Mindfulness is all about taking a moment to pay attention to what’s going on with you. But how does looking into yourself impact the world outside? In this episode, mindfulness coach and keynote speaker Aiko Smith joins host Whitney Lauritsen to share that self-care is an act of resistance and mindfulness is a way to navigate oppressive systems. She sheds light on obstacles that marginalized groups experience and how that can become a source of strength. Aiko also highlights how setting boundaries and going against the grain of what’s expected from women is the right step to dismantling the culture of patriarchy. They also discuss diet culture, the impacts of social media, and the challenges of motherhood.
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Aiko Smith On Using Mindfulness And Self-Care As An Act Of Resistance
How to Really Take Care Of Yourself
There are so many directions that I am excited to get into or go towards with this episode’s guest, Aiko Smith. I want to start with the phrase that Aiko used, “How to use mindfulness to navigate oppressive systems,” which is fascinating to me. I am excited to dive into that. Along the same lines, you have posted about how you want to help people understand how to use obstacles as allies. Also, question of when does marginalization become a source of strength? I see those three points as being under the same umbrella. I want to use that as a jumping-off point about what does it mean to use mindfulness to navigate oppressive systems and using these obstacles as a source of strength?
How I define mindfulness is from my teacher, Diana Winston. It is paying attention to purpose with curiosity, openness and a willingness to be with what is. When I say that we could use mindfulness to navigate oppressive systems, it is because we are, most of the time, not paying attention. We are in that autopilot mode. We are in a routine and ritual. I always say, “When you are driving to work, you do not know how you get there.” You are there just sometimes like, “How did I even get here?” That’s how we live our life. We do not even realize that we are in a system until we can wake up and get clarity about what’s going on.
For me, mindfulness is a practice that allows that to happen because it is the only time in my day when I do not have any influence. No people are talking to me. Maybe there are no people in my environment. I am not at work or with my friends. It is just me and me. Understanding who I am and being able to connect with my body is important. We gaslit ourselves and did all of that stuff like, “Was that racist, sexist, rude or mean?” We question, even though we feel it. When someone says something rude, mean or makes you feel like you do not belong, we feel it in our bodies.
Connecting to that feeling and not whatever we are thinking about will teach us where we are and who we are dealing with in a better way. That way, we could take care of ourselves in a more well-rounded way. Not that shallow, “Miss mama, eat this. Do your yoga.” You could do all that. If your boss is a torture machine, your friends are jerks, if you are married to someone crappy, it does not matter how many vegetables you eat.Get curious about where your thoughts come from. Click To Tweet
This emotional and mental wellness is what makes our life run smoothly. When you feel well then you want to act in those ways too. It gives you the energy and the space. We are backwards, especially for us women. It is diet culture. If you uncover it a little bit, it is like, “We want to lose weight and look hot.” Are you a wellness mama? No, you just want to look hot. Stop. Get real. That is what I feel like.
You already touched upon some other things I want to get into. I can relate to this. I was feeling a lot of heaviness and was trying to work through it. Generally, I do not know if it is a coping mechanism of mine. I can be a little too hyper self-aware and I will try to solve it. Something that I could work on is allowing and not trying to fix it. My version of fixing is going to research and understand. I was diving into the phrases, “Girlboss and Bossbabe.” Those words do not feel good to me. I was thinking like, “Why do not they feel good?” I couldn’t, to your point, get it out on paper, but I felt it in my body.
I was coming across a lot of these Girlboss and Bossbabe terms that were being used in some communities that I was in. I was like, “Why doesn’t this feel good to me?” I started doing some research. I found an incredible article. One of the big realizations that I had through reading was that Girlboss and Bossbabe culture is often rooted in diet culture and status exclusivity. It is positioned as being very feminist, powerful and moving for women but the reality is it is very rooted in capitalism and oppression.
A lot of the women that are in the Girlboss and Bossbabe movements representing them are thin, White, cis-gendered and affluent. It created this model that if you do not fit that, you have to push yourself. For example, I have always felt like I have to be a certain body size to fit in. I have to wear certain clothes and do my hair a certain way.
I could do those things easily and I have done them but what about somebody who is not White that can’t change the color of their skin? What about someone who can’t change the size of their body no matter how hard they try or maybe do not even want to? They feel like failures because they do not fit into that Bossbabe and Girlboss mode. I imagine that resonates with some of the things that you are passionate about too.
