I Will Not Deny My White Privilege & I Will Not Stop Talking About Racism

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A mural of Alton Sterling in front of the Triple S Food Mart in Baton Rouge, La. (Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)

After a pretty restless nights sleep, there are so many things I want to say. In the wake of the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, there are so many feelings and emotions that I want to share, but finding the right words is difficult and also feels unjustified, because, though I feel rage, heartache, confusion, and more rage, I cannot pretend that it amounts to even half of what my black friends are feeling right now, and I cannot pretend to actually fully understand the level of fear that they are experiencing.

Right now I’m going to share a story, because I trust myself to rehash it accurately and coherently, rather than just spewing out the raw emotion that has been an underlying current in my psyche for years now, though I’m sure this post will conclude with more than enough spewing…

This story is short and happened a little more than a year ago. I received a text from a longtime friend who, side note, is a black man. At the time he was living in a small, conservative, and predominately white town in Missouri. He said “so I went to Walmart last night..” I sarcastically responded with “cool story bro!” as I waited for more information. “And I came out to my car to find this on the windshield,” a picture followed: a printed flyer, postcard size, on it an eerie sketch of a hooded, classically robed KKK figure. The words “We’re Watching You” were written below. If you’re even only partially connected to your humanity, you’re probably livid right now. I called him, sobbing, telling him to get out of that racist town. His calm tone angered me more. And when I told him that, he explained that getting angry isn’t safe, that the better thing to do is to stay calm and keep your head down, and to do everything possible to draw the least attention to yourself. It’s hard for me to write this without reliving the feelings all over again. Tearful rage. But still, I remind myself that I am on the outside of this experience, I am not the victim here. So wipe your tears and speak a little more loudly, Julia. 

13435325_10201561694839887_8124594068178799358_nAs a white person, I can never pretend to know the fear that lies within a black or brown person living in this country, though I can FULLY share the anger. For me to sit here and try to relay my emotions is almost unfair to the people who are the actual victims. But I am sick. I am sick of hearing people deny racism, deny police brutality, and deny their own white privilege. I am sick of hearing that there “needs to be a conversation” when this conversation has been happening for way too long now, while way too many innocent black people are murdered. I am sick of seeing not enough people express rage. And amidst all of this disgraceful turmoil, Taylor Swift still somehow manages to make headlines about her new relationship. What’s actually important here?!

I cannot pretend to act like I know of a solution, but I know damn well that something needs to change. I will never know what it’s like to be a black parent with a black child, having to have the conversation about what to do and how to act if you’re ever stopped by, or JUST NEAR police officers. Comply, comply, comply… I will never know the fear that awakens within a black person upon being pulled over. If one group of human people cannot get pulled over by the cops without fear that it may be the last thing that they do, then none of us should be able to relax. NONE of us should be okay with not speaking up about it. So when you choose to stay silent about the truth that racism is REAL and not enough is being done to stop it, you are not “not adding fuel to the fire”, you are the problem.

I will not deny my white privilege. I will not deny the struggle of black people in America. I will not pretend to know what it’s like when the innocence of your children is robbed by the reality that the people who are here to protect and serve are abusing power and are taking innocent lives. I will not ignorantly try to say that I understand what you’re feeling, but I promise to share your anger. I promise to be an ally. I promise to use my white privilege as an aid to you. If I see police and POC interactions, I will stick around, be a second set of eyes, and record it if necessary. I will never stop talking about racism and I promise to listen if I forget my own privilege, and my activism comes off as self-serving. I will listen, but I will stand with you. I will have the conversation when it’s uncomfortable and I will use my voice to educate. I will fight with you, I will cry with you, and I will never stay silent.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Martin Luther King Jr. 

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Rambles, Rocks, and Realizations

This is the first blog I’ve written in months. Seven months to be exact… yikes! Just typing that feels uncomfortable. As I was revamping my layout (aimlessly, I might add. I truly have no idea where my blogging life is going or what my goals are) I took a look at the archive section. It made sense— the majority of my blogs on WordPress or Elephant Journal took place in 2013 and 2014. What I’ve come to realize is that I rarely feel compelled to write when I’m comfortable. Those two years were full of heavy, nitty gritty soul searching, a good chunk of pain, a move to a brand new state, two break ups (ish), and the oh so disagreeable feeling of facing your shit.

