Nepantla Lessons for Transformation
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Nepantla Lessons for Transformation

You want to heal; you want to be transformed. You begin the slow ascent, and as you rise feel as though you're passing through the birth canal, the threshold nepantla. 

—Gloria Anzaldúa*

THIS STATEMENT, THOUGH written almost twenty years ago, seems entirely appropriate for the present time. Here we are, a little more than one year into a global pandemic, people’s anxiety spinning out of control–and for many good reasons. The cosmos calls out, inviting us to transform–forcing us to change.

Gloria Anzaldúa's theory of nepantla can speak to this moment; it offers clues and an approach (though not a solution) for how we can heal, how we can work thoughtfully with our current situations to effect transformation.

In what follows, I interweave Anzaldúa’s words with my own, offering three nepantla lessons for transformation. But let’s begin with nepantla itself—as Anzaldúa defines it.

In nepantla we undergo the anguish of changing our perspectives and crossing a series of cruz calles, junctures, and thresholds, some leading to a different way of relating to people and surroundings and others to the creation of a new world.

—Gloria Anzaldúa

“Nepantla,” the Nahuatl word for “in-between”: Anzaldúa takes this word and deeply lives it, bringing into the theory her esoteric studies; her research in liminality and Nahua philosophy; her bouts with depression; her struggles with Type I diabetes; her experiences of alienation (of feeling, literally, nonhuman); her complex mestizaje ethnic/cultural/sexual/gender identity; her activist work and encounters with racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression; and much more. She develops a multilayered theory of transformation in which nepantla plays a starring role.

Nepantla represents complex, synergistic non/temporal points of uncertainty, contradiction, and risk. (In astrological terms, perhaps we could say that nepantla represents Uranian energy.†) Nepantla hurts! It speaks to the chaos in our lives, our thought, our world. And yet, as Anzaldúa’s association of nepantla with thresholds suggests, nepantla also offers opportunities for change. But how do we work with nepantla’s (painful) opportunities? How do we transform–ourselves and our worlds? Fortunately, Anzaldúa has traveled this path before us; diving into her theory can offer us clues.

Only when you emerge from the dead with soul intact can you honor the visions you dreamed in the depths. In the deep fecund cave of gestation lies not only the source of your woundedness and your passion, but also the promise of inner knowledge, healing, and spiritual rebirth (the hidden treasures), waiting for you to bear them to the surface.

—Gloria Anzaldúa

Lesson #1: Have faith in our inner wisdom, our soul’s visions.

Even as we’re wandering in nepantla, trapped in uncertainty and perhaps paralyzed by fear—we also have a deep inner wisdom, our divine guidance, or what Anzaldúa here refers to as “soul.” Although the situation can be incredibly bleak, filling us with despair, Anzaldúa reminds us to have confidence that our internal guidance remains intact, though deeply hidden in the shadows.

Believe in “the promise of inner knowledge.” When we do so, when we dive into the shadows, we allow our soul’s dreams and visions—“(the hidden treasures)”—to appear. Patience and faith function here as invitation, grounded in Anzaldúa’s reminder that the source of profound wounding and deep points of pain is also the source of great creativity and insight. (Anzaldúa’s entire life is instructive here, as is the Tibetan Buddhist practice of feeding our demons.)

En este lugar entre medio, nepantla, two or more forces clash and are held teetering on the verge of chaos, a state of entreguerras. These tensions between extremes create cracks or tears in the membrane surrounding, protecting, and containing the different cultures and their perspectives. Nepantla is the place where at once we are detached (separated) and attached (connected) to each of our several cultures. Here the watcher on the bridge (nepantla) can “see through” the larger symbolic process that’s trying to become conscious through a particular life situation or event. Nepantla is the midway point between the conscious and the unconscious, the place where transformations are enacted. Nepantla is a place where we can accept contradiction and paradox.

—Gloria Anzaldúa

Lesson #2: Embrace contradiction.

When we acknowledge nepantla, we embrace the contradictions that nepantla represents and contains: Wounds can heal and be healed (though scars remain). Coyolxauhqui, though torn asunder into over 1000 pieces, can bring wholeness.‡ We can be, simultaneously, detached and attached to our various cultures/families/allies/enemies/friends.

As we sit patiently with these contradictions, they mingle and interact synergistically, creating something new. Patience is crucial: Though insights might occur in a flash, they do so only after much attentive waiting and careful reflection. Breathe with the contradictions. Observe, listen, learn, and then listen some more. 

Our perspective’s stability relies on liminality and fluidity... The nepantla mind-set eliminates polarity thinking where there’s no in between, only “ either/or”; it reinstates “and.” Because our perceptions and thinking contain subtle and hidden biases, we need a nepantla brain to prompt the questioning of our usual assumptions and beliefs. Such a brain would facilitate our ability to look at the world with new eyes. Navigating the cracks is the process of reconstructing life anew, of fashioning new identities.

—Gloria Anzaldúa

Lesson #3: Activate the “nepantla brain.”

When we have faith in our soul’s wisdom and sit patiently with the contradictions, we activate the “nepantla brain” that Anzaldúa refers to in this passage. One of her least developed theories, the nepantla brain represents a startling, relational mode of thought that awakens whenever we can sit with the contradictions and hold paradox with patience, curiosity, and faith. (Faith here refers to the confidence that these contradictions have secrets to reveal.)

