Her Spirit in Santa Fe

When coming back from a trip, especially one as momentous as the Her Spirit Retreat in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I usually take a few days and then post a recap. I returned last Thursday and it’s taken me a bit longer to write this. First, I needed the time to process the experience and the next, to contemplate how and what I wanted to share.

I’ll start here. I officially heard word that I received a generous partial scholarship on 11/20/22. Her Spirit started on December 4th. I had little time to make plans, take the time I needed from work but I was determined to figure it all out. Hubby had just undergone a heart procedure to explore some unexplained weakness the week before my acceptance. I wondered if I should have been so determined to leave but my resolve strengthened a few days later.

As I have written here, I have been experiencing chronic pain for several months. I start going back to physical therapy at the end of October. I discovered a possible reason for this pain could be growing fibroid tumors affecting my mobility in my lower back. I set an appointment with a radiologist who confirmed my suspicions after reviewing an older MRI. Because of that and not wanting to live with large uterine fibroids period, I chose to move forward with a uterine fibroid embolization. Everyone in the clinic was kind and thorough which made my decision easy. After the appointment and in tears, my mind was made up to leave.

I no longer felt guilty about my husband because I could see he was fine, working and walking around. It was time to take myself out of my everyday, meet new people and open my energy up to this opportunity. I was at a dinner with a friend a few days before leaving and she encouraged me to make rest a priority as well. I took it to heart.

I booked tickets the evening of the appointment. I remember shopping and packing carefully, not wanting to feel rushed or overwhelmed. The flights were smooth and even though the altitude attacked my lungs as soon as I landed, I was aware of another scholarship winner, Catrice Greer, on the flight. We connected at the Santa Fe airport and she kindly offered me a ride to our hotel.

After checking in, I rested and got ready to meet the other winners on the rooftop floor. We sat in a circle with our chairperson Jane Sibbett, Chief Officer of Diversity, Candace Blust, faculty members Liz Hines, Rebecca Bloom and Rosa Salazar. We were lauded for our work, given thoughtful gifts and made to feel special. The other women were dynamic and from all over the country and across the pond in the UK. I also appreciated their attempt to make us aware that we would be the diversity in a group of over one hundred mostly white women.

I should be honest in sharing I was aware of this beforehand. Previously shared group photos of last year’s retreat on social media confirmed it and as a Black woman, I do feel the need to prepare myself for what I may be walking into to protect my physical safety and my mental health.

The mixer, the Native blessing, and the Zoom keynote speech by Friends and Grace and Frankie’s co-creator Marta Kaufman set the right tone. My intentions to connect and rest felt right after that night. I relaxed with some room service and although I didn’t sleep peacefully, I had no regrets and was ready to face my full Day 1.

I was comfortable enough to share vulnerable pieces right from the start. I learned about telling the truth and our faculty’s experiences in their respective industries. Even with altitude sickness, I could not ignore the beauty of La Fonda as I trudged up steps. This historic hotel was full of art, shops and pieces you could never find anywhere else. During dinner, I connected with more winners and other attendees, listened to the live country band and watched a couple of them grace the dance floor.

Later on that night, there was a diversity panel, readings, and another featuring documentarian Kate Blewet and director Beth Broday. During the diversity and inclusion panel, I leaned into my desire to affirm our need for well-written and acted representation. I have no need to shame anyone for their opinions or not articulating them well. I knew what was right and I am proud I spoke up. The rest of the evening brought us to tears as we viewed clips of Kate’s work that showed dying and impoverished children and the elderly from China and Bulgaria to the UK and Beth’s directed performance of Sting in Italy on September 11th, 2001. I stayed up late, in a few small circles in the lobby, cozy and curled up, decompressing from the evening, revealing dreams and laughing.

The next day I had the chance to sit in on my first table read and heard actors read from four pilots amogst other sessions. I took in the plaza outside of La Fonda’s doors and met artisans, perused art galleries and jewelry stores. That night, I attended a dancing hands meditation led by Jane Sibbett.

This is where it all changed. We were back in the rooftop room La Terraza. I walked up to the edge of my mat and within seconds, my calves and thighs quaked and I began crying. I sobbed throughout the entire hour. Within the circle, Jane approached each of us with direct eye contact, in her language inspired by Spirit but I could make out words like “love” and “hug.” The energy was thick.

We huddled closer together afterwards and upon my asking about what she felt or saw, Jane used the word ancestors. I had an intense need to remove my bra and sit in the moonlight. Instead, I joined a couple friends at the bar and as they snacked before dinner, all I could do was take breaths and drink water. I wanted nothing to do with food for a bit but eventually enjoyed a dinner. I spoke about the meditation, we mapped out a show for one of our fellow winners and headed to the open mic and to watch a Hallmark Christmas movie one of our faculty members wrote.

