I was born of many women. I was born of my mother and grew up intimately with three sisters. Despite the looming patriarchal presence my father imposed, the women in my family had a world unto ourselves—one that existed out of my father’s gaze, on my mother’s bed as we piled in to watch the Gilmore girls, lined up to have our hair brushed and curled, or in the back bathroom of our house, late in the evening, as my sisters and I hoisted ourselves up on the counter of the sink and had long conversations about the secrets of growing up female in this world.
My lineage is distinctly female. My father grew up with three sisters—my three aunties, a loud, bawdy group lovingly referred to as the sisters. They are classic southern women, whose gatherings are filled with casseroles, vodka, Virginia Slims and Sierra Mist. On that side of the family, I have 5 cousins, only one of whom is male. On my mom’s side, I have six cousins and half of them are female. Every family gathering I went to was female-centric and now, in the life I have made for myself in California, I am surrounded by women still: in the many circles of sisters I have chosen for myself, among my almost all-female graduate colleagues, boyfriend’s strongly female family.
On January 21st, when I joined the Women’s March, it was exhilarating to be a part of the massive demonstration, not just for the political reasons, but for spiritual reasons. It was empowering and heartening to take to come out of the private sphere from which patriarchy has always tried to relegate women and proudly occupy the streets that were never designed for us.
Despite being surrounded by women, I grew up in a deeply patriarchal world. Starting at puberty, with the early and fast painful budding of breasts, I was constantly controlled—what I wore, how I wore it, where I sat, how and when and to whom I spoke. I was controlled by teachers who commented on what I wore or how I sat, by the early and constant sexual harassment I experienced in middle school, and by my father who was clearly uncomfortable with my budding sexuality.
Beside it’s obvious moral and political objectionability—so clearly hypocritical in a country founded on the revolutionary principal of equality—patriarchy has never made sense to. Why would you subjugate and dominate women, the very bringers of life? Why would you limit our access to reproductive health care when the literal fate of the human population rests in it? How could you glorify a god in the sky as the creator but then demean the ones through whom that creation always comes? The fact that we were all conceived of, grown by, nurtured within and born of a women is one of the few things that all humans, inarguably, have in common. All of us—including politicans who want to defund female reproductive healthcare, including CEOs who sexually harass their female employees, including the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief himself, Donald J. Trump—everyone of us have lived inside a woman. We ate her food, shared her blood, lived by her oxygen, moved when she moved, slept in her womb, and then, eventually was born of her labor. Why would you denigrate the literal makers and keepers of her people?
It will never make sense to me, and I will not waste my time trying to make it. But today, as we are watching white supremacist patriarchy play out on a national scale, as women across the US strike to take a stand for their humanity and worth, to all the women out there, I want you to know that I see you and I celebrate you.
To my mother, my sisters, my grandmothers, I celebrate you.
To my many circles of sisters here in California, I celebrate you.
To my black and brown sisters, my Indigenous sisters, my sisters who were colonized and my sisters who are the children of colonizers but are working to change their legacy, I celebrate you.
To my Trans sisters, my Lesbian, Bisexual, Non-binary, Asexual, or Gender non-conforming sisters, I celebrate you.
To my Muslim, Hindu, Siekh, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Pagan, atheist sisters, I celebrate you.
To all the mothers, who have made countless and often unseen sacrifices, who are biggest force of unpaid labor in the world, I celebrate you.
To my sisters who were born in chains, who gave birth in chains, who find themselves today, still in chains, I celebrate you.
We all my sisters across the planet, I celebrate you. We have made the world, over and over again and we will continue to do so. We are the keepers of our people, the givers of life, the breath of the humanity. We are limitlessly powerful because the future of our people, literally, rests within us.
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A few days ago, I walked into the Davis cemetery, to the hidden acreage in the back, where someone has thoughtfully planted a native habitat. There, under the cloud-streaked California sky, I laid down on the cold, wet Earth and wanted more than anything, to crawl into a hole and stay there.
