Medicine Stories

July 7, 2011 Leave a comment

The following is a letter by Akaya Windwood, President of the Rockwood Leadership Institute and member of the IISC Board of Directors.

I have three close friends/colleagues who are working hard to interrupt old patterns of internalized oppression (i.o.), which the Urban Dictionary defines as the process by which a member of an oppressed group comes to accept and live out the inaccurate myths and stereotypes applied to the group.  All three of them are examining the stories they’ve been told (and now tell themselves) about how they are 1) not capable 2) lazy and 3) not smart or prepared enough.  All three are brilliant, wonderful leaders.  I find it amazing (and appalling) that they should spend even one nanosecond fighting these old patterns.

And then I took a little peek into my own i.o. closet, and saw that I carry some of those same patterns – that I’ve been told those same stories.  While I’ve done a fair amount of work in this area, I can readily see that there is still a bit more work for me to do.

It takes great courage to honestly look at internalized oppression – it’s like willingly hiking through the internal toxic sludge each of us carries as we try to lead.  Not fun, and rarely supported by those around us.  However when we decide to do this crucial work, it liberates us and can bring great satisfaction.

One thing I have found to be helpful is substituting my old stories with new ones.  I call them medicine stories, because they help me interrupt my often knee-jerk, learned responses, and replace them with new, intentional and authentic story.  Sometimes they sound like mantras, sometimes affirmations, and sometimes like just plain old truth.  In this case, the truth is that I am quite capable, work very hard and am a hugely brilliant woman!

Learning i.o. begins in childhood, when we had no choice about what we were exposed to.  It took time to install the old stories and patterns, and it can take time to unearth and interrupt them.  I know, however, that it can be done.  It’s an effort to consciously turn away from our toxic habits of mind, because it means that we substantially shift how we think and feel about ourselves.  It can mean that we choose to turn away from those who collaborate in maintaining the old patterns (who, sadly, are sometimes family, friends and partners).

Imagine what our world could look like if our leaders were free of debilitating lies about their worth.  What if none of us spent time fighting old demons – what could be possible for our children, if we don’t pass down those old tired-out narratives? Imagine what could happen if we committed to eradicating all of the internal stories that impede awareness of our magnificence (and then did the requisite work)!

So let’s tell a new story.  About the truth of our worth, and the worth of those around us.  Let’s commit to facing and uprooting every old lie that causes us to deny our brilliance.  We need new stories, new medicine, new mantras that remind us of who we really are – strong, learning, big-hearted, courageous and capable leaders who are helping to usher in a new world.

A world filled with wondrous children, wise elders and compassionate leaders.  Let’s not just tell a new story – let’s insist on living it.

From my heart to yours,


June 2011

No Comments

  • Jen Willsea says:

    This is beautiful! Thanks, Akaya. I love the idea of “medicine stories.”

  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    Thank you so much Akaya! Sorry I came to this post late, but better late than never. I.O. is such a painful thing and the self-doubt to which which it gives rise takes on such a powerful life of its own. Thank you for writing about it. I certainly spend my share of time exorcizing demons and quieting the voices that still try to convince me that I’m not enough in some way. And, it’s not uncommon to have to check myself when I dismiss a complement. I wonder, “Would that be considered as noteworthy if I was someone else?” I could go on, but I’ll save that for another day. Thanks for opening the conversation!

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