This blog was originally recorded as a podcast episode for 824: The Spirituality
and Social Justice Podcast. The episode is titled Episode 33: Choose to Be Still.
You can listen and support the podcast by using this link.
Yesterday, my horoscope had this message for me, “Sharks have to keep moving for survival. You are not a shark. Be still. But, you avoid stillness because of what might be revealed to you.” Very quickly I thought, why do I read this nonsense, these horoscope people don’t know me.
If any of you listening know me, like know me, know me, then you know, the horoscope I read yesterday, was meant just for me. Because I do not rest. I don’t know the meaning of “be still”. I have always equated stillness or rest to weakness. I have always associated stillness and rest with laziness, unproductiveness, to sheer irresponsibility. Rest? Be still? Who has time for that? I have things to do.
A few years back, close to five, I had my gallbladder removed. On the day of my surgery, I looked the surgeon square in his eyes and asked, “Will I be able to go to brunch on Saturday? Today is Thursday, so I figure I should be able to go, but clearly I want your medical opinion.” My mother was sitting in the room with me, he looked at her and said, “She’s joking, right?” My mom, sat back in her chair, looked at the surgeon with this face that read, you don’t know my child. She rolled her eyes and simply uttered the word, “Nope.” The surgeon looked back at me and said, “You realize you’re having major surgery, right? You’re having an organ removed.” I very politely said back to him, “Okay. So will I be able to go? Brunch is important.” He sighed, I could see this man’s discomfort, but I’m a New York City woman, I didn’t have time to be down for the count. I had things to do––specifically at that time I had weekend brunch plans. He looked at me and said, “If you decide to go, please don’t take any of the pain meds after today.” I said, “Okay, done and done. I won’t need the pain meds anyway.’”
Sidebar I didn’t need the pain meds. I never took not one of the Vicodin tablets.
After my surgery, I was uncomfortable, sore, moving about slowly, but when Saturday morning rolled around, I was ready to go. I slowly maneuvered my way out of bed, got dressed, made sure I was looking cute, I was up before my roommate, and I sat on the couch just waiting for her so we could get our Saturday show on the road. When she woke up, she slowly lurked out of her bedroom, saw me sitting on the couch, looked at me with a bit of confusion and said, “Ugh, Val. Where are you going?” Indignantly, I said, “Bitch we’re going to brunch. It’s Saturday. It’s beautiful outside. Get dressed.” She looked at me stunned through her dark rimmed eyeglasses and said, “Are you kidding me? You need to rest. You need to take a nap. You need to get back in bed and watch tv. I’ll rest with you. I am not going to participate in your shenanigans today.”
Needless to say, she participated in my shenanigans.
We walked out of our Harlem apt, very gingerly, because if you recall, I had an organ removed. We went to brunch. It was delightful. Then, we did a little bar hopping. Yes, that’s right, I bar hopped. Don’t judge me. We got to the last bar and I said, “I think I’m tired now. I’m starting to feel pain while we sit here. Let’s go home.” Jessica couldn’t have been more happy to oblige. We got home at about 3pm. I fell asleep and I slept for 17 hours straight. I didn’t move once during the night. I slept for 17 hours because my body needed stillness. It needed rest. But, I was committed to struggling through my pain. I was committed to treating myself violently, so I didn’t miss out on the possible fun that could be lurking around the New York City corner. Not until my body shut down for 17 hours did I think I needed to rest. Looking back on that day, had I actually given myself permission to rest and to be still, I don’t know what might have been revealed to me. I don’t know what power I might have cultivated. I’m not a shark. I don’t have to keep moving for my survival. I know that now.
Yesterday, March 13, 2021 marked a year since Louisiana put the first shelter in place ordinance into effect. It’s been one whole year since we were all forced to stop and be still. It’s been one whole year since we were all asked to take heed to the universe’s call to stop moving, to stop doing, to stop struggling, and be reflective. To be still and to learn to cultivate power in that stillness.
Power never concedes to struggle. I’m not sure where I heard that, but that’s the message of this week’s podcast. Power never concedes to struggle. So the question becomes, how do we meet and beat power at it’s own game?
Something that I’ve learned through Bible stories, Buddhist philosophy, and spiritual leaders like Dr King and Ghandi, the act of getting still is the most powerful and effective tool that we have to meet power. Are you familiar with the story of Jesus sleeping in the midst of a storm? While on a boat with his disciples, a disastrous storm began to wreak havoc on the waters. As the storm raged on, Jesus slept. While the storm continued to create trouble, the disciples chose to meet the storm with struggle and dis-ease. Jesus’ method was to be still and meet the forces with calm and ease, he chose to meet the forces with a tenderness embraced for oneself. He chose to sleep.
