Illustrious Alumni: Mindful Parenting with Dr. Shefali Tsabary

In 1993, Shefali Tsabary (PDT ’96) traveled from Mumbai, India, to the CIIS campus, which was located in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury District at the time. Only 21 years old, she couldn’t have imagined how her life was about to change.

“My true awakening occurred when I left India and arrived at CIIS to study in the Drama Therapy program, where I discovered the power of meditation and mindfulness,” she says. “That journey of self-awareness and introspection really taught me we are not who we think we are. The conditions of childhood do not define us. I learned that breaking free from the past and entering the present moment to live fully in the here and now is the most important journey we can take.”

This philosophy became the inspiration of Tsabary’s work with clients as she applied the Drama Therapy skill of quickly improvising solutions to problems. She was greatly influenced by her classes with faculty members Renee Emunah and Eva Leveton, and she expresses deep gratitude to them.

After graduating from CIIS in 1996, Tsabary completed a doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology at Columbia University. Today, she is a keynote speaker who has presented at TEDx, Kellogg Business School, the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education, and other conferences and workshops around the world where she shares her approach of integrating Eastern mindfulness with Western psychology — especially in the realm of parenting.

“We live in a time where there is the plague of doing, doing, doing that creates an internal disconnect within parents as they race against the clock,” she says. Tsabary observes that “childhood has become this big competition for achievement. This gives the child the message that they always have to achieve or become something in order to be worthy… rather than to unfold into who they already are.”

Tsabary has written three books, including the award-winning New York Timesbestseller The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children, endorsed by Oprah as one of the most profound books on parenting she has ever read. Tsabary was recently invited to Oprah’s Lifeclass, where she met with parents, facilitated conversations parent-child conversations, and presented her insights to Oprah’s audiences.

In her third book, The Awakened Family: A Revolution in Parenting, Tsabary encourages parents to pause and examine their awareness for feelings of fear, worry, and scarcity. Instead of automatic behavior that may lead to taking a hierarchical stance focused on managing the “lesser than” child, she encourages parents to recognize the disconnect that stems from their own projections and unmet needs. She advises, “Take that time to go within because when we don’t recognize that we’re in a state of fear, the fear is in charge and then we’re yelling at our kid.” Where did that come from? It came from not paying attention in the moment.”

She continues, “Parents are often so blinded by their own pain, fear, or anxiety that they’re not even seeing the kid in front of them. The awakened parent is one who understands that they are bringing to their dynamic so much of their own stuff: their ego, their baggage, their unprocessed legacies of shame, blame, and unworthiness.”

Tsabary coaches parents to commit to a regular self-love practice. She explains, “It’s a practice of developing the understanding that this lack, this sense of incompleteness, comes from false beliefs we’ve inherited from childhood because of the unconsciousness of our parents. They put it on to us and we lived with it, and then we put it on to our children. Breaking this chain, reorganizing ourselves, and developing new belief systems — I call it a revolution. The old way doesn’t serve us. This lack of self-love doesn’t serve us.”

Tsabary’s self-love practice includes Vipassana meditation techniques she learned at CIIS. She tries to incorporate formal meditation into her days and challenges herself to access a meditative state while doing ordinary tasks like washing her hands and brushing her teeth.

Tsabary enjoys participating in parents’ transformations. She says, “I help parents understand that first they need to work on themselves. Parents who learn how to tap into their inner abundance and divinity can convey their sense of wholeness to their children.”

She feels grateful to be part of guiding others to connect to simple, joyful, and liberated parenting methods. She concludes, “I believe in the power of story to get to the heart of the matter and to inspire people. If something I say or write rings true for someone and they become awakened, I feel grateful to have made a contribution.”

By Richard Buggs 

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THE WHITE WOMAN’S SLAVE MARKET: BLACK WET NURSES AND REPRODUCTIVE VIOLENCE

On Wednesday, November 8th, Assistant Professor of History Stephanie Jones-Rogers of UC Berkeley brought to light the market for enslaved wet nurses in nineteenth-century America in a talk hosted by the DHI Research Cluster Women and Gender in the World.

In a talk entitled “‘She could spare one ample breast for the profit of her owner’: White Mothers and Enslaved Wet Nurses’ Invisible Labor in American Slave Markets,” Jones-Rogers argued that studying enslaved wet nurses reveals white women’s complicity in expanding slavery in the south and demonstrates how white mothers were at the forefront of these market transactions. White southern women had created a “niche sector of the slave market” dedicated to providing them with the specific maternal labor that they sought from bondswomen.

Jones-Rogers emphasized that we cannot forget about the reproductive and maternal violence white women perpetrated against black bondswomen. Indeed, the commodification of slave mothers provides an important example of the disturbing “quotidian” horrors of slavery.

Jones-Rogers’ research has much significance in the field of nineteenth-century U.S. history, particularly because so little attention has been paid to non-masculinized enslaved labor. The few nineteenth-century historians who have discussed enslaved wet nurses, like Walter Johnson in River of Dark Dreams, downplay the extent to which white women capitalized on black breast milk.

