Freedom in Cultural Expansion

Today, in the great state of Texas, we celebrate Juneteenth.  June 19th commemorates the day that the abolition of slavery was announced in Texas, in 1865.  And for us, as well as a larger community, this event represents freedom.  Freedom, and the power in having the ability to be one’s self, are concepts that we champion through Moderna Muse.  Living your muse is defined as the ability to talk, walk, laugh, dress and pursue every avenue of your life in alignment with your muse...your highest expression of self.  Living your muse is the ultimate expression of personal freedom, as well as the greatest gift that you could ever give to this world.  The synchronicity of a world in which everyone lived their muse would be a thriving, positive, loving and inspiring world that we have never seen before.  This has not come to fruition in our lifetime because fear has been manifested in a need to control others and society.  When we look back on an event like June 19th, 1865, we can see the progression from an epidemic of fear that resulted in the suppression of an entire race of individuals, to an opening that allowed for newfound freedom.  But this day did not result in true freedom.  “Freedom” at that time simply meant not reporting to the field as property of another human being.  You got your name back after having it stripped from you by your owner.  But ultimately, it was impossible to truly obtain freedom because of what the mind, body and soul of an entire race had endured.  The ability to talk, walk, laugh and pursue life in a manner that aligned with the soul of this race, was stripped away, and physical abuse was inflicted if an individual dared to live their muse.  So when freedom was granted, invisible constraints, perceptions and limitations still permeated the minds, bodies and souls of an entire race.  In so many ways, these historical constraints still exist.  Some real and others perceived.  And as a nation of diverse individuals with diverse experiences, we all have historical perceptions and limitations that are blocking us from living our muse.  Things that are stopping us from climbing the cultural wall to growth, to experience new heights of awareness and alignment.  We recognize that constraints exist beyond our control, but we would like to address what is in our control so that we may take steps in getting closer to our muse. 
Growing up in Texas, with a grandmother who’s birthday is on Juneteenth, I always knew that it was a black holiday.  But regardless of knowing and understanding my history, I also didn’t truly relate.  I was born with a pretty free spirit, one that cannot imagine constraint.  One that actively fights against it as if it’s a sin to be anything other than myself.  The path was clearly paved for me. Plenty came before me with the same spirit, who actually died because of their fight to live their purpose and not sin against who they were meant to be.  The paved path and generational distance has allowed my spirit to fly free without those same constraints.  And to all the amazing individuals in my lineage, I am grateful for your fight and for the opportunity to keep all of our spirits alive towards this bigger purpose.
That purpose became evident for me very early on in life.  Sports, health and wellness were my jam from day one.  My parents were great advocates for an active lifestyle and participated with me in sports on a regular basis.  We were cognizant of nutrition as well, because my mom was a conscious cook.  In regards to sports, I particularly took to tennis.  My participation in tennis, as well as being sent to private school in the 80s, changed my cultural experience very quickly.  I was pretty much the “token black kid” at school and tennis.  This often translated into being the “oreo” on the other side when I was around family or other blacks.  There was a contrast of going from one side to the other and back again.  Even though both sides felt both comfortable and uncomfortable at times, depending on the environment and who decided to be a jerk that day, most of the time I had the beautiful experience of always knowing and understanding different sides of culture.
By climbing back and forth over the wall and seeing the other side, I lost the need to fit in or be with others that validated me.  The constraints that I “should” have perceived as real, fell by the wayside.  This played a crucial role in my pursuit towards my muse.  My love of sports, health and wellness was highly mainstream.  Sports had become more diverse indeed, but my transition from Nike to Pure Barre was like going from strategic diversity to zero diversity.  But climbing over the wall, into an environment that was comprised of only white females, led me to multi-unit ownership, as the first black owner of a Pure Barre franchise.  Our landscape has diversified with other owners and clients that see the benefits from an exercise technique that is generally on the other side of the wall than they are used to.  And now, with the development of Moderna Muse, we can reach diverse cultures with a pursuit of bringing mindfulness, personal development and higher thinking to all.  Many of my friends and I are used to being “the first”.  But it’s the lesson behind being the first, or the willingness to climb over the wall, that leads us to freedom.  When you are the first, you make the path a little easier for those that follow, just as our ancestors did for us.  Also, climbing over the wall leads to opportunities and experiences that you never could have imagined.  You become more expansive, which in turn leads to growth.  It’s a domino effect of positive change.  And each step taken to get over that wall breaks a perception and a suppressive belief that is limiting your mind, body and soul.  You break the chains holding you back from your muse.
I can now stand here and say, that I am part of a community that has not only accepted and supported me fully, but one that has actively projected me forward.  I’m in awe of my experiences and blessings.  And more than anything, I want my race to break the constraints that are within our control.  Especially those related to sports, health, and wellness, simply because it’s my passion.  I believe the market reflects our purchasing power.  So many brands have a strategic plan to “capture the black consumer” as a means to diversify their client base and ultimately increase revenue.  That’s a powerful position to be in, yet we give that power away daily.  This is why I encourage all of us to climb over the wall.  Think about it.  We sometimes shoot ourselves in the foot by trying so hard to to hold on to our culture.  We are who we are.  Our culture isn’t going to leave if you don’t allow it.  But does that mean we have to kill ourselves in the meantime with unhealthy food and health practices?  We continuously climb the stats in the medical industry for heart disease, hypertension and obesity.  We are doing this to ourselves.  There are undeniable, socioeconomic issues that make it harder to get healthy.  