In our webinar with Shiree Teng, co-author of the brown paper Healing Love: Into Balance, we discussed the importance of self-love as the root of our power in giving.
Because we are humans who live authentically and fully in touch with our emotions, we need to establish rigorous and constant practices of self-love and self-care. Shiree walked us through the twelve dimensions of love, as well as ways to distinguish between self-soothing and radical self-love, all within the context of philanthropy.
Together, we sought to answer the question, “How do we heal with love into balance?”
- Self-love is the core of living in community. When we love ourselves, we are then able to share that love with others, where it ripples out as love as a community practice.
- There are four “categories” of self-love as a community practice: Integrity with our own values, critical analysis of our own thoughts and behaviors, self-care as revolutionary acts of resistance, and love fused with power. When we radically love ourselves, we can radically love our communities, and share power with people instead of holding power over people.
- A critical component of self-love is recognizing the things we can control and the things we can’t. We can’t control the past, the future, other people’s beliefs, or the media, but we can control our own attitudes, responses, and boundaries, as well as who we choose to listen to.
- Boundaries are also critically important in self-love. When we establish and keep healthy boundaries, we are showing up both to love ourselves and to love others. ‘
- The practice of “mutuality” allows us to reach for one another in community. Mutuality refers to the symbiotic relationship between people, the ways that we are in a beloved community together, that we care about one another, and that we live in harmony with each other and with the earth.
- The opposite of life is not death, it’s trash. And it’s up to us, in our practice of self-love, to identify what in our minds and lives no longer serves us, and to find ways to “digest and compost” those things into mutuality.
- Power comes from below. In the same way that plants grow from the earth beneath us, our power comes from ourselves. We each, as we climb, lift others with us. This is particularly true when we live in our Eros (the erotic and the associated power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling).
Shiree Teng [Starting at 02:48]: Healing is love, and love is healing. It goes both ways, it goes in all directions. It is such an honor to be in this space with you today. My name is Shiree Teng. I use the pronouns she, her, hers, and anything that’s loving. It’s great to see you all! I would love to have you put in the chat, where are you calling in from today? What land are you on and what do you have on your feet? That’s a surprise question.
Kelsey Barowich: I love that. I’m going to keep that!
Shiree Teng: What is your name, your pronouns, where are you calling in from today, and what’s on your feet? I will say I’m greeting you today from the land of the Muscogee people in Atlanta, Georgia. After our session, I am on my way home to Oakland, California. I live in Cali and Georgia, and I have slippers on my feet, blue ones. So would love to know what’s on your feet as well.
I want to take a moment to just express gratitude for this invitation to share, and every time I get to talk about love and healing, it is a great day. Thanks Kelsey and Philanthropy Together for this invitation and for all of your presence. Once you have put in your chat, I invite us to put both feet on the ground, sit up really straight if that’s accessible and comfortable. Pretend there’s a string pulling our head to the skies so that our spine is straight and comfortable when you invite us into three deep breaths together.
There. Make a sound. Second deep breath. And the third.
Thank you for that, and for all of your sharings. I’m going to share my screen and take us to this slide deck that I’ve prepared.
I want to tell you a little bit about who I am as we get started. I come to you today as a person that was born as a colonized subject of the British Empire. 64 years ago I was born on the island of Hong Kong. The smell-good harbor, Hong Kong. Everywhere I looked was Queen Elizabeth’s face. Her porcelain skin, her porcelain face was on everything that represented power, money, stamps, in the bank, right?
There would be a big portrait of Queen Elizabeth at the police station, at City Hall. I grew up knowing that wasn’t me. I was a second class citizen in my own mother island. And then at age 11 my mother decided that we should immigrate to the United States because my older brother and sisters were there to reunite the family and to get a good free education as it was promised.
At 11 years old, I spoke maybe 12 words in English. We landed in the town right outside Boston called Arlington, Massachusetts in 1971. It was the height of the bus stop, a group of mostly white parents, women mostly, stopping busing as a vehicle for integration. I used to watch a lot of TV to learn English, and I was terrified.
What is this place we just landed? Why are they doing that? Throwing fake rocks as big as my cell phone at little black children coming off yellow school buses from Dorchester, Jamaica Plain. Why were they doing that? Throwing rocks at them? Is that what’s going to happen to me?