This is how I am feeling. I am terrified by what is going on in our country. I am overwhelmed. I am saturated with despair, soaked down to my bone, heavy and limp, like a dripping wet sponge.
And, it is not just because I am watching my moral integrity, democracy and the existence of reality be attacked, although those are certainly important things too. It is because I feel powerless. It is because I, like so many women, have the visceral experience of being overpowered by a man, of being rendered powerless, of feeling physically intimidated, of being cut off and ignored and having no say in something that affects me deeply and trying to speak up and being silenced again and again.
It is a terrible experience that rattles me to the bone, and now I am watching it play out on the national level. One of the slogans of the woman’s liberation movement was “the personal is political.” Now, I feel like we are living in an era where the opposite is also true, the political has become deeply personal.
I know I am not alone in this. I know that for my Native or Black or Latino or Muslim or LGBTQ sisters and brothers, this must be terrifying for you too. And, regardless of your identity, we all have deeply engrained experiences of being overpowered and rendered powerless.
Trump and Bannon strike something deep in us, something that is timeless and deeply human. In my high school literature classes, we talked about “the human condition”, the struggles that are innately human and I think this is it: this timeless struggle between power and powerlessness, between justice and corruption, and oppressor and oppressed.
When I think about this, I find a new place of empowerment. I can see how Trump permeates my being in a deep way, and reminds me of all the experiences of powerlessness and intimidation I have had in my life, and how that is exactly what he would like. He wants the populace to feel powerless and shut down and intimidated, and that is something I refuse to give him.
I feel almost religious about it, like it is a sacred opportunity to stake a claim on my own power and my own worth and I do not want to miss the opportunity to do so. I am starting to forge a new kind of resistance within myself, one that is a deep embodiment of my own self-worth and a commitment to fighting for that for everyone else. A phrase from Gloria Steinhem in her speech at the Women’s March keep rattling around in my mind, “No more asking Daddy.”
No more asking Daddy. It does not matter who is in power or what they say: I have value and the right to a good life. And so does everyone else, regardless of whether they are Muslim, Jewish, Black, Latino, LGBTQ, disabled, Republican, Democrat, whatever. I feel like it is something I want to shout out from my window, paint across every building, write on post-it notes and hand out to every person I pass on the street.
You matter. You are worth something. I will fight for you.
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More than a week ago, my boyfriend and I boarded a red eye to the east coast to attend the Women’s March on Washington. For us (my boyfriend and I, plus my sister and then later my mom and college friends), the March started in Takoma Park, Maryland, where my sister, boyfriend and I arrived at a trainstation early on a foggy winter morning. The air was damp and cold, but not unpleasent. The trainstation, miles from downtown DC, was already bustling with Marchers donning pink pussy hats, signs and political tee-shirts poking out under winter coats.
At each stop, the traincars became increasingly packed. When we arrived at Judiciary station– still blocks away from the March’s starting place– we dripped out of the trains like bees from a swarming hives. We filled the platform and the stalled escalators and the turnstyles and everything until we reached the streets.
Once outside, on the city streets of our nation’s capital, everything and everywhere was the March. It blocks away, as people streamed in lines along routes posted with signs. It took over corners and sidewalks, traffic crossings, building stairs, streets and entire blocks. We filled and overfilled the National Mall, the lawn of the Washington Monument and the planned route. It was so big that there was no start or end, just a steady and mounting multidirectional flow of people, growing and pouring over like the current that emerges out of the chaos of changing tides.
The week before I left, many people tweeted, emailed and messaged me the prayers they have for our nation in these dark times. The night before the March, I scrawled them onto a banner, which I carried with me. I took the prayers and prayed them carried them in my heart. Congressman John Lewis said “When we pray, we move our feet.” I prayed and moved my feet and I will keep doing so.
I walked with one of my sisters, my boyfriend, my mom and her college friends. I have two more sisters that marched that day in other cities, one with her husband and two young daughters. Of all the things that day, this was the most exhilirating for me, to be marching with my mom. While I spent most of my youth running my mouth about my political ideas, I so rarely heard from her; my mom avoids conflict and hates to make waves and here she is on the streets of Washington DC, chanting about Democracy and attending a rally to which radical Angela Davis is a headliner. That, to me, was promising.
