The Wheel of Consent® and Social Justice (by Carmen Leilani)

“What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?” – Audre Lorde

One of the first things I ever heard Betty say, something that hit me right in the heart, was “From before we learned to speak, we are trained to go along with things we don’t want. We are conditioned to believe that what is happening is more important than how we feel about it.”  From this I learned that we change how we feel to adapt to discomfort, indignations, violations.  We learn to devalue, even ignore our instincts, and somatic knowing, that something is wrong.

I use this knowledge to check myself all the time – What am I tolerating? What am I going along with, that I adapt to, or swallow, that dissociates me from both my emotional and body intelligence?  These questions are more pertinent now, as I apply them to more than just my body – I apply them to the world I’m living in.

For me, as a non-Black person of color, I’ve tolerated racism.  Not only the loud, obvious kind, but the insidious, systemic racism of which we are all complicit because it’s been normalized in the news, in tv, in movies. The idea that police brutality only happens in certain neighborhoods, and that if so, it must be for a “reason.” I know it’s painfully unjust.  I know families and communities are hurting more deeply than I may ever understand. But it didn’t directly affect me, and in my own self-preservation I offered my support at a distance, then returned to addressing the challenges of my own life. It is uncomfortable to witness racist violence. It shocks and saddens me. It makes me fear for myself because I am a person of color, because I feel vulnerable and small. This is how I was taught, as the child of immigrants, to react to “trouble” – make myself smaller, and stay quiet, because it could be me, next.  But I acknowledge that my temporary discomfort is a privilege, and that my silence makes me complicit. To look away, also a privilege. Until now, I haven’t let it truly, truly move me, with the kind of deep empathy that lets the pain land in my own heart and body. I haven’t taken enough responsibility to speak up, because I was conditioned to tolerating abuse and making excuses for oppressors, because I’ve been living in my own fight or flight response all these years, and because I was taught to be, and I am, scared.

Those of us who have studied the Wheel of Consent, can use our lens of the consent Quadrants, and we can see that some shadows are obvious, because we are seeing the contrast of “Who it’s for?” in the greed of politicians and corporate cronies, with those others disproportionately suffering across the country – children, immigrants, undocumented, the unhoused, unemployed – the majority of these identifying as Black, Indigenous and people of color.

Some shadows are not so obvious. The Wheel lens showed me that what I’ve “allowed” because I have some level or privilege, has contributed to marginalization, inequalities and hardships for others. I’m in the shadow of the Allow quadrant when I don’t speak up for those more vulnerable than myself. I’m in the shadow of the Take quadrant when I don’t consider that those who do things for me are not being treated fairly by their employers.  When the “it’s for me” result comes with an imbalance of privilege of choice, for the other, then I’m in the shadow, outside of clear consent.

We are experiencing a collective trauma, some more deeply than others, and our Black siblings have been holding that trauma, bearing it, living with that discomfort, every single day.

I’ve been coming out of my own trauma cocoon in the past few years – healing from abuse, healing from cancer, healing from my own colonized immigrant imprints.  Having the Wheel as a framework has been so integral to helping me notice and value what I am feeling in my body, to pay attention to it’s wisdom.  But sometimes, what I notice really hurts.  The traumas and heartbreaks and tender, abandoned wounds, the violations, the macro and micro-aggressions.  I wasn’t resourced in the past to let myself feel these things. Now I understand the importance of connection, of community, of co-regulation, to support the exhuming of these once-calcified hurts – for true healing. 

So as we collectively awaken to the traumas and pains of our Black siblings, we will have to feel that discomfort, bear that hurt, grieve and support each other – and work together to transmute and transform our pain into actions for change.  Not just in theory, in social media likes as support, but true, embodied compassion, empathy and solidarity.

I’m so deeply grateful for our global community. If you’ve ever spoken to me on the phone or Zoom for a Like A Pro interview you might remember me saying, that I am endlessly inspired by the caliber of people who are magnetized to this work – people who feel so deeply in their bodies, the most generous, tender hearts, such gorgeous vulnerability and the most intrepid healers – all seeking to learn how to engage with the most crystal clear agreements of consent – to create profound conditions for healing.

There’s so much work to do, to help bring our collective/social contract with each other back into cleaner, clearer agreements. I fantasize about a world where that happens for our relationship with the earth, too. I fantasize about a world where all our marginalized communities feel the nourishment of being seen, being heard, and being held and cared for.

What am I doing to help?  Educating myself so I don’t do further unconscious harm (so many resources, I put them in the newsletter), signing petitions, donating wherever I can, challenging myself to speak up to my friends and family in a way that promotes activism and cultural shifts, amplifying Black, Indigenous and POC activist voices who are leading the revolution – these are things anyone can do.

But also, using the tools and practices I gained in the last 10 years – offering deep listening and exquisite presence to those who need to process grief and anger and frustration, co-regulating with others and building community, creating containers of safety for expression, and of course, continue to build and grow the community and offerings of the School of Consent, because in order for the world’s people to reclaim our collective sovereignty, we must learn to reclaim connection and sovereignty in our own bodies first.

Thanks for reading, and for being a part of this community.  I hope as you read this, you are healthy and resourced to care for yourself with love and tenderness.

In warmth and solidarity, Carmen

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