We are on social media, where life is so visual. It is like high school, where you want to align with people that are rich, powerful and affluent. It is about survival. These people are surviving and that is why they are so attractive. They are making it look easy, good and they have access. That is not the way it is. Even within those communities, it is not that way. It is predatory in a way. I have been an entrepreneur for years. It is not as easy as it appears at all. There is a lot of muck and dirt. You know how it is. It is difficult.
I do not think anybody talks about the reason why it is difficult. It is because people are broke and do not have resources like that. I grew up extremely poor. This happens a lot in immigrant families. My mom is a first-generation Japanese woman and was a single mom. She was able to get us in a nice neighborhood but in the crappiest part of that neighborhood. The affluence and privilege that I was surrounded with made me feel like there was something wrong with me inherently. At the baseline level, I did not have the same resources. That is just the way it is.
It costs money to enter those communities. You can’t be a Bossbabe or Girlboss society member without paying a fee. If you have to pay, there is a paywall and that wall is excluding people of color, women, single moms and all kinds of people. I do not know if they have scholarships. I am not sure. If they do, it is not very obvious.
It is so interesting because a lot of the messaging is positioned around, “If you follow my advice, you can be rich, successful or be beautiful too.” It is, “Take my knowledge, pay me money and achieve this level of status.” I used to be deep in that world. To be honest, I got caught up in it to the extent of the price points because that mentality and capitalism element of it like, “You got to charge what you are worth,” and all this wording that is put out there is very enticing when I have done work in the coaching world. Sadly, coaching has started to get such a bad association to it because there are so many people taking advantage of others and calling themselves a coach saying, “Follow my strategy and you will get all of this stuff too.”People aren’t bad. It’s just cultural conditioning. Click To Tweet
Going back to diet culture, from my perspective, I have spent my whole life immersed in diet culture as many, if not most, women in the States have at least. This idea of like, “If you do this, you will get these results.” I am one of those people who have tried pretty much anything you could name and rarely have I gotten the results I was promised.
That has led me to feel like I am a failure, so I have to do all this extra work on top of it to not feel like a failure. I was trying to take in all of their information and guidance to get somewhere because they were promising me this Promised Land. You do not get there when the doors are shut on you by the time you do all that work and finally get there. You have to turn around and go back to the beginning and, along the way, shed all of the things that you learned and all of the badness that came with it. I imagine, for some people, that is debilitating.
I run a group called Food Body Self. The purpose of the group is to get people off that track. People come in and think they are going to lose weight. I do not care about you losing weight. I care about you losing the mentality that you need to or there is something inherently wrong with you if you can’t. I am not sure who said it, but it is like, “We are not thinking our thoughts. We are thinking our culture’s thoughts.” I do not think that people are aware of that because they are not paying attention. Where did you even get the idea that there is a body type that you should be fitting into? Where does that even come from?
I am a woman. I have tried to lose weight and get in shape. I did for a while. I might have looked healthy but it was disordered eating and working out. That is what I was doing. I was overworking out, working out two times a day and having my meals super structured. I did not even have time for life because I was so worried about what I was putting in my body or how I was moving my body. Ultimately, no matter what I was saying before, it was because I wanted to look a certain way so I would feel like I belong. That is how it is for everybody.
It takes a lot of truth-telling. You have to sit with yourself and realize that is the truth. Keep asking that why. “Where did I get this idea? Do I even believe it?” I still look at myself in the mirror, stretch marks, love handles, loose skin and all the things that happen when you have kids. I am not like, “That woman looks hot.” I am at a place of neutrality because that does not define who I am at all. The least interesting part about me is what I look like naked. Trust me, it is not interesting. You can’t get to where I am with body neutrality if you are constantly allowing yourself to have images in front of you that is telling you otherwise.
I always tell my clients, “Please clean your feed.” There are those three little dots up there, “Do not show me things this.” When you are scrolling on your feed on Instagram, I am like, “Do not show me this.” It is the Kardashians and beach body. “Do not show me that thing. It is not real. I want somebody with realness in front of me.” It matters what you see.
That is why this Girlboss culture does not resonate with me. It is not to say it is exclusively women of one size, skin color and age but it is dominated by that for sure, like wellness tends to be. I had to take a reality check on what is going on in the wellness world. Unfortunately, it is dominated by the status quo. I do not like the way the status quo is. It might feel satisfying to say, “I am going to rebel against the status quo.” I wonder if there is always a sense of not fitting in and belonging. That certainly comes up for me. Sometimes it feels good to stand out and do things differently, but sometimes you want to belong and see realness too.
