Sunday, April 24, 2016

Prince and False Dichotomies

Prince on my shelf.jpg

How do you thank someone you never met and who is loved by millions for impacting your life and creating change by just existing? For me, you do it through living your truth even more fully.

I hear that often - live your truth - pop culture likes these phrases...but what do they mean? When someone like Prince comes along who does just that, the dominant culture will heckle and laugh - this same culture that throws around profound phrases like live your truth as if it means it. And what does someone like Prince do...keep living out his truth, his spiritual blueprint, what he came here to do. It was this that moved me so profoundly when I first heard him on the radio at 11 years old. It was the first time my sister and I were living in the United States with my father

My parents divorced when I was three and my mother, sister and I moved to live in a small village in Mexico when I was eight. We had been living in this small village for the past three years and on a summer visit to Southern California, my sister decides she wants to stay and live with my dad. Being the eldest she always spoke for the two of us. So here we were, in a completely different planet with a father who was raised with strong roots in his Quechua culture and with the immigrant mantra that most come with: Venimos por ti hijita, para que seas profesional...We came for you my daughter, so that you will become a other words, we don’t need you to deviate from the path of what it means to be successful in the United States: get a good education and a good career. Even at 11, I could dig what my dad was saying...and still, there was a quiet itch just under my belly button that desired attention and wanted me to break out...I had no idea what it was calling me to do and could just barely feel it anyway. I just knew that everytime something with a completely different energy showed up in my life - like when I first heard Run DMC, The Real Roxanne and saw my friend breakdance on the dirt streets of our Mexican Village - it was magical and called me to it...but that’s another story.

My parents were also huge proponents of living out your truth.  My dad left Bolivia as a young man -  even though by doing this he was never to see his mother alive again - and ended up working with Cesar Chavez and migrant farm workers. Still today he organizes indigenous communities in Mexico in the hopes that they will preserve their traditional way of living and become economically self-sufficient. My father believed strongly that you had to break new ground, make new roads, create new truths with your life story. My mother, a nerdy girl from New England who was brilliant at all she did, including classical piano, finished her Masters degree by 22 and was off hitch-hiking across Europe, at some point landing a job with the US Embassy in South America, coming back dissatisfied and met my immigrant father on a quiet, old road in Vermont...also another story. How do I only become a good professional with parents like this?! We all have these stories that create waves of seemingly dichotomous beliefs within us.

And here begins the “dichotomy” that resides within me: I wanted to be the professional AND I also wanted to be the free-loving artist-healer who addresses social ills and injustice with her professional, artistic and intuitive sword! I wanted to do it all...I didn’t want to choose!

So here I was, this tall (according to Quechua Indian standards), skinny kid living with my dad and my aunts, uncles and cousins almost always in the same home. And then Prince happened...I heard him on the radio one day in my shared bedroom and my life changed forever. I couldn’t believe there was someone so audacious, so bold, so gorgeous and so daring with his music, his self who broke all norms of right and wrong, all false dichotomies that leave many of us in division. If you have ever truly heard his lyrics you will see how he so seamlessly broke false dichotomies: Cream...with sexual intonations and innuendos, it’s also a perfect self-healing chapter in any book on self-love and healing. Family Name addresses issues of race, racism and spirituality. Last December...asks us to question the purpose of life, the real meaning of love and our connection to the Divine all while using as a chorus the traditional Catholic prayer for the sign of the cross .
Of course, at the time I didn’t know he was addressing false dichotomies, I could just feel intuitively that I had found a living example of someone I wanted to emulate...he lived among dichotomies: addressing the strict gender roles we impose on ourselves by wearing heels, the false dichotomy that you are either liberal or conservative by professing a profound belief in one God and love-making in the same sentence, Black or White (or whatever other mix you are and they try to align you with!), rich or poor (what does this even mean?!) - even at 11 years old I desired deeply to be free of these dichotomies.  

