Uncovering Our Strength

I watch as smoke drifts upwards from a small fire in my friend’s backyard. As the smoke lifts into the night sky, I ask it to carry my prayers and pleas up to Spirit. Inside the house, a map of the United States filled in with mostly red, is displayed on the screen of the TV. No one is in the house watching the TV any longer. We are all sitting outside staring at the fire shocked and in disbelief that Trump had become president. Stunned and terrified we hesitantly tell each other softly, “our fight continues” and “activism is alive.”

I’ve never felt such visceral fear in my body about an election before. There’s a neighbor up the street with several Trump signs in their yard. I found it comforting that other neighbors around them, three to be exact posted signs for Hillary facing the street and facing the house in a direct response. Yet, I can’t ignore that live in a red state, one where a majority of people voted for a man who campaigned on hate, violence and fear. Safety is suddenly my new everyday question. And I know I’m not alone in this intense vulnerability.

At home, I hold my partner and cry a bit letting myself drop fully into the fear of what will happen to me as disabled person, as the daughter of an immigrant, to this border I live nearby. I fall asleep exhausted completely immersed in my vulnerability and fear.

In the morning, after confirming the truth was still what I had left the night before, I sit by myself alone. I feel consumed by fear and knew if I don’t get grounded, I will lose myself in worry. Getting grounded means feeling a stream of energy from my hips going down deep into the earth, feeling that energy come back up through my body out the top of my head into the universe and then feeling it return down into my body again. Being grounded means I’m aware of my body, and this helps me understand what I need and what actions I want to take. But, I was lost in the stack of emotions piled on top of my center, the ground I sat upon. I was unable to feel the stability beneath me. I had to delve through these feelings first.

Sinking into the feelings and how they feel in my body is different than thinking through the feelings. I try to not analyze or create logic or to get lost in the imaginings of the future. Instead, I focus on the pressure in my lower chest, the intensity of throbbing pain. I sit in my awareness of this for a long time. My mind wanders and I pull it back to just observe. After a while, I notice the pain had shifted to my back. I sit and observe this shift. (This discomfort is different than disability pain. It’s literally the manifestation of how I’m feeling in my body.)

Finally, the pain fades and I am able to imagine a cord of energy dropping down from my hips into the earth. I feel the ground beneath my body.

Sometimes in the midst of upheaval, we need to create a small space for our bodies to be present with our feelings. Talking to my partner later, he says, “It’s hard for me not to be shutdown. To succumb to the despair I feel about the current reality.”  “Yes,” I say. Then I shared with him what I had done, how I had sat and paid attention to everything inside of my body which was reacting to feeling so vulnerable. When we are giving ourselves attention, it is hard to be disconnected.

Underneath vulnerability is strength. Meaning, underneath all of these emotions and fear, however connected to reality they are, lies our desires, intentions and love. When I am in touch with my feelings of vulnerability, then I am also in touch with my desires and strength. Yet, if I stay in a place of disconnection and let myself shutdown, then I will live in my trauma both current and in the past. I will live in a place of fearful anticipation which makes me more open and susceptible to panic and shame. I need to touch my strength, even if it’s only with my heart.

Pile of rocks against a mountain backdrop. One rock juts up with a large spiral petroglyph carved into its surface. In some ways, I feel the need for my world to get smaller. I might try to check in with my neighbors more and ask friends to tell me how they’re doing. I know I need to fall back into a place of witnessing and supporting those who are around me. If we could all do this, then we all would have something, some kind of support. My partner also reminds me of the importance of engaging and changing systems. To change and support the structures which provide for our day-to-day lives. The balance of time and energy to devote to vulnerability and strength, to witness each other’s lives and to cultivate and listen to our desires and dreams is now our current task.
Connecting to our own strength is essential in making it through what will come. We must draw a circle in the sand. Take a moment to sit there alone and allow ourselves to have a safe containment for the vulnerability we need to witness within our own bodies and hearts. Breathe. Touch the dirt. Give ourselves attention. In our strength, our desires and our love are the gifts the world needs now.

