TW: Talking about Whiteness
I have been in incubation since the election and I am nervous/excited/hopeful/grounded in opening up transparency about my business and personal transition as we slowly move into a new year. To start - I am writing this as a cis able bodied white woman who grew up middle class.
I am going to share my journey about how I got to where I am now and how I am shifting for the future. I share this to plant a seed of hope for a more liberated future. I hope reading about my learning journey will inspire other white women in wellness to consider the adjustments they can make to contribute to a more equitable world. The folks at @trudilebron ‘s Amplified Impact Mastermind are huge guides to bring me to this place of understanding.
I started Healing Haylee with the dream of making holistic health more accessible and to give an option out of our current healthcare system. I learned Ayurveda from Dr. Niana at @ayurvedasworld and it opened up so much for me. Ayurveda is a way to see the world and make sense of what is best for you to live closer to nature, it is non exclusive and doesn’t require anything other than a kitchen and your body. I truly believe it is revolutionary! At the same time Ayurveda is wisdom that comes from SouthEast Asia. These areas have undergone extreme violence at the hands of white folks (past & present) and Ayurveda has been systematically stripped from the stewards of this knowledge through colonization (again past & present). The history is complex and isn’t often brought to light when we talk about Ayurveda. I have spoken about it openly only 1x in my 2 years of business, which was complicit in the white washing of the wellness world.
When I decided I wanted to pass this knowledge in the form of a business I knew I needed to give back to those most affected from this colonization and asked my teachers if they knew of a way I could start. I was told that keeping the tradition alive and passing the knowledge was enough - Ayurveda is wisdom for everyone to have and share. That didn’t sit super well, but I didn’t question it. I kept the idea of giving back in the back of my head and thought - when I start making money, then I will do more research and give back in a more impactful way. (Good intentions, but no action: white silence = violence)
So I went on my way and reached out to a friend of a friend to help me get the business off the ground. She was a white woman I had seen start at least 3 of her own businesses and trusted her knowledge. We did a trade over a year (business advice for Ayurvedic consultations) During that year I struggled with keeping my values of equity, inclusion, mutual aid, and integrity as I learned how “business works.” There was a lot of talk about intentions, we even did visualization meditations to be conduits for creating an aligned business. I was encouraged to show that I was an “expert” in my field and use social media to bring folks close to me through my personality. Pretty standard business info with a touch of spirituality. I was told to tone down my politics - bringing up the history and offering my services so cheap would push people away from me...This is really problematic because me being able to learn, share and profit from Ayurveda IS political. It gets even more problematic when the majority of people who are sharing the wisdom of another culture’s tradition are white. I never wanted to be a personal brand - but I didn’t question or creatively think how I could use the info she was offering and then bridge it with how I wanted to show up in the world. I side stepped a lot of the discomfort I was feeling because I was told it was just a lack of confidence in my ability.
From the vantage point I have now I can see how spiritual language used in business training can be a way to avoid accountability.(it is a larger consciousness at play, your intentions will shine through and all that jargon) I also can see and feel how tangled personal development and anti racist learning can be - in some ways they aid each other and in others a personal development lens can stunt anti racist work from happening. (DM me if you want to go into depth about this - I am still learning how to identify what different discomforts feel and can signal - growth edges vs. a glaring inequity or harm I am causing)
After we finished our year together I began running my business - basically following the steps I had learned from her. I could see it working and began to gain a little confidence in being an entrepreneur. I was invited to join @vitalitywellco as a co-owner and things looked like they were on their way up. At this point I was offering sliding scale consultations. That felt like the best way I could activate my mission in my work - but I was working 7 jobs to make ends meet. I was so busy I wasn’t allowing myself time to slow down so I could take action about what really mattered to me or how I wanted to build a better world. A lot of folks around me promoted the narrative that, because I was thinking about the right things, my heart was in the right place, and that was enough. It is tempting to fall into that pattern. When all our ideas are stuck in our head our actions continue the same systems we think we are against - for white folks this is especially easy because those systems actively support us.
Then the pandemic began and all my work halted - except my own business & Vitality. It felt like the perfect push to make my business sustainable for myself and take another look at what I had created. I started to reach out to other coaches I was finding on instagram - and this time I wanted someone who could help me make more money AND centered anti racism. Seemed like an impossible task. I was sitting with a lot of discomfort about my business (but I had sidestepped it for so long I wasn’t even able to name it anymore) compounded with financial scarcity. (even though I still had a safety net of my parents) I continued to learn from friends and switched my pricing to a higher stable rate and began to vision my business existing on a larger scale. My business shifted into my biggest sustainer financially because everything else had fallen away. Even though I was finally making money, I didn’t research places to support - that initial vision still seemed so far away and I was absorbed in COVID anxiety and social justice intensity. (although I am ashamed that the protests in June didn’t spark action inside my business. They somehow felt so separate)
In June I found Trudi Lebron’s Podcast “remix your business.” I binged it on my way to go camping and it was everything I was hoping to hear about how business can exist in alignment with your values and without ignoring the inequities in the world. I hopped on a call to see how I could join - and then began the mastermind in July. We began with our values and goals: personal, and impact driven. This helped me see the dream I had in mind for accessibility and global impact and it felt very actionable to finally write it all down.