I became a very confused and angry teenager, and I decided that my life would be devoted to ending this type of terror and violence that’s based on hate. So I’ve been healing my whole life. And today I want to share with you some things that in my last probably eight years have really devoted my energy to. One is, how do we measure love?
How do we heal with love into balance?
This is a brown paper–intentionally called a brown paper–and I invite you to download it when we’re done and to read it, to comment, to reach out to me. Today’s topic of healing and love is, how radically are you loving yourself?
How radically are you loving yourself as part of your journey for racial equity and equity in our society? To what extent are you honoring grief in your life? To what degree are you welcoming rebirth, and integrating health and harmony from the inside out?
My co-authors – Audrey Jordan, Kate Morales, Rosa Gonzalez, and I – we believe that catalytic love is an intentional decolonizing act on the road of racial equity, that love is an infinite well inside each of us. It’s not like a glass of water or a cell phone battery [where] once you use it up, it’s gone. No, it’s rechargeable.
It is. It has catalytic power, right? Once you deploy it into the world, it will take on energy of its own. Love is an intentional decolonizing act. Like white supremacy, colonization has established that there’s only one way of knowing. That is knowledge. Knowledge that is rational, logical, data-driven, written down, right?
No, we need to interrupt the colonial act of separating us, separating our knowing. And break this binary. It is not only rational knowledge that is a way of knowing, right? We know that there is the mind, there is the heart, and there’s spirit. The mind allows us to process our thoughts, our analysis, our data, our heart, like this big muscle. It’s where our feelings are based on our senses and perception.
And then there’s spirit. There are times when we don’t know why or how we know things, but we do know. It sits in our intuition. It sits in our gut. It’s ways of knowing based on ancestral wisdom and lineage. It’s an internal spiritual knowing and all three, right, plus physical, knowing a body carries memories.
So all that is how we know things. Lately, I’ve been telling my two sons to stop trusting their minds. If I want to do something, my mind will give me a thousand reasons why I should do it. Or if I don’t want to do something, my mind will tell me a thousand and one reasons why I shouldn’t do it.
I’ve been relying more on my heart and my gut knowing and then running it past my mind. So in reverse order, and by radical self-love, we mean embracing our light and our shadow, right? Having the courage to look at what is bright and what is not, and the thing that’s rotting inside really is just starving with some love.
So how do we radically love ourselves beyond feeling good, right? And embracing our light and our shadow. So in Measuring Love, the first brown paper, we start with self-love as the core, right? That is the centerpiece. It then reverberates and ripples out to how we love others in our intimate lives. From there, it ripples out as love as a community practice.
We live in a community. We’re born in a community. We will die in community and everything in between is the community practice. So how do we bring that love as a community practice? And then the outermost layer is love that is fused with power. We all have power. If we don’t use it, we lose it. Yet, our power, if it’s not fused with love, runs the danger of being transactional: power over and not power with, right? So we really start at the innermost ring, which is loving ourselves.
So in our brown paper, we point out there are twelve dimensions of love in these four categories. It is not the twelfth dimension. It is only twelve dimensions. Use it, add to it, play with it. Pick some out that you may not totally jive with or resonate with. It’s good. Make it living self-love, conscious of how we are in integrity with our own values.
Am I who I say I am when nobody’s looking? Because being conscious of how I am in integrity with my own values is not something performative. Second in self-love is critical analysis of our own thoughts and behaviors, right? It’s not enough to just say, I am an ally. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. I got to show up and act, behave like an ally so that when you call me an ally, I am truly an ally.
I can’t put that sticker on my forehead and walk around the block. Oh yeah, I’m an ally. No, it doesn’t work that way. Right? So I have to constantly have a critical analysis of what I’m thinking and how I’m behaving. That is in integrity with my own values of who I say I am.
And then the third dimension of self-love is self-care as revolutionary acts of resistance, in a society that does not want me to succeed, does not see me, does not seek out my opinion, so to love myself and to live a long, healthy life, that’s a revolutionary act of resistance to oppression and inequities. And then we show up loving others. How do we do that?
We do that with deep listening. We’re not practicing or rehearsing what we’re going to say when other people are speaking, right? We’re deeply listening from a heart space. We have compassion and understanding that we each have a story, that we’ve each been on a journey. And if I don’t ask, I won’t know, and I will just swallow my own assumptions about who you are.