I find myself struggling to look at anybody online who is using filters, a lot of makeup and everything looks polished or edited. It does not reinforce what I want to experience. I am so grateful to see diversity in every imaginable element. Part of that is something that has been pointed out a lot on the content I have been taking in. There seems to be this trend of beauty where so many women look the same and they will show pictures. It is like the Kardashian look. They are all doing their makeup and doing their hair the same. They are wearing the same clothes. It is turning into clones of each other. I am fascinated why.Tune in to your body. Your body knows the truth. Click To Tweet
It is straight-up weird. That is the part of mindfulness. Let us get some clarity here. This is a little strange that people feel like they have to. I had friends when we were in our early twenties, getting fillers, Botox and all that. I am from LA, so it is part of that culture. Keeping up with the Kardashians is the perfect title for that show because every girl was trying to keep up with the Kardashians and still is. For what reason? I do not know. You are not going to be Kim. Sorry. You are not going to be a bazillionaire and have that ass.
That is why I say that being part of a marginalized group is not easier but when we are talking about a sense of self, it is because I do not fit that. I am not White. I did not have blonde hair, blue eyes, big tits or any of that. I never had money and access. I got to be authentically who I was because there was no way that I was fitting in that mold. It developed this personality. I am loud. I like to laugh. People say that I am funny but it’s because I had to be funny. “Look at me. See me. Hear me. I am getting uncomfortable. I got to make a joke and lighten it up.” The things that people might say are positive about me are the protection that I built around myself to not get hurt and cast aside.
Once you realize that you have been accepted for your mask, did it create a sense of fear within yourself? What happens when you take off the mask? Will people still accept you and love you? How did you go through that shift in your life?
I have good girlfriends that see me for me. You and I could not hide that I was so poor. Any person that I had in my life knew that about me already. Poverty did work for me. It got rid of everybody that would judge me, not care for me, not love me or think negatively about me because of my economic status or my family’s. I had great friends. That was real. I couldn’t hide it. All of my friends are special women, mostly White women too that have seen my struggle, going to school with me, trying to get a job, being in relationships that were not healthy and this lack of self-worth that I grew up having.
They were able to see like, “I see how she is in pain here.” They have been a real source of nurturing, love and care. It is because I had to show up as who I was. When you are online building a business, it is a little different. You can’t be like, “I am poor. Give me your money.” Especially Instagram, I work on Instagram. That is where I live, write and post. It is image-focused.
I write the most beautiful posts but no one reads them. Everybody wants to see what you have, what you got and what you are doing. That is why people fake so much like posing in front of this car you do not own or being on these beautiful vacations. It is the fakery. When you do not position yourself in that way, you get people that reflect your authenticity.
I went on your Instagram and was much more interested in what you wrote. What if you purposefully share basic photos, so people have to look at the captions because they are asking themselves, “Why are you posting this?” I remember you had one about the sunset. I read at least two of your posts and the captions. I felt so drawn into you. I saw and felt you as a human. That is the experience I want to have on social media.
I feel uncomfortable and cringy when I see all these selfies. Not because I do not think people should be proud of who they are but it is to go back to this idea of they are posting that way because they feel like they have to, that is the way it is and that is the status. I am on my way out of that. I was deep in that world for many years, given so much of my work was based on social media and generating income from that.
It is such a relief not to be doing that. Barely at all do I make money from sponsorships or selling courses I am even moving away from because it was taking me away from the connection that I wanted from the learning, education and witnessing other human beings. It was putting me in this place of constantly thinking about, “How do I get what I want out of this,” whether it is validation or not.When we set boundaries around our self-care, it’s setting up our future selves to feel fulfilled. Click To Tweet
I even have a problem with charging people, to be honest. Especially with what I do, my goal in life is to reduce suffering for anybody. How do I position myself as a helper but then still be able to make money? Who am I comfortable charging this amount for? It is always a gray thing. I grew up poor and had to work my way through these systems, so I have this empathy and compassion for women that are suffering. It is like, “I am going to charge you?” That is why I post, write, teach and give out as much free stuff as I can, like workshops and all the things. When people are suffering, it is like, “You are going to make them pay and we just came off a pandemic?”
It feels yucky to me. It is a hard place to be in because we still live in America. We still need money to eat and pay the bills. It is still something that I am struggling with. I wish I could do everything for free, live and give but that is not real life. The balance for me is to write a ton on Instagram. If someone wants to get on a call, the first one is free. Come talk to me for 1 hour or 2 hours to unload. I do not know what the balance is for that but all I know is that I have a difficult time.
