Guest Blog: Yin and the Turtle.

Love having our guest bloggers rock out the words post training. This one from Yin and Social Justice in Vancouver with Dia Penning.  We are hosting another edition at Hollyhock on Cortes, BC in September 2018. Hope you can join us. 

Thanks Kristin for your insight and words. 

I’ve always been inspired by turtles and the strength they have in being slow and steady on the earth but determined and fast in water. I sometimes joke with people that think I take too long or that I’m too slow to move that I am a turtle and they just need to bare with me because it’s coming. The queen of slow living, my mantra since I was a kid who grew up readingThe Tortoise and the Hare and taking it to heart has been, “slow and steady wins the race”. I was a yin yogi before I knew what yoga was.

After 4 days of the Yin Yoga and Social Justice training with Danielle, Chastity, and Dia, I began to re-examine where I’ve been active and where I’ve been slow to move. Where I’ve been able to swim fast through things and where I’ve been stuck. Places in my body that feel open and places that feel tight and heavy. Spaces I have access to and spaces where I’ve been shut out. 

I wrote and re-wrote several different pieces. It's taken me a while to write this. Back and forth. Should I say this or should I say that? Will this be appreciated? Will that offend someone? What do I even mean? 

I’m a Libra always looking for balance. It can be quite exhausting to live in my head. 

It was interesting to re-visit learnings in a new way in our four days together in the training. Learnings I thought I already understood. I completed my Social Work degree at a university that examines racism, sexism, ableism, colonialism, etc. in every course I took. I thought I understood my social location, my privilege, my identity. I thought I was solid in my understanding of the ways I move through the world.

Oh, but there’s so much to learn and un-learn.

I realized in this training that I have been really stuck in my struggles and pain. In becoming stuck in my struggles, I started to become blind to my power. I have started to become blind to my privilege. I have become blind to the ways in which I move through the world untouched, unscathed, and with access because I have been so focused on the ways in which I’ve been harmed, hurt, and denied. Not to say the hurt and injustice isn't there and doesn't need space. It does.

The thing is, I have both experiences simultaneously. Both experiences are true. Both need attending to. 

During the training, I spoke to Chastity, another mixed heritage Indigenous woman and a facilitator of the training, about this space we occupy as mixed heritage Indigenous people. I kind of wanted to know, what’s the deal? What do we do? Is there a club I can join? How do I convince other Indigenous folks that I’m Indigenous even though my skin is white? How do I convince the settler colonial world that yes I’m white too but that’s not the full story? And how do I deliver my story to them in a way they’ll hear me? She told me something that I’ve felt so deeply in my body before and knew to be true: there just isn’t many examples of us yet, there are not many people to go to for answers on what our work is. Of course there are mixed heritage people everywhere and there always has been, but our stories have been denied, shut down, quieted. The world we live in assumes whiteness, assumes we are white until proven otherwise, assumes we don’t have a story outside of whiteness. I felt a little broken and a little overwhelmed with this realization. I was hoping there would be a club I could join. I was hoping there was a manual I could read. Turns out this might be part of the work…

Then as a group we dug a little deeper into our privilege. Before this training I understood on an intellectual level that, yes, I have privilege. I am a white skinned, cis-gender, able bodied (relatively) woman who has lived a pretty heteronormative existence with access to health care, clean water, education, housing, and first world safety. I always thought I “did my work”, so to speak, and that I acknowledged my privilege and used it to centre the voices of folks who don’t have the same access as I do. To some extent, I have. I don’t want to completely deny the fact that I have done some work because I have and sinking into self-deprecation is a recipe for more inaction and a trigger for my depression. And still, I knew there was more to the story. 

What I couldn’t shake was this feeling that maybe I have been too slow to start some conversations, too shy to call out injustices, too stuck in my own pain to take action and maybe, too comfortable to move. In the supportive space we created during those four days, I had the emotional/physical/mental space to look non judgementally at what’s been going on for me. In that observation, I was able to look closer at how I’ve held or not held myself accountable. I was able to look at how my pain was keeping me stuck in ways I didn’t realize. I was able to look at the ways in which I keep my pain close because it feels comfortable. 

A lot became unstuck for me during those four days and it has continued to create shifts in my life. I moved through a lot, i sorted through some emotions, I released a lot of physical tension, I released some outdated stories about myself, I came to some stark realizations. I usually live with jaw/neck pain and tension and depending on what is going on in my life, it can range from debilitating to a nuisance. During my sleep I often wake up with pain in my hands and jaw from clenching my hands and grinding my teeth so hard. The tightness and restriction in my body was also causing a rigidness in the way I saw myself, a constricted feeling in the way I carried myself in the world. During and after our four days together, I noticed I had a lot more space in my physical body and i woke up without pain my body for the first time in what feels like ages. 

Part of the work for me is realizing that I have to keep investigating, holding space for myself, moving through emotions/patterns/pain in order to keep conscious of the power I do have so that I can take action. Privilege is a power in this world that can be used in material ways to keep oppressive systems in place or it can be used to disrupt those systems and point out the injustices. I have a lot of power and I have a far reach in disrupting racism/colonialism/ableism etc. Also, I need a lot of support and need to move through a lot of pain/sadness/grief because of my shifting identity and the trauma I have experienced. It’s both. It’s always both. It always was both. With this shifted perspective, this little bit more depth to my analysis, I hope to keep moving. 

I kept thinking about my turtle analogies throughout the training and I went back and forth on whether I still feel turtle-like or if maybe that doesn’t work anymore. I came to the conclusion that I still really like being a turtle. Whether slowly walking on the earth or swimming fast through the water, and sometimes somewhere in between, I am still like turtle. Slow but determined. Fast and active. Protected by a shell if I need it.  

Kristin Kowalko

 Kristin is a mixed heritage woman of musgamagw dzawada'enuxw First Nations and mixed European descent. She lives on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish people in Vancouver BC where she works as a Social Worker supporting youth and families.