The Cahanas: Keeping the Faith in the Worst of Times

Keeping the faith, as we are collectively paralyzed in dark and turbulent times, is very difficult. We are in the third year of a pandemic, marked by vast losses of lives, economic crises, homelessness, and food insecurity. The senseless genocide of people in  Ukraine led and perpetrated by the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, is horrendous, blood curling and chilling. It is incomprehensible to most human beings on the planet. If you are someone like Job depicted in the Bible, who was tested with pestilence, disease and waves of losses and gut- wrenching suffering, you can keep the faith without much struggle. However, for people like myself, who are not Jobs of the world, we question where is God in this dark chaos. How can a loving God allow such intense suffering in the world? How does one keep the faith in God in such turbulent times? Where is the human capacity to love, give, share, heal and honor each other? The most difficult test on the spiritual path is keeping the faith in God or Higher Power in the face of darkness and adversity. Even more challenging is spreading the goodness in the middle of intense suffering.

Pondering these questions, I came across a short film, called, “Perfecting the Art of Belonging” directed by Kitra Cahana in 2020.   This short film is a collaboration between Kitra and her father, Rabbi Ronnie Cahana. The film portrays Rabbi Cahana’s circumstances and commentary when placed in lockdown during the pandemic in a long term nursing facility in Canada. Deeply moved by Rabbi Cahana’s holiness, keeping the faith and practice of tikkum olan (Jewish tradition of doing good and social justice), I started doing research about the Rabbi. I discovered his remarkable family members.

Rabbi Cahana is a powerful spiritual teacher in our times. His ministry  is much needed in our world. This post is not just about Rabbi Cahana. The post also includes the remarkable Alice Lok Cahana, Ronnie Cahana’s mother and Kitra Cahana, the Rabbi’s daughter. The story of the Cahana family portrays how the family kept the faith during very trying and painful times and engaged in the practice of  “tikkum olan” which led to the transformation of deep suffering, which cannot be adequately captured in words, to create spaces of healing in the world. Tikkum Olan is a practice in the Jewish tradition for Jewish people to work hard in repairing the broken world. Please forgive me as this is a very simplistic explanation of tikkim olan as I am not a scholar of Judaism. However, I believe that our collective humanity is called to engage in this practice of repairing the world, as it is very broken.

ALICE LOK CAHANA

The Fritzer Ascher Society website has a powerful article, which describes three generations of artists in the Cahana family, Alice Lok Cahana, Ronnie Cahana and Kitra Cahana. Alice grew up in a Jewish family in Hungary. She was very close to her grandfather, a community leader and president of a local synagogue. At the age of 15, the Nazi army deported Alice,  her sisters, brother and mother to concentration camps. She survived  the Auschwitz-BirkenauGuben and Bergen-Belsen camps as a teenager. She was the only survivor of her family in the Holocaust. She escaped to Sweden and then, immigrated to the US. Alice Lok grappled with the question of how an omniscient, omnipotent, God of Agape Love can permit  indescribable suffering, such as the Holocaust, where  human dignity was destroyed and people were labeled with numbers, stripped of their names, and executed. Alice’s work focused primarily on the Holocaust.  Alice Lok developed multiple powerful pieces of art, memorializing the lives and voices unheard and destroyed in the Holocaust. Alice’s art is a spiritual monument to not forget precious lives and vibrant communities lost in the Holocaust.  Alice also engaged in tikkun olan. Her pictures honored the dead in the Holocaust and serves as a reminder that this should never happen. According to  Georgetown University’s Center for Jewish Civilization website(2021) post, “Alice defeated Hitler in three ways: she survived; she ended up turning the destructive processes of her Holocaust experience into creative expression–extracting rainbows from the ashes; and she and her husband produced three children (both sons becoming rabbis) and nine grandchildren”.  Alice’s artwork is a powerful reminder of the urgency in addressing the genocide in Ukraine.

RABBI RONNIE CAHANA

Rabbi Ronnie Cahana was a pulpit rabbi for 25 years before he had a stroke in his brain stem which left him as a quadriplegic patient. In her TED TALK in 2014, Kitra talked about  Rabbi Cahana’s journey of healing after a stroke.   The stroke  impaired all his body movement  with the exception of his capacity to blink his eyes.  His brain is fully functioning and alive. His speech consists of sublime spiritual meditations on love, connection and buoyancy of the human spirit, mind and body.

