By Hope Chidugu (HC) and Rudo Chigudu (RC)
HC: Wake up RC and service your vehicle known as your body. It is the only one you have; once it gets grounded or overloaded, it will not serve you maximally. Your vehicle enables you to do everything including your activist work; it is your medium and hope. Servicing your vehicle is extremely important especially now when we are living in a harsh terrain and your vehicle has to cross rivers of volatile rapids and deep whirlpools. It has to navigate twists and turns of transitions and disruptions, the corona virus is just one of them. The vehicle needs to be extremely strong and remain in good repair; on top of other responsibilities, it has to continue puncturing the huge tyres of a trailer known as patriarchy.
RC: Your poetic language is beautiful but why have you chosen to harass me today, of all days?
HC: Now, more than ever, we must pay attention to the vehicle. Doing so on a normal day has been a challenge for you and for many others; imagine trying to protect your emotional health amid a global pandemic. Well, we are in this together and for now, this is our new normal. Today is the time to come together, build a community supported by rituals, and do our best to support and uplift one another, daily.
RC: Rituals? I associate rituals with pagans and indigenous communities.
HC: And what are you if I may ask? Were you imported from heaven? Colonialism built its house on your brain! Healing, rituals, and community—these three elements are vitally linked. Community is important because human beings are collectively oriented. The general health and well-being of an individual are connected to a community and are not something that can be maintained alone or in a vacuum. I am talking about the gathering of people with a clear healing and wellbeing vision. Some of the problems experienced in some countries; (which I won’t mention) from the pain of isolation to the stress of hyperactivity are brought on by the loss of community.
RC: Seriously HC, I was taught that the word ritual refers to some sort of dark, pagan and archaic practice that has no place in modern society. As far as I know, the only accepted ritual is what we see in the Sunday church service of organised religions.
HC: When I talk about rituals in this conversation, I am talking about something much deeper. As much as our bodies require food for nourishment, our souls and spirits require rituals to stay whole. Without the spirit being nourished in us, the body pays for the consequences. Rituals are also necessary because there are certain problems that cannot be resolved with words alone. For example, the pain of abuse that someone carries within, the trauma of unfilled dreams and the sorrow of loss are not the kind of feelings that go away easily over time. Whether we deny them or not, they remain as part of the weight that keeps our bodies tensed and our spirits constricted. When they are addressed in rituals, we get the chance to heal them.
RC: Am a private person, why would I want to be part of a community and expose myself?
HC: Expose yourself to what? Being in a community leads to a healthy sense of belonging, better distribution of resources, a greater generosity and awareness of the needs of the self and others. In a community, the needs of one are the needs of many. In this way, being part of a strong community strengthens one’s individuality by supporting the expression and enjoyment of one’s unique gifts and talents. A community can flourish and survive only if each member flourishes living in the full potential of her purpose. So in a way, when you take care of your vehicle and I take care of mine, we are both bound to benefit.
RC: I am not convinced that a community is important.
HC: I won’t convince you if you don’t want to be. But let me share this information with you. In my culture, when women wanted to make pots, they would sit together in a circle and sing until they were in some sort of ecstatic place, and it’s from that place that they would begin moulding the clay. It is like the knowledge of making their pots is not in their brains but in their collective energy. The product became an extension of the collective energy of their circle. The product of their work, the pots, embodies the intimacy and wholeness experienced by the women over the course of the day. They understood that it was important to reach that place of wholeness before they could bring something out of it. I think that you know that farming worked the same way in many cultures. In short the point was not just to get the work done but to feel nourished by it. So RC, keep yourself plugged in friendship circles or in a community of people who share your well- being values.
RC: Taking care of my vehicle is on the list things to do. But for now, I have reports that I am finalising, am fundraising for my organisation, Healing, ritual and community-these three elements are vitally linked. Our organisational clients are asking me for help, I have demanding bosses and impossible work schedules, bills that continue to pile up regardless of how much I save, drama with my family and friends that seem to never end, and the challenge of raising children. Then there are all the other million stressors I encounter every day; sometimes I feel as if I am holding my hand over a burning candle…
HC: Set boundaries because if you don’t stop and take care of yourself, the candle will surely burn not just your hand but the whole body. This is why it makes sense to strengthen your body’s ability to support you no matter the situation. You have been procrastinating on servicing your vehicle for the past three months. Why? Did I not see a sticker stuck on the area around your navel, the seat of power, (solar plexus) that says; ‘exercise your will everyday’. Why do you put stickers on your body if they mean nothing to you? Go read the sticker again and it should remind you that will is the means by which we overcome inertia; it’s the special spark that ignites the flames of our power. Filling our emotional reserves takes intentional effort.
