In episode five, CL and ChE discuss achieving our visions and goals in the new year, and beyond, while dealing with anxiety and depression.
Spirit Medicine with CarmenLeah Ascencio and ChE is a BGD podcast that focuses on providing accessible conversations, tools and rituals that support the healing, wellness and liberation of people of color, with a focus on queer and trans people of color.
Spirit Medicine artwork by ChE.
Find out more about CarmenLeah’s work at her website.
Find out more about ChE’s work at their website.
ChE: Welcome to Spirit Medicine, a BGD podcast about healing, wellness, and liberation. I’m ChE.
CarmenLeah: And I’m CarmenLeah.
ChE: And this is a podcast about providing accessible conversations, tools, and rituals that support the liberation and wellness of people of color with a focus on queer and trans people of color.
CarmenLeah: Hi ChE! [laughs]
ChE: Happy 2017!
CarmenLeah: Happy 2017! It’s like a new year! [laughs]
ChE: How has your new year been so far?
CarmenLeah: You know, it has been- it’s been a lot of the same and yet, you know, what I love about the New Year it’s just this massive ritual and trying to begin anew and I love anything that has to do with, you know, new beginnings. They happen all the time but when it’s sort of like mass participation in that, I think even when things feel horrible it’s just a new breath. So yeah, how about how about you?
ChE: Yeah, similarly. Me, I’m excited. I always loved new, new beginnings. I’m all about them. It’s kind of funny, this was a weird year everybody- I feel like the whole- the whole country just had like a collective sigh of relief of, “Oh, thank God 2016 is over”, which is really interesting but then we have the inauguration coming up so I, I can almost feel everyone kinda getting anxious again about that new bit of upheaval so I don’t know, I think I’m feeling sensitive to the mix of anxiety moving forward into the new year of 2017 really be better than 2016, with what we have in store for us, at least on the political front but then also the excitement of like, we made it! We made it through all of that craziness and now maybe we can put some new, more wholesome intentions into the year moving forward.
CarmenLeah: Yeah and I think- yeah, similarly I feel like we’re in this like in-between space like, before you know the inauguration, after the devastation where there’s like a slight a little bit of breathing room with sort of New Year celebration and at the same time in that reprieve, I don’t know, I think there’s also a sense of possibly this sort of a beginning of overwhelm that, that is- that is coming up as as we get this reprieve and so what we wanted to talk to all of you, the listeners, about today because ChE and I are friends, we were talking about what’s our intention and what do we want to share with all of you in the new year, is we wanted to talk about sort of like the beauty of this new beginning. Um but also the reality that even though when we have these sort of beautiful rituals that we can put into place for new beginnings that so many of us still- still are dealing with the heaviness of our realities, of our lives oftentimes I can come in the form of anxiety or depression that is caused both by systemic oppression and biological reasons, all kinds of reasons, anyway so- so we wanted to get at celebrating and and talking about manifesting your intentions in 2017 but how do you do that when you’re also living with anxiety and depression? When you’re also suffering or struggling at the same time and being able to hold both of those things. So, so that’s what we’re talking about today and just to- granted, that’s not something that is out there, just like people that we work with that we’re talking about. You know, I know for me personally that’s something that I has been a huge part of my life, as somebody who is a Leo [laughs] who’s constantly having sort of big visions and who also for most of my life has dealt with anxiety and for different periods dealt with depression and having had to make a choice in my life to say, “Oh wow, I have these things and these things are quite normal, actually” [laughs] and so- but that doesn’t mean I can’t have visions and it doesn’t mean actually I can’t achieve them. Yeah, so I’ll stop there. I don’t know if you wanted to add anything to how we’re framing that or what’s important to you about about that.
ChE: Yeah, yeah I mean, I think that I love what you were just saying. I think that part of what makes this conversation really relevant to the listeners that we have is that I imagine that many of our listeners are trying to create some sort of positive shift or change in the world. I imagine that for many activists, for QTPOC folks, for QTPOC radical folks that are actually trying to do resistance work, direct action organizing, anything that’s really about pushing against or creating an alternative to systems of oppression that we can get really overwhelmed with what a huge task that is before us. I mean, taking down a system that’s existed for a really long time when we talk about patriarchy or homophobia or racism, that these are not, you know, small things but I also believe that, right, like freedom is an innate thing that we all have access to that is more powerful than I believe, at least, then any system of oppression that is upon us and so how can we actually you know live with what I see as the impacts of systemic oppression, which can look like anxiety, can show up as depression, how can we live with those things and still access our innate freedom and create more freedom in the world because I’m all about freedom, as we were talking about earlier. [laughs] Yeah, so that’s what this talk is for me today, that’s why it’s important to me.