When we activate our nepantla brains, we don’t pick sides but instead take in all sides; we sit with the cacophony (the conflicting experiences and views) and allow the new insights to arise; we make decisions from this holistic, relational perspective. We reconstruct “life anew;” we transform ourselves and our worlds—very slowly, step by painful step.


Enjoying Ofrenda?

Notes

*This and all subsequent quotations are from Anzaldúa’s Light in the Dark/Luz en lo oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality (Duke University Press, 2012).

†Anzaldúa herself had a lot of Uranian energy; in a January 2004 email to me, she explained that Uranus “rules/makes the most aspects in [her] chart.”

Nepantla Lessons for Transformation

You want to heal; you want to be transformed. You begin the slow ascent, and as you rise feel as though you're passing through the birth canal, the threshold nepantla. 

—Gloria Anzaldúa*

THIS STATEMENT, THOUGH written almost twenty years ago, seems entirely appropriate for the present time. Here we are, a little more than one year into a global pandemic, people’s anxiety spinning out of control–and for many good reasons. The cosmos calls out, inviting us to transform–forcing us to change.

Gloria Anzaldúa's theory of nepantla can speak to this moment; it offers clues and an approach (though not a solution) for how we can heal, how we can work thoughtfully with our current situations to effect transformation.

In what follows, I interweave Anzaldúa’s words with my own, offering three nepantla lessons for transformation. But let’s begin with nepantla itself—as Anzaldúa defines it.

In nepantla we undergo the anguish of changing our perspectives and crossing a series of cruz calles, junctures, and thresholds, some leading to a different way of relating to people and surroundings and others to the creation of a new world.

—Gloria Anzaldúa

“Nepantla,” the Nahuatl word for “in-between”: Anzaldúa takes this word and deeply lives it, bringing into the theory her esoteric studies; her research in liminality and Nahua philosophy; her bouts with depression; her struggles with Type I diabetes; her experiences of alienation (of feeling, literally, nonhuman); her complex mestizaje ethnic/cultural/sexual/gender identity; her activist work and encounters with racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression; and much more. She develops a multilayered theory of transformation in which nepantla plays a starring role.

Nepantla represents complex, synergistic non/temporal points of uncertainty, contradiction, and risk. (In astrological terms, perhaps we could say that nepantla represents Uranian energy.†) Nepantla hurts! It speaks to the chaos in our lives, our thought, our world. And yet, as Anzaldúa’s association of nepantla with thresholds suggests, nepantla also offers opportunities for change. But how do we work with nepantla’s (painful) opportunities? How do we transform–ourselves and our worlds? Fortunately, Anzaldúa has traveled this path before us; diving into her theory can offer us clues.

Only when you emerge from the dead with soul intact can you honor the visions you dreamed in the depths. In the deep fecund cave of gestation lies not only the source of your woundedness and your passion, but also the promise of inner knowledge, healing, and spiritual rebirth (the hidden treasures), waiting for you to bear them to the surface.

—Gloria Anzaldúa

Lesson #1: Have faith in our inner wisdom, our soul’s visions.

Even as we’re wandering in nepantla, trapped in uncertainty and perhaps paralyzed by fear—we also have a deep inner wisdom, our divine guidance, or what Anzaldúa here refers to as “soul.” Although the situation can be incredibly bleak, filling us with despair, Anzaldúa reminds us to have confidence that our internal guidance remains intact, though deeply hidden in the shadows.

Believe in “the promise of inner knowledge.” When we do so, when we dive into the shadows, we allow our soul’s dreams and visions—“(the hidden treasures)”—to appear. Patience and faith function here as invitation, grounded in Anzaldúa’s reminder that the source of profound wounding and deep points of pain is also the source of great creativity and insight. (Anzaldúa’s entire life is instructive here, as is the Tibetan Buddhist practice of feeding our demons.)

En este lugar entre medio, nepantla, two or more forces clash and are held teetering on the verge of chaos, a state of entreguerras. These tensions between extremes create cracks or tears in the membrane surrounding, protecting, and containing the different cultures and their perspectives. Nepantla is the place where at once we are detached (separated) and attached (connected) to each of our several cultures. Here the watcher on the bridge (nepantla) can “see through” the larger symbolic process that’s trying to become conscious through a particular life situation or event. Nepantla is the midway point between the conscious and the unconscious, the place where transformations are enacted. Nepantla is a place where we can accept contradiction and paradox.

—Gloria Anzaldúa

Lesson #2: Embrace contradiction.

When we acknowledge nepantla, we embrace the contradictions that nepantla represents and contains: Wounds can heal and be healed (though scars remain). Coyolxauhqui, though torn asunder into over 1000 pieces, can bring wholeness.‡ We can be, simultaneously, detached and attached to our various cultures/families/allies/enemies/friends.

As we sit patiently with these contradictions, they mingle and interact synergistically, creating something new. Patience is crucial: Though insights might occur in a flash, they do so only after much attentive waiting and careful reflection. Breathe with the contradictions. Observe, listen, learn, and then listen some more. 

Our perspective’s stability relies on liminality and fluidity... The nepantla mind-set eliminates polarity thinking where there’s no in between, only “ either/or”; it reinstates “and.” Because our perceptions and thinking contain subtle and hidden biases, we need a nepantla brain to prompt the questioning of our usual assumptions and beliefs. Such a brain would facilitate our ability to look at the world with new eyes. Navigating the cracks is the process of reconstructing life anew, of fashioning new identities.