Also promising were the number of children at the March. Not surpisingly, kid signs were my favorite signs. Like this kid, who totally nailed it with the saracasm and 4th grade humor:
Or this one, whose simplicity only adds to his message:
Or these two girls who made an interactive sign. At the top, it read, “Women have the right to…”, to which passerbys filled in answers.
The March was the whole weekend. It continued the next day, when we set out to explore DC and the streets were still filled with pink hats, worn like a not-so-secret code, denoting that whomever wore it was an ally. It continued as we walked through the open paths of the National Mall and saw signs scattered on the lawn of the Washington Monument, signs lining alleys, signs resting on corners. It continued on Monday, when my boyfriend and I went through security at BWI airport and the TSA agent, an elderly white women, leaned in and, with a glimmer of defiance in her eye, asked my boyfriend if we were here for the March. And it continued on both legs of our flight, as the plane was filled with pink pussy hats and March teeshirts and, on both legs of the flight, we were seated next to fellow Marchers, and at our layover, as we chatted with the couple next to us about what action we would take.
There was so much that the March was– exilirating and hopeful and empowering. Walking away from it, I also have to acknowledge that it was pretty darn white. Yes, there were women of color, but it was undeniably mostly white women and men, who carried signs that spoke to old school, white bread feminism.
This reality– that the biggest mass public demonstration in American history was so white– has made me think a lot about solidarity and unity. We need these things more then ever right now; Trump and the Right would love it if the Left was too busy squabbling, too busy overlooking key issues to really mobilizing. So we need unity, but we need a specific kind of unity, one that looks for intersections.
Regarding the March, I have heard a lot about the need for intersectional feminism, which I think of like feminism 2.0. It advocates for gender equity and social justice, but recognizes that certain groups–AKA people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ, non-Christian, or disabled folks, to name a few– are affected differently by gender issues.
That is the kind of solidarity we need right now: the kind that gets me– a middle class, well-educated white woman– on board with issues that affect the Black, Latino, immigrant, disabled or LGBTQ community, as opposed to asking them to get on board with my agenda. And right now, there are more resources than ever on how white folks can educate themselves on how to be anti-racist allies. One of my favorite organizations is http://www.showingupforracialjustice.org/. There are tons of resources, local chapters, and opportunities to get involved.
The March is a great opportunity for education, and for all of us, especially the most priviledged of us, to widen our lens. The legacy of the March– whether it will lead to lasting social change or be just a blip on the radar of this terrifying and exhiliarting time in history– hinges on this, whether we will actually stand up for and with our sisters and brothers off all races, creeds, abilities, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation.
I, for one, know that I will do what I can to ensure we do.
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What are your prayers for our country right now? What do you say to your God or Gods or Goddess or Goddesses when you are in bed at night? What do you long for like an ache in weary bones? To what is your life devoted to, the thing you would fight tooth and nail to defend, the thing that wakes you up with fervor, that wrattles you to your core?
Tell me. I want to know them. Thursday evening, I will be flying to DC for the Women’s March on Washington, and would like to carry your prayers with me. For me, this trip is a spiritual one, a sacred pilgrimage, a holy journey. It is a chance to take my hopes, my fears, my prayers and parade them publicly and turn them into action.
As I march, I will be marching with the knowledge of my ancestors, the ancestors of this country, all of our ancestors– my grandmothers and their grandmothers, who couldn’t vote or get an education. With slaves, who proclaimed their humanity through everyday resistance, like workslow downs and organizing for freedom. With LGBTQ folks, who have always existed but often in the shadows. With poor folks of all colors, who started to ban together but were divided by race and taught to hate each other. With civil rights activist, who were will to know violence but never perpetrated it. Since the beginning of this country, there has always been oppression and there have also always been folks fighting against it. Our country is better today, my life is better today, because of them. I stand on their shoulders, and I will march with them in my heart.
