20 Years in the Game: Still Doin’ Cyphers

Fall Cypher Series 1

The launch of the Fall Cypher Series is Tuesday, September 8th at 6:30pm.  It’s at City Lore Art Gallery, 56 E. 1st St btwn 1st Ave and 2nd Ave and I’m feeling kind of nostalgic this morning. Please pardon me while I share a piece of my Cypher history.  {Ok, so here is where I want you to imagine Souls of Mischief 93 ‘Til Infinity beat dropping.}

(Click this if you need audio for your visualization) 

I started organizing and facilitating Cyphers in 1994.  Young, in love and idealistic not only about Hip Hop but the world. I had a vision for using freestyle Cyphers as a way to promote artist responsibility, preserve the oral tradition and bring crews together.

The event started at State of the Union, a bar on U St in Washington, DC.  It was called Talking Heads but I soon realized that the stress of two drink minimums was killing my vibe.  I also discovered that even the MC’s who drink don’t drink much while rhyming.  The artists were coming to the event to build skills.

Kenny Carroll and Brian Gilmore, both professional writers and poets, were DC natives who outside of their day jobs recited with a collective, hosted events and readings and didn’t mind spending hours waxing poetic on any and everything from the science of Parliament Funkadelic to the history of Mambo Sauce, local, national and global politics and there was no limit to their knowledge of poetry.  Their circle of writers could speak to Anne Sexton as well as they could Amiri Baraka or Lucille Clifton. They were like big brothers.  Not only did they teach me a lot but they also supported, encouraged and challenged me to do what I do.  That’s how I ended up at a place called 8-Rock on Martin Luther King Avenue and Good Hope Rd in Southeast Washington D.C. hosting Cyphers in the land of GoGo.

Initially I called the Cypher, Freestyle Fellowship because a good cypher always made me think of a spiritual experience.  My childhood reference for getting open started in St. Mark Baptist Church in my Bay Area hometown in California.  However, a week after the flyers were made, a fellow Hip Hop head handed me a Project Blowed Mixtape.  Freestyle Fellowship was on it. My mind was blown by what I was listening to and it was proof that when a concept is out in the universe there can be a number of people thinking and feeling the same exact thing on opposite sides of the country or planet. I was kinda’ amped and proud that the group Freestyle Fellowship was coming out of Cali too.

Freestyle Union Cipher was born.  In the 90s Cypher was spelled with an “i” but the “y” spelling has become more popular over time so I thought I would evolve with the times. I added workshop to the end of the name after the Cypher started to grow.  It was becoming bigger and all kinds of personalities were showing up.  I interned for a year with a media training firm in DC and received Train-the-Trainer training. One of the key insights I gained from the training was how important it was to focus on activities and creating an environment for participants to get from point A to point B in a set amount of time. I added “workshop” and called it Freestyle Union Cipher Workshop to keep the hard heads out.  There was no budget so we didn’t have security.  My theory was that the only people coming to a workshop were people who wanted to work, develop and build. It worked. 300 Cyphers and never had one fight.  There were a few emotional outbursts by MCs who got frustrated with themselves or the process but that’s about it. Freestyle Union shot in front of Kaffa House

When I first moved to NYC I reconnected with a number of people who I met working in the arts with Kim Chan, who was then a DC based arts professional, over the years. At one point I thought I wanted to become a professional arts presenter but after co-producing a Hip Hop Festival with the Smithsonian and Washington Performing Arts Society I realized I’m way too much of an artist to focus on developing that skill set. Professional arts presenters like Laura Greer, Maureen Knighton, Baraka Sele and Micki Sheppard showed me incredible amounts of love.  Linda Walton, Bob Holman, Lois Griffith and Miguel Algarin also embraced me as a poet, MC and arts organizer.  I met Steve Zeitland, co-founder of City Lore Foundation, through Bob and he became one of my arts mentors and I am excited to be working with him again.

Well, this piece is a little longer than I wanted it to be so I’ll tell you the rest later. Maybe when I see you at the Cypher.  Spectators welcome.  Just be mindful of your energy.  Everyone’s energy matters in the Cypher. It’s all ages, all skill levels and for all those who believe excellence and commitment to the craft matters. Cypher Deets

Please Note:  My book, Wisdom of the Cypher, will be released this fall.

