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  • J Sheffield

Healing That Harms



“Healing” that harms (rather than healing towards liberation) is a discussion topic that often comes up in intentional spaces I share with other white folks. The spaces I am referring to are ones committed to communal somatic unlearning where we learn about white body supremacy and culture, the ways we have been indoctrinated, the ways we have benefited, lost culture from, and continue to perpetuate that violence in and with our bodies. In a recent conversation, a fellow group member said a phrase that has really stuck with me that went something like, “healing to harm.” What we were in discussion about is a phenomenon that happens among white folks where we slow down our bodies (with yoga, meditation, massage, etc.) for self-serving and ultimately, harmful purposes: to relax just enough to be able to return to the urgent, white supremacist, capitalist and savior complex-y cultures we feed. “Healing” in the form of dissociation. Healing to then return to the workspace, local organizing meeting, or social gathering where we continue to commit one micro or macro aggression against Folks of Color, and Black folks in particular. As Resmaa Menakem says, white folks can’t kale and yoga our way out of the work we need to do. He asks us to consider what are the healing practices we employ in service of?


Are we regulating our bodies to then return to the grind and be more “productive” for our workplace? Are we regulating our bodies to calm down our nervous energy from not speaking up against something harmful a colleague said? Or, are we calming our nervous systems in service of being accountable? In service of building capacity to sit in discomfort and move from the best versions of ourselves that are open for feedback and transformation, rather than frantically demand that our apologies be accepted?


As a bodyworker, I am constantly thinking about this for myself and my clients, and so I share it here. For fellow white folks, when we receive bodywork, mediate, or practice yoga, how can we create more room for breath, for pause, and for connection to our bodies in session, to then be able to have more room for breath, for pause, and connection to our bodies in moments of activation and in moments we commit harm? When we take a moment to feel held by a massage table, a floor, or a therapist’s hands, can we connect with a feeling of being held by the universe, of belonging to the universe, belonging to the water and to the earth, belonging to people, feeling connected? Can we remember that feeling in times of conflict?


As another community member noted, one time when he felt activated and wanted to blame the Black person in front of him, he slowed down enough to realize that he was forgetting that he loved himself. I think of this often. I am sure I am not alone among white folks in the feeling of forgetting that I love myself, or even feeling like I don’t ever remember loving myself. Maybe start by imagining baby you; baby you who has not yet been taught any reason to not love yourself. And then, from that place, how can we move? Is what we are about to say out of fear? Out of fear and anxiety over losing a connection that feels like it's slipping through our fingers, and we have to blame somebody?


And so, dear reader, I remind you, and I remind myself, to love ourselves, or start learning to love ourselves, and to try out healing in service of being more present, more accountable, more able to hold charge and complexity, more capable of slowing down, and ultimately, creating less harm.


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