Dear Professor: Reflections of a Radical

A day before this assignment was due, my teacher personally told me to be completely honest with my essay.
I don’t think he realized what he was getting himself into.

  • Tell us what you enjoyed about the class and what information you found interesting.
  • How did you feel writing the first journal?
  • Please reflect on: J.K. Rowling commencement speech at Harvard.
  • Share with us the life you always dreamed of living?

Vanessa Renee Ramos
March 13, 2013

Final Summary

        This class was very enjoyable and refreshing because the structure of the class was different than what I’m usually used to. I felt like this class was less focused on the institutional gratification of the memorization of facts and final exams and more focused on whether or not students got valuable information for their everyday lives. This is very similar to the Health and Wellness Program’s attitude of not teaching abstinence or unrealistic goals, but rather things that are actually applicable for a person’s experiences. I may not know all the specific scientific terms for the processes that take place during synergism but I definitely know the risks in mixing certain drugs together, dangerous signs to look for, and the history behind why drugs hold certain places in society today. I definitely think more classes should take this approach to learning because memorizing useless information to achieve numerical measures of success rather than actually feeling confident enough to use this knowledge in everyday life, makes me less and less confident in the factory designed system called “public education”. In my opinion this class did very well in achieving its goals to give practical and accessible information for college life but I did notice a few things that I was not necessarily pleased about. I would like to note the sense patriarchy present during the main structure of the class. Patriarchy is a loaded word, but I’m not quite sure how else to put my discomfort in simpler terms. I would suggest all facilitators of this course take advantage of the Safe Zone trainings offered by the Resource Center of Sexual and Gender Diversity and Queer Commission. I usually always felt interested and engaged in this class but was easily disappointed in the lack of inclusivity and awareness normalized in such an institutional space. Every time any example of any nature was brought up, especially in situations regarding the discussion of status or research, women were virtually never included. Every single time any type of professional (doctor, pharmacist, professor) was brought up in discussion with the class, the professional is most certainly always referred to as a “he” or “him”. The entire class gets addressed as “guys” repeatedly, rather than “everyone” or “you all” and every time the teaching assistants gave a presentation they were always referred to as “guys”. Female identified teaching assistants may or may not even care, but it bothers me because the unequal representation and recognition of professional status based on gender, is socially, academically, politically, and culturally apparent in my everyday life, so when I see another woman giving a presentation with a group of men I would like to see her presence acknowledged when I am asked to “give these guys a hand”. The fact that some people think I’m “dramatic” for speaking out on these things doesn’t even bother me anymore because I truly understand it is so much easier to say that I’m “over-reacting” than to collectively or individually admit the everyday actions and language deemed “normal” by our society are actually apart of reinforcing micro systems of oppression and inequality. The feelings and observations of the invisible social systems present in this class coincide with my feelings in writing my first journal. Feelings of being misunderstood and over- analyzed arise whenever I explain my thoughts on society, my drug usage, and my intersectional position in a post- colonial, hierarchical, capitalist society. Every single time I am asked to write about my life or anything I do, my analysis of institutional and systematic social forces of inequality is inevitable. I honestly wish I can write an essay about my life without feeling compelled to express my discomfort in the institutional organization of the settings I’m surrounded in. I wish every time I performed in front of a group of strangers I could just talk about something easy going and funny, but society slams its fists against my door every single day, this bridge called my back doesn’t get any breaks.  I regretfully and honestly understand why minorities exist in places like this University. I don’t even think college itself is that hard, what’s hard is balancing the systemic, “invisible”, and hierarchical forces obnoxiously apparent in everything I do, what’s hard is figuring out how to deal with circumstances I never asked for and having to “educate” people with just enough patience to understand what I’m talking about but too much privilege to understand why it matters. This is where my drug usage and use of other “alternative” means of coping come into play.  Sometimes I’m just tired.
J.K. Rowling publically and humbly explained to a group of strangers that “failure taught her things about herself she couldn’t have learned any other way,” and our very notion of what “failure” even is has been involuntarily shaped by forces out of our control. Ten weeks ago, when I wrote a reflection similar to this one I would have loved to be able to write without needing to reflect on my many “struggles” but in this very moment I couldn’t be more proud to say I have, and I am still here. Coming from a “poor” background, most people from my home town think I “made it” yet I am trying to “make it” here every week. My experiences as a working class, radical, queer, Latina, differently- abled, first generation college student with teen parents have shaped the way I perceive the world and the way it perceives me. Ten weeks ago I thought I needed to explain myself to people. My inner peace no longer stems from the compassion and solidarity of other people. Although this is truly beautiful, I needed to find the deepest contentment in myself. I needed to be able to feel okay without my friends, lovers, family, and my positions. There is nothing more powerful than collectives of people but before I could connect with anyone else I need to connect with myself and nature. My experiences with sexual assault, systematic inequality, addiction, abuse, depression, anxiety, poverty, and fibromyalgia have been experiences in which I have spent all my life trying to justify, explain, and “fix”.  I looked at my past and my struggles as something to move on from, or something to move passed but I now have come to realize I don’t need to explain myself to anyone, and these experiences will never be memories of my past, but in fact vital parts of my being that manifest themselves in forms of strength and resistance. There is no “moving on” only moving forward. I’m not trying to get better from anything, I’m trying to accept all the parts of me I falsely believed I had to correct. I’m not looking for people to tell me “I know just how you feel” because they don’t, and actually accepting the fact that no one will EVER know really know how I feel is a feeling of liberation I cannot explain. Accepting the fact that no matter what I say, you will never understand the world the way I understand saves me a lot of time and stress. It allows me to exist. Not focusing on trying to “get better” from experiences the majority of people would think are bad, and focusing on accepting the fact that these things happened to me, and make me who I am, is the only way I managed to even stay in school this quarter. I’ve been through things I never asked for, and things people can’t imagine, but my body is resistance and rhyme & art is my reaction.
Conceptualizing the “life I’ve always dreamed of living” is internalized in several ways, mainly emphasizing in accepting the fact that there are things that I can change, and things that I have no control of. I do not necessarily have the choice of living a life without discomfort, but I do have a choice in the way I handle that discomfort. Yoga, meditation, art, empathy and mindfulness. I do not have a choice in dealing with the constant physical pain of Fibromylagia, but my appreciation for the fact that I am still alive is also a choice very much directed by my adversities. I do not necessarily have a choice in continuing to attend a public school system in an industrial society that only measures success numerically, but I can cultivate a great sense of gratitude in being among the less than one percent of people in the world who even have the opportunity to be literate. I do not necessarily control the nature of this individualistic, capitalist, post- colonial, hierarchical, stolen land we call “America” but I can recognize my privilege in being born in a country much more “free” than the rest of the world, use my stories as resistance, and actively surround myself with like-minded individuals. I may not be able to control haunting memories of my past, and lurking doubts within my being, but I can control how much they affect me and my present actions in the world. I have cultivated such a strong love for myself and everything about my existence through art, yoga, and activism that most beautiful thing about reflecting on the “life I’ve always dreamed of living” is realizing I am already living it. It’s just a matter of being able to realize this on a day to day basis.


