DISPATCH 006: On Maintaining Strategic Optimism Despite The Pain of Existence
What's love got to do with it?
Hello. This is the sixth installment of Dispatches from Chrysalis, an honest offering from me to you in the form of a newsletter. My name is Priya Florence Dadlani and I am an NYC-based cultural worker. I was born and raised in Silver Spring, MD to parents each of their own unique double diaspora. In 2018, I founded SPICY, a collective led by and for queer people of color utilizing the transformative power of art to change the world. I am also a member of the Jahajee Sisters grassroots action team, working to end gender-based violence in Caribbean communities. I work with both Media Sutra and Third Wave Fund.
As I build a digital community in different, more intimate corners of the internet, I’ll pop up in your inbox every now and then with Dispatches from Chrysalis - the liminal space I often find myself, constantly on the edge of becoming. I’ll also be including journal prompts in my newsletters so we can process various topics together from wherever. I feel like it’s important to say that these newsletters are for me to work through the chaos of my life as much as they are for y’all. I’m no expert, no genius, and I don’t have it all figured out. I’m simply trying — trying to heal, trying to find my way, trying to find the words. And I’m infinitely grateful you’ve agreed to be a part of this process.
“What I’m writing to you is not for reading, it’s for being.” ― Clarice Lispector, Água Viva
Extending grace and gratitude to everyone reading this, and to all those who have somehow signed up for my newsletter in the last eight months despite how silent it’s been. If you’re reading this it must also mean that I’ve actually pressed send, which is a miracle in and of itself.
The last few months have been a force of feeling, healing, allowing, extending, and shedding. I’m finding myself crystallizing into the new mold of Priya that was etched into me during the winter months. I went through such a period of destabilization between November 2021 and April 2022, and now being on the other end of my Earthquake Era, my vision is starting to sharpen and I’m beginning to see the outlines of the new boundaries that now make up the house my mind, heart, and body live in. I’m beginning to see through the rubble what has changed and shifted, was crushed, or disappeared. My boundaries have come closer to me, and my desire to hold them in this still trembling ground is more dire than ever. Did you know I have actually always been sensitive, introverted, and weary of people? I just didn’t show it. My innerworld is peaking through my scarred skin more now though, and I am showing these parts that have been hidden for so long.
I once read somewhere that we have our childhood and then for the rest of our lives we are healing from it. I have always believed that, and now in addition, I see that even as adults we walk around this world and encounter situations and people we must heal from as they rub salt in our earliest wounds. I just finished listening to the audiobook of Circe by Madeline Miller, and even for the thousand year old Greek gods their healing processes are never-ending. This is because while we are attempting to “heal”, whatever that is, we are also living. I am creating myself in the same instant that I am being myself.
And while God or the universe or spirit may know how things turn out for me, where my last transformation lands — I don’t. But, if I was walking in the park and picked up a book sitting on a bench and began reading the story of my life, I’d put it down. Mystery is what keeps me so interested in my life. Not just the mystery of the world and the events that may take place around me, but the mystery within myself. The epiphanies that will change my life, that will seemingly emerge from nothing but have actually been percolating in my own emotional primordial soup of subconscious. I recently had an Akashic Reading, and was brainstorming questions to ask. Many people apparently ask their readers, “What is my soul’s purpose?” but for some reason, I had no interest in asking that question. It would just take the fun out of things.
My morning yesterday started with a trip to the cardiologist. I am okay, but last week had an EKG that prompted this appointment. It was a bit nerve-wracking because I have pretty much zero knowledge about how the heart works. I’m typically struck with starry-eyed, poetic awe when I think about how such a soft and gushy organ is the strong center that powers all. During my follow-up appointment they did an ultrasound of my heart called an echocardiogram, applying a cold jelly to my chest and using their technology to peek through the gunk that makes me, to see if my heart’s slightly abnormal structure was of danger to me. Thankfully it isn’t, but during the procedure I was watching the screen and hearing my heartbeat through the computer speakers. Like an ultrasound of a pregnant belly, I saw an outline of my beating heart on the screen, and heard a pulsing that sounded so loud and thick, I couldn’t believe it was coming from me. I then saw this thin, quickly moving flap on the doctor’s monitor that was opening and closing a main valve to my heart. All I could think about was how small and fragile it looked. I refused to believe what I saw. I refused to believe this is how I stayed alive. This little, thin flap… The romanticized mystery of how my heart kept me alive dissipated, and it was replaced with absolute fear. A montage played in my head of all the ways this flimsy blood valve flap could easily be flicked, damaged, and ripped out of me.
