Grains of sand, like the proverbial grains of time trickling down the hour glass, move slowly.
Settle into solidarity. Smooth into harmony. Flatten like a pancake. Then upheaval: returned to chaos by steady raking, tilling, toiling away until that too gives into gravity and stasis.
I witness her fingers move languid through the sand. She is thirteen, wears a purple hoodie bulging out from under a faded school uniform, and stares into the sand tray with a gaze that is both focused and far. Her hand heavy in the sand is a solid anchor from which she drifts on barely noticeable tides of breath.
I see the beauty, now. This precious time beyond time.
But sometimes I forget to trust the unfolding. I am eager to do my job. And about half an hour into watching my third client slowly sift the sands of eternity, I started feeling antsy. “Is this helpful?” I wondered, “What does she really need? Are we even doing therapy?” On cue, all the monkeys in my industrious mind scurried off in search of interventions, interpretations, interruptions, and other therapisty tricks. I offered some words here and there. A question, an idea, a reflection, stirring the pot to see what would bubble up. She didn’t take the bait; merely swayed in the wake of my efforts and ebbed like pond water back to a placid place.
Then I realized:
This is the antidote.
This young, creative, growing adolescent is in school. All day. All week. Getting reprimanded for daydreaming, for not turning in her homework on time, for not trying hard enough, for not doing the work and getting the grades. She is terminally behind in all her classes, and the missing assignments keep piling up. From all sides there are adults telling her to work harder, or she’ll have to go to summer school. More school! In other words:
You have to do this, or else you have to do this.
What if I want to do that!?
Every fifty minutes a bell rings to hurry her to another classroom with another taskmaster and another task. And for ONE HOUR a week she is given a pass to escape the usual stream of school and come to therapy. A place where you can just be yourself. And here I am, trying to make her do therapy?!
Productivity is an insidious aspect of dominant American culture and White culture at large. It shapes our institutions, policy, economy, environment, climate, hours, agriculture, diet, relationships, and on and on. Productivity is a core American value because capitalism depends on it. Capitalism reinforces itself by rewarding those who produce — or at least by promising to reward those who produce, while really rewarding those who have amassed the product of others’ labor by way of having unearned privileges such as whiteness, wealth, male bodies, etc. Productivity is a deeply instilled value, so pervasive it often runs unnoticed. In this exquisitely unproductive moment in the sand I caught a whiff of my own productivity edging in.
I mean well. I want to help! I want to DO something! I’m a social worker, gosh darn it!
But sometimes the best way to be an ally is just to be and let be. Maybe this teen was telling me, in not so many words, that she doesn’t need me to do anything, and certainly doesn’t need me to need her to do anything. She already gets the message that she’s not doing enough, not smart enough, not good enough here at school. Maybe the most meaningful missing experience I can provide is to let her just be. To be together, quietly, slowly sifting the sands of time. To have that be enough. That’s what I’m here for: to be a counterpoint to the aspects of our culture that tell us we’re not enough, not worthy, not lovable exactly as we are.
So I settle in.
I join her without words or actions,
with loving presence
and a sweetness fills the room.
Sasha Wright, LCSW
I provide psychotherapy in the Bay Area. My holistic orientation embraces the body, mind, and spirit as intertwined aspects of being. My work focuses on seeking resilience and weaving sustainably vibrant lives, and is infused by my own practices in dance, mindfulness, creative arts, earth based spirituality, and spending time in nature. I write to share ideas, inspire embodiment, and support wellbeing. Enjoy!