Here we go again… another public figure exposed and CANCELLED by the loyal followers who ignored all the red flags in favor of the fantasy they preferred to believe. It’s simply a macrocosmic depiction of the mistake so many of us make in our private lives, isn’t it?
So many never wanted to think that the big, strong, strapping Derrick Jaxn could be just another average philanderer. They eyeballed the thumbnail of him carrying that grocery haul and imagined an angel of a man, drenched in the finest, most nutritious 77% cacao, with all the wisdom of Yoda and the sexual prowess of an god.
But alas… human nature prevails.
And the masses of dreaming women and same gender-loving men have, once again, fallen out of slumber and flat on their asses, off cloud nine and back to earthen reality as we ponder what it means to love and to “Stand by Your Man”.
Along with an invitation for Mrs. Da’Naia Jackson to my humble church, I give my own definition of love and loyalty in the video below. Do you have one, too? Be sure to hit the button to “Watch on YouTube” and share your thoughts there.
When someone says they want to “go with the flow” in a romantic relationship, it means the relationship will flow nowhere.
Some connections shouldn’t flow anywhere. Some should only be enjoyed in the moment and leave you with a lifetime of memories of a dynamite fling that blazed like fire and ended on a high note, before things could turn to smoke. Some things are meant to be enjoyed like a shot of tequila, worn just once like a wedding gown, and tossed with abandon after use, like a condom.
Instead, too often, people make the mistake of holding on to these kinds of connections with a death grip. The freedom and carefree spirit that make them beautiful is strangled out, and all they’re left with is a limp and lifeless relationship that should have ended two weeks in.
When someone has enough foresight and honesty to acknowledge that they suspect a connection will not go far, but may be worth the momentary enjoyment, I admire that. But when someone tries to glaze over their desire to keep a lover in suspended animation indefinitely by using coded language, that’s when I start losing respect.
We live in interesting times. It seems too many want a no risk, no accountability, no-strings kind of love. (Of course, people also want bae to provide for them all the perks that would be tantamount to human sacrifice. But that’s a rant for another day.) There isn’t much that is new about that, except now the world is at our fingertips, and the Paradox of Choice means that there are so many options available to us that many never see a need to choose anyone or anything.
It’s a very tempting notion: Why not simply avoid falling into the traps that our forebears succumbed to by engaging in Love Lite? We don’t want their multiple marriages and divorces, sloppy, unhappy unions, dead-end religious dogma around lifelong commitment, toleration of abuse and neglect, and suffocating expectations. Why not just float on the edges of intimacy, sweeping up just enough scraps of each other’s time and affection to get by? Why not simply warm the bench of romantic connection for life and laugh as others stumble on the field?
Pro tip: Don’t think for a minute that people don’t have intentions for you because they claim to be going with the flow, not ready for anything serious, or down for whatever. That usually means they simply intend to use you for as long as you will allow.
Why not take the most precious thing that life allows humans to experience together and leave it all up to chance? Going with the flow is so much easier. No expectations, just a collection of spontaneous experiences. Whatever happens, happens. That’s the perfectly natural way to do things, right?
Wrong. Absolutely off the mark. Couldn’t be wronger (as fundamentally wrong as that grammar).
I’m not the boss of you, but I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that you stop being fooled by people who avoid reciprocity and meaningful connection by saying that they just want to let your liaison “unfold naturally”. And if you’re the one using that coded language, you may want to stop kidding yourself and trying to bullshit others. You’d garner more esteem (and probably get laid more) if you’re just honest.
The problem is that we’ve come to think of nature as something wholly wild and willy-nilly, as something that is primarily founded upon mystery and chaos. We often do that to people and things that we want to diminish and conquer.
We equate nature with womanhood, and since womanhood has historically been dismissed as irrational and unknowable, we take ideas about natural phenomena, like the Big Bang Theory, and run with it, as if it is not only one of many possible theories. Our primary takeaway from this theory is that worlds can be formed with no initiating order or intent whatsoever. We take that notion as law.
You can’t even initiate a trip to the toilet without intention, so tell me where the hell they do that at…
And it sounds so fun and breezy, doesn’t it? When a potential boo whispers that magic word in your ear, it conjures images of birds and honey bees, fragrant flowers and fruit trees, of endless sunsets and running barefoot along beaches.
And of course, sex. Au Naturale! It doesn’t get any more natural than that. The word, “natural”, drums up all these wonderful feelings and hypnotizes us with dreams of heaven on earth. And that feels good. We want what feels good.
Yet, Nature does nothing without intention. Nature is one of the strictest disciplinarians you will ever encounter. She is both a Master and a masterpiece of order and consistency. Her order lives in wedded bliss with beauty and a touch of the unexpected. Cycles are the threads holding this world and the universe together.
Galileo is credited with saying,
“Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe”.
