CW: racial injustice, systemic injustice towards Black bodies, minds, and spirits
This country has been sick for a long time. The illness of racial injustice has taken so many lives. We must do the work to dismantle racism. I want to firmly declare that Three Treasures Wellness is strictly anti-racism. As recent events have unfolded, I have taken actions through my social media accounts and on Patreon to speak out against the racial injustices which are perpetuated by the actions and silence of white folks, including yours truly. It has taken me some time to put this blog together and to send out an email to this effect, because I wanted to be sure that I did this right.
Last week, my goal was to use my skills to help people process current events in a meaningful and productive way. This blog post is an extension of that work.
The Five Emotions and their Virtues
Each person will have their own experience during this time. No two people have the exact same emotional response. There’s no right way to feel when something earthshaking happens around you. What’s important is that you listen to your emotions, seek to understand their roots, and discern what they are asking you to do. Ideally, without exhausting your energy.
According to the theory of the five elements, or five movements, all of us contain the energy of the seasons: autumn, winter, spring, summer, and harvest time or late-summer. These movements bring with them particular emotional climates, and they are all present all the time. They generate one-another according to the cycle. In this manner, emotions can be viewed to flow into one-another along the circle above. When we process an emotion in health, we flow through each one like a wave, and then continue along the cycle. When we get stuck in an emotion, this is a major cause of disharmony, both in an individual and in a society (imagine if the cycle of seasons just stopped! How sick the whole of the world would be). Some of the emotions may be very strong and require us to sit with them for a time before generating the next, while others may be quieter at this time. That’s okay.
These are basic emotional states, so particular emotions such as guilt and shame are not readily obvious along this circle. However, these emotions contain blends of the others. For example, guilt and shame contain within them grief (grieving for the state before the mistake) and lack of joy (saying things like “everything is ruined”) and anger towards the self. Because the more complex emotions are blends of the five basic emotions, I will focus on the five for now.
This blog will walk through all of the basic five element emotions as they relate to the protests and the reality of racial injustice in the United States. I’ll also suggest ways you can express and move each emotion in a manner which is productive and safe.
Note: I am not a BIPOC, and I will not pretend to understand firsthand the emotions currently being experienced by those who are. Further, I recognize that emotions are experienced at the individual level, not at the level of a race or group – and even those individuals with whom I share similar circumstances won’t necessarily have the same perspective I do. As such, I cannot speak for anyone else; least of all those who are most vulnerable in the face of this issue.
I endeavor to be as sympathetic and empathetic as possible. My goal is for the ideas I share in this post to serve people of all backgrounds and experiences at this time, but particularly to help folks who wish to be allies to learn to lean into this fight in a productive way. To help us understand the emotions on a fundamental level in a manner that allows us to see and to transform the emotions into the gifts they provide in order to empower us to take effective action.
Considering that a series of lost, precious lives precipitated these events, I want to begin walking through these emotions in the stage of grief.
“My grief is like a glass of water which is totally full. Every new grief causes the glass to overflow again.” My mother told me this when her father died.
Grief is without end. It is a process which we must flow through over and over again throughout our lives. We collectively grieve for each individual in recent news who has passed – for George, Breonna, Ahmaud, Tony, and for all the people who have been brutalized in the protests. And with each new grief, we remember dozens of other names – Kendra James, Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Philandro Castile, Alton Sterling, Walter Scott, Samuel DuBose, Meagan Hockaday, Eric Harris, Leroy Browning, JaQuavion Slaton, DeAndre Ballard…. the list is nearly without end even just in our recent history. And with each individual grief, the millions of Black lives over hundreds of years (kidnapping, enslavement, laws which held and hold Black men and women and children back and down, wrongful imprisonment and vicious arrests), bubble to the surface of our consciousness and we grieve those, too.
Something you can try in the span of a moment when grief is present is to acknowledge it. Take a deep breath in and out, and light a candle for the grief, or follow some other ritual which feels right to you. As a Jew, I feel drawn to light candles in the tradition of Yahrzeit. As a Unitarian Universalist, I also grew up dropping stones into a bowl of water to acknowledge emotions which were too large for me to hold, and to create a collective spiritual space for several griefs. You may have your own religious or personal practices around grief. Lean into them. They’re there for you.
Grief is about connection and loss. To process grief, the teachings of the five elements talk of finding the gem, the value gifted to us by those we have lost. These losses are unforgivable. I do not suggest that we will move past the grief to a place where it’s a good thing that these wonderful humans were brutally murdered. To me, the gem gifted to us in the face of these losses is that they are setting into motion a series of events through which change is possible. I’ve seen many protests for Black lives and rights in my time on the earth, but this is the biggest, loudest, and most effective I have ever seen. I can see the manner in which the grief has been transformed into fuel. Which brings us to the next emotion in the cycle, according to ancient Chinese medicine.
There are inherent dangers in taking to the streets right now. From the virus that still rages in our country, to the very thing which we are protesting, police brutality, there is a lot to fear.
When fear is present, something you can do to de-escalate and reduce the panic to a sense of alert concern is to get grounded. You can try coming up on the balls of your feet, then letting your heels fall and thud on the ground, and repeating that a few times. You can also try just laying down on the floor, or in the grass, taking some deep breaths, and focusing your attention on the feeling of your body in contact with the ground.