Thich Nhat Hanh, a wonderful Buddhist teacher suggests that power cannot be met with force and might, power thrives off of struggle. One must take the seat of the witness and meet power or oppressive forces with peace, because it’s through peace we begin to discover an answer. Dr. King used what he learned from Ghandi––nonviolent resistance. It is a choice to resist without struggle. The concept of struggle is defined as the act of attempting to break free of restraints through force and violence. Many of the leaders of the Civil Rights Era taught and practiced resistance without struggle.
There is something to the spiritual teachings of discovering stillness. I pose these two questions to you: what do you discover about yourself through stillness? What power might there be in getting still with yourself before working towards change and justice for others?
Stillness isn’t something you can know simply through intellectual processing. Stillness is embraced in your body and spirit. Stillness is a gift to yourself and others. Because it is through stillness we are able to determine how to move forward. It is through stillness we are able to see, hear, and learn what we are truly up against in this fight towards change and justice. Sometimes at the end of the yoga classes I teach, as students rest in savasana, I will say, “When you are still, you are most powerful.” My intention is to encourage them to relax deeply and to give up the need to hold on to what does not serve them. My intention when I say this to students is to remind them they can discover more about themselves when they are still and cultivate power. They cannot be shaken or moved when they are still. When we are still and sure in our stillness, we open ourselves up to many possibilities for change.
Power is still. Power is unshakable. Like the large oak tree that continues to grow, expand, and withstand the struggle presented by mother nature in the form of hurricanes or tornadoes, power will not and does not move in the face of struggle. Power doubles down. Now, in some cases, some trees that have been slowly uprooting over the years, will come down when a forceful hurricane or tornado comes through. And they come down hard. And even when those trees come down, something or someone is affected by the topple.
What if we thought of ourselves as those large oak trees. Over time our roots start to dislodge from the ground beneath us. Over time our roots begin to rise out of the ground creating dangerous situations for those around us who have to navigate around those roots so as to avoid stumbling or injuring themselves. Our roots are sacred and must be protected and honored for the value they bring to our lives. Our roots help us to cultivate stillness. Our roots help us to cultivate power. Our goal is to ground down, root in and discover what we need to help us remain rooted over time. To remain like those trees that have existed in the same spot for hundreds of years unscathed and unphased.
As a Black woman committed to social justice and racial equity it’s important for me to remember the sacredness of my roots and honor those roots as I continue to move forward in this life. It’s important I hold onto the sacredness of who I am because of my roots so that I might be able to create pathways for others to discover liberation. If you have listened to any of my other episodes or have read my social media posts, then you know our liberation and our humanity is all wrapped up together. If you want justice, If you want racial equity, If you want gender equity, if you want environmental justice, then your work is to acknowledge how you are cultivating internal power, essentially an authority of yourself and your commitments to change before you can begin the work of dismantling systemic power.
You cannot dismantle systemic power or take down any system that has been built to exclude some and include others if you are not rooted and grounded in your truth as a human being in this life. You cannot dismantle systemic power or take down any system if you are not willing to rely on the sacredness of your roots and how you are nourished in mind, body, and spirit. This work of change and justice is not for the faint of heart or for those whose roots can be easily uprooted. This work is not for those who think a donation will fix a systemic problem, if that’s your logic, then I would suggest taking a closer look at your roots, take a closer look at whether or not you embody the power of an oak tree that has been on this earth for hundreds of years. This work is not for those who think decentering whiteness is the solution without complicating and problematizing whiteness first.
Just a little word about whiteness. Whiteness traverses all lived experiences even if it has nothing to do with race. The concept of whiteness shapes and frames our understanding of what it means to be successful, virtuous, physically and mentally healthy, concepts of spirituality and many other things. We can’t do the work of dismantling systemic power if we aren’t willing to complicate and problematize how whiteness is the problem. We can decenter White people, but whiteness has to remain central to our work for change and justice solely to continue to critique it as the issue that has created our current dynamics. Removing whiteness from any equation is dangerous, yet because whiteness is seen as the norm, then it often stands on the sidelines uncriticized and without consideration. And this leads us to have problematic conversations about change, because more time is spent looking at and studying everything else but whiteness. And that is why whiteness and white supremacy is so powerful, because it can continue to exist in so many facets of this life without ever realizing that it’s there. It has been still for so long, that it has become so powerful. Whiteness needs to be destabilized, rattled, moved, unsettled so that it is no longer able to be still or to rest.
So the answer to my earlier question about how do we beat power and oppressive forces? We get still. We ground down. We remember the words of the old Negro hymnal, “We shall not be moved, just like the tree planted by the water, we shall not be moved.” If you’re committed to change, be still, allow stillness to rise above struggle. Being still means you are committed to what you are doing and cannot and will not falter in the midst of a storm. Power doesn’t concede to struggle. Struggle begets more struggle in your mind, body, and spirit. Be still. Sharks are constantly moving to survive, because they have to struggle to survive. We don’t have to struggle. Get still and rest.