CarmenLeah: So, so then just going into it, how do you manifest your freedom, your intentions, you know, especially in the beginning stuff, when you know there’s the presence of struggle or suffering or internal distress like anxiety or depression? What are what are the ways that you do that and that you know you want to offer up to our listeners around doing that?
ChE: Yeah, so I tried very much because I can get, you know, very ethereal and meta in my process [laughs] This week, I really tried to ground it and think of what do I actually do when I’m feeling anxiety or feeling depressed by the weight of the world. What do I do and so I broken into really three core practices and the- the way to sort of remember them is movement. You know, I’m a dancer, I’m a choreographer, so for me that is a huge theme in my life that I can always come back to and I offer that up to everyone who’s listening, so first, the first thing I try to do is I try to get moving physically. So number one is really about connecting to the body, so I really try to find a way to actually ground whatever overwhelming experience that I’m having or maybe it’s a feeling of stagnation or a feeling of being frozen in fear or overwhelmed. I’m not quite sure what to do moving forward, even if it doesn’t make any sense I tried to literally get up from what I’m doing and move around and it sounds so silly and strange [laughs] but I’m telling you it’s like, it just completely shakes me out of whatever, like mental space that I’m in and to me, this is like, this is actually kind of a radical concept that really pushes and I think against colonized frameworks of how to really deal with depression and anxiety is that actually we can’t, we can’t necessarily intellectualize our way out of those experiences. For me, I actually have to- I have to dance, I have to shake, I have to stomp, I have to create rhythm in my body, so that could look like going and taking a dance class, it could look like, if there’s not one happening that day nearby, that I will literally be like, okay for the next hour I am going to dance around my room or I’m going to choreograph something which, you know, for people that don’t identify as choreographers, you know it- like you really just be like, I’m going to create movement. Yeah, so that’s sort of me as an artist offering up a practice that I do that really is connected to something our ancestors have done for a long time we have all of this research that tells us that the body, when the body shakes – which many indigenous forms of movement include shaking and stomping – that we actually on the somatic level can move through some sort of oppressive experience on our psyche so, so number one is move.
CarmenLeah: Can I actually- I really- I’m so excited about this and, of course, I like geek out around this because based on some of just my studies in neuroscience-
ChE: Yeah, yeah do it!
CarmenLeah: Not to get like, you know, too into it but actually, you know, movement just very simply like stuckness in the mind can get unstuck through movement. Physical activity can literally stimulate more neurotransmitter activity in certain ways it and not to get in you know I’m not a scientist so I couldn’t name all of the different like neurotransmitters and neurohormones but basically movement creates more movement in sort of your hormones within your body that come from sort of- things happening in your brain to be very simple about it [laughs] and there actually is a science behind that and there actually is like bodies of research that do talk about the way that movement physically and it doesn’t- I’m not talking necessarily about like, “I have to go to the gym five times a week”, like literally I love that what you’re talking about is so accessible. Like you’re like just begin to move the body, to get out of the trance and trap of thinking, right, so that something else can arise and there is, yes there is science behind that and also, you know, anxiety and depression live in the body very strongly and one of the ways they stay trapped in the body is because the mind keeps them trapped in the body and it’s because of the thought patterns that start to go through our minds about what is happening. I’m bad, I can’t achieve, I’m sick, I’m ill, I’m horrible, you know all this stuff and sort of, like that often keeps us stopping from moving and so the counterbalance to that, is like well actually, let’s pretend we don’t know what happening, this just doesn’t feel good and so if all this is happening in my body, maybe I should try to move my body in a way that counteracts what’s happening in it and that’s a very simple thing that I talk about a lot with clients, in that if what you’re feeling in the body in terms of depression is very heavy, it’s very, you know, dense then what is needed, and this is so simple, right, is something that is light, something that creates a sense of openness and that rather than think about a strategy, right, that you just, “Okay how can I use my body and movement to create an opposite feeling in the body to what’s actually happening?” I’m gonna stop there, that’s just a simple thing that I want to offer around that but rather than get, so you know “I’m depressed, now I can’t go to the gym which I had wanted to or now I can’t organize the you know thing I want to organize in my community, focus more on what’s happening in the body first. Okay, it’s heavier, it’s too much energy, right, so it’s too much energy than you- then what you need is the opposite of that, right , you need to be- you need dense and warmth, right, and then move on to the next thing. So yes, I’ll stop there. [laughs]
ChE: I love that!
