Letters

The institution grinds me to dust

Asked by: Anonymous, Kingston, Jamaica

Answered by: Kristin Prevallet

Anonymous, Kingston, Jamaica

Dear Poet in Residence,

I work in an institution that threatens to slowly grind me to dust. One of our musicians, Junior Gong, has a song with these lines: “Sad to see the old slave mill is grinding slow but grinding still”. I can’t think of a better metaphor for this institution. My problem is this: I used to be a passionate advocate, speaking out loudly against the systemic injustices. However, I have become tired and worn out. There is no changing this system. I have to change myself and my engagements with the system. What can inspire me? What words can set me on a course to saving my own life so that my soul is not murdered here. I want to live a restful, fulfilling life. I want to let go and move on. I want to be silent and reflective at times. I want peace. Thanks so much.

Anonymous


K:

Dear friend,

I find much resonance with your letter! I too am working on transitioning out of my affiliation with harmful and hypocritical institutions, and transitioning into the value I have offered them for the past 30 years. The humanity and activism, poetry and acknowledgement that I have offered as a teacher must now be energetically applied to other endeavors not shadowed by abuse, disregard, and contingency. I too am struggling to give myself permission to find peace as I extract myself from systems I am powerless to change, even as there is so much suffering in the world inflicted by, and for, these institutions. And so much that still needs to be done.

What I know to be true – and I know you know it as well – is that your soul is NOT bound nor is it defined by this or any other institution. The work you have done over these many years has touched many souls and has lit the inner flame for many people, from artists, perhaps students and others in your larger community who have heard your voice and seen your actions. The work that you have done in the world does ripple and spiral and will continue to do so even as you now pull back and take much needed time to rest, reset, restore, and reflect. Your years of calling out and scratching at the surface of the hypocritical institutional powers….that energy continues. It is a part of you, but it is not all of you. It lives on because of you. You are not an isolated person but a connective link in the ever-evolving wreath of justice. The demand for justice on this planet will continue long after you are gone because you spent time in your life joining others, doing good work, and raising your voice.

That is the easy part of the reckoning. The harder one is what you have described here so perfectly for so many of us who are in exactly this boat: “There is no changing this system. I have to change myself and my engagements with the system. What can inspire me?” What I am gleaning from this sentence is that you are dependent on this institution for your survival, even as it devours you. In that case, until you can break free, you will need to stop saying yes. And:

You have already taken the first step which is REFUSE TO ALLOW YOUR SOUL TO BE MURDERED.

From that place of strength and resolve, do only the work that nourishes yourself, your artists, students, and other soul-loving humans and refuse to do anything else.

From that place of focus, intersect your truth with where you are NOW in time which, from what you write, sounds like the 11th hour of a transition out of institutional toxicity and into a new life where your life energy and creativity can be restored and not depleted. You’re not there yet, but you’re close.

And here is some permission offered to you from the oracle of poetry: Rest. Listen. Create. Know that you, being in your time, now, of living with more silence and more reflection is part of the ripple – it IS what you have been fighting for. You don’t need permission to want peace for yourself. To tend to your family and friends, your kin and those who love you. To nourish your and others’ creative work. To touch and be touched by nature that has endured long before you were born and will endure long after. Go where you are wanted.

I offer you this poem by my dear friend Akilah Oliver who left us much too young. I urge you to speak this poem out loud. And then clasp your heart and say: Oh oh oh. PEACE. PEACE. PEACE. Open your arms wide and bring it on because we need you on this planet and towards that end, you need to restore and re-vibrate your health and your soul’s light.

Yours in time,

K

Excerpt from “an arriving guard of angels, thusly coming to greet”

i’m extending to you this oh
i’m extending to you this oh oh o ho
i’m extending to you this oh o
i’m extending to you this oh o oh oo
i’m extending to you this oh o o oh oh 
Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh ohoh oh oh oh oh ohho oh oh oh oh angels

how you
livin how

you livin
how you
livin how
you livin
how you
livin how
you

Can you spare just one

                                    Can you spare just one 

                                                                               Can you spare

Just                                    one

Keeping time with spirits how you livin
Keeping time with spirits how you livin

how you livin

              All around me how you livin

    All around me      

  keeping time

-Akilah Oliver

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