At-risk youth and the rape of Mother Earth

Via Chelsea Roff
on Apr 20, 2011
get elephant's newsletter

There are some thoughts that do not readily squeeze themselves into the tight-fitting corsets of coherent sentences. Instead, they seep out and linger in the silent blank spaces of the page.

I scrawled the above sentences in a torn and tattered notebook as I sat aboard a late night American Airlines flight home to Dallas. At the time, I was seeking refuge in the pages of my journal, hoping to purge of some of the rapid-fire thoughts coursing through my brain after a weeklong immersion and training with at risk-youth on the streets of Los Angeles.

After seven days of soaking up the words of profoundly inspiring community leadersmega-articulate youth, and an incredible group of women who reflected my own light with each word they spoke, I found myself mute. Why could I not write? Where was my voice?

Finally, I set the pencil on the tray table. I closed my eyes, leaned back in the stiff airplane seat, and gazed softly out the airplane’s window. I breathed into my belly, drawing on a practice of “resourcing” I’d used over and over again during the week when things got tough, a practice I hoped to share with the “at-risk youth” in my life if only I could just get it down for myself. I was afraid of my belly. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to know what it had to say.

As the gentle stream of my breath flowed down, soothing the tortuous clenching in my heart center and intestinal walls, I felt the shift. A lump in the back of my throat swelled up. Tingles in my shoulders and forearms made my hair stand up on end, as I moved to pick up the pencil again. And then, from deep in the pit of my tummy, a voice began to sing….

I’m gazing out a window 35,000 feet above ground
Looking down on barren earth, parceled squares of land
I’m gettin’ high from inside a 737 jet plane
I’m Lady Jonah in the hollow belly of man

I’m looking down on the body of the only mother I have left
At flesh that’s been carved out by miserly machines
Her scars tell the story of the real tragedies of youth
This mama is the molested child unseen

There are roads where there were once rivers
Factory farms where forests used to lie
Concrete parking lots on land my ancestors once called holy ground
How are the children, one leader asked. I began to cry.

From up here, the crimes appear so obvious
The throbbing wounds stand out like bright red streaks of blood
Mother Earth screams the answer in a voice heartwrenching and shrill
Her children, it appears, are not doing so good

We privileged seem to have grown accustomed to the warnings and alarms
We drown them out with ipods and numbing machines
Yet the children scream louder, use the only tools they know how
Beg us to listen, to bare witness, to feel

Perhaps what stands out for me most looking back and below
Is that we don’t see those who reflect the dark parts of our selves
We don’t want to acknowledge the little ones who mirror our own shame
We hide them away in group homes, rec centers, and jail cells

We say this is us, and that there is them
Those kids aren’t like me– they’re not of my kind
Without awareness of source, we forget that every one of us belongs
To a family that trumps class, race, even species lines

Our collective mother’s tears fall from puffy cumulous clouds,
Toxic rain streaming down from high above
Look hard enough you’ll see where (hu)man’s semen singed her tender flesh
Raped her soil, told her it was love

The children see it, don’t you think they’re too young
They watch the violence through a cracked bedroom door
Not yet numbed by their traumas, or armored in defense
They absorb the pain, feel it through the floor

So as I gaze down from above, the bitter irony hits me hard
I write from inside a jet blowing whiffs of black smog out its rear end
I, the child who was once violated herself
Now I’m the abuser perpetuating our collective sin

That’s the paradox I’ve been grappling with on my journey this week
I realized I too have been inept in ways I don’t want to see
I chatted with homeless men on the boardwalk during the day
Then I crawled under a feather blanket in our hotel to sleep

I leave LA with more questions than I came
Many of which might just guide the rest of my life
How do children heal when their only tools are guns, drugs, and eating disorders?
How do we advocate for others when we’re still engulfed in personal strife?

How do I nourish my own personal body
When I’ve starved the Great Mother to put food on my plate
How do I deal with the guilt of rising even when my own family fell?
How do I eat when my food left pesticides, a child’s blood in its wake?

I don’t know the answers to these all too raw and personal questions
I am still trying hold the paradox within and for myself
Maybe though, just maybe, the path is paved with the questions themselves
For the road we’ve been treading, it seems, is digging us deeper into hell

For it was the quest for solid ground that laid these cement parking lots in the first place
I wonder if it’s in the not knowing that something different has space to arise
I don’t know. I’m still just gazing out my window—smiling at the hope in despair
Things look very different when you’re flyin’ 35,000 feet high

This poem was inspired by Off the Mat Into The World’s Empowered Youth Initiative. To read the back-story behind it and more about my experience during the immersion, check out my post at Yoga Modern about it here.


About Chelsea Roff

Chelsea Roff is a nationally-recognized author and speaker, and the Founder of Yoga for Eating Disorders. In September 2013, Chelsea raised $50,000 on the crowdfunding platform IndieGoGo to kickstart her non-profit, Yoga for Eating Disorders. The program is currently being offered in treatment centers and yoga studios around the country at no charge, and she is working with researchers at UC San Diego to evaluate the program’s effectiveness in treatment. Chelsea is known for her intelligent, inspiring, and tell-it-like-it-is speaking style, and for weaving together profound personal experiences with her scientific background to deliver deeply moving insights. After nearly losing her life to anorexia and a subsequent stroke when she was 15, she has became a national advocate for community-based mental health interventions. Her work was recently showcased by Sanjay Gupta on CNN, and she’s been keynote speaker at 92nd Street Y, The Omega Institute, and at various universities and conferences around the country. Chelsea currently lives in Venice, California, where she can be found cartwheeling across the beach, hiking in the mountains, and practicing yoga poses on her little pink scooter.


9 Responses to “At-risk youth and the rape of Mother Earth”

  1. Chelsea says:

    I really appreciate that feedback, yoga-adan. It's interesting and valuable how others read those words. I certainly had no intention of castigating males in the problems I was pointing to– I definitely identify myself and every other woman on this planet as an active participant in the environmental degradation we're bearing witness to. That said, I do recognize a parallel in the power dynamics playing out in the collective and more personal experience of abuse. The "abuser" I'm trying to point toward in both situations exists in all of us– male and female. It feel to me like more of an archetypal character that exists in all of us rather than a literally male or female one. That's kind of difficult to convey in poetry, but it sounds like my message ultimately came across. 🙂

    Thanks for contributing to the discussion, and I'm glad you followed Carol's link too. Thoughtful insight.

  2. Myriam says:

    God Bless You and your efforts Chelsea! What a moving and beautifully written blog! Thank you for your passion!

  3. yoga-adan says:

    chelsea, your msg definitely came across, and in a manner that became evident you were including all people; as you say (paraphrasing) we're one folk here on our one earththere was a nice build-up too via the images and intensity of the words nice impact for an important subject, thank you ;-)adan

  4. Chelsea says:

    Thank you so much for the encouragement, Myriam. Blessings and love to you as well.

  5. Joana Smith says:

    Resourcing…I find myself going through the motions as you mention..I feel better already. thank you.
    Allowing the heart to sing, that is the key, isn't it?

  6. Fredia Trenton says:

    Don’t knock “double-sided tape” as an assembly element there a lot of legit industrial-purpose adhesive tapes that are specifically manufactured for just such a role. Applied properly, they hold incredibly strongly. Often, however, the “activating agent” of the adhesive on the tape is pressure and I mean a specified amount of proper Pressure with a capital P, not the “just stick it there and press” kind. So my guess is the problem in this case might actually lie in the manufacturing process, not necessarily in the design…