CarmenLeah: I always get excited about the physical movement, so yeah. So what was your second- was your second point?
ChE: Yeah um yes, before I move to the second 1 want to hone in on what you just said about accessibility too, which leads me to my second one, which is that movement to me, like I’ve worked with all kinds of folks inside of like the dance work that I do, for example and that includes folks that are, you know, living most of their life in wheelchairs, folks that don’t have a lot of mobility, so movement to me, in many ways, is about an intention of shift and so that can look like, you know, I think there’s really a spectrum of where you can be in a moment of anxiety or depression, so movement could also look like just having the intention of, “well I’ve been sitting here for X amount of hours. What is the internal shift I need to do?”, so maybe it’s that I lay down on the floor and I start really focusing on shifting how I’m breathing, so I think you started to really name that of what looking at what is- what is the physical experience of what is, you know, intellectually or emotionally happening and making a choice to just do something other than that, it actually shifts the experience that you’re having, which really is about creating an opening of choicefulness, which leads me to the second thing which is moving into expression or creation. So the first one is a physical movement or a body movement, the second thing is really having internal or emotional movement. So once you’ve actually started to move your body, what about something subtle like moving the breath or you’re jumping around the room and shaking, then you can really start to get into a practice of, “Okay, now I’m going to start accessing my innate ability to heal”, because we are all healers. We can do that. So for me um I actually try to move that experience through me, through some sort of creative medium and so that could look like painting, that could look like doing sidewalk chalk, it could look like sounding or singing, free-writing, collaging. There are infinite ways that we can create. You could you know act out a scene and you could draw a sketch, write a sketch, like start to access yourself as a theatre artists are there so many ways that we can start to just move into creativity and this is not something that is reserved just for professional artists, right, so I think that this is where the act of actually playing, again, something that is so minimized in our culture, something that we’ve known instinctually as children to do, which is to move our body and then to like actually move through a challenging experience by releasing it and letting it out through some sort of creative medium and I think some guiding questions when you’re doing that, is like what does- What, what is it that I’m feeling right now? What do I need to release right now? What if I was not judging my experience right now? And whatever comes out of you through your art making, through your playing just let it be. If you’re crying just keep creating through the tears, if you start laughing don’t judge it. I think that number two is really just about not holding and clinging and having stagnant energy around your process and giving yourself the compassion to release it and interact with it in a physical-
CarmenLeah: I want to highlight, as a coach, I really loved the questions and I just want to highlight something about them so people can continue to build on those questions you just provided. When you are stuck in a place of anxiety or depression, we often sit with questions that begin with “why”. Why am I like this? Why do I have to feel this way? Why why? And “why” often creates intellectualization and self-judgment. Any question that begins with “why”, not all of them, but often when we’re in a place of anxiety the “why” questions create those things and it closes us we get trapped in the trance of thinking. I’m using this term is from a Buddhist meditation teacher named Tara Brock but I love it because it feels like a trance when you’re in that thought rumination that especially anxiety produces um and so what you just named is rather than going to the why questions, which gets you in that circular thinking, get you in that judging thinking and analyzing um what questions. What do I need? What is happening right now? Right, often go deeper in a way that open something and in coaching we call these empowering questions and almost all empowering questions and questions that are meant to create power within a person or help a person access their power begin with “what” or “how” and it’s really simple but I just wanted to highlight that, that when we are stuck in anxiety and depression when you’re doing this internal creative work that ChE is talking about, see if you can start with the “what” or “how” questions instead of the “why” questions.
