By MIMI LILIEFELDT
There is so much external noise surrounding us that it becomes difficult to remember what really matters.
We live in a time with more information on any and every given topic. We have more access to this than ever before, and yet we as a species still find it so challenging to learn how to cultivate peace – as a collective and as individuals. So, what do we do about it?
What I learned from my conversation with Alia Francisco, founder of Manifest with Alia, is that in a world that constantly says, “GO!” every now and then, we need to “STOP!”.
Alia teaches yoga, coaches one on one with a program she calls, Soul Care, and runs a girls empowerment program she created called, empowHER. She is also a trained doula, wife, and mother of three girls.
When you meet Alia, she is calm and friendly, but what shapes her personality is her openness and generosity of spirit. Alia grew up in the Beach as one of four daughters of immigrant parents from Guyana. Though her parents were from affluent families in Guyana, Alia’s family saw their share of financial struggles while she and her sisters were growing up.
Alia shared, “We had hardships in our upbringing, lots of moving around. Moving from home to home which had a sense of uncertainty in our childhood. And also, by comparison our friendships and households that I would visit just felt like such a contrast. So, I think that there was certainly embodied inferiority in that experience, or a sense of being ‘othered’.”
Though those times were undeniably difficult, what stuck with Alia was that she was taught to focus on who she was on the inside.
“My dad was always a big dreamer, big thinker, we grew up with a lot of spirituality in our home,” she said. “We were always taught that our circumstances didn’t define us. There was that juxtaposition of what we were going through but also this mindset of the sky’s the limit for you.”
As a young Black girl in a predominantly white neighbourhood, Alia reflected on how sometimes she wanted to blend in more. “I think it was observation of my environment that there weren’t a lot of other people that looked the same way as me. On playdates it would always be the same group of people, and I don’t think it was a conscious awareness until it was. And then I became aware that everybody wanted to fit in, and it was the era of you had the same backpacks, or the same hairstyle…”
The desire to fit in never really leaves us. It’s deeply rooted in our biological need for survival. As we grow older and more experienced, we can navigate social challenges better, but when you’re young and your environment doesn’t fully reflect what you see in the mirror it can be cumbersome.
“I remember personally as a child; I did not want the topic of race to come up. I didn’t want people to draw attention to the fact that I was Black and different from other people. It made me feel so uncomfortable,” said Alia.
These days Alia seems very comfortable in the skin she’s in.
She is raising her three girls with the same tools to navigate the world that she teaches at her empowHER program.
Girls in the program range from nine to 13 years old, and they engage in conversations about how to manage social media, body image, and confidence while learning somatic techniques to help ground them such as yoga and breath work.
At home, Alia and her husband also help the girls process conversations around race. “It’s all about empowering them to see themselves as capable of doing anything in the world. And creating a foundation of trust, so that when situations arise, they’re leading the conversation, and when they have questions around things coming up then we navigate that. . . I speak about ruling from love versus hate, or fear rather. I believe it (racism) happens because people are afraid and have fear around losing a position of power. And when you have fear, you want power over, control over.”
This explanation made perfect sense to me and though from an intellectual standpoint most people understand it, there is still a lot of denial when the question of fear or control is directed at an individual. As long as the onus is on “society” and not us as individuals, nothing will truly change. We have to face our fears and insecurities in order to overcome them.
Facing our vulnerabilities is not easy. When I asked Alia how she gets through facing things that scare her the most she said, “What scares me the most is the persuasive nature of my own limiting beliefs. I get through it through prayer and devotional practices of self-awareness.”
Limiting beliefs can encompass many things. We are fed all kinds of harmful messages from a wide range of sources, and thanks to the pervasiveness of those messages they can also enter our own consciousness.
For many Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour, these limiting beliefs can become part of our narrative.
When people say diminishing ignorant things enough times, either to you or about others who look like you, it can chip away at your confidence.
On the flip side, having only lived in Canada, I was amazed to hear Alia speak of her mother’s experience as a mixed-race woman in Guyana.
“My mom actually wanted to be blacker. She actually tried to get her skin to be darker, she tried to afro her hair. She never felt like she was Black enough,” shared Alia.
“That was her lived experience because that was the presentation of beauty in Guyana. It was blacker, bigger hair, afros. So, she never felt accepted. This is when you really recognize that race is a social construct. It (beauty) is a standard that doesn’t cross over by culture. Depending on where you are, you are the standard of beauty. To recognize that is so empowering, because it really is arbitrary.”
Hearing this elated me. Many of us have struggled with our sense of place and ultimately our worth based on what is really only skin deep.
Pausing to reflect on these truths helped re-anchor me.
Alia shared with me how she cultivates peace within herself.
“Prayer, breath-work, yoga, meditation, journalling, nature, close relationships with family and friends. Prayer is not about dogma and organized religion but about surrendering to a higher power of your own understanding. Be that the energy of love, nature, the universe, your highest self, passed ancestors, etc. that you believe to be guiding you through your journey through life,” she said.
We often go with the flow of our environments but stopping every so often to re-evaluate, to allow ourselves the grace of a mind and body reset, that can really help bring us a step closer to serenity.
— Mimi Liliefeldt is a Beach resident and business owner. She can be reached at email@example.com