When I was a child my father would say, “Nneka, the good Lord gave you two ears and one mouth, so listen twice as much as you talk.” I can remember as a little girl thinking hard about this and struggling with that part of me that is indeed a talker. As a teen, I often rolled my eyes (out of eyeshot of course!) and allowed his wisdom to run through one ear and out the other. As an emerging adult, I saw this adage as a practice and a way of creating enduring relationships with others. But as I sit amid my middle-aged adult life, I find myself returning to the contemplation of my childhood. I am learning that to listen well to others, I must first be able to hear and listen to myself. Turning the act of listening inward. And as I explore this new truth, I am surprisingly finding deeper wisdom, a rhythm and rest.
From a rested posture, I find myself wanting to listen. I can see I’m available in ways that rushing and stress prevent. Rest allows me to be a better listener and that supports my ability to build relationships, catch stones, fight for freedom and story-tell. It is allowing me to be who I am and to do the work that is tethered to my purpose. From this place, I have inspired philanthropic investment and it is the fundamental skill at the heart of my coaching practice. I believe it is only from this place that I can truly fight racial injustice.
I often say curiosity is a superpower. And if listening were a person, it would be a superhero! But I never really took the time to appreciate the connection between these skills and rest. Since December I have been pursuing greater rest as a form of resistance. This is by far the most difficult posture to maintain in this white supremacist and capitalistic world.
As a young Black girl, I felt the pressure of white supremacy culture pressing against who I was. This dominant culture always tells me in obvious and subtle ways what I should do and how I should do it. It came through the voices of my white teachers, doctors, neighbours, white friends and their parents. And their voices were loud and demanding. They were judgmental. The internalized stereotypes of Black folx were always in their eyes as they looked at me. But these voices stood in opposition to my Momma’s voice (thank God for the strong voices of Black women), she was always saying, “sufficient are the troubles of today,” which was one of the many ways that she encouraged me to resist these pressures and focus on what’s important to me right now. Her life and example told me that my value was not found in these people or their opinions. She was teaching me to be me and to be present. I think she did not consciously recognize that this posture allows us to listen best. That’s a message I’m only now really appreciating.
Earlier this year in January, I saw an IG post that read, “I’m breaking up with busy” and I thought yes! and so am I! I began thinking about what that might look like for me so I started with the low-hanging fruit. I limited my working hours, recommitted to family dinners, and I decided to schedule a summer sabbatical to bookend my December holiday sabbatical. These things were pretty easy to do and “quick fixes.” After these “quick remedies”, I discovered the real work was ahead of me. As I write this, I don’t have all the answers I’m still exploring true rest, but I think with my parent’s wisdom about listening and being present I’m on a solid path to growth and deeper activism.
Change is not easy and as I continued to meditate on “breaking up with busy” I realized the real work is internal. What have I believed about rest because of the influence of the dominant culture? I know that white supremacy culture does not extend the right of rest to Black women. This is the part of the white supremacy culture that I am now confronting. What are all the subtle messages that I must interrogate and replace with the truth? To answer that I need to be still (be present) and listen. I have started disciplining myself in a somatic practice every morning and when my mind would suggest I have a long list of “more important” things to do, I fight to listen to my body as it whispers “let’s breathe and check-in with how I’m feeling right now, at this moment.” That’s all we have right now and I am committed to resting in what is.
“If rest is another dimension, which I think it is, I think the more we go there, the more we’re going to wake up.” ~ Tricia Hersey
All change begins with us.
I’m Nneka Allen, my passion is creating restful spaces where everyone belongs. If you share my passion connect with me at The Empathy Agency.
Remember, we are responsible for the environments we create. Make them equitable.