The Mad and Crip Theology Podcast

Episode 11: Anastasia Watson and Michael Sersch

January 28, 2022 Season 1 Episode 11
The Mad and Crip Theology Podcast
Episode 11: Anastasia Watson and Michael Sersch
Show Notes Transcript

On today's episode, we talk with artist Anastasia Watson and psychotherapist Micheal Sersch. 

Anastasia has lived experience of epilepsy and she talks with us about her photographic piece entitled "Liminal Living" which was published in the new issue of the journal. About her photographs she explains: "Through the gift of symbolic language and, later, the visual narratives of film and photography, I have been able to point toward the liminal landscapes of health, hope, and ability. The images explore my experience of access and ability within academia. Within each image, I am using my physical form to embody sensations and struggles occurring within me and amplified by the cultural structures around me."

We also chat with psychotherapist Michael Sersch about his thoughts on the US capital attack one year after the event and discuss how we can love the "other." In Michael's article "Demonization and Our Discontent: The Challenge of Loving the Other in the Time of COVID" he explains "I distinctly remember the moment on January 6, 2021 when the US capital was attacked. Previously, I had found myself breathing a little easier since the previous election. I was finding that I was not on the same state of dread and fear, no longer constantly refreshing online news sites. My eye flutter had improved. Patients were no longer coming in and sharing how their own anxiety seemed to be spiraling out of control with the increasingly erratic behavior at the national stage. And then the attack occurred. I struggled to understand what was happening and what was motivating those involved."

To read/view their pieces, see the journal here:

Welcome to the Mad and Crip Theology Podcast, hosted by Miriam Spies and Amy Panton, which comes out of the Canadian Journal of Theology, Mental Health and Disability. We both live and work lands that have been homes and remain homes to the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Haudenosaunee, the Huron Wendat, the Neutral; and the Ojibway/Chippewa peoples and other peoples who have cared for the land.. We are grateful for the opportunity to live and work on this land and are mindful of the need to repair broken covenants.This podcast is an opportunity to model how faith communities can engage in theological and spiritual conversations around madness and cripness. If you need a full transcript you can find videos on our Youtube channel. We want to say before we begin that topics and conversations we are raising throughout our time together are often hard! They are hard for mad and crip people ourselves and hard for our families and loved ones.

So, do what you need to do to take care of yourselves, your bodies, minds, and hearts. And now, here is our episode.

Welcome to this episode of the Mad and Crip Theology Podcast. We're delighted to be here with Michael and Anastasia who are two of our fine contributors to the Fall 2021 issue of the journal. Amy? Thanks so much, thanks so much Miriam and welcome Michael and Anastasia. It's so nice to see both of you here this afternoon and we just had a little bit of a technical glitch. We we tried to record this intro a few few minutes ago and so we're re-recording it now, so I was just saying it's a bit of a groundhog moment, right, groundhog day moment right now, but nevertheless we still love technology. Um okay so I’m gonna ask both of you just to introduce yourselves. Let us know your pronouns and also your connection to the journal and if you could please also give us a visual description of ourselves for our listeners, that would be amazing. So Michael, can I ask you to start us off please? Sure, my name is Michael Search or Mike is fine, I use he, him, and his pronouns. A little bit about myself -- I am married. I have two kids from an earlier relationship. I live in the States in Wisconsin and work at a mental health clinic that is also connected to a mental health hospital and we have outpatient services including suboxone and methadone.

I am in a kind of sunlit room I have horn-rim glasses a cardigan and a bow tie with a beard and hair that used to be red and is no longer red as time goes on, the ravages of age. And I’m here because I submitted an article on demonization in political discourse particularly looking at the capital attack in the united states which occurred a year and a day ago.

Thank you so much Michael, and silver or white hair just means you have a lot of wisdom to impart to the rest of us so yes thank you. And and so Anastasia, I’m going to invite you to introduce yourself now please. Thanks Amy. My name is Anastasia Watson and I’m an artist and newer academic. I’m in a program at Emmanuel College, training to become a psychotherapist and a hospital chaplain. I contributed a photographic essay called Liminal Living to the journal and it was an exploration of what it's like to live with invisible disabilities and try and maneuver one's way through a very structured academic environment and some of the challenges that go along with that. To pick up on the white hair commentary I have what my youngest nephew calls superhero hair and I’ll take that. So I have very salt and pepper hair and I too wear glasses. I’m in a space that there's a little bit of sunlight coming in, it's a basement studio office with some light and artwork and plants behind me. And I do not have a beard but I do share that white hair. And yeah I’m just really happy to be here today. I have a gray sweater on and glasses that somewhat match my hair and my clothes actually with black and white rims to them, so nice to be here.

