Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Inner Truth Through Fire: A Sacred Discussion, Part 1

A Sacred Discussion on the Birth of Kuumba’s FIRE Retreat

What have I learned this spring and summer? I've learned that being a woman in America is an ever-evolving concept. There's the skin you're born in and the mind encased within flesh that may betray one's true desire and form of expression. I have learned the terminology of a more public struggle than even the previous generation dared to acknowledge in reconciling trans- and cis-gendered societies. I have seen and heard tales of the torturous disregard for humanity in the sanctity of a place of worship. We have all witnessed and are left to interpret the misguided projections of law enforcement and free speech afresh and in startling high definition in the age of the smartphone, youtube and dash cameras, and yet far too often the results are laid bare on the minds and bodies of our women. How do we as women stand strong in the face of adversity and rebel at a prescribed notion of how we collectively look, act and exist? 

Throughout human history, fire was a strong force for creativity, reinvention and communication. Even in its destructive and uncontrollable tendencies, fire always has a lesson to teach humans. In many ways it was the first language, and accompanied oral history in vibrant fashion.  In Greek mythology, the Titan Prometheus stole fire from Zeus and gifted it to the mortal humans he was tasked to create. This act of defiance warranted eternal punishment from the god of gods, not unlike another well-known creation story involving a talking serpent and the woman, Eve. Another inspiring image-myth is that of the Phoenix bird, self-destructing in a tumult of flames, only to be reborn again from its own ashes. All of these powerful stories promote the concept of fire and knowledge as dual forces of creativity and potential self-destruction that we as humans are tasked with mastering and passing down to the next generation, for our collective enlightenment and survival.

As a woman, creativity is part of my mitochondrial DNA. It is a birthright of sorts, a bona fide genetic predisposition, and an inherent responsibility that at times can seem burdensome. As a writer, my personal endeavor becomes the challenge I embody, to channel this instinctive creative passion towards meaningful communication, thought and action.
I see the same spirit and potent flame emanating from a dear friend of mine, Sacred Walker. We sat down at Brooklyn’s Central Library on April 21st to acknowledge the challenge of being creative women, and discuss the fleshing out of a creative birth, Kuumba Health’s FIRE Retreat.

Sing/Teach/Write/Fly: I am here with Ms. Sacred Walker of Kuumba Health. If you don’t mind introducing yourself for everyone?
Sacred Walker: My honor, beautiful sister queen. I am the founder and lead Executive Manager of Kuumba Health, LLC. We are fiscally sponsored by the Black Women’s Blueprint, based in Brooklyn, New York. Our mission is to foster the #soulcare in healthcare.

STWF: So happy for you to be the first interviewee for my great endeavor in highlighting important women of color, women in general doing amazing things in the City of New York and beyond. As a blogger, I felt this was something I had to do to be able to highlight the amazing women that I know and I look up to and hope to reach out to and collaborate with in different ways. So here we are, I appreciate the privilege. So, when did the seed of Kuumba Health germinate within?
SW: First I want to acknowledge that I have known you for many years and we went to high school together and it is such a treat to see you stepping into your power as a beautiful woman, so I am just honored that I get to be that first person. I feel like that is such a gift. And to answer your question when did it first germinate, I would say two pieces. One was that I was at the time studying psychology and the focus I was looking at was healing through performance art. I was also studying sociology of liberation in undergrad and I took an African psychology class and studied many beautiful powerful names such as Dr. Nobles, Dr. Akbar, many others that have an understanding of the Jungian approach as being based in and coming from Western African consciousness, looking at healing as both being spiritual as well as being psychological. and recognizing the importance of community as a way to help bring back a person to themselves when they feel disconnected from themselves, disassociate or have some kind of a psychiatric or psychotic break. So that’s the theory that grounds my practice, and it has shown itself in many different forms. I think the point where I understood it most fully was when I was sitting with my mom in a psychiatric ward. She had developed a schizophrenic break is what we understood [it] at the time. I didn’t really have a language for it outside of what I had studied in school and the psychiatrist was talking to me about medications, and anyone who knows my family knows that we don’t usually take medications, and so they were talking about the fact that she was noncompliant to her medication, and they were talking to me but she was right in the room. And something about that just hurt my heart, I kept saying, “well you know she’s right here, can you tell her? Can you ask her why it is that she’s not taking her medication? Have you asked her questions?” And they said, “well you’re here, we’re talking to you”, and at the time I had taken on the role of her health proxy. And something about that dehumanizing experience, of somehow the minute that she was seen as an inpatient- person impacted by psychiatric issues, it felt like she became a nonperson. It also felt like the very real experience that she had- that the medication actually gave her intense side effects like stomach aches, dizziness, lightheadedness, slurring of the tongue, twitchy eye-  when she had never taken medication before, expecting her to be compliant when it caused such intense side effects was going to be hard. And so, after doing some investigation they found out that, oh, they gave her the wrong medication, that it was a daytime medication that was supposed to be at night. It was causing her a lot of side effects and as well as sleepiness in the daytime, so that disconnected feeling had everything to do with both her mental health challenges, but also the medication itself and it was having an affect on someone who had never taken medication. So, something about it just felt like a dishonoring of her soul and who she was and not taking time to fully understand who was in the room, and also fully understand that for her it also meant that the way that she spoke with spirit and the dreaming that she had also stopped. So, yes, she was seen as psychotic at the time, but there were also ways that she communicated spiritually that also stopped; the way that we in our family communicate with spirits stopped, so there needed to be a balance. She needed medication that met her needs holistically but [it] also needed to have a broader understanding of who she was spiritually and in our family as a matriarch and a very spiritually-led person. That [if] you take her ability to dream and imagine and speak the spirit away, and you also take away a part of who she is and a part of her soul, a part of the way that she moves in the world, and that can also feel very disconnecting. So, it was a catch-22 it was like going from one way of disconnecting to another. So then that’s where the idea of #soulcare came from; this understanding that we need to honor the soul of a person, and recognize that the majority of the folks who over time that I have worked with have actually had religious ideation. Which means that in their psychiatric breaks or psychotic episodes,they have had conversations that resemble ones that people would say are like intense ecstatic experience related to something religious. In understanding that and recognizing that, having an understanding that maybe there’s more to psychiatry than medication and chemical imbalances in the brain. something fed by fostering the #soulcare in healthcare.