Rabbi Cahana is a brilliant philosopher and gifted poet. He demonstrates the remarkable capacity of the human condition for joy and resiliency when touched by the Divine Force even in the most challenging circumstances. Like Alice Lok who repaired the world through images, Rabbi Cahana uses words and poetry to practice tikkum olan. In the 2014 TED TALK, Kitra Cahana  states her shock when finding that her father is locked in his body due to paralysis. Kitra Cahana discovers that the Rabbi has the capacity to blink to letters and the Rabbi’s first communication was to tell her not to cry because this injury is a “blessing”. Amazing. Stunning. Kitra Cahana describes her father’s healing, and use of adaptive technology to communicate. I am astounded by the Rabbi’s comment that he refused to play the part of a “quadriplegic patient”. He states that despite his paralysis, he soars, dances and twirls in his dreams above the city. He discusses how at  one point, he was very low and his father pulled him upwards. Kitra Cahana makes the astounding point that as the outside world shuts down for the Rabbi, he travels inward to touch the core of his spiritual self, “Higher Self” which may be instrumental in  transforming his experiences of suffering into mystical states.

Rabbi Cahana eventually goes home and ministers to his congregation. His poetry, a reflection of the incredible spiritual wisdom and strength in his soul, is found on his blog. In the short film produced in 2022, “Perfecting The Art of Longing”, Rabbi Cahana very powerfully points out that holiness exists in this world. He points out holiness is when the body is loved. He celebrates holiness in asking for help and receiving help to meet bodily needs. He discusses the holiness in his dreams about the deep love for his wife, Karen. His dreams of dancing manifest holiness. He defies his physical condition as he dances in joy in his dreams. He does not seem angry. His spiritual gift is in transforming his bodily wounding experience to a sacred experience of learning about the holiness in the human condition. His goal is to live fully. He sees holiness in love, relationships and connections which bind us to our families and communities. His family’s love and care for him is beautiful to watch. He also tells his daughter, Kitra, after his injury not to cry because there is much work which needs to be done to repair a broken world. Tikkum Olan.

KITRA CAHANA

Kitra Cahana is a photographer, videographer,  director of films and documentaries.  She is a very accomplished woman and created  documentaries,  films and other projects. She received numerous prestigious prizes for her work. Her devotion to her father and compelling images of her father highlight the importance of honoring human dignity. Her work explores the inner world of her father’s soul. She is sharing the gift of her father’s poetry and meditations on love to uplift humanity in our current bleak times. While her father is in long term nursing facility, Kitra Cahana developed documentaries on nurses and doctors in the middle of the pandemic. She discusses that due to her role as a caregiver for her father, she has become an advocate for medical professional and staff in nursing homes.  Kitra also creates documentaries for vulnerable people in long term nursing homes, as they are at high risk for COVID. In an interview on caregiving in the era of COVID-19, for the podcast, Conversation with a Rabbi, Kitra talks about story telling as a form of social activism because it destroys the blindness of society to the pain and suffering of marginalized groups, such as elderly and disabled people in nursing home. Story-telling through video photography allows the world to see the current state of affairs and creates momentum for change. In Canada, the statistics for COVID related fatalities for people in nursing homes is 69%, yet, 1% of Canada’s population live in nursing homes. Kitra founded the organization, Artists-4-Long-term care. She is also involved in the Strength Based Nursing Home movement.

 

CONCLUSION

The central first question, why does a loving God allow suffering in the world, remains unanswered to me.  Different religious and spiritual traditions have different theories about this.  The second question is how to keep the faith in God or Higher Power in dark times of adversity. I do not know for sure. Each individual’s test of faith is unique.  But I do know that the astounding stories of Alice Lok Cahana, Rabbi Ronnie Cahana and Kitra Cahana depict how they kept the faith and practice tikkum olan despite intense adversity. They demonstrate strength and buoyancy of the human spirit to transform suffering and transcend to healing actions to repair our broken world.   Alice Lok Cahana honored and memorialized the dead in the Holocaust through her art. The Rabbi Cahana is healing a broken world through his ministry of words and poetry about love and demonstrating the spiritual force to transcend suffering in the human condition. Kitra Cahana is a social activist and video photographer , with the soul of a poet, in advocating for vulnerable people and channeling her father’s work. Incredible people.