The next day I was drained. I honored the need to rest as long as possible before the first session. I did learn valuable tips with New York Times bestselling author Julie Cantrell about character development and bonded over our connection with one of my writing teachers Sadeqa Johnson. Brooke Warner gave many useful actionable tips for our author platforms. It was the last night and there was a beautifully lit final ceremony. The energy again was thick and as lovely as it was, I had an intense urge to separate myself from the ceremony after a few minutes. I left the room, sat in the hallway, short of breath and I let tears fall. I couldn’t go back. I retreated to the outdoors on the first floor and eventually to my room. I caught my breath, packed half-heartedly and sent some messages to make sure no one worried about my hurried exit.

I spent the last moments of Wednesday evening with a new friend, Babs and Liberty, an awesome young woman who has the capacity to make some real change in the world. I got the laughs I needed and the shared venting was absolutely vital. I woke up and got to breakfast early, a first for me. Our table got crowded as people said their farewells and we squeezed each other tight, almost hoping to take our essences with us on our flights home. I was encouraged, unexpectedly prayed over and walked back to my room feeling lighter than I had in weeks.

Catrice, Joany (the sweet mother of all Christmas movies) all said our goodbyes in Denver. As I walked away from our gate, I drowned the world out with the Lemonade album and started my trek to my gate which ended up being almost 80 gates away. My expectation was to have to stop for my back and hip, drenched in sweat every 5 minutes. That wasn’t what happened at all. I walked, only stopping once to check the gate change. I had to force myself to stop overcompensating by leaning on one foot. I didn’t understand what was happening.

Had I been healed?

I have been back over a week, in physical therapy twice and outside of a bit of tightness and pain my left hip, I can walk again. I have been hesitant to claim it because I have been living this way for so long now but I have to believe what is actually going on right now. My PT suggested there has been a reset of my central nervous system’s response to pain and my husband and parents believed I cried out the tension at the dancing hands meditation.

As for reflecting on the actual retreat, there has been enough time for me to say I would happily go again. I am also glad I went in with my eyes open about the lack of cultural diversity. I didn’t have to experience the burden of shock. And yes, there was a stereotypical statement made about Black people and a few could not tell the difference between myself and another Black woman although we look nothing alike. I was hurt and made jokes with a few who understood my plight. Although I didn’t love having to speak up about the need for quality representation at the panel, again I remain proud I did. I can report apologies were made to me and many privately told they were grateful I possessed the courage to use my voice. I was also offered opportunities to work with others and buoyed by an acknowledgement that I taught others in the room that night.

I will never be able to shed the challenges that come with entering these spaces in this skin but I would never want to be anyone other than who I am. I get to tell stories, love freely and passionately and proudly in this skin. I look forward to what’s next working and building friendships with these women as part of the Storyteller Foundation.

Special thanks to Alva for checking on me, to Freddie for your kind words, and Becky Strom for hearing me that very first day and blessing me on our final morning.

I want to say a special thanks to my fellow Rainbow Fund Scholarship winners: Catrice Greer, Babs Cheung, Shari Williams-Andrews, Sylvia de la Sancha, Ava Adams, Donna Pope, Tana Stephenson and Celeste Keplin-Weeks. Without all of you talented souls, I would have experienced an unwelcome loneliness I am grateful to have never felt. And to Jane Sibbett, Candace Green Blust and Liz Hines: thank you for your part in making our dreams closer to our reality.

Rollercoaster

These last couple of months have challenged me to define what being on a rollercoaster means to me. Since I last wrote, I was invited to be a writing juror for the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards, went through the absolute worst psoriasis flare I have had in years which caused me not to be able to travel to see my family over Christmas, chopped off a great deal of hair, as a wellness experiment for a new doctor was advised to eat meat again, banish soy and remove grains temporarily after 4 1/2 years of a plant-based diet, delivered a keynote speech for the awards and asked to teach for a couple of organizations.

While some of those things I absolutely love (hello haircut, writing awards keynote and teaching), dealing with a flare after months of progress and medication was tough for my psyche and eating meat again felt like an abandonment of my lifestyle and and created a small disconnect with my husband as we no longer eat the exact same meals. While none of that seems earth shattering, I have to be careful not to minimize my feelings, constantly seeking to compare my woes to others whom I perceive to be in much worse situations.

