Radical Belonging: Beyond Survival

The following book review reflects my personal opinion. I have no connection with the publisher or author beyond book ownership and ongoing respect for their work and courage.

Whether you’re dedicated to social justice and staying informed or you’re a fan of fiction and rarely read any non-fiction, this is the one book I’d suggest you pick up for 2021: Radical Belonging: How to Survive + Thrive in an Unjust World (While Transforming It for the Better) by Lindo Bacon. With all we have been through in the US, from an insurrection to a pandemic, this book addresses very significant issues that I’m guessing many (most?) folks don’t think about often enough.

These social justice concerns, I understand, can feel huge and difficult to sit with because sometimes change feels as impossible as towing the Titanic with a rowboat. If we don’t take some time to understand the past and deal with our own issues on more than just a personal level, I’m worried we’ll never move forward to the more just, compassionate, and accepting society we could be. The best part: in addition to educating and inspiring, this book also provides ideas for action. (Aren’t you tired of living in re-action? I am!)

Though I purchased the book when it was released, and in spite of the perfect opening in Chapter 1, I had a difficult time diving in. My margin comments, not easy and OMG reflected the amount of info presented, some heartbreaking and infuriating (why has this continued so long?!). As a member of the Boomer generation, I remember believing as a girl that my generation would “fix” the world. In fact, I felt certain that by 2000 we would all live in mutual appreciation, respect, peace, and harmony. We didn’t quite hit the mark.

Distracted by survival as a young wife and then as a single mom, I read, made an effort to stay informed, wrote letters to elected officials, and supported the ERA. But the world moved quickly in a direction I had never imagined. Paying the rent and keeping my children fed took all my energy. Through a curtain of fatigue, I watched a storm of fear and hatred grow, ginned up by self-serving leaders through the 1970s and 1980s. As a result, I completely understand anyone who feels overwhelmed today by the issues we all face.

This book presents a variety of important social justice issues with clarity and enough personal stories to touch hearts. When I struggled to take a deeper dive into the book, I did a quick speed-read from cover-to-cover. The last few chapters uplifted me, so I returned to the beginning and started over, seeking to digest more. Whenever I felt overwhelmed, I set the book down. Paused. In the end, the snapshot Dr Bacon provided convinced me we must work with whatever resources we have available to transform our communities and nation into a far more inclusive culture.

A lot of science shows up in the book, explained in easily understood terms. In fact, Chapters 1 through 7 walk the reader along some rocky roads, diving into challenges like the toll of living without feeling safe and connected (whether in our bodies or anywhere else). What I loved the most about this book were the last chapters, from “Connection is the Antidote” through “Beyond Self-Love.” These chapters and the additional materials in the appendices provide tools and powerful encouragement to move toward “Loving yourself as is. Loving yourself just because you’re enough. Loving your body because it’s your home. Self-love is a feeling, not an idea. It’s your birthright.” (p255) Amen to that.

In Radical Belonging, the author supports their discussion of topics like our culture, stress, trauma, fear, and shame with a “Notes”/reference section. They also include tools and exercises for moving into change-making: seeking connections, developing resilience, and coming together to create safe and inclusive spaces. As an elder, the “Manifesto for Body Liberation” helped me consider what body liberation might mean for me as well as for different populations and future generations.

Growing up in a community in which Spanish, Portuguese, and English flitted around like background music, it’s surprising that my cousins and I were forbidden to speak any language but English. Of course, we knew some words or phrases, but my great grandfather’s rule was that the youngest generation (now we’re the elders!) would only speak English so we didn’t develop tell-tale accents that made us stand out. The point, for that generation and in that binary world, was to blend in. As hard as we tried, though, even when my parents earned enough income to lift us from low-income to almost-middle-class, we did not blend in. Nobody ever suggested perhaps we were meant to stand out … or how much we could accomplish if we learned to stand together.

Radical Belonging issues that challenge of reaching beyond identified communities to stand together to lift one another. (So exciting! Imagine that!) Dr. Bacon explains the importance of systemic change beautifully: “In a society that stresses people out, individualized solutions can’t work. Given the existence of social injustice, suffering is going to happen disproportionately.”

