Embodied Equity

Healing Oppression, Honoring Ancestors, and Watching the Leaves Change

By Embodied Equity

Winter is coming, and the leaves are painted with their imminent death. A patchwork of orange and red, flashes of green overtaken by browns, greys, and spots of black.

We give dying flowers, not flower buds, as a sign of love. We give flowers closer to death because that is when they are most beautiful. I live in a society that fears death; thinks it’s ugly and unclean. We do our best to hide it and hide from it.

Despite our fear, the process of transformation that includes death is so beautiful we are mesmerized by it, enchanted by it, drawn to it. We drive for miles to watch the leave “change.” To watch the leaves die.

Dying leaves are in process, in movement. As orange overtakes green, we hear the whispers of ancient stories of cycle, change, and transformation. We are soothed as we watch the leaves die. Soothed by the truth of their story. Truth is beauty.

The truth is life will change and transform.

It may hurt or take me to an outcome I do not understand, like death. But something is going right when life changes, not wrong. The leaves remind me of the beauty inherent in the aspects of life I do not like or understand.

Despite my protests, life changes and transforms. To life, change is movement and movement is good. Stagnation, the lack of movement, might be considered bad. If such binaries even exist.

Stagnation is putrid; the place wounded skin turns green, and slime gathers. My unhealed trauma cannot see this. To my unhealed trauma, stagnation feels safe. I slow life down. I freeze it. I keep it still. I keep an eye on it…

Change and transformation are alive. For my trauma, aliveness is too wild. It is uncontrollable and unpredictable. Aliveness appears threatening inside a traumatized worldview. A colonized worldview.

Inside this worldview, I do not trust life– I fight life. I do not trust change– I fight change. I do not trust transformation– I fight transformation. I do not trust death– I fight death.

Fighting life has been my way of life. I fought the reality of loss, the reality of my own humanity (my feelings), and the reality of other human beings. I fought and I won.

I won climate change, systems of oppression, and tension and inflammation in my body. My body called Leanne. My body called Humanity. My body called Mother Earth.

My shoulders sag under the weight of my trophies.

Recently, I have noticed the leaves of oppression are changing. Change and transformation are doing their sacred work; they are healing.

Healed is wonderful. Healing is a tender, pus-filled, inflamed, and scary endeavor.

Everywhere I look, I see healing. People are inflamed. They are tender and raw. They are digging into their wounds to remove the debris. They are allowing the healing process to transform their wounds into scars.

I do not always remember that we are healing. Sometimes it looks like something is wrong. I root around in my own raw and tender flesh to pluck out the shards that prevent my healing. The pain is unbearable. Something must be wrong.

I keep digging because I know that something is right. I am cleaning the wound so the process of change will seal it closed completely. Later, I will marvel at how smooth the scar is. Barely noticeable.

Today, the shards I find in my wound are my fear about the fragility of my human body, my shame that I am not good enough and never will be, and my panic that I am utterly and unfixably alone.

Today, I am with family. As someone with an unhealed wound full of piercing shards of fear, shame, and panic, I become a dangerous and oppressive person in an instant.

Living with glass in an unhealed wound is an intense way to live. When someone innocently touches my arm, I yelp in pain and smack their hand away. I feel involuntary and intensely defensive.

I promise myself I will stay calm. I mediate. I am going to succeed this time. Then, it happens: someone shares a belief.

The argumentative and self-righteous tone of my voice is deafening. I barely hear what happens next. I watch the trainwreck, bewildered by how quickly I lost control. My ears are ringing.

When I find myself again, I am sicked by my aggressive expressions of pain. I retreat to a dark, quiet room to sort out what happened. I sift through the wound, find each shiny splinter, and cry.

My defensiveness feels involuntary. A family member tells me what they believe about life, and I yell before I notice I am yelling.

Over time, as I remove the glass and the wounds begin to heal, I become less and less injured. I am no longer reactive when people share their beliefs.

When the wound is healed, there is nothing sharp in me to poke. I do not yelp when someone’s life touches mine. A loved one believes something and I am unharmed. There is no shard of panic to be poked. I do not feel unbearably alone, so I do not feel desperate to force agreement and avoid the pain of isolation.

