A reflection on buddhism, black womanhood, and saggy boobs
Boy, oh boy, has this past year felt like an emotional pubescence. Unemployed, financially bottomed, moved back home, in-family crisis, completely unhealthy, transitioning out of a dear relationship. That was my start to 2018 (#NewBeginnings, #NewYearNewMe). An acclimation of shit-things fell onto each other, the way buildings fall like Legos. Plumes of dust and then nothing.
I don’t enjoy listing out the challenges I’ve faced– I can hear a tiny violin playing a very sad song, or the Sarah McLachlan song playing in the background every time I do. Sympathy isn’t the reaction I’m going for but is usually the one I receive. I like talking about bad shit because it’s been my greatest teacher. Something about everything falling apart forces you to fall onto your knees, open; something about loss gives you a look at all the empty space and asks you what you’re going to do with all of that.
Before last year, I lived in a constant state of anxiousness, in a response to my natural environment but most importantly because I knew there was what felt like an inner child navigating a boat through dangerous waters. What I knew but could not articulate then was that what terrified me was never my circumstances, but this lost navigation. I know of all the women before me, truly before me in blood, that weathered more trying times. I now know that there is no real barrier between me and them. In fact, I should have held on to this essential bond many times I did not.
So much of Chidera Eggerue’s book What a Time to be Alone: The Slumflower’s Guide to Why You Are Already Enough speaks to exactly where I am now– deciding to stand eyes-wide-open in the emotional and spiritual turbulence of life, especially as a young millennial chronically plugged into the flat immensity of the Internet and sometimes secretly hoping that it looks like I’m doing well to everyone else. She weaves social media, race politics, and phenomenons like ‘ghosting’ to create a reference manual that makes sense now. She’s also the girl behind the worldwide #SaggyBoobsMatter movement after posting pics in a crochet top with a plunging neckline and yup, saggy boobs. I’m right there with you, girl.
This is why, despite her philosophies largely pulling from age-old Buddhist truisms and Igbo sayings, what she is doing is fresh, and incredibly important in a world where your list of do more/buy more/seem more/say more grows by the day. This kind of world makes it very difficult to find clarity through which you may find a true path. There is just so much noise.
Eggerue divides her book into three parts: ‘You’, ‘Them’, and ‘Us’. You is all about evaluating your self-worth, heal, handling yourself better in this messy world. Them is how others become dangerous if we don’t know how to avoid their demons, and that they too are protecting themselves. Finally, Us guides you on how to avoid toxicity and sustain healthy relationships, and how to end toxic relationships.
Immediately, Eggerue begins applying an incredible formula to her words so that her reader may actually listen:
Here is what you find shame in/ It is okay that you do this/ Here is why you do this/ Here is how you can fix it.
She literally begins her book using this formula and threads her assortment of mantras and lifestyle advices with it. In her introduction:
“You’re not alone, you’re not crazy, your feelings are valid, and it’s time to make peace with them– all of them.”
I.e. you feel alone and crazy, but that is okay, and you can resolve this feeling by finding peace in the light of yourself. See the formula in action?
“First thing’s first: Allowing other people to be time killers while running away from the responsibility of loving ourselves happens to everyone– but it should be avoided. It always ends in emotional disaster. Nobody is ever one’s going to be able to fill your You-shaped hole for You. Nope, not that hole. The gaping hole we all have inside that deeply craves validation, love, and comfort. It just won’t work.
You’ve got to be fond of yourself enough to support yourself emotionally, regardless of the intimate company of someone else.”
Many of Eggerue’s mantras kind of hit you immediately with a too-raw, too-real truth. The idea of turning people into time killers struck me in a way I did not want to admit.
Eggerue also makes a point of answering the questions she knows you’ll probably ask, maybe directly to the book. I.e. “Loving yourself does not make you vain or conceited as long as you have respect for other people.” She then contextualizes this tendency of ours with the very-real multi-billion dollar industry making duckets off of our insecurities. The explanation allows us a sigh of relief. You’re not alone, you’re not crazy, your feelings are valid.
“There will be times where you self-loathe, there will be times where you will be so over it, and there will even be times where you will be sat for ages psycho-analyzing every possible micro-event that led up to the event itself. You aren’t crazy- you’re human. Analysis, regression, and regret are just as important as acceptance, forgiveness, and forgetting. Every stage of the process, no matter how painful, matters.”
Again: you are human. You feel human feelings because you are human. Even the feelings of isolation connect us. The power is in the consciousness bestowed upon you that allows you to see those feelings and learn from what they are telling you. Your feelings are valid, and it’s time to make peace with them– all of them.
As I’ve mentioned, there is a deep connection between Eggerue’s writing and the lessons drawn from Buddhism and Igbo wisdom. I know the former because I’ve been ass-deep in spiritual literature for the past few months and know a sutra when I see one. I know the latter because Eggerue sprinkles Igbo sayings throughout the book– which I love. We as Black people need not look to Eckhart Tolle or whomever is making their spiritual rounds to find the same truths they’ve unearthed, because we have already found them. That is the beauty and revelation of knowledge sharing that keeps bringing me back to books & movies.
“If we refuse to live what we’ve been presented with, we’ll only be met with disappointment, which we have to face on our own. The only way to avoid disappointment is to be content with the present.”
My spiritual translation: All that exists is the present. Any resistance of the present does not honor the truth of your existence and will inevitably cause suffering to the soul.
