Feelings Are Not Milk

“There is one thing that, when cultivated and regularly practiced, leads to deep spiritual intention, to peace, to mindfulness and clear comprehension, to vision and knowledge, to a happy life here and now, and to the culmination of wisdom and awakening. And what is that one thing? It is mindfulness centered on the body.”

The Buddha, from the Satipatthana Sutta

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What Happens: Your very close friend of forever tells you with happiness that she is engaged to a Good Guy.

What You Want to Feel: Exuberant joy and effervescence for her good fortune.

What YOU Do Feel: Bitter, slow churning anger in your gut. A heavy dollop of sadness that coats your entire chest. A severe jealously that you are 100% sure is blaring from your eyes and forced smile.

What You Do: You hug and congratulate your friend. Joke about ugly bridal dresses all while entertaining a raucous inner dialogue of Why Am I Such a Bitch? Why Can’t I Feel Happy for My Friend? What is Wrong With Me?

And maybe you go home and you try to shake these bad emotions from your mind as if they are raindrops along an umbrella. You reason: you should be happy. He’s smart and deep and treats your friend with grace. You love your friend.

Still the feelings persist no matter how much you talk yourself out of them. They follow you from bridal shower to wedding day, only dulling with time but never truly moving.

We all have feelings that seem to land on us from out of nowhere. Emotions that are ways away from what we want or expect to feel. A gleeful happiness when a colleague announces they didn’t get a prestigious grant. A welling of grief when we say goodbye to that one really toxic friend. Comparing ourselves to supermodels even when we know it’ll only depress us.

Sometimes, I think we forget that feelings are not milk.

They have no shelf-life, no labels detailing how many servings to ingest. They don’t stay neatly inside a container.

Emotions have a wisdom of their own–even when it feels like quite the opposite.

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In our feelings-averse, feminine-hating society, emotions get a bad rap. Especially the strong ones. Especially the strong ones when experienced by women: Jealousy. Anger. Grief. Frustration. Raucous joy. Sexual abandon.

We are told to “calm down”. To “think positive”.

(As if that shit always works, as if it is healthy and wise to stuff down our most intense emotions with twee platitudes of JUST BE HAPPY.)

What we not told is that feelings are truth. We don’t need to act on them, express them (like, yeah, no need to tell your newly engaged friend I HATE YOU BITCH AND WISH IT WAS MEEEEEE!!!!!!). We are not told that once we began to greet our feelings with curiosity, openness, and a hello, we start to learn and engage in the world more honestly.

So, how do we do that?

One way I have been learning to engage with my feelings in a real, tangible way is dancing.

Yes, dancing.

I don’t slip into choreography the minute I have a feeling, cuz, well, I do need to keep a job and my students might be just a bit confused if I started to gyrate in the midst of a lesson on writing closing arguments.

I have playlists for certain emotions.

Pissed AF.

SAD!

Hey, Jealousy.

Perk Me Up.

(One of my favorite tasks in the world is making themed playlists.)

I put on my music. Loud. If my boyfriend is sleeping soundly or I am away from home, then I slip on my ear buds. And I move.

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I got this technique from Mama Gena and Jess Grippo, two women who know that our feelings are nothing to run from or interrogate away.

When I first started Dancing with My Feelings, I felt all kinds of silly. Sometimes when my boyfriend would amble out of the bedroom all bleary eyed to go to the bathroom, I would freeze like I was caught doing something indecent.

No more.

Sometimes we forgot that we are not just heads attached to clouds. Emotions are called “feelings” for a really good reason: they show up in our bodies. This is part of the reason we try and run away from them, the discomfort is not solely located in our racing thoughts and attitudes, but in our chests, stomachs, shoulders, backs, and jaws.

Dancing helps me to move with the feeling. To give it a language beyond reasoning and meditation. I let my hips circle through envy and my arms snake their way through confusion. I get on my knees and pound the floor with my anger in beat to a headbanger.

We are not taught to do this. We are taught to bottle up and be Appropriate, to be a Nice Girl, and to pretend that all we have what Mama Gena calls a “vanilla emotional life”.

I say no more.

When I hear of another unarmed black person shot, I dance out my feelings of powerlessness and fear. When I am mired in creative self-doubt, I take a break to shimmy. When anxiety threatens to dull my message, I close my office door and I dance.

