I hold front and center that our health and wellness is inter-connected to the systems and structures - both visible and those unseen - that influence and often limit access to resources that are vital to our ability to thrive. All too often, we blame individuals and communities for "not working hard enough", and seldom reflect on how environmental and inter-generational factors influenced their health, wellness, and sense of self.
From a meditation and wellness perspective, I believe it is my and our responsibility to understand this narrative from the inside out. When we understand it from the inside out, we have an opportunity to see clearly that these limiting narratives and embodied feelings - live within us too. Having an opportunity to confront racism and ableism is part of self-liberation that can help us settle in to practices that support our health and wellbeing.
As we cultivate self-awareness, it is our responsibility to act with courage in the face in inequities, and actively contribute to shifting the root issues that keep wellness and health from those most impacted by systemic inequities.
"Radical Dharma is insurgence rooted in love, and all that love of self and other implies. It takes self-liberation to its necessary end by moving beyond personal transformation to transcend dominant social norms and delivery us into collective freedom." - Rev. angel Kyodo williams, Sensei
Below are some of the inter-related concepts/approaches that I look to when I reflect on roots of inequities and that help inform me how health and wellness and inter-related to the contexts our life's are connect with.
90% of our brains develop by the time we are 5 years old. The Adverse Childhood Experience Study (ACES) has demonstrated clearly that how we experience childhood has a powerful link to how behave and engage in life in our later years, including impacts on our physical health (i.e., chronic health conditions) due to the underlying trauma.
Experiencing chronic traumatic events can leave our nervous system active and constantly scanning for danger, especially if these traumas occurred at vulnerable ages, like early childhood. Its important to understand the pervasive nature of trauma and create environments of healing rather than practices and supports that may inadvertently re-traumatize. Trauma is unique to the individual and the context it occurred in.
The quality of education, health care, clean air, access to healthy foods, etc., all impact how our brains are structured as children, and impact how we experience life in later years, and how our sense of self is formed. Being born without supportive systems make children susceptible to lack of support, at a time when the heart, mind and body are most vulnerable and need an abundance of love and care. Adults were once these kids, and we have to understand that 'challenging adult behaviors' often stem from impacts to our development that we could not control or often don't even recognize. We must work together to address issues of systemic racism, poverty, etc., and fix the systems that are not meeting the needs of our human family.
The interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender, when overlapping can create additional layers of discrimination or disadvantage. We must consider that those who part of multiple categories that have been subjected to oppression often face more difficult circumstances and are furthers away from opportunity.
Some of us are born with unearned access to power and wealth, and because of the nature of human and brain development, we are unable to see this reality. As we become self-aware, and examine the nature of the human developmental process (especially our own), we must accept this reality, and work to offer solutions, beginning with can we personally do to alleviate this challenge, and work on solutions that ensure everyone has what they need to be healthy and thrive in our communities.
Human beings who've endured incredibly difficult situations and life-long challenges often are able to make sense of difficulties, and thrive in spit of set backs. There is so much research on this, including body of knowledge on the domains of resilience. One powerful aspect of resilience that cannot be overlooked in our brain's capacity to develop new neural connections, and learn new skills, including evolving our self of self, response to stressors, etc. One size does not fit all, and none of us move at the same speed. As we work on improving systems, we must work on providing those most impacted by our society's failures opportunities to heal and grow.
Humans are wired for connection. Humans get hurt in disconnection but also heal in connection. Relationships in early childhood, especially those with our primary attachment figures, impact how we see ourselves, and how we see others even if we don't consciously remember. As it relates to changes in our adult and adolescent years, we are more likely to see listen and be healthy if others make us feel safe, understood, and appreciated. Thus, work that is equity-focused must also be relationship-based too.