From July until November I followed the prompts, investigated and started to see how I could ‘bake in” my values to my work. The discomfort I felt turned into tension as I continued to do the daily operations of my business alongside personal conversations I was having about recreating all the systems we operate inside of. During the day I was scheduling posts and at night I was on calls about how to effectively mitigate tear gas. It was intense. I think it is helpful to note how tearing down large systems felt like all I could do, when the system I needed to investigate and excavate was right in front of me.
Fast forward to November and all the election intensity. I was on a call for the mastermind talking through my plan to move forward with my business (it still felt like 2 separate worlds: business and political) and a colleague asked if she could ask me a question. She said (transcribed to the best of my ability) : “I ask this with some heaviness and with an understanding that we are all moving towards liberation. As a woman of SouthEast Asian descent I personally don’t think white people should be teaching Ayurveda. My question is if you have something built into the system of your course: not a giveback model, but if a portion of your course is benefiting or serving the bloodline, the lineage or the community. I am asking how the deliberation can not be complacent or connected to disposability. Ayurveda was demonized and banned from its place or origin. It was used to control Indian people during colonization. Indian folks teaching Ayurveda in the states are still the minority. If we are contextualizing this we can see all the harm the wellness industry has caused to black and brown folks. How can you make sure that you aren't causing harm as you move forward?”
*Deep Breath* (Before I continue my learning journey I just want to honor how courageous it was for her to speak her truth to me in front of 10 other people, especially during a time of so much charged energy. I also ask that as you read this you hold any tiggers that might come up for you with patience and grace.)
At that moment, this was my worst fear. Having someone of the lineage calling me out/in about being a white woman teaching a tradition that doesn’t come from me. I felt uniquely prepared to engage in this conversation because I had been investigating myself in the “hot seat” for a few years and was honestly surprised I didn’t cry or freeze up. My whole body felt hot but I had practiced sitting in the physical feeling to be able to grow through tough conversations. I talked about the future plans I had to redistribute resources and how my current financial situation felt like a block to be able to do more now. Honestly, it all felt like a lot of fumbling excuses as I said them. I was transparent about this exact struggle I felt in myself and how I didn’t feel like I had an answer. I was open to push back and to even jumping ship if that felt like the best option.
For the first time ever I was able to put white urgency to the side and just sit in the tension. Others in the group asked about looking into my own lineage of healing or taking on a more admin role to guide folks to my teacher. Another WOC on the call brought up decentralizing myself from the information and guided me to look at what my mission was with this work. In the moment I felt overwhelmed because all the tensions I had felt from the beginning of my business journey and hid so far away were raw and uncovered. I kept my focus on honoring the conversation at hand and redirected myself to my mission. When I look back, I can see how this community was really practicing Transformative Justice with me, and I feel so held and seen after the fact.
When the call ended I burst out into tears and reached out to a white accountability group I am a part of. I felt so lucky to have had a group of white folks committed to liberation that I could process with and hold me in the big emotions coming up without coddling or dismissing the tensions at hand. (They feel like another crucial role as we move towards transformative justice) The rest of the night I took to process and sit with the questions. In that moment I felt like such an idiot for ignoring the tensions I was feeling for so long - and leaving the call in/out work to a person who would have been the most affected by the harm I was causing. That is the main reason I chose to share my learning journey with you all. If you have any “weirdness” or tension about your work (especially if you are a yoga teacher, reiki master, massage therapist, acupuncturist or ayurvedic practitioner) - I challenge you to think about how you can take actions now to build a more equitable world. Look at the skeletons in your closet before someone needs to take them out for you. As the night continued another healing practitioner reached out to hold space for me, and then Trudi reached out to help me process. I was held the whole night in my pain, process and discovery - no one diverted attention from the harm, but no one shamed me either (except maybe myself)
I took about 2 weeks to feel out all the emotion and creatively problem solve. I have to be honest, it felt joyful and liberating to excavate all the shitty systems and problematic practices from my business - and at the same time it took me at least a week to work with the white guilt that came with it. Both can exist at the same time, the important part was keeping the focus on liberation and allowing myself to move the emotion through my body so that I could release it. The intensity of the moment had passed - no one died, and the group was able to hold space for everyone and move forward together, as a community. (this is also something I hadn’t experienced before)
This brings me to where I am now, and how I am redirecting to move purposefully towards liberation. My focus is more directly on my mission: to dismantle the medical - industrial complex by empowering your holistic care. I have decided to dissolve Healinghaylee by 2021 and am nesting more intentionally under Vitality. (I will be stewarding our Virtual Vitality space with courses and programs) I will be able to support the community more fully this way and it feels so good to step out of the spotlight! By addressing the skeletons in my closet I have not only found a more sustainable path, but I feel more able to show up for our community and I get to focus on the pieces of my business that actually light me up rather than the bullshit practices that drained my energy. (Duh, they drain us because they are oppressive!!) Don’t be afraid to burn it down and start again - because the ashes might actually nourish the soil you grow with.
As far as this page goes - I will be changing the name and keeping a newsletter that speaks more directly to my mission. More of an informational offering than a business :) Part of the proceeds from every course and program I offer through Virtual Vitality will be given to black & brown farmers in philly. To launch this new direction Vitality & I will be offering a Challenge in December and my Seasonal Intensive will be in collaboration as the beginning of our Virtual Vitality space!
Please feel free to reach out if this brought up questions for you or if you want to talk through how to navigate your own shift into alignment.