—Gloria Anzaldúa

Lesson #3: Activate the “nepantla brain.”

When we have faith in our soul’s wisdom and sit patiently with the contradictions, we activate the “nepantla brain” that Anzaldúa refers to in this passage. One of her least developed theories, the nepantla brain represents a startling, relational mode of thought that awakens whenever we can sit with the contradictions and hold paradox with patience, curiosity, and faith. (Faith here refers to the confidence that these contradictions have secrets to reveal.)

When we activate our nepantla brains, we don’t pick sides but instead take in all sides; we sit with the cacophony (the conflicting experiences and views) and allow the new insights to arise; we make decisions from this holistic, relational perspective. We reconstruct “life anew;” we transform ourselves and our worlds—very slowly, step by painful step.


Enjoying Ofrenda?

Nepantla Lessons for Transformation

You want to heal; you want to be transformed. You begin the slow ascent, and as you rise feel as though you're passing through the birth canal, the threshold nepantla. 

—Gloria Anzaldúa*

THIS STATEMENT, THOUGH written almost twenty years ago, seems entirely appropriate for the present time. Here we are, a little more than one year into a global pandemic, people’s anxiety spinning out of control–and for many good reasons. The cosmos calls out, inviting us to transform–forcing us to change.

Gloria Anzaldúa's theory of nepantla can speak to this moment; it offers clues and an approach (though not a solution) for how we can heal, how we can work thoughtfully with our current situations to effect transformation.

In what follows, I interweave Anzaldúa’s words with my own, offering three nepantla lessons for transformation. But let’s begin with nepantla itself—as Anzaldúa defines it.

In nepantla we undergo the anguish of changing our perspectives and crossing a series of cruz calles, junctures, and thresholds, some leading to a different way of relating to people and surroundings and others to the creation of a new world.

—Gloria Anzaldúa

“Nepantla,” the Nahuatl word for “in-between”: Anzaldúa takes this word and deeply lives it, bringing into the theory her esoteric studies; her research in liminality and Nahua philosophy; her bouts with depression; her struggles with Type I diabetes; her experiences of alienation (of feeling, literally, nonhuman); her complex mestizaje ethnic/cultural/sexual/gender identity; her activist work and encounters with racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression; and much more. She develops a multilayered theory of transformation in which nepantla plays a starring role.

Nepantla represents complex, synergistic non/temporal points of uncertainty, contradiction, and risk. (In astrological terms, perhaps we could say that nepantla represents Uranian energy.†) Nepantla hurts! It speaks to the chaos in our lives, our thought, our world. And yet, as Anzaldúa’s association of nepantla with thresholds suggests, nepantla also offers opportunities for change. But how do we work with nepantla’s (painful) opportunities? How do we transform–ourselves and our worlds? Fortunately, Anzaldúa has traveled this path before us; diving into her theory can offer us clues.

Only when you emerge from the dead with soul intact can you honor the visions you dreamed in the depths. In the deep fecund cave of gestation lies not only the source of your woundedness and your passion, but also the promise of inner knowledge, healing, and spiritual rebirth (the hidden treasures), waiting for you to bear them to the surface.

—Gloria Anzaldúa

Lesson #1: Have faith in our inner wisdom, our soul’s visions.

Even as we’re wandering in nepantla, trapped in uncertainty and perhaps paralyzed by fear—we also have a deep inner wisdom, our divine guidance, or what Anzaldúa here refers to as “soul.” Although the situation can be incredibly bleak, filling us with despair, Anzaldúa reminds us to have confidence that our internal guidance remains intact, though deeply hidden in the shadows.

Believe in “the promise of inner knowledge.” When we do so, when we dive into the shadows, we allow our soul’s dreams and visions—“(the hidden treasures)”—to appear. Patience and faith function here as invitation, grounded in Anzaldúa’s reminder that the source of profound wounding and deep points of pain is also the source of great creativity and insight. (Anzaldúa’s entire life is instructive here, as is the Tibetan Buddhist practice of feeding our demons.)

En este lugar entre medio, nepantla, two or more forces clash and are held teetering on the verge of chaos, a state of entreguerras. These tensions between extremes create cracks or tears in the membrane surrounding, protecting, and containing the different cultures and their perspectives. Nepantla is the place where at once we are detached (separated) and attached (connected) to each of our several cultures. Here the watcher on the bridge (nepantla) can “see through” the larger symbolic process that’s trying to become conscious through a particular life situation or event. Nepantla is the midway point between the conscious and the unconscious, the place where transformations are enacted. Nepantla is a place where we can accept contradiction and paradox.

—Gloria Anzaldúa

Lesson #2: Embrace contradiction.

When we acknowledge nepantla, we embrace the contradictions that nepantla represents and contains: Wounds can heal and be healed (though scars remain). Coyolxauhqui, though torn asunder into over 1000 pieces, can bring wholeness.‡ We can be, simultaneously, detached and attached to our various cultures/families/allies/enemies/friends.

As we sit patiently with these contradictions, they mingle and interact synergistically, creating something new. Patience is crucial: Though insights might occur in a flash, they do so only after much attentive waiting and careful reflection. Breathe with the contradictions. Observe, listen, learn, and then listen some more. 

