Celebrating the Ordinary
Rumi once said that “silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation.” As a lover of God, I always seek God in the wonders of the world, in serving other people, and in the exploration of all kinds of spiritual practices. I felt like these were attempts to catch a glimpse of God but in the process I could not hold onto that glimpse as I returned to my daily life. That glimpse was always somewhere else outside of me. Sometimes I saw it in the beauty of humanity amidst the worst of human atrocities. Sometimes it was in an act of kindness by someone we may know or may not know. The glimpse has always been like a jar that poured water of hope and belief into my heart. It was that belief that kept me going even as I worked in wars for many years. Other times that glimpse was in spiritual retreats I explored as I tried to make sense of all the wars in the world and the stories I was being exposed to. Other times I found it in my daily meditation and prayers. All were beautiful experiences but I also wanted to hold on to the sensation during my ordinary routines, be it attending a meeting, giving a speech, or traveling.
But recently I decided to explore that silence in the ordinary of every moment in my life. Instead of only separately carving some space for my meditation and prayers each day, I decided to integrate my seeking of the presence of God in every inhalation and every exhalation I take. So instead of checking my phone and my emails as I sat in the taxi or the subway, I just focused on my breathing—and with that, I focused on God. And so the practice spread throughout my day: in the shower, while walking from one place to another, and with every meal. And suddenly I noticed a beauty—a new beauty—I had not experienced before and that is the beauty of the ordinary.
Ecstatic feelings came out of the simplest experiences: the sensation of my feet touching the ground as I walked, the softness of every breeze touching my face, and even the drinking of a glass of water. And when everything was so beautiful, my seeking of the divine turned into the exploration of the ordinary of everyday life with no more separation between that, my prayers, and my daily activities. All became one.
And with that came a new curiosity. A curiosity to see everything in all its truthfulness for I figured that is where beauty lies. For example, I am someone who always put nail polish on my toenails because one of my nails broke a long time ago and never grew back normally. Therefore I always covered it up with all kinds of colors. But when the ordinary became so beautiful, I took off all my nail polish and was enjoying my broken toenail in its fragility, beauty, and even ugliness. I shaved my head and took all my makeup off. I know this is a bit extreme, but it is an extreme I can afford and am willing to do. Soon I started noticing how makeup felt like a mask that I was putting on every day: sometimes for good reasons, sometimes to cover up sad stories, and sometimes to pretend everything is perfect. It is not that I stopped putting makeup on, but at least I laugh at my silly attempts at masking. And “why mask?” I started wondering to myself. It is in our vulnerability that we connect to each other as people. It is in our joy and our sorrows, in our light and our shadows that we connect, learn, and grow. Suddenly those in my life who covered their shadows, as I covered the dark circles under my eyes with concealer, stopped being of interest to me. How can I connect with those who hide their shadow so deeply? It feels as unreal as the perfect looking woman who is full of plastic surgeries. She is beautiful! But everyone knows it is not real, natural beauty. And it is hard to connect with the unreal. For God is only in the real!
So here I am starting my 2014 with the most obvious knowledge that I have not paid attention to all my life: the beauty is in the ordinary. It is in the ordinary of our behavior of love, generosity, and kindness. The beauty is even in our behavior that triggers shame, embarrassment, and anger. For these moments help us grow. And in the cracks of the self, new light eventually comes. And with this, I started experiencing God with every breath: not separate from my daily life but part of every movement and every step I make. And for that, I am grateful!
May 2014 helps us all see the beauty of the ordinary.
What do you do with those who betray you? Love Them!
I remember myself as a youngster playfully repeating “Et tu, Brute?” to my friends after reading Julius Caesar. Regardless of Shakespeare’s brilliant description of betrayal, I still had no idea of the deep pain betrayal causes when I first read about it. When I experienced the feeling myself later on in life, I realized it is like a dagger that digs deep down into alleys of the heart no one knows about except those we willingly let in. Betrayal can only happen when there is love and thus trust. For in the act of love, we let people into the most intimate aspect of our hearts, letting down our walls and protections. That’s when we risk hurt and betrayal but that’s also the place of utter love.
Whenever I felt betrayed by people I love, for it can only be triggered by those we love, I was left with a very confused feeling. The shift from a place of love to a place of hurt and anger triggered by betrayal is a radical shift over a short period of time. It feels like an earthquake has shaken the foundation of your love and it leaves one desperately trying to grab on to any solid land to get a grip of what has just happened. I usually grab the land of sorrow first, then anger, then disappointment. Eventually, I realize that all of these feelings eat my heart from within and I come to the realization that the only way out is through love. But love? Really? You may wonder how one can transform the pain of betrayal into love. I too did not believe it could happen at first but now I do.