Waking with the Sun

IMG_3213Last night before going to bed I googled to see what time the sun was going to rise. I was contemplating an early morning beach meditation but remembered I had a list of things to do to prep for my cleanse. Of course, the seed for sunrise waking had been planted in my subconscious so something nudged me at 4:54am even though I resisted the tap on my soul’s shoulder.

I fell asleep with the fan pointing directly at me and that usually leads to me rolling over feeling dehydrated at some point during the night. Finding my water bottle meant opening my eyes and stretching my arm to reach for it. Not quite ready to rise, I repositioned myself for more sleep. My mind, however, had already begun etching a poem in the sky.   Two things were clear: 1) my mind wanted to write and 2) my heart wanted to watch the sun come up.

Sleepy, I reminded myself that it’s Sunday and I can nap without guilt. I also remembered that the market opens at 7am so it’s possible to finish all of my errands by 10am. I like the sound of that. Anyway, in the Ayurvedic tradition they say we should wake before the sun rise so we can synchronize with the rhythm of the sun and that it leads to better physical and cognitive function.

As an on again, off again lover of both the late night and the early morning, getting my inner 3 year old to go to bed by 10pm is like trying to get an actual 3 year old to go the heck to sleep. On some days I am so happy and creatively inspired that my energy bubbles like water in a teapot on the verge of boiling. Then there are days where there is so much to do, plan and prep for that stopping the work flow requires a set of rituals. My wake up time always seems to be in flux. Sleeping in is often necessary for me to be able to have a productive day, but today is not one of those days so we shall carry on.

I grabbed my liter bottle from the kitchen, made my cayenne/lemon daily detox drink, lit a white candle, burned one of the good incense sticks and opened both curtains wide. I started writing. It was still dark outside but the sky gradually became lighter and brighter.

The trauma that recent current events have caused is real. Sandra Bland was laid to rest yesterday but she is alive in my heart and mind. Feeling frustrated, hurt and angry about her arrest and death, I caught myself before I slipped into a low-funk. I made an energy shift, which elevated my emotional response. I keep remembering this line from a Lauryn Hill song – I was hopeless now I’m on Hope Road. Embracing my personal power and that of my various communities has been spiritually empowering.

Watching this morning’s sunrise functioned as a prayer. It is a prayer of rebirth. Today is yet another new beginning. There are a number of ways rising early can impact work life and your habits but I’m really focused on the spiritual benefits which include the following:

  • The quiet, noiseless early morning means the mind is free. There is more room for clutter free thought. Our mind can access solutions to problems with greater ease and ponder decisions without distractions.
  • It gives us an opportunity to practice what coach Cheryl Richardson called the art of extreme self care. It can actually be viewed as a gift to self. You can create a ritual whether it’s lighting a candle, aromatherapy and/or making a special tea.
  • Some of our best ideas hit us in that space where we are awake but not fully alert so the creativity can really flow.
  • It increases your peace of mind because you have more mental organization around your priorities, self-care and responsibilities.
  • Meditating before the noise begins while all is still quiet is extremely powerful.

Yes, I know that we have to go to bed earlier if we are going to wake with the sun. Yours truly will have to practice bed time to get to that point, but for now I am giving myself permission to enjoy the early morning and to take in the sunrise every chance a get.

bright sun

I had a Health Scare

Fear Black WomanI had a health scare Friday afternoon. After contemplating an ER visit, I realized I had to pull out of a performance event (something I never do). It was scary. It was also very humbling. The human body is a complex organism comprised of thousands of individual systems. These systems work in concert and in complementary ways to make our bodies work. I couldn’t understand why it was happening Friday when I had set a plan with June 1st as the start date for my new healing protocol.

Although I’ve had a myriad of health issues during my life, I’ve never had an overnight stay in a hospital. I am not naive and understand that as the body ages there may be times when it is necessary. I’ve had outpatient surgery but never had any major surgery. As I reflect on this Sunday morning I am grateful for the blessings.

