If you wake up these days feeling the tone and outlook of the world around you has taken a surreal shift, you’re not alone. Like many of us, I have enlisted my feet and hands in fuller engagement in our democracy. It feels good. But as much as that outer expression helps, I’ve felt a parallel need to process these changes inwardly.
Six friends and I took two hours on a recent Friday night to ground ourselves in the new reality through a series of short writing exercises followed by honest conversation. We explored questions about ourselves and shared what we came up with in the hope of finding a path forward.
These six friends and I—we call ourselves The Circle—have been meeting semi-monthly for about fifteen years. We’ve explored our lives through various prisms, including dream interpretation, Jungian archetypes and the 17 stages of the Hero’s Journey. We take turns orchestrating the evening, using various tools with the aim of distilling insight.
On our first post-inauguration meeting, it was my turn to lead the evening. I came up with a short visualization to help put us in touch with our inner wisdom. Afterwards, we took up our pens and worked silently together to explore five sets of questions in the hope of shielding our inner weather from the outer climate.
Having the Courage to Explore Your Canyon
When I was in college, I had a powerful dream that I was standing on a cliff over a vast, vaporous canyon. With me was a giant Great Dane with the heart of a horse whose job was to lead me down the trail. Later a Jungian dream analyst told me the vast space was my soul, not to be feared but to be explored. The dog-horse was my guide, and if I didn’t descend on my own, life would take me there. Better to go voluntarily.
If you’ve ever trekked the real Grand Canyon, you know the river that formed it was a buzz saw through time. Each descending layer of rock represents billions of years. The deeper you climb, the more you penetrate the oldest part of the canyon. We are like canyons, too. We operate on the busy surface, preoccupied with the here-and-now of careers, family and friends, but it can be enormously grounding to take time to journey down to our center.
The hectic surface of life is full of the people, places and situations that occupy the here-and-now. They reflect back the refrains that circle in our heads. But if we take a moment to step back from fires at work, interpersonal conundrums, political chaos or whatever weather is raging on our cliff top in order to slip down into the peaceful space of our inner canyon, we can gain clearer perspective.
The constant noise of life can make us skittish about silence, but the deepest part of you, ancient and timeless, is your pure essence, the you-ness that would still be you even without your job or family or even your name—the core of your being that carries and supports you. It’s worth a visit.
The levels of rock in a canyon are like the layers of your experience, the storms and earthquakes you lived through, both personal and collective. They can remind us of how we’ve reacted to difficult times in the past, moments when we stayed centered or lost touch with ourselves. We can begin to notice our signature reactions and go-to patterns. Maybe we’ve been operating on autopilot without realizing it. Even a moment of introspection can help us retake the reins.
CENTERING QUESTIONS IN TIMES OF CHANGE
Alone or with friends, take a few minutes to write your reaction to the following questions, picking and choosing the ones you are drawn to, or better yet, the ones you absolutely do not want to answer. Exploring the question you have the most resistance to may give you the biggest payoff.
1. DO I TRUST MYSELF AT WORK AND IN LIFE?
In what situations at home or work do I not trust myself? When have I acted in a way that’s not true to myself? Do I believe more in outer or inner security? Have I paid more attention to the care of appearances or my deepest instincts?
2. CAN I LOOK MY FEAR IN THE EYE? HOW ABOUT MY POWER?
If my anxiety were visible, what would it look like? When does fear take hold of me? In what circumstance do I hand my power over? Does lack of self-trust allow fear to control me? If I could look my own power in the eye, what would I see?
3. WHICH NETWORKS IN MY LIFE ARE SUPPORTING ME? OR DRAINING ME?
What alliances am I part of at home, at work and socially? Which groups strengthen me? Which are draining? How can I fortify my healthy networks and disentangle from the others?
4. WHAT EXPERIENCES AM I SEEKING?
If I’ve deliberately chosen to be in my current life circumstances, in this space and time, in my current relationships, job and society, what am I here to experience? How can this changing time enable me to become my truest self?
5. WHAT GIFTS DO I BRING?
What is my highest inner priority, my driving force? How can I strengthen it? What gifts, talents and tools can I offer to changing situations in my job, relationships or society? How can my contribution make me more myself?
After exploring these ideas alone or with friends, the storms on the surface of your life may still rage, but your inner weather may be calmer, clearer, and renewed with self-trust.
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.