Nature is replete with pattern and structure. Whether or not you believe in a higher power, it cannot be denied that the planets orbit their stars, the sun and moon traverse the horizon, the tides ebb and flow, seasons change, oceans slowly morph into deserts, volcanoes erupt and islands emerge from dried lava, glaciers grow and melt, and poles shift, according to processes that haven’t fallen off since the beginning of time. Ice crystals, snowflakes, and seashells form, animals evolve adaptations to their environments, and diseases ravage bodies according to natural codes that astound our brightest scientists.
Nature is no effing slouch. She ain’t out here drifting on waves in the Pacific trying to figure out her next move. In fact, while y’all bitches playin’, I truly believe Nature’s intention to purge this place of the arrogant, greedy, disrespectful, humans who threaten to throw her off, is in full effect. Like an organism fighting off an illness, as below so above. Nature always finds her balance, and she won’t get caught sleeping.
Nature is nothing if not intentional. And what are we if not, well, natural? If we are part of nature and nature is intentional, life and love must be also.
At the core of nature is the aspect of time. I think it’s safe to say that anyone who evokes nature to defend a shallow, standoffish approach to love has no idea what nature is. They, therefore, have little understanding of or respect for time, especially yours.
Spring is in the air! And I’ll admit, I’m feeling the fever. Operation Lose These Pesky Winter Pounds is in full swing. (I can’t even call it quarantine weight, y’all, cuz I been working outside my home all through the pandemic. And that in itself has carried it’s stressors, so dammit, food. Don’t judge me.)
I’m nesting around the house, which means that the month-long process of spring cleaning, purging, and garden prep is underway. I’m touching up my wardrobe, getting the lineup of new sneakers, sandals, and everyday cute flats in order. I’m looking at these neglected nails, which frigid temps and frequent hand washing have forced me to keep short, and penciling a trip to the salon onto my calendar. And I am friggin ready to go to a Brazilian steakhouse with my friends and eat and drink until my eyes blur…on a cheat day, of course.
I want out! Away from work and the shadow of 2020, that is. To let go, to release this season and barrel into the next like a freight train. But that’s not quite how life works. This transition needs to be smooth. There are certain protocols for change that nature has set, and trying to skip over them always produces lackluster results.
Love is no different. So, here goes my analytical brain again, splitting hairs. Before you throw on your wig and maxi dress (or your man weave and joggers) so you can snag a new boo in the park, bear with me, because I think this deluge of unpopular opinions and old school relationship advice will ultimately reward you.
People use the phrase, “falling in love”, to refer to that wonderful sense of abandon and freedom that one feels when they let go and simply ride the waves of a new love interest (and I use “new” quite intentionally). Trust feels so good, doesn’t it?
There’s nothing wrong with being fully present in and savoring the moment. I co-sign that! There’s nothing wrong with being overtaken by gratitude whenever you have the chance to experience this wonderful elixir of life called Love.
Isn’t falling, like, one of the top human nightmares? I’m just sayin’, the human mind associates FALLING with deeply rooted fear, as the memory of untimely and tragic deaths that have occurred over millennia – memory that is lodged in our collective unconscious. (How symbolic…) It’s like, in our dna. There are rational, levelheaded people in the world who walk around with a notion that if they hit the ground after falling in a dream, that will signal their real life demise.
Can you name any instances where falling would be preferable to controlled motion? Maybe you can. Maybe you’re a glut for adrenaline and find things like bunjee jumping or sky diving exciting rather than nauseating. But in everyday terms, I think I’d rather dive into a pool, gracefully step off a treadmill, carefully descend a mountain, and only fly in planes with fully functioning landing gear.
Even in situations where adventure is the pursuit, the parameters for play are carefully studied and risks heavily mitigated. Yet, people often do not employ such forethought and care when jumping into love with their very hearts and souls.
So, might I suggest – so that you may gain maximum enjoyment and fulfillment – that you take a leisurely stroll into love, all senses wide open and feet firmly planted on the ground. Stroll as if meandering through a fragrant garden…rather than falling into it naked and disoriented like Kyle Reese in the first Terminator movie.
Did I lose you? If not, hold that classic movie moment from the 80’s in your mind as the best possible visual.
If you’re a culturally deprived soul unfamiliar with the film, let’s try again. Step elegantly into love, as if you’ve arrived fashionably late to an evening, lakeside wine tasting, flawless in your best attire…rather than falling into it like a swatted bug, flat on your back with your little bug legs flying frantically in the air.
Why do I suggest you do this? Because so many of our phrases and concepts around love are based on a notion of helplessness and dependency. We celebrate denial and destructive lack of awareness and call it love. We praise self-loathing, draining possessiveness, and irresponsibility for everyone’s well-being, and we call it love. We refuse to take the journey of inner healing and growth, choosing to feed on another person’s energy instead — no matter how altruistic and deserving of better, or toxic and deserving of being shown the door, that other person may be — and we call that codependent shitshow love.
