Saturday, November 17, 2018

And Who Are Your Elders?...Why Stories Matter.

 Somehow the third course carried into the late hours and the cousins table slowly dispersed into the living room and into bed. I would lay next to my sister and listen to the cups slide into each other and my tias interrupt each other and my father say – otro mas, para que se vayan a dormir – and everyone would laugh and refill cups and Spanish would mix with Quechua creating the background to my dreams. - Excerpt from the upcoming An Amancaya Life

I grew up in a family of storytellers. Both sides of my family told stories, though in very different ways. My mother would keep us enthralled in car rides or while tucking us in bed with stories of her dog Scoutie and the many adventures of her and her brothers with their father in New England. My mother's sister would show me letters from our early ancestors and of the difficulties they faced as the first European pilgrims in North America. My father's stories were always told over food and with his sisters and brother all around the table talking over each other adding details to their stories and making them larger than life. They would tell of the mischief they made in their home back in Bolivia where my grandmother had lots of land. They would tell of the many baskets of fruit and vegetables they harvested, so much so that they often took big baskets to the church, to widows and elders who might be in need. These stories became the backdrop of my life. These stories held the dreams of my elders, their wishes and desires and most importantly, their failures and triumphs, which spoke of the nature of life - filled with injustices and unexpected rewards.

These are the stories of our elders, those who made strides and great efforts before us. Telling our stories keeps us connected to each other and also reminds us of sacrifices made for us by those we didn't even know and oftentimes weren't related to.

The narrative of working hard and getting ahead in life is a powerful one and if we believe that this is all we have to do, then we look around us and make a lot of judgements about those who are not "getting ahead" in life. Thankfully, once again, stories save us from ourselves and these false narratives we tell ourselves and society. Stories tell a fuller truth and our lives become the complex reality of good vs evil all wrapped in one.

And so, it was with great intrigue that I came across some of these stories in this new part of California that I have the blessing to make my home (Resource of African-Americans in Santa Cruz). As my daughter and I and a good friend explored the Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz, lovingly referred to as the MAH, we came across some unexpected stories that once again reshaped our thinking around this myth of
Story of Dave Boffman in Spanish
meritocracy. We learned about Dave Boffman who was an enslaved man in Kentucky and who traveled to California with the slaveowner of the plantation he lived on. Boffman was able to earn enough money to buy his freedom, he bought a house, leased a saw mill and began working to mill timber. He even purchased a small ranch in Rodeo Gulch, becoming one of the first African-American land owners in Santa Cruz. The sheriff at the time accused him of stealing a horse. As Blacks were not allowed to testify in court during the 1800s, he lost everything and spent the rest of his life in a shack. Boffman's story contradicts the myth of African-American's not working hard enough and instead demonstrates how systematic racism created conditions of oppression and loss of wealth.

Another elder we learned about was Louden Nelson, also enslaved from North Carolina who came to
Tombstone of London Nelson
California with the slaveowner. He also was able to buy his freedom and worked in odd jobs while growing fruits and vegetables on his farm. He was also able to buy land by the San Lorenzo River. Nelson noticed how children in Santa Cruz could only go to school when their parents could pay and of course, school was restricted only for white children. Having never been allowed to go to school to receive formal education and being stripped of his ancestral knowledge, Nelson recognized the value of education. Finally, the all white school board shut down public schools unwilling to fund them any longer. Upon his death, Nelson bequeathed his entire estate to the school children of Santa Cruz, therefore allowing public schools to open once again. Another example that demonstrates how the spirit of a people cannot be destroyed, and despite the conditions of oppression that stripped him of the right to an education, Nelson chose a nobler path of serving all students in public education with his endowment.

And finally, we were able to recently connect with some of the elders of the Amah Mutsun Tribe, whose land Santa Cruz was built on.

When I met Catherine, I told her my name.
Ymasumac?, she said.
Yes, I answered.
Like from Pachamama and Mama Occlo.

I had never known anyone to know the names of my ancestors guides, much less upon first meeting
Author with a couple of elders from the Amah Mutsun Tribe
Author with Catherine and her family
each other. We immediately hugged in sisterhood and spent over an hour connecting over dreams, tears, and stories. We knew our stories were long ago connected through shared ancestry of struggle, resilience and hope and this created an immediate bond. We knew we had long ago met and we were meant to teach each other again of all that was lost. I also knew it is with gentle feet that I need to walk these Santa Cruz mountains because all of it was lost to the Amah Mutsun and that needs to be honored. How do we right these wrongs? Building relationships and friendships is the beginning...and you let love lead.

You see, these stories keep us and our walk sacred. These stories of our elders reminds us of the truth of injustice, of struggle, of loss, of triumph and of victories to come. They keep us humble and keep us moving forward. When we have nothing else, we have stories and they connect us to our elders and to each other.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Perception Drives Beliefs which Alter Reality

I was preparing a for a class recently at the university where I teach a course on adolescence and we were going to talk about the school system. Having been raised in two very distinct cultures: Indigenous-Latino with Quechua roots and European American who's ancestors came two years after the first pilgrims came to North America, I am highly conscious of the filters with which we view the world and how they are shaped by our perceptions, which in turn are deeply impacted by our belief systems and highly impacted by our cultural references that impact norms and standards. So, when I think of reality, I am always looking for multiple realities knowing that it highly depends on the doorway of your perception.

When we talk about the U.S. system of education, we cannot divorce this from these multiple realities. We cannot speak about a system of education as if it holds only one window in which we all look through. Our experiences in any system of education will depend highly on the door in which we walk in.  As I researched for my class, I came across a letter from the interactions between the early European pilgrims and the Indigenous people of the Eastern states of North America. It was a response from one of the tribal elders to the colonists. In this letter the elder mentions an invitation made by the colonists for the tribe to send their brightest men to attend the college of the colonists. The tribe responded and a few of their men were sent. Upon returning to the tribe, these young men found their new found skills to be of no use and felt useless in face of the needs of the tribe. The elder mentions this in the letter and in turn invites the colonists to send them their brightest and best young men to be educated by the tribe. The colonists never respond to this invitation.

The interactions of this letter made me think how we define success and value according to our perceptions of reality and belief systems. If we value individualism, competition, and assertiveness than we may very well find success in our educational system as this is the doorway in which it was set up with a set of Western values and norms. But, as the letter suggests, if you enter through a different doorway, as did the elder's young men, then these offer very little value to the survival of your family and more importantly, tribe. If the colonists entered through the doorway of the tribal people on whose land they were building a nation, they might have found that instead of individualism, competition and assertiveness, they would find success through developing a collectivist approach to their tasks in which collectivism, collaboration and group consensus would take precedence. 

So, this is interesting historically, but what are the implications for today? 

Our schools are set up with a learning culture that ultimately, at its core, believes in individualism, competing and striving to be at the top and asserting yourself over others. If you walk in through this doorway and you hold these beliefs to be true, then you could do well. But if you are like me, and either you walk in two worlds in which one is collectivistic and one is individualistic, it is much harder to choose which doorway to walk through. One doorway sacrifices the other. 

So what to do?

When I think of this seemingly conundrum, there are two shifts that I think need to be a part of the change we all seek in the educational system and even in our home learning cultures. 

Multiple Doorways

It is important to recognize that many of us are walking through different doorways into a learning space. I don't mean different doorways in the sense that we are all individuals and with different strengths and weaknesses. I mean collectively, groups have different realities according to their cultural groups and the norms and beliefs of those groups that shape their world view and value system as in the example shared in the letter. 