I grew up in a small working class town eating soul food from Louisiana and Mexico, as well as, China, the Philippines and Italian foods. Of course, American fast foods were also on the plate and lots of it. I ate loads of fried foods and sugar and I can’t remember eating many vegetables for the first 26 years of my life. I do remember taking lots of medications from the age of six. Pills, inhalers and weekly shots were a regular part of my schedule. Back then no one was aware of just how damaging prescription drugs could be. Last night as I lay still I had a rare moment with my remote and the TV. There was one show that had so many pharmaceutical commercials promoting drugs that I laughed and shook my head at the end of each advertisement as the announcer went through the potential side-effects. I laughed to keep from crying, to process my anger with the way our medical system is set up. A doctor will often prescribe drugs before suggesting nutritional medicine, energy healing or simple solutions like exercise and juice fasting to alkalinize the body.

This past week was an incredible experience that included travel, memorable teaching moments and connections with powerful people. I interacted with a number of successful people whose accomplishments I admire and received so much confirmation about my path. I am in the divine right space and doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. I also had people I don’t know approach me to share inspirational messages, wisdom and give me pep talks about my purpose. Trust, I listened intently because there were consistent themes and there was something here I needed to hear and receive. As I sat on my bedroom floor in pain, afraid and knowing that I’ll soon have to make decisions about surgery, I drew from the gifts each of those people gave me. The week was intense because so many people contributed to me by injecting me with love, support and useful insights that I can apply to my journey. You never know when what you share will make a difference in someone’s life. Each of those people made a difference for me.

This weekend has been about recovery & acceptance. My kitchen is my healing center, my bed my vacation retreat and my mind and heart have become a laboratory for manufacturing belief, faith and confidence in my ability to both strengthen and heal my body. If surgery is a choice I will be healthy enough to endure and recover quickly. I surrender. Acceptance of my weaknesses and shortcomings, my food addictions and the time and commitment it is going to take is also a main priority. There is a need for rituals and routines. It’s also critically important for me to enroll a few loved ones in helping me to be accountable.

Everything I’ve ever worked on the past 20 years is happening right now. It’s all unfolding. It’s an exciting space to be to watch your destiny unfold right before your eyes. It’s like watching the movie that you are starring in. So I’m digging deep. This is bigger than living a dream. It’s about making an impact, leaving a legacy and changing lives. It’s bigger than self-
care. It’s about health care and being committed to not only changing my food lifestyle but the way I think, respond to crisis, deal with negativity, release the emotional baggage I’m carrying and belief, believing life can be good and my body can be as well.

On this Sunday morning, I not only ask that you say a prayer for me, but say one for yourself and for each of us. That scene from the movie Car Wash is in my head. The one where Richard Pryor is dressed like a pimp-preacher surrounded by the Pointer Sisters singing “You’ve Gotta Believe Somethin!” I’m taking the chains off my brain. Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of my life. I’ll be juicing up a storm but belief, working on belief will be just as important.

The Cypher: We Can Use Hip Hop to Prevent Violence

As I read this morning’s headlines I am neither shocked nor disgusted. I am sad, I am hurt but I am not surprised. Between the newscasters who said that rap songs caused slavery, Don Lemon defending the mom of one of the racist fraternity chanters in Oklahoma and the people recording a brutal beating of a teenage girl instead of intervening, I feel like we are living in a Boondocks episode. Someone put me in touch with Dave Chappelle because this stuff needs proper analysis and it’s so raw we need to laugh while we break it down. We need  to laugh to keep from crying.

Dave Chapelle

Over the past two years I’ve been diligently working to get my affairs in order and organize the vision for my life’s work. It has not been easy. After 20 years of facilitating cyphers and cypher workshops I started doing cypher trainings on how to lead nuanced cyphers that create space for transformation. In the wake of the political uprisings this work is too often seen as “soft” and not “real” activism, but I stayed committed to it because it is my ministry, the cypher is my purpose.