I want to live in that world that I thought we would have crafted by 2000, a world in which we recognize extending social justice to all makes sense, lifts everyone, and creates such opportunities for future generations (think about not ever having to put energy into pretending to be someone other than your true self). I want that world for my adult children and my elementary school age grandsons who, some 200 years after my elders settled in the US, also face pressures to blend in. I want the unnecessary suffering to end.

My suggestions:

**No matter what, get curious, even if it feels awkward and uncomfortable.

**Read this book! Even if you’re feeling quite well informed and confident, I still recommend Radical Belonging. It is more than worth the investment.

**Visit the author’s website.

Here’s to opening ourselves to learning, to connecting, and to doing the work to lovingly accept ourselves and other people as we are – in all our glorious diversity. May you be healthy, happy, strong, safe, connected, and courageous.

Last words:

If you’ve already read the book, other books I’ve read recently that you might also appreciate: Yoke: My Yoga of Self-Acceptance by Jessamyn Stanley and Fat, Pretty, and Soon to be Old by Kimberly Dark (with an afterword by Lindo Bacon).

If money is tight (I totally understand that!), check with local and online bookstores for a used copy, contact your local public library for the book or, if they don’t have it, ask if they’ll purchase a copy. This volume has so much information, I’m betting you’ll learn something new. The personal and heartfelt stories from the author about their life and challenges bring the facts into focus. If you’re not convinced, please visit the author’s website for more information![i]

Please remember that neither my opinions/experiences nor resources I mention are meant as cures or treatment. This is intended to uplift and educate, not as counseling or professional advice. If you are in a moment in your life when most efforts feel huge, consider finding a mental health professional to support you.[ii] If you are considering ending your life or if you are in crisis, please reach out to emergency services (9-1-1) or a crisis hotline[iii] to connect with someone who will be mindful of your best interests. Your tender heart deserves respect.

Copyright 2021 D.R. deLuis

[i] For more information about Lindo Bacon, PhD, visit their website at www.lindobacon.com, read Body Respect and/or Health at Every Size (both books are co-authored with Lucy Aphramor).

[ii] One potential resource for finding an affordable counselor is www.opencounseling.com and most communities offer a 2-1-1 number where you can get info on local resources.

[iii] Connect with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit the website to text/chat at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/ For help via text, consider the Crisis Text Line. In the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808.

Book: The Gift

A Book Review of The Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life

In a series of small steps, I wandered online into a mention of Dr. Edith Eger as a psychologist and Auschwitz survivor from WWII. That eventually led me to a podcast featuring Dr Eger. Her light-hearted laughter drew me to purchase her book, The Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life.

Filled with stories based on personal experience as well as the stories of clients/patients with whom she worked, Dr Eger makes points about ways to live a fuller life and illustrates those with examples. Her writing style is clear and comfortable, more like a conversation with an experienced friend over a cup of tea than any “how to” manual or psych text. On the other hand, she offers specific suggestions and potential practices to move beyond trauma.

In grad school, my first professor noticed my reticence to speak up given my first class overflowed with experienced students for whom the class was their last. The astute professor privately suggested to me, “The first rule of therapy is not about showing off, it’s to avoid causing harm. Use the tools you have: take time to listen and ask clarifying questions. You’ll help people if that’s all you ever do.” In that spirit, I will point out the obvious: any discussion or writing related to trauma carries some risks, so for folks who have trauma history, consider exploring this together with a professional. To all readers, suggest you give yourself time to pause and check in with your body, heart, and mind to note how you’re feeling through this journey.

The short volume contains 12 chapters, each with a separate topic. Chapter 1 begins with “The Prison of Victimhood” stating “victims ask, “Why me?” Survivors ask, “What now?”” In addition to some stories and a description of each topic, Each chapter closes with a “Keys to…” section that reviews some of the key points and describes actions/activities to help readers move through some self-exploration work. Note that these are not easy-peasy, do-it-once miraculous cure-all actions. Most often these require some insight, dedication, and practice, “And then keep showing up for your self all day, every day.”

Topics include victimhood, avoidance, self-neglect, secrets, guilt and shame, grief, and more. Dr Eger explores relationships, touches on careers, discusses fears, and everything leads back to ways we can unlock our mental prisons and evolve.

