“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” ~ Lilla Watson, Australian Aboriginal activists group, Queensland, 1970s
I felt excited and trepidatious as I made my way up to the Fritz house at Esalen Institute on Day 2 of the 2017 WisdomWomen’s Visionary Gathering. I was joining women who were interested in spending the day feeling into the Social Justice Visionary Council. I felt honored to be asked to facilitate this group, and grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this a conversation.
I felt a lack in my understanding of the issues around diversity and social justice, but also felt tentatively confident that my mindfulness, self-compassion and shame resilience skills would be my rudder as I navigated the waters of this conversation. I knew that I needed to listen deeply with my body, notice when I started to move into my head to try to intellectualize or fix, allow myself to feel, and to stay even when I might want to flee for the door. I needed this conversation to both challenge me and invite me into the family of humanity just as I am. I needed this conversation to get a glimpse of what it felt like to be free.
The group was made up of women of diversity. Women of color spoke about their experiences of trauma in a patriarchal colonized society, the weight of expectations placed on them by white women, their anger over institutions that continue to actively cater to white privilege, and their exhaustion over having to continue the fight for justice.
White women spoke about their despair over lack of accountability and social justice in institutions of higher learning, their confusion and shame over how to navigate their way through white privilege, and their attempts to viscerally understand some of what women of color experience daily. Conversations were challenging, and all the while we held each other in our common goal to understand and share.
I grew up in a family where no-one ever raised their voice because there was one law in the house and one patriarchal master who no-one dared challenge. I heard no strong women’s voices, no debate. Strong voices were associated with violence and lack of cooperation. In Fritz house there were strong women’s voices, and my challenge was to see those voices as being different from what I learned as a child, to stop projecting onto them my fear of violence. As I acknowledged my childhood wounding, and sat in my own adult power long enough to fully hear the strong women’s voices, my fear gave way to the freedom of curiosity. I started to rewire old patterns into new learnings.
Our discussions included the topic of ‘othering’. Growing up, I learned to be hypervigilant about not upsetting anyone for fear of being rejected. I’ve brought that hypervigilance into my adult life, and my radar for ‘othering’ is huge. I fear ‘othering’ because I fear being rejected. The healthy side of this is that I feel fiercely compassionate and protective of those who are ‘othered’. I found during our Council conversations that being brave and opening to the possibility that I might unwittingly ‘other’ and that it wouldn’t threaten my survival, brought me freedom to talk more creatively. This was only possible because I knew I was being held by women in a safe space.
What I gained from our visionary council gathering was momentous. While the strong message was that white women need to use their extensive resources to learn shame resilience and to learn about issues of social justice, I felt women’s arms of all colors holding me up as I muddled my way through our conversations. As I felt my revelations and almost simultaneously felt that they shouldn’t be revelations, that I should know better, I felt women ahead of me on the climb to freedom reaching down to hold my hand kindly and knowingly. A part of me was able to rise up and meet a part of my sisters in turn. I got to support myself with my shame resilience practice in an environment that, at a very deep level, I knew would ultimately support me and welcome me into a wide and deep river of wise sisterhood.
That afternoon at Fritz house we dreamed into a new future where every child is born into a world where they know, deep to their core, that they are put on earth to thrive. As a result, this child, also, is starting to feel that she deserves to thrive too.
Kristy Arbon is a WisdomWomen Member & Council Steward. She is currently the Founder and CEO of HeartWorks Training LLC, a small business set up to support women in their practice of mindfulness, self-compassion and shame resilience.