Being alive is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.
There’s no “perfect” instruction booklet. Heck, some of us didn’t even come with all the parts, or, parts constructed in a different, or totally wrong way. Some of us were shoved into boxes that we didn’t exactly “fit in,” or perhaps in a box that got left on the conveyor belt too long, or fell off the back of the truck, bounced into a puddle, nibbled on by racoons, then squashed by oncoming cars. Oof.
If this sounds like you too, congratulations, you’re a human.
The human body is simultaneously a miracle of evolutionary science and a gotdang curse. Why does it have to be so hard to be human?
It just does.
Greetings friends, a brief introduction again…Deanna Sophia, “the Artistic Mystic Formerly Known As Danger.” A professional performer & producer in the pre-pandemic times, lifelong anxiety sufferer, rage-gardener, Trekkie, elder queer, retired “empath,” nearly-certified, trauma-sensitive mindfulness meditation coach, and proponent of all-things-mental-health-awareness. Coming to you today, real-to-real to kick-off Mental Health Awareness Month with a short bit of storytime, news of some incredible upcoming FREE resources, and an opportunity to further engage in your own journey of wellBEing with a fellow human who apparently, keeps making careers of helping folks with the hard stuff.
Amidst the great revolutions that were occurring in the U.S. around 2014 to, oh, well, present time, I’ve also been navigating my own personal revolutions. And I’d venture to say you have been too. We all have. It’s just that time. It’s just that planet. It’s just that much. It’s just that, oof, painful.
One of the ways I’ve been helping myself through each new year of what-the-fuck-now-chaos-is-happening, is by naming myself a “word of the year.” A word that just seems to rise to the surface of my consciousness, and helps me stay attuned to my awareness of what is actually happening, like, on the inside of me, so that I can have an aim still trained on my longer-term goals, without being completely mired in the details of all the so many dang seemingly impossible steps along the way.
That word this year is DISCERNMENTEGRATION.
What?! Deanna, that’s not a word.
Yeah I know, but it makes sense though, right?
All words are made up, if you think about it. So what if I mash two together to bring a transformative meaning that’s more expansive than the two separately? Many other languages have so many words to describe human emotions and ideas, the English language lacks so much. Here in America, photo & meme mash-ups happen all the time, but when bloggers do it to words it’s considered “not academic and professional enough.” Pfffft I say. I’m no alphabet scholar - there’s no string of letters behind my “professional” name to elite-ize me, and I love mash-up words!
Like my favorite remix, “rawthenticity.” One word that immediately bolsters collaborative meaning. Like friend-ship and common-unity (community). Words that become both/and instead of either/or. Inclusive words. All things included in the circle. All things included into conscious awareness. What does it feel like to hear the word “rawthenticity?” It feels like all parts of you are welcome in your Whole presentation, right? The raw and societally deemed “ugly” parts too, the “unfinished” parts, the “messy” parts…because those are still parts of us, right? We don’t actually show up every day walking around in our own skin as the “Instagram” version of ourselves…we just tend to not put those parts on Instagram and relegate them to our little, brain-back-corners of shame to just stew in our rawness…yeah.
So discernmentegration. Discernment. And integration. Those are my words of 2022.
Last year it was just discernment. I wanted to be able to just distinguish between things. A less shame-y and different vibe and action than judgment. I did NOT want to judge. I wanted to discern. Detangle. Lay out each on its own to understand what was what, without feeling one way, good, bad, disappointed, happy, furious, confused, etc about it.
I had a lot happening last year. I shifted away from being a professional and independent artist in favor of taking on a steadily-paid and more life-sustainable, managerial role at a nonprofit arts institution. I began a two-year teaching certification program in mindfulness meditation. I unpacked a lot of fucking trauma. Shit from childhood, shit from my early 20s, shit…my whole entire 30’s, lol. And most importantly, I let myself shift from crisis-survival-mode into ok-I’m-standing-on-my-own-two-feet-in-the-present-tense mode. Discernment rather than judgment because I simply just wanted to see how things progressed. Without the feeling of needing to make a life-changing, fear and scarcity based decision for my long term care. I needed time to breathe and just let it be.
So that brings us to this year. Discernment AND integration.
Discernment provided me space. Integration provides me with the application of the wisdom that space-by-discernment provided me. Discernmentegration is both receptive AND active. To me…that just feels hella good.