So what are dichotomies? In Western culture there is a prevalent belief that ideas and elements of our lives have their place and often belong apart. For example, we have work and after that is over we have our family life. We have worship on a certain day of the week and then we have fun. With this being the pervasive belief in the dominant culture, as with all belief systems, it will dominate behavior and discourse, it will create constructs and rules in society, how we set up our lives, etc. Often, you’ll hear people say, “I need to find a balance between work and my family” and often they mean those areas are separate, therefore, we must divide our day up like pie and give a certain amount of time to each area. The problem comes when we run out of time and then what? Or to which do you give priority? As if priority is to be given in a linear fashion...1st place, 2nd, etc. The dominant discourse says Family First, but we don’t really mean this. Just look at our policies around paid family leave in comparison to the rest of the world. Once again policies are dictated by the belief systems of the dominant culture, which remember: our belief system often doesn’t match what we say. How is it in Western culture our lives are so dominated by these dichotomies when everything in the universe is connected, co-creates and impacts the other? I say Western, because not all cultures do this. Many indigenous cultures teach us that life is circular - my father when he wanted us to learn a lesson would tell us a story that seemed not to be related to the matter at hand and then, eventually the story would come back to the point he was making. This is not how the dominant culture operates...this would be a waste of time...after all I have a finite amount of time to give you because this slice of pie only gets so much time and you’re taking it up with this story - just get to the point! But in the story was held the belief systems, the interconnectedness of our actions and decisions, reaching all the way back to our ancestors and the impact on us of the choices they made. In the story you learned about family, spirituality, areas of cognitive function like cause and effect, history and you learned about the power of expression...your language developed giving you a better command of a tool you’ll need most of your life. I am not advocating for one or the other...each carries a gift and a wisdom and both are needed. Unfortunately, the dominant discourse does not allow for two seemingly dichotomous forms of being - Linear and Circular - to co-exist. This is where Prince came in for me. He freed us all up to do just that - to live and coexist with all energies.

And as an 11-year-old who came from two very distinct cultures, I did not want to choose.  

Two rivers ran through me between my mom and her European ancestors who arrived at the time of the Mayflower and my father and his Quechua blood that ran through the Andean mountains of Bolivia...I didn’t want to choose who I wanted to be, I wanted to embrace both. I didn’t want to choose between being a professional or being an artist...I wanted to embrace it all. And this guy just came on the stage and said - go for it! Embrace it! Learn it! Live it! Made a mistake? Great! Whaddya learn? And when you learn more, do more!

I’ve appreciated this anthem he held in front of him his entire life! Today, I am a writer, a professional, a lover of learning, a mother, a humble servant of the Baha’i Faith, a lover of all Faiths and the Eminent Light that emanated from the Prophets of old, a seeker of truth, a true wrestler of ego (she challenges me all the time!), a lover of technology and a huge believer of participating in ceremonies of our ancestors...I love all these false dichotomies that reside in me, I get to play with all of them and make new meaning and the end, I hope through my gifts and talents I can serve to stress the conversation, adding my part toward humanity going a little further along that path of brotherhood and unity in diversity.

This is why today...on the fourth day of Prince’s transition to the Spirit world...I cannot stop playing all of my vinyl that I’ve collected over the years with immense gratitude and humility at the example he left before us...
Prince all day.jpg

I can sit for days and listen to his music and be reminded of the vastness that is us...I think my reflection on the day he passed sums it up best for me…

To say I am heartbroken does not describe the feeling...I was not a fan like a traditional fan, I wasn’t ever in a fan club and don’t have his posters everywhere, those nearest to my heart know the love I carried...I had a deep admiration for how he chose to show up in the world, for how he chose to use every gift the Creator gave him to its full potential, for his unwillingness to conform, for being audacious in expressing himself fully, for being unwilling to participate in false dichotomies around spirituality and sexuality...he stressed the discourse in a way few can...for me he was the first person to create a space where the fullness of who we are can express itself unashamed...there is a shift in the energy of the universe with his transition, I feel the loss deeply and was not ready to be without his music, his presence and his least not now and here in this world...and so, I am eternally grateful for his walk in this sphere of existence, that I shared this space with him and was able to learn and be reminded to show up fully to the day with all the gifts the Creator has given me...for this and so much more, dear Prince, thank you for having the courage to step up to who you were meant to be and by doing so, giving us the freedom to do the same.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Is Technology Destroying us? Part I