When My Mornings Started Changing My Life

According to Ayurvedic philosophy, choices that you make regarding your daily routine either build up resistance to disease or tear it down and the way you start your day is incredibly important because it is an opportunity to set your intentions for that whole day.

Having Fibromyalgia makes my mornings the most difficult part of the day. I physically cannot sleep more than 7 hours even if I really wanted to because the longer I sleep the stiffer and more painful my body gets. This is how my mornings used to be:

I literally dealt with  stay up really late and sleep in till the last possible moment. Waking up was painful, if I hoped out of bed within the first minute or so of waking up the whole room gets blurry and I get nauseous and feel like throwing up.

When I finally got the stability to get up, my entire body is stiff and in pain. Extra inflammation in my muscles may have been caused by processed foods I ate the day before and I am definitely not happy.  I can put both feet behind my head but in the mornings I can barely bend half way to my toes. I used to mindlessly wake  up and the the first thing I did was turn on my computer and probably go straight to my email or facebook.

I wasn’t mindful of anything in my body, didn’t notice the weather, and never even thought to take 5 minutes to ask myself “How do I feel today?” and sit with that. Doing these simple things in the morning allows me to come to terms with how I feel- weather it’s good or bad, and allows me to acknowledge that that these feelings are temporary, as all things are.

Creating this awareness instills a responsibility in making every moment count so that I feel the way I want to feel, and there are no excuses for having a “bad morning”. I don’t have time for that shit. Nobody does.