It felt a lot like what the period of time between November 2021 to April 2022 felt like for me. Those months had been a sudden wake-up call and rude reminder that sometimes the mysteries life uncovers for you are tragic, ugly, and to be feared. It felt like I was playing whack-a-mole with my hurt. As soon as one catastrophe seemingly settled, another popped up. And I hate to say this, but maybe I needed some terrible, unsolicited shit to happen to me back to back. Perhaps I’d gotten a little too trusting, a little too hopeful. Perhaps I needed to remember how fleeting stability can be, and how fragile life could feel.
I needed to be reminded that people do not always have the best intentions, and not everyone needs to receive the benefit of my doubt. I had to be reminded that of course people who say they love you can harm you. I internalized once and for all that just because you may understand why someone may hurt you, it never makes it okay. As a child, I learned that even in the spaces you’re told should be safest, there are a million reasons to be fearful (hugs to all my fellow Capricorn risings). I must have tried so hard in adulthood to create a different, more safe reality, that I forgot this could be true even in chosen family and chosen spaces. I guess that’s why the universe smacked me with it.
After my aforementioned Earthquake Era, I’m now in my Not Nice Era (see Megan Thee Stallion’s new album Traumazine, track three) as an opportunity to protect my own energy and be specific about my needs, understanding that some people can’t meet them and that it’s okay to let healthy distance grow between us. I’ve set difficult boundaries that have limited the factors and people in my life who could trigger or harm me. In exchange, I’ve gone so much deeper with my tightest orbit of friends, I’ve made many decisions based on what could bring me the most heightened feelings of inner-safety and -peace, I’ve unfollowed, blocked and muted countless people on social media, and I have sat and thought for many hours about the trickiness of trust, and what it means to forgive. I re-examined how I want to relate to the world after taking in the lessons these months have taught me.
I recently read a book called The Mystic Spiral: Journey of the Soul by Jill Purce which traces the significance of the spiral as a cosmic, universal symbol. She notes the spiral of a snail’s shell, the layers of predictable winding which protect the creature's soft body. Imagine if the shell grew in a straight line into the sky… that wouldn’t be very protective, would it?
I relate to my life as a spiral too, one that protects me from engulfing myself in the infinite mystery of the unknown. I can only truly understand my present moment in contrast to the past rotations and future ones, and only from my current place can I look back on my windings and see how much I’ve changed. In 2010 I was 15 years old and came to New York City for the first time and stood in Times Square. Squeezing my eyes shut, I wished for so many things. Today I could go and stand in that exact spot, but it wouldn’t be the same. In an instant I would wholly feel all that has changed within me and around me, for better or worse.
Of course I can sit here and call that old version of myself, who was actually much younger, naive. Young Priya was sure the grass was greener elsewhere, and constantly visioned big beyond the confines of fear, trauma, shame, and doubt. She was a pro at romanticizing anything besides the present moment… so much so she lost many memories, chunks of years even. But dreaming so hard was a protective reflex, and I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for that mildly delusional child. She saved me!
Simultaneously, I fear it was this same optimism that allowed me to easily socialize with new people, give away unearned trust, love without question, and share my vulnerabilities with people whose intentions were… *checks notes*… completely unknown to me. Sometimes it feels like people have taken advantage of the optimism I approach the world with, and some have viewed me as stupid or simple-minded because in their eyes I was not discerning enough. But the truth is I do not regret the moments I leaped into faith, created real connections (even if I was the only one being real), or relied on my incessant daydreaming to get to the next winding of my life. I especially do not regret any of the love I ever gave.
Earlier this year I saw Everything Everywhere All At Once (three times) and I was grateful to have this entire ethic spat back at me from Waymond Wang’s character, specifically (spoiler alert) the Waymond who was living in the universe where Evelyn Wang was a kung fu expert and celebrity movie star. In a scene set in a rainy alleyway, he says something along the lines of, “When I choose to see the good side of things, I'm not being naive. It is strategic and necessary. It's how I've learned to survive through everything.”
Kindness, openness, and optimism aren’t just for shits and gigs. What I am talking about is rooted in the wildest conspiracy theory that love will actually lead the way to a place where things get better. It’s a dedication to work towards a state of loving-kindness (aka the Buddhist sublime state of metta) which I read first about from one of the most life-changing and affirming authors I’ve ever experienced, bell hooks. In a beautiful and eye-opening interview with Thich Nhat Hanh in 2017, hooks writes:
“To me, all the work I do is built on a foundation of loving-kindness. Love illuminates matters. And when I write provocative social and cultural criticism that causes readers to stretch their minds, to think beyond set paradigms, I think of that work as love in action. While it may challenge, disturb and at times even frighten or enrage readers, love is always the place where I begin and end.”