Luckily, 2015 was pretty much smooth sailing. Okay, not entirely. Actually, not at all. But for whatever reason, navigating the experiences I had throughout that year (moving three times, my fathers open heart surgery, the murder of a friend, leaving my job, etc.) all felt totally doable. It’s not like I didn’t have my fair share of breakdowns, and it’s most likely entirely due to the fact that I fell in love with my best friend, but, needless to say, it’s as if I was able to finally tap into that reservoir of deep inner strength, where I truly knew that I could handle whatever was thrown at me.

Now, am I feeling compelled to write because I’m losing my shit all over again? Quite possibly (joking…….). No, but I am seemingly entering a new cycle of self awareness, and let me tell you, it ain’t pretty here. Don’t get me wrong, my life is wonderful. It’s fun, it’s spent mostly adventuring, and there’s a ton of laughter. Maybe it comes with the territory of being a teacher or maybe its got something to do with stars or numerology, but regardless, old patterns and habits are creeping up and it’s scaring the bejesus out of me.

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Voguing in crag, PMRP, Red River Gorge

Those of you who keep up with me know that I’ve fallen into a pretty deep obsession (is there a stronger word?!) with climbing. It was always something I knew I’d wanted to do (thanks, Katie) but I never had the guts to be a newbie at something alone. Conveniently, my lover is an avid rock climber— problem solved! I’ve been hooked since the first moment those hand holds destroyed my baby soft skin. The funny thing about climbing is, the more stuck you are in your head, the more obvious it will be when you attempt a problem. For me, scaling a wall has been an incredible source of stress relief and a great outlet for my anxiety. Until recently that is.

This past weekend we had the awesome opportunity to explore climbs in the Red River Gorge in east-central Kentucky, with some pretty rad people. The canyon is beautiful and massive and there is no shortage of exciting adventure vibes. Everything is catered to climbers: the camping, the food, the whole scene really— it’s truly a climbers paradise.  As much as I was brimming with stoke, I was also in the midst of some deep inner discomfort. My thoughts all seemed to have an undertone of insecurity and the self-loathing game was REAL, y’all. And for no good reason, I might add. Timing... It can be a bitch. I felt like I had hit the rewind button back to age 14 and was stuck in the body of a girl who hated herself. I’ll spare you the rest of the depressing details, but overall, I am taking this experience, this cycle, as a learning experience, in true Juju fashion.

IMG_1059I feel like I came out the womb with a desire to transcend and grow and seek, and when I experience myself like I have over these last few weeks, I realize that there is no finale to this growth— it is a constant. When I experience old patterns that I thought I worked so hard to let go of (shoutout to resentment, fear, and feelings of inadequacy) and they raise their little heads to let me know that they’re still around and going strong, I do my best not to be consumed by them, but rather to look at it as an opportunity to find more self love, to find more forgiveness, and to let my heart soften more.

Louise Hay says “The bottom line for everyone is ‘I’m not good enough'”. Everyone struggles with insecurities. At some point, every single person on this planet has likely experienced the feeling of not being enough. Unfortunately, our society thrives on comparison, and so many of us struggle in this inner competition with the people around us. Life is not a competition. As we all inevitably learn, this life is often cut too short, and there is truly no control in the when or the how. So why should we spend it in fear? Why wouldn’t we want to spend it loving every single person we’re lucky enough to see?

A friend recently compared climbing to yoga— the movement, the breath, but most importantly, the introspection. It’s a practice. It’s that space that gives us the freedom to explore ourselves, flaws and all, and still tap into that inner reservoir of strength that we all have. And our souls need that. Without practice, we are directionless. We could continue to meander about, seeking gratification in the artificial, or we could brave the discomfort, find that point and aim, steadfast, again and again to the truth, the real, and the heart, even when it’s scary.

Godspeed, my friends.

Anxiety, Panic Attacks, and Teaching Yoga

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” — Jack Kornfield

Disclaimer: This is not a “how to” blog, or one with a cohesive message. It’s a jumbled spurt of inner funk, meant only to shed some light. Thank you. 

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It’s no secret, that the people of our society are under pressure— to be successful, to make money, to be good, to live well. As a Yoga Teacher, this pressure is sometimes experienced tenfold. We often seek out yoga as a means of healing– to find ourselves, to face our shit. Those who yearn to teach often do so for the same reasons, but we don’t necessarily go around exclaiming this. Yoga teachers are supposed to be enthusiastic, confident, strong, joyful people on the fast track to Samadhi (enlightenment), right?? Wrong. The truth is, yoga teachers are just the same as you. They are struggling, they are conflicted, they have the same experience of emotions as anyone else. You may be thinking that this is obvious, but how often do we show up to a yoga class and expect a teacher to really bring it? We’ve come to expect the fun music playlist, the high energy, the wit, the spiritual insight. But what happens when the person who is expected to facilitate such an experience is struggling? What happens when it’s the teacher who wants to curl up into a ball and hide under the covers?

