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  • Andrew Casteel

Do You Remember


Francis loves Avatar the Last Airbender (the cartoon, not the movie which was so bad the cartoon made fun of it). Whenever we go to the ocean, he tries to stop the waves with his waterbending. Back at his age, I was trying to use the force to move things like Luke Skywalker did in Empire Strikes Back. Still do some mornings when my phone's alarm is going off and I can't reach it.


When you're young and the rules don't seem so solid, your will feels like an unstoppable power, capable of changing anything, even matter itself. Slowly this feeling is eroded down. Every wave that your waterbending doesn't stop washes away a little of that power, until one day, you accept that you can not stop the ocean by will alone. This is a useful realization. It helps you change the focus of your will to the things you can change.


Sadly as we grow up, we also lose some of our power to change those things that we can. Our habits send down deep roots. That one midnight snack becomes a nightly ritual. That extra beer we have becomes two extra beers becomes our regular weekend hangover. That argument we have with a loved one becomes entrenched resentment. These are all situations we can end in an instant if we are aware of them and capable of mustering the will to do so. More often than not, we distract ourselves with another bad habit to escape the responsibility of changing our situation.


To end these cycles, the first step must be awareness. Habit and willpower are two different muscles pulling in opposite directions. If we have only exercised our habit, then our willpower is not strong enough to stop it. That's why stopping cold turkey rarely works. It would be like trying to do a shoulder press with the weight you can deadlift (For those of you who don't lift that's the difference between 85lbs and 215lbs for me). Not happening. The first step is being aware of the actions are habits are causing us to take. If we can increase the amount of awareness around these actions, we give ourselves a moment in between the decision to take them and the action itself. "I am getting a midnight snack". "I am having a second beer". "I am starting the same fight again". Naming the action, gives us the opportunity to change it. It breaks us out of the automatic cycle our habit has created. This brief pause, is where all change starts.


In the actual Bardo state between life and death, the first instinct is to go back towards life and rebirth because it is familiar. The same happened to me at the start of Covid. I longed for the many distractions I had built up around myself. I tried to Zoom happy hour myself back to the social life I was used to, but talking to a screen was empty. ana. It has been generalized to describe the moments in between our regular states of being, moments of awareness amidst the tides of our habits where we have the chance to change.


Covid has given the whole world a moment of Bardo. We are in between our normal states of being, prevented from indulging our regular habits. This time is an amazing opportunity for us to stop and look at what we have been doing regularly and decide which of those habits have been building us up and which have been breaking us down.


In the actual Bardo state between life and death, the first instinct is to go back towards life and rebirth because it is familiar. The same happened to me at the start of Covid. I longed for the many distractions I had built up around myself. I tried to Zoom happy hour myself back to the social life I was used to, but talking to a screen was empty and hollow. I went back to my video games to escape into a different world, but it was all to clear that world wasn't real. After my old distractions failed to consume the time I had been gifted by this pandemic, I finally started to become aware of my actual needs.


I became aware that I was uncomfortable sitting around. I became aware that I felt much better after working out in the morning with Lexi then I did at the end of a long zoom happy hour. I became aware that I had the time to cook all the things I wanted to, even my own Lao Gan Ma Chili Crisp. I became aware that America was far from the land of the free and that I wasn't comfortable with that either.


It is not the first time I became aware of the injustice in our country. I've had flare ups ever since I lived in LA during the Rodney King riots. Each time I was fired up and did something about it. Each time the fire died after a while, buried under the habits of distraction that my privilege provides.


Awareness is a benevolent force. So much of the evil in the world continues unabated because people are not aware of it or choose to distract themselves from it. For this #GivingTuesday I'd like to bring you some awareness into another facet of racial discrimination in this country, that is the racial disparities in maternal health.


The CDC reports that African American women in the United States are 3-4 times more likely to die in childbirth. Women in America are already more likely to die in childbirth than women in any other developed nation. Brandi Jordan ( @brandi_jordan_official ) shed some light on how this happens on the last Duncan Trussell Family Hour ( @duncantrussell ). When she went in to the hospital she worked at as a doula to give birth to her third child, the doctor on duty told her that he she wasn't in labor, though her water had broke. He said she probably just peed herself and that he would tell her when she was in labor. He told her to go home. She refused and had to wait in the waiting room until a nurse that knew her started her shift and admitted her. In her words, "Doctors are doing to black women what police are doing to black men.".


The group I'm supporting this #givingtuesday is my friend Marna Armstead's group Sister Web ( https://www.sisterweb.org/ - Link in bio). Sister Web is committed to building a community where Black, Latinx, and Pacific Islander pregnant women, their partners, and their families benefit from the expertise, support, and advocacy of a birth companion (doula) to have a satisfying and dignified birth experience. I've donated $500 to them and will match any donations anyone makes between now and July 21st. Or you can share a link to this post by July 21st and I'll donated $10 to them for spreading the word about this injustice.


For last week's #GivingTuesday, three people shared the link to help Jace Young's family so I donated an additional $30. It's not much, but I'll keep spreading awareness every Tuesday about an issue of racial injustice. Awareness is the first step to change. Without it, we will continue to distract ourselves from the tragedies around us and more people will suffer. I believe that most people who are made aware of injustice will not be comfortable letting it persist and will take action. Let's take this moment while our old ways are on pause to make the new normal that comes after better for everyone.

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© 2019 Andrew Casteel