STWF: Moving on, was there one poignant catalyst or chain of events that you can identify as the Aha Moment in which KH came to be?
SW: I would say that KH has not been pulled together, the team has been pulled together within the last year, but it Kuumba Health has been in existence the ten years. It wasn’t until last Saturday that I finally understood what #soulcare looked like. Without undermining the whole experience, this Saturday when we ran our workshop called Race Matters at Sarah Lawrence College, there was a beautiful mix of libations, of theater of the oppressed, of calling in the ancestors, of acknowledging the wounds of racism and also looking at freeing the voice and how that all moved together to say, “if the system of oppression doesn’t change, how do I move through it? How do I change and shift my relationship to it? Where do I find my release and my freedom in the midst of racism?” Being within a room of women of color, it felt like so many different parts of trainings and experiences came to a head, and it felt clear to me in that moment that this is a very different way. Sometimes when you are experiencing the shit of the world, there are no words for it. Sometimes its just a grunt, a flip your arms up, just a praise dance, sometimes there is no language for it. Post Traumatic Stress is you either go into a place of fight, flight or freeze; you either want to fight, you either go into this place of feeling stuck, or you want to run away. But if one’s  [my] everyday experience is stressful based on racism, then there are many people who perpetually live their lives in that place; they are running from everything, they’re freezing in the face of things, they’re constantly fighting. It doesn’t make them bad or different, it just makes it what it is, the environment of racism that we live in. So sometimes, healing can just be a deep place of release. An activity that we did, Onome had us in a circle, using our voice to sing this release, to call in what we hoped for. It was powerful, and at that moment everything came together. Oh, this is what KH is; sometimes you are healing parts of yourself, that doesn’t have words and may not need words, because it’s so ancient, that there may not be a language for it. And you still have to find that strength to go back to that job or that street corner or whatever, and experience what you do every day, the reality. So that for me was my AHA moment.

STWF: As Sacred Walker, how important is the concept of storytelling and journey as it applies to you vision of and work at KH?
SW: I feel like it’s everything. As a writer and poet and playwright, the way that I connect with spirit and learn what ancestors want me to do is through story. That story came out of me over time and cried and wept. Now after writing that play and understanding that story now I have a clearer idea  why spirit had me go through the process of creating that piece, led me that way. As a WOC I think it’s important for us to understand our stories and those that come before us and who we stand on. And to find out that we have so much in common with other people, more than we think.

Sacred Walker and Kuumba Health’s mission is to collaborate with health administrators and community members to “creatively and innovatively foster mind-body-spirit relevant health and advocacy practices in supporting marginalized communities”.

The takeaway from this introduction of a fiery sister souljah is one of a fervent vision of integrative healing coupled with strategic planning and collaboration. This is more of what we want in the new millennium of healthcare and diversified populations in America. We can learn from our travels and individual journeys and, in the best scenario, teach our communities at home how to heal itself and spread a strong positive outlook for the challenges that life always throws at us. For those women who already in the trenches advocating, organizing, and building their businesses out of the ashes, they, too, need an outlet and support system to keep embody their power and influence and remain balanced in this unsettled climate of anxiety and injustice.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing! Thanks for capturing my story and the birthing of Kuumba Health so poignantly. Truly an art form!