Through the topics she selected, the author offers insights from her own life, lessons learned from Auschwitz to marriage, motherhood and the joy of grandchildren (and great-grandchildren).

She offers practical suggestions for ways to work through ups and downs of life, from making decisions about your relationship with yourself – “…I talk to myself all the time. I say, “Edie, you’re one of a kind. You’re beautiful. May you be more and more Edie every day.”[i] – to dealing with fears – “When fear comes like a panic storm, and your body shakes and your heart races and the trauma you already survived threatens to swallow you, take your own precious hand and say, “Thank you, fear, for wanting to protect me.” Then say, “That was then, this is now.” Say it over and over again. You already made it. Here you are.”[ii]

Some of Dr Eger’s ideas, I thought initially, sounded a bit candy-coated. However, she doesn’t live in a spun-sugar world. “We live in a world with danger, and so we live in a world with fear. Your safety isn’t guaranteed.” She goes on to point readers away from a fear-based focus. “But fear and love don’t coexist. And fear doesn’t have to rule your life.” She continues by sharing a few examples.

The author defines idealism as “when you expect that everything in life is going to be fair or good or easy.” With respect to her education and experience, I view idealists as people who do what they can to make the world a better place. While some people lean into wishing and dreaming and call themselves idealists, to me idealism is giving hope feet. It’s believing in fairness and justice, yes, and it’s also taking action. Idealists don’t just wish for a cleaner environment, they act: compost, recycle, use less. Idealists don’t dream of better government: they vote, volunteer, and connect with elected officials.

Whether or not I agree with an author 100% of the time, though, I agree wholeheartedly that this book has helpful tidbits for most people. I particularly appreciate her view of grief and her perspective about hope. “Hope isn’t a distraction from darkness. It’s a confrontation with darkness.”

The book can be a quick read, if you choose to rush through it. To get the benefit from this advice, though, I’d suggest skimming or speed-reading it once just to get a bit of a sense of the layout and activities. Then go back to the beginning and take some time, in particular, to try out the exercises. As you find ones that work well for you, incorporate those into your daily self-care routine.

If you can afford it, this may be one of those books to keep for a boost or new ideas about ways to handle unexpected circumstances. If money is tight, reserve a copy at your local library (and keep notes about ideas that speak to you).

Thinking about you, hoping you find what helps your self-care journey, healing, or helps you assist others with their healing. Wishing you hope, all the support you need and want, and creative ideas about making our world a better place.

May you be healthy, happy, safe, and strong.

Last words: Please remember that neither my opinions/experiences nor resources I mention are meant as cures or treatment. This is intended to uplift and educate, not as counseling or professional advice. If you are in a moment in your life when most efforts feel huge, consider finding a mental health professional to support you.[iii] If you’re considering ending your life or if you are in crisis, please reach out to emergency services (9-1-1) or a crisis hotline[iv] to connect with someone who will have your best interests at heart. Your tender heart deserves respect.

Copyright 2021 D.R. deLuis

[i] From Chapter 3

[ii] From Chapter 9 (Are you evolving or revolving?)

[iii] One potential resource for finding an affordable counselor is www.opencounseling.com and most communities offer a 2-1-1 number where you can get info on local resources.

[iv] If you’re not comfortable speaking with someone, try reaching out to the Crisis Text Line. In the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808. To speak with someone, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit the website to text/chat at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/.

Feeling Deeply

Growing up includes some challenges for everyone, I expect. For me, life often felt huge and confusing, living in a farming community amid a fairly large and loud Portuguese and Hispanic family with generations-deep blood ties to the Azores and a sort of grandiose pride in clinging to European roots while also grasping for The American Way. The closest family members belligerently professed  connections to conservative politics in public in order to “blend in,” while behind closed doors they retained a rebellious devotion to more progressive candidates and ideas. (Under questioning, they encouraged 8-year-old-me to never vote by political party affiliation but by candidates’ character.) Both my parents lost their fathers while they were still young and lived unstable lives. They came from a generation that survived the Great Depression and a World War. They didn’t talk about feelings.