ChE: Thank you, yes, beautiful, beautiful summary. Exactly. And then the third- the third practice of movement is really moving then into external movement or social movements. We’ve done physical embodied movement, we’ve done internal emotional movement, and then finally moving into external social movement, where we connect to community in some way or to something bigger than yourself. So experiences of anxiety and depression, you know in those moments our framework is very narrow. Its focused on, as CarmenLeah was naming, a “why” question. It’s focused on a very particular experience, we’re feeling powerless, we’re not connecting to the broad network of resources that are actually around us and available to us all the time and some of that network of resources of is available internally, as we just looked at for this for our number two practice, but in the third practice, we really step into, “Wait a second, I’m not I’m never an isolated individual! There is always a whole ecosystem of beings around me, of people around me that are my community and I just need to activate it” and I know that, you know, number three is really- can really feel challenging when you’re in the moment and so I just wanna name that this can be as simple as- right, like in the moment it might feel hard to call a friend or ask a friend to take a walk with you, so it could start with a solo practice of, “I’m going to sit here, I’m going to place my feet on the floor, I’m going to relax my hands on my thighs, opening my palms in an upright position. I’m going to start breathing into my lower belly and just observing that for a little while”, and then to really connect into, you know, how are you how are you connected to a community? To just sit while you’re being aware of your breathing and reflect on all of the people that are connected to you in your everyday life. You could start small with, “Who is in the building that I am sitting in right now? Are there other humans in the building? Are there people outside of the building in the neighborhood I’m in or on the street that I’m nearby?” and to start to expand your awareness until it reaches farther and farther out. I mean, I’ve done this practice when I’m feeling, in many ways a very self-focused and feeling anxious and not like I have a lot of internal power to make change in the world and I’ll do this practice until I have expanded my, my own personal breath and energy where it feels like I am a part of a global community, where I can actually feel that, no I’m living on this planet and there is an entire world out there full of many people that are- that I know are powerful. Sometimes I think it can be easier to believe that other people are powerful and not ourselves and it sounds strange but the wider my reach gets in that practice, I often then start to connect to people that have gone before me, that- that maybe are now ancestors and because we’re also a part of a community that is not here in physical body but are are here in spirit, I believe which is why I practiced rituals. So I will connect to ancestors that inspire me and give me power and I’ll remind myself that right like, the Buddha like I am actually a part of the Buddha’s community and so if that person was powerful and had resource, if I’m connected to them then I, too, have power and resource. So the third practice, connecting to community and something bigger than ourselves, it can be practiced alone but really what’s important is that we move beyond just very Western belief that this one body represents only one person when in fact we are connected to many, many people on and the last thing I’ll say about this practice is that if- if you really want to anchor that practice in action, to try doing something for someone other than yourself. So sometimes when I’m really struggling, I will just- I’ll make myself that day like drop what I’m doing and I will go do a selfless act or to do something for someone else whether it’s anonymously or to just call a friend and be like, “Hey, can I help you with something?”, volunteer somewhere to just get out of your own head space. It brings you into an experience of where I’m at right now, regardless of what I’m personally feeling, I can still have a positive impact on the world. So that I’ll stop there. Those are my my three core practices of movement within a body, of creative expression, and connecting to community.
CarmenLeah: Yeah and that last one, I just love that you highlighted that while going to connect to actual people is very helpful, that when one is extremely depressed or anxious that can be incredibly hard, so it is offering up the ability to meditate in a way in which you’re connecting to others- there’s quite a few meditation practices in many traditions. The ones are most familiar with are Buddhist traditions but it reminded me of doing Metta meditation, that’s M-e-t-t-a. Metta is a word in Pali, which is the language that the Buddha spoke, and the translation into English is “loving kindness” and it’s a meditation in which one sits and begins to hold oneself in one’s mind’s eye and sending sort of intentions of love and wellness towards oneself and then you expand out towards someone you know someone, you don’t know someone, you don’t like [laughs], and then the world, so something to look up. There are many practices like this, that as simple as they are, I mean are just really profound. When when you can just muster up the energy to really sit with a practice like that and I think the beauty of Metta is that meditation is it doesn’t require that much energy. You can be extremely depressed and lay down in bed and do that meditation and I think the shift internally that it creates, and I know this from personal practice, it’s quite remarkable [laughs] that such a small practice that can be done in bed with the covers