The cypher is a circle of sharing. In my new book, Wisdom of the Cypher, I define cypher as representing 360 degrees. It is completion of thought, the continuum, the giving and exchanging of energy, information and ideas. Whenever you see a gathering of artists in a circle or semi-circle formation, whether they are rapping, dancing, telling stories or sharing the spoken word, you are witnessing a cypher.

I proposed a focus on the cypher in two of my residencies this year but it gets inserted into larger programs because administrators and decision makers don’t get that the cypher is its own program. The cypher as I present it deserves its own platform because both youth and adults need a safe space to express themselves from their core.

My cyphers are disguised as freestyle rap, improvisational poetry and impromptu speaking workshops but are really spaces for people to release stress, confront fear and self-doubt, improve critical thinking skills, build vocabulary and confidence, heighten access to creativity and learn to think on their feet. The cypher helps us to build community while providing leaderships development and transformation.

Unable to secure the proper funding, I currently host cyphers out of my home or the home of my partner. We know that the cypher is a sacred space. We know that the best intervention is prevention. We know that as much as we complain about technology, emotional detachment and the lack of human interaction people have nowadays, that we are still human and deep down we long for moments of connection. The cypher reminds us of this need.

Akua Soadwa, founder of the Sista2Sista Summit, reached out to me this morning. Her online comments about the teenage girls fighting and what we need to do to help our youth inspired my commentary. She said that young people are dealing with spiritual warfare and that hurt youth without the right resources and support become angry, uncontrollable youth. Violence happens when people are not able to say what they want to say so they act out physically.

Prevention is some of the best intervention.

Prevention is some of the best intervention.

Of course, I am waiting for one of the newscasters to blame the melee at McDonald’s on a rap song. I’m sure that will happen at some point today, but these are the folks that know very little about Hip Hop music and culture. Part of me gets it. Hip Hop still has a stigma and when educated people formulate opinions about it based solely on mainstream media then ignorance will pervade, but I know the richness, the beauty and the spiritual consciousness that Hip Hop provides millions of people around the world. I also know how many lives it has changed and saved. This is why I am promoting the cypher, a concept my work borrows from Hip Hop culture, but is universal and relates to the human experience.

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I Feel Good #TheLoveSeries #ValentinesDay2015

Mama 1942ish   My Grandma Bessie could cook her little hind parts off. She cooked at the hospital, at the church and for every family event and holiday.  There was so much love in my grandparents home and the kitchen became a symbol of it.  It makes sense that my spirit responds to food as love.  I attribute my highly developed  taste buds to all of that Louisiana goodness that I grew up eating.  Part of me hates that I can taste and identify every seasoning, know when there’s too much baking soda and I can tell just how much mustard was added.  I’m finally accepting it.  It is what it is.

I came out of the womb with a slow digestive system and with allergies and sensitivities.  Then I grew up in the era of fast food and junk food innovations, new preservative discoveries and ate it all alongside soul food from the deepest parts of Louisiana.  Since I was raised in California’s Bay Area I also grew up eating soul food from Mexico, China, Italy and the Philippines. International before I went international, my palette is almost always doing the most.  Now, my body is in recovery. It demands healing foods and when I slip, it talks back to me.  Shoot, sometimes it shouts! The shout manifests itself as pain and inflammation, mucus and coughing, skin eruptions and tummy discomfort.

It has taken a few decades but I finally figured out what I need to eat and drink to feel good. Well, I was told years ago, but wavered back and forth until the pain has now become too great to bear.  I would do what I needed to do for six months and then go back to the old way of living and eating.  With friends and family serving as my co-signers, I would throw caution to the wind and eat whatever I wanted to eat.  The phrase,  you can eat anything in moderation, is one of the biggest bullshit myths if there ever was one on earth.  For some of us there is no thing called moderation.  One bite is a slippery slope toward downhill hell.  We would never tell a coke head to have one line of coke, would we?

heart-arrow-2As we enter this week of love, I’m exploring what love means to me.  Love feels good.  I want to feel good. I choose to feel good. In the past food has represented love and I’m now at a point where I want to shift that perception.  I want my entire life to be a symbol of love – my life’s work, my relationships with others and myself.  If I want my personal relationship to be special then I have to treat myself accordingly so I am mirroring how I want to be treated.  It begins with me and with my self-care.