Cambridge Dictionary defines betrayal as the “act of not being loyal when other people believe you are loyal.” In “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” Oscar Wilde describes betrayal by saying “each man kills the thing he loves. By each let this be heard. Some do it with a bitter look. Some with a flattering word. The coward does it with a kiss. The brave man with a sword.” I see it simply as the lack of courage at being truthful to oneself or to others. Betrayal for me is not in the act of abandonment but in the lack of ability to communicate the truth, one’s truth, with integrity and grace to those we love. Only when we tell the truth can there be true healing. And the truth, no matter what it is, resonates in people’s hearts even if it sheds light on the worse aspects of who we are. For, the worse information, when told in the simple and honest truth, can be taken with the grace and love truth carries.
There was a few times in which I felt betrayed in my life. My first experience came from my mother the day she tried to commit suicide when I was a child, and then again when she pushed me into an arranged marriage later on in my life. Other betrayals came from friends and romances, people I deeply loved and trusted. As I am writing this, I am thinking to myself, “Well, it’s not so bad. I am almost 44 years old and I only felt betrayal 5 times in my life. Once for each decade. Not so bad really J.” I can laugh about it now but I can assure you each was a very painful experience that left me confused at the whole world, not knowing how to make sense of it all. I held on to the anger I felt towards my mother for many years for example. How could the woman I loved the most in my life, betray me so deeply, I often asked myself? But that question kept on repeating itself every time I felt betrayed. How could this person that I loved so much betray my trust and my love?
I was told once that a horse’s biggest act of love is when it lets humans caress it in between its eyes. I am sure there were times in which there were violations of this most intimate moment for the horse. We violate such spaces when we are afraid, insecure, feel powerless, or even jealous. I have a hard time believing people we love do things out of meanness. Hurt can only come out of hurt. Maybe I am wrong, maybe not, and maybe there are exceptions to this theory. Whatever it is, I am sure there were horses whose eyes were injured or even blinded in that moment of violation which can be seen as betrayal. If I was a horse I could only process what happened to me if I understood the feeling that triggered the person I loved so much to violate my space in such a painful way. Suddenly, I wondered if a horse would so easily let people come into that space. And that’s when I started wondering if I have ever betrayed myself?
Things started shifting from seeing any point of betrayal from inside out (its all about the others who betrayed) to seeing it from within the self. When have I betrayed myself? I started asking. What were those moments? What triggered me to betray myself? Ouch! For the journey to the self is always the hardest one. Here, I am embarking on yet another inner journey to see what I needed to discover, heal, love and accept about myself. Just as I was hurt, angry, and disappointed at the loved ones who once betrayed me, I became angry and disappointed with myself for all the times I let go of my instinct and did not trust it; for all the times I did not stand up for my rights or own my voice and power; for all the times I justified sacrificing myself and my well-being in the name of love; and for all the times I tried to protect my vulnerabilities by creating illusions and projections of the people I loved, rather than addressing and seeing my true needs and what I was seeking thereby seeing the true being and who they were.
I continued to dig and dig and dig deeper until I found the little girl in me that was acting out of her pain, vulnerability and fear rather than from the strength of the adult woman that I had become. The betrayal of me came from my own injuries. Some go back to my childhood and are still working themselves out in my adult life. Suddenly, the anger and the disappointment I felt towards myself transformed into deep love and affection right down to the vulnerable part of me that was acting out of pain, for I understood that pain and its source. As women we are trained and so used to being hard on ourselves and almost fearing self-love that it can be seen as selfish, not motherly, or as not giving enough. Fluctuating the self and punishing it for all the wrong we have done is so much easier than loving it. But then again, there cannot be healing, true healing, without love. And I had to consciously go into love to heal myself from the time I had betrayed myself.
In order to heal and love, one has to forgive. I once had a dream where I heard someone telling me, “We must forgive even when not asked for forgiveness.” I objected to that line in the dream. “This is too much,” I said. “Is it too much to ask to forgive those who have not asked for forgiveness?” But, the dream kept on repeating, “We must forgive even when not asked for forgiveness.” Finally, I calmed down regarding the saying, rested in it, accepted it and understood why we need to do it. It’s the only way we can heal ourselves and let the self be free of all resentments, anger, pain, and hurt. People hurt each other out of their own pain just as we hurt ourselves out of our own pain. So only when we release ourselves from that pain, see it, love it and forgive it, can we truly love the essence of the self in its most beautiful aspect and also in the aspect we are most embarrassed of, our own shadows, for that is the true meaning of love. That’s when I could love, truly love, those who have betrayed me and love them from their very point of betrayal. If they betrayed me out of their pain just as I betrayed myself out of my pain then I can understand, sympathize and I can love without needs or expectations but for what it is and what that person is, without any illusions or projections.