over your head can do. It just takes that sort of, like, saying “I can do that”. Another question, rather than- similar to the empowerment questions we were just talking about, like, rather than be like, well I can’t do anything, right, or like why can’t I do anything, open the question, “What can I do?”, right and maybe what you can do is, like you said, go to a friend’s house and bake them bread and that’s all you’ve got. Or maybe what you can do is lie in bed and do a meditation in which you imagine yourself connected to ancestors or other people in the world who are also suffering, just like us. So, so I love that. So I just wanna build on that a little bit and just offer a few more things that are- I think some of these are perspectives. ChE, you’ve given us so many like practices and I’ll, uh, I’ll just add a couple perspectives on this as well, around how do we move forward. How do we- because I think what we’re talking about is this cumulative process of, we have this big vision and sometimes when you’re experiencing anxiety and depression it’s just overwhelming to imagine, how am I gonna get from here this place of being frozen or overwhelmed to there, that place of freedom, it just feels so far away and so part of that is insert you know- is doing these small things, these day to day small things, is what does get us- is you know was- what can get us there and so the first thing that I have to remember all the time when I’m stuck, is really breaking things down into small, small steps and I literally mean, when you’re extremely depressed like sometimes those small steps have to be, like, I will get up. I will sit up, like if you’re in bed and you’re depressed. I will sit up and then the next step is, like, I will put on my socks and it’s literally this kind self-talk. Oh that’s literally how small steps are. Sometimes it can be you know you’re small steps, can be like I’m just gonna- I can’t do that today but what i can do is- I love the question what can I do is, I can call to a friend and just talk to them about how they’re doing. Whatever but I really just want to highlight the real importance of breaking things down as small as you possibly can, however small you might need to and like if it’s anxiety, that small step that you might be taking is simply trying to breathe into the lower belly instead of the upper chest and through the small step, step-by-step, you know, one reaches one’s destination. And with that- so knowing that to get there, we need this break down. The perspective that I just think is- it’s so hard, it’s particularly hard in American capitalist hyperproductive culture, is that to get there, we need so much patience. I’m stating the obvious, but we have no patience for ourselves when we have a vision and I love like being super-motivated about stuff but sometimes we’re struggling, and the fact is like if I’m really struggling in the moment and I try to like- I try to resist what I’m actually dealing with, so if I try to resist that I’m sad, or that I’m anxious, or that I’m depressed, or that I’m overwhelmed, right, I try to just hide it and keep, you know, moving forward really, really fast often what we experience is that thing grows inside of us and just intensifies and intensifies until we have some kind of breakdown, that might be a panic attack, that might be drug use, that might be you know doing something that we don’t really want to do what we need to relieve the pain so we do it. So, what’s really important around this is this idea that that which we resist, persists and it’s ironic that if we stop resisting the internal struggle, often that’s when it softens and we can actually move forward. So that being said, patience and surrender, that’s kind of the second aspect of that, is like okay- rather than trying to push through the anxiety and make oneself move quickly, it’s about developing some patience, stopping to inquire what’s happening inside and surrender, “Okay, this is just the reality. The reality is I’m anxious. I can’t do that today”, and then meeting that with sort of the activities that ChE, that you just listed, in order to be able to inquire as to what you need in the moment. I feel like I just said three points in one and I just got- but that hopefully listeners, hopefully you got something [laughs]
ChE: Oh my gosh! [laughs]
CarmenLeah: Because I feel like- I just felt like, oops that was maybe too many- too many points.
ChE: No, that was really clear CarmenLeah. I mean, I heard some- I heard that, right, like actually I heard the “how”. For the how almost then I gave up. Like okay so how would you do these free-moving practices? Well, you need to practice them with compassion and I love the first point you made about that, that gentleness and that patience with yourself. That, to me, that feels like the takeaway I’m, I’m bringing from this call is just that cultivating, that self-practice, that self-care of “I will be gentle with myself. I will literally do one small act each moment and just be caring and how I do that, I love that because that’s also such a meta conversation about enlightenment too, of, right. like when the- the joke in Zen of like- what do you do after you’re- what you do before you’re enlightened chopped bread- chop wood, carry water. What do you do after you’re enlightened? Chop wood, carry water. That we actually- it’s really these small everyday acts that when we do them with gentleness, with compassion, that we’re having actually a huge impact on the world and where you are at in this moment is enough and that to me- that’s why we’re having these conversations, you know. I just- I want my QTPOC, my POC community in particular to know that what you- where you are, how you are practicing where you are, is enough so thanks for sharing that. I think that’s a really- a really beautiful summary.