“People don’t talk anymore” “Look at that family, they’re all on their devices and they don’t even communicate with each other.” These are common complaints we hear today, among friends and family. And all visual cues seem to give us this belief...looking at the image below what are your first thoughts?
Original (3888 × 2592)

Often when I use images like this in workshops the comments are similar to the one’s above - friends don’t talk anymore, they just text!
Why is that? Is technology really breaking us apart or is it a reflection of something else? If we dive in a little deeper and set technology aside for a moment, where do our thoughts stem from and what drives them?

There is a school of thought that says our belief system drives our thoughts and ultimately our behavior. So what are belief systems and how are they driving behavior? Belief systems are held in our sub-conscience and are a series of long fast held beliefs we have about ourselves. Belief systems are often created through our life experiences during the formative period of our lives, strong emotional experiences before the age of 15.

When things happen to us as children we often internalize the experience that somehow we are responsible and at fault. So for example, if parents go through a divorce and maybe a parent is not consistent in their time to visit the child or is missing for an extended period of time, unless there’s a healthy adult who can help the child process through the emotions of loss and sadness, he may internalize the experience as if he were somehow responsible. Internal dialogue may go something like this: “It’s because of me he’s not coming. If I didn’t make him mad he would come. It’s me. If I was good enough he’d come.”

Having enough of these experiences or even one experience with a strong emotional connection will leave a pattern of behavior in the brain to default to this false belief every time this experience is triggered through a similar emotion later on in adulthood. Today with neuroscience there is evidence that strong emotional experiences will trap memories and patterns of behavior in the brain. These false belief systems are stored in our subconscious and may drive thoughts or ideas we carry without us realizing it.

Our perceptions of the world we live in are formed through our belief systems and become the filter through which we view the world and ourselves. Information we receive, especially new information, moves through our filter first before we create a thought. So if my filter carries this false belief when I experience something, I will attach my false belief to the thought that is formed. Because these are subconscious, these are hard to identify and we often aren’t aware of the false belief we carry.

So back to technology. I like to look at technology as an amplifier. Not just an amplifier of the physical realm - sound, images, experiences - but of the subconscious as well. Technology has a tendency to amplify our experiences, including our thoughts. So when we engage in using technology we share our thoughts, which include our subconscious beliefs, without being aware of it. I like to think of technology as an amplifier of belief systems we already carry, not the creator of them. Some tools, like Twitter, have been used to show ills in society that have always existed, but only came to light with strong experiences. For example, when the Hunger Games was first released, there was a barrage of tweets where people expressed their anger and often racist feelings around one of the main characters being black. It’s not that these people suddenly began to feel this way when they used Twitter, they always carried these feelings deep in their sub-conscience. Twitter just allowed those false beliefs to surface more readily. Technology has  away of facilitating our lives in all areas, whether we like it or not. What we do know is change will only come if we look at those things that we fear most.

So what does it mean then when we see a group of people sitting around all on their devices and we think - “why can’t they put down their phone for one minute? People don’t even talk anymore”? Does it bring up our fear around being disconnected, or concerns we may already harbor about families not being connected the way we’d like them to be? Technology only amplifies this fear. The reality is, if a family is not connected when they use technology, chances are they weren’t very connected before technology either.

Technology is just a medium and we are the creators. Our perceptions are limited to our beliefs, our understanding and experiences. Rather than run from technology, if we embrace it more we may realize its capacity and realize that people who are around the table may be more engaged with each other than before. One of them may have researched information about the movie they just saw, shared the link and now they are all discussing their ideas based on the information they just learned. We will never shift our perceptions, all of our perceptions including the prejudices we carry in our subconscious, until we open ourselves to new experiences and develop new understandings about ourselves and situations around us. The same is true with technology. Our perceptions about technology are often formed from a lack of experience and understanding around what is technology and what are its capacities. This does not mean that we should not have limits, we should, but that is true for life in general - not just technology. So how do we change our perceptions around technology? Play  more, learn more, discuss more and be willing to experience more.