You know what else is receptive AND active? Mindfulness meditation.
Plenty of people misunderstand mindfulness and meditation. Heck, I was people at one point. And, I came across enough quality resources to point me in the right direction of my own discovery of trauma-sensitive mindfulness. A teaching style and understanding of meditation that wasn’t a bunch of super privileged, alphabet-letter-scholars with no direct experience of being to hell-and-back-again. A literal, lifesaver at a time where I was, making my way back from hell. Again (look, sometimes it takes a few tries).
I talk on social media a lot about being a trauma-survivor, and a person who’s experienced debilitating panic attacks, a person who’s experienced addiction, very deep depression, self-harm, poverty, joblessness, chronic pain and illness. I talk openly about being a non-binary, queer person who was socialized feminine, and I don’t talk enough about how fucking weird it is to still feel like I don’t quite fit in with the queer community (more on that in another blog in the future). And recently, I’ve begun to talk about neurodivergence…recently because well, I didn’t fucking know till recently (omg WTF y’all, I’ve been neurodivergent my whoooooole life, no WONDER I’m like this).
And it’s for all those openly talked about reasons and things, that brings me to the work of becoming a mindfulness coach. A trauma-sensitive mindfulness coach, because as my meditation teacher Tara Brach says, “it’s not our fault belonging is hard.”
It’s for all those openly talked about reasons and things, that has led me to my word of the year discernmentegration because I needed a tool and a technique to help me keep parsing out what’s what. What’s mine. What’s not mine to carry. What I can actually do things about, what I can’t. What I need, what I want, what I’m good at, what I know, what I definitely don’t know, what I actually like, what was just my programming, what’s society’s programming, what’s the gotdang racially capitalist algorithms that are literally designed to keep people harmfully online for sales and fighting….ugh. Don’t want.
Mindfulness, or Vipassana “Insight” meditation is a 2600 year old Buddhist philosophy that has a very important part in the history of Western social activism and revolution, and turns out to also be completely science backed by the last 25-or-so years of neuroscience research. The specific program I am training in takes all of these things into consideration with the teachings, and I am extremely grateful to have found the right program, a wise program that is secular, hella diverse, inclusive, AND accessible to me as a generationally working class, non-binary, queer person enrolled on partial scholarship. It was important to me to dedicate myself to finding the correct community and program, of which to not only base my own understanding and daily practice of meditation for my own continued awakening and liberation, but to then also be able to teach, build and contribute forward from this ethos, for the wellbeing of all sentient (and non-sentient) life around me.
I have to be honest, it feels like I am finally walking around as a version of me that I needed growing up. A me that knows I am both a work-in-progress AND a masterpiece, all at the same time. That statement was one I often used in teaching beginners burlesque classes. I recognized that folks often came to burlesque to learn how to be more expressive, fuller and whole versions of themselves. And that they also had a rough time being there in their own skin, meeting their own self-doubt, their own shame, blame and sense of un-belonging. I always utilized that phrase because it felt the same way that “rawthentic” does, both/and. Things can be both challenging, uncomfortable, messy, and beneficial for us. I didn’t know it at the time back then…but I was already in a way teaching mindfulness…
I also taught that balance is a state of constant recalibration. As a dancer, my medium is movement. The literal definition of movement is motion. Non-static change. Dancers can’t do pirouettes on pointe without first practicing for a very long time, how to have a balanced core while in constant movement. I didn’t know it at the time…but I was teaching mindfulness when I taught this phrase about balance too.
When mindfulness meditation became an intentional part of my life, of my self-care toolkit, I realized I had been practicing returning to myself, my homebase, my 5-senses, my body, returning breath back into deeper parts of my body and out of the anxiety-controlled, shallow-breathing, crisis-survival-mode for quite some time. And I realized what resonated with me most out of all those years (a decade to be precise) teaching burlesque, was that I really, really like helping folks be comfortable in their own skin. Like, a LOT more than I wanted to play the games involved in being an independent artist in today’s capitalist society. I really dislike competition - maybe it’s something about a society inherently built on exclusionary-better-than-thou-for-validy that feels I don’t know, un-inclusive. And that’s why this transition from A&E to wellness & belonging feels so damn right. Because I had been teaching myself (as a result of the grace of Divine Rage, lol and amen) how to be comfortable in my skin, and that felt-sensation of true belonging, aka self confidence, is contagious as hell…if we allow it to be…
It’s just that society constantly teaches us to be either exceptional or faulty…
And so, I’m here to counterbalance that, with mindfulness. Discernment and integration.