I have a spacious and rational inner dialogue about how I want to respond. Sometimes I respond simply by feeling the grief, fear, or alienation that arises when I notice that they believe what they believe.

This is a shift out of my oppressive behavior into liberatory behavior. In the worldview of trauma that was institutionalized into oppressive systems, I seek to control anything that I view as more powerful than me.

It looks as if someone else’s belief makes me lose my cool. It looks like their belief is stronger than me so I fight it, control it, suppress it.

I only seek to control and suppress that which seems more powerful than me. I never oppress kittens. I am not afraid of them. But when a lion walks by, I begin to ponder the value of cages.

Maybe I grab a whip, just in case. Hurting others is justified inside this worldview. Hurting others feels like a defensive action and any defensive action is justified. Worse still, any offensive action looks like a defensive action inside this worldview. A preemptive strike is valid, justified, and clearly a good idea.

I see how we arrived at this point in human history. There is still glass in the wound so it does not heal. As a result, everyone looks like a threat.

The time, space, and safety to heal was not available for my ancestors, or for yours. There was survival to do and kids to feed. The losses, grief, fear, and shame were overwhelming. It takes time in a dark, quiet room to sort out what happened and begin to heal.

Our ancestors could not heal quickly just because they needed to. They could not stop the movement of life just because they were not ready. They did their best. They stifled their feelings and needs and slaved away. They became tough as nails.

They offered their labor as a human sacrifice. A living prayer in exchange for a future blessing: A better life for their children and grandchildren.

It worked. We reaped the blessing of time, space, and safety that they sowed. A cushion of privilege they never had. We used it to heal and become artists instead of doctors.

They do not understand us now, and we do not understand them. As children and grandchildren, we see our grandparents’ toughness and their refusal to accept help and we think they are too hard. Our grandparents see our expressiveness and our ability to rest and they think we are too soft.

May they remember that this is what they wanted for us. May we endlessly sing gratitude for their living sacrifice. May we all benefit from the time, space, and safety to bring movement to stagnation, pick the glass from our wounds, and heal.

I see now. It was my grandparents’ job to be unbreakable, and it is my job to break in every way that they could not. To rip off the bandages, dig into the unhealed wounds, and feel every last sliver of feeling they could not feel.

I give honor and respect to my ancestors and yours.

May our healing bring you healing. May our softness wash back through time to cushion you. May you be at peace knowing you accomplished your goal, and we will accomplish ours.

The leaves are changing and I am grateful and terrified to be alive.

Join Leanne at her annual New Year’s Day Event and
begin 2022 with healing and intention.

Until next time… deepen and discover!
‘Embodied Equity,’ a limited-series guest blog authored by Leanne Alaman, focuses on deepening our understanding of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) by deepening our listening to the teachings of Mother Nature, our wise and humble teacher.

Hi, I’m Leanne! I provide paradigm-shifting equity support to organizational leaders and well-meaning individuals to move past well-meaning into well-doing. There are many ways to build your DEI capacity by working with me.  Learn more here.

Persimmons, Squirrels, and Noticing My Entitlement

By Embodied Equity

Let me tell you about the time I fought the squirrels for sole ownership of the backyard persimmons. 

At first, the persimmons were barely visible–smooth, green orbs perfectly camouflaged in the leaves. Then one day, they ignited in a flame of orange. I noticed them. And so did the squirrels.

One by one, I began to notice holes in each persimmon as the orange brightened into ripeness. In their acrobatic attempts to eat the hanging fruit, the squirrels knocked partially-eaten persimmons to the ground. They were swarmed with ants or rotten in the sun by the time I noticed them.

My annoyance and anxiety grew with each lost persimmon. I mean, they didn’t even enjoy them. They just let them rot in the sun. ‘Entitled,’ I called them. ‘Ungrateful,’ I called them.

I started chasing them out of the tree when I saw them. I pondered buying a fruit tree net. I was starting to care a lot about persimmons.

In my 20s I worked as a peer mentor for young adults aging out of foster care who experienced mental illness. We didn’t acknowledge that they were also navigating the trauma, and the logistical nightmare, of racism, adultism, classism, and ableism, to name a few.

Entitled, we called them. Ungrateful, we called them.