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I think dancing with our feelings is especially important for black women and women in color in general. We have to police our emotions even more vigilantly in a racist society that refuses to see us as full human beings.

Dancing can help us be truthful with ourselves, to give ourselves a gift of deep honesty.

And usually, something beautiful happens: my feelings reveal their wisdom to me. They tell me of my deepest insecurities, they speak of actions I can actively take, they assure me that I am still worthy of love and celebration.

Sometimes I end up crying. Or laughing hysterically. Or I sit in a quiet self-satisfied glow.

Everything is welcome. I may look crazy but I feel so free I don’t really give a shit.

The next time you experience a feeling you “shouldn’t” be feeling: dance that shit out. It will feel counterintuitive at first but whatever your body is called to do, let it do. You don’t have to best Ciara or even dance on beat.

If you want to sink to the floor in despair and shake your wrist limply, because you feel like a loser compared to all your “30 Under 30” friends, do that. If you want to twerk in front of your hallway mirror after seeing your ex all hugged up on someone new, do it. Write big and loopy in a journal in blood red ink. Wind up the windows in your car and scream like a banshee.

Let your body lead.

Feel.

Move.

Onward,

Hannah

Art: Oresegun Olumide, Mahmahmoud Said, S.C. Versillee, Dion Pollard More

Loving the Unloved Girl

geraldsanderspicture

One day I went on a weekend bike trip in Ohio with my boyfriend. It was all awesome and good until he pointed out a deer and I looked a bit too long, crashed into his bike, and fell to the ground.

I wasn’t badly hurt–mainly just grumpy, but I could not wait to soak in our hotel’s whirlpool and ease my aching shins, arms, and ego.

Once at the hotel, I lowered myself into the bubbling hot tub, probably even emitted a long soda-commercial “aaaaahhhhh” as the water enveloped my entire body. It was late and the swimming pool area was completely empty.

Seconds after I entered the steaming waters, a woman knocked at the window. I groaned. No way did I want to exit the whirlpool, but she stood there, waving at me from afar. I sighed loudly and left the pool, the cold instigating goosebumps along my arms and made my way to the door. I cursed the lady under my breath for forgetting her hotel key and quickly wrapped a towel around my waist.

As I got closer to the door, I realized the woman was not a woman.

It was a little girl, probably about eight or nine years old.

Immediately, I felt bad, and wondered if she had seen my pissed countenance the entire time I had walked toward her. I softened my face, tried to offer a welcome smile and opened the door.

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The little girl had her hair wound in the same candy-ball baubles my mom used to braid my hair into when I was her age. Her skin was dark brown and radiant in the way that only really young children can shine. But, her face carried a faint quiver, she had clearly seen how I had looked when I got out of the pool and her fear was evident.

“I just wanted to say hi,” she said softly.

She tried to smile.

“Hi,” I said. I offered the widest smile I could.

Her smile grew more. She waved again and then she walked away.

I am thinking of this story a lot lately. How I mistook that little girl for a grown woman and was set to open the door with an attitude. Once I realized how young she was, I quickly decided to treat her with compassionate kindness.

There are times when the unloved and unwanted girl within me speaks and I treat her like a grown woman. I am short with her. Annoyed, sometimes even downright angry. I wonder why she can’t just get it together. I reason with her, lecture, ignore her. I withhold all manners of compassion.

The unloved girl who reaches for instantaneous fame, sugary foods, negative thoughts, stale friendships is not a grown woman. She is a girl. She does not react to “reason” or “logic” for she is pure, raw feeling, as children usually are. All she wants to say is hello, to have me welcome her and ask her what she needs in that moment.

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It is tough to do this. We don’t exactly live in the Age of Introspection. We are taught to beat our “badness” into submission.  But I am getting better. I know there are ways in which I learned to reach for substitutes for true love and instead of being afraid or dismissive of these impulses, I am now choosing to say hello.

There is reoccurring theme in many meditation circles of holding our pain, greeting it, letting it be as big as it needs to be. Of saying hi how ya? to our anxiety, jealously, procrastination, grief, and anger. Some meditation teachers even liken it to sitting down for a meal.

That little girl at that Ohio hotel taught me something so profound that day and I am still digging deeper and deeper into this lesson. I forget the lesson and then I remember, I circle lower and lower into the healing this teaching requires, growing the entire time.

