Learning to let my practice hold me has changed how I approach life and work. I’m in a liminal space with my work right now. I’m leaving a career as an academic scientist (I study the evolution of bacterial populations) and hoping to sustain myself financially by coaching and writing. Right now, I don’t have any proof that I can do this, in terms of the tangible results that we tend to gauge success by–like clients or income.
And yet this liminal space feels magical and powerful and like I am right where I need to be. I believe wholeheartedly that the results will come right on time. Taking this period of time to root into my work and be deeply contemplative feels so healing and necessary to me. I am learning so many lessons about slowing down and coming back to my body. Especially on the days when I think I am behind, I let my practice hold me. And when I do that, I have somewhere to come home to, over and over.
Let me back up a bit. It’s taken me a long time to realise this, but I’m disabled. I have a medical condition (endometriosis) that means I cannot “function” in the ways I grew up expecting to “function” and being expected to “function”. I put “function” in quotes, because the idea that humans have to “function” any one way is a pretty bad idea. My energy (and pain) levels fluctuate through each month according to a cycle that is non-linear. I cannot constantly be productive and energetic. That’s just the reality of my body. It’s not the body of an able-bodied man.
My practice is a practice of acceptance
I spent a long time fighting with the reality of my body’s needs, because of my thoughts and beliefs about “functioning”. In my experience, people don’t tend to talk about ableism as much as we do about many other -isms. Even in progressive and activist spaces, bodies are assumed to be able and productive. To be able to turn up at the protest or picket line, to be capable of making phone calls or knocking on doors. And of course, many bodies are not able to do these things. These expectations are ableist.
Finding and following the work of disability justice activists such as Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha and Alice Wong’s Disability Visibility Project has helped me understand that disability is a systemic issue. It is not our bodies that are at fault, but the systems that dictate how bodies should be. I have spent years overriding my body’s need for rest and I am done with treating myself like shit. From now on, I am committed to listening to what my body needs, to letting my practice hold me in the ways my body wants to be held.
My practice is about listening to my body
One of my reasons for transitioning to this work is to find ways of working that support my body, which, by and large, I haven’t found in academia. As I set out on this new part of my journey, I am firmly committed to moving at the speed of trust (adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy) with my body. This process of deep listening to the body is what I call practice. My practice has grown to hold me deeply over the past few years.
What I mean by letting my practice hold me is coming back to my body through daily rhythm and ritual. For me, this is a combination of Jewish embodiment practices, poetry and song, lower belly breathing, daily journaling, meditation, and learning languages on Duolingo. These practices hold me, because I come back to them each day. The routine of coming back to the same place, day after day reconnects me to a sense of basic worth. As I’ve talked about before, I practice cultivating compassion for myself and others. I practice celebrating others in my life (human and non-human – I tell my dog I love him every single day).
Practice builds trust
What happens when I let my practice hold me is that I build my reserves of self-trust. On the days when it feels like the world is broken and my work is going nowhere, I still come back to my practices. I light a candle and sit and breathe and say words of lovingkindness out loud. I touch my body in loving ways. Just the same as I do on the good days. Do I want to skip it? Heck, yes I do! When I feel in a funk, the last thing I want to do is send compassion and good wishes to anyone, most of all myself. But I’ve been following through and doing it anyway for the past year and it has changed everything.
Practice is not perfection
Practice is not about being virtuous or perfect, but about coming back to itself, over and over. I have skipped a day or two, here and there. Like with meditation, if my intention wanders, I come back. My intention is to make a place each day to come home to myself, to let myself be held in the ways I want to be held. To remind myself of how I am connected to others and to the earth. By making time for my practice, I assert my claim over my time. I prioritise paying attention to where I am instead of rushing to be someplace else. I still fall all the time, because I am human. But I don’t fall as hard or as far as I used to, because I am held.
Letting my practice hold me creates spaciousness to see urgency in a different light. Urgency now feels like disembodiment to me. When I notice urgency in my body, I ask, what is this telling me? I’ve learned that urgency is a cue to slow down, it’s a sign that I’m not moving at the speed of trust, that I’m not trusting that I will be held. When I notice that urgency, when I am sullen and activated, those are the days when my practice matters the most.
I know I will always be held
My body is relaxing as I write this, and I realise that writing is part of my practice, now, too. I am held by my practice of writing. Choosing to sit each week and write and coming back to the empty page week after week is also a way that I trust in myself and in my work. In these times when it feels like I’m on a boat in the middle of the sea, and I can’t see the shore, it’s this trust that holds me. Whatever life brings, I have my practice, and I know that I will always be held.
Hiya! I’m Jane, I’m an anticapitalist mindset coach. I partner with people to unpack social conditioning, cultivate liberatory practices and navigate the bumpy parts of life. If you like what you read here, please consider supporting my writing via my Patreon page. My writing will always be freely accessible for all to read and your support helps make that happen. Thank you so much!