RC: Tomorrow I’ll go to a sports store and buy a funky, gym sportswear. Then I’ll start exercising.
HC: You always talk to rural women about harnessing their power for their own self-empowerment. Yet here you are failing to harness yours. Let me remind you that personal power without will is limited. Will is the combination of mind and action, the conscious direction of desire, the means through which we create our future. It is through daring to use our will that a stronger sense of self is born and through that strength, the will is further developed. Like a muscle, we can’t strengthen our will without exercising it. It serves us better when we exercise it wisely.
RC: Are you saying I am not empowered just because I am too busy to service what you are calling my vehicle. I have plans of doing so, I keep telling you. How do you expect me to go outside during this rainy season?
HC: You keep buying gym clothes. When will you have enough? Its work, its rain, you have overeaten and fear bursting, the gym instructor is sweaty…the list continues to grow longer. Who says there is one way of servicing your vehicle? The vehicle has many parts; emotional, physical, spiritual, intellectual, psychological; they all need to be well for the vehicle to function smoothly. Just as there are many parts of the vehicle (body), there are many ways of servicing it
RC: Why are you taking me on a guilty trip as if I don’t know what you are talking about? Servicing my vehicle or self-care is one of the things I prioritised two months ago, when I was in Ghana, attending a feminist retreat called Flourish, organised by the African Women Development Fund (AWDF). I even created my well-being ‘passport’ which sits comfortably in my bedside drawer. I will retrieve it when the time comes. During the retreat we were told that self-care is a political act. I am an empowered feminist, very political, the power within me shines bright, and it can burn you. Go away. It’s my body, I I’ll take of it.
HC: You can send me away but you can’t send away your body. It’s your body alright but when you are not well, we all suffer. You go around with your mouth wide open looking for someone to devour. A small comment makes you curse every feminist in the world. You get into depression and expect all of us to be depressed with you. You accuse us of not caring. How many times have I heard you say, ‘I have given up on the feminist movement, sisters don’t care…women pull each other down … no one has visited me’, yet when I come to you in the spirit of sisterhood, you dismiss me like a dog dismissing money.
RC: Let me confess, I have turned my shame into anger. I have been creating one excuse after another until I believed them. I make many plans, they are sitting in my head; I can visualise and almost touch them today but come tomorrow, nothing happens. I procrastinate. I postpone, and I wait. If it’s walking, I pray for rain. There are times when I have pleaded with the goddess to make the day shorter so that I have a legitimate reason for not doing that which I planned to do. When its yoga time, I lie down and pray to the universe to lift my legs. My part of the body that stores the spark of enthusiasm, that which ignites fire needs to be activated. I am convinced that the fire of my will is not strong enough to propel me forward, and to liberate me from fixed patterns so that I can create new behaviour. I have failed to take strong, difficult, and challenging actions related to my mental health and my wellbeing, so that I can move towards something new.
HC: Don’t despair. Power within is an openness to the flow of power around us, and our wills wrap themselves around our purpose gracefully when these powers are aligned. Once we know our will, we should return to the practical level, how do we effectively exercise it?
First, we need to carry out a scan and identify those things that unground us, find ways of replacing them with those that ground us. Without grounding we are not plugged in, we do not have the force of the liberating current running through us. We are more easily pushed around, often responding to other’s wills or spending our time castigating other people as if they control our lives.
If you treat me well, I’ll share some of the strategies for strengthening your vehicle. Don’t look at me as if am about to order you to carry Kilimanjaro mountain. The strategies are not difficult. I’m not going to ask you to live like a monk, buy a new house on top of a mountain top, stand on your head or on one leg for 20 minutes, completely cut yourself off from society and meditate 12 hours a day. No, the strategies are easier. Listen to your soul, listen genuinely, it knows what your body needs.
For starters, join a community of believers. But for today, we are going to look at your wellbeing ‘passport’ and implement at least one thing. Even if it is just a gentle walk around your house.
**** Rudo is every woman