Sometimes the universe gives you what you need, even if you haven’t asked for it. That’s how I feel about coming to transformative practice four years ago when I began working at Movement Strategy Center. At first I was drawn to MSC because the people there were smart, and kind, in a very particular way. They thought about how awareness of one’s role is key to strategy, and about how understanding roles helps you to find patience and compassion with others, and most importantly yourself.
What I signed on for was strategy. What I got was transformation.
It’s a big word, transformation, born of the tiniest of moments.
When I came to MSC, my body and spirit were numb from pain. Not from nonprofit burnout, but from its source: the unresolved dance with oppression that had spun me around for decades. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was entering a period of severe testing in my life. I was stepping into some truly soul-wrenching challenges that were, I would come to understand, the universe’s way of wringing me out, getting me all nice and clean and ready.
But I didn’t know that yet, as I arrived to my first Forward Stance training in my second week of work at MSC. I felt awkward and nervous and more than a little annoyed with the vague idea of “doing physical practice” for a whole entire work day. I came to the session with all my baggage: performance anxiety, competitiveness, body shame, fear of rejection; a whole circus-worth of internal acrobatics that leave you exhausted and defensive before you’ve even said hello.
It was helpful (seriously) that I had been recently diagnosed with ductal carcinoma and had gone through a speed round of realizing my mortality and accepting it. (As any parent out there would understand, every experience, even cancer, must be processed, then presented in a thoughtful and timely way to your kid, on a timeline and in a context unimaginable in my life before parenthood.) My sudden new experience with oncology and surgeons had, to paraphrase Leonard Cohen, produced a little crack where some light was beginning to shine in.
So, when that big forward stance “ah ha” came, when I experienced that mind-blowing and incomprehensibly simple moment when my breath and my awareness and my stance actually prevented someone from pushing me over, I was open enough to accept that there might really be something to this physical practice stuff.
It’s been four years since that moment. Since then Forward Stance has gently and powerfully emerged into my life over and over, sometimes without my realizing it until later. There was that huge moment around the mastectomy and what meaning I would make of that for me and for my daughter. There was the worse moment of secondary infection when I stopped fighting the colossal injustice of the universe once again inflicting fear and mortality on my little girl. There was the moment I said yes to my longing for a peaceful and happy home, which meant a terrifying no to the entire structure of the life I had built for myself and my daughter.
And there was excruciating doubt and uncertainty as all my baggage (which I now knew as “habits”) came into my focus, leaving me wondering what I had ever contributed to social justice, and what I ever would.
Transformation’s not always fun, but it gets easier. And then it actually becomes joyful.
I’m easier on myself now, which makes me easier to be with, which makes me a better movement builder. I feel creative and enthusiastic and hopeful – all qualities we need for truly deep social change.
Most importantly, I know what transformation feels like, and I believe with all my soul that it’s possible. Now, maybe for the first time, I can feel the pull of global transformation, gently guiding my heart and actions. Another world is breathing. I hear it in my body each morning as I do my tai chi, and I sense it everywhere, in everyone, every day.
(For more information on the new Forward Stance Institute, a new project being launched by Forward Together and MSC, please contact Dana Ginn Paredes at dginnparedes at gmail dot com.)