And I’m done with the conversations that loved ones want to have about it being in my head. Believe me, I love to eat but I am choosing life.  I love breathing, so I am on this path. I give thanks for those who support me and I am opening the door for those who would like to join me.  Change can be hard.  Community makes it easier and provides the support that we need to make those important changes.  I am shifting to a new definition of love. Now, let me go make my morning smoothie.


My thought for the day – #IFeelGood #IChooseToFeelGood

French fries call my name….

I am on a healing path.  It is my intention to move my body back into balance, to reverse the health conditions that are troubling me, to shrink the “growths” that are in my body temple, to maintain and manage my energy, my vibrance and to feel good more often than not.

The more I learn about nutritional medicine, the use of plants and natural substances to heal and the importance of emotional wellness, the more I realize that we should be working in partnership with our doctors instead of going to them for all of the answers.  You know your body better than anyone else. This is one of the reasons that allopathic or mainstream medicine does not resonate with me.  I see little proof of it making a difference other than in emergency/crisis situations. I was given all sorts of allergy and asthma medications from age six to 26 and I am sure those drugs caused various kinds of damage.  I mean, we’ve all seen the pharmaceutical commercials for new meds and heard the long list of side of effects at the end. I’m not against hospitals but would love to be a part of a movement to make them better.

Part of my contribution to this movement is to share what I am learning and to be as transparent as possible about my challenges.  It is not an easy path, but there are no magic pills and no quick fixes. Healing Naturally is more of a video diary that I’m making public.

This short video clip speaks to how there are some days where fried food seems to call my name.  It’s as if we were old loves unable to part from one another.  It’s as if I was somehow wired to want these things cooked in high heat and lots of oil.  The logical part of me knows it’s programming, socialization and habit.  The emotional part of me knows it’s about memories of a huge cast iron skillet on grandma’s stove frying up everything from chicken that looked and tasted better than any restaurant to hot water cornbread soon to be dipped in honey.  I know how good I feel when I’m eating lots of fresh living foods, when I’m eating fruits and vegetables, drinking my fresh juices and smoothies, but this stuff is like a monkey on my back.  It’s hard to understand why because there are physical consequences when I slip.  I’m staying inspired because I confronted sugar addiction, wheat and bread, dairy and candy and none of that bothers me anymore so I know I can do it. I just need your prayers, your affirmations and maybe a 12 step fried fish and french fry support group.

Healing Naturally: Self-Exposure and Nakedness

bright sunThe morning is here.  The sun is peeking through the curtains as if to say let’s do this, you’ve slept enough already. The blueness of the sky has returned, the clouds seem happy to not be filled with rain and the air looks deceivingly warm. It is not warm. I am in the Blue Ridge Mountains where snow fell in October just the other night. It is 31°F.  It is October and I am not mentally prepared for winter.

Winter preparation means preparing my mind for massive amounts of self-love and discipline. It means massaging my heart just as good as I massage my kale and enrolling a serious circle of accountability to support me in my healing protocol. The journey is a blend of adventure and routine.  Letting go of old habits and forming new ones, especially new ways of thinking, is not for the weak.  Although I at times feel weak, I know for sure that I am strong enough to accomplish my personal and professional goals. Oh, and then there’s the work to prepare for the book release, but that’s another post for another day. Today is Sunday, a day I shall use for going within.

I am revisiting my video blog, Healing Naturally, as a way to keep myself accountable and to practice sharing consistently.  I started out strong then stopped posting even though I was still recording posts.  Exploring and exposing my fears, anxieties and areas of weakness just didn’t feel cool.  Authentic sharing requires lots of courage, a willingness to be naked and let it all go.  Well, I made myself the promise of a huge break through by the end of 2014.  I intend to live and love boldly. The break through is not going to happen with me standing on the sidelines, hiding under the covers or sitting quietly in the corner pretending to meditate. Nope, my purpose was revealed to me at 10 years old and I’m about that life of honoring it. Look for posts once or twice a week on my youtube channel.  Please comment on youtube, LIKE, subscribe and share your story too!