And we race into it at warp speed so we don’t have to THINK about any of it. We allow ourselves to be rushed into it by others so that they can con us out of whatever we have to offer through love bombing. By the time we realize the cost of what we thoughtlessly gave away, it’s gone. We suddenly realize that what we gave away was so much more valuable than any fleeting feeling based in biological chemical processes and unreliable, airy fairy notions of “soulmates”. And there’s no one to blame but the one in the mirror.
I posit that love should actually be thought about. I posit that love is not scarce, so there is no need to chase after it and claw at the first signs of it like it’s the last chance at a meal that you’ll ever have!
Find out if it’s really love. Hell, take some time to figure out what love truly is and how it works best for you. Then, when you’re clear that you’ve created a connection that will nurture rather than destroy, sit back and enjoy it.
Can you do humanity a favor and at least try that?
“You can’t control who you fall in love with, but you better control who you love.”
So, you’re chugging along the path of life, and you decide you’re gonna make a pit stop for some lovin’. You see a bunch of signs ahead pointing in different directions:
“1 mile to a one night stand with no call back”
“5 miles to an average 15-year marriage that ends in boredom and divorce”
“12 miles to a whirlwind romance”
“Next exit for a long-distance affair where you don’t have to worry about sharing your bed or favorite food”
“Prison penpal love ahead”
“Celibacy on I-86. EXPECT DELAYS.”
…and so on.
You have a gut feeling that some of these options aren’t quite right. I mean, who the hell would take those exits to “Bruiseville” and “Wife Beater Valley?” Nonetheless, when you look down at your Picker’s navigation screen, it’s pointing straight at “Codependence Way”, and for the umpteenth time, you shrug your shoulders and take the exit without a second thought.
When you reach your destination and plop down next to Johnny-Come-Lately, you’re certain that he’s the one. Butterflies in the stomach? Check. Finishing each other’s sentences? Check. That cozy familiar feeling like you’ve known him for three lifetimes? Check. Great sex? Check! Yet, sooner rather than later, he proves to be just like every other guy you thought you knew, and you’re right back on the highway to nowhere.
You know what your Picker is, right? It’s that part of your subconscious makeup that is largely responsible for your attraction to certain types of people, while others fly completely under your radar. It’s the inner GPS system that tries to lead you to your healing by way of relationship.
There are certain things that you will never discover about yourself, lessons that you will never learn, without a partner or potential partner grating on your nerves and triggering your idiosyncrasies. (Because of this, I also liken it to a syllabus for the “classes” life puts us in, but I’m sticking with the driving analogy.)
What’s love got to do with it? Not a damn thing.
Sorry. I know, it doesn’t sound sexy at all, right? What you thought was the work of a chorus of angels led by Cupid and a 90’s R&B group is most likely caused by biological imperatives, conscious biases, and unresolved, subconscious trauma. This is the reason why people say, “you can’t control who you fall in love with”.
I, however, am here to tell you how you can (and why you better) control who you love.
If you are one of those people who seems hopelessly drawn to the wrong kinds of potential partners — people who are selfish, too materialistic, cold, emotionally unavailable, abusive, shallow, or generally noxious— then your Picker is playing a part. It’s purpose is simply not what you think it is.
If you think your head-over-heels attraction to a moron is a sign from heaven that you’re meant to be together, while you have little to no attraction to the kinds of people who would worship the ground you walk on, you’re probably misinterpreting your Picker’s dashboard readings.
Look, I’ve been there more times than I care to count. My skull is just as hard as anyone else’s, and I often need to be reminded of the very things I’m telling you. I know, firsthand, that feelings can be extremely persuasive. They can make a situation that could literally kill you seem like medicine for your soul—if you don’t understand their purpose.
I’ve learned that feelings play a very important role. They are like sensors that tip you off to faulty thinking and behavior patterns, or issues that require your attention. They can even feed your Picker data that causes your subconscious navigation system to lead you into encounters with people who ultimately are not good for you. But the encounters are for your good.
Did you catch that?
Problems occur when the Picker’s directives are interpreted as gospel, as evidence that you belong in a situation that is bad for you. Making matters worse is the fact that we are often inclined to remain in bad situations because they are familiar and do not require us to jump out of our comfort zones onto new paths.
The purpose of your Picker is not to lead you into seedy territory so that you can pitch a tent and stay there. Your Picker’s purpose is not to pick your life partner, or any partner, necessarily. It intends to help you pick apart the fears, projections, unrealistic expectations, and negative thinking patterns that prevent you from traveling a smoother path in life. It draws you into the mirror of another’s face, so that every time you look into your potential partner’s eyes and see their flaws, you can become that much more aware of your own— in order to grow and heal.
