What does it mean to cultivate wholeness as part of movements to dismantle systems of violence?
Obsidian Rising is an organization that centers wisdom practices from the African diaspora as resilience tools for those involved in movements for change. The organization has been participating in the 2018-2019 cycle of Resonance Network’s Innovation Lab. The purpose of the Innovation Lab is to support Resonance Network participants in experiments to catalyze a shift from domination, extraction, and violence to interconnection, liberation, and regeneration of people and communities.
We spoke with Eb Brown, one of Obsidian Rising’s founding members, about “Practice Space” in Durham, North Carolina, one of the group’s initiatives that emerged as a result of Innovation Lab funding.
Resonance: How did Obsidian Rising come about?
Brown: I did a call for Black folks who were curious about what it’d look like for African diasporic wisdom to be centered in the process of undoing and of creating alternatives to systems of harm. So this group of folks gathered. We talked. We cried. We really went in, and we decided that we wanted the work to continue. We met with one another virtually. We named ourselves Obsidian Rising.
Once the call for ideas to Resonance Network’s Innovation Lab came around, a few people from that particular group applied separately for projects, and then the group itself applied. So when we got in, it allowed us more space and time to be in conversation with each other. From there I was saying, “I really just want a space where I could connect with some other people of color around restoration and resilience.” Dolores Chandler and I joined up with two other practitioners — one who was going to handle movement, and the other who was going to handle the somatics work — and that’s how ‘Practice Space’ was born.
Resonance: How did you put Practice Space together?
Brown: The core thing that came to light as we were planning was that there aren’t spaces for people to learn resilience tools for free. So we had a suggested donation, but we didn’t force anybody to give us any money to learn modalities of healing.
We wanted to do it over a two-week time period before the end of the year. Megan, who did the somatics group, is also a co-owner of a co-working space and so she helped us secure a space. Then we worked with a healing arts collective that’s right across the street from there in Durham, NC. The spaces were beautiful and exactly what we all needed. We held it with the looseness of “if it’s just the four of us who show up to these spaces then that’s what they needed to be.” So, not putting a lot of pressure on ourselves around how many people would join. I’ve been facilitating groups for many years, but I had never facilitated a space in which I was sharing my meditation practice with other folks.
Resonance: So how was sharing your meditation practice for the first time? And describe your meditation practice for us.
Brown: I was introduced to a sitting practice through Generative Somatics that also has become my meditation and prayer practice. That was the first time the idea of sitting still and just being with what is was ever said to me, and I was like “oh this is fantastic.” From there I really got connected with the ways in which meditation and sitting practice showed up in my spiritual practices my entire life growing up in Pentecostal and Baptist Black churches. I started to reflect on the parts of church that I really enjoyed even though I’m no longer a churchgoer. The invocation and the convocation and the blessing at the end, those were the parts that I really enjoyed. The sitting still, the being with — in their language, “the presence of God” and in my language now “being with myself, being with divinity, being with my emotions, just being”.
At Practice Space, we focused on presence, awareness, and self-compassion. Presence is ‘how do you just be fully here?’ Awareness is ‘are you aware of your emotions, your body?’ Then we focus on compassion or non-judgment, or how do we show self compassion first and how do we use that as an extension of compassion?
I was in awe of how much I don’t ever talk about these things with other people. Breaking out of the isolation at first was the biggest thing. I don’t ever want to claim expertise, I’m not a meditation teacher, I’m just sharing my own practice. I was quite joyful at the willingness of literal strangers to trust me. For them to trust me with their internal path felt really joyous to me.
Resonance: That sounds amazing.
Brown: Yes! Something that I’ve been holding for the past couple of years is when we think about feminism as making the personal political, I’m also interested in making the political personal. I feel like we spend less time on what that means. How do we take huge political concepts like power and boil them down to the personal and still keep it as a politicized concept?
So this workshop series was also a manifestation of being able to do that.
How do folks of color have more access to more of ourselves through building our awareness, so that we can come to situations that are oppressive with more access? What if we had a hundred percent access to self-compassion when we’re facing oppressive situations? What if we had access to our own presence? What would that make possible?
Resonance: That’s hitting on the core of what feels brilliant about this project.
Brown: I think the both and approach is the innovation. It’s so obvious when you say it out loud: “Yeah maybe whole people could be more effective in fighting oppression. That sounds logical.” It’s not going to stop somebody from calling me a name on the street, but what it means is when that happens I don’t lose myself, that I actually am disrupting the pathway of internalized oppression. If I have the tools to actually disrupt internalized oppression that doesn’t have to mean that they stop doing anything. Then when I stand against that moment I am actually standing in the full power of myself, so I’m in my full choice.
It feels really important to change that narrative that the internal work is only thing that matters or that the external work is the only thing that matters. Actually one of the superpowers of the African Diaspora is simultaneity, as Monica Dennis would say. We can actually hold multiple things at the same time. I can hold my full power, and I can hold resistance against oppression at the same time. Let’s live into that.
Resonance: So how did the Innovation Lab specifically help with Obsidian Rising’s other work?
Brown: The Innovation Lab, including funding, also supports a young women’s grief group that is going to happening in the Bronx and some work with Eritrean elders around story and song sharing in Minnesota. We divvied up the money amongst the eight people in the group and we live all over, so we’re doing different things in our respective local communities.
Resonance: Is Practice Space ongoing now? Are you reflecting on what’s next?
Brown: Right now we have tentative plans to continue practice space in Durham. The four practitioners who held the space, we’re going to meet in the New Year to reflect with each other about the process. Also, we have a commitment to documentation and being able to present this as a model for other people to use. It will be ‘here’s what we did to make this happen please try it on for yourself.’ As somebody who has constantly been told “You’re Black, so you gotta be five times better and work three times as hard,” it does make it very difficult to just do a thing without feeling like if people don’t show up then this was not successful. We designed Practice Space in a couple days and a few emails, and then we launched it within days of coming up with the idea. The whole idea of innovation is ‘let’s try things out, let’s lower the stakes, and learn and grow.’
Resonance: It sounds like one of the main takeaways that you currently have language for is how you don’t typically have space to talk about your internal processes of working through internalized oppression, and how important that is. Is there anything else that is bubbling up for you?
Brown: It’s intimacy building. I did not know the other three practitioners of Practice Space very well. One person I’ve known for about a year, Dolores. We met at Workshopping the Worldview. Once Dolores and I figured out that there was some synergy, within a matter of days I pulled us all together. I think some people feel like if you go fast you lose intimacy, and I’m like, “no, there’s a way to still hold intimacy and hold vulnerability with each other in the work and in real relationship building, and still move quickly” — so this has been an example of that.
Resonance: That’s interesting because we sometimes come into meetings, and we think we’re meeting about one thing, but we’re really meeting about something else that’s underneath the surface.
Brown: It all ties back to “how do you center restoration and resilience?” The way we typically help folks build intimacy in social justice and social movement work is through sharing our stories of harm. What if we actually got this restorative space together first, then see how that builds trust with people?