If I fall for the trap of comparison, I fail to do the one thing that is a catalyst for healing: Acknowledge the pain. It’s beneficial and it is healthy for me to acknowledge how painful it is trying not to scratch my skin, bloody sheets and clothing, reinstituting the daily sweeping of my dead skin from all over my home and being robbed of the joy of seeing my family on Christmas day. It is beneficial and healthy for me to acknowledge how awkward and uncomfortable it is to cook separately from my husband and eat animal products again as have always been united in how we choose to nourish ourselves.

I also need to acknowledge it is beneficial and healthy to look for the highs and not to dismiss all the good news even in the midst of the pain. I read and viewed writing and art that inspired me to work on my next project, I attended the grand opening of the first Black-woman owned bookstore and wine bar in my city and I never have to worry about the people in my life trying to dismiss me or drown me in the turbulent waters of toxic positivity when I need to speak my truth.

I acknowledge the pain, the pleasure, the heartbreak, the hope, the disappointment, the glee, the inspiration, the frustration, the light and the darkness.

I believe if I accept that the rollercoaster is inevitable but not insurmountable, I’ve accepted a truth that will guide me the rest of my days.

The Kind of Writer I Want to Be

The rest of my year is shaping up to be full of writing activities, time with family, work and moving regularly. I am actively exploring Kemetic Yoga and dancing around in my own house for these options. I also decided to spend more time reading. One of my current reads, “Rockaway: Surfing Headlong Into a New Life” is about a 40-something journalist and divorcee who challenges herself to become a surfer. It reminds me of my goal to continue competing as a Strongwoman. This is no surprise as reading has always made me want to dip my toes into worlds I have yet to explore be that with travel, athletics or activism.

I have a tendency to pile on but letting reading take me somewhere else never leaves me feeling like that. It inspires me to write better, look for the detail and cultivate understanding. I attended James River Writers Conference over the weekend and served as a ShopTalk expert with the topic “How to Own Your Story: Getting Your Truth on the Page.” It was invigorating to listen and dispense advice to other writers and part of me wished I could jet off to the future to hold their finished works in my hands.

Right before my first ShopTalk session on Saturday morning

We were told at the conference that being a literary citizen is writing, reading is writing and good conversation can be writing. I believe this to be true because when I am engaged in any of these things, I find spirit lifted and I feel nudged to get to a pen and jot these experiences down.

I am hosting the second session of the virtual open mic poetry series “From the Page to the Mic” with Henrico County Public Library this Saturday and the last on November 13th. I am attending a showcase at my sister’s pole studio next weekend and an author’s signing in December. I will be bending, stretching, dancing, writing, reading, listening, supporting and watching others’ art. I can’t think of a better way to grow into the kind of writer I want to be.

Cleansed

This week’s word is “cleansed.” Even though I am very busy during the week, I made the decision to move myself a bit more and incorporate more fruits and veggies via smoothies and juices. I ended up with a 8.4lb loss but that wasn’t the best thing about this week. It was how clean I felt. I was more clear, energetic and focused. I started to think about setting fitness goals like a race and it seemed more real than ever. I don’t want to get too excited. I am guilty of signing up for a couple things I wasn’t prepared to complete in the past so the next time I do it, I want to feel confident.

Knowing rather than guessing is best so I will keep putting in the work and accepting the results peacefully.

It’s the only way to I know to truly love and honor myself during this process.

Raw Food Detox

Today is the fifth day of my July Raw Food Challenge. I have eaten a raw food diet before for a short period of time. The biggest difference I see this time around are the detox symptoms. I did lose weight this week (4.6 lbs) but parts of my body are covered in red rashes. Apparently, it’s a common symptom  that I never experienced before. I had fatigue and headaches in the past but watching myself breakout like this has been jarring. I think because of my psoriasis the thought of my body being covered in something I can’t control unnerves me.

It doesn’t mean I will stop. I am telling myself that it will go away in a matter of days. I just have to wait it out. I am holding onto the benefits and staying excited about my results at the end of the month.

Your turn:

Have you ever experienced any detox symptoms? If so, how did you cope with it?

Meatless Mondays: Creamy Raw Tomato Soup and Avocado Pesto Butternut Squash Noodles

Today is Day 2 of my raw vegan challenge for the month of January. It was surprisingly easy. I enjoyed mangoes, Go Raw bars, raw slaw and a satisfying green smoothie Hubby brought me home on a break.

For dinner tonight, I decided to make a creamy raw tomato soup and avocado pesto butternut squash noodles. I have made pesto before (vegan but never raw) so I won’t post the recipe but the soup is new.