If you had experience with someone early in life who was selfish, abusive, addicted, narcissistic… fill-in-the-blank, it’s highly probable that your subconscious mind will continue to guide you to those kinds of people, whether they show up as bad lovers, fake friends, nasty co-workers, bully bosses, nightmare neighbors, etc. The same holds true if you’ve picked up certain beliefs along the way that lead you to magnetize these kinds of people. Until you figure out how to free yourself from the shackles of those early experiences or negative thinking patterns, you’ll keep taking the wrong exits.
It’s not what you attract, it’s what you keep.
Don’t blame your Picker. It’s doing exactly what it is supposed to do. I think all of the systems within our bodies and minds that are designed to run on autopilot often function exactly as they should. It is usually the challenges within our environments, along with our decisions and experiences, that throw them off balance or that prevent us from using them to our greatest benefit.
The truth is, if you could closely examine many of the relationships that have stood the test of time, you will learn that those couples don’t have a magic formula. They aren’t always (or even usually) high on the fumes of Cupid’s pheromonic eau de toilette. Their relationships weren’t without cheating, lying, disappointment, or significant trauma of some kind or another.
They may not necessarily light each other’s fire in such a way that their story would make you swoon with warm fuzzies and proclaim “awwww! as if you saw them confessing on an OWN series. They don’t make love like jack rabbits—well maybe some do. But many don’t, and that is perfectly normal for them.
Yet the relationships last, or they are at least productive, peaceful, and satisfying for as long as they last. The good far outweighs the bad.
Often, the distinct words that you will hear from at least one of them go something like this:
“I wasn’t all that impressed when I met him.”
“He wasn’t really my type.”
“A relative/friend introduced her to me.”
Lots of these relationships began with outside involvement, where a neutral third party (with a balanced mindset) who could see and appreciate the qualities of both people, suggested that they meet. There was little to no biologically-driven chemistry clouding their ability to recognize red flags or influencing them to rush ahead. Yet, something about the other person’s character, values, and willingness to work together drew them in and made it possible to build a stable and loyal partnership over time.
Now if strong, lasting love is not really what you’re interested in, if your heart is nomadic and you’re more wired for exciting flings and relationships that are short-term adventures, there is plenty of that to be had in this world. You won’t have to expend much energy to find it. Be safe and enjoy.
However, if you’ve been paying attention, by now you’ve picked up on one of life’s timeless and most potent lessons:
The things that are of the highest value and substance are usually in shorter supply, require more risk, and are harder to get and keep. Of course, the upshot is that the rewards are greater.
True devotion is LimitedEdition in this world. It is highly exclusive. The raw ingredients for love are not scarce, but healthy committed partnerships can be, because stable love is not a fleeting feeling, and it must be cultivated. Many people simply aren’t up for the task.
You can increase your chances of attracting somebody who’s ready to fully commit if you place yourself in close proximity to people who want to commit. So get off the highway to nowhere, and try a more scenic route. If balanced, lasting commitment is what you want, you will have to slow down, and be more selective and discerning.
For healthier, longer-term relationships, take the time to self-reflect and address your subconscious issues. Perfection isn’t the goal here, but at least become aware of what’s driving you. Then, when your Picker hones in on an immature, playboy/girl who brings out the worst in you, you will understand why you feel drawn to them.
You can decide to drive off immediately with the full understanding that your feelings are offering you valuable clues. This attraction, no matter how strong, is to toxicity, and it is not a “sign” that you two belong together. It is a signpost, pointing to the inner work that will lead you to a freer life, day by day. You can kindly thank your Picker for pointing out your blindspots, leave the potential train wreck in the dust, and continue on the path of your development.
Soon, you’ll stop driving down the path of foolishness at breakneck speed. You’ll take in some of the beautiful view, including all those sane and mentally balanced potential lovers that you might have sped past before. At the very least, you’ll avoid a lot of potholes.
If you want to build relationships that last a while and that bring more good than bad into your life, think of relating like good nutrition and health. You can enjoy dessert, but if you lead with it and overindulge, you’ll end up sloppy, sluggish, and unwell. Period. Relationships built only on treats lack the muscle mass, bone density, and vital circulation that would keep them healthy.
Choose levelheadedness over Love Bug Fever, sense before sensuality. Balance reason with adventure. You can have some of that double chocolate trifle romance. Just remember, it will probably taste better if it’s made well at a quaint mom & pop shop in town with a solid reputation for making kickass sweets, rather than slapped together in the back of a gas station shop just off Route 2 by some guy named “Slim”.
There are times when motivation is a luxury that cannot be drummed up out of thin air, when one must push through life’s inescapable valleys on the fumes of sheer determination alone.
As an inspirational author whose aim is to help you live a life of Joy, I recognize that the meaning of Joy has to be much deeper than a simple feeling of happiness which hang glides on the whims of motivation. So I won’t (always) grandstand like some drill sergeant shouting mottos and maxims for self-mastery at you. I won’t act like some guru tossing sage quotes and pop culture cliches down from my mental temple, high in the vibrational clouds (at least not right now).