Drama flourished within the community of my youth, though. Booze launched family gatherings, with cousins spilling out back doors and aunties organizing food while uncles bickered. Then arguments grew louder until somebody walked off, red-faced, or took a swing at someone else. Kids and women would scatter until things calmed down. Over food, jokes that I rarely understood drew guffaws and eased tensions until a few folks dusted off their favorite funny stories to share and share again. And then, whew. Sometimes we headed home. Other times, the wine from dinner urged someone to play fado, sad music featuring, most often, a heart-broken woman singing in Portuguese, or non-English versions of songs like Ave Maria. My mom, who spoke only English, and any nearby children, all of us forbidden to speak Portuguese or Spanish, would brace ourselves when those tunes started. We waited, amazed, until the big bossy manly men wept, blew their noses on cloth handkerchiefs, and ran out of energy. The evening wrapped up with folks patting shoulders and heading quietly home. That’s the closest we ever came to disclosure of feelings.

No surprise, I grew up with a limited ability to identify emotional states. I knew about four that I would have named as Fearful, Angry, Happy, and Sad. I read a lot and tried to figure out how to control emotional states and where they originated, but eventually I set the whole thing aside because of conflicting information. A few decades later I found a chart of emotions that helped me to understand some nuance so I could say, “That talk left me feeling content, hopeful, inspired” instead of “That was good.” Still, it felt as if feelings primarily mattered to me.   

Several books inspired me, starting with HeartMath (the book helped me consider the importance of the heart and offered techniques to feel calm), the books Blue Zones and Thrive (helped me view emotional and physical health through a cultural and holistic lens), and the book I want to talk about, Permission to Feel: The Power of Emotional Intelligence to Achieve Well-being and Success by Marc Brackett, Ph.D.

This book came to my attention during a podcast, and I picked it up because I want to improve my own skills and hoped to help my grandsons identify emotions beyond the common 4 I knew as a child. Along with engaging and well-written text, the book contains opportunities to pause and consider how we’re feeling or to practice a technique. There are 3 sections to the book. The first is more background information. The second section covers the method in more detail. The third is about applying the method. Because I’m looking for tools to help in the real-world I inhabit, the opportunity to engage with the material inspired me and initial trials have boosted my appreciation for the material.

Though the book warns against judging others’ feelings, I’ve used some observed encounters to build my own vocabulary. Because I completely acknowledge we’re often not as skilled as we think, I also take opportunities when it’s safe to do so to reality-check my observations with friends/family. I wondered how often my grandkids feel irritated, frustrated, and disappointed but hold in their feelings until they’re ready to burst.

Last spring, when schools were wrapping up for the year and before I’d read Permission to Feel, the grandchildren and I started a related discussion. We began learning about the brain, focusing primarily on the pre-frontal cortex (the Wise One), the hippocampus (the Library), and the amygdala (the Guard Dog) based on the Hawn Foundation MindUp Curriculum: Brain-Focused Strategies for Learning—and Living[i].  I hoped by teaching the grandsons brain-basics, they would better understand feelings, recognize anger and fear are designed to protect them, and develop ways to regulate emotions. We had fun discussing parts of the brain and how our Guard Dogs go berserk.

We only finished two lessons, though, before schools closed and our household schedules were upended by other changes. We haven’t yet gotten back in the groove and in online school the children checked in with their teachers on feelings with a simple thumbs-up, thumbs-down, or thumbs-sideways.

In contrast, Permission to Feel provides a 100-word feelings chart (for adults) in full color with 4 sectors divided from high-energy to low energy and low pleasantness to high pleasantness. For example, “enraged”=high energy/low pleasantness, “ecstatic”=high energy/high pleasantness, “serene”=low energy/high pleasantness, and “despairing”=low pleasantness/low energy. The method includes steps we can take to guide ourselves away from being a feelings-judge. These steps are abbreviated as RULER (Recognize feelings, Understand the causes and consequences, Label emotions correctly, Express emotion(s), Regulate emotions).

