Choosing Myself As An Act of Protest in 2019

Phoebe Claire Conybeare
Nov 4 · 7 min read
1 month after a brutal fire in the mountains of Tecate, Mexico, I saw oak trees sprout new stems

“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”

— Albert Camus

Toni Morrison, when speaking about white racists, said, who are you if you’re only tall when others are kneeling? Who are you without your armor — whether it’s your racism (and ego), sexism, productivity, materialism (most of these subconscious beliefs practiced overtly). Judgment? Sloth? Self-loathing? Staying small? Avoiding self-examination? Tied to the external rather than your internal voice? How do you present yourself to the world in this lifetime without these shields, these illusions of control against time and change and the sure fact of inevitable death? As my therapist once asked me, “Who are you without the doing?”

“If you can only be tall because someone else is on their knees, then you have a serious problem. And white people have a serious problem.”

— Toni Morrison

Imagine a life where you wake up every day energized and totally, completely in alignment with your truest, most authentic self, where you are accepted and loved and at peace with yourself. Where you finish the things you start, you’re excited by change rather than resenting of it.

Imagine a life where you wake up every day and don’t feel a pressing weight on your chest, a day where you don’t choose booze or pot or sex or food or work or TV or fitness or violence against self or others or anything to numb out. You feel content with yourself. You feel you have the choice to choose yourself. You feel more in control of your destiny, your life — you’re aligned.

I remember feeling completely out of whack with my own alignment, how suffocating, how panicked I felt, and what I did to numb that fear was use myriad substances and hurt myself and others to try to quell it. Ignore it. Avoid confronting it. And it almost ate me alive. I’m now two years sober because I healed myself. I confronted the fear. You can read more about that in this post.

Pleasure is a birthright

Confronting the fear is what it means to be in love with oneself, to have pleasure in solitude, on a road trip with oneself. To feel yourself, from the root of your soul.

What if I told you liberation doesn’t have to be painful or riddled with anguish? What if I told you the transition from your old life to your new one might start out uncomfortable, but over time it will feel less like getting punched in the face and more like a gentle re-direction, day in and day out, where you’re floating with the waves as they move you instead of lost at sea in the middle of a hurricane? When you grow your roots deep into your truest self, storms don’t trouble you as much.

Toni Morrison said she flicked the white gaze¹ off her shoulder and it freed her in her writing and life.

I’m flicking any gaze off my shoulder that doesn’t find a home in pleasure and pure authenticity, raw honesty and living fully, with a big wide laugh and light around me.

After two years I figured out how to enjoy the process, how to get immense pleasure in transformative growth, how even in uncomfortable situations I can groove through them unscathed, but with delight. How I don’t turn against myself or others in times of pain anymore; I choose gentleness.

I choose pleasure.

This is radical.

Humans are hard-wired for pleasure, to enjoy, to feel good: these are expressions of love. Love is our birthright, and so is feeling good as we move through change.

The greatest tragedy is believing you’re staying the same even if you’re standing still

You’re just growing deeper into your existing beliefs.

This is a form of change: to grow down — I don’t fault anyone for digging in and hanging on, a base response we have is to hold on to what we have because we don’t trust our imaginations. We believe in scarcity and avoid abundance because it’s safer, easier, smaller, to stay the same. Change requires different parts of ourselves, it requires vulnerability and connection and bravery. Resistance doesn’t like this. Resistance digs in and digs deeper: what-if scenarios, instant gratification, our lizard brains tell us the present moment is here to protect us rather than act as a mirror or a match to constantly ignite our souls and guide us toward our greatest destinies.

Even taproots in oak trees taper off from going any deeper at some point in their growth.

Although I’m a research analyst by trade, I trust feeling as my main data point these days; if it feels good, I do it. If it doesn’t, I sit with it and talk to it and ask why, then make a decision about how much I can give at that time, or I set a boundary, or I walk away. I am in the driver’s seat. I am tuned in to my intuition and she is a goddess of creativity and abundance and she doesn’t let me down. She never leads me astray: whatever she chooses is right.

I invite in chaos and imagination and information and connection as integral to my process of creativity and as conduits to transformation. I used to say “growth” in lieu of transformation, but that implies if we are not doing “better”, then we are failing. Sometimes process requires we work backwards through wounds we thought we healed, sometimes process requires death and grief and these things require we hold them with grace, the same as we do when new life is born. The energy may be different but the sentiment is the same: we give pause to these times of transition and give them reverence and then we let them go.

I’m being influenced by Adrienne Maree Brown and Audre Lorde and their lineage and deep work they have done in black communities around healing and movement and collectivism and discussing the concept of “waging love” (in place of waging war). I’m simply picking up from them and interpreting their teachings with my unique perspective as a white, queer, femme, polyamorous, sex-positive privileged human.

What can I do to empower people so they don’t wage their internal wars on other people? What can I do to heal myself so I can help heal the world? What if we were so in love with ourselves we weren’t compelled to take human beings as slaves, shoot up black churches or gay bars, abduct or murder or rape or imprison or deliberately deny access to education or health care, commit tiny and massive acts of violence every single day because we were too preoccupied with loving ourselves, and by loving ourselves — loving our neighbor, loving the collective, thrumming us forward towards our future vision for the world, which is coming as every decision we make?

Toni Morrison was an editor at Random House during the civil rights movement of the 70s before she was a Nobel Laureate. She decided instead of taking to the streets in protest, she would do what she could where she was at with her unique power. Although she believed overt activism was important work, she decided part of her protest would be to edit and publish and support black authors and thrust their record of experience into the public eye through books: Angela Davis, Muhammad Ali, Toni Cade Bambara, and countless others.

My protest is to heal myself. My protest is to love myself so much that others can’t help but want to love themselves, too. My protest is that by loving myself I am choosing the future vision of the world with every act of self-love. I am choosing my neighbor. I am choosing to create offerings of love, tribute to the collective — my protest is to make art filled with naked female bodies, to start a YouTube channel and offer life advice to those who are suffering and stuck, using my life experiences and innate knowledge as enough qualification, credibility, to help others. I have done work to heal myself, so I can share art and stories to help heal others. We have used creativity as a form of protest for millennia and yet as a young woman who has experienced much I still didn’t feel qualified enough to create and sit and discuss until I began to love myself.

Like Toni, I want to be unabashedly confident in my love of self and my work so I can inspire confidence in others to pick up their own forms of protest.

I set fire to myself to sprout new stems

How I feel today affects all of us. I am not powerless to affect the future vision of the world because every choice I make influences it, as Adrienne Maree Brown exposes in her powerful, thoughtful, deliberate, profound book “Emergent Strategy”; the difference can be that I decide to participate and be in right relationship with myself in order to drive the most collective good, the most collective love. I am part of something bigger, I am not alone, I am “magnificent and influential” just by being.

Oak trees intertwine their roots to stand strong in the face of storms. The root system of an old oak can reach hundreds of miles around itself.

We are oak trees, we are the root system. We are the shade, the leaves, the acorns.

“When the aboveground part of an oak is killed by fire, the roots can survive and sprout new stems.”²

The whole is the sum of its parts. Every choice I make is the foundation of our collective movement as a species, every belief that passes my brow guides us to our future state. Even if fire is taken to me — my/our roots can survive to sprout new stems. And so out of my suffering and trauma, out of the burnt wreckage, and out of protest — I sprout new stems.

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Phoebe Claire Conybeare

Written by

I’m an industry analyst and creative.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +528K people. Follow to join our community.

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