I acknowledge that there can be no light without darkness. In life we have to navigate the day as well as the night.
The kind of Joy that builds fortitude has to be based in one’s daily decision to be grateful for life, no matter what. It is cultivated when one is determined to be their best even when their own inner cheerleaders have collapsed from utter debility, when the “go-go-go” shouting of the cacophony of coaches sounds like a distant, unintelligible murmur.
Sometimes the only way out is through. (Ok, sorry! That quote just slipped out.)
The other day at work, I was inspecting a newly reconstructed bridge, and I found a large, tattered coin resting on one of the parapet walls. It was a sobriety medallion that was heavily scarred, possibly from being tossed around the site in the upheaval of construction, maybe slammed by a jackhammer or overrun and scraped across the ground by the bucket of a front end loader. However it got there, I couldn’t help but wonder why it had ultimately been abandoned. Maybe the person to whom it belonged had dropped it unknowingly or relapsed and left it behind in a moment of discouragement.
Embossed on one side of the coin is the well-known Serenity Prayer:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
On the flip side is Polonius’s famous quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet,
“To thine own self be true.”
At first, I found that second quote to be ironic. I never knew it was part of the foundation of recovery counseling. In fact, as someone who grew up with front row tickets to the crack epidemic, I had plenty of up close contact with loved ones who were either drug dealers or addicts. I could argue that intractable self-centeredness is the most prominent side effect of both afflictions (and possibly even a key cause). I thought, why on earth would someone encourage an addict to be more selfish?
But then the quote brought to mind the ancient Egyptian directive, “Know Thyself”, and I made the connection. Again, I was brought back to center, to the need for balance in all things. This quote on the coin doesn’t encourage one to only be concerned with their own interests. It’s a reminder that you have to stand firm on a foundation of self-awareness in order to master your challenges. The prayer for assistance from a higher power is, for many, essential, but one still has to do their inner work.
The extended version of the quote helps to clarify its meaning:
“This above all: To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not be false to any man.”
Be true (honest with, accepting of, and loving toward) yourself, and you can offer the same courtesy to others.
You have to be willing to look in the mirror and accept your shortcomings in order to improve. You also have to acknowledge your inherent value as a human being and accept your innermost pain, desires, and dreams as valid.
That validity is a matter of fact that you will cling to when it becomes apparent that no one else can fully understand your circumstances, your yearnings, yours flaws and fears, your decisions and what drives you; when you are projected upon by strangers and loved ones alike, who are all barely making sense of their own journeys; when your sentiments are misinterpreted; when you’re all talked out and your attempts to explain have only resulted in more misunderstanding by even your most reliable confidants; when you’re trying to survive a global pandemic, and paying into a bottomless pit of never-ending therapy sessions is the last thing your budget (or your patience) will allow.
Stoicism is not a popular notion these days, but in the balance of effort and rest, it has its place. The Christians of 1 Corinthians 15:58 were admonished to:
“Stand firm…Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
In chapter 13 of the Bhagavad Gita, we find the concept of “sama-chittatvam”, which means equanimity of mind. It is the ability to remain calm with a balanced perspective no matter what circumstances arise.
Thinkers the world over have stated this same message in myriad ways. Though your methods for overcoming adversity may require cunning, flexibility, and copious amounts of radical self-care, in your resolve, you have to be as stubborn as iron.
And you don’t have to perform happiness, wholeness, inspiration, or success for anyone. Stop trying to explain yourself. Be still. You can literally go into Energy Save mode, conserving your attention for only the most essential and beneficial of functions.
Just get through this. Just get up. Just make it through another day without bringing anyone, including yourself, harm.
Try to remember that it is during these cataclysmic shifts of circumstances that new paradigms are born. If, in your lowest moment, the only thing you can pull together is a deep breath to get you through the next cosmic “labor pain”, breathe, and know that a new you is being born. It won’t always be this way.
You still have the power to decide if the new version of you will be worse or better than ever.
There are times when I let my thoughts roam free as wild mares dashing across some quiet beach in the Outer Banks. It’s usually when I’m brainstorming for a creative project, reveling in my imagination to manifest the next level in my glow up, or daydreaming about my flavor of the week fantasy men.
More often than not, though, I have to corral my thoughts, or those feral beasts will stampede through my psyche and graze willy nilly on my peace of mind. It’s a daily challenge that nearly everyone faces on some level.
How does one navigate each day with consistent mental calm and clarity?
Good mental health is not an easy thing to maintain in a culture that is always pressing us on every side to be, do, and have something other than what already is. Even in our promotion of mindfulness and the practices that help us to maintain it, we often slip into perfectionism, greed, impatience, entitlement, and the rigid runaway-go-getter mentality that is ultimately unsustainable and opposed to the very stability that we want and need.
Yet, with responsibilities and the fundamental human instinct to improve always bearing down on us, stagnation is certainly not an option. Life is a constant balancing act that requires minute-to-minute adjustment to the waves of change.