This is why I have been so drawn to podcasting because you show up and people do not have to pay to listen to your podcasts. That is shifting and will be shifting more, so we will see that as an option in the future. For the most part, podcasts are amazing free sources of information. I generate revenue through sponsorships and other people paying me so that I can keep it free for the audience to give them value. For someone like you and your wisdom, I am so grateful that you are here. If someone is not paying attention to your Instagram posts, hopefully they at least tune in to an episode.
People do not read anymore. That is the thing. Everyone is like, “Why do you write so much?” I am like, “I am a writer, so that is what I do.” I am not comfortable taking pictures of myself either. It makes me cringe. I am like, “I am going to throw a quote up here. I will do a reel or something.” I have to do reels because Instagram will not move anything if it is not a reel. I will get however many thousands on a reel and then three people get to see a post. It is like, “You are making me perform on camera.” I can’t with that. I’m like, “Why do you need to see me?”
There are so many ways to dissect that performative element of it. There is so much performance happening in general and I agree. I do not want to perform and see other people perform. I want to be in a space of connection and equality. I do not need to see you up on stage. I want to see you across from me. We are in a circular environment and I am so grateful that things are moving more towards that community space online.
Even in that process, I am noticing how hard it is for people to take themselves off the stage and the performances. We see people trying to do good work, being better allies, taking care of the environment and spreading the word about the government and health, all these things that people are trying to do to get involved but even some of that is performative. It becomes tricky. How do you spread any message without being performative?
I do not know if you can anymore. I am going to a community event at the library here. I honestly do not know that question because it is social media. It is like, “I have a message that I would like to spread but I will not get any eyes on me if I am not playing the game.” It is everything. These are the rules of the game and you got to play. I do not want to play. I am in resistance mode. I do not like it. It is a struggle. People can perform because it is so fake. There are whole humans on Instagram with fakery.
I had a girlfriend. We taught mindfulness and went to UCLA Mindfulness Research Awareness Center. We got certified, go on retreats and do so much work but then you will see somebody on Instagram that calls themselves a mindfulness teacher or a meditation teacher. They will have 100,000 followers and all these beautiful pictures. You say, “What are your certifications?”Mindfulness is quality of attention. Click To Tweet
Not that you have to be certified to know how to meditate or anything but it is like, “I do not have anything and I am not a teacher.” They are getting paid by partnerships and sponsored by makeup. I am not playing that game, so I do not know what to tell you. I hope your friends tell me about me. Word of mouth? Maybe it’s podcasting.
It has shifted my experience for sure because, at least in the state, it feels deeper in authenticity but even in the podcasting world, you have all that happening. It just does not feel as in your face, as being on a platform like Instagram or even TikTok does. I saw that you had done a talk called No More Nice Girls: The Impact of Microaggressions on Our Power, Safety, & Sanity. I was very intrigued like, “What does that mean?” I want to hear more about what that talk was.
We get gaslit. There was a lot of emotional manipulation that happened with women in the workplace and home. It is this hierarchy that gets set up and positions you as a caretaker, no matter if you are a mom or you are in the workplace. You are taken on extra work. The microaggressions influence that because it puts you in a position of low self-worth. You have to prove your value by overworking, doing better than everybody else, out-performing, staying longer and doing all of those things. I do not think that there are very many people that consciously are being very rude or negative. They do not have the awareness that they are saying things that might be offensive.
I do not want anybody to feel that white guilt. I wish that we could clear this up. When you grow up in a certain environment surrounded by certain people and you do not have other people in your life, diverse people, people of color or socioeconomic status, what are you supposed to think? How are you supposed to know any different? It is what you see on TV. When I was younger, I was watching Cops on TV. When you look at the ‘90s and Cops, there were capturing Black people and arresting them on TV. When I was in Torrance and I had all my White friends, they might have had all these impressions about Black and Brown people being criminals.
Is it their fault that they grew up in this White town with all White influences and teachers, a TV that showed Brown and Black people acting this way or even women acting a certain way? We have our biases and this conditioned mind. I don’t think that people are out there trying to cause harm. When you mentioned something that hurt my feelings or when you told me I had to put my hair up because it looks unprofessional, that is a microaggression.
This is my hair. I am a Black woman. It is curly and big. I can’t help it. This is what I look like. For you to say that is unprofessional, you are aligning professionalism and success with whiteness, which I am not. I am not White. Those are microaggressions that make us feel we do not belong. It is an awareness thing. You have to be aware and people need to diversify their friend groups. I always tell my friends, “If I am your only Black friend, you are up.” You got to go meet some other Black or Brown people, put yourself in a community with other people and then ask yourself why. “What is it about me or where I am living where I do not have one person of color in my life? Why would that be? Is it because of me, my environment, how I speak or think?”