Our perspective’s stability relies on liminality and fluidity... The nepantla mind-set eliminates polarity thinking where there’s no in between, only “ either/or”; it reinstates “and.” Because our perceptions and thinking contain subtle and hidden biases, we need a nepantla brain to prompt the questioning of our usual assumptions and beliefs. Such a brain would facilitate our ability to look at the world with new eyes. Navigating the cracks is the process of reconstructing life anew, of fashioning new identities.

—Gloria Anzaldúa

Lesson #3: Activate the “nepantla brain.”

When we have faith in our soul’s wisdom and sit patiently with the contradictions, we activate the “nepantla brain” that Anzaldúa refers to in this passage. One of her least developed theories, the nepantla brain represents a startling, relational mode of thought that awakens whenever we can sit with the contradictions and hold paradox with patience, curiosity, and faith. (Faith here refers to the confidence that these contradictions have secrets to reveal.)

When we activate our nepantla brains, we don’t pick sides but instead take in all sides; we sit with the cacophony (the conflicting experiences and views) and allow the new insights to arise; we make decisions from this holistic, relational perspective. We reconstruct “life anew;” we transform ourselves and our worlds—very slowly, step by painful step.


Enjoying Ofrenda?

Notes

*This and all subsequent quotations are from Anzaldúa’s Light in the Dark/Luz en lo oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality (Duke University Press, 2012).

†Anzaldúa herself had a lot of Uranian energy; in a January 2004 email to me, she explained that Uranus “rules/makes the most aspects in [her] chart.”

Nepantla Lessons for Transformation

You want to heal; you want to be transformed. You begin the slow ascent, and as you rise feel as though you're passing through the birth canal, the threshold nepantla. 

—Gloria Anzaldúa*

THIS STATEMENT, THOUGH written almost twenty years ago, seems entirely appropriate for the present time. Here we are, a little more than one year into a global pandemic, people’s anxiety spinning out of control–and for many good reasons. The cosmos calls out, inviting us to transform–forcing us to change.

Gloria Anzaldúa's theory of nepantla can speak to this moment; it offers clues and an approach (though not a solution) for how we can heal, how we can work thoughtfully with our current situations to effect transformation.

In what follows, I interweave Anzaldúa’s words with my own, offering three nepantla lessons for transformation. But let’s begin with nepantla itself—as Anzaldúa defines it.

In nepantla we undergo the anguish of changing our perspectives and crossing a series of cruz calles, junctures, and thresholds, some leading to a different way of relating to people and surroundings and others to the creation of a new world.

—Gloria Anzaldúa

“Nepantla,” the Nahuatl word for “in-between”: Anzaldúa takes this word and deeply lives it, bringing into the theory her esoteric studies; her research in liminality and Nahua philosophy; her bouts with depression; her struggles with Type I diabetes; her experiences of alienation (of feeling, literally, nonhuman); her complex mestizaje ethnic/cultural/sexual/gender identity; her activist work and encounters with racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression; and much more. She develops a multilayered theory of transformation in which nepantla plays a starring role.

Nepantla represents complex, synergistic non/temporal points of uncertainty, contradiction, and risk. (In astrological terms, perhaps we could say that nepantla represents Uranian energy.†) Nepantla hurts! It speaks to the chaos in our lives, our thought, our world. And yet, as Anzaldúa’s association of nepantla with thresholds suggests, nepantla also offers opportunities for change. But how do we work with nepantla’s (painful) opportunities? How do we transform–ourselves and our worlds? Fortunately, Anzaldúa has traveled this path before us; diving into her theory can offer us clues.

Only when you emerge from the dead with soul intact can you honor the visions you dreamed in the depths. In the deep fecund cave of gestation lies not only the source of your woundedness and your passion, but also the promise of inner knowledge, healing, and spiritual rebirth (the hidden treasures), waiting for you to bear them to the surface.

—Gloria Anzaldúa

Lesson #1: Have faith in our inner wisdom, our soul’s visions.

Even as we’re wandering in nepantla, trapped in uncertainty and perhaps paralyzed by fear—we also have a deep inner wisdom, our divine guidance, or what Anzaldúa here refers to as “soul.” Although the situation can be incredibly bleak, filling us with despair, Anzaldúa reminds us to have confidence that our internal guidance remains intact, though deeply hidden in the shadows.

Believe in “the promise of inner knowledge.” When we do so, when we dive into the shadows, we allow our soul’s dreams and visions—“(the hidden treasures)”—to appear. Patience and faith function here as invitation, grounded in Anzaldúa’s reminder that the source of profound wounding and deep points of pain is also the source of great creativity and insight. (Anzaldúa’s entire life is instructive here, as is the Tibetan Buddhist practice of feeding our demons.)

En este lugar entre medio, nepantla, two or more forces clash and are held teetering on the verge of chaos, a state of entreguerras. These tensions between extremes create cracks or tears in the membrane surrounding, protecting, and containing the different cultures and their perspectives. Nepantla is the place where at once we are detached (separated) and attached (connected) to each of our several cultures. Here the watcher on the bridge (nepantla) can “see through” the larger symbolic process that’s trying to become conscious through a particular life situation or event. Nepantla is the midway point between the conscious and the unconscious, the place where transformations are enacted. Nepantla is a place where we can accept contradiction and paradox.

—Gloria Anzaldúa

Lesson #2: Embrace contradiction.

When we acknowledge nepantla, we embrace the contradictions that nepantla represents and contains: Wounds can heal and be healed (though scars remain). Coyolxauhqui, though torn asunder into over 1000 pieces, can bring wholeness.‡ We can be, simultaneously, detached and attached to our various cultures/families/allies/enemies/friends.

