Upstream Swimming Made Easy: Resisting the God of Personal Health & Being Re-arranged by Beloved Community

neighborhood gardenBy Lindsay Airey

When I walked past the magazine racks at the CVS the other day, I inadvertently glanced at a magazine that had a nondescript, mid-30’s, white woman on the front cover. She was scantily clad in sports bra and spandex, totally toned, abs of steel and zero body fat. You know the cover I’m talking about. You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all—placed and marketed strategically and relentlessly around every corner to make all us women feel bad enough about ourselves that we will become better consumers of the latest diet fad or work-out craze.

On this particular day, it became my “Grace of the Day” (credit to Jenn Svetlik for introducing Tom & I to this redemptive daily practice) because in a split second, my reaction turned from conditioned response of:

Oh, I almost kind of sort of used to look like that, at one of the fittest times of my life…minus the abs (automatic shame response: “I’ve never had the abs!”). I could look that way again…if I worked out intensely every day, severely limited my eating, viewed every slice of pizza I saw as ‘poison.’ I know I could do that, I’ve done it before!

That’s a long, subconscious script. And, miraculously, it happened within less than 2 seconds.

And then out of nowhere, like some angel visiting from my deeper self:

Hell no! I’m not going back there. I know what it’s like to be a slave to image. No thank you. I like being able to enjoy a large pizza with my husband with no guilt. And I mean, really enjoy it! I like frequenting Senor Lopez Taqueria, our greasy and delicious Mexican food joint down the block. I like having my mind freed from analyzing and counting in my head the calories or the sugar or the whatever. That was a living hell when I used to live like that. Not to mention: the self-preoccupation, accompanying anxious perfectionism and isolation from the human community…

I am thankful for this moment yesterday because it was a trail marker along the journey, a gift to me of my personal process of liberation at work. It’s not so much that I’ve been the one making those shifts in thinking. Rather, those shifts have been happening to me. They are coming as one of the many inadvertent gifts of living amidst a community striving to live by a different ethos, a different set of norms & practices, a different story, a different economy: one living in the freedom of viewing health, first & foremost, through the lens of the commons. The profound truth that we are all connected, and that the liberation of one depends on the liberation of the whole community, is something I can taste & see more clearly in the midst of this Beloved Community. It’s like swimming in new water.

The alternative practices of this peculiar community are many:

• the watchful eye over undocumented sisters & brothers, especially when the cops roll through;
• the buzz of the corner farmer’s market (photo above) every Wednesday over the summer & into the Fall; the collective responsibility-taking for the welfare of all the neighborhood children;
• the warm smile & sweat-glistening brow of those bringing their product to “market”;
• the collective effort at planting the winter crop in the community garden down the street;
• the informal texting chain & immediate “boots on the ground” response to the threat of water shut-off on our block;
• the sharing of cars, hugs, food & work;
• the taking on of neighbors’ burdens as the community’s burden until those burdens get resolved;
• the creative bartering of skills & services;
• the weekly lectio divina bible study where communal wisdom & intimacy flow freely;
• the healing ceremony & ritual, overseen by elders, claiming back neighborhood space & precious lives violated by violence;
• the hand-making of gifts & organizing of the annual holiday craft & local artisan gift fair;
• the “staging” & protecting of abandoned homes to keep the neighborhood safe in the absence of protection from those in high places;
• the neighborhood safety meetings; the spontaneous sharing-of-frozen-perishable-goods-turned-neighborhood-feast after a 3-day city-wide power outage;
• dealing with thefts through a humanizing process of neighborhood-based conflict resolution;
• …and the list goes on.

This narrative of health, one I am getting to swim, bathe and bask in on the daily, stands in stark contrast to the default narrative offered by mainstream culture, one which lets very few escape its sinister grip. The latter, set within a capitalist narrative of hyper-consumption and compulsively chasing after everything un-Real just to numb the pain & keep intact our fragile egos, readily reduces it’s adherents to little more than a competitive, hyper-driven, isolated and narcissistic focus on self-image. No matter how good or pure the intentions, this false idol malforms its worshippers, subtley, yet thoroughly.

Within this Beloved community here in Southwest Detroit, I’m breathing different air, ironic indeed in a city where a large trash incinerator pumps filth into the air 24/7. The grace of it all is that I’m not at all responsible for the depth, life, and vitality of this spiritual air. But I sure as hell am thankful to be breathing it in! Over time, I hope to align myself in a way that my conscious dependence on this new air spills out more and more in a life of gratitude that contributes to, rather than detracts from, its quality.

This process of living into a more holistic vision of health is a lifelong struggle for us all, like trying to run up the down escalator. But I am thankful for this Beloved Community of struggle I have been invited to be a part of—in “making a way out of no way,” she has been subversively creating her own undercurrent, lightening the load of those of us who would throw in with her for the arduous journey upstream. This community, with her values and work and way of being, is seamlessly shifting who I am, how I spend my time, and what I value. Thank you, Beloved Detroit, for showing and inviting me, bit by precious bit, into Reality as it truly is. What a beautiful place it is to be!

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