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.