The job wore us down. We navigated a bureaucratic system of intersecting oppressions that could not care about social workers or their clients. Forms and regulations do not have that capacity.

We went above and beyond for our clients because we did have that capacity. We advocated for them to get funds beyond rent and food support.

One day, my colleague returned to the office and slumped down into his chair. He had gone to triumphantly deliver the money he had fought for and won.

“He didn’t even say thank you…” The anger on his face was overshadowed by the exhaustion slipping down his shoulders.

Entitled, we called them. Ungrateful, we called them.

I’ve been called entitled and ungrateful in my life. People called me this when I did not reciprocate in the ways they wanted me to. We sometimes call it giving even though we expect something in return.

I was given $20 by a relative once. My only thought was, “well, this doesn’t even help.” I had a long list of necessities I needed to pay for immediately or face consequences.

At that time, I was lost in a labyrinth of trauma and the logistical nightmare of racism, classism, and ableism, to name a few. The tightness in my throat was so dense I felt like I was choking most of the day. I knew I should feel grateful, but I could not think of a single grateful thought.

Worse still, that drop into my ocean of need only served as a reminder of how vast the need was and how unequipped I was to address it. The gift only made me feel sick to my stomach. I do not remember how I responded to the pause that was gently inserted for me to express my gratitude…

Entitled, they called me. Ungrateful, they called me.

I noticed my own entitlement one day while sitting in my car, waiting for the light to turn green. A young man, who looked tired beyond his years, held a sign asking for money. At the time, I prided myself on being someone who had learned some lessons about giving. I felt very advanced.

I gave him $5 and a heartfelt smile. He took it and walked away. As he sat back down on the curb, I noticed an expectation of a thank you that had been hiding behind my gift. More still, I had expected a $5 thank you, not a $1 thank you. 

Entitled, I could have called him. Ungrateful, I could have called him. He could have said the same about me.

Entitled. Ungrateful. Desperate. Panicked. Alone. Unseen. Afraid. Overwhelmed. Resilient. Determined. Persistent. Unyielding. Tired.

We all know what it is like to be tired. Especially now, almost two years into this COVID-19 expansion in the game called life.

What a gift it would be to take the burden of our entitlement off those around us. Especially those weighed down by systems of oppression. When I imagine this collective shift of entitlement, I feel weight roll off my shoulders. It feels easier to breathe.

I asked myself why I felt so entitled to the persimmons.

I have lost a lot since the beginning of COVID-19; My health, my housing, my home, my friends, my colleagues, the woman I was dating, and the person I was when I had those things. I am still sad and reeling from the shifts.

Part of me had had enough. I am tired, it said. I cannot feel this anymore, it said.

The refusal to feel my grief feels like a constriction in my body. It gets hard to breathe. Each subsequent loss of a persimmon ignites the feeling of loss that was already there. I tighten and constrict about each new loss to avoid feeling the reservoir of stagnating grief about my losses. I don’t actually care about persimmons, but I have started plotting and chasing squirrels.

Things get off track when I refuse to feel my feelings. I could feel and release the grief, or I could start a war with an unsuspecting population over a resource that suddenly feels desperately important.

I see the dynamic stretch out behind me, across time and human history.

What if my coworker had been willing to see and appreciate himself for how hard he worked for our client? If he needed to be seen a little more, what if he asked us, his coworkers and supervisor, to see it too? We could have celebrated the determination and love we saw in him together. I think we would have been happy to.

I say to myself, “Leanne, I see how much you have lost. I am so sorry that it feels like you have lost everything. I see how hard you worked for so many years to cultivate that life. I know it feels hard to start over. I see that you miss what you had. I see that you are so very tired. What I like about you is that you never give up. And you have learned to rest along the journey, so I know you can do this. I am here whenever you need to talk or feel sad.”

I curl up in the lap of the kind words and snuggle into a calm, grounded feeling. It is nice to be seen when people like what they see. I can give myself the gift of liking what I see in me.

Naturally and easily, I loosen my grip on the persimmons. Naturally and easily, I notice things from the squirrels’ point of view. After seeing things from their point of view, I naturally and easily care about them.