Your Truth - Where Self-Care Starts

Self-care doesn’t start with “doing.” Taking care of you doesn’t start with routines, activities, goals. Self-care starts with the truth, being in your truth.

As a Disabled Mestiza raised in Latinx culture, my childhood was mostly about medical professionals using the idea of “fitting in” and having friends as a way to motivate me to do what they wanted me to do with my body. This made me think, especially when I was feeling sad about being excluded, that I had to change who I was in order to be accepted by other people. I had gained a bunch of weight after my first batch of surgeries, which I never lost and I gained even more as I got older. I felt split. Part of me wanted to do everything I could to control my body, like forcing myself to exercise by walking as far as I could, even if that meant I was sore and unable to walk for a week after. Another part of me just wanted to rebel by giving up in a self-hating kind of way. Both reactions weren’t my truth.

Artwork by Naomi Ortiz. Black and white drawing of a disabled foot. Scars running up the inside of the foot from the bottom of the foot past the ankle.
Beautiful Foot
Medical professionals never discussed with me what I felt was my truth. They believed they were the ones in charge of fixing bodies which were “not-normal,” especially bodies like mine, broken bodies. I began to believe their lie, that if I tried hard enough, I could fit in and have the same opportunities as everyone else. Believing this set me up to consistently feel like I wasn’t trying hard enough.  

Ultimately, I had to fail at controlling my body in order to begin to understand my truth. Relating to my body only through control wasn’t self-care.  In my 20s, I found disability community, other people both different and like me, who had experienced control of bodies. Talking to them helped me realize that the problem of why I was excluded and/or discriminated against wasn’t me. The problem was society excluding those who are disabled, fat, poor, queer, and/or people of color, immigrants, etc. by not being accessible. I learned a truth, that all of who I was (disabled, fat, mestiza) is a valuable part of human diversity.

Once I connected to community, I saw there was lots of ways to live in these bodies. Some people walked, other people used wheelchairs. Some people used their energy sitting still, others used their energy to create or write while they rocked, played with their hands and made noises.  Disability community let me know that my body is fine as it is. This didn’t mean that rejection didn’t hurt. The kid who walked behind me, imitating my beautiful disabled walk, hurt me. This rejection, this fear people had/have of my body, it hurts. That’s my truth. That it hurts AND that it’s not my job to educate them or make them feel differently or better.

As I get older, what people think still affects me, but I’ve began to pay more attention to what I think about issues and what I experience. I’ve began to care more about what I notice as beautiful in the world. As I pay more attention to what I find fascinating I’ve become fearless about asking questions, investigating, pushing boundaries, learning, growing, and putting myself out there in a more public way through my art. I met my partner and we are navigating life supporting one another. I’ve made friends with people who are truthful and courageous. When I pay attention to what I think, see and my emotions, I’m able then to start to notice how my body feels.

I’ve began to pay attention to how my body feels eating certain types of food. I pay attention to how my body feels moving in a certain kind of way. After a period of time of just paying attention and not over analyzing what I noticed, I’ve realized important information about my body, my truth. I realized I have food allergies. I’ve realized my body really feels good moving in water. I’ve begun to understand that I have to exercise slowly, paying attention to when I reach exhaustion so I don’t max out and hurt myself. I’ve had to figure out what types of exercise and movement feel okay for my body, not just going with what the medical professionals told me to do.

Now I am living in a body that I’m not afraid to pay attention to. The self-care of “doing,” is about trying my best and paying attention to what feels true in my body. I notice the effects of my goals and activities and adjust to respect what makes me feel the best. Taking care of my body is about listening to what my body needs. I listen to my truth.

First published on BEDA Online:  http://bedaonline.com/self-care-starts-wsaw-2016/

Finding Nourishment in an Overwhelming Time

This morning I am out in the desert sitting among the prickly pear cacti and saguaros. I am here to contemplate divining new life/work paths, to give my heart a break from the flood of pain on social media/real-life and for much-needed nourishment.