So yes, it is possible to forgive even when not asked for forgiveness and even when people betray their own courage at telling the truth. Though I still believe that only when we tell the truth can there be true healing, I also understand that it takes much courage to tell that truth and sometimes it will entail revealing the most insecure, frightened aspects of ourselves. I can only go through this process for myself. I cannot expect it at all from others. To each his or her own. For me, it is a journey of love. For I believe love is bigger than all. And love is the only true healer. That includes deep, utter, and true love for the self so we may give it the respect it deserves and not betray it again. At least hopefully so… Is it possible to love those who betrayed us? Absolutely YES! I LOVE each and every single one of them, most importantly my mother and also the friends and the loved ones who later came in my life. And in that I found my healing. I am sure a horse would have done the same.
Of the same mother
Fed from the same roots
Yet a tulip does not question its right to come out in its full beauty, but I do.
Of the same mother and from the same roots,
Yet a water spring never questions its right to come out in this spot or that spot, but I often do.
So what if I allow myself the same clarity a tree has when it blossoms in spring
What if I allow myself the same peace a water fall has in its strength
What if I spread my wings in its fullness without hesitation or fear.
How will the air feel?
Where will my heart take me to?
What if I know that I am the rose and the thorn in it as well.
What if I am OK with the best part of me and the worst part of me.
What if I see fully me and still love what I see.
What if I see fully you and truly love the full you.
What if I let the energy of my volcano erupt fully in its roar
What if I let the sweetness of my spring to nourish all
What if I let my peacock feather to open in its beauty and seductiveness
What if I am OK with the bee inside me to stink when attacked.
What if I know when my rose is cut off, it will come back again and again.
Of the same mother
Fed from the same roots
Yet I spent too many years depriving myself of what my mother has always given me: the clarity of the tulip,
strength of the water fall,
sweetness of a rose smell,
defensiveness of the bee sting,
beauty of a peacock,
and the softness of a water spring.
What if in this spring I am clear
with an open, full, strong, vulnerable, beautiful heart.
What would life be.
So let it be.
Who is Rabaa Adawiya?
Rabaa Adawiya Mosque has become a symbol for Muslim Brotherhood protests in Egypt after military took over in June 28 preceding the June 30 revolution, which led to the deposing of former president Mohammed Morsi. After more than a month of persistent protest, this historical Mosque has witnessed much killing and fighting and is now left burnt out after one of the worst bloody day in Egypt’s history where more than 830 people were killed by the army and the police in what is now called “Black Wednesday.”
The irony is that Rabia Adawiya, the woman — yes, the woman — who the mosque was named after, was known for being one of the first people in Islam to have introduce the idea of “divine love” and for the relationship to God be out of love and not out of fear. If that mosque was built out of love in 8th century then it was burnt out of hatred and fear in 2013. Today when you search the name Rabaa Adawiya, news of the protests and the killings dominant all search results rather than the woman who has dedicated her life to love of the divine.
Born in 715 Julian in Basra, Adawiya was known to have born into a poor family. Her father believed in his daughter’s spirituality since her youth and had conveyed that to the ruler of the time who joined him in his beliefs and cared for the family. Upon her father’s death, Adawiya’s life changed as famine hit her city and her path eventually led her to be stolen by robbers of a caravan who sold her into slavery. Despite of her misfortune, though, Adawiya’s love for God grew more and more so much so that the very master who she worked for released her after hearing her prayers and being touched by her love and dedication for the divine. Adawiya then spent the rest of her life in the deserts of Arabia loving God not out of fear of hell or desire for paradise but out of absolute and unconditional love for the divine. She has inspired so many people both religious scholars of the time and eventually followers of her spiritual path and history, who later honored her by naming a mosque after her in Cairo, Egypt.
It is most ironic that today, the mosque of the woman who preached love, forgiveness and grace despite her hardships became the epicenter for hatred and fighting among Muslims in Cairo, Egypt, today. The hatred and anger that has taken over the streets of Cairo stand for the exact opposite values of the very place that became the symbolism of the demonstrations in the past month. If Adawiya preached for the love of God, fear of God is now the dominant value that has spread among those who argue that religion is at the heart of politics and that God or rather a handful of people’s interpretation of what God stands for is to rule the politics of governments.
Back in her time, Adawiya was remembered for her prayer: “O God! If I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell, and if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise. But if I worship You for Your Own sake, grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty.” These very values upon which that woman was honored has been replaced with men who justify bombings and killings not only in Egypt but in many parts of the Muslim world over promises of paradise and have prosecuted other Muslims who dare to have a loving, happy and joyful relationship with God, questioning their religion and their devotion if not fitting of a very restrictive image of what a “Muslim” mean. Fear and the desire for political power in the name of God and actions and promises for heavenly rewards have hijacked much of the beauty of Islam and definitely what Rabaa Adawiya advocated for hundreds of years ago.
Love of God is now almost viewed as blasphemy when said out loud. I once said it to an Egyptian taxi driver and my heart skipped a beat as he stared at me with both confusion and anger. Many in the region who see themselves as Muslims and good ones indeed complain about how their values and beliefs have been questioned if not fitting a very restrictive views and very particular practices defined by few political parties of what a “Muslim” should be. The relationship of love has been replaced by fear. And if we all agree that God is above all of politics than those who are fighting and killing and burning in the name of God have corrupted the very value of God, and that I would say is the biggest blasphemy.
