Mindfulness and Imposter Syndrome

Recently my mind has been bugging me endlessly with the question of, “What are you doing?”

This isn’t a theoretical/philosophical question but more so the practical question of, “How am I contributing to the world right now?” Last week I attended a really wonderful gathering of folks my age called the Millennial Leaders Project at Union Theological Seminary in NYC and although it was really healing and great to share space and hear other folks’ stories, my imposter syndrome was constantly comparing myself to my colleagues and getting in my face asking me, “Well what are you doing now? Why aren’t you doing x, y, and z? Why don’t you read enough?”

Imposter syndrome is real in activist circles and social justice communities. I have heard from friends in various movements who feel as if they aren’t good enough, they don’t do enough, they haven’t given enough. In addition to just leading to burn out and low self-esteem, for me, imposter syndrome also takes away from the work of my own healing, because I’m obsessed with doing more work externally than I am sitting with my own pain and working through it.

My birthday is coming up, and that always puts me in a reflective mood. It’s a time to look back on the year and think ahead for the intentions I want to set for my next trip around the sun. My 25th year has been really eye-opening for me as I’ve engaged in more self-critique, thinking deeply about my own internalized racism and homophobia, and recognizing wounds. In addition, as I wrote a few posts ago, I went through a lot of shit this year, moving to an incredibly white city, experiencing institutionalized racism in my internship program, and more recently, hearing blatantly racist language at a church I used to attend. I’ve been in a near constant state of anger for the past few months that I haven’t really allowed myself to take up space or engage in deep rest. So then when I do rest, and take a break from social media or pick up a sci-fi book to escape for a bit, my imposter syndrome comes swooping in to ask me why I’m not writing or attending a teach in.

When the imposter syndrome comes in, though, I have begun to answer its questions with, “I am focusing on my own healing.” Because at the end of the day, if I’m doing all this social justice work and not doing my own healing work, I’m going to get burned out, I’m going to get cynical and jaded, I’m not going to be fully present to the work that’s needed. That’s not to say that we all need show up to our movements fully healed from all of our baggage and trauma, because healing is a constant process. Scars do not heal overnight. I know that as I uncover and work through my shit, more shit is liable to come up. That’s why I have to constantly check in with myself and allow myself time to rest, to heal, to say no to things, to grieve, to get in touch with my mind, body, and heart and see what is needed. Doing this is what allows me to show up.

At the Millennial Leaders Project in NYC, Liz Alexander of the Millennial Womanism Project gave a really amazing presentation in which she weaved together womanist theology, social media, and mindfulness. What struck me most was how Liz shared her experiences as a Black woman utilizing meditation and mindfulness practices for her own healing and engagement with the work. I have been skeptical of re-introducing yoga and meditation (among other practices) into my spiritual life for a number of reasons – they have been co-opted by white folks in this country to make money, white folks who teach these practices also often strip them of their historical and cultural contexts to make them more “accessible” to other white people, and many of these teachers also stress transcendence from material circumstances. Liz told us a little bit of her own journey in using meditation, breath work, and other healing practices, grounded in a womanist perspective that seeks out healing and restoration for Black women and girls. She shared with us a couple of books and resources that I’m really eager to check out and work into my own life, and encouraged me to learn from other people of color who have been using and teaching these practices. After Liz’s presentation, Marisela Gomez, an activist, physician scientist and meditation teacher from Baltimore, led us in a few different forms of meditation and began by giving us a talk about the role of mindfulness in our movements. She stressed how critical it was for us to engage in this healing work because otherwise our past pain and hurt will resurface in our interactions with others.

I feel incredibly grateful to have shared this time and space with Liz and Marisela and my colleagues from the MLP. Being able to re-interpret practices of mindfulness for myself and utilize them again is incredibly restorative. I started meditating 10 min a day since getting from NYC. I haven’t noticed huge changes (it’s only been a few days) and the imposter syndrome still comes up, but I just remind myself every time that I’m focusing on my healing. The healing will allow me to nourish my heart and spirit so that my work can continue.

Cutting Loose

I recently took up embroidery as a hobby. I learned a little bit from watching my roommates Alice and Lily as they both began embroidery in their free time this past year. Embroidery is incredibly soothing, although meticulous. You have to thread a needle every time you want to switch colors, which is agonizing (for me, anyway), and you then have to engage in stitch after stitch after stitch until your design finally comes to life.

Something I learned quickly is that if I’m not careful and mindful of my stitching, my thread will inevitably get knotted really quickly. Sometimes the knot is easy to pull loose; other times a tiny knot can grow into a huge, unmanageable one that could take several minutes to undo. I’ve learned sometimes it’s a lot easier to cut the knot and salvage the usable thread rather than trying to spend all my time undoing one big knot. Some might say it’s wasteful, I see it as prioritizing my time and energy.

I just ended my year of service with Life Together. I had originally signed up to do a second year with this program, but after repeated experiences with institutionalized racism and intense soul searching, I rescinded my contract and decided to move back home to Philadelphia. Looking back, I had some great experiences at the church I was serving and I made some beautiful friendships – but I also spent a good portion of this year doing a considerable amount of intellectual and emotional labor for white folks trying to “understand” racism in my service year program. I witnessed cultural appropriation happen in worship spaces and then have white folks get defensive and emotional when called out on it. I heard the pain of other people of color who got passed over for leadership positions. I had to listen to white people time and time again apologize for racist actions and watch as they continued with racist behavior even after I and many other POC called them out.