Self compassion has been my biggest hurdle, the tallest brick wall, the most complex and confusing maze, puzzle, test, and challenge of my life. I had my first panic attack at the age of eight years old. I left public school at the age of fourteen because my anxiety was too out of control. I had panic attacks through the entirety of my first teacher training in 2006, and through virtually every savasana for the next year. Why can’t I relax? Why can’t I be normal? These thoughts haunted me. I began to envy those around me who seemed (key word, as things are not always so) to have their shit together. I began to feel such deep hatred for myself and my inability to get it together. I began to think of the ways that I would end it. Yeah, end it– this life. I didn’t want it anymore. But when your best friends mom kills herself, it sort of changes the way you feel about that…

As time passed, I learned, not necessarily how to stop the anxiety and the waves of complete terror, but at least how to manage them. I taught anyway. I showed up to class and brought it to the best of my ability. I was still always a worry wort. I still cried myself to sleep often. I still threw up from time to time. But I tried. I decided that giving up wasn’t an option. It became a blessing in disguise, because the knowingness of that dread, fear, and terror made me see people with softer eyes. It made my heart feel more deeply and it made my capacity to understand pain stronger. I still teach anyway. I have cycles where it seems that all anxiety lies dormant, though it still rears its ugly head from time to time.

The point in all of this? To serve as a reminder that we’re people too. That we can’t always bring it full on, but we still love teaching, otherwise we wouldn’t do it anymore. We still love you, and we still eat and breathe this shit. Sometime our energy is lower or our minds may be occupied, but know that we teach because, for some unknown reason, we feel that we have to. Know that this is our medicine, and though we know how to take it, we don’t always know the dose.

I have to share the path that has been closest to my heart and hope that in some small way, it helps people heal. I have to show up, even on the days where I feel incapable, because I care so deeply about your experience on the mat. This is my life, and though I’m so grateful to share what I love and believe in, I too am doing so in those moments when the light is dim.

3 Things I have learned upon my return to Miami

miami-beach-florida11I want to start this blog by saying that I am truly grateful. I was brought back to Miami to celebrate the love of two of my most favorite people. There were so many happy and bittersweet tears, that I feel my heart has been healed in countless ways. When the festivities were over, I spent a lot of time reflecting on what it’s like for me to back in the place that I called ‘home’ for so long. This is what I’ve learned:

  1.  I have grown. Perhaps it’s because I made a radical decision to up and leave my “home”, the place where I grew up, with no job, no money, no sense of security…Hard shit makes you grow, right? Maybe it’s because I’ve spent a year with people that are really intending on working on themselves. Whatever it is, being back in Miami has held up a giant mirror, showing me how different I am now. I am more embracing of my “faults” and feel more secure in who I am. Being around this adult playground, Never Never Land, I feel like I kind of, sort of, actually do have my life together, something that I never felt before.
  2.  I don’t fit here. I have gotten so accustomed to relating on a certain level of honesty and openness, that I just cannot. fit. in. I don’t fit with the superficial lifestyle of partying and brand names. I don’t fit with this facade of being friendly to your face, but cruel behind your back. I don’t fit with the aggression, the default of treating a person that you don’t know like they’ve already fucked you over. Since I’ve been back, I’ve had more conversations with the ladies in the checkout aisles and waiters than I ever did living here, and the fact that they are so shocked by friendliness doesn’t stop rattling my brain. It’s just. not. right.
  3. It hurts. When I finally got on 95 past, say, Palm Beach, I started to feel really excited, anticipating that I would feel that sense of ‘home’ that I’ve been longing for. Realizing that the place you’ve called ‘home’ for so long just doesn’t feel like home anymore, is a painful experience. Don’t get me wrong, in many ways it’s still awesome to be here. My friends are wonderful, the beach is beautiful. But in moments of silence to myself, it just doesn’t feel good. I am so physically affected by the way people are harsh and closed, that after two days of being here, I caught a horrible flu. My eyes have teared up out of nowhere, many times, because I am just too damned sensitive for this lifestyle now.