Many students walk in through different doorways according to their culture and those things valued by each may differ than the school's dominant culture. This may seem small at first, but placing a student in between two cultures can create a clash, which without guidance, can cause an inner conflict. They might be left feeling that they have to choose one doorway to enter into the educational realm successfully, which can by its very nature ask them to sacrifice the other. 

Couple this conflict with the history of oppression humanity has experienced in various ways, in particular through its experiences of colonialism, and you have another layer of right and wrong. The right doorway to enter is through the dominant culture where you develop a strong sense of self and let that self-drive push you through to the top: the top of your class, your team, your group, your class, your art, your sport, your field, etc, etc, etc. This doorway will lead to success as defined by Western standards. 

We can help students with this conflict in two ways: 

One is to understand that these multiple doorways exist. This alone helps students realize that this conflict is not about them being inherently flawed for not finding the right way to succeed. Instead they can begin to work through the gifts and challenges of each doorway and help schools stretch into larger versions of excellence and success. Challenge the system to be more and ultimately, begin questioning itself.

Two, explore the history of oppression and its impact on all people. It did not only impact people of color negatively, those of European descent lost their humanity in order to ride the wave of success of colonialism. Explore with students how this oppression was systemized and shows up today in our school system, our neighborhoods, housing, etc. An excellent article on the Myth of Meritocracy cites a research study in which middle schoolers who came from historically oppressed communities did well academically until they reached the 7th grade. In 7th grade, right at the time when they begin to form a sense of cultural identity, they see the conditions of their home community group and because meritocracy is so strong in the dominant culture of the United States, they falsely believe the conditions of their people are because of an inherent flaw within them. Self-identifying with the negative stereotypes told about their cultural group, they fall into behaviors that ultimately harm them. The research study found that by empowering students with the truth of systematic oppression, students begin to realize it is a systemic condition and can be changed. Students begin to see themselves as protagonists of change, able to shift the reality of the conditions in which they live. 

Seeking Truth Through Consultation

Another important shift is moving away from dichotomous thinking. We currently live in a society

Image of outline of two heads facing each other
that is strongly polarized by right and wrong, yes and no, and when we think in these terms no one wins. Like a child moving through adolescence, we can try and hold onto these false dichotomies of right and wrong in an effort to find calm and balance in a world that increasingly feels unbalanced. As humanity collectively moves through the stage of adolescence, we will increasingly find ourselves needing to move away from simple answers of yes and no, to searching through the complexity of human experiences for the truth. This search for truth will require a new tool that can elevate our conversations from finger-pointing that runs on fear and pain, to a recognition of the oneness of humanity and the inherent value that each human soul has something of deep value to contribute. 

I have found the tool of consultation to be of great value for me and my family as we try and sift through the diverse cultures and belief systems that run through our family to the truth. Along with many other families, the hard realities of the society we live in have impacted us deeply and we at times also feel lost and confused. And, like other families, with historical oppression running deep in our blood, one can feel overwhelmed by the pain and anger that can well up at the callous effects this oppression can have on family relations and with larger society. The effects of oppression can show up in mental illness, in a false sense of isolation and division among loved ones, self-identifying with stereotypes and often feeling not good enough. These have all shown up at my doorstep either through familial experiences or with the many noble souls I get to engage with in healing work who try to shift through the mire of pain, fear and anger that wells up inside of them. 

I use consultation in the tradition of the Baha'i Faith, which asks the participants to detach from hoped for outcomes and instead to enter the consultation with a pure heart in search of truth. 
The first condition is absolute love and harmony - 'Abdu'l-Bahá 
As humanity moves through the mire of difficulties that lies before it, we can no longer hope to strong arm each other in believing that there is only one of us who is right. We must begin the path of maturity in which we recognize that humans are complex beings with many paths and doorways traveling through and around them. That answers lie in learning from each other and with each other. That truth will only come when we stop holding onto our version of reality as the only version. When we begin to recognize, that maybe there are multiple ways to view and experience the world, and to learn from each other about these multiple ways might mean suspending the truth as we know it with an open heart for a new truth to show up. 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

When healing brings pain: Go to the gym, Make a sandwich, Meditate

"The wound is the place where the light enters you" - Rumi

Recently, when working with a client we were opening a very tender area that brought out a great deal of pain. Not hesitating, and also not fully understanding, my client walked forward into the pain. A broken relationship opened up the wound and now he stood before its doorway and had only to enter and hear its voice. As he began to walk forward the cries, tension and pull of pain unfolded and began to envelope him and he soon found himself pulling back out and standing on the precipice in quiet awe of the well of grief he held inside.
We reflected after on the experience and the awesome stretch of emotions that were held in what seemed to be the cavity of his chest. He also shared his hesitation in the face of such deep pain.

I understand this hesitation, have walked it many times before, and what I have found is that healing is very much like going to the gym, making a sandwich and meditating on a mountain top all at once!

Going to the gym 

When people ask me if they can work with me in healing work, I am, of course, honored and humbled. The next question is usually, how often we should meet. Everyone's healing journey is unique and within each of us is the teacher and healer of this journey. We often, however, initially need a guide who has traversed these grounds before and can walk us through the dark corners and help bring in the light. To do this, we must treat it like going to the gym. 

If I want to develop my muscles, I cannot hope to do this by going to the gym once a month. It must instead become a consistent practice of 2-3 times a week on a regular basis to begin building my muscles, develop a routine and practice that I would most likely carry into my everyday walk of building up my physique. 

So too with the work of the spirit. We cannot hope to open our hearts to love by only attending to our hearts once a month. We must instead make it a consistent practice of going into those tender places where the heart hurts the most and begin opening it up. By walking into the pain every single week during a healing session, we begin to build and widen our tolerance for pain. This stretching out of our capacity to endure pain, also stretches out our capacity to love. Enduring pain does not mean holding your breath and waiting until its over, that only builds more walls, which may keep out the pain for a while, but it will also keep out love, tenderness, kindness, compassion and it will keep it from the one who needs it most of all, ourself. 

Walking into pain and grief says, I believe in you...I trust you...I have faith in you and your capacity to heal and walk into the light. 

By consistently facing and exploring those places within us that are tender, bring up the wells of tears and open up big fears about who we think we are...builds our endurance to hold more space for these hard emotions. When we can hold space for hard emotions for ourselves, we can begin to hold space for others and all of their emotions without making it about us...instead we just love those who are in front of us with all of their raw emotion...we can bring in the light, as we did for ourself during every healing session. 

Just like working out at the gym at a consistent pace begins to develop our muscles creating strength, it also stretches our limbs and makes us more limber, and lifts our spirits with overall health. So too does healing over time...we cannot hope to sit in front of others and all of their baggage and love them if we cannot first learn to love the beautiful creation within us that is behind our own baggage. 

Each weekly healing session when we sit with our pain and fear even if just a little bit longer each time, builds our endurance for pain, increasing the depth of our capacity to love. 

Making a Sandwich
Quote: The troubles of this world shall pass, and what we have left is what we made of our souls. Shoghi Effendi

I often refer to healing as making a sandwich. We go into our bodies by breathing into the pain and fear, but we must also create new mental mindsets and begin to understand the changes we are creating within us. Healing is not just about releasing emotion or trauma, it is also about understanding the world with a different mental frame. 

