What do I mean when I say “healing justice”?
Before anything else, since this is a blog about how we heal alone and together, please pause and take a second to notice who you are right now. I mean this seriously. Pause and really look and feel around you. How is your breath? How do you feel where you are sitting or standing? Have you taken a break from the computer recently? Stretch. Close your eyes and remember who you are. Put your hand on your heart and say hello. Welcome. You are welcome here.
When I walked into the Healing Justice space at the US Social Forum in Atlanta in 2007, something in me let go. This tightness I was carrying inside, this confusion about how healing work fit into movement building, sat up all alert and watchful and then, for the first time ever, found a nice quiet corner to curl up in and take a bloody nap.
It is not a coincidence that what kept me from becoming a bodyworker was that I felt it wasn’t frontline enough. It is not a coincidence that once I started working as a bodyworker, I felt some amount of shame and embarrassment if someone asked me about my work, like admitting to craniosacral therapy was admitting that I had given up on revolution.
At this moment in time when movement spaces are full of healers and people wanting to become healers, it’s hard to remember the cold belly truth of this shame. And yet it was there. And not only held in my body but also called out in political spaces. Remembering this is important. Because this internal and sometimes community policing is part of the very system that healing justice work seeks to transform. Even if I don’t feel that shame today, that same system is looking for other cracks it can move into, taking us off course from deep healing.
When I use the phrase “healing justice,” I am reflecting on how the systems we seek to change outside of our bodies are also carried within our bodies. I am recognizing that the systems of care in western medicine that we depend on are also part of the systems of dominance and oppression that we want to transform. And finally, I recognize that all of our people and most recently, indigenous, Black and Brown people have culturally grounded systems of care and support that have been violently disappeared and then often repackaged and sold by people outside of those cultural traditions. “Healing justice” is more than the fact of healing which happens to people who care about justice.
It matters that healing justice is a lens and not a movement or even a targeted strategy. Thinking of it as a lens is like thinking of healing justice as poetry rather than prose. And this is very important. The cells of the body communicate with us through poetry; through story and image and metaphor. This is how we end up with a felt-sense of something rather than only an intellectual understanding. This felt sense, this way of knowing from the body up, is how transformation takes place.
Having said that healing justice is a lens and that using a lens is more like poetry than prose, I use guide ropes to help me feel my way through spaces of not knowing, the necessary spaces where difference emerges. Guide ropes are like prayers. They’re the things I hold on to, that I repeat when I am scared or need help, that I savor in my mouth when I say the words, listening to how they sound and to what echoes inside of me in response. I am using all of this kind of language, physical language, because what I’m about to share has the chance of becoming another task list. Something that creates strategy as a form of control rather than as a way of unearthing frozen movement. That would be the opposite of healing justice. That would be what happens when systems of dominance and supremacy get into the cracks.
Take another moment and breathe here. Stop reading and look up from the screen. Stretch your head and neck. Notice that you are alive.
First guide rope: Held trauma is, by definition, a form of disconnection. It’s a place where the present moment of life in its fullness gets stopped and interwoven with an unfinished and painful history. Healing is about reconnection. Healing is about attending to those held histories and supporting them to integrate or release. This is where wisdom comes from. Wisdom is what you get on the other side of integrating the hard things. My first guide rope is to remember that healing and reconnection is about connection of the self with the self, the self with community and the self with land and spirit. Systems of dominance are completely successful when those three things are fully disconnected. That’s why colonizing forces first take away a people’s language, culture and belief systems. Healing is about reconnection. The fact that you are here and reading this means that you have maintained or deepened your connection in one of these spaces. Maybe you have a practice of being outside and feeling connection with oaks or the ocean. Maybe you have a spiritual practice. Or you do self care. Or you have deep relationships with your kin. Notice what you have first. And then practice wanting - fiercely - the rest. This is about healing but it’s also about healing justice because you can’t do this alone. There are systems and histories that need to transform in order to support our broader reconnection.
