By Nitika Raj
Some days I love to write. Most days writing loves me back. Some days I hate to write. I want to share with you my story, but it is a hard story to re-tell. I don’t want to repeat facts with a stone on my heart, because they are heavy words to disperse. But I also don’t want to hide the story, because it is not shame that holds me back, but my own powerful self that is rooted in the current moment, one that does not look back.
At Resource Generation where I work with young people of color with wealth, we have a tradition: when someone gives you a compliment, you have to respond with “It’s true”. I find a lot of women, and a lot of women of color, often deflect praise. Truly absorbing and receiving what we hear is difficult.
When people in my life share their reflections of me, I often hear the words: fabulous, strong, inspiring, brave, bold, joyful, sexy, divine, and full of life. (I also hear stubborn, funny, fierce, wise and committed). It’s TRUE! One thing I want to ask of all women of color, of all people whose divine power has been systematically suppressed, is to join me in believing.
#1 Have faith in your own radiance.
How we tell our stories matters
Each of us is living many stories – our own individual life, our ancestry, our history, and all the identities that result from having a body; age, gender, class, dis/ability, nationality, immigration status and so forth. Then there are significant life experiences that shape us – trauma, spirituality, abuse, illness… the variabilities of being alive in the world at this time.
How does one tell a story of overcoming trauma and squeezing through life’s many breaking points, without the portrayal of self as victim at some point(s)? To stand in my power, in each re-telling, I have no desire to keep deconstructing my experiences, to keep analyzing my family of origin, or to keep grieving losses.
In each telling, let it serve the need of your current moment – to heal, to connect, to break silence, to share, to share pride, to vent, to reflect, or to let go. You don’t have to tell your story to serve what other people want from you.
#2 Tell your story for YOU.
Social Justice / Swimming Pool
Do you ever hear the words “social justice”, or “racial justice”, “economic justice”, or “the movement” and have absolutely no feelings? That happens to me quite often. These days my eyes glaze over, and I suddenly picture myself jumping into a swimming pool.
When I hear the word “trauma,” I get quiet and my heart feels heavy. The opposite of standing in our power must be stripping us of our power. When that terrible thing happens to a human being, or groups of human beings or entire nations, we call that trauma.
As women of color, we have been forced to de-emotionalize our traumas, so that we are not called “crazy”, irrational, or overly sensitive. For our own survival, women have been forced to quieten/not listen or respond to what’s happening in our bodies. For the many survivors of violence who are women, we have learned to escape, to separate body from spirit from mind, in order to live through the experiences to even have the option of healing.
From what I understand, social justice is about the world getting to a place where it’s truly just for all people. But to know that it’s unjust, you have to hear from the people to whom injustice is done. But if we only tell the “facts” and we cannot identify our needs because it is not safe to feel into our bodies, then how will we open ourselves to truths that fill out a more complete picture? We can’t. We must create spaces where we can both tell the facts and let out the emotions of our traumas and truths.
#3 The truth-telling of women of color is an eternal fire. Eventually, it burns and cleanses all of us and those around us.
To validate our full selves, we must believe and support one another, and to use women of color spaces to amplify our voice and visibility.
This is a magical power. Our spirit is the center of hope, interconnection, and a source of creativity and bliss. These are the components of true power – the kind that builds connection through love and acceptance. It is similar to maternal love, that source of unconditional loving unique to one who has the divine honor of being a gateway to new life. We do not create life, we simply create space for it to pass through us to take visible form in the world.
#4 Women are goddesses.
Connecting to the spirit level requires prayer, an intentional tapping into that larger power. Pray in whatever way is right for you: pray in silence, pray to music, pray with your body, dance, do yoga, do what is accessible to you that moves your heart in sync with your spirit.
#5 Pray your way.
A spiritual community will hold you like no other. Elements of a spiritual community are: a) operating from a place of eternal love and non-judgment, b) caring about the whole person, not just about what they can do or what you are trying to do together, c) singing, dancing, meditation – practices that center and align our spirits, d) sharing good food! e) providing space to share delights as well as grief, f) reading and collective learning from a shared text – whatever has been powerful and grounding , from fiction novels to quotes to Audre Lorde.
We have to bring our whole selves to our social justice work, including our sacred ways of being and doing.
#6 Build a spiritual community, be a part of a community of faith.
One version of my story
My parents were born in the mid-1950’s, in newly independent India post British colonization. Both were raised poor/working class; they had a traditional arranged marriage. Free local education led to upward class mobility, and joining the professional middle class. They migrated to Kuwait in the late 70’s where I was raised, and was sexually abused until the Gulf War, when our living situation changed. (The violence in my life ended, only to be replaced with the violence that happens in war – to people of all genders and ages). Fast-forward. In 2000 I moved to the U.S., studied computer science, found that the men in my department sexually harassed the few women (10%) in the program. I joined anti-violence work on campus. I went to get a masters in social work, then got married, realized I was queer, came out, and my family confronted the man who had abused me, my uncle. My parents in the meantime had started a business, gotten rich, paid for my undergraduate and graduate education. I got divorced, got a job, found out I have endometriosis, and have become eternally committed to working for equal dignity for all people. Now I live in New York, where I am happy and in love with God, and also with my life and all the people in it.
Another version of my story, on days when I don’t have the energy to tell it all, or days when I know it doesn’t matter anymore because it’s the past and it’s not Now.
All that happened was meant to be. I learned a lot from it, about how to stand in my truth first, and then to stand in my power. Now if only we can keep standing in love as we work for justice, it will all be okay. The path will not end in peace if the process is not gentle.
#7 To have a peaceful life, it really helps to make peace with your family of origin.
And healing takes time. To live is to heal, and to heal is to become a phoenix. We burn our old self and renew our life. Spiritual growth is being open to all the ways of loving and living, and letting go. If this is how we are living, we are leading lives centered in spirit and in integrity with the world.
#8 Healing is inevitable.
When i lived in You
When i lived in Beauty
i smiled easily and often
When i lived in Truth
i became bolder and kinder
When i lived in Love
it gave me pleasure to give
Beauty, Truth and Love came to live in me.
#9 To be a leader is to be your own true self.