Two of the many very helpful ideas for me include suggestions about how to question children regarding feelings and a technique called “Meta-Moment.” Please note that this book overflows with useful information. This is a glimpse and, hopefully, encouragement for you to read this yourself.[ii]

Questioning children. Asking children simple questions after they’ve had an outburst or seem upset sounded like straightforward advice. The author provided some sample questions that I remember as WHY. What happened? How did you feel (when that happened)? Why do you think you felt that way?  In brief practical experience, I’ve discovered waiting too long to bring up the feelings may give the memory time to clear from a child’s memory. Ask too soon and it can restart a tantrum.

One day I just didn’t know what else to say when my youngest grandson seemed angry and revving up.  He raised his fist as if he planned to hit me. Normally I talk about hitting as an inappropriate response that can cause more problems than it solves, then suggest deep breathing. He always refuses the breathing suggestion. Instead, this time I said, “I feel soooo frustrated right now. I love you so much and want to figure out what’s happening. I feel disappointed in myself because what I usually do doesn’t help you and I feel sad because I don’t know what to do to help you feel calm.”

By movie-moment standards, his response registered as far from miraculous. He looked at me, lowered his fist, and emphatically responded, “I feel frustrated, too!” And I said, “Isn’t it awful to feel snarled up like this? I need to take a break.” He nodded and walked away to take a break of his own. Later I tried to open the discussion about feelings, but he seemed to have moved on to more interesting topics.

The following morning, though, he came to me and said, “When I was little, (so-and-so) pushed me and bit me and hit me and it hurt.” I told him I felt really mad that someone would do that to him, told him it was mean and not fair to him. “You deserve to feel safe and be treated with love.” He simply said, “Thank you” and walked away. No happily-ever-after, but a good start.

Though he seems to have some trauma-based anger to deal with, we’re working on small things. The next time I noticed his frustration escalating (while completing homework), instead of asking him to pay attention, I mentioned he seemed really stressed and asked how I could help. He wasn’t quite sure, but I made a few suggestions and he accepted one. Quickly, we returned to task.

There have been some failed attempts. When we’re tired or haven’t eaten, things can go off the rails fairly quickly. I’m learning to ask about his feelings sooner. To be frank, re-reading the book sounds helpful, too, since it’s packed with so much information that I barely offer a glimpse. 

Meta-Moment. This suggestion, with multiple emotion-regulation techniques, spoke to me. Normally I can react semi-intelligently, but things have been stressful lately. The pool (my “happy place”) I depended on for exercise is closed and I’ve failed rather spectacularly at substitute endeavors, my schedule has been chaotic, the political and social climates have been erratic and sometimes scary, and we’re currently socially distant from friends and family. I’m destined to practice this technique a lot.

In most basic terms, it’s about taking a brief time-out when life feels overwhelming to the point we’re ready to act out. Instead, the book suggests: Take a deep breath (or a few). Clock it (sense the shift). Stop it (pause). See your Best Self in the situation. Consider options and take the road that helps close the gap between your “triggered” self and your Best Self.

Again, this book has a lot to offer if you’re someone who wants to dig in and try some techniques to better recognize and regulate your emotions. Whether you’re curious or you really want to learn ways to integrate emotional openness into your life, consider inviting Permission to Feel into your world. 

Next week, book 3 of my recent (for me) top 3 “self-help” books.

Until then, may you be happy, healthy, safe, and strong.

Last words: Please remember that neither my opinions, my experiences, nor resources I mention are meant as cures or treatment. If you’re in a moment in your life when most efforts feel huge, consider finding a mental health professional to support you.[iii]  If you’re considering ending your life or if you are in crisis, please reach out to emergency services (9-1-1) or a crisis hotline.[iv] You deserve support and to know someone has your back.

Copyright D.R. deLuis 2020

[i] Visit www.mindup.org for more info and https://mindup.org/mindup-for-teachers/ for additional materials, including links to free training videos. The curriculum can be purchased on Amazon or at other book retailers.

[ii] If you’re on a budget, check with your local library or see if you can borrow from a friend! My current income is limited and my bookshelf is full, so I understand!

[iii] Most areas in the U.S. offer a “2-1-1” service that can provide information about local resources. In addition, one website (there are many) with info about finding an affordable therapist is Open Counseling at www.opencounseling.com .

[iv] National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255; to reach the Crisis Text Line in the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808.