Rabaa Adawiya Mosque is now burnt and destroyed from inside but apparently the outside walls are still standing. Perhaps her voice and her values can be a call, an appeal, for Egyptians and all Muslims who have mixed God up with politics to remember that the only way to honor God is to return to love as a guiding relationship with the divine and not hate, fear or anger and the only way to honor God is to leave our individual political ambitions out of manipulating the meaning of the divine. May we be able to return Rabaa Adawiya’s name to the woman who wrote the following and not to the mosque that witnessed one of the worst bloodsheds among Egyptians. I look forward to seeing the day where the mosque is being rebuilt and I pray that it will be rebuilt with the same spirit Adawiya stood for.
“I have two ways of loving You:
A selfish one
And another way that is worthy of You.
In my selfish love, I remember You and You alone.
In that other love, You lift the veil
And let me feast my eyes on Your living Face.”
The Benefits of Heartbreaks
How could heartbreaks have benefits you may wonder? It is almost an oxymoron concept. In many ways it is; for heartbreaks are deeply painful, confusing, angering, full of tears and the desire to just be swallowed in pain. All true! But with every pain, there is a gain somewhere and heartbreaks do bring some gains with them
There is a Sufi saying that says, “Oh break my heart. Oh break my heart again so I can love even more.” I loved this saying when I first heard it for it suggests such passionate commitment to love. I had said so many times in a warrior like manner not fully knowing or maybe not remembering the pain of a heartbreak. But when the heart got actually broken, I was left confused at that saying. How could I trust love again? How could I open up to love again and be even more committed to love when heartbreaks hurts so much? But at one point, I started noticing all the things that were happening, the people who started reaching out, the steps I had taken and suddenly I thought hmmmm, there are benefits of heartbreaks and I was slowly starting to understand the Sufi saying.
To start with and at the very vain level there is weight loss! Nothing beats that in my opinion. I had been struggling to lose few kilos in the last few months and suddenly they all disappeared in a matter of a month. Wow! I thought to myself as I started to feel better at least about my body. That triggered the second benefit of a heartbreak: a new look. Though again on the vain side, a new look is always uplifting and fun to do. The loss of weight encouraged new buys for a new look from makeup style to clothing and shoes. I went for things I was always curious to try but didn’t get to it from black nail polish to a different eye shadow. Enough of a difference that I started loving the exploration process of what is the new me looks like. This allowed for spasm of fun moments and allowed for new remarks I was getting on my new look and where I was able to hear and take it in.
A heartbreak leaves one so vulnerable and at one point, one has to do something with that vulnerability. In my case it started with a dream where I told fear “I release you” and all of sudden fear had no role in the circle of my life and walked out. That morning, I woke with a lightness to my heart and I decided to embrace the dream in my daily life. So every time I encountered fear, from fear of loneliness to judgments I kept on telling it “I release you!” Within a month, I started noticing a lightness to the heart. If fear is what keeps us stuck in our own beliefs about ourselves then releasing it gives us the freedom to just be, accept and explore. And there’s nothing more fun than the exploration process of self to find one’s center again. Sometimes we lose ourselves in others, around us or in the work we do. We stop asking when we last danced, when we last sang, and even when we last visited friends we love. A heartbreak is like a cleanser of the soul. It leaves us empty looking around to see where have we been and where are we in this emptiness. That starts a new journey of exploration of “who am I, where am I and am I where I want to be, with who I want to be with and what I want to be.” The emptiness, like the weight loss, allows for new arrivals of visions, learnings and dreams free of all inhibitions and restrictions with the sky as the limit if even.
That’s when love shows up over and over again. And that is when the Sufi saying started making sense for me. Love came from so many directions. From friends who reached out in the most kind, loving and generous ways. Each reach filled my trust in love and each a reminder of the beauty of this life despite all pains and challenges. Love came with every sunrise and every fresh breath of air and every time I encountered nature from mountains to seas.
Heartbreaks are a part of life that is unfortunately unavoidable. It is most painful when it is least expected and from people we love dearly. But it is also one of the big teachers of life. For it is in these moments that we have a choice whether to close up to love thinking that we can protect ourselves from all the pains that it may bring with it or to open up again and again and knowing that with each opening there is a risk of a heart breaking and the benefit or a tremendous heart expansion. There have been many heartbreaks in my life, from the loss of my mother, my country, to romantic loss. In all cases, I found myself on a cross road of a decision of whether to close my heart to love or to risk love again. I say:
I will not close up to love
I will always love and love again
I will always be there
Standing on a cliff
Falling forward or backward
Or standing still
I will always see love
I will listen to the tunes of love,
I will see it in the sun rising
For the sun rise up again and again
I will always soak in the bath of love
For water flows and flows again.
I will Love over and over again.
The world we live in is a product of our imagination, so we might as well reclaim our imagination.