Oh sorry, I use uh she/her pronouns as well and I think that was all you asked. Did I miss anything Amy? No you got it and I totally agree that you do have Rogue hair. I’m an X-man. I know I took, I was so pleased when a little boy was like "Auntie, you have superhero hair!" I was like, "That's right, that's what white hair is about, super hero hair totally!"

So when we would jump into question number one and this is for both of you, we will have Anastasia respond first.

You both did some work to develop a deeper understanding of yourselves or the other and why was this process important to you?

I think for me I was putting some heart attention on this one not just mind attention for a little bit. And I think the most honest answer I can give is I think I have othered myself, because my disability is an invisible disability -- I live with epilepsy and I’ve had over 10 concussions so that has various repercussions from it, but it's not something that unless someone saw me having migraines or having a seizure or any of the various symptomology, it's not something that anyone would know about me. And um, I have been informed by people that the way that I speak and present myself people assume that I don't have a disability. And that was for a long time a lot more comfortable for me and that's based on internalized ableism and all sorts of cultural factors that get in there, and so for a long time because my education was disrupted constantly by my disability, but it was a disability that no one could see, my life looked like I was someone who just made bad choices to people who didn't know me from the outside. Um so things have taken much much longer for me to achieve because I have to keep my health in balance. And so in some ways, the photographic essay was a more direct route to an honest sharing of how I emotionally felt about my experiences trying to have to complete my education because when I write I can write very eloquently and I end up trying to fit into more academic parameters. And the truth of exploring myself, getting to know myself as an artist in an academic context and someone who risked going back to academia, when every time I’ve attended university in the past it resulted in excessive numbers of seizures like 20 seizures a day or more at different points in my life, coming back to the university academic environment was quite frightening but it that's not something I wanted to admit to most people, because of all the reasons why most people have a hard time with vulnerability. And so this photographic essay was a way for me to bypass my frontal cortex which has a very easy job communicating and get into the the soma of my truth and my experience and what it's like to genuinely navigate the world with something that's invisible or entirely misunderstood by most people, and so the the imagery did a better job than I was able to through the written word at that time. So I think it was about trying to build relationship, trying to stop othering myself and build relationship with myself and find out all the sticky places where my culture or what I was taught to aim towards as a successful life, to start asking those questions of myself like what sorts of pressures had I put on myself and um

were they actually in line with my values were they in line with what I believe or were they just things that because I could hide my disability I kept trying to like on a hamster wheel run after even though they weren't working for me. So it was an interesting process. I’m really grateful to have had the chance to do it.

Thank you so much Anastasia.

And Michael?

Um, yeah othering and and awareness of the self, um. I came to this project as part of a larger like bit of writing and research on demonization and possession from a mental health lens but this particular piece I was really like placing myself in the midst of oh my what's happening in my country? What's going on here? This looks like a coup and how do I respond to that and how do I understand that? And in some interesting ways like boy I’ve got my own gripes with the government but I don't think I share any of the same gripes that the folks who are like attacking the capital are sharing. And you know I you know and I’ve been to Washington D.C. in a protest but it never looked like that so how do I make sense of what's happening and and grapple with that you know as part of this larger project I that was what I was attempting to do. And and in the process you know depending on the moment or depending on the day I am understanding and sympathetic or I am still aghast and rageful and I I kind of toggle between these two emotional states, probably depending on where I’m at you know, have I eaten, have I slept, so you know that's kind of what what led me to that especially thinking through both a mental health and theological lens, you know as a person of faith, as a person working in the mental health field you know, what what's going on and how do I interact with my you know my patients who are also figuring this out or responding to Covid and you know this is all part of this larger moment that we are in, um a very interesting, exhausting, and unique moment, at least I hope it's unique.

Yes we hope it's unique too Michael and I was interesting I was watching I think it was I was watching the news yesterday and even Canadian news was picking up the fact that it was a it's you know one year to the day and just they were talking about you know how many people died during the capitol attack and it's a it's a big thing I really do hope that it is behind us now. Um so thank you both for for those wonderful answers and we wanted to um ask you Michael about if we could dig a little bit more into this idea of demonization and when Miriam and I were sitting and thinking about questions that we wanted to ask you, we were thinking you know on the left we we can demonize people just as much as the right does and do you have any thoughts you could offer listeners about how we move towards love and away from from rage especially in the context of the insurrection and we wanted to ask you too you know a year after the insurrection -- is that happening? Um you know are people moving more towards love and away from rage and like with the people that you're um providing care for even in your own social circles or is it does it seem to be going the other way?