So in loving you, I show up with deep listening and compassion and understanding and forgiveness, this chance to do over. We are not single story people. There’s a danger in being identified by our single story or the worst thing that I’ve ever done.
So how do we forgive ourselves, forgive each other, [give ourselves the] chance [to] do over, that we are not the worst thing that we have ever done? And to interrogate ourselves in order to forgive people who have trespassed our trust. In writing Healing Love, I had to ask, what is the worst thing I’ve ever done? Who am I to sit here and judge?
And then I bring myself love and my capacity to love you as a community practice. How do we organize others and develop others so that they shine as the leaders that they have always been? How do we spread vision and hope? Right? Recently I learned the difference between being an “older” and an “elder”.
I can just age and become older. Or I can age and become elder. Spreading vision and hope, no matter what age we’re in, is part of that love for our community. And I want to do that as an elder, right? And fighting for material change is how I show up to love my community. Talk is cheap. How are we improving and strengthening the material conditions of our people as a way to love our community in practice?
And then lastly, the four on the right, love that is fused with power. First of all, we have to own and materialize our power. We each have power. If we don’t use it, we leave it on the table for others.
Two is sharing power with. If I’m in rooms where there are other people with power, how do I bring the people who are not in that room with me? So when I rise, everything I’m about [gets] to rise with me. That is true for each of you. When you own your power, when you bring your power into rooms that you are in, everything you are about rises with you.
And then consciously building power for collective liberation. I know you believe that. Otherwise you wouldn’t be here in Philanthropy Together, right? For those of us who have privilege, our job is to do more. We build as we climb.
How we radically love ourselves is under the waterline on the slide to your left. On the top are the ways we self-soothe. I want to take a look at these with you. We can go paint our nails. I can take a hot bubble bath. I can have the vice of my choice at 5:00 PM or whatever it is, right? I can exercise, I go get a massage. I can listen to music. Those are all the ways of self-comforting, self-soothing. Those are easy to see and perhaps easier to do.
When we are radically loving ourselves, you know what we’re doing? We are staying in integrity with our values and we are being ruthlessly honest. Radically loving ourselves is not an easy thing, that we are on purpose with our life goals. And that we are doing the mirror work of interrogating our inner lives, right, of staying in harmony, staying on purpose. We are bringing repair [and] resolution to the worst things we’ve done. We are addressing the traumas that are blocking our full holistic integration of self.
We’re asking, what’s blocking my energy flow to remain positive? And then we really recognize the things that are in our control and the things that are not. Out of our control is the past, the future, the media algorithms, other people’s behaviors and beliefs, other people’s opinions of me. What is in my control is my energy, the way I talk to myself, the words that come out of my mouth, the way I care about myself, my boundaries, what I say yes to, what I say no to. What I consume, right? Both figuratively and literally.
The work that I’m putting in on myself – that is in my control. My attitude, my response, who I follow on social media, my rights, those are all in my control. So being vulnerable can feel like we need to defend and be the defended right guard and be guarded inside our safe heart shells that have become quite resilient, impermeable, unaffected because of fear, because soft things like our tenderness, our truths, our heart, our feelings, do need defending.
We are creatures with long childhoods, willing at times to be vulnerable. I read a lot of Brene Brown and Brene Brown has encouraged me to understand that being vulnerable is the most courageous thing I will ever do.
For the next eight minutes, participants gathered in randomly assigned pairs to talk about what helps us in loving ourselves and what doesn’t.
Discussion questions included:
- What helps you in loving yourself?
- What are some practices that are actually counterproductive?
Shiree Teng: I’m going to keep us moving. So our premise is colonizing, right? The effects of colonialism have really had centuries of creating harm and disconnecting us from one another, right? The racial hierarchy, the racial hatred, and violence in our history. The genocide, right, has really disconnected us. So how do we move from disconnection back to who we really are?
We’re loving beings, right? So radical self-love is the beginning and then we reach for one another in this mutuality. If we study nature, I’ve done a little play with biomimicry. Everything in nature has a mutual relationship to each other, right? There’s not one organism in nature that just does one thing.