On December 21st, the day the Mayans predicted the world would change, I got together with friends recounting our learnings from 2012. I had embarked upon last year with Martha Beck’s advice of resting until one needs to play and playing until one needs to rest. It took me a while to come to an understanding of that way of life. At the beginning I thought the resting meant sleeping and the playing meant playing pingpong. But eventually I came to the realization that what she meant by resting and playing needs to be felt in everything one does. In other words, if whatever you do does not feel restful or playful and thus not lifting your spirit than it is probably not the right thing to do. I had been working so hard all my adult life that it took me a long time to find my new equilibrium, my balance, and my peace.
It is in that peaceful silent space where I got my learnings from last year. In that space I learned that only if one feels love to themselves can one feel and see the love in others. I had always shied away from love for myself thinking of it as selfish. It took me reading Warming the Stone Child by Clarissa Pinkola Estes to understand that loving and mothering thyself has nothing to do with selfishness and everything to do with maturity of spirit and an understanding that the love we are seeking is not outside of us but lies within us. As a matter of fact, everything we are seeking lies inside of us. If we love the Mother and respect her, than we need to love ourselves and give the proper respect to how we treat ourselves. She can only exist inside each one of us. And if we are waiting to see Her outside of us than it is going to be an endless process of waiting. Imagine how different you will treat yourself if you actually will give the same treatment as you would to the Divine Mother; the Mother in each one of them; a mother that is not only kind, loving and generous but also strong, determined and clear.
To love oneself means to also accept all of the self: the shadow and the light and and good and the bad. Up until recently, I had separated all of these meanings away from me thinking of their existence as only outside of me. But in truth, in love one can see the shadow that exists within oneself, and rather than reject it or hide it, we need to see it, acknowledge it, and accept it as part of the self. For me this was an ordeal and a painful process to accept the part of me that I was embarrassed of and that I hid in the caves of my caves. But as long as I was hiding it, I could never address it, and eventually I came to the conclusion that only when I acknowledge it with love can I actual love myself fully and thus calm and balance that shadow within me. Wilma Mankiller once said when asked about a necklace of two wolves she was wearing where was black and one was white, “they are both part of me. Which one I choose to feed more is my choice”. I had quoted her for so many years but only when I came to realize that darkness and light are both inside me andonly when I love that full part of me and do not deny either can I address my light and my darkness with consciousness and will.
I can never explain the relief that comes with this process. I felt like I was particles of sand dispersed all over the place, and only when I loved the fullness in the light and in the shadow could the particles come back together and form the full me and only when I could do that could I make the conscious choice that Wilma Mankiller was talking about. Otherwise my suppressed side always forced itself outside of me despite of me.
Then, and only then, could I deal with all the things I have been struggling with: my doubt, my pain, my hurt, all of it in a way where I acknowledge the feelings for what they are and make the choices to listen to them or to move away from them. The choice was mine. And then, and only then could I take full responsibility for the love I need to give myself not as being selfish at all but rather as being mature and responsible towards oneself. I realize that only then I could show true love to others. Love that understands my boundaries, my good and my bad, much better. Love that understands that unless I give myself what I need, I could never receive it from others outside of me.
Nothing in this journey is magical outside the realm of our imaginations. Each one of us, all of us, are part of this experience. The divine lies in each one of us. In our love, in our innocence, in our joy, and definitely in our freedom. The secret to all of that is to get the “I” out of the dynamics. The trap is when we think that only “I” am special. Only “I” feel this or that feeling. The truth as I see it, is only when we get the ego out of the way can we actually feel the divine. For we are all part of the oneness of this world and only in oneness can we feel the divine. And only in oneness do we all exist.
A farmer once told me “I don’t understand why everyone is so obsessed with self-sustainability. Nothing on earth is self-sustainable. Everything on earth is dependent on each other, so why we humans think we can be self-sustainable. It just doesn’t make sense.” What he was sharing is true to everything we do. Our actions are interdependent and codependent on each other, our survivors, our food and our energy and definitely our feelings even though it is far less obvious.
So with that spirit, my friends and I started imagining the world…. a world where every time a man rapes a woman, he feels that violation onto himself….a world where every time a person carries arms to kill, he feels that death inside himself and drops the arms as quickly as he picks it up. We imagines a world where every bite we take out of an apple or any food we think of how the earth was treated, about the farmers that picked it, the person who packed it and sold it and about the apple itself. We imagine a world were we are all free to fulfill our full potentials. We imagined a world were we can lead out of love and not out of fear. We kept on imagining and went wild with our imagination until we came to only our breath. And that is when we realized we are but breath in this massive, beautiful amazing world.
The world we live in is a product of our imagination. So we might as well, with the beginning of a new era and a new year, reclaim our imagination and make magic happen. But remember, the journey always starts with the self. It may be the hardest journey to make but the one that holds the secret to utter joy and love. Happy new year everyone.