I recount the above experiences to remind myself that they happened, because society has taught me to always second-guess and discount my experiences and those of other people of color. Society says we are not to be believed when we share our experiences of discrimination. Mainstream Christian society in particular discounts our experiences, or when we are believed, many white Christians look down upon the ways we speak the truth, or shame us for not desiring “reconciliation” with oppressors. I’ve internalized this narrative and I hear it in the back of my mind every time I remember my experiences with racism.

“You could have handled that better. You burned that bridge. That isn’t very Christ-like of you. You need to reconcile with them.”

In the minds of many white Christians, reconciliation and forgiveness on the part of people of color seem to be taken as a given. POC are so often pressured implicitly and explicitly to forgive and reconcile, without taking stock of what forgiveness and reconciliation would actually take. We are called to have limitless reserves of grace for white oppression, for white guilt, for white nonsense, and yet white society offers us none in return, or when grace it is offered, it is on the condition that we behave “respectably” and communicate ‘nonviolently’, i.e., censor ourselves.

When I think about my experiences with this community and how I handled it, I know that when I called people out and left without saying goodbye, I acted from a place of great anger and pain. And I’m fine with that. I don’t regret what I did. To have censored my language, my story, my pain, would have been doing an immense disservice to myself and other people of color who experienced the same things. In this case I chose to cut loose a knot in my spirit rather than painstakingly pulling it apart, because I knew that would have necessitated an immense investment of my own emotional resources that I did not have. It pains me more to twist and contort myself to be acceptable in the eyes of progressive white society than knowing my words and actions may ruffle feathers.

This experience also taught me a lot about what church is supposed to be and what it currently is. My internship program boasted that it aims to produce new ways of doing and being church, but it is also a microcosm of what the church is. And so the liberal white racism I encountered in my program is just a sample of what is going on in the church across denominational lines.

What I’ve learned more and more is that the church these days is not interested, despite what you may hear, in yielding its proximity to power. The church is interested in comforting the already comfortable. The church is interested in racial justice work because it is the Right Thing to Do, but not if it gets too uncomfortable. The church does not want to question the systems of economic and racial violence that keep people lining up at its doors for services – it just wants to continue providing the services. Mind you it isn’t wrong to continue feeding the hungry, but if we don’t question why people are hungry and if we don’t work with them to end ongoing cycles of economic violence, then the hungry will never truly be free.

I truly believe in my spirit that, in this day and age, if you are a person of privilege and you can walk out of your congregation on a Sunday not feeling shaken, not questioning the systems of power you benefit from, not ready to yield your resources to the most marginalized in your midst – then the church is failing. If all you take away from church on Sunday is a beautiful liturgical experience with the very best hymns and choral pieces and not an understanding of what the Gospel is calling you to do in the face of police brutality, violence against Black and Brown bodies, environmental degradation, and rampant xenophobia, then perhaps you need to revisit what it means to be a Christian.

I know that the church is dying. At first when I read the statistics and the think pieces, I confess that my initial thought was about job security – What does that mean given that I feel God is calling me to be a priest? Will I have a job? But now truly I think it is better to let the church that doesn’t use its prophetic voice to question and rebuke the powerful, out of fear of being “too political”, die. The Spirit will ensure that something new, something different, something bold will emerge out of the ashes. The Spirit will show me where my place will be in that new growth.

For right now, in this moment, my spirit is tired. I’m exhausted. I remind myself every day that it’s okay to rest. It’s okay to not know what is up next. I experienced a lot of messed up shit in the past couple of months, and I deserve to restore and heal myself. So for now I will keep stitching, undoing knots sometimes, other times cutting them out. And with patience, a new picture will emerge out of all those tiny stitches.

 

 

 

 

The Dry, Dead Places

The other day during Morning Prayer I found myself reading a passage from Ezekiel, the famous “Valley of Dry Bones” vision:

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LordThus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. (Ezekiel 37:1-5)

This is probably one of my favorite passages in the whole Bible.

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Retrospective

2016 has been a year of reclamation, self-ownership, and renewal for me in ways that I never would have imagined. I rang in the new year with surrounded by my family in my aunt’s home in Puerto Rico. I was a Hindu convert in a family of Roman Catholics. I was a practicing priest and the founder of an affinity group for LGBTQ+ Hindus. As out of place as it seemed on paper, I couldn’t have imagined life any other way.

Then, the rug was pulled from underneath me.

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Seeing Over the Crowd

I delivered this sermon yesterday at the parish I am currently interning at. For the readings appointed, including the Gospel reading, click here.

Today’s Gospel reading is one of my favorite stories from the New Testament. The Gospel of Luke tells us that a man named Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, heard Jesus was coming by. He wanted to see Jesus but was unable to do so because he was “short in stature” and couldn’t see over the amount of people surrounding Jesus. I can relate to that a lot because I’m about 5’4” and most people are taller than me. I’m afraid of heights though, so I haven’t tried climbing into a tree to see someone- but  I can relate to the experience of being unable to see Jesus because of a crowd.
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One Month Later

It’s been about a month since I packed up my life into a suitcase (well, the essentials, anyway) and moved away from home.

Boston is almost a new city for me. I dated someone who lived in the area a few years ago, so I did occasionally come to Boston to see him, but I never spent more than about an hour or so in the city before setting off to visit with him in New Hampshire.

Now that I’m here for a year, much of my recent life- aside from going to work and participating in training sessions-  has been centered around settling into my new home.

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Turning a Page

One of my favorite collects out of the Book of Common Prayer is part of the Order for Compline:

“Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (BCP, p. 133)

Right now I am a little weary and in need of some rest, and not just because I started writing this at 10 pm last night while watching coverage of the Democratic National Convention.

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