“We will not stop until we can all breathe.”
Friends, these are the words of Reverend Dr. William Barber II that I read yesterday morning, speaking of our black, brown and indigenous brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, parents and grandparents.
Like many of you, both in the United States, where I live, and those of you who live around the world, I’ve been heartbroken and horrified by the recent murders of our black brothers and sisters: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Sean Monterrosa, and Ahmaud Arbery. And these are only the most recent.
One of the values we stand for at Growing Humankindness is connection, in all Her forms: compassion, mercy, tenderness, mattering, unity, and justice.
Our personal journey of homecoming – bringing mercy, listening, healing, and compassion to our relationship with food, with our wounds, with our bodies, and with the difficult parts of our human experience – is also an outer one – how we bring that same kinship of mercy, compassion, listening, mattering, and healing to others, to the places in their lives where they experience heartbreak.
Now, more than ever, our black and brown brothers and sisters need our kinship, and our support, our humankindness. We are here to stand alongside, to grow more loving and compassionate together.
Sometimes connection appears as fierceness, like the fierce cry for justice.
And sometimes it arises as tenderness, like a mother’s holding.
One day this week, my husband sat on the floor with a black friend, their backs leaning against the wall as they recovered from a workout. As they sat together, spent after a tough training session, my husband asked him, “How are you doing?” He said, “I’m mostly trying not to cry.”
Last Sunday my husband and I attended an Austin rally for Black Lives Matter with nearly 10,000 others, advocating for justice, an end to police violence, and peace.
One of the signs that I saw in the crowd that day said, “When George Floyd called out for his mother, all mothers were called to action.”
One of the moments that I most remember is a black woman walking a few steps ahead of us as we walked towards the capitol. Fist in the air, anguish in her throat, her voice cracking with strain and urgency, she called out, over and over, “No justice, no peace,” an anthem and a plea, washing over us like the hot Texas sun.
It was akin to the anguish of a grieving mother crying over a beloved, lost child. And it was the anguish of a mother giving birth.
It was the anguish, the howl of, “Enough, already.”
In listening to her, I got the sense that she was tired, frustrated, angry, and weary – perhaps tired of having to continue to advocate for something as basic as the right to breathe, and to live. Tired of the lack of systemic change. Tired of the loss of so many precious lives.
I could hear the heartbreak and the exhaustion of living with the chronic fear, worry, tension, or stress that arises from living in a black or brown body in my country.
And I also heard her fierceness, her courage, her hope: the part of her that marches, and leads, and dreams and walks and pleads and labors for a better day for us all.
On Monday, the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival called for a day of fasting, and then led a viritual gathering of silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
I spent those 8 minutes and 46 seconds lying face down on my yoga mat in my bedroom, my arms clasped behind me. It felt interminable, that time, and challenging to take a deep breath – and I was lying on the comfort of my floor.
I can only imagine what it was like for George Floyd, lying in the street, his legs and arms bound, a knee crushing his neck, cutting off his sacred breath, as he pleaded for his life, begged for mercy, and called for his mother.
My friend Ash, when she prays, will often say, “May I breathe one holy breath.”
It’s a prayer I’ve ensconced in my own life, and have found to be particularly helpful when facing the sorrowful mysteries of life, whether my own, or another’s.
The words of George Floyd, of my husband’s friend, of my fellow marcher, of Reverend Barber, of Valarie Kaur – breathe, and push, the words of Ash, of all mothers, of the Divine Mother – Enough! – have reverberated in my mind like a chorus, round and around: “I can’t breathe. May I breathe. May our brothers and sisters breathe. May they all breathe holy breath.”
Nearly 18 years ago, I was a young wife and mother of two girls, struggling with depression, anxiety, and trauma. To care for the overwhelm, tension, and fear I carried in my body, I would binge at night – which was often followed the next day by an attempt to fast, or to try and eat extra ‘clean’ – a chronic pattern that was causing havoc in my body, mind and spirit.
I remember the day when I became willing to face and enter into the pain of my eating disorders. It was not my love for myself, but my love for others, that enabled me to take those first steps.
It came in the form of an offhand comment that my eldest, my 6 year old daughter, mentioned to her grandparents about how she wanted to fit into her skinny jeans.
In her words, and in the innocence of her sweet, six year old body – a body that she felt that needed to be kept thin – I saw, with horrified clarity, how the eating disorder I thought I had successfully – and painlessly – hidden from my children was impacting them far more deeply than I realized.
It was like a knife in my gut. And yet that heartbreaking knowledge also fed my courage to ask for and receive more help.
We find ourselves in a similar space today. There is much for me to learn about racism, and I’m willing to do the work of learning.
I’m committed to ensuring that the communities and spaces that we create in Growing Humankindness are welcoming to our black and brown brothers and sisters, to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, and to all who want to enter our doors.
And like my daughters, the love we have for our brothers and sisters is the fuel that will help us face the pain of racism, the horror of violence, the shame about our own ignorance, the heartbreak of injustice, and the complexity of the healing journey – for there is complexity, for sure – and all that this journey will ask of us over the coming weeks, months and years.
I’m honored to walk beside you as we yearn and advocate for a more connected, compassionate, and just world together, where we all can breathe, where we all can find hospitality, and welcome, and a safe harbor, and where we all can experience greater kindness, and tenderness.
Yes: until all our sisters and brothers can breathe, this labor will not stop.
Is your nervous system needing more support?
So in a time where so much is unraveling, and where so many of us are feeling the intensity of the times, the stress of social isolation, ravaged economies, and the heartbreak of racism, I appreciate that your heart, body and mind may be needing more support.
You are needed. As meditation teacher Tara Brach said, “We each have a medicine to bring to these times.” And it is our tender care of ourselves that supports us in offering our particular form of medicine to the world.
If you’re looking for more support, I’ve created a resource page for you here. This includes resources that you can use at home to help regulate your nervous system, to care for the trauma and stress we’re carrying in our bodies and hearts right now, and resources to assauge the violence of racism.
I close with a poem from storyteller Clarissa Pinkola Estes.
Today, I opened up her book Untie the Strong Woman and found this gem, an ode to The Maize Mother, taken from another time when brown and black bodies were slaughtered in the name of empire.
Dreams: Still We Shall Rise
If one were to cease dreaming bold dreams,
then bold actions on earth would also cease.
Wild dreams are the primary fuel
for the engine of Doing.
Wild dreams are the golden fuse
For the life-force of Being.
If it cannot be dreamt,
it cannot be done.
Rather, seed everywhere,
the most beautiful,
the most wild dreams
roared up by the Soul.
To greater human kindness, to the more just, compassionate, and connected world that is longing to be born, to the Divine Mother, and her Holy Child, Karly
Oh Karly, I’ve cried as I read this beautiful, heartfelt, eloquently expressed piece of writing. You capture the anguish of the murders, the mothers, the choking of the breath, and yet you never depart from love and the search for a pathway through to a better world. Thank you, from the other side of the world, for taking me into the heart of your world, and the world we share.
What a beautiful note! Thank you for writing, and for sharing. Yes, isn’t it something how we can be connected across the globe – and in our hearts? I feel inspired by interconnectedness, and our communal labor.