Now, I get up anywhere between 7:00 am – 8:00 everyday, (it varies because I don’t use an alarm). I’ve trained my body to just do this on its own but it ultimately depends on how much sleep I got the previous night.

Getting out of bed takes about 10 mindful minutes to wake up all the muscles in my body. Practicing yoga has taught me how to isolate my muscles and awaken them one at a time. I wiggle my toes, twist my ankles in circles, flex by calf bones (one at a time) and flex in my knees and thigh muscles. I begin bending my back, extending my neck and flexing my arms. This feels lovely.

Once I am ready to actually get up I do not go on any social networking sites, I do not look at my phone or even turn on the music. If it’s not too cold outside, I will go out to my balcony (where I have my yoga mats and a peaceful meditation corner) sit for a few minutes.

This is more practical if I even set a distinct time like “at 7:55 I will sit for 5 full minutes and do nothing.” I try not to talk to any of my housemates and just worry about myself. In this state, I can really hear the ocean calling back at me and the birds singing in the palm trees.

Depending on the morning, and how my body feels, at this time I sometimes pack a small bowl — not enough so that i actually really get HIGH but enough that my muscles don’t feel so stiff anymore.

Sometimes I’ll do a “mind dump” and write all the things that are on my mind in an effort to tangibly and actively clear my mind. If it turns to be a list of intentions I’d like to follow through with I keep it. If it turns out to be things I wanna let go of, I burn it. ( I have large candles and glass bowls here too) Then I do a few Sun Salutations appreciating and honoring where I am in this moment, because despite ALL that I’ve been through, I’m still HERE.

Taking time to do these things in the morning cultivates mindfulness, a sense of patience and self- discipline, and an appreciation for myself.
NOW my day begins…..


Regular Tuesday 2:00 pm Meditation

Today while I was practicing some unwinding poses on the balcony I meditated as usual on my large bed of mats. I lit the incense, sat under my red sheet hanging from above swaying with the ocean winds, on top of four different sitting materials surrounded by good vibes. About an hour later when the whole practice was coming to a close I blew out my last candle and challenged myself to list three things that I was grateful for in that present moment: (an exercise I learned from the UCSB Psychology Program)

1. I’m grateful I have the ability to sit at 2:00 pm like this. This is something many people do not do and I feel eternally grateful for specific incidents, opportunities and people that have influenced my passion of being still and being at peace with myself through slow, meaningful practice.

2. I am thankful to have a place to sit, to literally have a place to sit. As I spend time in my corner every day I try to mindfully recognize the fact that having access to a space like this is very privileged, and I know many other people may not have the luxury to sit on their self-decorated balcony near the ocean and ‘listen to their hearts’ at peace at 2:00 pm on a Tuesday. Some people don’t have balconies, some people have to work, some people have shit to do that I will never know the struggle of having to do, I know. So for that I am grateful and promise to seek peace and solidarity in every space I’m in no matter how hard it will be, even if it’s within myself. A safe space for a still mind is not physical, it can be completely within. This makes me want to promise to seek time every day, whether it’s on a balcony with a meditation corner or in the front seat of my car in an empty parking lot, I will seek time every day to be still and to have trust that the world will be okay without me doing something in it for twenty minutes, making me even stronger to deal with it tomorrow.

3. I’m thankful for all the ‘stuff’ that surrounds me and although I have tried very hard to further separate my attachment to ‘stuff’ the past few months I have come to notice a pattern in all the stuff I still do have. I have stopped shopping for ‘fun’– buying things I don’t need and shit just because it’s in a different color. All the things that surrounded me at that given moment when blowing out the last candle was all stuff from other people, given to me through some type of experience. I didn’t realize I had created my little meditation corner in this way until this moment but it made me feel justified in trying to stop being such a consumer. Most of the shit I buy I don’t keep past a few years anyway. I spent money and energy being attached to things that were only temporary…

when I think of some of my most meaningful possessions they are mostly things given to me by other people—with a story. Not just something I ordered online or bought walking by. If this is the case then why buy anything at all? Furniture, appliances, clothes, all kinds of things. I’m going to just trade, gift and accept as many of these things as possible and stop buying shit for a while. It’s much more in my best interest to spend money on investments. I am thankful for all the people that gave me the memorable things that now contribute to this beautiful space and what it all has taught me in this moment about attachment to material things vs. having less, but creating memories of real experiences.