And I will march for our future, carrying the yoke of our collective prayers for a world that is more just, more kind, more gentle. I will make a poster, posting each one on a sticky note and carrying them with me during the march. I will also pray them on the morning that I leave on, and during the march, holding them in my heart and my hands.
So, send them to me. Leave them in the comments below, email them to me (firstname.lastname@example.org), Facebook them to me (Sally Neas) or tweet them to me @SallyNeas (I just got twitter!).
This is mine: that we will all wake up. Wake up to how brave we are, wake up to how powerful we are, how needed we are. Wake up to how much we love justice and are willing to stand for it. Wake up to how deeply we are interconnected, how are destinies are connected, how injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere, how violence anywhere, againist anyone or anything, including the planet, is a threat to peace everywhere. I pray that we will all wake up to the fact that we are one big, living, breathing and deeply intertwined body.
Those are my prayers; what are yours?
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My 2017 New Year’s Resolutions (The Short List):
- To practice metta once a week
- To use my compassion as a motivation for political action
- To meditate four mornings a week
- To use my insight to bring wisdom while I take action
- To pray at night for the safety, wellbeing and liberation of all beings
- To make my prayers reality by taking action
- To practice my sit spot, and use it to cultivate my deep sense of interconnectedness
- To use my interconnectedness to inspire me take action
- To cultivate my vitality by exercising and eating healthier
- To use my vitality to sustain my action
There is an obvious theme here: the dance between spiritual practice and political action. This will be my mantra for 2017 and, as we wait for Trump to become our president, and climate deniers and bigots are ascending to high office, I hope it will become many of our mantras for the year.
These two elements of spiritual practice and action are necessary and, are in fact, extensions of each other. Without reflection and growth, without the spiritual grounding in love and peace, our action will be unwise and unfettered. Our anger, our frustration, our rage—all of which are valid and incredibly helpful emotions— will take over and reproduce anger, frustration and rage through our actions.
But at the same time, unless we couple that spiritual growth with political action it becomes myopic and self-indulgent. During and since the presidential election, I have heard so much about the need for empathy and compassion and kindness and yes, we absolutely need those things. They are a wonderful and vital starting place, but that is what they are: a starting place. They must be lived through our actions that aim to create a more just and compassionate world.
This was, in fact, the path of some of our most renowned spiritual leaders. Take, for example, Mother Teresa, who said “you can do no great thing, only small things with great love.” It is easy to interpret this as saying that the path to a better world is through being kinder in our everyday interactions with each other, like being nice to your siblings or giving a few dollars to a homeless person. And of course, those things are valuable, but I do not think it was what Mother Teresa meant by “small things”. Consider Mother Teresa’s life: She devoted the majority of her life to caring for the most vulnerable and downtrodden members of society and founded the Missionaries of Charity, a global organization that has clothed, fed, bathed and taught literally millions. I do not think she is talking about just being nice to each other, but something far more radical. She is not talking about whether we take action, but rather how we do so, saying that we must approach it with humbleness and great love.
Dr. King is another good example. He said “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” To many people, this quote means that cultivating love is the only thing that can heal the world. And I agree with that. But what did “love” mean to Dr. King? Consider his statement that “justice is love made public.” From his vantage, and mine, if you truly love this world, if you truly love your neighbors, if you live with compassion and lovingkindness, you must fight for justice and truth. And, it was not Dr. King’s role as a Christian minster that gave him enduring fame; it was his radical political leadership, grounded in deep Christian values of love and compassion, that led to his notoriety.
So, put it on your New year’s resolutions to better yourself. Pledge to go to Church, Temple or Mosque. Meditate, pray, do yoga, eliminate sugar from your diet and join a gym. Sign up for beautiful meditation retreats in Northern California or New England where you talk about your childhood pain and grieve for the things your life has lacked. Sleep in a yurt, listen to plants and do a diet cleanse.
Then, come back from these times renewed, ready to take on the ugliness of the world, ready to make it look more like the love and compassion you have cultivated in your heart.
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My first thought as I rolled over in bed, my eyes blinking through the groggy champagne headache, was, “It’s a new year. I wish that meant shit.”