There’s always a symbiotic relationship with something else, right? So the mutuality is that we are in a beloved community together, that we actually care about one another, and [that we] bring those into life-affirming systems and living in harmony with Mother Earth.
And in mutuality it’s important to realize that we have boundaries and that we need these boundaries to affirm where I end and you begin. I am a firm believer that having healthy, strong, clear boundaries is where I love myself and love you, where I love myself, and I can love you from a place of having strong boundaries and being whole myself.
What does it take? It takes self cleansing, like preparing, right? I need to be cleansed and prepared, and in my cleansing work, it’s really about digesting the things that no longer serve. The holistic me is digesting and composting into that mutuality. So it starts with self cleansing and digestion, and in that we say the opposite of life is not death, it’s trash, right? Life and death is really one cycle.
When we die, I hope to return to the earth and become nutrients for all the living things. And then that way we are constantly giving, not just taking. So the opposite of life is not death, it’s trash. Trash that is just waiting there, not living and not dying.
We’re in a state of suspension between what is dying and decaying and what is becoming. We’re in the process of composting. Let’s make that process conscious. Let’s make that process intentional. Times are urgent, so we need to slow down. Let us stay here a little longer and do the work, right?
I’ve probably been facilitating for, I don’t know, 30, 40 years and a lot of folks say, “Oh, let’s get to work. I don’t want too much ice breaking.” I’m like, all I can do is laugh these days.
What’s in the ice breaking? In the ice breaking is building relationships. Everything that we want to accomplish comes from having relationships and staying in community. What if we saw that as the work, right? Come as we are, come as you are, whatever your brokenness is, we all have it.
Let’s not pretend it’s not true, it just is. Now we can just be connected, warts and all, and love and power relationships that are conscious. All of us are doing it. We’ve got to plan, mobilize, strategize, connect dots, channel, shift structure, shift states. How do we continue to find ways to row together?
For the next ten minutes, the group split into randomly assigned groups to discuss the concept of “trash” as the opposite of life. The questions were:
- What is the piece of trash in your life that needs to be composted?
- What is possible when that piece of trash is composted?
Shiree Teng: As we lay to rest some of our trash, we make room for what’s being reborn that is defined by ourselves. And then I want to talk a little bit about pedestals. Like those monuments paying homage to white supremacists, they need to dash.
I want you to take a minute, just a minute. How is being identified as a donor, a funder, a giver, like being on a pedestal, for those of you who are? For those of you who approach donors, funders, givers, how have you used or not used a pedestal? Maybe write down a few words that come to you, a thought, an idea, the role of pedestals in your life.
I want to conclude with a few more slides and remarks.
What if “to work” were replaced with “to love”? Touching, hearing, seeing, tasting, feeling the joy is the work. What if we flip those measures that [we] were talking about, right? Those definitions, those metrics that have been imposed on us. What if we could rewrite them and joy is at the top of that list? What would happen then?
And to remember that the power comes from below, just like the earth, right? Plants grow from the earth, from below. We are really transforming the culture of leadership and distributed power, [and] we each have a role to play. We each, as we climb, we lift others with us.
“There are so many kinds of power, used and unused, acknowledged or otherwise. The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling.” That’s a quote from Audre Lord in Erotic is Power.
My co-author Kate Morales, who made the beautiful drawings and visuals that you see throughout the slide deck and the brown paper, has been teaching me about queering the future. And I want to recognize Kate and their teaching that we ought to return to our Eros and be fully alive.
And you might think, “Ooh, what’s that got to do with love and inequity?” We are all erotic beings. Colonization has put our Eros underground and put a price tag on it and made it a commodity when it really belongs to us.
So I want to leave you to say, what is one thing you are willing to do moving forward to more radically love yourself? And the reason why I end with Eros, right, is that we all have it. We are all human. I can’t tell you how many times folks have apologized to me for crying, and I push back. I say, “If you’re not going to apologize for laughing or smiling, I don’t need or want you to apologize for crying. Because when you cry, it shows me you are alive. You are feeling, you are being fully human.”
So I invite us all to step fully into our Eros, where we feel and are fully human. Moving forward, what is one thing you’re willing to do or try to more radically love yourself?
The group ended the session with a discussion about radical self-love. Participants spoke about what they learned during Shiree’s presentation, including granting ourselves permission to feel our big feelings and live in our power.