The reason for this, Jones-Rogers’ contends, is because historians have focused their research on elite southern white women, while ignoring the ways in which non-elite white women used black wet nurses. By studying wet nurse advertisements in southern newspapers, Jones-Rogers’ uncovered a disturbing story of white women’s reliance on and exploitation of black women.

These advertisements, along with other primary source documentation, reveal much about the reproductive violence inflicted upon black women by their white counterparts. They show, among other things, how white women timed their pregnancies with that of their black wet nurses, and how they forced black mothers to dedicate the majority of their milk to white children, rather than their own children.

When black wet nurses became “unproductive,” that is, could no longer produce milk, they were replaced by white mothers who deemed them to be defective. White women did this rather than improve nutritional conditions for black wet nurses.

Because white women managed black wet nurses’ labor, they were the ones who determined the market for black wet nurses. Using a lexicon derived from the greater slave market, white women graded black wet nurses based on whether they were “likely” (meaning “likely to work out”), their skill level, whether the white children they nursed in the past ended up healthy, and whether or not their milk was “fresh.”

Freshness was determined by the age of the enslaved wet nurses’ infant. The older their infant, the less valuable her milk. Enslaved wet nurses whose infant died soon after childbirth were extremely valuable. White women appreciated the lack of the extra “encumbrance,” knowing full well that more time and resources would be spent on their own children.

Becoming a wet nurse had a number of detrimental emotional effects on black women, beyond those created by more traditional forms of slave labor. For one, it separated them from established kinship networks. It also made it more difficult for them to bond with their children, who were often separated from them for prolonged periods so that they could focus on servicing white children instead.

The extent to which white women had commodified black wet nurses’ labor can be seen in how they reacted to this emotional distress. Instead of trying to improve conditions for enslaved wet nurses, white women typically used their wet nurses’ despair as an excuse to sell them, noting in advertisements to other prospective buyers that this particular wet nurse was prone to “the sulks” or “madness,” lessening her value.

Black mothers were used daily for their bodily resources, with no regard for their personal well-being, often leading to their mental and physical decline. It is only with research like Jones-Rogers’ that we can truly begin to understand the depraved nature of the south’s “peculiar institution.”

This talk was organized by UC Davis Associate Professors of History Ellen Hartigan-O’Connor and Lisa Materson, directors of the Women and Gender in the World DHI Research Cluster, and also supported by the History Department Colloquium. Jones-Rogers’ upcoming book, Mistresses of the Market, will more thoroughly explore the topic discussed in this presentation.

 

– Nicholas Garcia, DHI Graduate Student Researcher and doctoral student in the Department of History

We All F*ck Up: The Importance of Loving Yourself Even When You Disappoint Yourself

By Vanessa Lewis of TheBodyIsNotAnApology.com

Look, the act of self love ain’t never been no easy thing — especially when you’re experiencing copious amounts of scarcity, shame, disenfranchisement, or loss. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a 10 billion dollar skin-lightening industry in countries where the world’s darkest people reside. Forty-two percent of voting women wouldn’t have voted for Donald Trump (an anti-choice, anti-union, anti-poor, pro-war, sexual harassment enthusiast).

And I, processing yet another anguishing break-up with someone who’s made it overtly and painfully clear that they no longer want anything to do with me, would be focusing more on healing, pursuing my goals, and moving through grief, rather than spending my days staring at his facebook page, miserably pining for his affection and attention, and desperately reaching out to him even when I know better.

That’s not to say that folks who use skin bleaching cream or vote for fascists don’t feel love for themselves. And I’ll put it on all that’s holy and sacred that I love and treasure every ounce and texture of my tender, sensitive, butter-cup of a heart.

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes struggle to like myself, especially when I disappoint myself. And to be clear, I am disappointed with myself. Not because of how intensely I feel grief — I think that’s a beautiful and uncomfortable part of being courageous enough to love people sometimes — but because of the choices I’ve made as a result of that grief. This current situation is nothing new.

I have a history of repeatedly contacting my ex’s to work things out and try to re-establish some sort of connection, sometimes even after they have directly told me to back off and that they are happier now that things are over — like my last ex did 2 weeks before I last contacted him.

Yea. Sigh.

That choice not only hurt me, but it’s easy to see how it’s deep in alignment with rape culture — I intruded on my ex’s personal space against his wishes and prioritized my feelings and desires while disregarding the needs and boundaries he very clearly expressed.

Immediately afterwards, I was so disappointed with myself that I fell asleep that night wishing that I was someone else. Me. The person who screams self-love and radical self-acceptance all up and down the internet.

It wasn’t until I stopped myself from writing a facebook status about wanting to not be me that I paused. That wasn’t the message I wanted to send into the world, it wasn’t what I wanted to internalize for myself, and it sure as hell wasn’t a viable solution to my problematic behavior.