And furthermore…I hope this is why you’ve read this far too, because you’re seeking your own belonging, or maybe just a way to make peace with things that are actually out of your control.
I believe strongly and wholeheartedly, that mindfulness meditation is best practiced with others, and best learned by someone trained to guide. And that’s why I prefer the term mindfulness “coach” rather than “teacher.” A.) because I have no intention of making you take tests to prove you learned, and B.) I’m going to be here to cheer you on from the sidelines as you work out your own strategies on the field.
When you begin to pay mindful attention to your own inner experience, any number of uncomfortable, confusing or even jarring things can come up. I presume that’s why a lot of folks don’t stick with meditation…they might have had an instructor who wasn’t trauma and diversity informed and inadvertently pushed them waaaaaay out of their comfort zone. The way I approach coaching, I assume everyone has had some experience of trauma in their lives, which includes systemic oppression, chronic physical and mental illness. That’s why I think it’s important to have a coach “who’s been there too,” even if our definitions of “there” are different. I’m not going to “make you withstand” horrible experiences to just “breathe through it.” And I’m not going to steer you away from feeling your feelings either. I am going to help you, who has chosen to fully engage with a radical form of healing at the root, discern what’s actually happening when you feel uncomfortable, confusing or painful things, and assist you to integrate what you learn about yourself into your practice of self-lovingkindness.
I got a lot of practice confronting and breaking down the misconceptions about burlesque and how it differs from sex work (without shaming either experience), and I know I’m going to be putting that experience to good use breaking down the misconceptions about meditation too. But here’s the thing…meditation is a practice. It’s not something we “perform,” it’s not “set it and forget it” self care. It’s constant recalibration. It’s a practice in anti-shame, anti-blame, and anti-oppression…it’s stuff that doesn’t really “sell on social media” because well, what “wellness” would there be left to “sell” if everyone learned the tools to cope with their own shit, have a more fulfilling life off social media in the waking world, and in the process had the tools then to support each other better and save the world? Yeah, mindfulness vs internet…the UFC fight of the gotdang century.
And so what the meat of this blog is about today, is to introduce to you this opening and offering to learn the tools and the technique to try it out for yourself. I’m pretty sure that 2600 years of people learning, sharing and growing this tradition across the globe into today’s century, to just so coincidentally line up with civil rights revolutions and modern neuroscience couldn’t be the longest con in all of the cons. Right?
I’ve chosen to open my offerings and coaching in May since it is Mental Health Awareness Month, simply because I believe in BEing the change I wish to see in the world. Sharing the knowledge, ushering the way, because healing begets more healing. As Louis Cozolino puts it, “We are not the survival of the fittest, we are the survival of the nurtured.” And I guess I’m a nurturer by nature.
I’ve started off by setting up a series of short, live virtual talks with a Q&A period to cover some topics about the basics of mindfulness meditation to help folks understand a little more of what’s entailed before diving all the way in. There is a bit of rhyme and reason to this meditation thing, and it’s actually very helpful to understand it piece by piece in order to form a more full picture. Kind of like studying a view through a window, pane by pane, to then be able to step back and see the whole vista. Trees then forest.
These 30-minute, free, live talks are happening Tuesday nights at 7pm through May, via my YouTube channel at the following schedule of topics, and I highly encourage you to drop into them all and ask the tough questions…I want the tough questions. I’m ready for the tough questions.
Then starting June 7th, my first “Introduction to Mindfulness Meditation” course begins. It’s a 6-week course, occurring Tuesday nights for 75-minutes, virtually via Google Meet. The course provides instruction, guided practice, Q&A, and also a sort of “homework” to walk away from the lesson with something to try out in the week between. Each course builds from the previous, and again, is set up like that window-pane-thing, bit-by-bit to see the whole. Learn the basics, be messy, be rawthentic, fail, love yourself anyway, get up, try again and keep practicing. The benefits of meditation are not a quick fix (fair warning), but also most folks come to meditation because quick fixes aren’t working anymore (psssst….they’re not supposed to). And so I remind folks that the benefits you wish to see are wholly dependent upon your own willingness to engage, try it out and stick with it when the going gets tough.