Rabbi Cahana ministered to my soul in these dark times because he shows the remarkable spiritual wisdom and strength that is embedded in the human condition. He is an embodiment of the statement, that human beings are eternal spiritual beings in a temporary human experience . He gives me peace that we can endure to better times. He gives me peace that not all is lost. That is an immense gift to me. He is a powerful teacher of maintaining the faith, optimism and all that is good in the world. I believe that God places people, like Rabbi Cahana, in the middle of storms as a reminder of the best in humanity. I hope that readers also receive the ministering of this incredible Rabbi Cahana in the dark times we live in.

I also am a firm believer in the ideology of tikkim olan. Each one of us has the responsibility to repair the broken world. In repairing a broken world, a key priority is that the genocide in Ukraine led by Vladimir Putin needs to end.

 

 

The BLACK MADONNAS OF SPAIN

The idea for pilgrimage to see the Black Madonna at the Royal Monastery of Santa Maria  in Guadalupe, Extremadura, Spain germinated after I interviewed Dr. Andrew Chesnut for a blog post on  Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.   Dr. Chesnut discussed that Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City is said to have originated from the Black Madonna in Guadalupe, Extremadura, Spain.  I googled and did extensive research about this Black Madonna in Extremadura, Spain and pondered whether to go on this pilgrimage. However, something else finalized my decision to see the Spanish Lady of Guadalupe (Black Madonna) this summer. Deep betrayal from people.  I felt hurt, angry and powerless.  I needed healing. Some kind of transformation from this betrayal. I will not go into the details of the betrayals, except that I now understand Dr. Maya Angelou’s quote “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time”. Dr. Angelou is so right.

Pilgrimages are considered as travels to a sacred place for personal transformation.  People find the sacred in many different places, such as, walking on the beach, going out in nature, places of worship or deep conversations and connection with loved ones. Encounters with the sacred can uplift the soul, create distance from the whirlwind of life,  crystallize a new perspective on situations and create momentum to be “unstuck from sticky and messy situations”. In this post, I will share my experiences on the pilgrimage to see the Black Madonnas in Spain for healing from betrayal. Even though my original plan was for pilgrimage to the Spanish Lady of Guadalupe in Extremadura, Spain, I also saw two other Black Madonnas in Spain. However, it is estimated that there are  51 Black Madonnas in Spain. Additionally, I will also discuss the concept of the Black Madonna and God-image, a concept in psychology about our internal representation of a personal God, through which we may process information about the Divine and form our personal relationships with the Divine. I will also discuss  contextual influences on our God-images, such as themes of power and influence in social structures.

 

The Black Madonna

What is the Black Madonna?   Black Madonna typically refers to the icon, statue or painting of the Virgin Mary with the Christ child, associated with the catholic church. Michello (2020) reported that about 500 Black Madonna images, icons or paintings exist in the world.   Images of the Black Madonna are found in many places in Africa ( Ethiopia, South Africa and Rwanda), and Europe ( France, Spain, Poland and Switzerland). In her powerful and authentic voice of describing her five-week walking pilgrimage of seeing and worshipping Black Madonna icons throughout France, Cleveland (2023) described the Black Madonna in various states, such as, pregnancy, breast feeding and holding the Christ child. In her book, “God is a Black Woman”, Cleveland (2023) viewed the Black Madonna icons as strong, powerful, and majestic.

In her doctoral dissertation on Black Madonnas, Landman (2012) noted that the definition of the Black Madonna is “not straightforward” and there is not much knowledge about who created these mysterious icons and images.  Landman (2012) noted that the  images of the Black Madonna, excluding those in Africa, can be categorized as “black, dark brown or grey”. Landman (2012) discussed Sara Boss’s (researcher on Marion studies)  succinct definition of the Black Madonna:  a Madonna, whose devotees describe as “Black”.