The mindfulness will give you all of that clarity because in the way that we think, we have 62,000 thoughts a day and 85% of them are repetitive, the same things you thought the other day. All of our implicit biases are all here unconscious, swimming in the background. When you are practicing mindfulness, you grow the separation between you and your thoughts. You can look at them objectively and then you could get curious about, “Where did that thought come from? Is that thought true? I see where I might have got that from. How is it affecting my life and the people around me?” It is the work that everybody needs to do to be in a community with diversity.
Especially in 2022, after that show, Trump years, pandemic, everybody is highly sensitive and half of the country feels differently than you do. You are not going to stop talking to half the people in your life, even though I had to take space from some people or say, “I do not know if I want this friendship in my life anymore.” To think that you could do that in all aspects of life is ignorant.
I am going to have to learn how to be in a relationship with people who look and think differently than me and then be okay, not feel dysregulated like we are about to battle. We have to protect our safety in that way by realizing that people are not bad. Everybody is good. It is this cultural conditioning. People are like tofu. Whatever you put in it, that is the flavor. It would take the heat off your back. It is not your fault.Give yourself what you need. Click To Tweet
That resonates with my readers because many of them are plant-based. They are like, “I get it.” That also ties into another topic I wanted to get into, which was about boundaries. For you, sharing how to navigate and when to protect yourself versus when to stay open-minded is something that I have always struggled with. I realized, “I need to do a lot of work around my boundaries.” Women, in general, tend to struggle with that. I have been getting better at it but I find myself in moments of wondering where, when or how to set up a boundary. “Is something hurting my feelings? Does that mean I need to protect myself from them or are they pointing out something about me that I can work on?”
That is tough sometimes. We can get into this self-defensive standpoint of, “That does not make me feel good, so that must be bad for me,” versus, “That did not make me feel good but maybe somebody has a point and I can reflect on it, work on it, shift myself and then that will feel good.” I struggle with determining that sometimes. I find myself feeling very lost, second-guessing myself and looking to other people to help me make the decision. What I want to practice is understanding what my boundaries are and feeling rooted in that ground where I do not need to ask other people for guidance, if that is possible.
I do not know if that’s possible because I love a mentor. I have about 52 of them. You need some wise people around you, people that have done and have been through it before. I always have mentors. I am always questioning that. My boundaries are about self-care and my ability to be well. If I cannot be well, meaning regulated, not feeling dysregulated, heart beating fast, sweat and uncomfortable, if I can’t work with that in a real way at the moment, I need a boundary. Boundaries are not forever.
I have a girlfriend. We align, which is crazy to me because we have been friends for so long but politically, we are a little different. Her thinking was different than mine and I couldn’t handle it because I am like, “I know you. What are you talking about? Are you going to vote for this or that? I am your Black friend. Why would you do that?” In her mind, it was not as top of mind for her because she is a White woman with a White family. In her mind, she was like, “Why are you so angry with me?” She could not understand and was unwilling to understand.
“You are not even willing to understand what I am saying? I need a boundary from you because you are not even willing to hear and see me. I thought you did see and hear me but you do not and it is making me feel dysregulated. I cannot be well at the moment when I am in conversation with you. I am going to put up a temporary boundary for the time being.”
She was like, “I understand. I love you. I just do not get it.” I am like, “At this point, you are trying not to get it because there are so many resources. Google it, read a book or listen to a podcast. There are so many things that you could do to get my perspective. If I am your best friend of however many years, you have seen my life and what I have had to go through and you still do not get it, you are willfully ignorant. I still love you. I just got to take a break from you.”
It is about self-love. “I need to be well. If I am not working, it does not matter what you think or feel about my boundary. I am not well. I can’t concentrate. I feel dysregulated.” That is all that matters. Your feelings have nothing to do with me and they are none of my business. All I know is my business. I do not feel well when I am around you or there. That is the boundary.
For us, we are so concerned with being nice. We do not want to be mean. “I do not want to be mean. I do not want anybody to think that I am mean.” That’s culture thoughts. Why can’t you be mean? Someone is trying to invade your space and time. This body has wisdom. It feels dysregulated because that is a boundary being crossed. We try to intellectualize things a lot. My whole goal is to tune into your body because it knows the truth. Your body will tell you what is up. It does not matter what you think or feel about it because your body is telling you what to do. “I am getting anxious and stressed out. I feel super uncomfortable.”You don’t need permission from anybody to do anything. Click To Tweet
If you were walking at night time, you had your purse on you and there were strange people, you would feel dysregulated. You would be scared, fearful and change your behavior because there was danger present. We do not do that when our self-care is in danger in that way. If we let it be like that over time, it chips away your abilities to be well and then you die inside. You get run over.
