Thursday, June 4, 2020

How to respond to a world in crisis: Inner and Outer Transformation

See through globe on rocks

Oh Son of Spirit! Noble have I created thee, yet thou hast abased thyself. Rise then for that which thou was created.  Bahá'u'lláh

Recently, my teenage daughter and I were in the hammock and she was feeling life was not fair. That's not surprising for adolescents to ponder, and I also know this usually has a background story, so I asked her why. She said her white friends don't have to worry about racism, about their father or brother being pulled over and getting hurt, and that doesn't seem fair. She's right, it's not fair and yet, it's not that they don't have to worry about racism, they do, they may not know they do and that is dangerous. 

For me life has been about transformation, since I was eight-years-old I began to consciously think about how to transform my life. It started with a dream. 

My parents divorced when I was three and by the time I was eight, I had been shuttled back and
forth between my mother and her New England, Anglo family and my Bolivian-Quechua Indian dad and his family in California. Neither had remarried, and both had strong roots with their brothers,
sisters, aunts and uncles and so by default did we. To say it was confusing to be shuttled back and
Author and her sister as children
forth between cultures is an understatement - it was traveling between worlds and worlds that in textbooks collided and crashed and in reality, often was not much different with meat and potatoes in one home and llajua con silpancho in another, saluda con un beso every time you see a family member and to hug only once when you first arrive and when you plan to leave town. Every ritual, family norm, cultural nuance, pitch in language, rhythm of movement, everything held a unique meaning to each culture and I found myself often in trouble for getting it wrong with one group or the other. And then suddenly we moved, to a very small town in southern Mexico, in the furthest tip of the state of Quintana Roo, an hour from the now famous Tulum - back then no one knew of its existence except for locals and the occasional lost European tourist. I too was completely lost and felt I would never be normal again. 
I turned on the only person I could think of, my deceased eldest brother. Seems funny to say that, but my brother David had always been a part of our life. My father talked about his passing as the first born son, we went to his gravesite, we prayed for him, he was present and he wasn't and that made me mad. At eight I was mad - how come I got left behind to deal with the madness of the world and he didn't? I cried and howled to the moon. As I lay in my hammock, I railed at my brother. I was hurting, I missed my father, I felt confused by so many languages and cultures, I didn't feel a part of any world and here I was in the middle of a jungle in a hammock with no hope of ever making sense of what had become my reality. 

I cried myself to sleep. And that night I had a dream. An elder man, very warm, gentle and kind in his demeanor was walking in a garden with me. He was holding my hand and wore what I thought was a strange garment, I know today it is called an Abá - a traditional middle Eastern garb men wore. He asked me if I wanted to know why my brother didn't make it and why I did. I said yes. Because you will make it, you will survive and grow and develop. And when I awoke, my brother had become my ally and I knew my reality would change, I would persevere and be ok. Just like that, I was healed.

Now transformation is not that easy, it happened that this has been the only experience that has healed me so immediately, however it did spur me on a journey, on a path of change and it is one I have diligently followed with increasing focus ever since. 

Maybe because I was born of two great oceans of ancestors, I refuse to take sides. How could I, my ancestry makes the whole of my earthsuit, they give my life a long storyline and they remind me of what is sacred and real: The nobility of the soul. 

My Irish ancestor, who was in the revolutionary war, was a Lord, but when he fell in love with a commoner, he chose to release his title and all the lands that were attached, for a more noble and higher goal, love. With this in his heart, he crossed over from Canada to New England and settled in Vermont. 

My grandmother Cruzesa, of Quechua Indian heritage, was only allowed to legally attend school until the sixth grade, even though she had helped her father, one of the first indigenous lawyers, to translate the law from Spanish into Quechua that their people might know their rights. This experience settled her on a strong sense of justice for the rest of her life. 

These stories are the long line of history I stand on and they remind me the choices we make matter. 

I share these stories with my children, I remind them continuously of their nobility. I knew the best antidote to injustice would be to develop strong children, who knew their inner reality was solid gold and if they ever reflected anything other than that, it was because they were in transformation. 