During healing sessions, once the pain or fear has lifted a bit, my clients and I discuss what is the shift that is taking place. For example, when someone I love is commenting on my behavior in a negative way and telling me all the things that are wrong with me, it can be deeply hurtful and I might think what they're saying is true. I often ask my clients to do two things:

One, check in - take a moment to do an inventory of yourself. Is there truth to what they're saying? Is there something I need to look at within myself? And if there is, then that is my focus, nothing else. No need to defend, argue, challenge, deflect. Just a humble acknowledgment that maybe there are some areas of growth I need to continue looking at. 

And if they continue or I don't see those faults they point out. 

Two, turn the mirror - sometimes, when others (including ourselves) point out faults in their loved ones, they are very often saying out loud what they think about themselves. We often see the world through the lens in which we see ourselves. If we take in what people say about us as truths it is as if there were a mirror being held in front of us and we're looking at ourselves the way they see us - it can be very depressing! If we have checked in and know what they are saying is not our truth, then turn the mirror around...the reality is they may very well be talking about how they see themselves. So what then should be our response? Compassion and boundaries. How painful it is to think negatively about oneself - I know, I'm guilty of having done this to myself as well! And how grateful I am for people who showed me a great deal of love and compassion when I was hard on myself, instead of anger and defensiveness. I am also grateful for when people responded with strong boundaries encased in love. Depending on the situation if someone is railing on and on about how awful I am or what I have done wrong that is so deplorable my response might be, Hmm, got it. Talk to you later. And leave.

It is important to create mental frames that support your healing path: Someone's dumping their garbage is really just that, their garbage they haven't let go about themselves. My mind is a great storyteller and it often creates stories about what is happening in front of me that may not be true and usually places the world against me. Our mind's storytelling language can have phrases like: No one wants me. They probably don't want to be my friend. He probably doesn't care about me. 
Time to set up...Boundaries. I was not created to be someone's garbage pail to deposit all their bad feelings on and it is up to me to be clear about when to stand up for justice and say no. Saying no to abusive behavior towards me or someone else is taking a stand for justice. Boundaries help me stay in my power base.   

Meditating on a mountain top

Well, it doesn't have to be a mountain top...but meditation brings in the mystic and spiritual quality of healing. Healing is after all a power that is generated from spirit and is not really of the material realm. Yes, healing has physical manifestations of feeling lighter, happier and healthier overall. But ultimately, healing is mystical in nature and comes from a force that both animates and destroys the you know it is a powerful energy!

During the healing process when I work with clients and they have opened up a tender place, a wound, a traumatic memory...after all the hard emotions have spilled out and false beliefs have been aired, I ask them to bring in the noble self. This noble self is our highest nature...whatever this Divine Force is that animates the is the highest reflection of this Divine Force's creation within us.

Recognizing and accessing this noble self within is essential in the healing process - how else do we know who we are becoming? More importantly, as we begin to recognize our own nobility, we begin to see the nobility in others. It becomes the eyes in which we see the world!

There are, I'm sure, many ways to access and recognize this noble soul and meditation is one of those ways. Meditation has often been hijacked by the West to mean sitting in lotus position with eyes closed in a temple or in some hilltop in Malibu. Meditation can be a walking prayer, a hum when you work, a way of seeing the world through spiritual eyes, a conscious effort to stay in gratitude, a willingness to recognize the sacred act of opening up places within us that scare us. Meditation can be the consciousness of the energy that binds us to those we love and to those we don't yet know we love. It is the recognition that there is a Divine Source that participates in all of life's movements and is present in every effort to create more love, bring in more light and ultimately, is the balm of healing.

When we bring these three essential practices into our healing work, we begin to walk with more wholeness and see the world in a wider embrace of love...which we actively participate in.

So when healing brings in pain...I go to the gym, make a sandwich and is after all, a lot of work to participate in the recreation of oneself!

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Healing Work: Why Change? Why Now?

Your Task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. - Rumi

I have been on a conscious healing journey since I was thirteen. I say conscious, because I think it began earlier, like eight, but I really sought out change when I was thirteen. When I began this journey I initially thought - there has to be something else other than the reality I have been given. This is not to say I didn't have loving parents, because I did and still do. I have two amazing human beings with world-embracing visions and a deep commitment and love for humanity who raised me. And yet, there were also deep traumas and wounds that needed attention and healing within me. Thirty years later, I find myself deep in this healing work still. Yes, I now work with others in accompanying them on their own healing journey as an intuitive healer, but I continue on my own healing journey as well. As I reflect today on this continued journey I realize it's purpose is not healing as defined by Western healing practices that treats a symptom of a malaise. It is instead a more holistic approach to healing that looks at the system, asks questions, and creates change where the system is no longer functioning to serve the human being it sustains at its highest level. What does this mean?

Here's how I broke it down in my own quest to understand what healing looks like for me today.

Our Blueprint  

We are born with the nobility and gift of who we are from the start. Often, when working with clients, I ask them to consider that this noble part of who they are is still intact and somewhere within them. One of the ways I consider how this noble part might look is by making the following statement: 

When the Creator thought of me, whoever the Creator thought of when He created Ymasumac, that is who I am at my essence, at my highest self.  

What flows from this statement has to be love at its highest expression. Why? Because, whoever the Creator is - beyond definitions of masculinity and femininity - is a being who created the mountains, the ocean, the rivers and forests, all of this majesty...whoever this Being is, also created me. So I have to be pretty fantastic. Why is it then, that I don't feel this way? Why don't I see my majesty and nobility? 

Within us our parents, family, community build a blueprint of who we are informed by their own blueprints and the forces around them. This is the task of raising a child, you put all that you have in them and as you learn more, more gets put in them. If all that I have in me is also impacted by the forces of the world around me, then some false beliefs, misconceptions and other people's beliefs about who I am inevitably become a part of this blueprint. 
When you layer in trauma in your blueprint, a false sense of who you are becomes even more embedded as the emotional stranglehold of abuse settles into your bones and because of the spiritual immaturity of our current society, taboos are created around issues like sexual abuse, addiction, etc and there is no where to air out these abuses and so they settle in like truths deep in our blueprint. 
When you further layer in social injustices, where entire social systems are created to subjugate one people over another, create false truths about the equality of men and women, idealize one body type over another, the impact this has on our blueprint becomes imprinted in our DNA and passed on between generations silently embedding itself into our developing psyche and sense of self.

So it is no wonder then, that we walk out of our childhood sometimes bleary eyed or with a strong sense of urgency to create change. We are so afraid to have these conversations because we don't want to disrupt the tender relationship we have with those who raised us. Who are we to question those who ensured our survival as children? Who are we to question those who with all that was within them and with all they could muster gave us everything they had? We aren't. We are questioning the false beliefs, the half truths, the lies laying wait deep within us every time we try to make a move toward our truer self, only to be shut down by guilt, control and fear - all tools of oppressors. We mistake this pain and suffering as a sign of we are doing something wrong and we run back to the comfort of what we know, rather than consider that maybe, maybe this pain and suffering is the releasing of an old shell that in its stead seeks something new.