As we sit patiently with these contradictions, they mingle and interact synergistically, creating something new. Patience is crucial: Though insights might occur in a flash, they do so only after much attentive waiting and careful reflection. Breathe with the contradictions. Observe, listen, learn, and then listen some more. 

Our perspective’s stability relies on liminality and fluidity... The nepantla mind-set eliminates polarity thinking where there’s no in between, only “ either/or”; it reinstates “and.” Because our perceptions and thinking contain subtle and hidden biases, we need a nepantla brain to prompt the questioning of our usual assumptions and beliefs. Such a brain would facilitate our ability to look at the world with new eyes. Navigating the cracks is the process of reconstructing life anew, of fashioning new identities.

—Gloria Anzaldúa

Lesson #3: Activate the “nepantla brain.”

When we have faith in our soul’s wisdom and sit patiently with the contradictions, we activate the “nepantla brain” that Anzaldúa refers to in this passage. One of her least developed theories, the nepantla brain represents a startling, relational mode of thought that awakens whenever we can sit with the contradictions and hold paradox with patience, curiosity, and faith. (Faith here refers to the confidence that these contradictions have secrets to reveal.)

When we activate our nepantla brains, we don’t pick sides but instead take in all sides; we sit with the cacophony (the conflicting experiences and views) and allow the new insights to arise; we make decisions from this holistic, relational perspective. We reconstruct “life anew;” we transform ourselves and our worlds—very slowly, step by painful step.


Enjoying Ofrenda?

Notes

*This and all subsequent quotations are from Anzaldúa’s Light in the Dark/Luz en lo oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality (Duke University Press, 2012).

†Anzaldúa herself had a lot of Uranian energy; in a January 2004 email to me, she explained that Uranus “rules/makes the most aspects in [her] chart.”

Notes

*This and all subsequent quotations are from Anzaldúa’s Light in the Dark/Luz en lo oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality (Duke University Press, 2012).

†Anzaldúa herself had a lot of Uranian energy; in a January 2004 email to me, she explained that Uranus “rules/makes the most aspects in [her] chart.”

Nepantla Lessons for Transformation

You want to heal; you want to be transformed. You begin the slow ascent, and as you rise feel as though you're passing through the birth canal, the threshold nepantla. 

—Gloria Anzaldúa*

THIS STATEMENT, THOUGH written almost twenty years ago, seems entirely appropriate for the present time. Here we are, a little more than one year into a global pandemic, people’s anxiety spinning out of control–and for many good reasons. The cosmos calls out, inviting us to transform–forcing us to change.

Gloria Anzaldúa's theory of nepantla can speak to this moment; it offers clues and an approach (though not a solution) for how we can heal, how we can work thoughtfully with our current situations to effect transformation.

In what follows, I interweave Anzaldúa’s words with my own, offering three nepantla lessons for transformation. But let’s begin with nepantla itself—as Anzaldúa defines it.

In nepantla we undergo the anguish of changing our perspectives and crossing a series of cruz calles, junctures, and thresholds, some leading to a different way of relating to people and surroundings and others to the creation of a new world.

—Gloria Anzaldúa

“Nepantla,” the Nahuatl word for “in-between”: Anzaldúa takes this word and deeply lives it, bringing into the theory her esoteric studies; her research in liminality and Nahua philosophy; her bouts with depression; her struggles with Type I diabetes; her experiences of alienation (of feeling, literally, nonhuman); her complex mestizaje ethnic/cultural/sexual/gender identity; her activist work and encounters with racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression; and much more. She develops a multilayered theory of transformation in which nepantla plays a starring role.

Nepantla represents complex, synergistic non/temporal points of uncertainty, contradiction, and risk. (In astrological terms, perhaps we could say that nepantla represents Uranian energy.†) Nepantla hurts! It speaks to the chaos in our lives, our thought, our world. And yet, as Anzaldúa’s association of nepantla with thresholds suggests, nepantla also offers opportunities for change. But how do we work with nepantla’s (painful) opportunities? How do we transform–ourselves and our worlds? Fortunately, Anzaldúa has traveled this path before us; diving into her theory can offer us clues.

Only when you emerge from the dead with soul intact can you honor the visions you dreamed in the depths. In the deep fecund cave of gestation lies not only the source of your woundedness and your passion, but also the promise of inner knowledge, healing, and spiritual rebirth (the hidden treasures), waiting for you to bear them to the surface.

—Gloria Anzaldúa

Lesson #1: Have faith in our inner wisdom, our soul’s visions.

Even as we’re wandering in nepantla, trapped in uncertainty and perhaps paralyzed by fear—we also have a deep inner wisdom, our divine guidance, or what Anzaldúa here refers to as “soul.” Although the situation can be incredibly bleak, filling us with despair, Anzaldúa reminds us to have confidence that our internal guidance remains intact, though deeply hidden in the shadows.

Believe in “the promise of inner knowledge.” When we do so, when we dive into the shadows, we allow our soul’s dreams and visions—“(the hidden treasures)”—to appear. Patience and faith function here as invitation, grounded in Anzaldúa’s reminder that the source of profound wounding and deep points of pain is also the source of great creativity and insight. (Anzaldúa’s entire life is instructive here, as is the Tibetan Buddhist practice of feeding our demons.)