Some theorists  have argued that the Black Madonna is related to pre-Christian Goddess images. According to Lydia Ruyle (2005), different names for the Dark Mother image in pre-Christian times have been “Isis of Egypt, Diana of Ephesus, Crow Mother of the Hopi, Aumakua of Hawaii, Kali of India and Palden Lhamo of Tibet” (p.3). Michello (2020) noted that the image of the primordial Black Divine mother, as the creator from darkness and chaos, stems from African indigenous beliefs, which have influenced different world religions, such as, Abrahamic religions (Islam, Judaism and Christianity) and Hinduism. Like the Black Madonna, feminine faces of God in Hinduism, Goddesses, such as Kali and Durga (often called “Ma”), are characterized by their tremendous “shakti”, referring to their sheer strength, power, fierce endurance, conquering battles and protecting their devotees.

There seems to be different views about the catholic church’s acceptance of the Black Madonna images. Michello (2020) cited scholarship  that the  catholic church has been hesitant in accepting these Black Madonnas due to race and gender issues. The Black Madonna is black and female, presenting an intersectionality of social identities, which are marginalized in the leadership hierarchy of the traditional catholic church. Cleveland (2023) described the predominantly white male images of Divinity in traditional Christianity, as ‘whitemalegod”. Cleveland (2023) posits that these images have been used by patriarchal societal power structures to oppress marginalized groups, including legitimizing slavery. Delp (2021) noted the longstanding systemic restriction of females in the catholic church leadership throughout history. Delp (2021) reported that just recently the catholic church is discussing if women can be called to serve as deacons. Theorists, like Michello (2020) highlight that the catholic church’s reticence maybe linked with the cult of the black virgin’s  advocacy for equal representation for women.

However, according to the University of Dayton website, Druicy wrote that many of these Black Madonna  “images have received approval from ecclesiastical authority in light of the divine approval manifested by well-attested miracles (subsequently approved by Church leadership)”. Landman (2012)  noted that progressive female spirituality movements have also embraced the Black Madonnas.

 

The Black Madonnas of Spain

 Santa Maria (Black Madonna) in Guadalupe, Extremadura, Spain.

 

In my view, the Spanish Black Madonna in Extremadura knows betrayal, inside and out. She is tough, survived burial for hundreds of years and remerged triumphantly. She is also known as the “Lady of Silence”. For me, this “silence” refers to the critical phase of finding safe places to heal from the wounds of betrayal and integrate the painful experience in our narratives for deeper meaning and wisdom. To come out transformed and whole again. Maybe even better and stronger. Even before I started my pilgrimage, I had an odd experience at my local library, when I requested to check out Cleveland’s (2023) book, “God is a Black Woman”.  As the librarian checked for the book, someone, who had heard the conversation between me and the librarian, came up to the library desk and said “God cannot be a Black woman because He is a Spirit”. With a grimace on her face, the  librarian rolled her eyes at the stranger and stated to me, “I do not have the book in the system, but I will order it for you so that I can read it after you”.  This librarian and I were in solidarity that this book is important.  The librarian and I seemed to implicitly agree that books are not to be banned.  I think that the librarian’s frustrated and aggravated looks scared this person away.   I was somewhat shocked by this intrusion. I never had any random person lecture to me about what books I need to read or not read. I thought “God is a spirit. I agree. But why such a fuss on divine image of God being a Black woman”.  So, I read Cleveland’s (2023) powerful and beautifully written book voraciously before my pilgrimage. As a social psychologist, theologian and professor, Cleveland (2023) discussed receiving emails from people inquiring whether she is a witch when she was writing her book, “God is a Black Woman”. Cleveland (2023) made a great point: images which are deemed sacred  and profane illustrate powerful dynamics of power and privilege in social power structures. Rozette (2022), for example,  noted that one would expect “African Madonnas and Jesuses to be black, and yet they often are not” . Rozette (2022) reported that in many African Bibles, Jesus is painted as a white man with long blonde hair and blue eyes.

My pilgrimage to see the Spanish Black Madonna of Guadalupe, Extremadura, Spain, started at the beautiful and vibrant city of Madrid. After reaching Madrid, my husband, son and I did a fair amount of research about how to reach the monastery in Extremadura, Spain. The monastery is rather remote and distant from the heart of Madrid. The Extremadura region is often referred to as “old soul of Spain”, with Roman ruins and medieval castles. The car drive from Madrid to the monastery is about three hours and 15 minutes. We were very blessed to find someone who drove us to the monastery. The drive allowed us to see different landscapes:  farm regions with  cattle, horses, sheep, then,  miles of open green  fields, under the blue sky, scattered with purple, lavender and yellow colored wild flowers and the winding roads through gorgeous mountainous regions.   After traveling through mountainous areas, we reached the quaint and picturesque town of Guadalupe, which sprung up around the monastery.