Fear brings with it the gifts of listening and wisdom. When we are afraid, it carries an invitation for us to open our minds to alternate possibilities, ideas, and resources. It asks us to pause before we leap. It calls us to tread carefully. Because we cannot be effective if we are dead, or sick. Because we cannot make change happen if we are paralyzed by fear. Each of us must listen to that fear. At this point in the cycle, we turn inwards, listening to our own concerns. We must also open up our listening to others. In particular, white folks must open their listening up to Black folks. The invitation of the fear creates the possibility for that space. And when you have listened and processed the concerns, gathered the resources required to stay safe, you can move into the next phase, to make plans and take action.
Anger occurs in response to a perceived or real injustice. And this particular injustice is not only very real, it is enormous. Therefore, throughout the other two legs of the circle thus far, we have also been acutely aware of anger. We are, very understandably, enraged.
Anger in itself isn’t bad. It isn’t violent, or scary, or wrong. This society trains people to push anger down. Especially in relation to racial injustices, anger is a very touchy subject in the United States.
But anger begets benevolent action.
We get angry so that we can right the injustice. We get angry so that we can take action to benefit the hurt party or parties in the face of injustice.
Give yourself permission to feel angry.
Another gift that comes with benevolence is the ability to stop extremes. One could be angry enough to kill, but this gift gives us the clarity needed to plan and see how doing so wouldn’t make things better. In balance, anger is used towards actions which will make a positive difference – benevolent actions. It brings creativity, and clarity. It lets us use that anger to make a plan, and to take effective action.
These are the gifts of anger, and they will serve us well.
When we get angry together towards a common injustice, we can be effective together.
Which brings us to the next emotion in the cycle.
4) Lack of Joy/Joy
Fear exerts a controlling influence on joy. How can there be room for joy when one is constantly fearing for one’s life? That lack of joy urges us to seek community.
Consider the phenomenon of Black spiritual music. People creating something together which warmed their hearts and their souls even during the most difficult of times.
The power of community is awesome. When we come together, when we bask in the warmth of one-another’s hearts, we can achieve anything.
As for joy? Every small victory is an opportunity for celebration, to warm us and keep us going. In balance, this element brings the gift of propriety. We can take an appropriate amount of time to feel that joy, and then get back to the issues at hand. When the other three officers responsible for the death of George Floyd were charged, we had a small celebration. This little bit of warmth helps us to see our strength in community, and to urge us to keep fighting. The warmth helps to nourish us. Which brings me to the fifth emotion.
The ways in which BIPOC are treated in this country are deeply worrying. Worry, energetically, is when we go around and around in our minds without reaching completion. That feeling of wracking your brain, reaching and reaching and reaching for some understanding of the issue which will bring a solution. Feeling deep sympathy for another creates a desire to make a difference, but the issue feels too large, impossible to digest, impossible to correct.
The answer, of course, lies in working together.
It can be overwhelming to open yourself to the emotional experience of another. You may be tempted to turn away, to shield yourself. White folks – I urge you to feel the grief, feel the fear, feel the anger in your Black friends and neighbors and loved ones. Fully grasp the value of what has been lost and the value of the fight itself. Open yourself to listening, and offer up all the resources you can to those who need them at this time. Stand beside and amplify the voices of those who have been wronged. Let all of our communities come together and say, “enough.” The worry and sympathy we’re experiencing creates the possibility for the gift of understanding. With this emotion, we are receiving an invitation to learn.
The element to which worry and sympathy belong, Earth, encompasses the digestive organs. Earth fuels us – it’s how we create the energy and substance we need to survive. We take things from outside of ourselves, process them, and turn them into a part of us. In the same way that we do this every day with food and drink, it is now the responsibility of this society to digest the reality, the history, and the future needs of BIPOC in America. As you learn more and more about these issues, stay curious. Keep taking things in and digesting them. Re-evaluate your worldview.
Lives depend on it.
And when things get to be too overwhelming, take a step back, if only for a little while, to nourish yourself. When you feel overwhelmed or when worry is present, you can take a moment to settle this emotion by creating a triangle with your thumbs and forefingers, placing the open palms on your belly so the triangle rests over your belly button, and taking some deep breaths.
Take a nap, or a bath. Drink some water, eat a nutritious meal.
Then show up again.
I urge you to do whatever you need to do to care for yourself and those you love during this time. And after that, whatever you have, I urge you to put it towards actions that make a difference.
Honor, listen, act, connect, and empathize.
Blackout Tuesday was powerful, but one day, one week, one month isn’t the end of this. We need to continue to support one another and work towards greater change for years to come.
I stand with BLM, NAACP, NBO fund, and all of the other organizations that are working to support the protesters, change legislation, and amplify Black voices. I stand with all of the families over all of the generations who have lost loved ones to this societal illness.
I am anti-racism, and I am working to improve my understanding of these issues and to change the biases I have internalized as a white person in the US. I want to do better.
Please sign petitions (https://biglink.to/blmpetitions),
educate yourself (https://biglink.to/blmresources),
and donate whatever you can (https://biglink.to/blmdonations).
I made all of my videos from last week free to all, as a donation towards this cause. Please consider them a humble invitation into healing for your self and for the nation. You can find these free mindfulness practices and movements to help you process these emotions over on my Patreon page: www.patreon.com/threetreasureswellness
Wishing you all safety and strength,