Be Thankful: Birthday Eve Reflections

Sleeping with the fan on blast two nights in a row has left me feeling a little sniffly.  I thought not using AC would prevent this feeling but alas here I am drinking extra lemon water to warm my throat.  William Vaughn’s “Be Thankful For What You Got”  is blasting through my blue-tooth speaker as summer reminds us she is still here. I’ve meditated on gratitude since I rolled over at 6am.  It was two hours before my alarm but I felt so good I couldn’t wait to greet the day.

gratitude-changes-everythingNo flutes, native American drums or Kora music this morning, my meditation soundtrack was pure soul music from my childhood.  I’ve listened to the original version by William Vaughn, the version by Curtis Mayfield, the one with Omar and the version Omar does with Erykah Badu.  I am what they call a “repeater”.  I can loop the same song and listen to it for an hour before tiring of it.  The line “you may not have a car at all, but remember brothers and sisters you can still stand tall”  — makes me think of the images from Ferguson which brought me both tears and inspiration. Gratitude was the rope I used to hang on during the past month.  I tied a knot at the end of the rope and decided I was not going to get lost in the emotional abyss and I was not going to check out either.  I am choosing to be fully present regardless of the chaos of this world.

Muhammad AliIt’s September 3rd, my Birthday Eve, and I’m feeling some kind of way about life. Honestly, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I stopped being surprised that I was still alive. For the first 30 years of my life I had to channel Jack Johnson and Muhammad Ali in my fight against the fear of death.  Behind my smile was this recurring and haunting thought.  Our minds can be powerful tools for elevation or for destruction.  I recently lost three folks I knew in one week, two women and one man, each of them in my age group. A friend who I share the spiritual path with suggests I not use the word “lost” but reference it in a more powerful, uplifting way.  I’m working on it and still seeking the word(s).

Coincidentally as I am sitting here writing about death, Dr. Sari, a Brooklyn-based holistic chiropractor and healer, sent me a video text focused on life.  She is sharing her Day 2 intentions for her 30 day juice cleanse. I have an accountability partner for exercise, movement and my emotions/energy.  Dr. Sari is now my accountability partner for what I put inside my mouth. They say when the student is ready the teachers will appear.  images-2

I told Jomo, the acupuncturist at Third Root Community Healing Center, that I am finally ready to heal.  I was not ready before now.  The resources that I am coming across are amazing and not as coincidental as one might think.  Doing healing research on Saturday led me to discover a Womb Workshop on Sunday.  It was free and led by Sankofa Ra, a doula, healer and womb wellness consultant.  I ended up booking a healing session with her on Labor Day right after my chiropractor appointment.  It’s symbolic to do this work at the beginning of September, at the end of summer and the week of my birthday.

I am grateful to now be free of bitterness and to be one who can trust her own heart, to be an artist who has honored the core of her true purpose, to be a woman of integrity, to know how to be happy for others,  to have traveled to Europe, Asia and South America, to have lived the dream of nurturing a relationship with Africa, to be a Howard University Alum, to live in Brooklyn, NYC, to not have any toxic friendships, to be in love with myself, to have a healthy relationship and to be on this spiritual path, healing and walking towards wholeness.  It was through a few recent conversations with friends who questioned my alone time that I realized how much I now like me, how much more patient I am with life and its process, how much more clear and intentional I am with both my thoughts and actions. The quiet time of the past two weeks won’t last forever so I am cherishing it.  If it were raining I would go outside and dance in it as an affirmation to the universe:  I am here and fully present.

Be thankful for what you got so says the song and that is exactly what I am going to do.  I am dreaming and envisioning the life I want without attachment to the outcome. I am also grateful for who I am becoming. This evolution has involved sacrifice, surrender, sweat and tears. Every tear shed has been worth it. The blessings are too many to name but trust – I earned this smile on my face. Now, let me go juice some ginger root to help with this sleeping-under-the fan congestion. Be blessed. Be thankful.