That is how we grow and transform, through great tests and difficulties. We grow when these tests and difficulties cause us to face the darkness and sadness in us, when we are willing to look at the false narratives we tell ourselves about who we are. Where do these narratives come from? Initially, they come from younger versions of ourselves. These younger selves when faced with difficult and
negative Reflection of a woman
painful experiences don't understand what to make of these experiences and if there is no healthy adult to help them understand what is happening to them, they create a narrative, a reason why and usually it is them, they are the problem - we become the problem. Our false narratives generally sound like this: I'll never be good enough - No one will ever want me - I will always be alone. 

I have found in my work that all human beings have some form of false belief about who they are, it's not surprising as all of the world civilization was touched by colonialism and in colonialism these narratives were systemized. It is in colonialism that people were systematically told there is an ideal and most likely you fall just short of this ideal. No one ever reaches this ideal, even the most blue-eyed, fair-skinned person, because it is not real and is devoid of anything spiritual - it is only based on a material image, a material mirage. However, it was systemized by color and this then put people in gradations of this ideal and of course, those that were at the bottom of those physical characteristics - the darkest hues of brown - would be the furthest away from this "ideal". And so a systematic way of ensuring false narratives that would materially empower a selected few was born.

This means narratives about who we are are also systemic in nature and because they're told through a material lens, they're also faulty. Coupled with my already faulty internal narratives, the external stories of who I am reinforce my false beliefs about myself and I begin to believe the stories the world tells me. This is particularly devastating when those narratives tell you that you are criminal, prone to violence and less intelligent. Of course, they are also devastating when they tell you that you must be perfect, the ideal and at the top. Social narratives are heavily influenced by our material world and thus, once again, fail to see the whole picture nor capture the whole human being. 

So how do I then deal with a world that is the throes of a crisis that promises to dismantle civilization should we not deal with it and promptly?

I am reminded of this quote when faced with this question:

“Then what Christ meant by forgiveness and pardon is not that, when nations attack you, burn your homes, plunder your goods, assault your wives, children and relatives, and violate your honour, you should be submissive in the presence of these tyrannical foes and allow then to perform all their cruelties and oppressions. No, the words of Christ refer to the conduct of two individuals toward each other. If one person assaults another, the injured one should forgive him. But the communities must protect the rights of man.” - 'Abdu'l-Bahá
I must keep one eye on my inner reality - where and when are my inner false narratives active and how do I continuously work with them to remind these younger parts of who I am that I am loved, that I am wanted, that I am valued. If someone personally injures me, work to forgive them as I know my noble self knows the truth of who I am and no one person's injury can remove that truth.

If I am not vigilant with my inner reality these narratives will run rampant and they will manifest themselves in everything I do. It will be my husband's job to make sure I feel loved, wanted and valued. It will be my boss who must demonstrate that I am valued and important. And if left unchecked within me, the world will need to prove to me my worth and it will always fall short of this as it was not designed to reflect our true reality. The material world is just that, material and we are spiritual in nature, we can never hope for the world to capture our true reality and reflect that to us, so I must not go to the world hoping it will see and value me, rather I must always see and value myself and by doing this I will do the same for others.  

This in no way means we are not actively challenging the world and its systems of oppressions, we do, we just don't expect them to tell us the truth of who we are, because they will always fall short of recognizing the truth our true essence. So I must actively work to address institutionalized oppression when I witness it and work through every available institution to seek justice. Systematic injustice and tyranny must not be tolerated, rather they must addressed and swiftly, through institutions that have the capacity to hold them accountable. If these institutions need to be dismantled and reimagined to better reflect the nobility of the human soul than this is what we, as a society, must do. 

So what I told my daughter in the hammock was this: We are all noble souls, but failing to see the purpose of this life, to transform and develop our souls, keeps us as mere animals. As it is through tests and difficulties that we grow, this world is a form of spiritual gym. Everyone is in this gym but some, it may seem have more gym equipment and seem to be tested with more vigor and intensity and will either develop strong spiritual muscles or be destroyed by their tests. Others, don't see all the equipment, or think its not for them and stay on the sidelines and these friends are truly the ones who lose, because rather then exercising their spiritual muscles, they become atrophied and can easily get ensnared and consumed by the material and selfish aspects of this world.

We cannot continue to demand systemic change and not ask the people who are in these systems to also change - and that means all of us - this is not an either or, it is an and, period.