The Royal Santa Maria Monastery in Guadalupe, Extremadura, Spain is an UNESCO World Heritage site. The monastery is large with ornate architecture, and numerous museums. The monastery tours are in Spanish. The Spanish Lady of Guadalupe is dressed in royal garments, with her face uncovered. I prayed to her for protection and healing. She felt familiar to me. She knew my heart and soul. It was like I was visiting my mother. I found her eyes having the same intensity as the Hindu Divine Mother image of Kali that my mother worshipped. The Virgin of Guadalupe in Spain  personified Shakti : power, strength and perseverance. At the Spanish monastery, I also saw the painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose basilica is in Mexico City.

Cleveland (2023)  noted that the correct translation of the Biblical line in Song of Songs  is  “I am Black and I am Beautiful” and not “I am Black but Beautiful” (p.159).  The Spanish Virgin of Guadalupe is black and beautiful.  After seeing the icon of the Virgin, there was discussion of the theory in our tour group that  the Madonna  was not originally black, but, darkened due to her age or grime. I found myself rather irritated and frustrated with this discussion. To me, she is majestic:  black, beautiful, loving, compassionate, and powerful.

Peterson (2014) noted that the actual sculpture of the Spanish Virgin  is “two feet in height (59 cm)” but looks bigger “once dressed and on her pedestal”.  The original Virgin of Guadalupe statue is said to be sculpted by St. Luke and associated with many miracles, such as, ending an epidemic in Rome.  Christopher Columbus reportedly prayed to the Virgin to save his ship and crew in a fierce  storm and then, named an island, Guadalupe, to honor her. Peterson (2014) wrote that due to the Muslim invasion of the Iberian peninsula, the Spanish Black Virgin of Guadalupe image was “buried in a cave for safekeeping (in the Extremadura), only to be discovered 600 years later by a humble shepherd”. The shepherd is said to have had a vision from the Virgin about uncovering her icon and building a church at the site.

 

The Black Madonna at Montserrat

 

Even though, I did not get to travel to the monastery of the Black Madonna at Montserrat,  I saw her image at the church called, Saint Vicens De Sarria in Barcelona. She is also referred to as the “The Virgin of Montserrat” and “La Moreneta”. She is black, beautiful and radiated shakti. She holds a sphere (symbolic of the universe) in one of her hands.

According to the foreverbarcelona.com website,  Jesus asked Saint Luke in Jerusalem to carve a status of the Virgin Mary. After St. Luke carved the statue, he gave it to Saint Paul, who traveled to Barcelona and gave the statue to the Christian community in Barcelona. The statue was hidden in a cave in the mountain of Montserrat in 718 when Barcelona was attacked by the Moors. The miracle is said to have happened 80 years later when a group of shepherds saw light and music in a cave and found the Virgin Mary singing and playing instruments with angels.

 

The Santa Maria de la Alhambra in Granada

The church of Santa Maria de la Alhambra is located in Granada, in southern Spain. Santa Maria de la Alhambra is known as the “Lady of Anguishes”. We saw her in a procession. She is greenish grey in complexion. She suffered one of the greatest betrayals ever, the death of her son, God-man, Jesus Christ, by the  very people that He came to offer salvation.

Landman (2012) discussed Sara Boss’s scholarship on “green Mariology”,  which suggests that Mother Mary is also known as the mother of earth and the cosmos. She is seen as protector of not just her human children, but, the earth ecology. Landman (2012) noted that Black Madonna images are also important in ecological awareness and advocacy. I interpreted “the Lady of Anguishes” in distress about the escalating climate crisis, faced by humanity.

 

 God Image and the Black Madonna

 Aslan (2017) discussed two very important processes of the mind, Theory of Mind and Hypersensitive Agency Detection Device (HADD), which shape how human beings create images of Divinity or God image. The theory of mind suggests that we use ourselves as the primary model or paradigm through which we conceptualize other phenomenon, including Divinity.  The cognitive theory of HADD suggests that we are biologically programmed to detect human agency or human cause to understand unexplained phenomena. Since Divinity is such a vastly unexplainable phenomenon, which is difficult for the human brain to comprehend, we may lean towards images of God in human form and with human attributes to develop emotional relationships with a personal God in theistic belief systems.  God-images refer to our internalized psychological representations of  God, impacted by our personal history, parental figures, relationships, life experiences and families, and communities.  Hall and Fujikawa (2013 ) talked about the development of the explicit (conscious) and implicit (unconscious) aspects of our God-images. Hall and Fujikawa (2013 ) discussed that God-images may change during a person’s spiritual development.

