I was at a conference this past weekend called Making Money Make Change; it's about leveraging class privilege or access to wealth for social change. It wasn't my first rodeo—it was my third. I was returning as a facilitator, helping make "pods" happen. Pods are of one the retreat's most unique features happen: Throughout the four days, participants would have recurring small-group sessions to process what they were experiencing and engage in more intimate dialogue around the ideas and feelings it was bringing up for them.
The fall had already felt so hectic, I wasn't especially looking forward to putting my life on pause for so many days; but after the election (in which wealthy white people overwhelmingly voted for Trump) I had decided that organizing with my Resource Generation community was one of my priorities for 2017. So I went, to help others have the kind of opening, deepening, empowering experience I had several years ago, during my first MMMC.
I arrived with the mentality that I'd get in, do my thing, and get out, completely forgetting that I was a human with a heart and a body and stories and work of my own to do. My first day was a Reflective Leadership training—not the kind of training where you're simply told a bunch of facts and how-to's and handed a curriculum. No! We had to talk to other people, share our fears, swap insights and suggestions, and just generally be open as human beings. We stood in a circle and sang, our energy bouncing and moving all over the room, washing over each other and intermingling.
It pried me open. "I didn't emotionally prepare to be here," mentioned another trainee. I shrugged her comment off at first, but by the end of the afternoon, not only did I know what she meant, I knew it had been true for me too.
When the conference participants arrived the next day, I had another moment of clarity. I was eager to squeeze in a half hour or so of work during the long lunch break between the end of training and the start of the first session. Flitting around the cafeteria, I made sure to keep a welcoming and warm smile on my face. While juggling my plate and trying to fill my glass with water, a young woman responded by introducing herself to me. Her body was at total rest. She was flat-footed, body squared to mine, not pausing, not "just" getting water, not leaning, pivoting, or glancing. Her face was restful.
Her energy stopped me in my own buzzing tracks. An invisible sigh flushed down my limbs. We said hello. Privately, I sent an intention for the weekend: Be slow. Slow down. And I did this over and over again, catching myself rushing, whether wanting to jump onto someone's comment, speed-walk to the next activity, or feeling an internal need to hurry through a process.
And when I didn't keep a slower pace, it caught up with me, especially as emotions ran high. Not that I was immediately present to my emotions. One of the most powerful exercises of the weekend is called "Money Stories," where people share a two-minute story about their personal and familial relationship to money—who had it, who didn't, why, and how much. Participants' stories trace the global history of migration and slavery, invention and hardship, generosity and hoarding, love and dysfunction.
After leading my small group through the preparation work to present their stories, I thought I was ready. I had told my story before and heard many others'. I was hopeful and nervous for my group, but felt fine, as if I was on my way to the theater to catch an interesting show. This idea, though, was some kind of lie my brain was telling itself while ignoring my body. I went—rushed—to use the bathroom before the storytelling started, and that was enough to shake me up: When I got to the room where the Money Stories took place, I went over to one of my group's participants, Amy [not her actual name], to ask if I could sit there and if we needed to save a seat for Jill, another participant. Only instead of saying "Jill," I actually asked Amy if we should save a seat for Amy. "I'm Amy," she said. Then I remembered that Jill had just told me that she already had a seat elsewhere! Then, I started worrying aloud that I couldn't find my folder. My folder was in my hand.
"Maybe you should take a few deep breaths," Amy said gently. I did, and the atoms seemed to settle back down in my body like flour in a sack.
What is that?
I don't exactly have the words for it, but over the past ten years I've been on a journey of learning about my existence as a body. Or, as a mind-body-soul'ed being. As Christopher Hitchens said, "I don't have a body; I am a body." This process of recognition and reckoning started for me with yoga, moved into attentiveness to the cycle's of nature, and is now seeping into my engagement with political and social justice work.
At the conference, some of the messages shared with us were:
- The body doesn't lie.
- Feelings are data.
- Where your treasure is, your heart is.
One of Resource Generation's tenets is that capitalism is protected by the habits of the upper classes which prize intellectualism, reason, expertise, and formal education over experience and other forms of knowing and of knowledge. I struggle with this idea, as a lifelong super-student and endlessly curious, I-won't-be-hurt-if-you-call-me-geeky graduate of an intensely academic college. But I think there's a question that the mind can't answer alone: What's wrong?
"Where are you in your body right now?" a wise facilitation trainer kept asking us, much to my consternation.
I suppose the first line of my resistance is: Who wants to be in the body when you can be in the mind, which can keep us safe by thinking ALL the thoughts, and inventing new realities, or justifying and protecting our ego! The mind will strategize, make sure I perform perfectly, safely!
But then someone goes all vulnerable on me. They start talking about their anger, and the next thing I know, my body is empathizing and tapping into its own anger, and while my mind is busy listening, tears are streaming down my face.
Oh there it is. There's the feeling, there's the information in my body.
It's a lot to ask, in many ways, to be in our bodies during difficult times. But at the same time, it may be the only way we can truly take care of ourselves. The way we need nerve endings in our hands to tell us when we're touching something that will burn us, we need messages from our bodies to guide us, to give us cues about danger, about our need for calories and water, for rest, to tell us when we're at risk of collapse. When do we need rest? When do we need to scream or run, lest we be eaten alive or drowned by what we're carrying?
Throughout my years of school, I would often get sick right after finals. My body would hold out through stress and sleeplessness until it knew it was safe to let go, and then it would let some virus overtake my system. Maybe that is capitalism's body. In countering some of the harmful effects of capitalism, it's going to be part of my work to learn how to put the body first.