CarmenLeah: Yeah, it makes me want to just add on. For all you hyper- for all of us- just say you- for all of us and you radical folks out there who sometimes have a hard time with this because there is so much work to be done for the revolution, um, just remember that it is actually anti-capitalist to slow down and be patient.
CarmenLeah: It is anti-capitalist to not see yourself as a machine of productivity. It is anti-capitalist to be kind and patient and it is anti-racist and anti homophobic and anti-transphobic and all those things to be loving and gentle and kind with yourself when you have identities that are oppressed. So if you need a political lens for this to help motivate this, I just want to remind you of that. That these are these small, and they’re not just small acts of resistance though they are, I think they are, they’re actually the creation of what we’re- of what we’re trying to, you know, of a society that we want that loves folks who are marginalized. So these small, small, small pieces are that and so I think the last thing I want to say is regardless of your beliefs for- around religion or spirituality, that in these moments of struggle that we have, especially with anxiety and depression, I think we often- we self-isolate because we’re ashamed, right, and and we go into our heads because I think in the society we’ve been trained to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and to be able to solve things as individuals. This is also hypercapitalist and American but we forget to ask for help from something that is bigger from us often. I think this actually something that people who do have a religion are really good at and it’s probably- it’s something that is incredibly powerful for people who follow a very specific religion, it’s something that these folks have access to which is, you know, pretty powerful but it doesn’t have to be God. It can be God, it can be nature, it can be ancestors, it can be the universe. It can be, you know, cells that are present in everything [laughs] but there’s something powerful when we’re in this stuck place to realize: a) you’re not in control of everything, not at all. You are not in- and there’s evidence about that all over the world: hurricanes, natural disasters, et cetera. I mean, the idea that we are man- you know, it’s just it’s a, it’s a myth that we all believe but there’s something really powerful, saying “wow I need help. Please, something greater than me, help me” and connecting to that thing that is bigger, that thing that is out there, regardless of whether it’s religious or not, I think is an essential piece that we don’t want to- that you don’t want to forget and so yeah what we’re getting at the time, the end of our podcast but I really hope the listeners have found something today that supports you to feel empowered in your ability to take care of yourself. When you’re struggling, when we’re struggling, and it’s very- makes sense that we are, so that you can realize, “No, you know what, I might have these things but it doesn’t mean I can’t manifest these dreams I have for 2017 and beyond.” And before we end, ChE is going to tell you about some support you might get from them to do that!
ChE: Yes! I’m very excited about it, CarmenLeah! Yeah, so my 2017 offering is really for my radical folks out there that you know might get overwhelmed by the many challenges in the world that we are facing as we create alternatives to systems of oppression, so I’m going to be offering a coaching series that will include one-on-one coaching with me, as well as sort of working, and a cohort of folks where you can connect to community. A community of radical, like-minded, creatives that are trying to make change out in the world and hold radical politics so that we don’t get lost in this big abyss of capitalism and patriarchy. So it- really this coaching, it’s designed to help radical creative activists and leaders for us to move out of just being challenged and getting stuck in the challenge of trying to balance our self-care for, you know, just little old you and trying to stay inspired and committed and the really powerful work that I know many of you are doing out there in the world and particularly we’ll be focusing in on how can we incorporate ritual and ancestral healing and, of course, as always when people work with me, creative practice, embodied practice, arts-based practices into whatever change-making you’re doing out in the world, whether it’s activism, education, whatever it is, you know. How can you actually use creative tools that don’t let you just burn out because like CarmenLeah was naming, you know, we are very focused on productivity in this country and so this coaching model that I’m developing and I’m excited to finally be sharing with my community is all about sustainability, so it’s really coming from my own Afro-Indigenous cultural lens. So if you would love to hang out with me throughout 2017, and other like-minded folks, you can connect with me right now through my email email@example.com or keep an eye out this week, I’ll be posting the application for the coaching on my website @ che-art.life.
CarmenLeah: Thank you!
ChE: So that is all we- Yes! Yeah, thanks for letting me share! I’m very excited.
CarmenLeah: I’m very excited for it! Thank you for listening everyone. Contact ChE if you’re interested and we hope you’ll join us for our next podcast! Buh-bye!