I suddenly feel excited that they get to enjoy a nice meal. Winter is coming. I will still have a grocery store, but their backyard grocery store will close for the winter. There is fresh fruit now, but not for long.

I start leaving apples out by the persimmon tree for the squirrels. I forget to check if there are holes in the persimmons.

If feeling my feelings is all it takes to stop a war, be less judgmental of a young person living on the street, or feel validated instead of unappreciated at work, why don’t I feel them more?

I fear being seen because I am worried people won’t like what they see. They haven’t always. I haven’t always. But when I tell myself the supportive words I want to hear, being seen feels pretty great.

I have the opportunity to be the audience that gives me a standing ovation or the interviewer who is impressed with my responses. I can give myself the experience of being seen and liked.

For a while now, I have been the only slave driver, rapist, and warlord in my life. I relentlessly drove myself to work harder and longer. When I asked for rest, I lashed myself with shame and judgment. I forced my body to do things she did not want to do and told her she should be grateful for the opportunity. I waged war on those around me who accidentally reminded me of the trauma I would not feel.

But this month, by feeling my feelings, I naturally and easily became less entitled. I became less oppressive. I found greater liberation.

I hope you find it too.

Reflection Question:

  •  What do you notice about entitlement?

 Winter is coming.

Donate to the liberation and agency of people living on the street: Denver Homeless Out Loud 

Until next time… deepen and discover!
‘Embodied Equity,’ a limited-series guest blog authored by Leanne Alaman focuses on deepening our understanding of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) by deepening our listening to the teachings of Mother Nature, our wise and humble teacher.

Hi, I’m Leanne! I provide paradigm-shifting equity support to organizational leaders and well-meaning individuals to move past well-meaning into well-doing. There are many ways to build your DEI capacity by working with me.  Learn more here.

Strawberries, Oppression, + Getting What I Want

By Embodied Equity
In my garden, there is a strawberry plant.

The strawberries appear, quite magically, like little red, sparkling rubies in the sun. When I notice them sparkling there, I feel a desire to possess them. I look around to make sure no one else has seen them yet. I feel ashamed that I want them for myself. Perhaps my neighbor also feels longing and excitement about ruby red strawberries magically appearing in the sun.

I began to think that I should have asked the plant if I could have them before I hungrily snatched them up. It was a quiet thought in the back of my mind that my hunger refused to entertain. It changed the subject or made sure I “forgot” to ask until I had at least one jeweled prize in my hand.
“It would be silly to ask now,” my hunger taunted.

“Why can’t I just ask the plant?” I wondered, but my hunger changed the subject to some work I urgently needed to complete, so I walked off, urgently.

My inability to stay present with the question felt more and more uncomfortable. My relationship with the plant felt more and more out of alignment. Until a young, quiet voice broke through, Because, what if it says no?I felt my chest seize up, ever so slightly, at the thought that I might not possess my shining rubies again. I heard Gollum’s raspy voice in my head, “My precious.” My throat was tight.

I had been pondering how it happened that the Europeans who saw my ancestors in the beautiful rolling plains of Nigeria decided to kidnap them. What made them hunger for those beautiful, glittering jewels in the sun? What made them take, without asking? And what if they too were afraid to ask because they might be told “No”?

I’ve watched my own multifaceted response to this question when seeing several glittering jewels I follow on social media. Joyful, multi-patterned clothing, freedom to mix a beard with a ball gown, a fluorescent wig some days– because why the hell not?  My response to their freedom is a combination of profound respect, a bit of awe, and underneath those feelings something else that was hard to admit. A mixture of fear and anger. Thankfully, I’ve worked through the shame enough to admit to, and tend to, what lies beneath.

It takes courage and self-love to talk to that part of me that is afraid. To listen to what is happening inside of me rather than shame it. Because that part of me must be hurting. Hurt people hurt people… Self-hating people hate people… Self-fearing people fear people.

I listened to myself and the truth unfolded. The light of self-expression illuminated a place in me that had been hidden in darkness. A place where I could not — would not — go. The expressive clothes I would buy but never wear; the things I would think but never say. The light illuminated a reality. The rainbow cornucopia of expression that I am was stifled, muted. And my dull tones of grey looked even greyer next to the full-color explosion of a human being who is being true to themselves.
I noticed my own longing for more freedom with new eyes.