Even when things don’t feel good, in the face of pain, domination, and destabilization, this heart-first strategy offers me an alternative to the potential reality that everything will always hurt. It offers a sense of impending joy, vs. impending doom. However, at times it feels like the universe is trying me, making me stretch farther and farther to choose love. Especially in recent, difficult months, it has felt nearly impossible.
I find myself wondering: How do I be a vessel for loving-kindness, while also protecting myself from those who seek to take advantage of me?
I don’t have the answer to this question, but I’m learning now that loving-kindness is a tough weapon that’s most effective when wielded against myself. When I am loving and kind to myself, and when I acknowledge my own mistakes, I grant myself permission to collect my energy from all the places I feel it was misused, abused, or taken gravely unseriously. From there, I begin to set and hold my boundaries, building trust with myself. My sense of self-worth begins to rely less and less on whether or not people are loving and kind to me, because I know I’ll always greet myself that way. It’s from that point that I can begin to trust in others again, embracing the mystery of my aliveness once more. Without fear of the unknown, without fear of my fragile heart’s mechanics, and especially without fear of the past repeating itself.
Like rotating a camera’s aperture to focus on a subject, as I lovingly sharpen my boundaries, the bright image of myself becomes more clear.
There is no doubt I’ve struggled with these feelings, hence such a delay in my newsletter. I didn’t know what to tell you all, or how to express my less-than-complete thought processes. But the purpose of this newsletter is to document the process of my becoming, which is a phase that never ends. I realized, through therapy, talks with friends, and my Akashic reading that the emotion I struggle most with is anger. It feels blinding, can be triggered out of nowhere, and worst of all sometimes it feels like there’s no outlet to release. Many times I have reverted to that childlike refrain, “Why me?!”
In these anger spirals, which my therapist says could also just be necessary moments of reflection, I now take pause and drop down into the center of the spiral. I drop down straight into my inner child. I ask what they need, honoring their childlike outrage, allowing them to finally be a child. I try to give them what they want, and hell, they may want something childish. They may need a hug, a coddling, a scream and cry, a warm meal, to play outside, or rubs on the back. Whatever the case may be, I get them what they need.
In the same interview I mentioned above between bell hooks and Thich Nhat Hanh, hooks tells him, “Before I came here I had been struggling with the question of anger toward my ex-boyfriend. I have taken my vows as a bodhisattva, and so I always feel very depressed when I have anger. I had come to a point of despair because I had so much difficulty with my anger in relation to this man.” In response, Hanh shares:
“You want to be human. Be angry, it’s okay. But not to practice is not okay. To be angry, that is very human. And to learn how to smile at your anger and make peace with your anger is very nice. That is the whole thing—the meaning of the practice, of the learning. By taking a look at your anger it can be transformed into the kind of energy that you need—understanding and compassion. It is with negative energy that you can make the positive energy. A flower, although beautiful, will become compost someday, but if you know how to transform the compost back into the flower, then you don’t have to worry. You don’t have to worry about your anger because you know how to handle it—to embrace, to recognize, and to transform it. So this is what is possible.”
Rest in peace to both of these luminary pioneers of love, genius forces who will eternally inspire: bell hooks (1952-2021) & Thich Nhat Hanh (1926-2022) ✧˖*°࿐
Journal Prompts As I Work To Maintain Strategic Optimism Despite The Pain of Existence
In moments of destabilization, what do you need most and why?
For an extended prompt, make a zine filled with all the things you may need during a downward spiral, destabilizing period, or plain old bad day. Share this list or zine with a close friend, maybe even exchange ‘em. And then be there for each other.
Think about someone you trust deeply in your life right now. How did you build this trust with them?
How do you build trust within yourself?
Write a note to someone who had you f*cked up, and include all the things you wish you would have said to them. Then burn it, crumple it up, or delete it (or send it to them).
What is your favorite mystery of life, and why does it intrigue you?
If you were walking in the park and picked up a book sitting on a bench and began reading the story of your life, at what chapter would you stop and why?
What or who makes it difficult for you to see your full self in all its glory?
What boundaries could you lovingly set to make you more clear on who you are?
What is your favorite weapon against negative energy entering your life, and why?
Write a thank you letter to your younger self, and gift them something they may want in return. Try not to judge them for what they want.
If you’re able to do the journal prompts, please let me know how it goes and do share any feedback! You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me at @priya.florence.
Thank you ♥️