Because, while I love celebrating the New Year and we are all excited to say good-bye to the train wreck that was 2016, the arbitrary changing of the Roman calendar year does not mean much for our nation, for the world, for the mess we are in. Donald Trump will soon be our president, the cease-fire in Aleppo is shaky at best and fascism is rising globally.
I do believe that the New Year means something, but it does not mean what most of want it to mean. We want it to mean that we will wake up in 2017 and things will magically be better. Our revered heroes will not die this year, there will not be terrible shootings, and hatred will not reign. This is not true; these problems still exist today and the fact that terrible things will happen will always exist, regardless of time.
While we cannot expect the New Year to magically wipe away the ugliness in the world, it does hold magic in it. The New Year is a ceremony, one that deals with oldness and newness, the pattern of death and rebirth. It is about letting go and dreaming new dreams and connecting with the ongoing changing of the seasons that steadily roll in and out like the lapping of the tides. It is a metaphorical letting go of the old and time for birth of the new, which, as we face the harshness of reality that is 2017, is absolutely vital.
I always take time around the New Years to celebrate and honor the past year, to reflect on my personal successes and pitfalls, to let go of everything unfinished and imperfect and dream into my dreams for the New Year.
I invite all of us to do this, to pull inward and connect with ourselves. And, not as a myopic exercise concerned with only our lives, how much money we’d like to make and where we would like it live, but to use it to really dream into how we want to be of service in a time when the world really needs us all. What are your skills and resources, and how will you offer them up? What are your non-negotiables, and how will you protect them? How will you stand in solidarity with the most vulnerable? What do you need personally to ensure your ongoing health and engagement?
I pray that the New Year will be a powerful time for all of us to refill our cups and clarify our focus so that we may move with the swiftness of an Eagle in these precarious times.
And, my last thought regarding what New Years has to offer, especially after such a shitty year, is about birthdays, and one birthday in particular. It was my friend’s 62nd birthday, a birthday that capped the end of perhaps the shittiest year of her life. After her mother’s death and retirement, she started having strange health problems, which quickly snowballed into extreme anxiety, depression and more health problems. Just like 2016, it had been an incredibly shitty year.
On her 62nd birthday, she had been improved just enough to have a rich meal. We cooked her pasta with clams, popped a bottle of champagne and made a desert called “the tower”, cream puffs stacked in a pyramid, cemented with whipped cream and covered with chocolate. In a festive burst of energy, she put on a tight, sequined leopard print dress and danced around the kitchen.
I watched with delight as she sipped her champagne and enjoyed her chocolate covered cream puff and said to her, “I think 62 is going to be a better year.”
And it was. The number of good days started to outweigh the bad, and the bad days started to become less bad.
She got better mainly because she worked hard. She was diligent about doctor’s appointments and taking medications and eating regularly and meditating. She did everything you are supposed to do to get better, and she did. It was definitely not magic that helped her get better, but I do think the magic of that evening helped. It reminded her what fun felt like, that there are people who love her and that there is always sweetness in life along with the hard.
And, while magic is not going to save us in 2017, it is always helpful. Right now, what we are facing is big, and it will take hard work and determination and diligence. But, why not pop a bottle of champagne, put on some sequins and stir a little extra mojo into our cauldrons.
Because Lord knows, we are certainly going to need it in the coming year.
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There is great darkness afoot in our world right now.
There is Aleppo. In Syria, it is the dead of the night, and many will not make it until the morning. Those who do will only have another day of misery, another day of starvation and brutality and terror, another day which may well be their last. Bombs rain down like shooting stars and the terror has settled over the city like hot ash. Women are choosing death over rape and everyone, including 46 orphans, are posting goodbye videos.
Last night, I dreamt about Nazi Germany. I woke up, frightened, with images of ghettos and arm bands and lines of Jews on trains and orderly rows of soldiers marching, their bodies erect and rigid, each foot hitting the ground at the same moment.