Being a mom, I do not know what I was thinking. You become a mom and then you think that you are supposed to dedicate your whole being. You do not need sleep. “I do not need to eat, shower or do anything. My whole life is dedicated to these kids. I lose all my friends. I do not have any hobbies. That business that I wanted to start is going on the back burner too. I am a mom.” You are going to die slowly inside if you live your life like that.
I did it for so many years because I was thinking about culture thoughts. That is what I saw on TV. I witnessed my friends’ moms act that way. My mom did not have a choice. She had to go to work. My friend’s moms that were staying at home moms are so dedicated to their children but then kids leave and they are shells of a human. “I do not know what to do. I do not have any hobbies or a career.”
When we set our boundaries around our self-care and ability to be well, it is setting up our future self when those kids leave or when that job is done to feel fulfilled. It gives you an idea of who you are and what you value. It roots you into who you are if you stop giving a thing about what so-and-so is going to say about your boundary. Who cares? On your death bed, you are not going to be like, “John hated my boundary.” You are going to be like, “I wish I would have met boundaries and had a life.” We got to be a little bit more fearless when it comes to that. Let people have their feelings about however you decide to live your life and make it none of your business because it is not.
I saw this on your Instagram account and wrote this down. It was a quote from a woman who said, “What is in the cup is for me. What running over is for y’all.”
That is Iyanla Vanzant. She is so great. She is on Oprah all the time but that is true. We got to fill your cup first. Whatever that looks for you, I highly suggest everybody to meditate. Not how you think you are supposed to meditate. Mindfulness is cool because you can do it doing anything. I can make my mindfulness practice by paying attention to purpose with curiosity, openness and willingness to be with whatever is. It could be my mindfulness practice. It is a quality of attention. It is hard to sit down for five minutes like, “I am going to meditate and sit in silence.” It is like, “Let me peel my skin off and run for the hills. Who wants to do that? It takes a lot of work. It is hard.”
The way that we have been taught to meditate is old school. It is patriarchal in a sense where a man could sit there, meditate in silence and have alone time because the wife is taking care of the kids. You have that ability but with women, we got to move. I do not know if you have a lot of moms on here but they are probably like, “Sit down and meditate? When? What are you talking about?” My whole thing is to do it on the go. You got to do dishes, fold laundry and have a conversation with your kids. You could have that quality of attention anywhere you go.
I highly suggest everybody have a meditation practice in whatever way feels comfortable for you and what works for you. It will root you in reality, give you clarity and tune you into what you want. We are not thinking culture thoughts. We are thinking, “What do I want and need?” Give yourself what you need. We are not waiting for anybody else to do it. If you need a rest, take a nap. You do not need permission from anybody to do anything. It is like, “I got all this work to do.” Darn those dishes and work. Go take a nap. You need it. We do not do it. We run ourselves ragged and be so exhausted and then you are like, “I am so unhappy.” You are not giving yourself what you need at the moment. It is very performative, even in the mothering. Stop.
It is so lighthearted but so poignant. We are constantly feeling that we should be doing something else. This has been one of my biggest lessons in the past few years. I remember right before COVID hit the US in the big way that it did, I say that because it feels the timeline for COVID could mean so many different things, depending on where you are looking at it, for me, it was in January 2020, given that COVID felt the most intense starting in March 2020. I remember those first months of the year, I almost felt paralyzed by this conflict within myself that I can’t even fully describe. It was what a lot of people would describe as burnout. In hindsight, I do not know if it was burnout.Turn towards, not away. Click To Tweet
It was almost, going back to what you said towards the beginning. My body was trying to tell me that I needed to rest but my mind was panicked. It is like, “You can’t rest because you are not allowed to. You got to hustle and make money.” For me, as a freelancer working for myself, I struggle even to take the weekends off. It is like, “You can’t stop. You got to keep going all the time.” I was so tired. All I wanted to do was rest. I experienced something that I heard a lot of people sharing. When quarantine first started, it was like, “The whole world is resting. Does that mean I can rest too? Can’t we leave our homes? Great. I do not have to go do all those things and do anything.”
It was this relief and I could feel it within myself and the ripple effect from others experiencing that and collectively watching the same TV shows, playing the same video games and making the same foods. When I looked back in 2020, everyone is talking about the same things. It brought together this bonding of that community that I have been yearning for.