When the light of someone else’s honesty illuminates my lies, I have choices. The answer I choose when I’m not honest with myself is a split-second, unconscious, reaction. I attempt to turn off their light. It is an attempt to escape the illumination of my own inauthenticity and the suffering my inauthenticity creates.

I have access to a whole spectrum of destructive tactics to turn off their light. Grouped together we call them “oppression.” I can be dismissive of them in my own mind. I can speak dismissive or insulting words. I can speak punishing words. I can support punishing laws. I can take punishing actions. I can hit, I can kill, I can support or dismiss the hitting or killing others carry out.

These are the options I choose by default when I refuse to take responsibility for what is being illuminated in me. Upon meeting those indigenous people on Turtle Island and Alkebulan (Africa), and having some aspect of their own greyness illuminated, Europeans used these tactics as well.

Instead, what if they had just said, “I want what you have. I want it so badly it hurts in my bones. I think I used to have what you have. I don’t know what it is, or when I had it, or how I lost it. I am angry at you for making me notice. I am enraged with envy and I am scared of you and what you possess. I am scared to ask you to share because if you say no, I will feel like I have lost it all over again. But… Can you share with me?”
How different things could be.

In this dynamic, we can be aggressors or students. We get to choose which skillset we strengthen. We get to live in a world that reflects our choices. Now, it is not always appropriate to ask strangers to educate us. But, we always have the power to learn from those who shine a light on our darkness.

We can notice what is illuminated. We can let ourselves feel our own desire to have what they have and notice what stops us. Once we see what stops us, we can ask for help. We can Google it, read a book, or hire those who teach. We can feel gratitude for these unexpected teachers who teach just by existing. How generous!

So, I took a breath and I asked the plant for a strawberry. Grinning, she said “Of course! That’s why I grew them.”

I don’t remember eating the strawberry. But I do remember the freedom, exhilaration, and power of finally asking the impossible question. I do remember the taste of asking for what I really want.

Reflection Questions:

  • Based on my reactions of fear or anger, what do I long for more of?

  • What books, internet searches, service providers, etc. can support me to honor the part of me that longs for more?


Enjoy this poem! 

Until next time… deepen and discover!
‘Embodied Equity,’ a limited-series guest blog authored by Leanne Alaman focuses on deepening our understanding of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) by deepening our listening to the teachings of Mother Nature, our wise and humble teacher.

Hi, I’m Leanne! I provide paradigm-shifting equity support to organizational leaders and well-meaning individuals to move past well-meaning into well-doing. To learn more, visit my website and support my work.

Embodied Equity: Welcome

By Embodied Equity

Header photo credit to Amy Alaman, @afroblooms on Instagram
Authored by Leanne Alaman of Embodied Contribution

This new limited-series guest blog ‘Embodied Equity’ will focus on deepening our understanding of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) by deepening our listening to the teachings of Mother Nature, our wise and humble teacher.

In a world of misinformation and deception, it can feel difficult to discern the truth. But our dear Earth Mother never lies. By listening to this primordial mother, we deepen our lived experience of the truth of ourselves and each other.

This lived experience is true wisdom. Mother Nature wants to gift us everything we need, including wisdom–all we have to do is listen, deeply. How lucky we are to have this limitless and freely given resource!

In this blog, I’ll share what I’ve heard about JEDI through my own practice of deep listening. I hope this wisdom helps you to move through these times and greater appreciation and care for yourself and others.

I want to thank Denver Urban Gardens for engaging in the liberatory work of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion with me. May the seeds we plant today and tend tomorrow blossom into skillful adjustments at DUG that will benefit us all.

And, of course, thank you to indigenous people across the world for remaining wisdom holders and knowledge bearers despite unspeakable obstacles. Your faithfulness to the truth allowed a deeper and deeper path to be forged to it. As many more of us arrive here, please know we do so only because of your integrity. I trust you already know that one day you will be showered with gifts and gratitude commensurate with your contribution.

Until next time. Deepen and discover!

Hi, I’m Leanne! I provide paradigm-shifting equity support to organizational leaders and well-meaning individuals to move past well-meaning into well-doing.