But have we REALLY made the changes that are within our control?  And do we realize that we are allowing ourselves to be controlled by not jumping over the wall?  Have you seen what neighborhoods Whole Foods are in?  Have you questioned the sourcing of the food that is in your grocery store?  Stop the madness and jump over that dang wall and see what’s happening on the other side.  Make some friends that don’t look like you.  Go to a different grocery store with truly organic and fresh produce.  Exercise with your new friends and watch your body change from barre.  Continue down that path and observe yourself getting addicted to jumping over walls.  Bring your old friends over the wall as well, and watch the thriving and inspiring community that you create from using your power to grow in your freedom to live your muse, in mind, body and soul.  Full freedom is over the wall.  Not because the other side is better, but because you get to cross back and forth to create a combined world of good from either side.  Utilize your new resources to create your own community of health and wellness.  One that is culturally rich, yet simultaneously aware.     
Unlike Rashanna, I have spent most of my life on one side of “the wall”. Growing up in a small, Wisconsin town, I’m quite sure that for a very long time, I didn’t even realize these figurative and literal walls existed. I always considered myself and my circles to be open-minded and accepting - they don’t call it “Midwest Nice” for nothing. But I’ve come to believe as I’ve gotten older, expanded my personal networks and established relationships with more people whose cultural identities differ from my own, that we need to push the boundaries of how we define “acceptance”. True acceptance is not just tolerance and pleasantries - it is a willingness to immerse ourselves in the cultures of others and respect the history and expression of that culture. I now believe wholeheartedly that we will never experience the enlightenment that comes with expansive thought, true understanding, and human connection if we do not push ourselves to acknowledge and climb over the cultural walls that divide us. Part of what it means to live your muse is opening your mind and challenging your own shortcomings in understanding others. 
Knowing what Rashanna wanted to share about her experiences, I had some reservations about the validity of my own in respect to this idea of climbing over the wall. I straight up told her, I don’t want to situate myself as a self-proclaimed “woke” white girl, capitalizing on relationships with minority friends to project some higher level of enlightenment in my own life. I’m no expert in overcoming cultural divides, but I can confidently say that I’ve developed a desire and respect for experiences that expose you to the “other” - the community you’ve never known, the person whose life you could never imagine living, and the perspective that you might never witness if you don’t put the fear of discomfort aside. 
In January, I had the opportunity to join Rashanna at the Urban Health Expo at Huston-Tillotson University, a historically black college. The expo was centered on elevating health and wellness in Austin’s black community. We taught a Pure Barre class for a group of about thirty attendees, then moved to a packed auditorium for a panel featuring Rashanna and other community leaders. I was one of very few white faces in the room, and at first, a lot of personal questions were running through my mind. Are people wondering why I’m here? Why didn’t I know the health and wellness issue is this prevalent in the black I ignorant? I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a bit like an outsider. It was the first time I had ever been in a group that large where I was in the minority. The first time I didn’t automatically already have a community-wide understanding for the experiences of those around me, through my own experiences. It forced me to ask myself some serious questions - to consider what boundaries I might be putting up or experiences I have held back on in the past to protect myself from being the outcast in the room. I felt a deep gratitude while sitting in that room, like I had been given a gift of honesty and truth. I came away with a much more realistic and human understanding for why wellness isn’t so easily attainable by every community, and a stronger appreciation for the opportunities I’ve been handed in that space.
In a world where you can find an online community or blog about anything and everything, we continue to segment ourselves even more than ever, while simultaneously, I think most people want to promote acceptance. There are so many things that separate us - race, religion, socioeconomic status, politics, family histories, parenting styles, language, and on and on and on. A lot of “acceptance” ideologies today only provide soft encouragement to neutralize our differences, instead of tools and encouragement for fully understanding and respecting them. As I’ve said, growing up, I considered myself to be accepting. In particular, I always felt like an ally with the LGBTQ community. But my strongest relationships with members of that community developed in college, where some of my absolute closest friends were gay. During that time my perspective shifted from observing and “accepting” a community of people different than me, to complete recognition of the individuals within that community as unique and human in their own identities. By developing close relationships with those who identified differently than myself, I started to understand just how valid and important their experiences are - not just as members of a minority community, but simply as human beings. It’s really hard to reach a deep level of interconnectedness in our society if we don’t cross over the walls that divide us. Challenge yourself to go beyond observation, and explore what it means to truly connect to someone who is different than you.
It’s kind of crazy that it took me so long to have these experiences. It comes with the territory of growing up in an area that lacks diversity, but that’s why we owe it to ourselves to take on the challenge of traversing beyond our own cultural walls. I am so lucky to have a friend and business partner in Rashanna - someone who I can safely sit down with, say the wrong thing in the wrong way, ask the awkward questions, and learn, free from judgement. At the same time, it isn’t your minority friend’s job to educate you. You have to seek out opportunities to develop understanding, and recognize that the small pocket of diversity you know might not have the only story. The deeper you go in exploring stories and experiences that differ from your own, the more complex, deep, and rich your relationship with your muse will become. It’s not easy. It takes time, attention, an open mind, and sometimes sheer luck or chance - all challenging things to commit to or find. And that is the point! It is not easy to expand your cultural view. Just like it’s not easy to truly know and align with your muse. The most difficult things are the ones worth fighting for. 