It all comes down to being where we are. Greeting our pain with open arms and offering ourselves what we did not get as children. For some it is a gentle reminder that it is okay to be different. For others, it may be permission to set boundaries, to eat slowly and mindfully, or to love ourselves even when we fuck up.

For me, it’s a bit of all the above.

I am learning to greet all my selves with a hello and to love that unloved girl within me. Every time I take the minutes to acknowledge her presence, to tell her that I still love her, that I hear her cry for attention, care, celebration, or connection, her cries lesson.

In the end, all she really wants to do is get my attention.

My hope for you: that you greet your pain and unloved portions of your heart with open arms. Journal, take a walk, cry, listen to sappy songs, do whatever makes that little unloved girl (or boy) feel heard. Ask them what they need for you to do.

And it all starts with a simple hello.

Onward,

Hannah

Art: Gerald Sanders, Merry Jaye, and last picture attributed to fullten

The Old Lady Doth Protest Too Much

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I will never be 20 again.

Or seven.

I have been thinking and grieving this fact over this last week since I turned 31 almost a week ago.

I was at a Las Vegas pool party where the guys were all tightening their pecs and upper arms and EDM spilled through the speakers. I was completely sober (had a little too much fun the day before). As I drifted through the increasingly crowded pool on the inflatable I stole away from a bearded dude who was definitely on more than alcohol, my mind had to marvel on how quickly time passes.

When I turned 21, I went with my siblings to the movies near our house. I was assigned to the USNS Henry J. Kaiser as a deck cadet which had its port in San Diego. On weekends, I took a 2.5 hour Amtrak ride to Fullerton. I don’t remember what movie it was, only that I felt like the biggest loser in the world because I wasn’t circling around a Las Vegas pool on a giant inflatable unicorn.

Continue reading The Old Lady Doth Protest Too Much

Navel Gazers Unite

The ever-present, ever-elusive Self
The ever-present, ever-elusive Self

Recently, I sped-read through Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother?The graphic novel/memoir had me all angsty, inspired, and scared shitless.

How do some writers and creatives bare so much without seeming volatile or the very definition of TMI?

I also have been listening to Mary Karr’s Lit on my 12 hour round-trip to NYCAnother finely written memoir with lots of references to a troubled mother-daughter relationship.

And then, I randomly picked up a book I’ve owned but never really delved into, Lee Gutkind’s You Can’t Make This Stuff UpThe Complete Guide to Writing Creative Non-Fiction From Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between. 

The opening of Gutkind’s book takes place in the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning, my current workplace and educational headquarters.

(I get it Universe, I get it.)

Speaking of the Self is not for sissies, not even in our celebrity-obsessed, here-are-pictures-of-my-lunch culture.

Every time I admit a personal truth, I cringe for days afterwards. I agonize over posting pictures of myself. I wonder if I’m being too transparent and the unholiest of gen-Y archetypes: A Narcissist.

There is a real push against the use of the word “I” these days in writing. My generation of millenials is constantly branded as the most self-absorbed, “me” generation to hit the planet. (Baby Boomers beware!)

In Are You My Mother? Bechdel’s own mother criticizes the genre of memoir. It is extremely suspect in her eyes. One of Bechdel’s questions to her mother in this conversation is, “Can’t you be more universal by being specific?”

Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel
Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel

This exchange stuck with me especially. I have my own Inner Memoir Suspect who scoffs at anything I write or express that isn’t transcendent or “universal”.

I have often wished I didn’t need to explain the world this way–through the prism of Myself. I would appear objective and intellectual. People’d think I was really something!

This is what I tell myself.

But, in this fact I am a true Aries: I am interested in the Self and selves to an almost embarrassing degree. I am in love with stories that are ripped straight from an actual life.

Once, a close friend of mine made some comment on the “navel gazer” aspects of writing these days (as if autobiographical writing just came to exist in the last couple of years lol). The remark stuck with me as I was sure she was referencing my blog. (Yes, I was projecting Big Time.)

I started wondering whether I should just stop with all my “confessional” writing about body image. I crushed my desire for Storytelling until it was a little squeak from the corner of my brain. I told myself that my interest in fashion blogging was vapid and stupid.

I should be writing about Catastrophe. Or War. Or the newest #Protest. Who gives a fuck about an outfit I wore or my inner ramblings?

