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Every day, I go for a five-mile walk, white cane extended, phone blasting in my bookbag with the red mesh lining. I put my extensive Apple iPod collection on shuffle, and I let the universe teach me something about change and adaptation. On an early Saturday morning, I hear the sultry lyrics and the corn-crackling snare of Hiatus Kaiyote, but the bass gets lost out there in Mother Nature. If I search for the crispy-thin piano, I find it, but only when I’m really intentional. The sleepy quiet on the streets of Media, Pennsylvania, perforates my soundscape. I hear wisps and I remember everything that is in the tune without hearing it. That is equanimity.
Today, my shuffle opens with Drake’s “Fireworks.” It’s two days before July 4. I smirk. I walk up hills on backroad streets. I’m in my body, breathing hard, feeling my muscles strain and stretch and move. I breathe. I listen. I see very little, but I am full of sensations. My mind chatters about all the things and when I decide to watch it, it becomes shy. I smile. It renews its chirping, every day. I choose this. I choose it all.
There are feelings, feelings, feelings. Deep ones, and small ones, and scattered ones, and hard ones, and funny ones, and bold ones. I say, you belong with me. I intend to make my scary feelings my favorites. I intend to make them so close to me that fear looks like a dear friend. Meeting these feelings with awareness, I sense that I have been changing, and also changing something.
Living from the inside out
Coaching your brain to perceive life from the inside out can be a challenge, especially when you are Black, queer, non-binary, and blind. Despite—or perhaps on a good day, in spite—of those identities and influences, I practice mindfulness, another way to say equanimity. I sit with questions like, what do I need, how do I feel, and what routines, rituals, or boundaries do I need to make myself feel safe and whole? This mindset is crucial to my physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing. Without these practices, I find myself looking outside of myself for something to make me feel whole and worthy of abundant love.
In addition to these practices being life-affirming for me, they are political. In honoring who I am with love and careful thought, I heal those who encounter me. I am who I am, regardless of validation or testimony, and I embrace my mortality and my right to live alongside fear and life unfolding. I am human and alive; I am a part of everything and everything is a part of me.
Equanimity is this. It is acknowledging the known and unknown and your place within it. Equanimity hits like Hiatus Kaiyote’s song “Swamp Thing,” chaotic and meandering. It’s like my ears picking up the sound of nature, and location, and breath, and song, and the everything all at once that we experience in some way beyond our senses’ ability to translate that ether: an indistinguishable point of view. Once we feet it, we can rock with it; we can exist in that precious present moment.
Equanimity is an inner phenomenon, a state of acceptance of what is. This is encouraging news: you don’t need to be a monk in order to experience the power of inner calm. With a regulated mind (in this sense, not meaning bound by laws, but grounded and resilient), we are able to make conscious choices that benefit us and our communities. When we make more conscious choices for ourselves, we sensitize our bodies. With a sensitive body, we are aware of our Earth and see our dependence on it and each other.
The fallacy of separation
Especially now, this kind of consciousness is political as well as spiritual. To put it Blackly—I mean bluntly—the practice of radical self-love is a necessary act of civil rebellion. How dare I dare to have dark brown skin in America and how dare I choose to love who I want to love and how dare I assert my experience of gender and how dare I be disabled in an able-bodied world? How dare I find love, sensuality, and reverence for myself when I am told I do not exist or belong?
There is an ethno-dysmorphia rooting us in the violent belief of separateness. Unaware of human interdependence, we chase misguided assumptions that any of us can achieve personal or political freedom without accepting every human and their sovereignty. This includes the acceptance and sovereignty of those who would oppose those freedoms. Yes, you read that last part correctly. Our interdependence, healing, and freedom are inextricably linked with those who would seek the opposite. Even when divided, we share one ecosystem, and to that ecosystem we belong.
The truth about belonging
We were designed to experience belonging. The fear of not belonging, of not being loved, has a powerful physiological and psychological effect on our bodies and our body’s perceptions. The loved human cultivates an inward practice of self-acceptance. The loved human knows they belong wherever they choose to be because they have chosen it: belonging is not given to us, but something we decide for ourselves. When we feel our place within space and nature, we’re motivated to serve our highest good, which is ultimately a sense of freedom—not just for ourselves, but for others, too.
Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us that the most important question we can ask ourselves is how we can serve others. More than half-century later, I find the resounding question of these uncertain days is embedded in that question of service, but it goes deeper. The question is one of self-love and equanimity: how can we love and heal ourselves so that we may become aware of others and love them the way they wish to be loved? How do we build a country in which everyone belongs? Something tells me that dream realized will feel something like jazz.
This essay is an excerpt from Danie Ocean Jackson’s book-in-progress, Self Love, Radical Activism for the Post Apocalyptic Soul.
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