How do you adjust AND stay on course? How do you avoid being taken out by the undertow?
When I first delved into the philosophy behind yoga over ten years ago, “yogas chitta vritti nirodhah” became one of my favorite mantras. I had learned some skills to manage anxiety which first became a challenge for me in my mid teens, and applying mantras like this was the next step in developing a consistently calmer mind.
The phrase is one of the Yoga Sutras credited to the sage Patanjali, and the literal word for word meaning is:
The aim in applying this mantra is uniting consciousness and quieting its fluctuations—achieving a more balanced mental state by calming one’s mental chatter.
It’s important to note that the elimination of thoughts is not the goal here. Many people who are newly drawn to tools like yoga and meditation often get frustrated with their inability to totally quiet their minds and stop thinking during practice. I used to feel the same way, but now I don’t think that is the point. We need our thoughts. How effective can it be to exert so much mental force in an attempt to wrestle one’s mind into submission? I’ve found that this is actually counter to the essence of mindfulness.
I’ve never embraced complete removal of ego as a worthwhile goal. How can one be “mindful” without any awareness of self? How can one be, do, and have more or grow as a human being without some awareness of “I”, which is derived from the ego?
It is necessary to balance the ego and the mind, and this ultimately involves balancing the thoughts.
The challenges of our current time cannot be underestimated. We’ve got a global pandemic in full swing which seems like only a backdrop to political chaos, a centuries old “soft” race war, severe economic uncertainty, climate instability, and cultural shifts that reveal a massive erosion of our people skills and ability to see the nuance in our experiences.
For me, the COVID crisis has been like a canvas upon which a slew of stressors have been vividly painted. Homeschooling as a full-time essential worker, navigating marital separation and co-parenting, deaths of loved ones, strained friendships, and a raging skin condition that sometimes requires me to bandage half of my face, are some of the challenges that I juggle daily. I’m sure many of you reading this could describe some pretty colorful “paintings” of your own.
In times like these I kick my coping strategies into high gear, strategies that I learned while navigating some early life challenges and the highs and lows of daily life. I start with being brutally honest about what I feel.
In these times, I am in physical pain. I am hypervigilant and untrusting. I am extremely tired (mentally and physically) and likely sleep-deprived. Boiling hot resentment radiates from my chest. And I am hungry. Reeeeally hungry…for carbs and sweets mostly, but I seek blood.
My dreams become more vivid. My sensitivity to light and noise increases. All my emotional grievances flood to the surface, begging to be purged, and any unfortunate soul with whom I have a bone to pick is in danger of elimination. I am the werewolf who pleads with her friend to lock her away just before the rising of the full moon, so I hide it well.
I journal it, speak it softly in prayer, and maybe confess it once and for all to that good friend in order to get it out of my system. I accept the fact that every single one of my emotions are here to help me, but they don’t run the show. They serve as a barometer of my circumstances and help me to determine what my priorities should be in any given moment. They are not in control. I am.
So, once I remember that, I freeze. Now it’s time to really get quiet. I turn down the volume on all the input, opinions, distractions, advice, sales gimmicks, news feeds, DM’s, clap backs, passive aggressive snipes and lowbrow remarks, shallow connections and insignificant attachments, sensual parasites, and social weeds that threaten to deplete me.
When times get tight, it’s not just economic and social measures that have to get a little draconian. Some heavy-handed self-preservation becomes necessary, too. Without slowing down, logging off, and getting quiet, there’s no way I can address the unhealthy habits and negative thought patterns that created all this chatter in the first place.
Once I’ve gotten quiet, I can make better use of my time. I recalibrate my daily spiritual practice. I reaffirm my commitment to getting up early and getting centered. I sit outside and meditate at the start of my day, and spend my first moments just enjoying the natural environment around me. This helps me to recharge my sense of gratitude.
I recommit to daily rest, and stop going to bed at ungodly hours (the hardest part by far). I get reenergized through exercise and preparing healthier meals. I can read more, write more, get lost in more uplifting music. I can sit on my ass and binge watch fascinating documentaries on Curiosity Stream.
Soon enough, I’m ready to toss our bikes onto the back of my car and take the kids on a trail ride. A few days later I may have the energy to make a call to a cousin or friend I haven’t heard from in a while. The next day, I may even go to work without cursing.
I demonstrate all of this openly to my kids, and even find humorous and age-appropriate ways to talk to them about it so that they can see me modeling the emotional intelligence that they need to develop.
Every time you come back to your senses, you recognize that you will need to push through some inertia—maybe a lot of inertia. You have to continue doing the THINGS, even if you don’t feel like it, and that’s fine. But beating yourself up and trying to grind against the grain will likely not work in the long run.
Get quiet. Conserve your energy, protect and take care of yourself from a place of yielding rather than resentment, and prioritize. You can’t do it all, but you gotta do something, so you have to do what counts.