En este lugar entre medio, nepantla, two or more forces clash and are held teetering on the verge of chaos, a state of entreguerras. These tensions between extremes create cracks or tears in the membrane surrounding, protecting, and containing the different cultures and their perspectives. Nepantla is the place where at once we are detached (separated) and attached (connected) to each of our several cultures. Here the watcher on the bridge (nepantla) can “see through” the larger symbolic process that’s trying to become conscious through a particular life situation or event. Nepantla is the midway point between the conscious and the unconscious, the place where transformations are enacted. Nepantla is a place where we can accept contradiction and paradox.

—Gloria Anzaldúa

Lesson #2: Embrace contradiction.

When we acknowledge nepantla, we embrace the contradictions that nepantla represents and contains: Wounds can heal and be healed (though scars remain). Coyolxauhqui, though torn asunder into over 1000 pieces, can bring wholeness.‡ We can be, simultaneously, detached and attached to our various cultures/families/allies/enemies/friends.

As we sit patiently with these contradictions, they mingle and interact synergistically, creating something new. Patience is crucial: Though insights might occur in a flash, they do so only after much attentive waiting and careful reflection. Breathe with the contradictions. Observe, listen, learn, and then listen some more. 

Our perspective’s stability relies on liminality and fluidity... The nepantla mind-set eliminates polarity thinking where there’s no in between, only “ either/or”; it reinstates “and.” Because our perceptions and thinking contain subtle and hidden biases, we need a nepantla brain to prompt the questioning of our usual assumptions and beliefs. Such a brain would facilitate our ability to look at the world with new eyes. Navigating the cracks is the process of reconstructing life anew, of fashioning new identities.

—Gloria Anzaldúa

Lesson #3: Activate the “nepantla brain.”

When we have faith in our soul’s wisdom and sit patiently with the contradictions, we activate the “nepantla brain” that Anzaldúa refers to in this passage. One of her least developed theories, the nepantla brain represents a startling, relational mode of thought that awakens whenever we can sit with the contradictions and hold paradox with patience, curiosity, and faith. (Faith here refers to the confidence that these contradictions have secrets to reveal.)

When we activate our nepantla brains, we don’t pick sides but instead take in all sides; we sit with the cacophony (the conflicting experiences and views) and allow the new insights to arise; we make decisions from this holistic, relational perspective. We reconstruct “life anew;” we transform ourselves and our worlds—very slowly, step by painful step.


Enjoying Ofrenda?

Notes

*This and all subsequent quotations are from Anzaldúa’s Light in the Dark/Luz en lo oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality (Duke University Press, 2012).

†Anzaldúa herself had a lot of Uranian energy; in a January 2004 email to me, she explained that Uranus “rules/makes the most aspects in [her] chart.”

Nepantla Lessons for Transformation

You want to heal; you want to be transformed. You begin the slow ascent, and as you rise feel as though you're passing through the birth canal, the threshold nepantla. 

—Gloria Anzaldúa*

THIS STATEMENT, THOUGH written almost twenty years ago, seems entirely appropriate for the present time. Here we are, a little more than one year into a global pandemic, people’s anxiety spinning out of control–and for many good reasons. The cosmos calls out, inviting us to transform–forcing us to change.

Gloria Anzaldúa's theory of nepantla can speak to this moment; it offers clues and an approach (though not a solution) for how we can heal, how we can work thoughtfully with our current situations to effect transformation.

In what follows, I interweave Anzaldúa’s words with my own, offering three nepantla lessons for transformation. But let’s begin with nepantla itself—as Anzaldúa defines it.

In nepantla we undergo the anguish of changing our perspectives and crossing a series of cruz calles, junctures, and thresholds, some leading to a different way of relating to people and surroundings and others to the creation of a new world.

—Gloria Anzaldúa

“Nepantla,” the Nahuatl word for “in-between”: Anzaldúa takes this word and deeply lives it, bringing into the theory her esoteric studies; her research in liminality and Nahua philosophy; her bouts with depression; her struggles with Type I diabetes; her experiences of alienation (of feeling, literally, nonhuman); her complex mestizaje ethnic/cultural/sexual/gender identity; her activist work and encounters with racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression; and much more. She develops a multilayered theory of transformation in which nepantla plays a starring role.

Nepantla represents complex, synergistic non/temporal points of uncertainty, contradiction, and risk. (In astrological terms, perhaps we could say that nepantla represents Uranian energy.†) Nepantla hurts! It speaks to the chaos in our lives, our thought, our world. And yet, as Anzaldúa’s association of nepantla with thresholds suggests, nepantla also offers opportunities for change. But how do we work with nepantla’s (painful) opportunities? How do we transform–ourselves and our worlds? Fortunately, Anzaldúa has traveled this path before us; diving into her theory can offer us clues.

Only when you emerge from the dead with soul intact can you honor the visions you dreamed in the depths. In the deep fecund cave of gestation lies not only the source of your woundedness and your passion, but also the promise of inner knowledge, healing, and spiritual rebirth (the hidden treasures), waiting for you to bear them to the surface.

—Gloria Anzaldúa

Lesson #1: Have faith in our inner wisdom, our soul’s visions.

Even as we’re wandering in nepantla, trapped in uncertainty and perhaps paralyzed by fear—we also have a deep inner wisdom, our divine guidance, or what Anzaldúa here refers to as “soul.” Although the situation can be incredibly bleak, filling us with despair, Anzaldúa reminds us to have confidence that our internal guidance remains intact, though deeply hidden in the shadows.