This is an overwhelming time. I’ve been feeling overwhelmed both by the injustice I have been witnessing on social media and in the communities and lives of my friends and family. Politicians have been openly racist, homophobic, and ablest as they attempt to run for political office. (As if, there’s only one type of voter and one kind of person who matters.) On this bigger national level, it feels like everything is both surging and numbing out – all at once. I am so aware of the pain which we as a collective are feeling.

I’ve been trying to hold my ground both as an artist and as someone who deeply cares about this world. Trying to hold close the intention of simple, doable ways to practice self-care, which makes me grateful for this land, this place. This desert, where my body feels the sunlight on my skin every day, is also what I brace myself against in these overwhelming times.
Ironwood tree in tan soil. Trunk divided close to ground, multiple trunk limbs with small green leaves. Jojoba bush and smaller prickly pear cacti growing underneath the tree. Bright blue sky and hill in the background.

Whenever I get overwhelmed, I try to focus on what is in front of my face. Often silent, usually subtle, nourishment lives all around us. Today I am sitting in front of an Ironwood tree. This tree stretches up and outwards, some of its limbs heavy with leaves, other limbs mostly bare, with a few sprouts of leafy growth. Ironwood trees can live over 500 years and I contemplate the wisdom of a tree that can live for centuries. The trunk splits into many trunks close to the ground. Each trunk solid and sacred as it opens itself up towards the sky. The Ironwood tree has tiny thorns which run the length of each limb, stem and trunk.

I contemplate the wisdom of living in many directions at once. Of allowing some limbs to die while others grow taller and bolder with each new rain. A jojoba bush, sheltered from the extreme heat by the shade of the tree, grows full and several cacti thrive in the tree’s perimeter of shade. I feel the wisdom of this tree’s years in my body as I hold its form in my appreciation.

Wisdom in front of my face.  

I can witness the brutality and hatred of this time I am living in. Perhaps this witnessing is a small trunk. One with many thorns of protection and covered with a thick layer of tightly grown leaves, representing the ways I respond to and disrupt what I can. Maybe one of my thicker tree trunks grows from art, the writing, painting, and poetry I am compelled to create and offer the world. Another tree trunk is the energy I invest in friends, family, neighborhood and the community I live in.

I think about all the trunks and growth of my life while so aware of the roots. This dirt I sit on allows my roots to grow deep. Even in the hottest, driest periods where rain has been absent for months, the lizards still burrow at my feet. The birds, ants, ground squirrels and mountain lions shift, dig, and figure out ways to survive. We all figure out ways to survive because we know eventually, the rains will come.

Nourishment for me is sometimes just allowing my head to not be the only place I live. When I am in the desert and in my body, my mind becomes focused enough for me to pay attention with my whole body to what is in front of my face. Then, all I have to do is listen. Quiet my mind and listen.

All of us know in our hearts what is right for us to do in this moment and the world needs what is right for us to give. In order to follow through, we need self-care and the energy to sustain our efforts.

Nourishment is always there for us. What is right in front of your face?

Cacti such as prickly pear and saguaros, along with bushes and desert trees growing in desert landscape. In the background are blue mountains and sky.

Scattering Flowers: A Journey of Letting Go

The wind is scattering hundreds of little yellow Palo Verde flowers across the cement porch where I sit. I am holding a pot of dirt and the remnants of an orchid my Grandma gave me. It wasn’t an especially precious flower or rare, but after she died the flower took on new meaning. It was something which had been hers, which she gave attention to, that I still had. I’ve carefully cared for her little orchid with bright pink flowers until a few weeks ago, I noticed the leaves beginning to wilt and turn brown. Now I’m sitting here in my backyard preparing myself to let it go back to the earth from which it came.

A few months have passed since I completed the manuscript about self-care. Almost directly after I let it go into my editor’s hands, thing after thing surfaced in my life ready, asking to be let go. Long time relationships, favorite clothes, life paths, big life stuff and small, thrust me into processing their readiness to shift out of my life. Realizing there is no longer any way to mend things, alter or force what I want, I surrender to a state of grief.

