On Oct. 23, 2015 I had the honor of sharing the stage with my best friend and freedom-fighter farmer Leah Penniman at this year’s Connecting for Change Conference in New Bedford, MA. Connecting for Change, presented by the Marion Institute, is an annual solutions based gathering with a variety of keynotes, workshops, and artist performances, attracting over 3000 people from around the country. The conference features dozens of leading innovators discussing topics, including food and farming, policy, innovative tech and design, health and healing, green business, indigenous knowledge, environmental and social justice, women and youth empowerment, impact investing, spirituality and sustainability. This was my third time performing at Connecting for Change, and have had the honor to share the stage with performers such as Rebel Diaz and Climbing PoeTree, as well as changemakers such as Dr. Vandana Shiva.
This year was particularly exciting because I performed right before a keynote speech by Leah Penniman, who spoke about her powerful work on the intersections of #BlackLivesMatter and food justice at Soul Fire Farm. Needless to say, my girl received a standing ovation for her work.
This year was also extra special because I also had the honor of sharing the stage with Dr. Aviva Romm, one of my favorite writers on family health and wellness. I first grabbed her book on pregnancy wellness when I was pregnant with my second child, and it was so helpful that I purchased her second book on family wellness when my child was born, which I have referenced regularly for the past three years. I am very passionate about the health and wellness of my children, but I often find it much more difficult to prioritize my own health and wellness. Aviva’s keynote speech reminded us that living in survival overdrive can lead to health problems that prevent us from being our best at our work. She highlighted that radical self care is not self indulgence, but rather necessary for doing our work long term.
As Leah and I sat in the audience and listened, we were struck deeply as we began to think about the ways we struggle to prioritize our wellness and succumb to overwhelm from the work we are doing as activists, artists and parents. Aviva offered some great tips to eliminate stress that we hope to fold into our lives. We also think it is important to remember that we are beautiful works in progress. As women of color, our obstacles are huge, our work is urgent, and the negative effect of stress on our bodies is severe. And despite all this, there are many ways we have learned to care for ourselves that we already incorporate into our lives, inspired by the wisdom passed on by our ancestors, elders, community and our own creative Spirits. Leah and I offer to you five tips to maintain wellness in the struggle from our own lived experience.
- Moving our bodies.
Leah and I both have regular time carved out in our lives for moving our bodies. For each of us it looks different, and can include walking, running, dance and yoga. For each of us it is a type of movement that brings us joy, which allows us to be more consistent with it.
- Connecting with nature.
We both find nature very calming and healing, and work to spend some time being present in nature. Leah lives rurally on a farm, so her morning run through the woods is an important time in nature, as is the physical act of farming. I live in an urban environment, but my grandmothers always reminded me that nature can be found everywhere, so I enjoy walking outside in the quite of the morning, even in the cold, and noticing the trees, birds, sun and sky that surround me. I also like to take off to parks and Soul Fire Farm when I can, to get deeper into nature’s arms.
- Feeding our bodies well.
Our bodies have different nutritional needs, but Leah and I both make an effort to listen to our body and feed it what it needs. As a farmer, Leah works hard to eat the fresh organic food grown from her own hands and land. I also enjoying incorporating lots of fresh fruits and veggies into my diet. As a musician who travels, I often have to think about eating the best of what is available to me while I’m on the road, and I enjoy writing about what I find in my vegan family travel blog MusicandMangos.com.
- Being “held”.
We both have identified people in our lives who can “hold” us when we need it. It may be physical, but it can also be through active listening. We both find it important when we are feeling pain or stress to have someone who can just listen and be present with us without necessarily offering any kind of advice. Being held can also be a regular time we create with someone. Sometimes we find that through friends and family, and sometimes we find that through counselors and professionals.
- Making time for creativity.
Author Brene Brown once said, “Unused creativity isn’t benign. It metastasizes.” Making time for creativity is an important part of both our wellness practices. As a professional artist, it is important for me to make time for creating art that is not for product, but purely for expression. Leah and I also enjoying doing this together. This photograph is from a collage project with did with our families at home on Martin Luther King Day.
These are just some of the ways we love ourselves, and we hope to explore and incorporate many more. The art of caring for oneself is a self-designed and ever-changing process. What ways do you maintain wellness? Let me know in the comments below.
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