Is the collective side-eye toward memoir or writing infused with “I” a symptom of the fear of close truth? Is it because many of the “I’s” that are emerging these are not old, bearded white dudes smoking cigars?

What are We so scared of?

Of course, there are the liars and the whiners. There are the TMI bombs and a million little pieces of questionable truth.

But, there is also beauty and vulnerability and The Liar’s Club, The Black Notebooks, With or Without You, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  And of course Are You My Mother?

So good!
So good!

 

No matter the medium, there are limits to truth and what we can really express about our inner and external worlds. This is a fact that will always be.

I hope those of you looking to express real parts of your story to wider audiences continue to do so. Sometimes they are inspirational, sometimes they are just weird or fun.

Please know that there are people like me out there who  live to read and observe your story.

I’m still making friends with my self-involved shadow sister; the part of me that has to dissect almost all events in reference to my personal worldview.  Warning: You’ll be seeing a lot of Her here.

Onward,

Hannah

 

 

 

Letter from a Blue Restorative INFP

So, I like tests. Personality tests to be exact, though tests in general never really scared me. Personality tests were always an alluring topic for me: fill out the bubbles, see how many more A’s you have than C’s, find yourself on the Likert scale of your choice… I loved the idea of the right assortment of answers unlocking who I was.

So, what did I find?

I am an INFP.

INFP

I have a blue-green brain.

My top strengths are Input, Intellection, Restorative, Empathy, and Individualization.

I am an Aries with a Gemini moon and Aquarius ascendant.

Of course, these tests would never really solve the truest desire of my soul, which was to know myself and peek at the divine within. The thing about external measures is that they are only pointers to what our souls already know. We often confuse the pointer with the answer.

Still, these tests were fun and pretty interesting to look back on. For instance, I used to test as an ENFP and then slowly came to be an INFP over time. Honestly, if you’re ever bored on The Internet, these tests can be illuminating.

I write this because I am still swimming in the waters of trying to figure out who I am. I am still tearing off identities that don’t fit, peeling off layers that only serve to make me uncomfortable, constrained, and annoyed.

Surely you can relate.

Maybe you’re addicted to personality tests like me. I can also say I am a workshop junkie and a self-help fiend at times.  Hello, my name is Hannah and I am addicted to online “challenges”.

I wandered bookstores in a myriad of cities, would look up and find myself surrounded by A Course in Miracles and Co-Dependent No More. It was like some weird sort of magic.

ACIM.org
ACIM.org

I was always hoping Someone Else would give me a clue on how to be myself. (I’m an Aries, we can’t help but study ourselves and even my personality tests say I’m likely to be a constant improver. Sigh…)

What kind of woman do I want to be and who I am now? Who I am when no one is looking and there is no chance for side-eyes, internet ridicule, or second guessing?

Today (for today and this minute is all that we have), I am an idealistic woman wanting to fully express herself in the world. I am organized chaos. I am a wounded healer. I am a goddess wrapped up in a funnel coat.

I try not to berate myself for my constant inner searching and treks to energy healers, classes, and seminars galore. I used to.  A LOT. It was another thing I added to the I Hate Myself list. Laughing about this drive in me is much better. Oh, Hannah, you test addict you!

Besides, because of these journeys, I have become a better person more attuned to my own path.That’s not a terrible thing.

But, I am ready to stop looking for the next book to speak direction. I am ready to define myself and work with what I have. Maybe it’s the New Moon in Aquarius.

Art By: Mystic Mamma
Art By: Mystic Mamma

Even as I write this, I am a little like WTF, Hannah? I have been in a military environment for more than ten years. I have a degree in Community and Economic Development. I was a Logistics major…who I am to be talking about new moons and this “woo-woo crap”?

I am who I am. That is the answer. And I don’t want my navel gazing to be in vain. I want it to serve in whatever way it can. I want other women and girls to live fully expressed and in love with Life, right here right now.

Really, I want for others what I want for myself:

To be free.

So, whoever is reading this manifesto-y self-exploration blog post, please bear with me. I am trying to let my soul know that it is now or never.

Dear Soul,

It’s time to stop hiding. It’s time to step into this next stage and live without looking for a test or model life to conform. (You can still read some self-help books but let’s try more novels, huh?)