Your challenge is to keep climbing over the walls that divide us. Chances are, there is someone on the other side who is willing and waiting to support you in your climb. Through your strength and effort to try, you might inspire them to harness their own strength to guide you and push past their own. Maybe you'll see pieces of yourself in the reflection of those you find on the other side. Pieces of yourself you never knew existed, but can utilize to explore the depth of your potential. In this climb, you're going to feel uncomfortable at times, you will have to put your character to the test, and you might not be ready to dive into a whole new community right away. But it starts with one connection and it expands from there. There is no room for your muse in a space that ignores this opportunity for expansion. You have the ability to continuously learn and grow closer to your muse by putting your fear of difference aside and trusting in the potential that lives outside of your comfort zone.

Rashanna Moss & Shannon Pike
CEO & COO, Moderna Muse

In the Midst of Chaos

We are in the midst of complete chaos.  Humanity’s ability to perpetuate evil and hate continues to plague us, our communities, and the people and places that we love.  There has been heartache, compassion, devastation, and a list of other feelings so long it can only be summed up as utter confusion.  Many of our fears and beliefs have been confirmed, as well as challenged. Amidst the complexity of recent domestic and global events, we are struggling to feel whole and united under any particular group. In every pocket of love, there is a figurative and literal stray bullet, marring our belief systems and poisoning our platforms for change. 

In this state of chaos, we are forced to come face-to-face with our own internal thoughts and prejudices.   We are rocked to our core when an act of hate is committed against those that we relate to and defend.  We see the headlines, and so many of us, from many walks of life, are thinking, “That could’ve been my brother, my aunt, my friend…me.” The emotions are a rollercoaster of social, political, and philosophical dialogue. We jump from one angle to the next, trying to find this feeling’s place, its home, its path toward a stance in the midst of so much confusion. Yet we often remain quiet, letting the stories fade from our newsfeeds, die down and become forgotten, until the next big event arises and takes over the headlines.  

Wake up, musa.  This is our world – YOUR world - we are living in. Your children will inherit this world that we have allowed and created.  You may feel helpless, or fear that you lack the knowledge to engage in difficult conversations, but we all must start somewhere. Embark on your journey with one of our simplest tokens of wisdom: start at the beginning.

At the beginning, there is love. Love in its purest form. You’re held by the being that created you, or accepted you into this world, and there is only love. Once you know love, you start to learn. And as you learn, you grow. Love. Learn. Grow. Repeat. 

The problem is, as we learn of all the beautiful things this world has to offer, we also learn of its many evils. We tend to let these evils wedge themselves between us and our ability to love, and instead of growing to love, we grow to hate. Hate is all-consuming. It spreads like wildfire. Hate clouds our ability to learn, and therefore, we stop growing. 

When is the last time you learned something? If you are asking for a better world, you must actively participate by loving and learning. You owe it to yourself and others to become educated.  You may not know exactly where you stand right now, but if you educate yourself and take the time to open your mind, listen, and relate, you will find your place.  Taking the opinions of others and adopting them as your own will not suffice.  Even if you are hearing your family or closest friends, stop and listen to your soul. Then start living what you hear. We’re willing to bet, if you look deep enough, you’ll start living primarily from a place of love. 

It is incredibly difficult to speak or advise on how to fix this chaotic mess we are in. At Moderna Muse, we know the complexities of violence and turmoil require an overhaul of our collective conscience – a seemingly impossible feat. It won’t all fall into place overnight, or in a month, or in a year. But our hope is that by starting at the core of the individual, we can slowly pick up the pieces of our society and put them back together, more united in love, education, and growth.

Pause. Question your own prejudices. Be honest with yourself. 

We are calling love into action. We want to be clear that living your muse goes far beneath the surface. It’s about becoming an enlightened, powerful, and loving human being. You have a responsibility to overcome the chaos.

With love,
Rashanna Moss & Shannon Pike
Moderna Muse