Believe in “the promise of inner knowledge.” When we do so, when we dive into the shadows, we allow our soul’s dreams and visions—“(the hidden treasures)”—to appear. Patience and faith function here as invitation, grounded in Anzaldúa’s reminder that the source of profound wounding and deep points of pain is also the source of great creativity and insight. (Anzaldúa’s entire life is instructive here, as is the Tibetan Buddhist practice of feeding our demons.)

En este lugar entre medio, nepantla, two or more forces clash and are held teetering on the verge of chaos, a state of entreguerras. These tensions between extremes create cracks or tears in the membrane surrounding, protecting, and containing the different cultures and their perspectives. Nepantla is the place where at once we are detached (separated) and attached (connected) to each of our several cultures. Here the watcher on the bridge (nepantla) can “see through” the larger symbolic process that’s trying to become conscious through a particular life situation or event. Nepantla is the midway point between the conscious and the unconscious, the place where transformations are enacted. Nepantla is a place where we can accept contradiction and paradox.

—Gloria Anzaldúa

Lesson #2: Embrace contradiction.

When we acknowledge nepantla, we embrace the contradictions that nepantla represents and contains: Wounds can heal and be healed (though scars remain). Coyolxauhqui, though torn asunder into over 1000 pieces, can bring wholeness.‡ We can be, simultaneously, detached and attached to our various cultures/families/allies/enemies/friends.

As we sit patiently with these contradictions, they mingle and interact synergistically, creating something new. Patience is crucial: Though insights might occur in a flash, they do so only after much attentive waiting and careful reflection. Breathe with the contradictions. Observe, listen, learn, and then listen some more. 

Our perspective’s stability relies on liminality and fluidity... The nepantla mind-set eliminates polarity thinking where there’s no in between, only “ either/or”; it reinstates “and.” Because our perceptions and thinking contain subtle and hidden biases, we need a nepantla brain to prompt the questioning of our usual assumptions and beliefs. Such a brain would facilitate our ability to look at the world with new eyes. Navigating the cracks is the process of reconstructing life anew, of fashioning new identities.

—Gloria Anzaldúa

Lesson #3: Activate the “nepantla brain.”

When we have faith in our soul’s wisdom and sit patiently with the contradictions, we activate the “nepantla brain” that Anzaldúa refers to in this passage. One of her least developed theories, the nepantla brain represents a startling, relational mode of thought that awakens whenever we can sit with the contradictions and hold paradox with patience, curiosity, and faith. (Faith here refers to the confidence that these contradictions have secrets to reveal.)

When we activate our nepantla brains, we don’t pick sides but instead take in all sides; we sit with the cacophony (the conflicting experiences and views) and allow the new insights to arise; we make decisions from this holistic, relational perspective. We reconstruct “life anew;” we transform ourselves and our worlds—very slowly, step by painful step.


Notes

*This and all subsequent quotations are from Anzaldúa’s Light in the Dark/Luz en lo oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality (Duke University Press, 2012).

†Anzaldúa herself had a lot of Uranian energy; in a January 2004 email to me, she explained that Uranus “rules/makes the most aspects in [her] chart.”

Nepantla Lessons for Transformation

You want to heal; you want to be transformed. You begin the slow ascent, and as you rise feel as though you're passing through the birth canal, the threshold nepantla. 

—Gloria Anzaldúa*

THIS STATEMENT, THOUGH written almost twenty years ago, seems entirely appropriate for the present time. Here we are, a little more than one year into a global pandemic, people’s anxiety spinning out of control–and for many good reasons. The cosmos calls out, inviting us to transform–forcing us to change.

Gloria Anzaldúa's theory of nepantla can speak to this moment; it offers clues and an approach (though not a solution) for how we can heal, how we can work thoughtfully with our current situations to effect transformation.

In what follows, I interweave Anzaldúa’s words with my own, offering three nepantla lessons for transformation. But let’s begin with nepantla itself—as Anzaldúa defines it.

In nepantla we undergo the anguish of changing our perspectives and crossing a series of cruz calles, junctures, and thresholds, some leading to a different way of relating to people and surroundings and others to the creation of a new world.

—Gloria Anzaldúa

“Nepantla,” the Nahuatl word for “in-between”: Anzaldúa takes this word and deeply lives it, bringing into the theory her esoteric studies; her research in liminality and Nahua philosophy; her bouts with depression; her struggles with Type I diabetes; her experiences of alienation (of feeling, literally, nonhuman); her complex mestizaje ethnic/cultural/sexual/gender identity; her activist work and encounters with racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression; and much more. She develops a multilayered theory of transformation in which nepantla plays a starring role.

Nepantla represents complex, synergistic non/temporal points of uncertainty, contradiction, and risk. (In astrological terms, perhaps we could say that nepantla represents Uranian energy.†) Nepantla hurts! It speaks to the chaos in our lives, our thought, our world. And yet, as Anzaldúa’s association of nepantla with thresholds suggests, nepantla also offers opportunities for change. But how do we work with nepantla’s (painful) opportunities? How do we transform–ourselves and our worlds? Fortunately, Anzaldúa has traveled this path before us; diving into her theory can offer us clues.