SELF LOVE IS NOT AN ACHIEVEMENT — IT’S A PRACTICE

I don’t want to be someone else; I want to be a version of myself that’s conscientious and intentional about learning from my mistakes rather than shame-spiraling into self-loathing. I want to take such good care of myself when I’m hurt, angry, or grieving, that I have a self-nurturing practice to keep me accountable when my anguish makes wisdom and integrity less accessible.

I had to remind myself that the relationship that I have with myself can and will change, evolve, grow, heal and even deteriorate at times as the circumstances in my life shift. That’s ok. That’s what it means to be human, alive, not static.

Self-love is not an achievement. It’s a practice. A tedious and difficult practice. It’s easy to love yourself when you’re coasting, when you’re not in emotional pain, when you’re not fucking up.

It’s when we fuck up, when we’re distressed, when we experience scarcity, when things hurt so much its damn near impossible to breathe that it is most important to have a practice of self-love, of self-compassion, of nurture, of forgiveness. Those are the handlebars that help us make choices rooted in both collective and personal liberation in the first place, and that enable us to be introspective enough to take the risk of naming our wrongs and correcting them internally — and on someone else’s terms — when we mess up.

IT IS CRITICAL AND REVOLUTIONARY THAT WE TALK ABOUT THE MISTAKES WE MAKE

Those of us committed to social justice activism, liberation, and collective love rarely, if ever, talk about our mistakes, the harms we cause, and how those harms impact people — especially people in our intimate sphere and families — publicly. That sort of radical transparency, self-reflection, and accountability, in my opinion, is what’s missing from the public arena and discourse of social and transformative justice.

We celebrate the accomplishments of our movement workers. We sometimes glorify our hardships and create identity out of our pain and oppression. We laud perfectionism through call-out culture, where we’ve literally created a whole stage to heckle people’s inability to know the most up-to-date language and theory.

But we rarely talk about the often painful, rugged, confusing road we took to get here. We rarely talk about the time we said that unintentionally cissexist thing to the trans or non-binary cutie we were trying to cruise, or when we made the ableist joke about ourselves and hurt our disabled co-worker, or how we got defensive after being told our respectability politics are actually internalized white supremacy.

And if we can’t name the ways we perpetuate oppression, then how are we going to actually change oppression?

HOLDING OURSELVES ACCOUNTABLE IS DIFFICULT AF, BUT SELF-LOVE MAKES IT A LOT EASIER

While I’m definitely not proud of the different microaggressions I’ve done or the harms I’ve caused, I am so grateful to all the people who have spoken up and named my behavior. I know that I wouldn’t have learned to grow or how to do better, if I let my shame keep me from really acknowledging my role in said mistakes. And I know I wouldn’t have the beautiful relationships I have now if I hadn’t done the work to hold myself accountable, apologize, and learn new behaviors.

But there are a lot of folks who don’t do that work when they get called out for some mistake they’ve made or some harm they’ve caused. Some folks become so ashamed that, instead of taking the critique as an opportunity to look inward and sift through some oppressive socializations and make some different choices, they internalize it and create an identity around that mistake.

Rather than doing the hard, messy work of learning to do better, they become defensive, claim we are too difficult to please, that we are snowflakes who forced people into voting for Trump.

The issue is not that we’re too difficult to please, but we don’t actually have loving models of growth and redemption, of forgiveness and accountability. We rarely honor the tedious space of learning and unlearning.

We want people to see us for the radical activist we are now, but not the dynamic, messy journey full of missteps it took to get here. We like to pretend that once you’re there, you’re done. But that’s simply not true.

More TBINAA Radical Reads: How to Make Mistakes Without Beating Yourself Up

TRANSFORMATIVE HEALING IS A LIFELONG VENTURE AND DEEPLY DEPENDENT ON SUPPORT FROM COMMUNITY

There’s a reason why religious folks go to church every week. There’s a reason why people go to therapy more than on one occasion. And there’s a reason why people exercise or practice their passion regularly.

Transformation is a lifelong process. It’s going to happen whether you are intentional or not. So we need to create the spaces and structures to support each other with that transformation, to encourage each other when we feel hopeless or stuck, and to celebrate each other for the beautiful potential that lives in every mistake we make.

And for me, at least in this article, it feels most important to remind each other that we deserve to love ourselves, and to be loved by others, even in the midst of our mistakes and fouls — it’s the only thing that will help us get through the ugly parts.

I can be mad at you and still love you. I can be mad at myself — as I am right now — and still love myself. That’s what makes love brilliant, it’s full of capacity. What makes love magic? Its ability to transform.

For those of us committed to self and collective liberation, it is when we fuck up that we need love the most.

The Body Is Not An Apology is an international movement committed to cultivating global Radical Self Love and Body Empowerment. We believe that discrimination, social inequality, and injustice are manifestations of our inability to make peace with the body, our own and others.