I find myself hoping that we do not go back to the way things were back to normal because that normal did not feel good to me. I do not know how good it felt to anyone. On the other hand, I was not a mom. Your experience and many other mothers probably had a different experience than mine because I did not have to take care of anyone but myself. What was it like for you? Did you get to experience that?
I had my kids at home. I fed them and clothed them but I did not care about their school. I do not care about what they are doing. I grew up with a single mom that was a waitress with three Black girls who were Japanese in LA. She did not pay attention to what I was doing because she couldn’t. She was waitressing 2 or 3 jobs. I was a latchkey kid and no one helped me with my homework but I am okay. I am alive and fine. I always have that attitude with my kids. Even through the pandemic, they are going to be okay. It makes you more resilient. I am not afraid of anything.
A lot of people were stressing out, “Our kids are losing education. They are going to be so behind.” Who cares? Everyone is going to be behind. You can only control what you can control and everything else is out the window. Take the heat off your back. That is always my advice, “Calm down. Everything is going to be okay. I promise.” It was not a struggle for me during the pandemic. My kids were loud and annoying. I still had work to do but I’ll be like, “Go in your room. Be quiet.” I am that mom. I know a lot of moms are different. I did not care. I can only care about what I could care about.
I did not have the space to sit down. My son has an IEP. He has a learning disability. When the pandemic first started, they had their computers and they were on their laptops. They were sitting home and everybody had this online school that they were supposed to be doing. Do I have to sit next to my kid the whole day? When am I going to be able to do my work, do the dishes, cook, do my coaching or writing? I was like, “You got to do this on your own because I got to go over here and do this.” It was fine.
They are a little behind but we got to work with what we have and check-in with ourselves. That was a mindful check-in. I do not have the energetic resources to be a teacher to my three children and maintain my house, the bills and all of that. What has to go? It’s the kids’ schooling. I got to take it off the table. There was a little bit of mom’s guilt, but that faded away very quickly because mom had to make money. It is what it is. We do not let ourselves off the hook that easily. People have a hard time with that.
It is refreshing to hear that because I had heard so much from my friends that it was the opposite of that quote of what’s in the cup was for other people and whatever was running over was for them. There was not anything running over. It was this large cup that would never be full so nothing could ever run over for them. My heart breaks for how tough that must be for someone emotionally. One thing that comes up for me all the time is life is tough being childless. Being a mom, I can’t imagine adding that to my plate. Sometimes just taking care of my dog feels like a lot.In order to be a successful human, you need to know that someone loves you. Click To Tweet
It gives me this sense of awe for mothers. I also recognize that being a mom can be all sorts of things and you can go against the status quo of motherhood too. A lot of things that you are sharing might seem against the grain but that is what works for you. Coming back to that core sense of being okay, that is an incredible lesson to give your children. You are teaching them how to do things on their own and what an incredible education that is. It is not that you weren’t educating them. You just were not giving them the classroom education but what an education you were giving them about life by showing up in that way as a mom. That is amazing.
You mom the way you were mommed. My mom was gone, so I did not know how to mom. All my mom did was to make sure that we were loved, that she saw and heard us. She could not be there but she was there in spirit. She always reminded us to be kind and have compassion. It is mindfulness saying but turning towards is not a way. When someone is having difficulty, I am not resisting any of that. “I am there for you. I love you.” That is what she taught me.
She wasn’t there a lot but the core of her mothering was like, “I love you.” My kids know that they are loved. To be a successful human, you need to feel like someone loves you, you are cared for and you are worth something. As long as I am giving my kids that, I feel like I am doing okay. No matter what show is happening, they are going to be fine.
I could not think of a better note to end on than that. That is the greatest message. “To be a successful human, you need to know that someone loves you.” It circles back around to some of the things I was reflecting on. When something doesn’t feel good to me, I have noticed that oftentimes it is when I do not feel like I belong. What do we feel when we feel loved? We feel like we belong, are cared for and connected. If we do not feel we are belonging, maybe we do not feel loved, seen and heard so that allows us to turn towards a place that does offer that to us.
To your point as well, connecting with incredible people like your friends and how much they have been there for you, no matter how you show up in life, they love you for who you are and even when you set boundaries. You have to circle back to the friendship at another time. There are so many incredible points that you have made. You have left me with a sense of love within myself. You have that energy. You embody that love and care while also simultaneously taking care of yourself first, which is also the big lesson here.