I fully recognize that this blog could come across seeming negative or self-indulged. However, I want to clarify that I think this trip has been incredibly important for me. I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my life in Asheville, a place where I feel genuinely supported and nurtured and “being myself” isn’t forced or difficult. I feel so damn grateful that I decided to go with the terrifying decision of leaving my home town, for reasons I wasn’t even sure of at the time. I feel more clear than ever about what works for me and what doesn’t. I know what I am looking for when it comes to friendships, relationships, social life, adventure, intimacy, and family. I know what my goals are (for now), how I want to achieve them, and what I am willing and not willing, to sacrifice. Making genuine connections with people and my community is SO important, and I really think it’s why we are here. To connect. To love. To be able to look into the eyes of another person, animal, being, and just say I see you.

If I could offer any advice based on what I’ve learned in the last year, it is this– you need to do what terrifies you. I can’t stress this enough. Fine, if you want to be “comfortable” or “secure” maybe it’s wise to keep doing to the same thing, working the same job, and staying in the same circle of friends. But SHIT. If you want to grow, you need to change it up. You have to be willing to throw it all to the wind and dive into the abyss. Cliché? Absolutely. True? Fuck yeah. I truly believe that it’s not what we’ve done that we will regret, but what we didn’t do. Now, I know that not everyones lifestyle permits them to just up and leave their lives, move, change jobs, or whatever. So what can we do switch it up without being so radical? Change the way you relate to others. Start conversations with strangers when you notice that you’re avoiding eye contact. Focus on less chit-chat and have more discussions that tickle your brain and make you think. Be willing to let go of people that aren’t ready for this kind of relating and be brave enough to meet the ones who are. And when the time comes to settle? Find someone who thinks you’re so damn brilliant that they can’t wait to see you be the best version of yourself. Settle for someone who wants growth themselves, and who wants to be better. You should need each other because you’re better people with each others support. Find people that want to do big things with you, and if they can’t do it with you, they stay by your side telling you that you can. Be supportive. Be genuine. And above all else, love. Love hard. And don’t give up.

Self Acceptance and Putting the Pieces Together

tumblr_n57k10jNN41qlwx41o1_500I think about words a lot. And linguistics. If I didn’t know language or how to articulate emotions, would I still feel them? I recall that Depeche Mode song Enjoy the Silence. I remember the first time I heard it, I was thirteen, and I looked up the lyrics. It was the truest lyrical weaving of words that I had ever heard.

Words like violence
Break the silence
Come crashing in
Into my little world
Painful to me
Pierce right through me
Can’t you understand
Oh my little girl

All I ever wanted
All I ever needed
Is here in my arms
Words are very unnecessary
They can only do harm

Vows are spoken
To be broken
Feelings are intense
Words are trivial
Pleasures remain
So does the pain
Words are meaningless
And forgettable

All I ever wanted
All I ever needed
Is here in my arms
Words are very unnecessary
They can only do harm

Dramatic much? I’ve spent quite a few years of my life trying to shut out this dramatic, dark, and twisted side of myself. But I’ve always come back to the idea that if I didn’t know language, maybe I wouldn’t get so stuck. I use words to try to put the pieces together, to try to understand and rationalize life. The only time when it has ever made sense for me is when I feel bonded to the people in my life, when I have a partner that pulls me out of my head space.

Is it because these bonds mimic our true nature of experiencing union? Whole, divine unity with all that is but only experienced through another human? or two, three.. four.

Again, using words to try to put the pieces together.

Self acceptance has been my practice lately. Accepting that my mind is the way it is, that this body is my vehicle for this lifetime, that this is just the way it is. There is mental illness in my family, there is disease, there is darkness, pain, and turmoil in the world. And in huge block letters, across my mind reads “DON’T IDENTIFY WITH YOUR STORY, JULIA”… accept, accept, accept…. except, except, except…..

I recognize that there is choice in the world, but I also believe in the divine nature of life. I choose to let it all roll because I believe in the beauty of the world. Even if it seems so far away, I remember that there were moments where I felt that life made sense. And maybe it doesn’t right now because it’s the only way I’ll be able to tell when it does… Maybe all we’re trying to do is connect the dots, add and subtract, to find the answers. Maybe the answer is that there is no answer. And maybe the only way I will know this is to keep letting it roll.

Keep putting the pieces together. Keep loving anyway.

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I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart).