My real translation: You know all that time you spend fantasizing about the music video you directed or starred in, feat. Amine and Drake, or flashing back to heated fights & deep laughs with someone you fell out with a year ago? Yeah, that shit’s not good for you. It’s not even real anymore– none of it is. Your mind is projecting your future and past based on your present feelings, and when you’re truly present, you see them as true illusions.
“You are allowed to change your mind about other people.”
This might be the most important chapter, at least to me. Emotionally unavailable and inconsistent people, friends who give you weird energies, carrying a victim mentality, and asserting boundaries are all discussed in ‘Them’. Yeah, this chapter hurt. (I clutched my pearls at “if you feel used, you have been used.”) Here are her core learnings:
On emotionally unavailable people
Emotionally unavailable people are scared of their own feelings
Emotionally unavailable people associate loving with losing
Emotionally unavailable people only conveniently appear when they want something from you, but are AWOL when you need them.
Often, if you’re close to someone, close enough to be concerned how you’re being treated but they resist revealing their vulnerability to you, it’s because they are terrified and are masking their fear with their pride, which is more important to them than forming a bond with you.
You’ll find [loving emotionally unavailable people] is like trying to use paint to fill a hole in the wall: it’ll never be enough. Remain compassionate but remember that it’s never your responsibility to rescue anybody from their unresolved trauma. It’s theirs.
Friends who give you weird energy that you can’t quite put your finger on. They flake on you when you make plans to meet up– either they forgot or something came up last minute... This happens enough for you to recognize a pattern that spells out: I don’t really care about you, I care about how you make me feel when I need to kill some time, but right now I found something more important to involve myself in. So I’ll drop you and pick you up if and when I feel like it, because I know you’ll be there waiting for me.
Be nice to people for no reason, but don’t get attached to how you think they should react. Let the happiness of another soul be your reward.
Understand that the word ‘friend’ carries a bond.
Not everybody’s brave enough to show up, so appreciate the ones who do.
Love people while they’re still here, or learn to live without them
[If feeling bitterness towards a friend and don’t know why] What is it that draws me to this person that I dislike? Does this person threaten my sense of identity? Does this person remind me of who I want to be but haven’t actualized yet?
Communicate how you’re feeling exactly
Assert your boundaries
Focus on your truth. Focus on your message. Focus on you.
I think one of the biggest reasons we run circles around the truth of our relationships, even when exhausted and choking on air, is because sometimes the answer validates our very deepest fear: we are not worthy. Sometimes, people honestly see you as not worthy of their time. That’s okay. And Eggerue tells us, that’s okay. We are not meant for everyone. But we are meant for ourselves, and if You are not honored in your relationships, allow You to manifest fully in the right circumstances.
Most importantly, Eggerue emphasizes that all of the toxicity you recognize in yourself and others does not define anyone as a bad person. In fact, she provides advice for those on either side of the aisle (see above). In the age of callout culture, this is hard to digest. We find it difficult to set boundaries and consequences without the additional step of supporting our egos, or channeling our pain, through an attack on someone’s being. When you shed light on toxicity, you will see that it is all pain and ignorance, nothing more.
“It’s okay to want to be loved.”
This chapter is key, within the context of spiritual teachings and generally the essence of life. We like to find control and peace in asserting boundaries and maintaining solitude, however need to invest in connectedness as well.
I’m not gonna lie, Eggerue still uses a healthy chunk of this chapter advising us who to avoid. I’m listening to the audiobook as I’m writing this, and hearing:
Stop hanging out with people who keep flaking on you without making the effort to rearrange plans/
Stop hanging out with people who don’t know how to be honest with themselves. They will never be honest with you either/
Stop hanging out with people who make you feel embarrassed about things you are passionate about.
However, she also guides the reader through quality relationship-building– like controlling your expectations so that they are realistic, learning to deal with disappointment, and finding comfort in your identity. “May you learn to visit other people’s worlds without feeling compelled to build a home with them.”
Eggerue also discusses karma, a concept nestled in the idea that we are all connected all the time. I honestly thought until recently that the concept of karma was an idea fabricated to keep order and goodness in our lives, kind of like an insurance on civility, but I’m starting to wrap my head around the grandness to this concept with the help of books like this. The essential concept is that every single action has a cause-and-effect, similar to the butterfly-and-tornado metaphor.
Wherever Eggerue was at when she wrote this book is in part the mental place that saved my life. However, earning a disposable income and presenting in “societally secure” ways have also saved my life. This is the one itch that does not stop itching me.
Many of us are attacked institutionally on a physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual level, via restricted access to good health, terror, financial insecurity. These are all attacks on the deepest, most human parts of ourselves.
Growing up, it felt like my face was forever laid on the ground with the threat of next month’s bills pressed against my neck. It made any form of concentration that much harder, health & beauty products that much more out-of-reach, and it was that much easier to fall into unhealthy habits in order to cope. Now? I have enough money to hydrate in at least three different ways, eat whole foods, take performance and workout classes with my friends– most importantly, not worry about money all the damn time. It’s made self-exploration and inner peace so much easier to access and I can’t help but feel some type of way about it. Not bad per se... but that awareness has shed light for me on the full breadth of what spiritual awakening means for all of us.
Thank you Chidera Eggerue, for putting your heart into a body of work meant to heal. Thank you for beginning your book by labelling yourself a “recovering hypocrite” and posting pictures with your titties hanging out. Thank you for reminding me how much I already am, as I am.
Truly, what a time to be alone.