Dismantling the Old Blueprint

And so this is healing work, at all levels, healing work is about releasing something that no longer serves us and takes us away from our truer self to place in its stead something new and closer to truth. Of course, for many of us, me included, this begins with the healing of traumas. The leftover residue of abuse never goes away, it just finds a place within the folds of our body and makes a home. And then, like toxic waste, it seeps into the tender places of our system and silently wreaks havoc. This havoc can show up as physical illness. This havoc can also show up in how we view ourselves and the things we say to ourselves. Some of the most universal falsehoods unearthed in the sacred space of healing work have been: I'll never be good enough. No one is ever going to want me. I will always be alone. I am always going to fail. On the surface, most of us would say, no way, this is isn't true, I don't feel this way about myself. But these false beliefs are not on the surface. They are in our subconscious, a terrain we often don't visit, except in our dreams and even those sometimes terrify us.
I am not here to tell you how to heal your false beliefs or whether or not you should, that is a deeply personal decision and journey. I can only share what I have learned after thirty years of deep diving into my subconscious to unearth all those falsehoods that were placed in me sometimes by the hands of those I love most, sometimes by the hands of those who should never be trusted with the tender hearts of children and sometimes by a society that refuses to acknowledge or see the truth of who I am and builds social constructs to remind me daily that I am not enough. Whatever the case, I dove in, because I had to find another reality.

Initially, for me, healing work began to address a gnawing inside of me that something wasn't right and that I needed change. This, of course, was manifesting itself everywhere in rebellious behavior and aggressions as a teenager. As I began to do the healing work diligently with a healer once a week, I found that what I was uncovering was an entire universe within me that was built to sustain who I am. There were parts of this universe that I loved: The strength and resiliency of my ancestors, the constant presence of my grandmothers even though I had never met them in the physical world, the truth that I belonged to a universal family and that I had spiritual ancestors who had sacrificed and died for my well-being. There were also parts of this universe that manifested great pain and massive falsehoods: A sexual assault that remained hidden and forgotten by everyone except me leaving me feeling a deep void of loss and angst, a belief of not belonging as there was no social construct for who I was being I was neither Indigenous-Latina-European and with racial prejudice ripping through the core of all of this I always grew up on the outside of any community as no one would fully take me in.
These all made up part of my blueprint and the falsehoods needed dismantling as they were no longer serving me. And so I was diligent about the healing work. Focused on the dismantling. Despite the large impact it had on my familial systems, I continued, because I could not live with a full sense of who I was so long as who I was was defined by a mirror covered in dust. When we dismantle old blueprints, everyone gets challenged. Not outrightly, after all, it is my healing work, not theirs. But my behaviors change, my perceptions shift and this impacts my outer reality and relationships. And so much of it is in a mode of growth and learning, which means lots of mishaps and mistakes are made - by everyone - and this requires a strong sense of resiliency, tolerance and acceptance - by everyone, but mostly by me. There were some steady forces that held through the healing process - for me primarily my sister, mother and husband - they didn't understand my healing work most of the time, but they were resilient, tolerant and accepting of me and my path and this I began to realize, became a new teacher for me...

While simultaneously dismantling an old blueprint, I was also building a new one.

Building a New Blueprint

We cannot take away something and not put something new in its stead. Something always grows and develops in the absence or removal of something else. What is important is that whatever grows in the place of what was removed, be done thoughtfully and with purpose. And so, as I dismantled this
Author reflecting in the distance
Author in a state of convergence
old blueprint, I realized I was building up a new one at the same time. Maybe not at the same rate and at times I felt rather lost. I knew the old way of doing things wasn't an option, but there wasn't anything clearly in front of me to put in its place. This place is where we most develop our spiritual qualities and attributes, which become cornerstones in our new blueprint. 
Spirit time is different than time in a material realm. Spirit time can feel slow and then all of the sudden it is too fast! So it requires different feet to walk with and a different sense of time. It requires a deep abiding trust that there is a force in this universe - that many of us have defined as the Creator - that ultimately wants our highest light to come forth. This trust stretches us out, asks us to love deeper, hold on longer and be present more, because when growth manifests itself, sometimes it can be all at once and that can require humility and gratitude to keep holding the steady pace of what I have come to now know as love. 
So love becomes the foundation of my new blueprint, real love. Not love that demands expectations or rewards for hard-work. Not love that says I did this, so you do that. Not love that says success looks like this and anything short of this is failure. It is a love that has long-vision, that demands more of us and yet nothing at all, that sees us completely and knows where there's more need of growth, it's a love that exists outside of false dichotomies and in the place of constant search for is a love that is absolute.

When the Healing is Done

As I opened up new wounds, let go of pent up emotions, processed through the hard trauma abusive systems can leave in place, released false beliefs and cleared out this old blueprint; I steadfastly in its place put new truths of wholeness, nobility, faith, and a new kind of love and compassion, transformation came slow and than all at once. 

Recently, I was given an opportunity to straddle two worlds at once: Building and constructing my life's calling through writing, healing and education and serving my Faith community full-time. Neither of these are exclusive, they inform each other all the time. As a Baha'i, I have a faith community that asks us to grow constantly and release old belief systems that no longer serve us or humanity. It asks us to use tools like consultation and to carry qualities like a humble posture of learning in all that we do. As I reflected on the opportunity before me, my heart sang, my home-base supported me - so why then, was I wracked with deep pangs of guilt and fear? It was here that I realized, the continuous work of wrestling with the forces of disintegration and integration. These destructive and constructive forces are happening all around us as we see old systems become quickly dismantled and new ones painstakingly built in its stead. For example, in education the old system of educating through a teacher that stands at the helm of learning to impart knowledge on their students is quickly giving way to a new and developing system where the teacher serves as a guide and facilitator of learning, while students become active agents of their own learning. What this demands is not only a release in structure, but in how teachers and students carry themselves, the qualities they exhibit and express need to shift dramatically. This can cause confusion, chaos and upend emotions distilling a lot of fear and pain as the disintegration and integration process takes place.

So too was this new opportunity upending emotions, creating confusion and chaos in an old blueprint that doesn't understand the new reality I'm walking into. I have to say, I too don't know the new reality I'm walking into, but I am utilizing all of the tools I have been building into my new blueprint to help me with this walk. As I accepted this opportunity, forces from my old blueprint welled up inside of me and around me questioning all of my choices, going back years, unearthing false beliefs and norms of behavior. This old blueprint uses tools like guilt and fear to wrangle back control and compliance. This old blueprint, heavily impacted by colonization, does not believe we are noble human beings with the universe folded within us and if it attempts to entertain this idea, it only does it in theory, not as a reality we walk daily. Once I realized these feelings I was having were just the natural outcome of the destructive forces disintegrating and the constructive forces integrating within me, I was able to release and allow the process to happen. 

Today, I understand that this healing work is not just about the releasing of the old blueprint that keeps so many of us captive in a colonized past where nobility is based on material wealth and bloodline. It is also a sacred act, where the healing of the false beliefs of the past, release our ancestors from this bondage and ensure the future generation can take their righteous place among the noble ranks of humanity.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Finding Purpose in a World that Demands Perfection

I have been deeply engaged in between worlds lately and though this is not unusual for me as I've straddled two cultures my entire life being bi-racial, in this case the world I've been engaged with is the spirit world. This may seem like an odd statement, but with the passing of my mother-in-law I have been reflecting a lot on how the spirit shows up in this world.