And here’s where I’ll get extra real with you about it…
I fucking care about informed consent. Look, we’re talking about meditation here. This has to do with the nervous system, the brain, and the body. I am 100% not in charge of your body, you are. And I wouldn’t be teaching trauma-sensitive mindfulness if I was purposefully misleading you in that kind of “toxic-wellness-self-care-industry-influencer-culture” kinda way. I’m not about that. What I am about, is ensuring you have the resources, the definitions, and the methods to be the captain of your own ship. Keys in your pocket, I’m just here to teach you how to fly it. That’s why I’ve taken the time to include lots of information on my website about my Code of Ethics, my mission, my vision, my values, and my accountability statement. There is an intro video to help you know how to prepare for the course, and an intake form and liability waiver involved. I want you to have everything clarified and out there to ask questions about, and I want to understand more about what you specifically need, so that I can have variations prepared in class that can work for all folks' various accessibility needs.
And I’ve even gone so far as to include a few bonus resources that come along with the course registration. Everyone that registers for the course gets a meditation & mental health resource pdf. Everyone also automatically receives free, drop-in attendance to weekly, virtual, practice sessions. These sessions alternate Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings to hopefully allow for participation once or twice a month while you’re learning, and are lightly guided, longer practice than what we do in the Tuesday night classes. Meditation is the kind of thing that you have to practice longer to really experience the benefits, so if you’re building up your meditation muscles from short 5 and 10 minute practices, into 20 and 30 minute and longer practices, these weekly sessions are the supportive container to try that out and provide consistency and accountability. And the weekly practices continue on after the introductory course is over so you’ll have a community to keep practicing with. There’s even a way to subscribe monthly and get one-on-one personal coaching. I’m not a mindfulness app, I’m a real live human being that lives in their own body, in the real world, that you can talk to who cares.
Please check out www.deannadanger.com/mindfulness to read every bit of info, and register online when you’re ready.
The best part of all (the part that I’m really excited about), is that this is accessibly priced self-care. The basic registration price is $60 for the 6-week session - that’s $10 a session. If you are a BIPOC or disabled student, you get it half price. And if you’re a student that has access to income that is not strictly for your own survival (ie: you have resources to spare), there is a pay-it-forward option that helps subsidize the discount I offer to facilitate access to communities with limited access to resources. I’ve even discounted the pay-it-forward price too because I sincerely want to encourage organic, community-funded growth via gift economics - a type of community-based funding that is both very intrinsically Buddhist and people’s-revolutionary (solidarity y’all). People helping people is how we get along in this world. I don’t have unlimited resources, I have my time and my labour. I’m honest about what I can contribute, and I believe in this meditation technique enough to know it’s highly worth asking my community to help support the Whole.
There’s so much more I want to say, but I’m working really hard at being less long-winded with my blogs. So I’ll wrap it out by saying, if you know someone who you think would also dig this kind of community and wellness practice, please forward this blog to them. Please engage on my social media posts. It seriously, seriously makes a huge difference. I am purposely going into this work because I know it has the potential to have an enormous impact on easing the suffering in the communities around me. That is the whole entire “purpose” of this kind of meditation, to ease suffering. I am purposefully going into this work fully knowing that the internet, social media, and general digital-age-capitalist-society is literally programmed to be about quick-fix-material-escapism…and stoking conflict. I’m walking the opposite direction. So while the algorithms are stacked against this kind of offering of wellness, what is not is the actual, organic and liberatory progress and improvement, the embodied, lived-experience of all folks who have ever chosen to practice mindfulness meditation. Please, please share it with a friend. Word-of-mouth advertising is not dead, I’m not interested in wasting my time being a “mindfulness influencer” (remember that informed consent thing…yeah, no manipulation here), and I’m definitely not interested in banking followers - I’m not a fucking cult.
www.deannadanger.com/mindfulness is that website address again, come visit and see for yourself.
More soon friends, thank you for reading or listening! Please leave a comment to let me know you were here, what you thought, what you think, what you feel, or what questions you have. And definitely please unsubscribe if it’s not your thing. Make sure you also check out my Buy Me A Coffee site, where you can subscribe for further tid bits of inspiration and knowledge not included in my blogs - that site is a more weekly, short jolt of rawthentic realness.
May you continue to walk a path always at Home with your dignity, integrity & potential.
-Deanna Sophia Danger-