We Just Have To Be Who We Really Are
I was told to ask forgiveness from my body by an indigenous woman who was leading a small gathering of women in Mexico. “Ask forgiveness from the parts of your body that were in pain and you did not heal; ask forgiveness from the parts of your body that you have strained and exhausted and you did not give time to nurture and rest; ask forgiveness from the parts of your body that you did not love” , the woman continued to say. At first I was in shock. I had never had such relationship with my body; I neither talked to it nor asked it for forgiveness before. But as she continued talking, her wisdom simmered in me and I started touching different parts of my body, and for the first time ever asked them for forgiveness.
I had never stopped to have a proper respectable relationship with my body before. Now don’t get me wrong. I practice my yoga at least 3 times a week, I get a massage when my back is in pain, I even go to a chiropractor after a long trip. But I also tolerated pain, missed going to doctors for months with the excuse that I had too much work, pushed it in long travels and exhaustion and throughout that, not once did I think of my body as something that may be outside of me.
The Dalai Lama brought the subject out two years ago when he held a meeting with 50 social activists. In it he urged caring for our bodies, asking us teasingly “Is it the healthy spirit that leads to a healthy body or the healthy body that leads to a healthy spirit?”. These words echoed back as I touched the different aspects of my body with the instruction of the indigenous woman and asked for forgiveness. But that was only the beginning.
After a process of writings, talking, listening, dancing, singing, bathing, I came to see all the other women in the gathering, the majority of which I did not know, as no different than me. Under the mud, we are the same, I thought to myself. We may be big, small, tall, short, thin, fat, and with all different hair cuts and colors but in our hearts the love and the heart beat is the same. Only when we put the “I” in the dynamics do we loose our connections and get into our separation and hurt. Ironically that “I” often comes out of fear and loneliness rather than love and abundance. Letting the “I” go is a constant leap of faith that always starts with fear and always lands on the most rewarding, loving and joyous tickle of the heart. For it is in that union of our commonality that we get to see our inner connection and where we get to tell our stories, where we learn from each other, share with each other, and see how love is bigger than all.
But that process in so different than the stories we have within ourselves and between our bodies and ourselves. For the longest time, we have separated and fragmented the different aspects of us: the mother, the lover, the daughter, the wife, the sister, the worker, the strong one, the martyr, the victim, the savior and the list goes on and on. Perhaps if we see the oneness in our womanhood within let alone outside of us and between each other, we would know that all we need to be is who we really are with less efforts than one thing needed. Acknowledging the self and embracing the body can only be a process that helps us see our interconnections to each other. I always heard that saving the world starts with the self. I obviously did not do that and embarked upon a whole journey to work with other women around the world only to come to the same conclusions so many ancestors talked about: be the change you want to make in
It is that relationship with the soul and the body that keeps us in touch with every emotion we have be it love, hate, anger, fear, joy, jealousy, beauty, shame, pride, and on and on. And with every touch of every emotion within helps us be in touch with others outside of us. And every acceptance of us being who we are, helps us accept others for who they are without judgment. And it is with every loving of the self that helps us love others fully. Books have always helped me a lot, but never did I know that the simple touch of nature, women gathering, and indigenous wisdom can bring so much
peace inside the heart. As we end a year and enter a new one, and as we end an era and enter a new one, may we all meet in the “field” that Rumi talks about. May we always meet in love. Happy New Year everyone.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.
mevlana jelaluddin rumi – 13th century
Things I learned from my summer:
I had the privilege to spend much of my summer in nature, and my best teachers were a rock I sat on as I meditated, a snake I thought I saw as I swam in a lake, clutter of old mattresses that I got to clean up and a rainbow that I got to see after a storm.
Cultural anthropologist and writer Angeles Arrien always said that nature’s rhythm is slow to medium and we often miss out on nature’s teachings by living our lives so fast we forget to slow down and just listen. All the technological gadgets are distracting us even further. I often catch myself walking the streets or lining up in a grocery store as I am checking my emails thereby missing out on everything that is around me. I catch myself being as far away as possible from Rumi’s advice of “Being fully present wherever you are”. My emails took me to the world on someone else’s watch as I bought my food, walked to the train, sat in a cab, ate my dinners and sometimes even as I hung out with friends. My emails, texts, voice mails and tweets took me away far away from my present moment and I missed out on much.
So this summer, I decided to discipline myself by being in the present moment and listening to what nature is trying to tell me wherever I was. I found my favorite rock by a creek in a farming land not too far from the city. I decided to do my meditation on the rock for no reason other than I liked it. Well, one day as I opened my eyes in the midst of my silence, looked at the creek, and heard the rock’s wisdom: “You need to give away your sadness for the creek to wash away just as you give away clothes that you no longer wear.” I know it sounds crazy but try to listen to the rock and join me in my craziness. You wont regret it. You see, when we give away an old dress or shirt, we never think of it again, at least I don’t. But sadness, that is a different story. We refuse to give it away. On the opposite. We hold on to that old rag of sadness and attach ourselves to it as if it is our full story. So, I tried to follow the rock’s advice and started giving away one sad story after the other to the creek. Its been two months since I did that and ever since whenever I remember any of the stories I gave away, I feel as pathetic as if I remember an old dress I gave away; I no longer care and the story no longer has the emotional baggage that it used to have on my heart.