My mother-in-law was from a people with a profound history of struggle, spiritual triumph and
Grandma Davis with her mother, son and grandchildren
Grandma Davis standing behind her mother
steadfastness. She was from the African-American people of Louisiana, the Cherokee and also European-American. When you come from a people that have undergone such strong oppression and have demonstrated such clear resistance through their acts of courage and faith, you cannot help but express this courage and faith through a heart that is strong with an almost boundless kindness that gives constantly. This was my experience of her from the moment I met her, she had boundless energy and was in constant motion, usually helping and serving others. And her strength was a characteristic I will never forget, she carried it with her in every word and every stance she took in the world. So as she began her transition to the spirit world I began to see less movement, a stillness took over and a quietness unlike her nature.
The day we went to the hospital and her transition had taken place I saw what an elder from the Mohican Nation meant by our body being an earthsuit. Our earthsuit, it is the body we were given upon our soul's entrance into this world. Our earthsuit, it is the way our soul travels this world and is animated by our soul's expression. The many different shapes, colors, sizes and atrributes of earthsuits is a reflection of the Creator's love for and desire to see diversity in all things. So on this day, I saw my mother-in-law's earthsuit clearly absent of it's animating force...the strength, the steadfastness of faith and the constant motion of the heart to lean towards kindness...all these attributes of the spirit were no longer present and what was left behind was the beautiful earthsuit who had with constant devotion carried her soul through this world.

What then is our purpose in this life if that which is the essence of who we are is invisible and leaves upon our earthly life's completion of it's mission?

I also think of the role suffering and sacrifice carry in developing this purpose. After all, so many of us experience both suffering and sacrifice during this lifetime and some groups experience this more than others. In thinking of these elements of life and how they showed up in my mother-in-law's life, I am deeply moved by the service that followed her transition. The focus of the preacher and all of those who spoke, was not of the mountains of physical wealth she may or may not have accumulated, but what she did to serve others, to uplift those in need, to keep her children and grand-children close to Spirit and even the joy she took in getting lost!

This journey of a life made me think of the following quote...
" a certain gratitude and respect in the hearts of children for those who have given them life and sent their souls out on the eternal journey towards their Creator." - Shoghi Effendi
This made me reflect on the role parents have to play and that after the age of maturity the role changes to guide, not direct mentor. So then my task as the daughter, is one of gratitude for what my parents were able to do and then to carry forward in developing the capacities of my spirit. This movement to gratitude is exactly that, a movement. We so often want to jump right to gratitude and ignore the pain, anger and sometimes even trauma that might reside in our earthsuit from poor choices made by the adults in our lives as children. As someone who understands the walk of healing and the work, time and attention it demands, I completely believe this is a process and not an end result. This does not mean you do not arrive a new sense of self, free of burdening thoughts and just means new areas demanding growth is uncovered demanding even greater focus and attention. Growth is a way of walking, very different than the insistence of perfection.

This brought my thoughts to another reflection: how does our purpose develop?

In a material world we strive for perfection, it is almost demanded of us as we build our buildings and ensure they are to code for failure of this could prove disastrous or surgical procedures demand exactness for the failure to a precise surgical procedure could reek havoc on the body. When we try to apply this same demand on the world of spirit it becomes much more difficult, almost impossible. The spirit world is a world of growth, not immediate perfection...we strive for perfection, but we cannot demand perfection as an immediate response, we must create conditions that allow us to move closer to perfection. For example, we cannot take a seed and demand it be a plant, we must create the conditions and nurture this plant to fulfill it's greatest potential and expression of perfection - which for each plant is unique - even among the same species. Forcing perfection of a seed will only lead to its destruction and forever crippling it reaching its true potential.

How then do we demand perfection of spirit beings?

I know this may sound like "new age" talk to call us spirit beings, but watch anyone transition out of this life and you know the animating force of our earthsuit comes from some invisible power we carry. How then can we demand of this force immediate perfection in its expression? Just like the seed that holds its inherent power and capacity within, the expression of this power and capacity comes with time and nurturing.

We must then instead focus our time and energy on nurturing within us and others the potential of their true nature, which lies deep within their soul and even they themselves may not be aware of its true capacity. How to do this then? I follow the cues of those who have suffered greatly and have risen with boundless joy. I also follow the cues of the world of nature as an example of growth and development.

How does suffering and sacrifice create conditions for growth? In the world of nature these are the necessary conditions for any growth to take place: A plant sacrifices the seed for the shoot to break out and begin to grow, muscles rip and stretch with every workout to sacrifice its current state in search of a stronger and more powerful state. We see this same expression of growth in those who have suffered greatly: In the Americas indigenous people have been recipients of grave injustices, displacement from their traditional lands, disruption in their ceremonial practices that understood the delicate balance between the spirit and the material world and all but complete obliteration of their scientific discoveries. How do they respond? Resistance shows up in their ceremonies continuing underground which develops a deep faith in these practices of their ancestors. Resistance shows up in the way in which they continue to teach their children to maintain their noble practices of communal and collaborative living, the sharing of their resources and knowledge freely because wisdom is not a commodity that should be bought or sold, and an understanding of the power of storytelling encased
in humility and joy to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. Organizing using 21st Century
Picture of logo for white bison a non-profit organization
Non-Profit organization offering healing
tools, like White Bison, to share the knowledge and wisdom for healing. These, just some of the ways a people have resisted total annihilation through colonization and its attempted destruction of their cultures and assimilation. These practices require a deep faith in the potential of their people and a sacrifice of how things were to the creation of something new with the qualities and attributes of their former civilizations blending and shaping a new world. Like the seed always carried inherent within itself the qualities of its true potential, what was sacrificed was the shell of the seed, not the qualities and potential. This is the gift of those who have suffered and sacrificed: they sacrifice the former state of expression, without sacrificing the noble qualities that were held inherently within them as a people.

This new expression of the inherent nobility of indigenous people does not come immediately, it comes with nurturing and the creation of conditions that allow their inherent qualities of a people to arise to the forefront. One of the dominant qualities I think of that is often held within indigenous cultures, mine included, is that of humility. We take joy in the accomplishments of the group and not that of the individual. There is recognition in the web of interdependence among all living beings and this interdependence is to be celebrated knowing we play a role within this web. There is a time where an individual member might shine, always this is with an acknowledgment of the group that holds them up. How this beautiful quality within this noble people will show up in the 21st century we are yet to see fully expressed, but when it does it will play a dynamic role in the reshaping of society to reflect its more honorable qualities.

What then is my purpose?

To play my part in developing and cultivating these noble qualities within me and allow them to show up through my chosen craft, my highest desire, what I am curious about, what calls to me that allows the expression of these distinguished qualities I carry within. And this, this is not something that happens immediately nor with is something that happens overtime with focused attention and my creating conditions to support their development. Anytime I demand perfection of myself or others, I am in danger of disrupting this tender process of growth by damaging the conditions of growth with my impatience that is often triggered by fear leaving a lasting impact on the expression of my gifts.

When I transition from this earthly life, I too will carry with me all the beauty and grace I chose to cultivate and develop...I hope to not leave behind a legacy of perfection, but that of a constant and humble effort.

Monday, June 25, 2018

People become expendable in a consumer driven society

"Children are the most precious treasure a community can possess, for in them are the promise and guarantee of the future. They bear the seeds of the character of future society which is largely shaped by what the adults constituting the community do or fail to do with respect to children. They are a trust no community can neglect with impunity. An all-embracing love of children, the manner of treating them, the quality of the attention shown them, the spirit of adult behavior toward them—these are all among the vital aspects of the requisite attitude." - Baha'i

Like so many of us, I too have been reflecting on separation of families at the United States border as families seek asylum and wondering, how do I respond? What is my role? How can I be of most service? And as information passes over my phone I am deeply troubled by the narrative that is shaping this conversation...