You are not alone in this quest and all this living you have done will be of use. Your quest to live with honesty will serve others.

If it doesn’t, well, I sure as hell hope they find someone who does help them. Here’s to action. Here’s to being Yourself.

With love,

Hannah

 

 

A Space to Exist

“The place in which I’ll fit will not exist until I make it.” –James Baldwin

One of my favorite pictures ever: James Baldwin and Maya Angelou
One of my favorite pictures ever: James Baldwin and Maya Angelou

I often forget this. I get caught up in my old tricks. I’m an eternal misfit. The tall girl in the back row. The black kid in all-white spaces. The girl who talked funny and entered a military school without knowing how to swim. I am now old enough to realize that I am not alone in my misfit adventures. There are plenty of those who have tasted the waters of not-belonging.

 
But sometimes I get lazy. Sometimes I think I can just waltz into spaces where people look like me or espouse my political view and find myself comfortable and welcome. I have had these moments in my life to be sure, but they are few and far between. When I quiet the chatter of my mind, I remember that it is quite okay that I often find myself not fitting in. What is not okay are the mental gymnastics I exert to make myself accepted. Too many times I have found myself cartwheeling and somersaulting in self-loathing because I realize that yet again, I do not fit. It’s not a pretty place to be, for reals.

 
I always took great interest and housed a massive love for the misfits of the world. Those enigmas who went their own way and flouted convention in each quirky step. Even when this type of living was all an act, it intrigued me. I would wonder after the lives of Sojourner Truth, Betty Davis, Andy Warhol, James Baldwin, Grace Jones, and Oscar Wilde. How did they find such courage to be themselves so fully when the whole wide world was screaming conform or perish?

 
In many black-centric discussions of not fitting in, there is the time worn tale of the ‘tragic mulatto’, a figure so confused and at odds with her racial identity that she often considers suicide. I will never know how it feels to be mixed or bi-racial. But, I do know how it feels to be stuck between worlds and told that neither one fully accepts you.

America's Favorite Snack or my long-time nickname.
America’s Favorite Snack or my long-time nickname.

This type of fitting in is not always tragic. When it’s not painful or annoying, it’s actually quite funny. As a Nigerian-American I find such hilarity in the terrible mimicry my parents and friends have of the “other side”. My Nigerian relatives laugh at me and my sibling’s glib American-ness, my black American friends fail (usually) at the sonorous accents of my parents. Both sides make it clear: We are not really Nigerian. We are not really Black. We fail to meet their often shifting metrics of authenticity.

 
Such is the case of the hyphenated American I guess. I’ve had friends from Korea to Mexico tell me similar stories.

 
I’ve been called white or “white sounding” enough to be surprised that when I look in the mirror, it’s not Gwyneth Paltrow’s reflection I see. You would think I would have morphed into a Swede by now, really. I’ve had eyes roll and giggles emit from Nigerian aunties at my faltering Yoruba. I’ve had white friends admit that they miss hanging out with black people…and fully leave me out of the equation! Hannah, I mean black, you’re like…I don’t know…African?

 
I was talking with my boyfriend today about fitting in and what that means to me at 28. It used to mean I tried harder and read more extensively. It used to mean I hid part of myself, even innocuous things like my love of The Clash or my boring ass suburban upbringing. It used to mean I consulted Urban Dictionary to augment my slang vocabulary (an unfortunate, one-time act my sophomore year of high school).

 
In 2015, I don’t have to hide my contradictions or lower my freak flag to half-mast. If I feel I do, then this is probably I sign I need to find new friends. I don’t need to spin and twist myself into ways that are not me or point fingers at anyone else who I believe doesn’t fit in (an unfortunate hallmark of the misfit is that we often locate those who fit in less than we do with considerable ease.) I can be my own version of blackness, spiritually minded, creative, community development concerned woman. I can be me.

Wave 'em high everyone
Wave ’em high everyone

I want to remember that it’s okay not to have a ready tribe. I can make my space to exist with people who respect honesty and aren’t carrying around an Are You Black Enough? quiz set.

 

Have you ever felt you didn’t fit in to certain groups you “should” have? When have you felt like the freak in question? I hope you find your space to exist fully too. I am creating mine as I go along. Who knows? Maybe our efforts will meet IRL and we can have a party celebrating our success!

I’ll bring the Oreos.

Love,
Hannah