I mean the the first thing that immediately pops to my mind is the scene in one of my all-time favourite novels by Steven Mitchell who, if you're familiar with his work he does uh kind of theological and classical translations, he's done the Tao de ching and the epic of gilgamesh and some other, just he's a really neat writer but he has this novel called, "My Conversations with the Archangel," and in the novel these two characters who are both like super into Tibetan meditation are talking about the their practice and one of the things that they're both practicing is this loving meditation and you know they start with like loving mom and then extending further and further and further out and trying to get to people that they don't necessarily like, that they may be opponents with, that you know that truly are others, and one of them says, "Yeah I, this works really well, I get pretty far, Hitler though, Hitler's tough." And it's so real, like I literally laughed out loud when I first hit that because yeah Hitler is tough right, and I think you know we can have that and I think trying to have a practice of you know loving kindness towards others whether that is rooted in a Buddhist perspective or Christian perspective or you know any any perspective at all, but yeah really how do I understand and love this other person you know? This was you you may be saying something I find totally I’m totally opposed to but you were, you know, you were an infant whose mother cared for them and father cared for them and you other people cared for them, you're worthy of love reminding myself of that is helpful. I don't always do it you know, I failed pretty frequently but you know aim for that. The second part of the question is it happening within the culture particularly political culture in the United States? No. I mean I feel like we're just we steadily get further and further away from it. Yeah we just had the beautiful eulogies for Desmond Tutu and I think he you know what what a great example of a person who could call out injustice when he saw it but was also like let's work towards reconciliation, you know my hope is that as you know we can kind of follow these examples of those who you know look to bridge and connect and understand you know I think that South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission has really something to say to the entire world. I would love to see more of that happening in whatever way, I’m not super confident it will occur but you know this is this is I guess where faith comes in and we can all do our part.

Thank you so much Michael yeah I was um thinking as you were talking, Miriam and I, on the last podcast that we just recorded today she shared a story about beautiful story about Desmond Tutu and Miriam do you wanna do you wanna share that just now maybe for our listeners who didn't get a chance to hear, I think uh it's just been so wonderful to think about his legacy.

Okay sure I heard an interview last week after his death um with Father Michael Lapsley, I think that's how I may be mispronouncing his name but Father Michael was a is a priest in South Africa and during the apartheid, he had both his hands um blown off by a letter bomb and after this happened he went to his bishop who said, "I like I have no place to put you now, you're disabled." And then somehow I forget how he got connected with Archbishop Tutu who said, "Yes of course come and serve with me, Ihave this minister who is in a wheelchair and this minister who is blind...

so the idea of seeing possibilities in the other, um is something that I hear in your work also Michael so thank you for sharing.

And now we'll turn to Anastasia's work for a bit

And you touched on this briefly in the opening but if you want to say more about how your art helps you connect with parts of yourself that others may not know about and how does art impact your understanding of faith or your practice of spiritual care and finally we hope you want to share your photos and talk a bit about them so.

Thank you I will try and remember the order of those questions but to start with absolutely we can share the photos that's no problem so I’ll go from last back to first possibly so

for me my journey of faith I think I’ve doubted myself as someone who is a person of faith because I’ve had so many questions and I didn't find a sense of comfortable refuge inside of

almost any religion including the one I was born into and and the various ones I explored when I was a teenager and I had a very religiously exploratory youth I would say in that I was blessed to have catholic parents who gave me a united church set of God parents who were open to letting me you know experience Buddhist meditation and didn't have a problem when I started studying and became a yoga teacher so there was like a variety of influences in my life and ironically it was two catholic priests who set me on later in life like when I was about five I met two catholic priests father Charles from Kenya and another priest from when I was very young who was from northern India and their stories to me and my childhood planted seeds of curiosity about other cultures and how other people live out a relationship to what is mysterious to them and what many people call God or their guru or whatever title to that that that someone offered whatever God language someone's using so art to me was always the most direct place

that felt most similar to how I felt when I was in nature so I would say at this point in my life I have a fairly strong identification with an eco-spirituality and what many people might call a panentheistic faith so I really truly experience God in and through people and the world around us and believe that God expresses God's self through all creatures and is a part of us but also beyond us so it's not um hierarchical in the way that I’ve understood it or been taught it throughout my youth and I find that art is a beautiful tool for

removing hierarchies in a lot of ways like the practice of art-making anyways has this beautiful impact of limiting hierarchy and creating a space where faith can be experiential and participatory so often art-making has been