The conditions of the detention centers are good        They have clean beds, go to classes, play games                    They are held in cages        Children are in good spirits         They have foils for blankets

It seems that what is driving the narrative is volatile and emotionally driven language, the importance of the physical conditions in which the children are placed and when attention is given to any reference to the children's emotional well-being it is in the most glib of phrases. And what is most missing, is the voice of immigrants from people of non-Western descent. This is of vast concern and yet, should not surprise us. Our personal lives often reflect our outer reality. In a world in which value is measured by material means and wealth, our barometer becomes limited to the physical realm: Do we have potable water and food? Do we have a bed (of Western standards) and do the conditions of my space mirror the standard imposed by the West? Well-being becomes measured against a Western standard of health: Physical conditions, check. Neutral emotional conditions, check. 

In the dialogue I have engaged in over immigration, especially childhood separation from parents, the physical conditions are never central to the experience and the emotions are far from neutral. 

In the vast healing work I have engaged in over the past twenty-five years, both my own and that of others, here is what I have learned about childhood separation: 
Photo by Huyen Nguyen on Unsplash

The body holds the memory 

Our bodies are our greatest gifts in this material realm and their sole responsibility is to allow our spirit to walk this world. In this walk we will encounter so many challenges and difficulties, deep trials and tribulations, and our body will record them all. 

Your story is not lost. It is yours to recover and tell.

My sister & I were young children when we fled our country due to religious persecution. My father along with many other Baha’is was imprisoned, tortured & eventually killed for being a Baha’i, and I was expelled from elementary school for the same reason. As Baha’is we weren’t allowed to get a passport to leave our country, so we fled with a tiny backpack with a group of other Baha’is in the dead of night. We traveled on camelback and on foot with very little food for an entire week with the constant fear of being caught & sent back to Iran. Once we arrived at the border in Pakistan, fully exhausted & completely malnourished, we were arrested and put in prison for being illegal immigrants. I can NOT imagine being separated from my mother in that fearful moment after everything we had been through. Eventually, through the efforts of the UN, we were released, given refugee status, and after three years they found a host country that was willing to take us in.


I came to this country at the age of 8 without my parents. A loving aunt brought my sister and me. She and her family created a welcoming environment in those few months until my parents joined us. I remember ice cream sandwiches, tuna fish, Big Macs, all the foods I had never eaten before. We dressed up for Halloween and did other American stuff.
Even with all the loving efforts, I still often woke up in the middle of the night during those months feeling worried and wanting my mother. I was introduced to the Snoopy movie during that time, and what I remember most is the theme of being lost and the lyrics, "Snoopy, Snoopy come home." That feeling of displacement in a new country where I didn't speak the language and didn't know what was going on half the time haunted me for years, and I still flash back on it at times.

Today I heard a journalist describe how wonderful the Walmart he visited was for the separated children, the basketball courts, the cafeteria...and all I could think was..he hasn't a clue.

When I was three my mother needed me to go from our home state to the state my father lived in and without familial support, utterly exhausted from her separation of a crippling marriage, she could not see other means of sending me than by hiring a stranger. I remember being told what a bubbly, sweet and precocious child I was and how excited I was to board a plane. I told the security guard at the gate I was on my way to "Kleenex" not knowing how to say Phoenix. 
As I was handed over to a complete stranger and we walked away from my mother I remember melting inside, my body stiffened with fear and all I wanted to do was scream and run back to her. I didn't understand why I was being given away.  

I began to collapse and nobody could see it. 

We boarded the plane and I was screaming, pulling at every and anything to get out...and no one could hear me. When the cabin door closed, I cried, my throat ached from the shrieks of loss and confusion...all happening internally. And then, it all went dark, I collapsed inside and was lost forever. 


We were five and three and my mother had tried to get us across the border before with her, but we were caught and returned. This time, she decided to send us ahead with a lady and a man. She would come later. My sister and I sat crying in the back seat all the way to the border. Close to the border, the lady turned around and sharply yelled, "Callense". I saw my sister's tears evaporate, her face turned to stone and she disappeared. This part of who she is would not come back again until she was attending college at UCLA. I don't know where she went. I don't know where I went either. 

Photo by Paul Volkmer on Unsplash

Emotional connection matters

The approach to emotion from a Western perspective has been to contain emotion by nullifying its existence. We see this in the stories we are told today about the treatment of the children separated from their families: No physical contact allowed, not among them or anyone else. No comforting of any kind. 

This is not a new imposition from the West. The stories of horror told about the boarding schools young indigenous children of North America were forced to endure as they too were stripped from their families. There was no tolerance of and no support of any emotions. 

In our own present day schools, teachers are told not to hug, not to touch students. In a society that insists on the physical realm being the most important, it has highly sexualized all physical interactions. Allowing for extremes of behavior and belief creates the conditions for perversions to surface. If we are to learn how to interact with each other outside of highly sexualized norms, we must be willing to move away from extremes of behaviors and open up the discourse of learning outside of one purview, in this case Western. 

I remember when I was living and working among the indigenous people from the U'wa tribe of the Andes mountains in Colombia I had a powerful lesson on honoring emotions. As we moved from the fast-paced city of Bogota, to the towns and villages of the Foothills of the mountains to deep within the rainforest and the villages of the rainforest; I was struck by the change in sharp energy and most importantly, the lack of children crying. There were children to be sure, but the cries of pain, neglect and loss, seemed minimal, if not absent. 

There was one evening we were invited to participate in the copara ceremony, the placing of the copara hat, a symbol to the community that a young lady had begun menstruating and would be of age to marry in a few years time. It was a ceremony that was to last all night, beginning at sunset and ending at sunrise. We gathered in one hut and as we did the villagers began to chant with the young girl in the center of the circle. The hut was packed with people swaying and chanting. There was a ceremonial drink passed around and smudging with herbs on a fire. The chanting told the story of their people, where they had come from, what they had endured and how they endured: the gifts of the environment, the reliance on a divine source that sustained them, the values they held of gratitude for each other, their food, their shelter. It was a story of resistance and a witnessing of triumph. As the hours passed the chanting and swaying only increased. The devotion of the singers was palpable. There were also no sharp edges. Some people left the hut to sit in the night air and when they were ready, they came back in the hut to join in. There was a rhythm they understood and everyone respected. At some point during the late hours of the night I saw one of the smaller children sitting near her mom, who was a singer, begin to cry. Her mother gently pulled her close to her chest as she continued singing and soothed her. The young girl continued to cry, and after a few minutes, it subsided and passed and she rest quietly on her mother's chest. I was humbled to have witnessed such a beautiful honoring of emotions. Without any judgement of the space or the time in which the young child began to cry, the mother honored the emotions, while continuing to honor the space. 

Moving away from false dichotomies

We often feel as if we need to choose: What is the right way? Do I do this or that? As if human beings and our emotions and the systems we live in are not more complex. This does not on the other end mean Anything goes!

These are the false dichotomies we create and our society thrives on telling us, it must be this or that. So long as the narrative stays in what appears to be opposing sides, it keeps the truth at bay and creates divisions, rather than a unified reality. 

What moved me about the experience I had during the ceremony with the U'wa people, was the ability of the mother to honor her daughter's needs, while also honoring the needs of the space. She moved as part of a seamless whole. 

All of us matters, that includes our external and internal realities. How can we learn to not ignore the external conditions, while at the same time honor the internal reality and recognize them as part of a cohesive whole. 

