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Yesterday, on the final day of the first ever MAPS community workshop on Psychedelic Medicine & Cultural Trauma, I had the pleasure of attending one of the most heartfelt and empowering ecumenical, secular services of my life.  I’ve been inspired before, and this is a step beyond that.  With her body, her voice, her authenticity, and her unmasked genuine energy, Jamilah George reached beyond inspiration to tickle the ebonies and ivories of purpose that lie deep within me.  She poked a hibernating bear and awakened a spark in me that I haven’t felt in years.

She shared the story of her first visit to the African continent where she encountered cultures that are very different from the myths we’ve been told here in America.  What struck me the most was the passion with which she shared a seemingly insignificant, yet personally transformational, moment for her.  In a village, she witnessed a woman balancing a basket on her head while also carrying her baby on her back and a bag of supplies in her hand.  What Jamilah’s experience gave her was the realization that these women are not beaten down by poverty the way we, in America, like to believe they are.  She said this woman had a sway about her when she walked that communicated confidence, purpose, joy, and authenticity.  It was palpable in her description that this woman knew the importance and significance of her contributions to the entire community.

I could feel the impact this had on Jamilah in the way she communicated her experience.  The tears, finger-snaps, and applause that came from us in the audience let me know everyone else was feeling it, too.  I can visualize these women, and I know the sway she’s talking about.  It’s not an act; it’s not a display of vanity; it’s not arrogance.  It’s what happens when a woman connects with and accepts, unconditionally, her own, unique authenticity and purpose in this world.

As I reflect on my life, I’ve had moments when I’ve stood in that level of confidence.  As of yet, I haven’t been able to maintain it long-term.  I’ve come to realize that it’s been a decade since I’ve had any sway about me.  For about a year now, I’ve been feeling something within bubbling to the surface.  I wasn’t able to put words to it, and Jamilah did that for me yesterday when she talked about this sway.

Please do NOT mistake a swagger for a sway, for they are not synonymous.

A swagger comes when you add a smidgen of arrogance, a pinch of vanity, and / or a dash of aggressiveness into the mix.  None of those things are authentic, nor do they emanate an energy that causes a person to stop and do a second-take in genuine admiration.  A swagger has a different feel to it that’s subtly repelling and repulsive because it’s inauthentic.  A swagger is the walk of a wannabe.  A sway is different.

The sway is a simple and elegant confidence in knowing who you are and living according to your own highest values.  It’s accepting the very core of yourself and having the ability to discern your values from those of the larger collective.  It’s finding the balance and compromise between you and the collective.  It’s knowing your purpose in life and accepting it.  It’s knowing others have a different purpose and accepting that their life path looks different than yours because of it.

That’s what gives us women our sway.  Why is that sway so important?

Step outside and look at the trees.  When the invisible energies make the winds blow, the trees sway in the breeze with beauty and grace.  The trees don’t swagger with aggressiveness in response to the wind, they sway in whatever direction it blows with an appropriate response to how strong it is.  Their strength and grandeur lie in their flexibility.

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Trees that become inflexible are not able to weather the storm. One purpose of the storm is to help naturally prune the dead branches before the future health of the entire tree is compromised.  Rigidity makes the tree, (and the person) fragile, breakable, and unenduring.

This is similar to the human emotional and sensory experience.  Events in our lives cause parts and pieces inside of us to become lifeless and rigid.  This makes us vulnerable and susceptible to becoming triggered and offended by all sorts of words, situations, and people in our environments. This growing internal rigidity constricts our ability to respond, so we get stuck in narrow-minded thinking and reactive patterns of behavior.

This creates an uncomfortable internal state of existence that we do everything in our power to avoid experiencing.  We distract ourselves with television, food, alcohol, drugs, exercise, pornography, shopping, cigarettes, caffeine, social media, video games…pick your poison.  The more we avoid facing our own internal discomfort, the more rigid and the more fragile our psyches become.

Those of us who’ve experienced the inflexibility of emotional trauma might not know it’s trauma.  What we do know is we’ve lost our sense of spontaneity, adventure, curiosity, and joy–all symptoms of trauma.  When we are disconnected from our own emotions and feelings, we find ourselves getting triggered and offended at every twist and turn.  It’s painful some days to leave the house, so we call it social anxiety, depression, panic attacks, or even mental illness, addiction or suicidal ideation.

It’s all manifestations of trauma, and it chisels away at our internal flexibility.

This is why it’s necessary to invest time and energy into your own healing.  In case you haven’t noticed by now, blaming the other for being different from you isn’t an effective approach.  What is effective is going within to explore what caused the rigid thinking and reactive patterns of behavior in the first place.

I can’t get the image of that woman and her sway out of my head.  Jamilah’s authentic, emotional storytelling touched me deeply, and it’s not because she’s a good storyteller.  It’s because she embodies her calling and her purpose.  This is how we change the world, ladies!  One woman impacted Jamilah, Jamilah impacted me, and I pray someday I’m able to pay it forward. Until then, I’m off to prune more dead branches of emotional baggage so I can, once again, sway through life with confidence, strength, and endurance.

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Photo credits (in order)

 

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