uh it I don't know how else to describe it other than it kind of also is liminal it's this in-between space where things that go beyond what I can know or what I can claim to know sometimes emerge so I find art and the concept of grace the theological concept of grace very closely connected for me in my personal experience and for my artist friends who are vhemenent that they are not theologically inclined which is totally okay and for my theological friends who are very convinced that they're not artists I do hear everyone describing almost exactly the same emotional state when it comes to either their religious ritual practices or their art making practices and I can sometimes feel a little bit diffuse because I really feel like I’m in the middle and I it's important to me to be someone who's rooted in a place of integrity so I have kind of expansive conversations with both my art group of friends and my theologically inclined group of friends because I don't fit perfectly in either of those spaces but I do experience the reality of both inside of each other so I feel that it offered from a place of being a true vessel sermons and the delivery of theology whether it's in oral form or written form is an art form and art offered from a non-egoically based place where you're allowing yourself to be used as a vessel often has messages of unification and love and service that are often associated with religion and so for me I think art has been art and nature have been my two most most consistent religious paths which is a little bit confusing at times depending on the company I find myself in but when I’m hanging out with trees it's very clear and there is no problem with it so yeah so art making is my path to

a God of my understanding because it is both specific and expansive and I also find the same in nature because even when I think of the science of what we're discovering about nature it is constantly evolving universes that are constantly expanding the possibilities are genuinely endless so I guess from I don't guess for me the ideas of what has been spoken of as God or guru throughout time is most beautifully expressed in relationship and that can be with ourselves or with other people or with other beings who are not human but but God emerges one of our wonderful professors at the college Natalie Wigg-Stevenson was speaking about how God emerges almost like performance art it's like this middle space where action and relationship are occurring I don't want to butcher her work so I’m not going to say any more than that but the general idea of God being a relational being felt very true for me and so art is a very relational process whether you're doing it on your own or with other people

That's fantastic Anastasia. Amy is gonna share the screen with your work and I wonder if you could talk about talk about one or two pieces here sure describe them and then say what they mean to you maybe now

I think the part that I’ve come to enjoy the most about these pictures because there were there were more that were taken but I think it connects very directly back to what I was saying about this process being a process of not othering myself and coming into conversation with internalized ableism because the first couple of pictures were me attempting to do this photographic essay on my own with like the equipment that I had and the props that I had and I had the same props were there so the same quote-unquote raw materials were available but I was trying to do it on my own which I’ll have you know as a human climbing into a parrot cage that's a difficult thing to do when all you have is a timer on your phone it's just a little ridiculous so the photos are blurry and it's not that they're bad photos I think they're perfect photos to capture what happens when we think we have to do things on our own you can set it up you can have you know the the the props of your life you can have all of that set up so perfectly but the actual engagement with it the use of those things is so much more difficult if you don't have the amount of time that you need or you don't have the support that you need and so the last two photos that are taken were taken with the support of a really dear friend who's also a great photographer and so they're

the next one down Amy sure Anastasia could you just give us like a just tell us what the pictures look like for people who are listening that'd be awesome so as I mentioned there's a parrot cage in these photos it's a very large bird cage it's green and rusty and there is a door that is sort of human-sized but not really it's meant for a parrot you can fit in here but it's designed for a bird and not a person and that's what makes me an artist and then there's also very old books a lot of them are actually 50 to 100 years old they're leather-bound books and there is a old typewriter and they're all all of these things are placed in slightly different arrangements sometimes the books are outside of the cage sometimes they're inside of the cage but I am in three of the four photos always separate from the books like they are they are very close and I’m looking towards them or I’m trying to get out of the cage but there's always a barrier between me and the books and so it's it's a taking the reality of an invisible disability that has made education difficult and making it literal physical and symbolic and the very last photo is me no longer separate from the books but sitting in front of the cage with the door open and there's a stack of books there and I’m comfortably reading one of the books which I found hilarious that there was a book that I had access to that was literally called endurance so that's the book that I’m watching and reading because that's been a big part of of the journey is like sometimes literally having to take years off but then rallying and getting over any internalized fears or judgment of self or even just institutional barriers because a lot of institutions don't like large blocks of time empty on your resume so learning how to present oneself authentically and honestly and without making excuses but actually naming the things that I’ve learned from living with this invisible disability and what happens when you have to take three years off because you don't not learn things while you're healing there's a massive process both emotionally spirit beyond both emotionally spiritually and physiologically things have to shift and morph and change during these windows of healing and so learning how to communicate that and the last photo is just me sitting comfortably reading the book and having access to the books that I need as opposed to being separate from them but the part that I love about it is the actual creative process literally mirrored my educational process so the first part was just me constantly trying to do it on my own not having accommodations not having support all those sorts of things and then the last two photos are with the support of my friend who's a photographer who also happened to have really nice lighting and I could take breaks so that I wasn't getting migraines and like all of these things are very true and even with my friend's support um at the end of the photo essay I was completely done like even with the breaks and the accommodations and all of that I needed to rest afterwards so it's just a really beautiful metaphor and literal process that reflects living with well I can only speak to invisible disabilities but my friends who don't have invisible disabilities speak of a similar process where you have to manage your energy and what you're doing and make intentional choices in that way so

