My mom woke up from a dream one morning and heard the words, “Trust the unfolding.” These words were particularly poignant to her and, consequently, to the rest of my nuclear and immediate family, because they provided hope during a year in which there has been great flux and uncertainty.
For me these words have been like dangling tree vines that I grab onto desperately as I feel the ground leave me. Sometimes there is so much uncertainty in the space I find myself that it feels as if my body is in between inertia and falling. Many times this year I have been unclear about my path. I have questioned whether I am finding my soul’s purpose in the work I do. I have had second thoughts about where I live. And I have wondered if the choices I have made that keep me so far away from my family in California are truly in the best interests and for the higher good of my family, particularly my girls.
As tightly as I have clutched onto these words, I have still found myself not trusting. This year in particular I have realized how painful it is to trust, especially as I consciously attempt to lead by my heart in academia. My heart, not my head, brought me to higher education. My heart drives my work with families of children with dis/abilities and sustains my vibrancy as I engage with others about community-centered work. However, it is very challenging to share my heart in academic spaces where mutual trust is rare.
So, I am learning to navigate trust by recognizing when people open their hearts or close them. In academia I have discovered that sharing one’s heart – regardless of the passion behind one’s work – is often avoided or cloaked in theoretical frameworks. There are many conditions, it seems, to when, where, why, and with whom we are able to open our hearts to one another freely and without judgment. I have begun to notice how people respond to me when I consciously open my heart. Some are immediately attracted to this energy, others are repelled, and many are perplexed, uncomfortable, or curious – but uncertain.
I believe that many equate leading from the heart first rather than from the head as academic suicide. In academia, one of the first pieces of advice I received from one of my mentors on my dissertation committee was to “put aside what you really want to do until you get tenure.” What I believe he meant was not to engage in the work I wanted to do that integrated healing modalities with children with dis/abilities which, in essence, was heart-centered work. Rather, he was advising me to set my heart aside for a bit and dive into the “head work” of publishing studies in reputable peer-reviewed journals. He knew, as well as I do now, that many peer-reviewed journals in my field would find my work “fringy” and outside-the-box.
Possibly, to his and other mentors’ chagrin, I have followed a somewhat unconventional trajectory in academia by making choices based in my heart. Some may argue that my choices have not been strategic or “smart” enough, but for me most of all my decisions have been heart-centered and have been made with the following question in mind, “Is this choice aligned with my soul’s purpose?”
Trusting the unfolding in academia feels impossible sometimes. There are so many expectations and pressures associated with “being successful” not only as a scholar, but also as a teacher, researcher, and service agent. I have experienced sensations of both inertia and falling throughout my career. These have been especially poignant when what I am doing seems completely out-of-sync with what my soul yearns for. My heart, as the doorway to my soul’s purpose, is also a barometer that is in constant calibration. It tells me if what I am experiencing is in line with my passions and deepest longings.
When I write about trusting and listening to my heart, I am expressing the need to be in non-stop communication with the messages it is providing. When I open my heart to others and receive a sinking feeling or coldness from their response it is my heart (linked to intuition) that discerns for me their unwillingness to meet me in the open space I have offered. In attuning myself to these messages, instead of allowing my head to dismiss the warnings, I can remain intact – the essence of who I am untouched. Perhaps for many, the ability not to feel the heart’s communication has provided them with the armor needed not to internalize another’s distance and closed-ness. For me, a person who is empathic, I have had to learn the heart’s language to understand when it is safe for me to open myself to others.
The challenge is that in academic spaces when my colleagues and I are engaged in serious conversations about working with historically minoritized and marginalized peoples or exploring what anti-racist practices are in our courses and everyday interactions, I cannot separate my heart from my work. I want to create a safe, sacred space for all of us to be protected as we critically unpack our individual experiences from collective ones. I want to support in authentic ways each person as they explore their own emotionality within the intellectual and academic environments of which we have co-created and, to certain degrees, are forced into.
Trusting the unfolding means to be myself and to allow others to engage with me (or not) in the healing and transformative processes that are available to us as colleagues in academia.
I will continue to trust, and hope that the unfolding will manifest mutual understanding, respect, and love.
Keep trusting, never give up.