A lot of us feel like we have to care for other people to be perceived as caring people and then we can care for ourselves afterwards. Caring for ourselves first is the ultimate way that we can care for other people. It is that cliché of putting on the oxygen mask first but also going back to the even less cliché quote that you shared about the cup running over. That is going to stick with me. I will not be able to look at a cup again. You do see the glass half full or half empty but there is another way of looking at the glass. “What’s in that glass is for you?”
The whole glass is for you. Take it all. If you want to dismantle patriarchy, that is how you do it. It is taking care of yourself. It is an act of resistance. We have been taught to take care of everybody. We keep this whole country afloat. You could tell who runs your house. You do. “I run this house. This is what I do.” We have been told that our only job is housework and taking care of everybody. It is like, “That is my work but also let us take this energy and all these tools that we have and take it out into the world.”
The world needs us. We need some feminine energy, not just women, even men that have more feminine qualities, collaboration, compassion and care. Look at what is happening. We need it. You can’t take care of this wider problem issue without taking care of yourself first. It is not just for you. It is for your family, kids, community and society. To make a difference, we have to take care of ourselves in a real way. Not that, “Eat vegetables and do yoga.” Setting boundaries, self-love and self-care like, “How do I feel? I do not like this feeling. I am going to change it in this way. This person or show has got to go. I got to clean my feet.” That is real mental and emotional self-care.
Thank you so much. I love the way you talk and phrase these. You have made me laugh. I have been nodding the entire time. Thank you for showing up in this way. You mentioned your Instagram, which we will all share. We will get a bunch of people reading your captions. You also have offerings and as much as it can be tough to share some of those sometimes, I love to know what are you offering? What are you working on? How do you support people?
I have a Food Body Self Facebook group. It is free. It is me and my colleagues, Alicia, Vitalis and Maria. There are licensed therapists and nutritionists there. We write content every week. There is a teaching every week. It is free to join. There is a lot of valuable information in there. I run a Food Body Self coaching group but it is closed. It is going to open up in March 2022. I will not be coaching it. One of my homies will. They are amazing. I have my coaching. I love coaching women who are in difficult relationships, either with their partner, work or their children. I love complex and nuanced situations. I do personal coaching.You dismantle patriarchy by taking care of yourself. Click To Tweet
I’m working with a new woman whose name is Rachel. It is a program of mindfulness for teams. It is called Year of Living Better. It is for big businesses that are trying to incorporate wellness in the workplace. That is important because we could change culture when we are working with corporations and tech companies and getting them to be well. They are the ones formulating our culture and creating it. We want people to be well all over the place. I would love for everybody to join that Facebook group because we have a lot of fun there.
Count me in to join. I am not the biggest fan of Facebook but joining a group like that is always worth it. I will be there. I hope at least the reader will be there as well and we can form our little community within your community. Your website gave me such a good feeling when I visited it, same with Instagram.
I did a TEDx talk a little while back and I would love for your readers to listen to it. It is called Your WTF Face: The Path to Wisdom. The body has wisdom. Your brain will lie to you but you got this, “What the F***,” face all the time. Listen to that face and answer that question, “What is happening here?” I would love for people to go, watch that and get in touch with your body’s wisdom.
I can’t wait. I will be watching that too. I am going to soak it all up.
I cuss a lot. Even in the TED Talk, I am like, “Can I cuss?” They are like, “Hmm?” I am like, “Sorry, but there is going to be a cuss word in the title somewhere.”
I do not mind at all. The show is explicit because I want everyone to be the full, true expression of themselves. I accept that fully. I imagine the reader does too, otherwise, they would not be reading. Thanks again for sharing this, for holding this space and for taking some time away from your family to focus on yourself and others. It has been lovely getting to know you in this conversation.
Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
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- Aiko Smith
- Diana Winston
- Why #Girlboss & #Bossbabe Have Got To Go
- Food Body Self
- UCLA Mindfulness Research Awareness Center
- Iyanla Vanzant
- Instagram – Aiko Smith
- Food Body Self – Facebook
- Year of Living Better
- Your WTF Face: The Path to Wisdom – YouTube
- @IyanlaVanzant – Instagram
About Aiko Smith
Aiko Smith CMT-P, is a Black and Japanese American Woman, born on a naval base in Okinawa, Japan but raised in Los Angeles, California. She is a mother of three, mindfulness writer, coach, and speaker. Driven by creating a kinder, more compassionate society, Aiko has devoted her life and career to teaching women how to mindfully confront their suffering as an integral part of the process of dismantling harmful paradigms and oppressive systems. As a thought leader, her vision is to see a society that values all human beings as sacred. Aiko is a mindfulness teacher trained by UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center.
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