 

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Stressed Out: Healing in the Midst of it All

Toni Shining the LightI’ve reached a new level of “healing” with my body.  I am detoxing, eating to live, exercising, meditating and de-cluttering my car, my closets and my files.   I don’t know what’s going to happen next but I’m channeling the prayer warrior skills of the elders from St. Marks Baptist Church, a place where the old folks would moan the spiritual hymns.  It smelled of Avon perfume and sweet potato pie and was filled with women and men from the deepest parts of Louisiana.  I am choosing to believe that I can heal  and if there is surgery needed I  will have a speedy recovery.

Part of my healing approach involves minimizing stress and anxiety.  Right now, many of us are functioning at a heightened state of awareness as we see injustice being replayed on our television and computer screens.  It’s hard to fathom how our ancestors coped with all of this nonsense.  Although the church no longer functions as the safe haven that it once was, I am understanding why it was so important to our grandparents.

I am finding it impossible to be signed in and not read, watch and listen to every single thing about Ferguson. I am finding it challenging to not think of my heart as an aching machine with I think of Mike Brown’s friends and family. I am finding it difficult to not cry at least 2 to 3 times a day. Behind on work  and deadlines, important meaningful work that I believe makes a difference, I find myself needing to check out–often. 

New research revealed that the shorter lifespan of Black men can be partially attributed to the pressures they deal with in society. I know, I know it seems like common sense, but there is now scientific proof  that racial discrimination causes a reaction in the body and impacts stress hormones in a myriad of negative ways. This same stress affects Black women and children as well.  It’s the build up of micro-assaults and the cumulative affect of dealing with them that creates health issues and conditions that can lead to early death.

This morning, I signed onto Facebook and saw that an old friend and classmate who I love and adore is on the ground in Ferguson.  Within 20 minutes I felt a knot form in the upper left quadrant of my back. I was immediately reminded of the importance of feeling my feelings, not trying to stuff them and why we must let the tears fall. I did a prayer for him and his safety.  I then repeated the following:

I release all pain. I release all stress. I release all fear. I release all anxiety. I release all worry. I release all anger. I release all resentment. I release all fear. I release all pain. I release all fear. I release all pain. I am filled with good, with love, with light, with faith. 

Sunset in Yamoussoukro

One of my little “sisters” works in a conservative corporate environment in the south and is dealing with daily microaggressions that have intensified now with recent events in the news.  My recent conversations with her reveal classic stereotypes about Black women and textbook examples of the stresses that women face.  She is expected to be strong, to carry more work than others, to not be emotional, to work without acknowledgment and to not complain.  When she complains she is perceived as angry.

The strong Black woman stereotype is another issue for us to address because many of us internalize it adding even more weight to our wellness challenges. I no longer try to be strong.  I admit when I feel powerless and frustrated while at the same time clinging to the idea that I/we can overcome any challenge as long as we believe it’s possible.  Managing stress means being present to how I feel at any given moment, monitoring what I ingest mentally, emotionally and energetically and establishing practices and rituals that support me feeling peace within. I just don’t have the luxury of being able to not manage my emotions. Stress shows up as physical reactions (i.e. illness) in my body and it is my intention to be well. Insomnia, binge eating or loss of appetite can be a reaction for some women. In my body, anger, rage, fear and worry each trigger symptoms like physical joint and pelvic pain, nausea, a weakened immune system, tension in the back and hips, edema, even more painful PMS symptoms and worsened monthly cycle issues.

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This month I am channeling the prayer warrior women of my childhood.  Here are a few of the things that I do to stay as grounded as possible.  Check out the list below:

1)Slow down and take a minute to just breathe and pay attention to the breath. There are plenty of breathing exercises on youtube where you can learn how to breathe properly if you want to go deeper.

2)Do a body scan.  Go from the bottom of your feet to the crown of your head paying attention to the places where there is tension and letting it go. Wiggle your toes, move your hips, breathe into your back, relax your tongue and loosen your facial muscles. When we’re busy we often forget to check-in on our bodies.

3)Listen to inspirational audio.  It might be religious or spiritual, it may be motivational or meditational, but find audio that helps you to tune into ways of thinking that benefit you and your health.

4)Take walks, exercise and/or dance. Movement helps us to release tension.

5)Stay in touch with loved ones.  It’s easy to feel isolated so stay connected to those who love you and make you feel safe.