so powerful thank you for sharing and for those listening to the podcast I recommend you go to the journal page and look at the pictures as we are talking now. Amy I turn it to you.

Thanks Miriam yeah Anastasia I can feel a lot of resonance with what you're saying as a fellow migraine person needing to have a lot of rest is really important and I was very grateful to be able to also realize that I couldn't do school on my own and to be able to get the accommodations that I needed especially for exams to be able to like you know take breaks and from the furious typing because I took exam my phd exams like in person because this is before covid but yeah I’m I feel a lot of resonance with what you're saying so now we're gonna take a little bit of time to invite you both to talk to each other about your work if there's any questions that arose for you as you were reading or reviewing each other's work or if you have any comments you'd like to offer one another so I’m going to invite Michael would you mind getting us started? sure thing thanks Anastasia I i loved the photos the interaction between the picture and the text below as you were talking about you know like I begin doing this alone and I you know but by the end I’m doing this with someone that's reflected in the text and and what a change you get in that emotion of the photo I think was so so interesting I’m also a great lover of old books so I presumed that when you pulled out the endurance book that was intentional to find out it was like just happenstance or you know you know that was just in the pile I think was you know very funny I don't know if this was intentional on your part or not but the typewriter disappears I was wondering by the end where's the typewriter like is there significance that the typewriter is gone or did it just like you just couldn't fit it in the photo like?

well practically speaking there is a photo where I am on top of the cage and it's very it was very painful physically to get on top of the cage and have the typewriter but it was more there was one photo where like the typewriter was inside of the cage and and I think for me even though it wasn't necessarily like planned out as I said I was going to do this quote unquote all on my own and so there was just an interaction I always identified as an author when I was or as a writer when I was younger the truth is I’m a poet and there's like a really big difference in those things even though a lot of people conflate them and so the typewriter was more of this part of the process of me being like am I does that actually fit is that actually a part of like where I’m progressing to because the work that I find I’m doing academically right now fits under the umbrella of theo poetics and as much as my professors are lovely they're like you know you're trying to do something very hard you're trying to bridge two very different worlds and that was sort of what the typewriter was signifying is that I was trying to be this writer and in the end it really is more me and the text and how I feel and respond to it and then I create from that place so the typewriter disappeared mostly because I’m a poet and not a writer I can write but the way I access academic papers the way I accessed this project was to write a series of poems first and so and endurance was an intentional choice once I found out it was an option but it was literally just in this giant stack of old books and I was like this is perfect so it was intentional and not simultaneously yeah thank you

I mean it also the whole series really seems to speak to this theme of liberation you know you're you begin caged and in the end you're out of the cage and you know there's help but there's also that the enjoyment of the text too so I mean it was a very moving series um you know i'd be fascinated to read the poems that were connected to it

well I’ll have to keep moving forward in that way I’ve got a bunch of them now on the go but that would be thank you for sharing it's such a gift to be able to share one's artwork and then actually hear from the people who it's it's touched so I really appreciate your words thank you

is Amy am I allowed to just ask a question or did you want to like oh you can just go go for it great thank you okay so

Michael I felt like I learned so much from your work and that my background is very different from what you were presenting so I’m hoping that these questions are you know in line with what you were aiming for but my the biggest thing that kept coming up over and over again for me was