I felt like a child who just discovered a new toy except my toy was nature. Everyday I would go to an adventure and see what I would l learn. I sat on rocks, swam in lakes and just walked on hikes. I grew up in a dessert so seeing any kind of greens as offered by the wilderness of the US or Canada makes me so very excited. Its like my eyes could never fill up from all the trees and the lushes green around. Once I was sitting by a tree and was watching aunts climbing the trees, birds building their nests on it, and squirrels climbing it but the tree stayed the tree in its strength, heights and power. Non of what the squirrels, aunts or birds did bothered the tree. It was centered in itself and I thought to myself, well that’s a lesson here. We are often bothered by what this person or that person think about us, say about us or do things that may impact us. And perhaps we should each be like a tree, centered in our being and not disturbed by aunts and the squirrels in our lives or the people who act like ones;-)
But nothing was a scary as when I was swimming in a lake by myself. I looked down at the clear water and I thought I saw a snake. I panicked and started swimming as fast as I could to get to the shore but that was not so close. I had lost myself in swimming and now I am stuck with what may be a snake under me and that’s when I decided that rather than fearing the snake, I am going to ride my fear. And ride my fear I did. I stopped panicking, kept my strokes steady and calm, and felt that I ended up swimming better and faster by just staying calm and feeling that I am riding my fears. As I got out to the shore, I realized that that’s what I need to do every time I feel fear about anything in my life. Rather than shy away from it or escape it or hide it, I am to ride it and in riding it I not only can triumph over it but I actually can swim better and live my life fuller.
Most of these events were taking place in a tipi camp my friend runs. The camp was cluttered with old stuff she had accumulated over the years but she was dreaming of new dreams for the camp. But it almost felt like there is no room for new dreams to come when it was so cluttered with old stuff so we decided to clean up the camp, burning what needs to be burned and giving away what needs to leave. It was cleaning of the mixture of nature and its interaction with manufactured things from mattressed to chairs and the mix of the two was not always nice. It includes mice invested things, rotten wood, spider homes, etc etc. As we finished cleaning, it started to rain and within few minutes the most beautiful rainbow emerged as if telling us “only when you clean the old clutters, can new dreams come through.”
Summer is over but not its learnings. I start my fall full of gratitude to all the blessings that is around all of us; the blessing of mother earth which is so equal in its teaching to each and every one of us. No ivey leaque schools here. Just go to a tree and you will get the best learnings. I promise. As for me, I put an auto reply in my email quoting Rumi’s advice of “being fully present wherever you are” and that entails some delays in seeing my emails. There is so much around and it my miss if I don’t hear the teachings. To live life fully often means to be fully present in the moment whatever that moment may be.
Be the World You Want to Live in
At this juncture of your life, you have two choices to make: to live life out of fear or live life out of love.
We have been taught to live life out of fear for a long time now. To fear ourselves, to fear revealing our full self, to speaking our truth, to living our truth fully, to show the beauty inside us, to show our wings. We have rather been told to calculate every step out of fear of not having… not being loved… not being accepted….not succeeding… fear of our own self.
You have a choice to make today, and the choice is fully yours.
You can live your life hiding your dreams, or you can live your dreams now.
You can live your life being afraid of love, showing it or receiving it, or you can dance in love, expressing it to all around you and to yourself.
You can live your life escaping from your truth, keeping your secrets buried, keeping your silence, keeping yourself busy with this thought or that doubt and this job and that shirt or you can live your life with the courage to face your truth, live it, speak it, and be it.
It is your choice to make. In the process you will always come to the same conclusion… to live out of fear is to live out of your smallness…. and to live out of love is to live out of your bigness. To live out of fear is to live out of scarcity… to live out of love is to live out of fullness. And mostly, you will come to know that you cannot live in the world you want to live in if you do not be that world yourself.
So how do you do that?
There is no better teacher than mother earth herself.
You see a tulip does not question its right to come out, it just comes.
A water spring does not ask can I come here or there, would it be ok if this is the corner I give my water to or do you prefer this corner, it just comes out…
A bee does not ask for permission to sting when it feels in danger. It just stings.
A volcano never worries about its eruption, it just erupts.
So what if you allow yourself the same clarity a tree has when it blossoms in the spring?
What if you allow yourself the same peace a waterfall has in its strength?
What if you spread your wings in their fullness without hesitation or fear?
How will the air feel?
Where will my heart take you to?
Of the same mother
Fed from the same roots
Yet we spend too many years depriving ourselves of what our mother has always given us: the clarity of the tulip,
The strength of the water fall,
The sweetness of a rose,
The defensiveness of the bee sting,
The beauty of a peacock,
And the softness of a water spring.