Only when you emerge from the dead with soul intact can you honor the visions you dreamed in the depths. In the deep fecund cave of gestation lies not only the source of your woundedness and your passion, but also the promise of inner knowledge, healing, and spiritual rebirth (the hidden treasures), waiting for you to bear them to the surface.

—Gloria Anzaldúa

Lesson #1: Have faith in our inner wisdom, our soul’s visions.

Even as we’re wandering in nepantla, trapped in uncertainty and perhaps paralyzed by fear—we also have a deep inner wisdom, our divine guidance, or what Anzaldúa here refers to as “soul.” Although the situation can be incredibly bleak, filling us with despair, Anzaldúa reminds us to have confidence that our internal guidance remains intact, though deeply hidden in the shadows.

Believe in “the promise of inner knowledge.” When we do so, when we dive into the shadows, we allow our soul’s dreams and visions—“(the hidden treasures)”—to appear. Patience and faith function here as invitation, grounded in Anzaldúa’s reminder that the source of profound wounding and deep points of pain is also the source of great creativity and insight. (Anzaldúa’s entire life is instructive here, as is the Tibetan Buddhist practice of feeding our demons.)

En este lugar entre medio, nepantla, two or more forces clash and are held teetering on the verge of chaos, a state of entreguerras. These tensions between extremes create cracks or tears in the membrane surrounding, protecting, and containing the different cultures and their perspectives. Nepantla is the place where at once we are detached (separated) and attached (connected) to each of our several cultures. Here the watcher on the bridge (nepantla) can “see through” the larger symbolic process that’s trying to become conscious through a particular life situation or event. Nepantla is the midway point between the conscious and the unconscious, the place where transformations are enacted. Nepantla is a place where we can accept contradiction and paradox.

—Gloria Anzaldúa

Lesson #2: Embrace contradiction.

When we acknowledge nepantla, we embrace the contradictions that nepantla represents and contains: Wounds can heal and be healed (though scars remain). Coyolxauhqui, though torn asunder into over 1000 pieces, can bring wholeness.‡ We can be, simultaneously, detached and attached to our various cultures/families/allies/enemies/friends.

As we sit patiently with these contradictions, they mingle and interact synergistically, creating something new. Patience is crucial: Though insights might occur in a flash, they do so only after much attentive waiting and careful reflection. Breathe with the contradictions. Observe, listen, learn, and then listen some more. 

Our perspective’s stability relies on liminality and fluidity... The nepantla mind-set eliminates polarity thinking where there’s no in between, only “ either/or”; it reinstates “and.” Because our perceptions and thinking contain subtle and hidden biases, we need a nepantla brain to prompt the questioning of our usual assumptions and beliefs. Such a brain would facilitate our ability to look at the world with new eyes. Navigating the cracks is the process of reconstructing life anew, of fashioning new identities.

—Gloria Anzaldúa

Lesson #3: Activate the “nepantla brain.”

When we have faith in our soul’s wisdom and sit patiently with the contradictions, we activate the “nepantla brain” that Anzaldúa refers to in this passage. One of her least developed theories, the nepantla brain represents a startling, relational mode of thought that awakens whenever we can sit with the contradictions and hold paradox with patience, curiosity, and faith. (Faith here refers to the confidence that these contradictions have secrets to reveal.)

When we activate our nepantla brains, we don’t pick sides but instead take in all sides; we sit with the cacophony (the conflicting experiences and views) and allow the new insights to arise; we make decisions from this holistic, relational perspective. We reconstruct “life anew;” we transform ourselves and our worlds—very slowly, step by painful step.


The Practice of Intention

1

If possible, play music that inspires you to be calm. This is the time to look inward. Turn off any external distractions; silence your phone.

2

Close your eyes, taking a moment to “feel” how different and peaceful it is to have the eyes closed.

3

Take three very slow and deep breaths, trying to fill out the bottom of your lungs. Inhale and exhale slowly.

4

With either hand, take a little bit of tobacco or some dry herbs—like lavender, sage, rosemary, basil, rose petals, a combination of all of them, or imagine them, if you don’t have any. In the Curanderismo tradition, it is believed that these plants have energy that can help us communicate more deeply with the spirit realm, and focus with concentration and a sense of calm.

5

Place your hand with the herbs at the center of your chest. That is the area known as the heart chakra. Take another deep and slow breath.

6

Very slowly, start directing your attention to one or more of the emotions mentioned before: love, gratitude, happiness, and peace.

7

Then, also very slowly, start your prayer, being careful that you genuinely mean what you are saying. If you are reciting a prayer in another language, make sure you say it first in your native language and then in the other language.

8

At the end of each sentence from your prayer, add a vibration of any of the emotions. Once you feel the emotions, move them throughout your body until it is vibrating. This is a very important step because this vibration is creating electromagnetic energy that will help you manifest what you are asking for.

9

Carry on with your prayer until you are done. Remember not to rush. By the end, your body should be vibrating, and from there you are going to send gratitude to the Universe, to the spirits, to your ancestors, to everyone for hearing your prayer and making it happen.

10

If you are conducting a ceremony or ritual, empowering a place or a spiritual tool, asking for healing, or something similar, you can cup your hands and transfer all of these beautiful energies into your hands and into the mixture of herbs. Then you can offer these herbs by placing them on your altar (if you have one), placing your hands on the part of the body that you want to heal, or offering the herbs to Mother Earth.

11

Finish by staying still for a moment, just feeling this beautiful energy that you have created.

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