Grief feels scary and sticky, like it will suck me down into something I can’t escape. I sit with the orchid outside in the backyard. Gently, I pour out the soil, pull apart the roots and ask the attention my grandmother gave to this plant to stay and continue to witness. All I can do is ask.

Venting my frustration with all this life transition to a friend, she tells me, “Don’t try harder, resist less.” I can’t absorb her words. Instead, I tell her again how hard I’ve worked at maintaining the relationships and the effort I’ve put into sorting through my own stuff. How despite all of this work, things are shifting anyways. When I hang up the phone, I’m feeling annoyed with her advice until I realize that "resisting less," to me, means acknowledging the truth of all of this change. It’s the acknowledgment where I know for sure the pain lies. Yet, even in all of my effort to avoid this pain, I find I’m in discomfort now, a subtle kind of pain which is numbing and consuming enormous amounts of energy. Resist less…

Unable to avoid the exodus taking place in my life, I finally give in. The hardest part of grieving for me is acknowledging that despite my best efforts, the time has come where I have to stop resisting the truth. Some things need to be let go.

I began acknowledging by writing each person/thing a letter. I write to my relationships that I am sad they are changing. I write the manuscript I’ve just completed a letter telling it I am so bummed our journey together is concluding. I write activism a letter about how much I value it and yet, how I will continue to relate to it, is changing. With each letter, is an acknowledgment. An ability for the first time to say it all out loud, to say it all at once.

Nopales with yellow bloomsGrandfather Sun sets behind the houses and desert cacti. Grandmother Moon who is waiting just on the horizon brightens into her full force.

Sitting outside at night, I’ve been watching the phases of Grandmother Moon. I give her updates on this process of grief and transformation. I tell the nopales which sit by the fence how I’m grieving. I feel the cacti, I feel Grandmother Moon, listening. I feel now the joining of my Grandmother’s witnessing as I describe each new step in slowly trying to resist less and let go.

Reminded to Play

Exhausted by process, I escape to the desert to let it hold my heart. The past two months have been an intense time of reading, re-reading, writing, editing and listening. At the end of writing content for the book, I'm now tasked with the little/big things like chapter names. I settle in and listen for the process to arise. Each time in the progression of this book, when I've faced a new unknown, I worry, I complain and then I remember to listen to the land, animals and ancestors to guide the way. So here I am, open to the ever subtle wisdom available. I bask in the warmth of the sun and feel nourished by plants at least a hundred years older than me.

Sonoran desert - giant saguaros dot the hill. Palo verde trees, ocotillos, cholla and prickly pear, along with other desert plants, spread out over the ground and travel up the hill.Settling in, I ask myself, "What is the spiritual question each chapter asks?" "What concept is each chapter grounded in?" These are the questions I sit with, yearning for an answer.

As I sit, a little yellow butterfly flutters around me in circles. For hours, I sit and for hours, she flits away and then back to circle my body. Butterflies are so delicate, their little wings could so easily be pierced by a thorn. Yet, here she is. Flying around a desert full of both nutrients and danger. In the middle of winter no less. 

Times when I'm exhausted are times I let my world get small. I forget to raise my eyes to notice the world around me, let alone the beautiful creatures all finding their own ways to play. Play...

Creative work, is essentially asking the heart to be at home in a state of play. Even in the deepest, darkest times, filled with the most confusion, if I can play - do something creative without taking it too seriously, then I know I'll be ok.  I start playing with names. Capturing the essential components in a description carved out of Earth, Fire, Water and Air. Celebration of each chapter is expressed in playing with names. 

side view with my arm reaching behind my head. I'm wearing a hat which blocks my eyes. My spiral tattoo on my arm is shining in bright blue. The desert frames the background. As the deadline for the book gets closer, I find I take tasks ever more seriously. Serious business, this choosing titles! Except, little-flitting-yellow butterfly reminds me, this is still a day to play.    

 (Written January 24th 2016)