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Wise Mind and Racial Justice

Updated: Aug 10, 2020

Written by: Lynne

On my run this morning I noticed myself huffing and puffing a little more than usual. In my current role as a training clinician on an adolescent inpatient unit, my mind immediately went to one of the DBT tools I most frequently use with the kids. Emotion mind, I told myself, is telling you that this is Corona and that you’ve probably already gotten a lot of people sick. Logic mind says that running taxes the lungs and that you normally skip runs when it's this hot out. I might mention that I was waiting for the results of a COVID test after a potential exposure and was running much later in the morning that I normally work out in part because I could not go to the gym or to work on the unit and in part to manage my terror that I could have infected people without ever knowing. What would a wise mind response be here? I found myself thinking.

I often tell the kids that I teach DBT skills because I think they work and that I use them, too. Sometimes, though, I ignore my own advice when using these skills. I found myself doing what I almost always advise against—trying to use my logic mind (my cool, rational side) to wrestle emotion mind (my heated and sensitive side) into submission. Like a lot of the kids I work with, I have received many messages from my environment about being “too much”-- too sensitive, too worried, too emotional-- and I find myself bringing them into my own thinking, even though I know better. The more I told myself that, of course I could breathe, the harder it felt to do so.

When encouraging people to balance their emotion mind with their logic mind to create a wise mind response in session, I normally remind people that wise mind states aren’t about watering down emotions with logic but rather about using our emotions to bolster our logic responses into something we can get behind and feel empowered by. Emotions are not a burden to be regulated, but a gift of sensing and of caring that can be used to make things happen. When I took a second to interrupt my self-chastising and remind myself that my anxiety was reflective of my caring about others and that it had motivated me to take the necessary steps to be as safe as possible, I was finally able to take a deep breath.

Thinking about my breathing in this way is, of course, possible only because of my immense privilege. In a world where people are literally having the breath taken from their body—some from the physical disease of a rampant pandemic and some as a consequence of a inherently diseased system of policing and brutality—taking time to self-chastise with a reminder of: of course you know how to breathe, you’ve been doing it your whole life, is its own form of privilege.

I wonder, though, if the same skill might be used to address and dismantle my own white centering. Emotion mind is certainly telling me that I should feel guilt and shame around getting stuck in my own angst, even when I know that it cannot, in any way, compare to the experience of those who are oppressed by the systems from which I benefit. Logic mind is there to remind me that it is my responsibility to do my own work for racial justice, to not burden the BIPOC in my life, to know better and to do better. Wise mind, perhaps, can let the emotion come in to remind me to do the work in ways that are authentic and responsible—to take an extra minute to breathe so that I can bring my full self to the work of dismantling the systems that make the worry of being able to breathe something that, for many, is not simply a result of an active emotion mind.

  • For more on deconstructing white centering, check out Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad. Also check out Black Girls Breathing and support their work using the breath to heal.

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