Self-care is more than pedicures, herbal baths, and good wine, although those are all things I thoroughly enjoy. It is making time to get to the bottom of why you feel hungry, angry, tired, and unsafe.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with using a rose-petal-laced milk bath and a little Pinot Grigio to help get you there. Our sweet indulgences, in reasonable amounts, can be valuable tools for keeping burnout at bay. Just make sure you sit down somewhere and develop a long game approach to your well-being so that you can truly experience quality of life and longevity.
I’m a July Leo with a serious jones for the beach, so excuse my extended metaphors about wildness, water and sun. Remember those Outer Banks horses I mentioned? Well, at some point during one of my ass-loafing nerd fests, I learned that they often swim between barrier islands to access new grazing areas.
Horses can swim, but they find it hard to turn in water. They may even sometimes swim right out to sea because they instinctively want to swim in a straight line. But that’s where the greatest resistance is, and that’s where the danger is, because clearly, horses don’t belong in the deep sea.
They don’t always see the value in following the path of least resistance, of turning, swimming along the shoreline, and using the natural current to push them to where they want to be. And I suspect they don’t like being tamed either, having bridles and reins strapped to their heads, and being our servants for life.
Most things, however, require us to counterbalance the wild and the tamed. If you want your mind to help you ride off into the sunset of your best life, it must be trained, daily. You also have to know how and when to let it jump into the ocean and simply swim with the current.
But ya know what, life goes on. In the JoyWell, we eat these kinds of challenges for breakfast. Many of you are experiencing health challenges, big, small, and in between. Here, we express gratitude and align with Joy, because in Joy we find strength and balance. No cowering, no hiding, no apologies.
This vid is a little off the cuff, cuz I had some things that just needed to be said. Accept it in its rawness, let it resonate, and marinate.
(For best playback, you may wanna open in YouTube, but that’s your call.)
How simultaneously harrowing and splendid it is to live in a world so full of possibilities, so overrun with apparent contradictions and complexity! Always a hurdle to cross, a new, heavier mental weight to bear. Then just when you reach the cliff of your wits, a Royal Super Negro in a Vibranium microweave suit swoops down and carries you over the chasm… and to the next valley.
It keeps you on your toes, doesn’t it? Yet, despite any of the clouds that may sometimes hover over the parade for our Blackness, we have many things to enjoy, reasons to celebrate, and so much to look forward to. #WakandaForever!
Now, to more pressing matters…
Words are my stock and trade. And since it’s Black History Month, I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t take some time to examine one word that has been analyzed and scrutinized within and outside of the Black community ad nauseam. The hot, ongoing debate around this word remains relevant for a number of reasons, especially because it evokes such visceral reactions within so many who hear it. That word is, of course, “nigga”.
As a writer, I am a firm believer that words hold the power of life and death, that each one has its purpose (or myriad purposes), especially the purpose to teach. I am uncomfortable with the idea of attempting to prevent anyone from using any word. Of course, many would agree that there are circumstances under which certain words are inappropriate—professional settings, in houses of worship, in the presence of elders or highly respected persons who would be offended, etc. However, proposing a wholesale moratorium on any word, in my not-so-humble opinion, is unnecessary and possibly even a waste of precious time. So, for the purpose of this article (for the purpose of my own personal expression on and off the page), and to avoid patronizing the very audience with which I’d like to engage, I will not be referring to it as the “N-word”.
I was compelled to do some soul-searching regarding the use of ”nigga” after watching a Ta-Nehisi Coates interview over the holidays. A white audience member asked Coates for his insight, because she did not believe in saying it, but wasn’t sure how to help her white friends understand that they also “should not” say it.
At the heart of Coates’s response was this: It’s about context and relationship. As an outsider of a community, with no meaningful relationship with that community, there is no way for an individual to understand the nuances of words used in an ironic fashion. They’d get the context wrong every time and expose themselves as ignorant and insensitive at best.
He gave the example of his wife and her best friend playfully referring to each other as “bitch”, along with an explanation of why it would be wholly inappropriate for him to join in their jesting. He also talked about a white friend of his who regularly jokes about escaping to his “white trash cabin” for vacation, and that he wouldn’t think to follow suit with something like, “I’m coming to your white trash cabin.” He mentioned the fact that some people in the gay community have used the term “fag” with each other for years, but that it is not something he would take the liberty to do with them. These are all circumstances in which he’d have neither the community relationship nor the contextual understanding to use these words in the way these people did.
He broke it down even further by explaining why he thinks so many whites take issue with being told that they cannot say “nigga”, regardless of the fact that some black folks throw it around with abandon. Whites invented the word, he explained, and what’s more? Whites navigate a world where they are told from birth that they own the world, that they can do what they want when they want. To be told that they can’t use a word that they invented, in a world that belongs to them, may very well feel like the ultimate affront to some whites. The question Coates was ultimately led to ask was, why would individuals who have no significant relationship with a community insist on having access to terms that they do not fully appreciate the context of?