I found your inclusion of braiding sweetgrass fascinating because I actually know a lot about that text and have a friend who did

a documentary with the author and so I was wondering if you'd be willing to speak a little bit more to it felt like you were trying to point to positive versions of endism I don't know if that's an accurate interpretation of what you wrote but I don't know a ton about that I’ve only heard of the like sort of heavier as you said demonized versions of people who are using that term so I was wondering if you could could dig in a little bit to end ism in in sort of a more ecologically balanced version which it felt like you were pointing to and then my other question is even though you were pointing to things that were referred to as axes and then you said potentially they're more schemas I’m wondering if they all I know they look and sound different I’m firmly rooted in the second one of the oppressor and oppressed and I recognize the limitations of that but I sometimes wonder whether or not they're all feeding each other and quite similar and if you think that these axes or schemas that emerge culturally are actually a somatically based stress response and just a part of being human as opposed to these intellectual concepts we like to think of and like frame our actions under but whether or not they live more directly in people's fight or flight slash freeze or fawn however detailed you want to get into the neuroscience of it if you think it's a part of being human or if you think it's something that's grown out of a dysfunction of humanity like if it's something we kind of have to learn how to love because it's inherently a part of who we are as humans or if something went squirrely and we jumped the shark and now there's these dysfunctional expressions of that

those were my main questions oh my gosh I got so many places those are great great questions yeah um uh the the the first one endism so

if anyone's not familiar with the wonderful text by robin wall kim or brading sweetgrass you know she she's a potawatomi member as well as quite an accomplished botanist and her her book is just it's wonderful and it's great because you can you can take it in small doses like each chapter is kind of fairly independent so you know I find it very refreshing like I keep dipping into it and one of the things that she talks about is this tradition within the potawatomi and the other the other two tribes of the three the three fire tribes where there's this prophecy that says there are seven times and you know seven distinctive times that also relate to the seven spots where the potawanomi had stopped in their journey from further on the east coast to where they're currently living in the midwest and as part of that there's the sense of you know there's an ecological crisis as part of this the seventh fire the seventh spot and we can either choose to work together collaboratively and bring about healing or things are not going to go well and you know her point is we're kind of there folks you know and I think that that's very true we're there folks are we working together or are we not are we going to be serious about climate change are we going to be serious about you know recognizing the the dignity of the other person or or aren't we and this is a very different way of thinking about the end times than you know jesus on the white horse coming in you know revelation and there's streams of blood and you know I mean you know some of these these stories that come out of revelations that are really quite terrifying

and that does seem to segue nicely to your your question on the different axes or different schemas you know that I stumbled across this guy klein who had said you know there are three he argued there are three different distinct schemas going on conservative folks who say there is you know civilization versus barbarity progressives who say there's oppressor versus oppressive and like you know I firmly I’m like yeah that seems like it makes a lot of sense to me and then libertarians who say you know there's freedom versus control and there's did seem to be something in each of these places even though I’m clearly identifying with one of them I don't know to answer your question on is this a just part of humanity is or is this something that's squirrely and jump the shark I love that that description it's just yeah squirrely and jump this I might steal that from you I’ll try and cite you whenever possible but wonderful yeah I’ll take citations anywhere but for that in particular that's hilarious but yeah what I mean what are you thinking is this part of who we are or is this just where we're at I honestly don't know it's a great question so I have had an interesting conversation I think this would be such a rich place to explore it

across the spectrum of people that I have relationships with there are people who focus predominantly on their spirituality as their pathway towards change or whether or not they even think change is like any of their business so like one a recent conversation I had was a very dear friend of mine telling me that their guiding belief is that they need to tend to their spiritual connection with their guru and then everything else sort of lines up outside of that and I love my very dear friend because we were able to have a conversation where I was like I think that's a real bad idea when it comes to the planet like I think I think that if we are only orienting towards prayer

