattern - occurs a lot and it is not examined as a problem in and of itself. Within a climate where self-preservation feelings are repressed and "should martyrdom stories" are layered on top, this shame and guilt is used as fuel and seen as a good thing. It drives the momentum for "positive change" behind the explosive, action pattern – and who cares if the canary croaks. All we hear is, "You did good, kid."
We also start to lose clarity about who’s privileged and who isn’t, who is in pain and in need of help and who isn’t, as healing involves complex and paradoxical nuances that happen both in the concrete ego-mind and spiritual planes. The ego-mind denies data that challenge this reality, at our expense, to keep justifying a venting and dumping pattern until a new healing practice and paradigm is given soul authority.
Let’s do a 'trade-places with someone' exercise to see how this works.
In this trading-places exercise, you don’t get to pick and choose a patchwork or ideal list of features, like we do with our behavior, persona or bodies.
You need to adopt the whole package and eco-system of the person you are trading-places with.
I'm thinking of someone who on paper has enjoyed every imaginable privilege on a silver platter — our president.
Raise your hand if you would like to trade places with him.
I haven’t met anyone who would.
The holistic constellation and shadow aspects that hold up imbalance and inequality come into sharp focus.
Our president in particular embodies pretty much all of the “Ugly American” traits that often accompany privilege:
While privilege correlates with race, sex, class and concrete external factors, there is clearly a cultural component and mindset / soulset that also accompanies it. It’s harder than we realize to divorce these two and just hand someone privileges without also handing them other things. It takes work to truly create a society and an inner ecosystem where both the spiritual and material are fed and match each other's power.
It’s trickier to detect these same patterns and worldviews operating on less extreme levels, but when I do the trade-places exercise with clients who feel triggered by or envious about an “every day” privileged person in their lives and I ask, would you want to trade places, most, if not all, who deeply reflect on this say, no.
Deep down we like our total package and raw materials, but instead of focusing on how to organize it into a sustainable, balanced recycling center of material and spiritual energy and embodied wisdom, we can get stuck in implosion and explosion cycles that limit our potential.
The argument may be, well, those going through a very hard time and with even less privileges than us would want to trade places with us in a HEART BEAT. We should therefore all work relentlessly until able to alleviate their (our) suffering and the (our) world is just and fair.
This may be the most eye-opening counterintuitive data: It's NOT that clearcut that less privileged people would like to trade places with us in a heartbeat. Whether or not that’s true depends on their mindset (how polarized and split it is), which is much less dominant in non-Western cultures and people.
Those who are holistic and operate from a non-dualistic worldview (regardless of privilege, class and resources) consider the price they’d pay for the trade and are really not as impressed by us and our privileges as we think they are.
They are often capable of loving themselves, their lives and plights with much greater depth and radical acceptance than we do, and don’t see a material resource necessarily as the solution to their problems.
Here are some samples of the scientific and professional data I’m basing my claims on:
My senior honor thesis on body image, self acceptance, acculturation levels, class and eating disorders in White, non-White, US-born and foreign-born female college students. This was my first study on the complexity of privilege that I detected - 30 years ago. Eating disorders and less self acceptance correlate with being White and with higher class, being US born, and higher acculturation scores.
Seven years later, I did a crossnational dissertation on the multiracial experience in a 3rd world country Suriname vs the US. Suriname wasn’t faring well in the aftermath of a political coup and if we looked at these two societies through the lenses of privilege, you would detect a dramatic disparity. Nevertheless, Surinamese young adults didn’t perceive their American counterparts, White, of color, or mixed, as “privileged” or being better off than them. On the contrary, in value-based surveys that measured individualism and collectivism, they viewed average Americans, regardless of race, as needing help and possessing many of the “Ugly American” qualities listed above.
They would not want to move or live in a society that didn’t get or honor their values, which were a balance of both individualistic and collectivistic values and customs, and mastery in living in harmony with differences (these were unprecedented survey data and results).
It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and
celebrate those differences.
- Audre Lorde
This occurred at the same time I was peaking in my own implosion-explosion pattern, a grad school and co-leader of the students of color group (for free, during my "free" time), creating and guiding eight committees focused on retention, curriculum, outreach, faculty, social support, communication, and so on, while doing practicums in community mental health in East Palo Alto and East San Jose.
Going rogue and returning to my cultural roots empowered my own budding insights and what I had struggled with.
I did five years of diversity training and campus violence prevention at the Multicultural Immersion Program at UC Davis and guided several groups, including an international students group.
Interestingly, they felt similarly overpowered and oppressed when trying to join rallies, organizations, and causes with other students of color who claimed to be empowering them.
There was a lot of confusion about not fitting in and the positive intentions to help but often experiencing these efforts and worldviews tainted by “Ugly American” cultural norms and ways of dealing with pain and trauma.
These students, sometimes homeless parachute kids, felt more empowered and better off on their own or when in contact with their own people, even when these were overseas, than in the company of supportive peers of color, because of the cultural differences. How unfortunate and hard.
But this is what I realized and uncovered over the decades through my work with diverse grad students and faculty of color, from the US or other countries, fighting social injustice with specializations in domestic violence, social welfare, police brutality, incarceration, food justice, public health, misogyny and so on.
We're better off not patronizing people who we perceive as less privileged. The cultural buffer that many international students possess is a priceless asset and gift they're not willing to give up for any privilege or commodity. It's a protected and intact inner eco-system, especially if they are from cultures where the ego-mind and its implosion and explosion patterns are less ingrained, and vulnerability, connection, and surrender to a greater intelligence and mystery are commonplace in dealing with life’s challenges.
Despite their great leadership potential, would you freely give them the floor or leadership positions to guide us into a more holistic reality and world?
Not likely. They often feel quite marginalized and oppressed within POC groups and communities. Their ability to buffer and maintain boundaries and self worth are unfamiliar, not believed, treated as naive and subpar, and overpowered by dominant worldviews where sustaining an intact inner eco-system in the face of oppression is beyond comprehension.
Doing deeper shamanic and Depth Hypnosis work with these international students over the years has indicated to me that they are not in denial. We are. They are indeed capable of doing this – their energetic boundaries and eco-systems tend to be more intact and unharmed by oppressive forces because of a greater spiritual connection to mystery and nature and an ego-mind that's less prone to taking mistreatment and situations personal.
In any event, it’s less about them, and more about our own healing.
How much power and precedence do you grant to your own wisest self? How much do you invest in your own soul authority to lead your life and decisions?
Until this has shifted, the external world will continue to play out and re-enact its oppressor/oppressed status quo and our imploding and exploding ego-mind will continue to run the show.
We do the deep healing well, and we'll truly be in a position to level the playing field for all, and nourish both our spiritual and material needs as one human family –– without needing to willfully sacrifice our canaries, but instead, grant them the honorary and protected positions they need to do their soul work.
CLICK HERE if interested in learning more how to establish and strengthen your SOUL AUTHORITY with the help of a dreamteam of spirit guides.