Listening Deeply to Yourself by Xochitl Alvizo


“You need to take a step back. You need to take a pause, relax, reassess. Two steps back, you can see more clearly, then you can move forward.” That’s what my brother first told me as I shared with him the overwhelmingness of my life. My first reaction was: Well – that is easier said than done. Plus, the thought of taking a pause and relaxing only made me think about how much more behind I’d fall on everything. I confessed to him that beside my regular teaching-related responsibilities, I commit to too many other things – only to end up feeling poorly about my performance.

Do not be that person,” he said. I knew he was right. Some of my situation of overwhelmingness I do to myself; knowing I have limited time available, I nonetheless say “yes” more often than I say “no.” This is born of my own compulsion and socialization. But, as Dawn noted in a comment she left on Tuesday’s post, I need to remind myself that “my compulsion…is often just my compulsion.” Much of the time, I can choose otherwise.

It is, of course, also true that there is real pressure we experience from the systems of which we are a part. The university, like almost all institutions, will take as much as one is willing to give. Its objective is its own survival – and, as Esther retells in a quote from Junot Diaz (also in a comment on Tuesday’s post), “The system is organized to make you go out of your f******* mind.” And still, the truth is, I have power.

And that is the piece of wisdom I needed to hear, something I had lost a grip on – my brother said those words to me: “You have power.”

It was as if I had unexpectedly run into a long lost friend – my own power. As I heard my brother speak those words to me, the realization hit me like a bolt: I have power to make decisions for myself. In that moment of letting that simple truth sink in, I–have–power, I actually felt power coming back into my be-ing and I was physically reenergized as I reconnected with this truth.

My brother also said something else to me that I struggled with for a second: “You have to do right by you, first. If you are not right with yourself, how can you be right with anybody else? It doesn’t work.” This was tougher; my communitarian inclinations raised their red flag, for how can it be ok for me to do “right by me” first? But it isn’t surprising that I would stumble here. In fact, it’s a little cliché. Women are not typically socialized to put ourselves first (which is why I need my feminism!). But here is how the point finally really sank in…

I was troubleshooting with him – asking him how he would deal with this scenario and that scenario; playing out with him the kinds of situations where I end up making my poor choices and getting sucked into the system – and shared a current dilemma: “I really need to work on a writing project I’ve been neglecting, I want to work on it, but I don’t have the time or space to think. So I’m tempted to cancel two meetings I have in the morning, that way I’ll at least have the first part of the day to work on my project. But how can I do that – how is that ok?”

Before I even finish my sentence he says, “You are telling yourself you need time and space to think – you are literally letting yourself know you need that; give it to yourself.”

It was so basic and simple, but it felt like a revelation. I was telling myself I needed something. Why was I resisting giving it to myself? As Dawn noted, “More often than not, that to-do list can wait.” It is not only ok to pace myself, it is necessary if I am going to do my work “without sacrificing myself,” without giving away my power or letting the system suck me in. I have to do right by me just as I seek do right by others. To acknowledge this is to value myself at the same level of importance as any other. And isn’t this part of the good news I seek to live with my feminism – that we all, each and every one of us, matters. We are of sacred worth and of equal dignity. It is a simple and beautiful truth.

Mujerista theologian, Ada María Isasi-Diaz, advanced the category of “lo cotidiano [the everyday] as the main site of struggle that reveals oppression at the same time it illumines the preferred future.” The site of struggle serves both to reveal the system that creates the conditions of struggle and also reveals the desired, liberated future. These are not separate or disparate – they are intertwined. We can look through the lens of the everyday to see the structural issues that create our suffering and to find the revolution we desire.

My brother called me because he heard it in my voice – he knew something was awry. He invited me to vent, listened, and extended his free-spirited gutter punk wisdom my way with some pretty simple, straight-forward talk. He chooses to live pretty much outside the system. I choose to stay on the boundary of it – but sometimes I get sucked in. It took my radical gutter punk brother to help me take up space again. Two steps back – take the long view and reassess – and don’t take ‘you’ out of the equation. Especially during these somber days, we need to be our most empowered selves as we “go through the labor pains of birthing a new world.”

Remember we are born for this.

Rage on!

 

Xochitl Alvizo, loves all things feminist, womanist, and mujerista. She often finds herself on the boundary of different social and cultural contexts, and works hard to develop her voice and to hear and encourage the voice of others. Her work is inspired by the conviction that all people are inextricably connected and what we do, down to the smallest thing, matters; it makes a difference for good or for ill. She teaches in the area of Women and Religion, and the Philosophy of Sex, Gender, and Sexuality, at California State University, Northridge.

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Categories: Family, Feminism, General, Women's Power, Women's Voices

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8 replies

  1. Excellent post, Xochitl. Thank you (and your brother!) for the reminders.

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  2. What a different world we would live in if all the womyn would take care of their selves first.I think there would be a lot less feelings of failure and resentment.I have been a feminist my whole life and I still struggle with this.We are trained early on to caregive the world and always,always put someone else first.Thank you for these thought provoking post and thank you to your brother for living outside the boundaries.Take time for you now.

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  3. Your brother is such a wise and loving man, Xochitl. And I love that picture of you two. You are both gifts to our world.

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  4. Yay for this change in your life, Xochitl! We need you whole and healthy as we rage on! Taking back our power in whatever form it appears in our lives is — watch out, tautology coming — so empowering! And realizing that we give it away because of our very best quality — our compassion — is the key to not only forgiveness, but also to our own self-compassion. Gandhi took the biggest weakness of the Indian people and made it into its greatest strength: their passivity became “satyagraha,” passive resistance or non-violent resistance. We need to take our biggest weakness as women — our other-orientation or caring for others — and apply it to ourselves; we need to use our compassion and caring on ourselves. And that means on each of us individually as well as collectively.

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  5. Thank you for your brother’s wise and straightforward counsel and for your reflections on and it–and actions! We all benefit!

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    • I struggled for years to understand how putting myself first was okay and not “selfish” in the most awful way.

      Most of us don’t have servants or caretakers taking care of us, so if we don’t take care of ourselves, no one else will.

      It could be easy in centuries past when there were servants to help the upper classes, or most men had a woman of some sort in their lives to care for them to be “selfless”. Hell, someone is cooking my food, washing my clothes, cleaning my home, of course I can put other people first! My needs are already taken care of.

      But that is not the case today for most of us. And capitalism operates on the unpaid labor of women in the home. It is easy for capitalist, patriarchal systems to tell us women that we must do more, more, more. It presumes the model of the man who has a wife taking care of his living systems so he can do his work in the world.

      It’s up to us women to figure out how not to get drained and chewed up by the system. And it takes insight and courage. You are finding yours.

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  6. Absolutely. I think it is empowering to say, “No, sorry. No more.” We know when we need to do this. Our bodies tell us. And it feels good when we say it. Right on.

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  7. When I was teaching in the CSU system, I allowed myself to call in sick several times a semester even when I was not. The world did not fall apart, but I was on the verge of doing so. And never forget that loving your neighbor as yourself implies loving yourself too!!! Take care.

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