This is one minor part of the discussion of the separation of immigrant families. The larger part of this discourse cannot be lost on us: How is this horrific experience of immigrants symptomatic of the lack of recognition of the oneness of humanity?

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Transformation and Innovation: Creating the conditions for love

Theirs will be the challenge to provide the environment that is...conducive to the spiritual empowerment of individuals, who will come to see themselves as active agents of their own learning, as protagonists of a constant effort to apply knowledge to effect individual and collective transformation. - Baha'i
This idea of transformation, both individual and collective, is something that has been garnering a great deal of attention in diverse circles. In healing and health, the idea of transformation is key to developing a new self, to freeing oneself from physical and emotional ailments. In education we strive for creating innovative learning environments where learners are transformed into creative critical thinkers. We look to transformation as an event, a climax, un fin! When in reality, it probably looks more circular in nature and is indicative of a process.

We don't like that word too much I don't think, process. It's been overused and sloganized. Life is a journey...Enjoy the process...One step at a time. And all of these are true, and yet it can some times leave you feeling like life has not rails or guard posts or markers or indicators that gently guide you forward. So rather than thinking about the process I've been reflecting on the conditions that inform this process.

How do we create the conditions that support the desired results?

Whether that result be innovation, critical thinking, transformation, etc. And does it matter what animates all of this?

This reminds me of African Desert Tortoises. My youngest daughter has an African Desert Tortoise and it is ready to be moved outside. As she contemplates this move she considers many factors, the most important being, how does she create the conditions for her turtle to thrive? She's been thinking of the environment and what kind of qualities would make this an optimal environment for a desert tortoise: Areas of shade as well as sun, edible plants, a water source, fencing that is safe, etc. And what animates all of these decisions? Love. The love she has for her tortoise and its well-being.

So how do we create the conditions for love?

Love is a natural force that springs from the heart. I wonder, however, if like any force, it requires focused attention to nurture and guide it. Will this force be in service of others, to uplift others, or to enhance and aggrandize one's own accomplishments and ideas? How then do we create the conditions to nurture love?

Since love is a natural force, really the question lies in what are the conditions that will channel this force. When I think of transformation and innovation, the conditions become clearer. If I want either of these processes to take root than I need to consider what qualities need to be present in order for transformation and innovation to develop.

Both transformation and innovation require risk-taking, reflection, humility, an open mind, detachment and a clear vision.

Risk-taking: If I want to create something new, which both of these lead to, than I have to be willing to take the risk of doing something different. This demands an environment that has a strong emotional quotient. Taking any risk requires great courage and to meet courage, I must walk through my fears. Walking through fear asks that I have faith, hope, that things might actually work out, that this new path may give fruit.

Reflection: I must be willing to reflect throughout the entire process - yes process - and ask, what am I learning? Do I have new information that is leading me to new territory (which in and of itself is innovation)? Am I getting confirmation that I am on the right track? Reflection is a powerful tool to use throughout any change or shift as it will inform you of where you are and where you might be going. Reflection can be done with a journal, in a group, verbally or in meditation.

Humility: Transformation and Innovation require humility. When you say you want anything to transform you are saying you want to discard one thing for another. It doesn't mean throw away the first thing, it may be useful in a different setting, than again it may not. Humility says, I don't have all the answers, I'm willing to learn more. Humility creates a humble posture of learning, which is a beautiful stance that leads to an open mind.

Open Mind: An open mind asks to learn, seeks to know, looks for answers and does not discriminate where these answers might come from. When you pair an open mind with a humble posture of learning, you recognize that learning can happen anywhere and anytime and from anyone. The open mind only wants to further understand and seek truth. Which of course, requires detachment.

Detachment: If we are to transform or innovate, we must detach from those things that once served us or maybe still do, but we know there might possibly be another way that could serve better. If we don't detach, we might still be in a horse and buggy. This is not a bad thing, a horse and buggy can still serve us. We do, however, realize the great advantages in having transportation that can move us more adequately from one space to another, like airplanes or subways. So to transform and innovate, we need to detach and release what once was, to what might be possible.

Clear vision: And this leads us to clarity of vision. If we do not have a clear vision for where it is we want to be, transformation can be haphazard and innovation might happen for the sake of innovation without any real clear purpose. Having a clear vision for where I want to go, what is it I might be trying to create, what kind of environment I want my students to thrive in, my own personal vision of my self and who I hope to become are all important questions to ask when on this path to transformation and innovation.

These qualities are not developed in isolation or even as a linear process. Each quality feeds and develops the other. And the order I use these qualities doesn't matter so much as that I use them. There are more qualities for sure to consider. Like information. Where do you gather information to guide your learning process? Action. It is important to put your ideas into action to see how they hold up and what other areas require further reflection and consolidation.

A big part of this learning process is my intention. If I intend to create the conditions where love can thrive, then my focus shifts and I begin to look for those qualities that will best support the environment for love to show up. And if I want love to show up looking like transformation and innovation, than I need to start thinking about the qualities that support transformation and innovation.

It all begins with love, from there I am free of all prejudices, biases, fears and doubts. Love embraces, brings joy, hope and possibility.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Start with Self-Actualization: Walk with Certainty

One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the dark conscious - Carl Jung

Embracing our own duality is something I have spent a lifetime walking through. I am of two waters: Bolivian by way of the Quechua people and New England through the English and Irish ancestors that came to America. Living in between the crash of these two waters has kept me both keenly aware and alive and at the same time flattened me out and left without breath.

This living with duality I can best describe it as when you are in the ocean and you are caught in a wave - it crashes you about, leaves you out of breath and almost at the brink of despair and then gently rolls you onto the sand. In that moment you feel both utterly exhausted and at the same time every sense is alive with sensation and exhilaration - so unexpected.

It has taken me most of my lifetime to realize that for me the learning is not outside of the waves or even the crash, but learning to live in between the tumult of waters and find peace.

This has been through a practice of both mystical forces and practical steps - neither it feels, I was in charge just was how it was going to be done.

So when I say start with self-actualization, unlike the dominant discourse that insists Maslow's hierarchy of needs should be followed in linear fashion with the focus on basic needs first, I mean start with you who you are. With a small child, start with who they are...their first engagement with this world is in-utero...start there...who are they, what gifts do they bear, how will you listen for and hone those gifts and how, most importantly, will you get of the way so they can truly show up to the world? These are all big questions, and one's we should be exploring long before a child is in utero and this...this is self-actualization.
After a child is born, our first response is love - we hold, we gather up, we sing praises, we offer thanksgiving and then we nourish mind-body-spirit. We were designed this way. That is what breast milk does and the holding closely to the skin and the humming we do when a child cries.

So start with self-actualization. How to do this as an adult or a youth? I say, walk with spirit feet: both practical and grounded in the world and completely detached and in faith.

Listen to the voices within. I know that goes against Western healing practices - usually one does not want to hear voices other than the one coming out of their vocal chords! But I had no choice and these voices were always kind, loving and reassuring of truths. They showed up in a knowing I could feel in my body, not articulated with words, but a knowing that what I was doing was okay, or the direction I was headed in or the experience I was having - rough as it may seem in the moment - would turn out okay in the end. And even that phrase turn out okay had to be shaped by divine forces.