that's assuming that something outside of us is going to make the difference when it comes to the ecological crises that we find ourselves in so that I mean I love my friends because that spiraled into a two-hour wonderful conversation that had lots of layers to it I can't say I know the answer to the question I asked you I would be a very wealthy and very different woman if I had the answer to climate change but I think that for me I think it's the reporting of humanity so to to clarify that I think that it's the villainization of what people view as negative or selfish instincts so somatically based realities things that were called hedonism and then as we moved forward in history we come to the industrial revolution and there's this explosion of business concepts and then that fits real easily into the oppressor versus the oppressed model right like that's when you start to it's not that it started there but it's just really easy to point there and I for me I think one of the bigger things that's missing is the acceptance or the promotion of accepting that we have all of these qualities inside of us so even if you identify more firmly inside of one category versus the other you do have the potential and have in larger or smaller ways lived out these qualities and what I find is that in our so our social constructs right now even if you just use darwin and the whole idea of you know I think therefore I am and just the misuse of quotes over time is the idea that we've limited ourselves to what we think and what we believe and we don't weave that cohesively into how we be and embody our lives and and so we position ourselves in a binary we position ourselves where it feels like you have to make a choice all the time and if you don't that you're kind of pinned to the wall for that and it's pointed out as a weakness as opposed to a step towards integration or wholeness but that's as far as I’ve gone with it and then I would have tossed that right over to like what fuels the rage for mostly middle class white men I just desperately wanted to ask you that I was like where did you go with that because that's a whole that's someone's actual career to study that like that's a lifetime of study so but those are the the thoughts that I’ve had they're not answers but they're like pulling from history and theology and social culture landscapes so oh yeah great I mean yeah there's so much so much there your example of the friend and their relationship with the guru reminded me of a story with thomas merton I don't know if you're familiar you know mid-century monastic deeply committed to social change but also like I’m staying in this contemplative practice and the vietnam war is raging around him and several anti-vietnam activists who were really close with merton had like seriously considered maybe we need to kidnap him we need to get him out of the monastery and they didn't you know and most of them have actually disappeared into history but merton and you know the the wisdom and writing continued so I mean that tension is so real and it's something I also struggle with you know it is writing and art enough I you know for myself I don't feel like it is and yet I’m you know continually asking what else do I need to do is prayer enough? no but I think prayer is essential you know I mean we've got to be doing some sort of contemplative practice otherwise we're just we're going to end up like you know like some of those others we're going to be really rageful! yeah do you know cynthia molo beta now can you spell that c y n t h I a okay and then mo m-o-e-l-o-b-e-d-a

and for listeners who are not christian she definitely has her theology is rooted in a protestant lens so just know that going in but it's so rich and she engages very directly with what she calls structural evil and climate change so it's like honestly I would take a chapter at a time and hang out with it for a week or so because it's really dense writing but is very rich and she speaks to please excuse me if I’m butchering this quote but it basically says like healing global healing cannot change based on individual actions and yet it cannot occur without them so for me I’m trying to use my academic experience social experience life force to refine my understanding of where my greatest strengths are and then be open and humble enough to connect with the people whose greatest strengths are in the areas that I know action needs to happen but that's not my greatest strength like and then offer them what my skills are like there are some people who are very practical at like being on the front lines of activism that would literally burn out my actual nervous system there's not a hope that I could be there for for the for the long haul I could go but it might cost me three weeks of my life afterwards so but I could offer writing or speak to you know what the intentions are behind that like I could offer these sorts of communications or written work and just see where for me it's more about creating ecological connections and remembering that we are a part of that so creating human ecologies of change where I don't feel responsible to pick up everything because I i functionally can't like I don't believe anyone can some people look like they can but like I think that you burn out over time whether that's publicly or privately you do burn out so yeah it's my

you know how essential it is that we are connecting in you know very real ways and in in the addiction work that I’ve done the folks that heal are connecting and for some of them that's in traditional paths like AA but for others it's it's it's activism or their their faith communities or you know somehow finding a sense of connection and I think that points to that wonderful question you know what is it what is up with white middle-class rage some of it is we've shredded connections you know the union hall is shut down we're bowling alone you know people are building these mcmansions that and have no idea who their neighbor is you know we've lost connection to others we don't most of us don't live in a neighborhood anymore we live in an address you know we we're just not connecting and I think that when that happens it really destroys something you we're not feeding a part of ourself that's not the only explanation but I think that's part of it is we've really shredded a piece of social interactions that just you know folks don't go to the neighborhood tavern anymore or gather at the coffee shop or you know belong to some sort of larger entity so when someone comes along and says I got the answer it's really easy to join

well I find that interesting because I taught yoga for 14 years and was part of the wellness community and I judged myself quite heavily for not building a radically successful online business yet

but for me and this is not to say that that's all that's out there there are some very powerful programs and people leading beautiful lives and doing great work for me what I was seeing offered in the online environment were quick-fix answers but asking people to do the kind of introspective work that genuinely could pull up

not just their own trauma but like generational trauma and cultural trauma and I feel like if you're going to ask people to do that you must have the ability to hold what comes up and if you don't you must have the resources to make sure that they are safe and can do that work in a way that's life-giving for them and so there's for me I started exploring the difference between brene brown says it beautifully where the difference between fitting in and belonging and what I see is this mass wave of like how to fit in which is not new but like it's pretty powerful in the online environment which under covet circumstances is where most people are living their life out right now so if it's about fitting in and belonging requires you to actually reveal things you might not be a hundred percent comfortable with in yourself we don't have a ton of models for that and I mean I have six nephews and I’ve my mom comes from a family of 16 there's been lots of people to watch and observe over life I am not a white middle-class man so I can't speak to what that experience is but what I’ve observed is that the roles that used to be unquestioned are in influx and there are no role models for what the new and different is and so the being a good man what qualified as being a good man is no longer quote unquote enough and yet there is no idea as to what what is and why isn't this good enough and like so people are in a form of existential crisis that they're also inside of a culture that doesn't give them permission to say that they're in the middle of an existential crisis they're supposed to know everything it's um I i don't I feel that the systems in place really cause harm to all of us like it's you know and and being able to come forward my one hope for covid's circumstances is that the mental health aspect of life is being more normalized because everybody in very different ways the sentence we are all in this together drives me crazy we are all exposed in very different ways but the aspect of mental health inside of these last two years has been revealed to be a commonly shared experience regardless of your economic or gendered position in life so right covid doesn't differentiate yeah I think this leads into a final question which says and how do we care for ourselves while we're doing this work a while we're engaging in academia where we do not maybe fit all the time