45101.original-1097Grandfather,
Sacred one,
Teach us love, compassion,
and honor.
That we may heal the earth
And heal each other.
– Ojibway Prayer

I used to be a very critical person. Growing up in Miami, I became hardened with the abundance of intensity, aggression, and loudness. I saw no common ground with strangers and usually lived in fear of being spoken to. I wasn’t always driven with that fire– I remember when I was a small child, constantly being heartbroken whenever I witnessed rudeness, or anger, or confrontation of any kind. I guess that’s where I developed it– this need for heavy steel armor around my heart… If my sensitive soul was to survive that inhuman island, I had to build walls so high, no hurtful thing could get in. But you see, this false protection only comes back around to inevitably bite you in the ass.

Now that I have softened, removed a few bricks from these walls, opened my heart to my soulmates two, three, four times, I am smacked in the face by my sensitivity on the regular. The floodgates open weekly, daily, always. I feel the stranger on the street like we’ve spoken our life stories to one another for years. I hold eye contact and I literally feel your pain, anger, joy and I feel nothing at all and everything all at once. I will always try to explain it but I’ll never feel understood because even I don’t understand. All I want is to keep loving, less crying, more smiles, and real connection.

I spent my weekend connecting with beautiful souls who braved that creepy, dim stairwell down to the basement of vulnerability. It reaffirmed how essential it is for me (and you) to take that time to be completely raw, completely there with each other, with all the parts of our story that we don’t like, until we all know once again that our true nature is the heart.

I know more clearly now than ever before, that any part of you that triggers me, is really just me, and that any “wrong” act can only stem from a place of pain. When I hear you speak words that hurt, I want to turn the pages back and find that 7 year old you that was told you were wrong or not enough. I want to hold you and tell you that no matter how scary this world can be, it’s terribly perfect and one day it’ll all make sense. Our true nature is the heart.

Of all the things I learned this weekend, this mantra stuck with me the most:

Ātma hŗdaye
Hŗdayam mayi
Aham amŗte
Amŗtam anāndam brahmāni

My true nature is the heart. The heart is my true nature.
I am the bliss of the heart. The Heart that I am is the unending bliss of Oneness.

I just want to keep loving everyone and somehow hold faith that every person can one day, feel this way too.

Reflections on pain and love.

post-7991-But-the-eyes-are-blind-One-mus-HJjlI write about pain a lot. I talk about pain a lot– to my closest friends, in my yoga classes. It is an easy and tangible common ground for most people. We all have known pain, in one form or another. The experience of heightened emotions is something that makes us human and very much alive. When our ground is shook and we are touched deeply by the passing of someone who has impacted our lives, it makes us ask the big questions like “What the F are we really doing here??”

It is so easy to get stuck in confusion and bitterness… Any time I feel my heart break, I find a truly remarkable gift– my capacity for love grows. Which is ironic… Any time I have felt deep heartache or loss, something inside shifts. It suddenly becomes clear all over again, just how important it is for me to be present with the people in my life. I want to look in their eyes more, or hug a little longer. I want to really listen to their laugh so it is etched in my memory space. I want to put down my fucking phone and have conversations that matter. I want to relate and connect and cry and laugh with the people I feel safe with.

It has been quite some time since I’ve felt the essence of a tight-knit tribe– my friends in Miami are quite epic, and leaving that was a huge struggle for me. As I am currently in the process of finding my tribe here in my new home state, it is so clear to me just how important open and honest friendships are. It is so necessary to be clear in who you are and upfront about what you can share with people who will listen. This mystical phenomenon of forming bonds with other human beings is one way that I have been able to hold one through my darkest moments.

I try to reflect often on the head-space that other people can be in. What are they feeling? What pain have they gone through? Who was the last person they lost? The last funeral they attended? When was the last time their ground was pulled out from under them? When I open up to this way of thinking, any wrong way a person can be automatically starts to disappear. I see them just like me– doing the best they can with what they’ve got. A soul in a body, filled with scars and memories and interesting experiences.

The only way I know how to deal with tragedy is through love. Sometimes I really don’t know how to cope with the pain of what this life is… but when I feel connected, I know that the only way is to love just a little bit more. My dream is a life where all people support each other, inner-demons and all.

Live a little more slowly, forgive easily, and hold the ones you love close. This is the only way.

“Always pray to have eyes that see the best in people, a heart that forgives the worst, a mind that forgets the bad, and a soul that never loses faith.”

“You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”
~Robin Williams