I am a voracious reader and have a huge appetite to learn, always have. Read what calls you, what others suggest, what shows up, what sounds interesting. Read Divine verses from various holy teachers and ideas from enlightened folk that resonates with something true within. In doing this, my vision was shaped and my definition of ideas was also widened. Everything will turn out okay was shaped by
"Man must live in contentment with the conditions of his time. He must not make himself the slave of any habit. He must eat a piece of stale bread with the same relish and enjoyment as the most sumptuous dinner. Contentment is real wealth. If one develops within himself the quality of contentment he will become independent. Contentment is the creator of happiness. When one is content he does not care either for riches or poverty. He lives above the influence of them and is indifferent to them." - Attributed to 'Abdu'l-Baha
And so I learned, everything will turn out okay is not an external condition, it is one that requires a shifting of belief systems I hold within myself...largely shaped by how I see myself and my self worth.

The Self
So who am I? This took a great deal of digging and a willingness to see possibility. Was it possible I was not as awful as I felt? That I wasn't what others told me I was when they sneered it out of the side of their mouths?
And so the journey began...healing sessions with a wonderful therapist who used both western and traditional practices in her healing work. I took the plunge inward and began uncovering past traumas, false belief systems created and learned how to walk the path of emotional well-being. I learned how to speak in a softer and more gentler voice that addressed my most vulnerable parts with compassion. I began to see myself as many parts of a whole: some felt broken and weighed down under the pressures of trauma and life, others were strong and like pillars seeking truth and light, and others were calm and surefooted moving gently ahead. I learned to see these parts of myself as one entity with many interplays of shadow and a diamond fractions light, so am I.

The Truth
I cannot ensure many things, but one I can and that is that I, like everyone else, am a noble being. We are connected by the same noble force. I found this quote early on in my healing journey:

“Dost thou reckon thyself only a puny form
When within thee the universe is folded?" Baha'u'llah

This has been the truth I hold onto, the knowing, the peace within. I no longer look for external sources to nourish me, though I am grateful when they land on my doorstep. And when caught and ensnared in the external ideas of this world about who I am and how I should walk, I have these truths to come back to and remind me, the things of this world are transitory, my spirit is limitless and eternal.

Daily Practice
All of this has led me to a daily practice of the ancient tradition of meditation, prayer and self-reflection. For me, this is done in the cup of meditation upon awakening, followed by prayer and
writing out all the words dancing in my head. Sometimes it is just meditation with a daily chant and then, I journal throughout the day or I pause and breathe throughout the day or I remind myself how amazing and grateful I am. Sometimes my daily practice is more intense than others...I pull out my sage bundle during these times or I use a different essence of oil...I drink nourishing herbal teas throughout my day and I listen to music that always tells the truth.

No matter how the daily practice takes form, I trust and as I trust I develop faith and from faith I can love more deeply, more fully, with more presence. That is all that matters to me. 

Whatever it is, find your daily practice that nourishes your truth.

To explore more about this idea of a daily practice and what it unfolds like during a regular day, check out my podcast: The Human Experience.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

And are you happy to see me? In Search of Love in Schools.

I have had the blessing to have many opportunities to visit classrooms on a regular basis in Southern California. I say blessing because of the opportunity this affords me to connect with children and youth and their incredible ability to still be present. They are not yet convinced of the need to wear the straight-jacket the world has tried to place on them. They are still laughing joyously - they still wonder openly - they still touch each other freely with hugs, fist bumps, shoulders crashing into each other reeling from jokes shared - and then, the bell rings and they summarily quiet into a stupor as they sit in rows and wait to be taught. 

Chalkboard with equations
The United States, like most countries in the world, are trying to find the most innovative, rigorous, critically demanding and relevant curriculum and strategies to teach this wonderful, upcoming generation. And in many ways, we've found it. Again and again, I see wonderfully planned, executed and assessed lesson plans. Learning objectives are clear, important information is delivered, students are required to ask relevant questions tied explicitly to the information presented, there is an exit ticket that ties back to the learning objective and still there is a tightness in the air that seems to stifle all the learning that would be had.

This taut stillness seems to suck life out of the air as the period ends and students file out only to come alive again in the hallways where they connect with each other once again.

Why is this?

Teachers, administrators, schools, researchers are all well-intentioned in their efforts to provide a rigorous learning experience in schools, but what of love. Where does love show up in our learning cultures?

In observing classrooms again and again, teachers are directing, instructing; principles are administering and managing; cafeteria and recess aides are ordering and serving - but who is loving? How can we hope to uplift the whole human being if we do not see the whole human being? Because a big part of the whole human being is the love that animates them.

Recently, I have been deeply drawn to learning more about the experience of students in schools that were legally segregated before 1954 in the United States. Many of the elders in my life who were in those schools tell me of a time when teachers loved them. When teachers knew their parents intimately: they were their friends, neighbors, church members and they knew their students were the best of them. They knew their students education was a community effort and when students would rise, the whole community rises. In Vanessa Walker's book, Their Highest Potential, she highlights the belief system that pervaded the school: These kids success is all of our business. And with this belief in front of them, teacher's would stay overtime for professional development, parents would sacrifice financially to ensure the school had all it needs, home visits were part of the home-to-school connection, the entire movement of the community and school were centered around the upliftment of the student. This was not a program or strategy the school was implementing, it was a belief system they centered around. When you believe something, you don't have to think about it, it is evident in all of your actions; it governs your choices; it shapes your language; it infuses all of the spaces you inhabit - including your classroom.

I am not suggesting we return to legally segregated schools, though there is evidence we are more segregated now than before when it was legal. The time of seeing each other as separate tribes and people is rapidly coming to an end. We are one people, one race and the recognition of this truth is quickly unfolding in its stead. The scientific evidence of the oneness of humanity has been unequivocally proven. It is not a matter of hard science or strategies we are after, it is a matter of the human heart and this is more delicate work. Because the oneness of humanity has to become a belief system. When you believe something you are invested - remember it is infused in everything you do. And so if I believe in the oneness of humanity, than it is all learning animated by love. For I want to know about you, learn with you, from you...because I know, you bring something of great value to the table, as do I.

How can we learn from these communities that have not only survived, but flourished despite the odds against them? The peoples of African descent have been under the yoke of oppression the world over due to colonialism and the instrument of whiteness it used to measure the worth and value of human beings, allowing it to perpetuate enslavement securing free labor. The indigenous peoples of the Americas who's land was given freely to European males, while they were displaced and their profound knowledge of natural sciences destroyed, continue to be pushed to the fringes of society always their name - Indio - said with a bitter taste in the mouth. And the people of Asian descent, who try to balance the dangerous walk of assimilation and preservation - assimilating to a country's dominant culture to survive, while staying connected to their ancestral heritage. And what of those of European descent, who refuse to forget the injustices that were done to others in their name? Who strive to find their roots and honor their ancestors resistance to oppression, by calling out the beast out loud, who expects them to also be loyal to whiteness.
Image of women seeing reflections of herself

En Lak Ech, they all say! Tu eres mi otro yo - you are the other me. And when we believe this and it infuses how we show up to the world - then if I disagree with something you have done or said - my response is, let me learn more. Tell me more about your experience. There is something I do not know or understand that has led you to say what you are saying and I want to understand. Or at minimum, be present and listen to the other me.

When I walked out of those classrooms I couldn't help but wonder what I would be thinking if I was one these students walking into the class. After all the learning objectives and strategies and think-pair-shares...I would want to know - and are you happy to see me?

Because after all, I think we all want to be bearers of joy and my job as the adult in your life, is to see you. En Lak Ech!

For a podcast of this blog post click here: The Human Experience