What if on this graduation day you are fully clear
With an open, full, strong, vulnerable, and beautiful heart.
What would life be if you let it be.
At this point, you have studied much and learned much about what is working and what is not working in this world. I have no doubt you have enough understanding of the problems the world faces and what women in particular face in today’s world. We still live in a world where a mother dies every 90 seconds in child birth. We still live in a world where one out of 5 women faces violence in some form and where hundreds of thousands of women are raped as we speak. We live in a world where trafficking of women and girls is among the top 3 illegal trades. We live in a world where only 2.2% of all peace agreements are signed by women, where women control only 3% of decision-making positions in the media, and where women have only 18% of political participation.
It is not whether we are going to change these problems or not. We have no choice. We must change this world if we are to survive as people. The consistent marginalization and the disrespect of women cannot be sustained not for us, not for men, not for this humanity. The question is how to change… how to make the world a better place?
To be that person who will have the guts to speak truth to power, to change policies and outdated abusive structures, you must first have the guts to do it in your own life and act it within yourself. You can’t criticize a politician for not speaking truth to power if you don’t speak truth to your own self and to the powers around you, your friends or your enemies.
Much in the world can make us really upset, I lived and worked in war all my life. I have seen bombs destroying homes and families. I have seen loved ones cry and die and get displaced. I have seen my own home pillaged and destroyed. I have seen a mother’s leg chopped into pieces in front of her children. I have seen mothers raped in front of their boys. I have been angry. I have been very angry at the injustice in the world and every part of me says ENOUGH IS ENOUGH for a line has been long crossed when even the children are violated. I decided to walk the walk of change through beauty and compassion for I no longer could sustain the anger and resentment. The darkness I was working so hard to change exhausted me, broke me to tears often, and tried to destroy my spirit over and over again.
And finally I arrived to the conclusion that in order to create the peaceful and just world we envision and talk about, we need to make the change out of love and beauty and not out of anger. You see, I came to realize that a strong heart is a happy heart. A strong heart is not the warrior heart as we see it in movies, the one that goes to battle fields and with anger kills the enemy. A strong heart is a happy heart. That heart can go to darkness, to brothels where women are forced to sleep with 15 men a day, to refugee camps where any type of humane living ceases to exist, to a basement factory, to shelters of abused women, to prisons, and still see the love in the other and reach out for change out of love and not out of anger.
That journey is not an easy journey. Your heart may be broken several times. But let not the broken heart take you to fear. Sufis say, “O break my heart, o break my heart again so I can love even more.” I say, “build a bridge, they will destroy it. Build a bridge again, they will destroy it again. Build a bridge until so many people are part of building a bridge, it cannot be destroyed.” Never give up on this beautiful world and never give up on doing the work with love.
As I walked the journey of my truth and decided to dedicate my life to service, I have been filled with inspiration and at times I have been insulted and hurt. I had many choices to stop the work and get myself a job and make money and live in a nice home with a nice garden. But I can’t. I would rather die than not live my truth. So there goes my journey starting with Women for Women International when I was only 23 years old and moving from helping 33 women to more than 315,000 women and 100,000 million dollars later. And that is only one chapter of my life. My journey has only started as I move to focus on young Arab women, to acknowledge what they have done and to show the possibilities of change using personal cultural narratives.
As you embark upon your journey, I ask you to service the world in a new way. Do not think it can only be done through civil society and non-profit organizations. The separations between for-profit and non-profit sectors may have worked for a while but the segregations and separations of the do good for people and do good for yourself can no longer be sustainable. Change the world through the government. Change the world through the corporations. Change the world through religious institutions. Change the world through art. Change the world by emerging into the for-benefit sector that is the future.
And as you do that, never ever forget the people–the very essence that led you to where you are today and where you will be tomorrow. In the baker, the taxi driver, the tailor, in the mother, in the father, in the rickshaw pusher, in the beggar, we anchor ourselves. We are them. They are us. I am you. You are me. Never forget our inner connections and never lose yourself in the process of living your life.
Spread your wings and fly. Spread your wings fully and fly and breathe and laugh and go home to yourself inside your heart. It is in that we are all anchored.
THE HOPI ELDERS SPEAK
We Are The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For.
You have been telling the people that this is the
Now you must go back and tell the people that this is
And there are things to be considered:
Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in the right relationship?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.
It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader.
This could be a good time!
There is a river flowing now very fast.
It is so great and swift that there are those who may be afraid.
They may try to hold on to the shore.
They may feel they are being torn apart, and they may suffer greatly.
Know the river has its destination.
The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river,
keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.
See who is in there with you and celebrate.
At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally.
Least of all, ourselves.
For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.
The time of the lone wolf is over.
Banish the word ‘struggle’ from your attitude and your vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a scared manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
- The Elders Oraibi, Arizona Hopi Nation