Pause here. Notice your breath. What is it doing right now? Do you feel fast inside? Slow? Can you feel your body or is it just your mind that is reading these words? What has come up inside you in response to reading this? Everything is information. Every time you take a second to listen within or to listen without, you are observing, noticing information. For now, there is no action to take. There is only observation.
Second guide rope: This not different from the first guide rope. It’s just another window into the same house. For me, it’s another thing to hold on to that helps me ask questions about what I am doing. When I talk about the breadth of healing work, I break it down into three types of healing: first we stop violence. When violence is taking place, the body can not settle into healing because it is focused primarily on survival. Stopping the violence is literal and concrete: stopping police violence particularly linked with anti-Black racism, stopping the violence of poverty, stopping the violence of evictions and attacks on treaties and the truth of missing and murdered indigenous women and of all forms of sexual violence including the murder of transwomen. Stopping the violence of evictions and deportations and too many families in prison. Stopping the violence of oil pipelines and stolen indigenous land and poisons that we breathe and drink and eat into our bodies. Stopping the violence also means the violence carried inside, the hypervigilance that comes from being targeted, the anxiety and stress as a result of targeted acts and also the anxiety and stress that comes as a result of matrix trauma, the cultural trauma of capitalism and isolation. Healing justice is about first and always stopping the violence.
After we stop the violence, healing is about practicing self care. To me, self care is a constant act of remembering yourself, of claiming your own life. It’s a practice that stops the accumulation of a thousand small cuts that over time become congealed pain that needs deeper healing to shift. Self care is about remembering your traditions, your culture, the land you live on, the feeling of your heartbeat and breath, the stretchy strength of your muscles and fascia and the vibratory power of your voice. Self care is unique and specific and it’s a way of saying, in this moment, right now, I claim my own liberation.
And finally, along with stopping the violence and practicing self care, we create the conditions that allow for deep healing. Deep healing is what happens when we shift the histories that our bodies, our communities hold. When we are no longer defined by or experiencing ourselves through the past disconnection. Instead, we remember our connection with ourselves, with our communities, with the land and spirit. Deep healing isn’t something you schedule. It comes when it’s time to come. Sometimes stopping the violence in a single moment can bring about deep healing. If you’ve never had someone protect your life before then when someone suddenly does, it can shift how history is held. A regular practice of self-care can create the conditions for deep healing. It can happen that on the 378th day of doing a hip opener through yoga or of taking a morning walk, all of the small particles come together and you are suddenly some place not the same, awash in grief or joy, feeling as the parts of your self come together again. Or on the 16th time of starting your meeting or gathering with prayer or movement or breathing together, you turn to conversation and are startled by the level of truth telling and connection that seems to suddenly emerge where before it was absent. Creating the conditions for deep healing is about creating memorials where violence, either recently or long ago, has taken place. It’s about storytelling, about reconnecting with traditions and your language. It’s about asking questions and listening and taking the felt-sense risk again and again to stretch into someplace where you haven’t been before.
Each of these weave together: stopping the violence, practicing self care and creating the conditions to allow deep healing. They are each part of the other and, without holding them all with intention, there is the chance that systems of supremacy will find the cracks in our intention and end up, one small bit at a time, bringing us to a place where our healing is about feeling better within our isolated bubbles rather than fierce-feeling connection with life that is bigger than we could have imagined before. None of these words are about a task list. They are poetry rather than prose. An incantation you whisper to yourself as you are planning your day, organizing an action, sitting down with a group of people to dream or act together, showing up out of deep respect for someone else’s pain, or claiming your own survival.
Now breathe. What feels true for you? What doesn’t? What is happening inside of you right this second? Is it fast or slow? Do you feel connected or alone? Hungry or tired? What emotions or sensations are you noticing. Be with this truth that is welling up inside of you. Be lightly curious but don’t go straight to interpreting anything. Instead, take a deep breath and then let go. And now here comes the rest of your life.
Gratitude to Cara Page, Anjali Taneja, and everyone at the People’s Movement Center for being part of the thinking behind these words.