6)Don’t hesitate to seek out support or professional help if the pressure gets to feel like too much to bear or if it’s consuming you. I see a counselor who is also an energy healer rooted in spiritual healing practices and I sometimes go to a monthly healing circle she facilitates.

 

 

4 Quick Tips & Lessons From My Healing Journey

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Let’s start with a few take-aways from the healing process so far:

1)Take care of your mind first. Don’t beat yourself up when you have to ease up on your plan.

2)Create a community of supporters who are fully enrolled in your being well. It may only be 2 or 3 other people but identify people to help you be accountable and inspired.

3)Be prepared to let some people go while on your journey. Some folks are a hindrance to wellness because the new you makes them uncomfortable. Bless them with love and create distance.

4)Own your choice to heal naturally.  Thicken your skin. Be prepared to speak the truth to whomever needs to hear it. Set those boundaries and honor your own inner-guidance.

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As a foodie and lover of all things tasty, I never imagined myself being so in love with the food lifestyle I’ve adopted. I’ve bought a 9 Tray dehydrator, a Vita-Mix and a food processor. Then I turned into an 8 year old on her birthday when my mom sent me a NutriBullet.  I was so excited when I opened that box.

Still with all of these tools and equipment, I’m discovering that the first priority on my wellness journey is me.  It’s not my diet or food plan, not the exercise, herbs or the acupuncture, but it’s me.  When I say me I mean my mind, my attitude and my beliefs about getting/being well. One of my accountability partners is battling lupus like a fierce warrior. She’s incredibly physically fit now and committed to her work out activities, but today realized that her mind was a priority and the gym was secondary. She chose a peaceful walk in the park instead of her normal routine. Choosing peace sometimes means missing a workout. Once we’re centered we can actually get the true benefits from our healing activities whether it’s food or exercise.

Julia, an acupuncturist/ healer at Third Root Community Healing Center in Brooklyn often speaks about how important community is to making health changes and healing the body. Walking this wellness journey with women who have just as much at stake as me has made such a huge difference in my life. Having that exchange with one of my wellness partners this morning reminded me to focus on peace, to choose a few hours of quiet.  My circle has served as a protective shield from loved ones who either with good intention and sometimes judgment say/think some of the darndest  things about my choices.

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People can be impatient, unknowingly insensitive and selfish.  Unless one has been on a healing journey of their own, I’m finding that it can hard for them to have compassion. The phrases “but you look so good” and “but you don’t look sick” is so far from a statement of support. A person may not look ill and they may not carry the disposition of a “sick” person but it does not mean they don’t still need the same amount of love, support and encouragement on their wellness journey.  There are so many women suffering quietly from symptoms triggered by tumors and cysts, lupus and other autoimmune related dis-eases, diabetes, sleep disorders, severe food allergies and insensitivities, fibromyalgia and the list goes on.  This is more evidence as to why random kindness is a good idea. You never really know what another person is going through.

The changes I have made in my life have not been easy. It has affected my friendships, my interaction with family and loved ones, my social life, what I eat and how I eat it, my work and my schedule.  I am reading and watching youtube videos for one to two hours a day so I can learn as much as possible about how to heal myself. I still have to navigate through a corporatized medical system that is designed for crisis care but not prevention and health care. Then I have to figure out how to afford staying alive while making time for the rest of my life. Oh, and don’t forget eating right and exercise.  It’s possible to reverse most conditions but it is not without dedication and sacrifice.  It can also be the unpopular choice. Still, I am choosing life.

Growing up on the standard American diet (i.e. SAD), being medicated (asthma/allergies) for the first 25 years of my life and having no awareness of how stress and sadness impacts the body all resulted in a toxic body and a compromised immune system that I am now patiently committed to healing.  I choose wellness. I choose me. I choose life.  I’ll continue to share insights that I’ve gained and please check out my video diary:  Healing Naturally.  It hasn’t been as easy to share as I thought it would be but I’m committed to doing posts at least once a week:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9U0tczpnNKk They will post on my Youtube channel:  www.youtube.com/user/ToniB104.

Be well.