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I am glad I started off this challenge with something besides a salad. Raw food can be so much more interesting.

Here’s the recipe:

  • Six small tomatoes
  • 1 Red Bell Pepper
  • 1 Avocado
  • Sea salt (to taste)
  • Black pepper (to taste)
  • Garlic or Herbs ( I used garlic powder)
  • Cherry tomatoes

Chop tomatoes, peel avocado and blend all ingredients together. I garnished the soup with sliced cherry tomatoes.

We both loved the soup! I can’t wait to try another raw soup this month. Thanks to lovingitvegan.com for the recipe!

One-Year Vegan Anniversary!

Today, my article sharing 3 tips to going vegan was published on 30seconds.com.

It was fitting because today is my one-year vegan anniversary. Hubby and I started for health reasons and eventually grew to care more about the environmental reasons, too.

During the course of a year, I have learned many things. I learned about my dependence on processed food, that cheese was the hardest food to kick, the importance of reading labels and that there is a plethora of delicious and diverse plant-based options in the world.

I also learned eating this way has been healing. I no longer deal with acid reflux or heavy periods. I also sleep better than I used to.

I have found a community that supports this lifestyle, too. I go to vegan potlucks, pop-ups and community festivals and lectures. Food justice in underserved areas is a real issue I care more about than ever thanks to the David Carter lecture I attended in Baltimore.

I feel more aware, healthier and it helps that I walk this road with a partner who reaps the benefits, too.

I am looking forward to what comes in year two. Year one opened my eyes to a world I don’t ever want to be closed off from again.

 

Fighting for Gratitude

I came back to the gym today.

I had been gone almost a month. It started off as I had been over exercising to the point I was limping everywhere and I needed a break.

But then I found I was giving myself a “break” from eating well, too. There are a myriad of reasons for it but mostly it’s self-sabotage and retreating back to old habits. And a couple weeks passed and I realized I was avoiding the scale, too.

Then another week and a few days later (today), I climbed out of bed and on to the scale. In last week’s post, I wrote that I was betting on myself to see my way out of the static, out of the fog.

But the truth is that it starts in one place for me: Facing the truth of how I’ve treated myself. No avoiding.

Even when it got dark during these past few weeks, I did hold onto gratitude. I thanked God for waking me up. I thanked Him for my husband, my mother who is always there for me without fail and the security I felt knowing if I reached out to a number of people, they would reach back.

And it wasn’t easy. I tend to isolate. Being alone comes quite natural to me but it can also disguise itself as hiding from others or hiding from the truth of the path I started to go back down.

While working out today, I was listening to Patrice Washington’s podcast. She spoke about fighting for gratitude. Being grateful doesn’t come so easy for everyone. Sometimes we have to get in there and fight just to feel it.

And that’s what I am doing. Looking down at the scale today, I saw a 12.6 lb weight gain. But I also saw I was going to fight to take it off, fight not to give in to the shame that it brings and fight to keep going. I found myself grateful that I didn’t gain all the weight back and I recognized some of the poor habits I had with binge exercise beforehand.

I keep writing here that I don’t know how all of this ends but the truth is I do.

I will win.

I just have to take it one “thank you” at a time.

Your turn:

Do you ever feel you have to fight to feel gratitude?

Please comment below. I would love to read your thoughts.

Static

The last few weeks I have been absent from my workouts. It started off because of intense pain in my ankles and I slowed down because I knew continuing to push would only make things worse down the road. I was limping around the house and that’s never good.

But I have been feeling better and there has been no visits to the gym, dance class, videos or walks outside.

I am not sure why after being active for so many months that it has come to a stop. I feel static. I can almost hear myself make an excuse as to why I won’t workout tomorrow.

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Tonight I was at writing group. We discussed if we fear what would happen if we make it in the literary world. I have to ask myself the same question in regards to my wellness journey.

Is there anything I fear about being on the other side of this struggle? Will writing about it now help me cross back over to where I was only 3 weeks ago?

I’m betting it will. If things are really going to be different this time, then I have to call myself out and pull myself out of the hole I sunk myself into that makes me feel stuck and scared.

I am hoping to look back on these past few weeks as a minor setback a year from now.

I can’t let it determine who I will be a year fron now.

Meatless Mondays: Garlic Pepper Mashed Potatoes and Chili

Keeping it short and sweet today: I had a late lunch today and didn’t know I would be up for dinner tonight but then I smelled garlic from the kitchen. Hubby cooked mashed potatoes with unsweetened almond milk, vegan butter and a liberal helping of garlic pepper seasoning. We used Amy’s organic chili medium with vegetables.