The day my spirit unclogged


What follows is a commentary from Shakeya McDow, Vice President, Ethics and Compliance Strategy, Kaiser Permanente

Shakeya is a health ethics, compliance, and risk Strategist in San Francisco, California. She attended one of the Catalyst Constellations retreat and decided to share her experience. Get ready to be inspired !

It was as if I had just read it.

It was so clear in my head. The one verse in a poem by Gemmia L. Vanzant that I had read over a decade ago was radiating in my heart.

One day, my soul just opened up
There were revelations, annihilations, and resolutions
feelings of doubt and betrayal, vengeance, and forgiveness
memories of things I’d seen and done before
of places I’d been, although I didn’t know when
there were lives I’d lived people I’d loved
battles I’d fought victories I’d won
and wars I’d lost.

Gemmia L. Vanzant

Why now and what triggered it here? It was a chilly day in October 2018 and I was at a retreat for catalysts and change agents. The focus was on rejuvenation, clarity, and connection – and here I was at the onset, unable to move past the words that were vibrating throughout my body, to be fully present in the experience – or was I?

The Stillness

For years I have operated in speed mode. Let’s be real: that is what catalysts do – identify, analyze, solution, transform, and repeat. There is too much in the world to be done for us to sit still and just be. Leading up to the retreat I thought: What is the work that we need to do to harness the collective power of mighty catalysts in this one place? Shall we come up with design methodologies? Challenge theories? Solve an international crisis?

It wasn’t long after rifling through the materials to find an agenda and going through a few guided breathing exercises that I realized the work… was me. And what needed to occur was going to come through stillness, reflection, and renewal of my spirit. Now, before you get wrapped up in the word spirit – this isn’t necessarily about religion, but it may be for some. I like the way Brené Brown defines spirituality. She defines it as “the belief in connection, a power greater than self, and interconnections grounded in love and compassion.”

Do you know how horrifying it is for someone who is known to be at the top of their game when they are asked to sit still, evaluate, and hone in on the clarity of intent related their messy selves and then talk about it with others (clinching my pearls)? I’d rather have a baby, a root canal, and walk on hot coal in the same day.

The Realization

It was early afternoon of the first day. Instead of staying around to connect with other members of the curated cohort, I opted for a walk along the bay. I continued the breathing that we had started together and with every exhale I felt lighter. With each step the busyness and clutter in my mind slowed.

Just like the verse of the poem that was so clear in my heart – the realization that I have been telling myself an untrue story was vivid as well. The story I told was that with the busyness of my professional and personal life I was running on empty. The truth: I was running on full. In true catalyst form I surmised that not only was my story incorrect – I had also been solving to the wrong question in my life. I had been solving the issue of running on empty and doing work and activities to fill me up. The reality was I was full (and had been for many years) and all the extra work I was doing with no more mental, physical, or spiritual capacity was causing what I call “self-inflicted and justified chaos”.

With all these realizations that were coming at me, I had to stop to quickly – before the start of the next session – to understand how this related to the verse of the poem that had resurfaced in my mind. Just as easily as everything else was coming to me in the stillness… the connection was clear as well.

My spirit had been clogged with all the things that verse of the poem represented – pain, disappointment, battles won, lives lost, and life lived. Contrary to what most catalysts believe, we are not the energizer bunny. It is not OK to just keep going. It is not OK to move from one thing to the next. It is OK to give voice to hurt and anger. It is OK to stop moving in the moment and show yourself and the world that you feel pain. It is OK to stop leaning in and lean on someone.

The Ongoing Work

In October of 2018 my spirit unclogged. The work to maintain this state is ongoing. It is not an easy process, but for those who may be going through the same journey I would like to share some practical actions that are helping me along the way:

  • Own your experience – Be open to receive and stand in the truth of the revelations.
  • Find your tribe – Such a fad term, I know. But there is something powerful about being vulnerable and accountable to those who hold you up without judgement.
  • Commit to rejuvenation practices – curating joyful experiences that lift your soul and ignite your spirit.
  • Gain clarity of intent – not only understanding what your why is, but what is relentlessly driving it.

This article may not resonate with everyone who reads it. It if reaches just one, then may the constellation of the connection carry forward. And if no one relates, the joy that I received pulling words together for this lived experience will never be replaced.

For those of you looking for more information on some of the topics in this post, I would refer you to:

  • Brene Brown – who has written extensively about some of my experiences. Specifically, The Gifts of Imperfection.
  • Tiffany Dufu – author of Drop the Ball.
  • Catalyst Constellations – the retreat that sparked this awakening in my spirit! 

Thank you Shakeya !

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