1. Listening to others, to what the people you meet are offering to you:
Rox and I (Sarah Wyman) met on zoom due to the global pandemic and for convenience.
2. Listening to yourself: to what you feel emerging from within.
This was an intense experience that resonated deeply with me as Rox spoke about living Rox’s truth and not playing a prescribed role in a patriarchal society that rewards some and punishes others.
3. Listening to the emerging whole: to what emerges from the collective and community settings that you have connected with.
Rox and I share a vision that the extended SUNY New Paltz/ Hudson Valley community could be much more compassionate and open to the unknown and unforeseen, including the reality of each individual who inhabits this space.
Sensing journey questions
- What personal experience or journey brought you into your current role?
Rox graduated from SUNY New Paltz in 1997 with a major in Black Studies and a minor in the Visual Arts. In Black Studies, especially with Professors Margaret Wade-Lewis and A. J. Williams-Myers, Rox first felt seen and understood. Margaret Wade-Lewis, especially, took a personal interest in Rox’s development as a human being. Wade-Lewis focused on how we show up in the system in different ways. She helped Rox get through college, so Rox wanted to give back by becoming a teacher. But then Rox’s father died, and this ushered in a new reality: going to grad school in education and accruing more student debt was not an option.
Rox turned to graphic design and became a software project manger for big corporations including NBC. At the summit of Rox’s mainstream career, Rox was also Vice President of digital operations for an international micro-lending organization. In retrospect, Rox understands that they were aspiring to fit an archetype, to fit into the white, hetero, patriarchal system.
Then, four years ago, Rox lost their best friend to cancer, a woman aged 48 years with four children under 16. Rox suffered a breakdown. Working with a shaman brought Rox through a metamorphosis: Rox was called to do this work, the work of teaching in a new paradigm, through Circle, the work of helping others heal.
- What issues or challenges are you confronted with?
Rox works with adult survivors of sexual abuse. In this way, Rox found a form to hold space that allows their desire to teach to come through. This work is very intense. Holding space for others in this way is exhausting and brings up stuff in Rox. A challenge for Rox and their clients in healing circles is to let go of outcomes and expectations, to reject preconceived results or goals. One of Rox’s friends saw something in Rox that Rox could not see themselves. This led to an “Aha!” moment. This is true for all: we cannot SEE until our psyche is ready to see and absorb the truth or reality.
- Why do these barriers or challenges exist?
The problem is with the larger goal-oriented, extractive system.
- What challenges exist in the larger system?
We are expected to stay on task, follow a theme. Fragmented themes are easier to digest, specific life experiences allow us to focus, but this approach makes it hard to see and conceptualize the big picture, the system. For example, Rox’s partner’s cancer was symptomatic of a broader disease in the culture.
- What are the blockages?
The belief in systems and the tribal mind. We are disconnected from the land and from nature. We are unable to see ourselves as the divine creatures we are.
- What are your most important sources of success and change?
Rox was adopted and grew up in a very religious home, but Rox knew they didn’t “fit into the tribe.” It took a long time for Rox to claim this aspect of their selfhood, to see not fitting in in positive terms, as the very source of Rox’s power and purpose. It’s ok for others not to fit in as well – no one group has the golden ticket to belonging.
Rox came to understand the difference between spontaneity / / religion.
Rox attended parochial (religious) schools as a child and experienced beatings both at home and at school.
Now Rox helps others understand and foster their individual power.
Rox feels success and positive change in moments where they take their will out of a situation and step into being who they are rather than playing an imitative role.
Rox now understands that life is fraught with change – change is the only thing we can rely on, but this fact no longer scares Rox.
- What would a better system look like for you?
Get rid of grades in academic courses and get rid of professional titles. Break down the walls between areas of study because disciplinary divisions silo off the free-flowing exchange of ideas. SUNY New Paltz could be much more open in this way.
By way of example, Rox told the story of trying three times to fulfill the algebra requirement for graduation. The first two attempts, Rox could not understand and felt shame for asking a question in class. Then, Rox took a self-paced option, got a B+, and felt proud. Rox needed to learn algebra on Rox’s own terms. Rox’s trauma had not yet been dealt with, and that was part of the problem.
- What initiative, if implemented, would have the greatest impact for you? For the system as a whole?
Students/community members could be encouraged to ask questions and be curious. For example, why are some people rewarded so well (with grades; with money, etc.)? We live in a punitive system that rewards some members and punishes others.
- If you could change just a few elements of the system, what would you change?
More sharing, more open thought. No more grading. Rox acknowledges that most people crave form and structure to feel safe. Rox benefits from feedback on the Circles Rox facilitates.
- If the social field (or the living system) of the visited organization or community [SUNY New Paltz extended community] were a living being, what would it look and feel like?
The Groovy Blueberry – an entity that needs exploration, that operates according to all kinds of modalities to allow for continuous expansion. This green summer topography could have fewer buildings and structures. As with the effects of psilocybin, the world itself becomes breath. This could be New Paltz.
- If that being could talk: what would it say (to us)?
The being would say what Rom Das says: “Tell the truth and love everybody.” This being has been punished in the past for telling the truth.
- If that being could develop—what would it want to morph into next?
It would get bigger, expand, pull all to its center, take over itself.
- What is the generative source that allows this social field to develop and thrive?
- What limiting factors prevent this field/system from developing further?
We restrict Mother Earth and ourselves. We need to let Mother Earth be. People want ownership over pieces /parts / people / things. Legal structures and zoning laws.
- Moving in and out of this field, what did you notice about yourself?
Rox notices they no longer carry fear about being gender non-conforming, brown, biologically a woman. Rox’s intention is not to take but to participate and to keep moving.
- What ideas does this experience spark for possible prototyping initiatives you may want to take on?
Rox has been asked by a client to hold a sacred space as part of a Grief Circle for women in Kingston. Rox adds, “Any power can destroy and create. How it is wielded matters.”
Questions for the debriefing:
- What was most surprising or unexpected?
I didn’t expect that I would be so moved by Rox’s perspective on life and reality. Originally, I had planned to ask about “council” practices for group conversation, hoping to learn the technique to use in faculty mentoring cohorts. Our conversation demonstrated that even the way these interview questions are organized might be inappropriate for some people. Topics such as practical problem-solving and goal setting, initiatives, etc. can interrupt or distort or seek to control the more valuable activity of deep listening.
In the literary theory I teach and in the media wars today, truth has become a contested, relative concept. Not so for Rox. Listening to Rox speak about rock-solid truth, particular to each person’s being, refreshed and inspired my thinking.
- What touched me? What connected with me personally?
I was struck by Rox’s determination to be true to themself and not held back by fear, to continue to shepherd others’ healing through their Circle practice.
Rox spoke about their experience of learning to live their reality and not play any prescribed role. Many days later, I still thought about all that Rox said and felt with me through the computer screen. Unlike Rox, I play many roles, some of which involve more acting and inauthenticity than they should. Also unlike Rox, I am very goal or task-oriented and still hope for many achievements in my lifetime. Why should I care whether I am ever a full professor, or that my efforts are recognized – what does that even mean? What if I am never fully fluent in French and Spanish or travel back to African and Asia, or write that book I meant to write on poets Robert Hayden, Louise Gluck and Frank O’Hara?
Many times, Rox cried out in a quiet way for a world without ownership, without fear, even before I prompted any conversations on a “vision.” Rox insisted that we need to be in right relationship with Mother Earth and with each other. I share these convictions as well.