so Michael I wondered if you would start us off?

sure yeah the I mean one of the themes that has really come out is you know some sort of personal contemplative practice coupled with something larger than the self you know some something that connects us to others and hopefully connects us to you know this living breathing planet that seems to be on fire and you know recognizing it's going to look different for different folks and that that's perfectly fine um but yeah I mean when I myself am engaging in both something bigger than myself as well as some contemplative practice I feel so much better and when I see that among those either professionally or just in my life it's like oh okay you know the little anxiety of oh you know it goes down a little bit like okay okay you're gonna be okay

and when you don't see it like to you know to figure out ways where you can calmly but wisely be like you got to connect you got to connect with you and you got to connect with something bigger than you but yeah I think what we're talking about in many ways is you know we're freak most of us or maybe not most many of us are frequently alienated we don't know who we are we don't know what we need we don't know where our limits are we don't know when we need to call in and get help you know your example Anastasia I did the first couple of photos alone and then I had someone else come in and what you know that was transformative I think that like that's you know that's the metaphor for the human condition

and Anastasia want to jump in? Yeah, I will concur, I think Michael has summarized it beautifully and I laughed that I thought I could do the whole project on my own with an iPhone and a timer you know like I I think that that is a really good metaphor for what most of us think we require in order to to do our best work or really embody the fullness of ourselves it's like well it's obviously going to be something I just already have and it's like well it's what you already have and the essence of who you are supported by different skills and different insights from the people that are around you and I think for me it's about learning how to cultivate greater comfort being different while being in community so I know historically for me I just it was more of a friction space hearing other people's perspectives on how we should move forward if it felt like it was to go right back to the beginning on sort of one of those axes that Michael speaks of in his article I would have this internalized reaction to kind of curl in and want to roll away unless it sounded like what I was comfortable with which I think is I don't think I’m uniquely wired that way I think we all feel comfortable hearing the things that that feel true and are what we believe but one of the main reasons I’m in the program I’m in is because I found myself saying I what I’m seeing in the world is that we don't know how to talk to people who believe very different things from us and it seems to be what's hurting us the most and then I was like oh shoot I don't know how to talk to a lot of people that believe fundamentally different things from me shoot I can't just say that line and then walk around like I’m doing it so here I am in an academic environment very uncomfortable a lot of the time learning an incredibly important life skill set so I think increasing our tolerance for discomfort and opening our minds with some compassion and genuine curiosity is like a really great audio tag line and also one of the hardest things we'll ever have to do so being gentle with ourselves and gentle with others when we do it cause we gonna mess up along the way

so true well Miriam and I just wanted to say thank you sorry my cat's butt is in the shot here I’ll try to move him okay Miriam I just want to say thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to come and talk with us and we know our listeners really appreciate um hearing from you and uh is there any parting comments that you'd like to let us know about before we wrap up

I really like and would echo what Anastasia had said about you know being gentle to ourselves while at the same time aiming for that engagement with others and recognizing we're going to fail probably every day but you know that that mix of you know we push ourselves and we also need to replenish ourselves

it's okay to ask for more and it's okay to also break and rest

yes thank you Michael I would agree with you and just from my own biased experience if you find that hard to do I encourage you to look towards nature because the seasons model it so perfectly for us there is always a winter every year even if you are in a different climate like there is always just a season of resting and regrouping and then expansion and finding whatever touchpoint it is that makes it easy for you to remember that all of life is built on a cycle of independent effort and communal effort and expansion beyond and that we are a part of a larger ecological system not separate from it so thank you so much for having me here today I really enjoyed chatting and meeting with you Michael is really lovely thank you Amy and Miriam this is great today and I’m so honored that we got our cat they can't join us yes he came back he's famous now right Ollie? yeah hi all right thanks everyone!!