Two nights ago, I laid in my bed, tossing and turning, listless and flooded with panic. My partner brought up the election right as we were trying to go to bed, and just the suggestion of the possibility of a Trump victory on Tuesday left me reeling. I could feel the anxiety coursing through my body: It came in waves, starting as a clenching in my stomach, then a burning in my face and tightness in my shoulders.
I felt utterly anguished, like something very real and very terrible was happening to me in that moment. I used my practice of mindfulness to investigate the emotion and discovered that, in fact, there was not something terrible about to attack me and that, while a Trump Presidency is reasonably scary, there was simply nothing I could do about it at 1:30 AM on Sunday morning.
As my anxiety began to subside, something new started to emerge. My mind started to trace over the day. I thought about the flood of celebrity concerts and videos encouraging people to vote and supporting Hillary. I thought about the creative and witty jingles touting civic engagement. I thought about the scores of photos I have seen of my friends out campaigning and phone banking and getting out the vote. I know this happens every year, but something about this feels a little different.
There is something beautiful happening, and I hope, amidst all the fear, we do not miss it.
This year, we are genuinely confronted with white supremacy, sexism, violence and xenophobia. We are genuinely looking fascism in the face, and that is something I never thought I would say. And, for some Americans, this is just what they have been waiting for. Ever since Obama’s inauguration, since the passage of Affordable Health Care, Syrian refugee resettlement, since a national discourse about sexual assault and transgendered rights, since gay marriage and the Black Lives Matter movement, this is exactly what they have been waiting for. And, in 2015, they got him.
For those Americans, they have delighted in reverent hatred. For other Americans, they have kept their head down and avoided the whole thing.
But for many of us, we are bravely stood up to defy hatred and bigotry and violence and watching that is beautiful. We have proudly taken a stand against this existing in our nation. I think back on the scores of brilliant people of color who have spoke out on national televisions shows arguing compellingly and effectively against Trump supporters and surrogates. I think about the rally protesters, who have withstood violence to stand as a force against it. I think about late night talk show hosts who have cleverly and wittily cut through all of this, who have heartened us and made us see the absurd humor in it all.
There is something terrible and terrifying happening in our country, but there is something beautiful too, and I hope that we do not miss the splendor of that.
Make no mistake: Trump has done terrible things for our nation. He has empowered and emboldened vitriolic hatred and bigotry and has mobilized violence.
But, at the same time, he has done us two favors. He has exposed very real and latent hatred, and has given those of us who are sane the opportunity to be everyday sheros and heros and stand for love and justice. While he has codified violence, he has also empowered a narrative of hope, beauty and love. Where else would “Love Trumps Hate” be an acceptable campaign slogan? Or when else would you see women, and men, claiming their power by reclaiming the phrase “nasty woman”, or banding together under the rallying cry of “pussy grabs back”?
In classical mythology, the heroine always has to descend into the underworld, has to move into the belly of the beast and confront their darkest demons before she can return to truly serve her people. I think, or hope, that that is what America is doing now, journeying through the underworld, through the absolutely worst of ourselves to come out better on the other end.
I see this happening. I see, beneath the rubble, a vibrant, creative, heartfelt movement of falling back in love with civic engagement and standing up for what we believe in.
I see millions and millions of Americans working tirelessly, performing acts of merit on behalf of all of us– for me, for the children alive today, for the future generations. In Buddhism, we talk about Bodhisattvas– beings who are able to achieve Enlightenment but delay doing so out of compassion, so that they may remain on this Earth and continue liberating other beings. But, as Buddhist thought evolved, scholars realized that a Bodhisattva was really anyone performing acts of merit on behalf of others. With this interpretation, I see millions and millions of Bodhisattvas across our nation tonight, canvassing and phone banking and tomorrow driving shuttles to polling places and passing out fliers in service to us all.
From where I stand, yes, I see something heart breaking and scary, but I also see something beautiful. I hope, in all the fear and chaos, we do not miss it. And, I hope we truly revel in it. Because, God knows, no matter what happens tomorrow, no matter who is the winner, we are going to need this beauty to carry us as we try to mend our country.
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