This was a very intriguing explanation to me and one that I had never seen anyone articulate in quite this way. (You can view a portion of the talk here if you like.)
Now, I believe in letting people say whatever they want so we can see who they really are. And yet, while I don’t agree that anyone should use valuable time explaining to whites why their use of “nigga” will be seen as a threat by many, I think Coates’s commentary made a lot of sense. So, I decided to dig deeper and see what some other celebrated black thinkers have to say about it.
I started with a cursory search for related videos and came up with some material from Reverend James David Manning. Now, if you know anything about him, you understand that he’s hardly a celebrated black thinker in the sense that I mean it. But even a broke clock is right twice a day. When he defended his prodigious use of “nigga” for the following reason, I couldn’t deny the resonance of his comments:
“Why rob society of one of the best descriptions of behavior I’ve ever seen?… We need not kill the word, we need to kill the spirit.”
Michael Eric Dyson had this to say about his own use of “nigga”:
“Nigga is a global phenomenon. That’s why I use the word with promiscuity.”
Explaining that it can be used to illustrate the ways in which the oppression of people all over the world is similar, he says he prefers to “Put it on front street… I know you’re calling me “nigga”. I won’t allow you to have the ultimate terminological privilege of naming me and fixing me with your narrow category…”
Killer Mike once described how he came to a deeper understanding of the history of the word “nigger”. “The root word simply means ‘black’…negro, nigro, negre”, He commented. So, for him, the word is not the problem. The problem is that those who use it as a derogatory term hate all that is black. They’ve made black loathsome and therefore turned the word into something loathsome. (You can view his explanation here.)
Cornel West had this to say:
“If someone actually loves the people—Martin King, Malcolm X, Nina Simone, Fannie Lou Hamer—if they wanna use the n-word for me that’s fine, ‘cause I know they love me. The problem is that there’s not enough people who use the word who love the very people who have been terrorized, traumatized, and stigmatized by the powers that be. I think we have to be very, very careful and cautious in terms of whether the love is at the center of that word.” ( “The N Word” on The Stream, Aljazerra 2013)
West has advocated for a moratorium on the word. He’s concerned about an internalization of self-hatred which he believes will result when a person is not learned enough to understand the nuances of the word. However, is it true that using “nigga” disconnects people—particularly young black people—from their history? I’m more convinced that usage can possibly reveal that disconnection if a person already lacks understanding of history and context. In that case, you could take away the word and still have an individual who is aimlessly navigating the world with low self-esteem, little self-awareness and a grossly insufficient understanding of the world and life itself.
Really, I can understand the sentiments of those who think the word “nigga” should go the way of chitlins and greens seasoned with fatback. Much like the artery-clogging variety of soul food that some still choose to partake in without restraint, the modern-day use of “nigga” is very much a choice, the responsibility for which lies squarely at our feet.
Still, unlike hog maws, “nigga” is a living, non-concrete thing. It has that transcendental quality that all words have, and it cannot be linked to our symptoms in a neat and tidy diagnosis like fried chicken and butter beans to diabetes.
We and our words have the ability to be many different things, to hold many different meanings and perspectives, without true contradiction. Actually (in looking ahead to Women’s History Month) I’m reminded of a famous song by Meredith Brooks where she declares, “I’m a bitch, I’m a lover, I’m a child, I’m a mother, I’m a sinner, I’m a saint—I do not feel ashamed.” This couldn’t be a better illustration of the complexity of life, humanity, and words.
She goes on to say, “Just when you think you got me figured out, the season’s already changin’ “. And change is, I think, what makes so many uncomfortable. Intricacy in ideas, in character, in words and communication, is something that many people simply wish to avoid navigating.
Yet words are not static. They are living things in and of themselves which change and expand and conform with time.
Many of us cannot accept that the word “nigga” holds valid meaning today, because the hateful acts around its root word, “nigger”, have simply been too heinous to accept. The idea that such a word can be reclaimed seems nonsensical to some, since it is still used as a weapon in the society at large. However, the fact that one person crafted and subsequently used a hammer as a weapon does not mean that I cannot use it as a tool or an instrument to simply make a noise that is pleasant to my own ears. Whether others understand my use of it is neither here nor there. It’s helping me build the kind of house, the kind of music, that I choose to enjoy.
I’m sure this debate will rage on for at least as long as the poison of white supremacy infects us. Still, no appearance of propriety conveyed in our speech, no moratorium on a word will stop emphatic bigots from seeing us as subhuman. And I’m pretty sure that the kinds of people who would use “nigga”, or “bitch”, or “fag”, or “cunt”, or any other word as a weapon wouldn’t care less about respecting the abstract notion of a word ban.
In the beautifully succinct words of a commenter from The Stream show noted above,
“People will speak. THAT must be accepted. Relinquish.”