God images may include our working model of our relationship with our personal God. We may attribute traits to our God-image. Some people, for example,  describe their Gods as loving, forgiving,  kind and a source of protection, whereas, others view their God images as punitive, angry, vindictive and harshly critical. Hall and Fujikawa (2013 ) reviewed research and delineated that positive images of God are related with more empathy, better self esteem and less personality pathology in individuals.

Hall and Fujikawa (2013) described there needs to be more research on contextual influences on God images. They discussed how racial minorities and culturally diverse people may have difficulty relating to white male images of divinity, defined by dominant power structures in social contexts. Authors, such as, Cleveland (2023) and  Galland (2007) have written about their spiritual journeys impacting their  God images. Cleveland (2023) reported that due to her extensive and very painful experiences of discrimination as an African American woman,  she did not connect with white male images of Christ.  She encountered many different Black Madonnas in France, such as the Black Madonna of Moulins, Our Lady of the Sick, (described as “She Who Cherishes Our Hot Mess”),  Our Lady of the Fountain, Our Lady of the Good Death (helps us loose our false selves to embrace authenticity), Virgin Warrior is the Go Consent (who loves by letting go), and Black Virgin of Saint-Gervazy (helps us to find home).  I particularly love Cleveland’s (2023) relationship with the Lady Who cherishes Our Hot Mess. That is what mothering is. Cleveland (2023) wrote about her encounters with the holy Black Madonna as liberating during her pilgrimage in France. She wrote that  “Sacred Black Feminine helped me relax into my body because I was able to relax into Her diverse and inclusive body…Her body is infinitely relatable and always expanding to include Her precious children. There is enough room for all of us” (p. 155). Additionally, Galland (2007) described her aloneness in relating to the male Buddha in her practice of Buddhism. Thus, she started her spiritual journey in connecting with Tara, female Buddha in the Tibetan tradition. Galland (2007) also wrote about her aloneness and difficulty connecting with male images of Divinity in the Roman Catholic church and thus, began searching for the Black Madonna.

In the movie, “The Secret Life of Bees”, adapted from the best selling book of Sue Monk Kidd, the character, Lily,  asked August, an African American mother figure in her life, about why she placed images of the Black Madonna on the jars of honey. August replied that people may need a God that resembles them or “looks like them”.  This points to the powerful notion that August and her sisters, known as Daughters of Mary, see the Divine in the Black Madonna and have a personal relationship to the Sacred Black Feminine . They know they are precious children of the Divine One and carry the Divine spark in them.

Black Madonna and Healing

The topic of betrayal is complex. People betray for different reasons. There are different degrees of betrayal.  Each individual’s recovery from betrayal varies. In terms of my own pilgrimage for healing from betrayal, my “human self” still struggles with anger, hurt and sadness at times. The experience of betrayal sucks. However, this pilgrimage helped me create some distance from this experience. My higher self reminds me that I need to process my anger, sadness, grief and  let go. The Black Madonnas of Spain remind me of the Divine Mother’s strength and grace to sustain me.  The Black Madonnas of Spain remind me that the actions of betrayal are all about the betrayer. The betrayer is responsible for his/her karma, and I am responsible for my karma. The Black Madonnas of Spain  seem to whole heartedly agree with the lyrics of my favorite Taylor Swift song, “Shake It Off”.  I love Swift’s lyrics,  “And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, I shake it off, I shake it off”. I  listen to that song frequently and groove to the music.  The Black Madonnas  remind me to heal from the wounds of betrayal, shake it off and not become bitter. Faced with betrayal, the Black Madonnas challenge me to figure out who I am, such as, my core values and dig deeper into self discovery and self acceptance. They remind me to practice gratitude for the good people and things in my life and still look for the good in the world. The Black Madonnas remind me of Michelle Obama’s powerful statement, “when they go low, we go high”. They  remind me to live my best life, keep moving forward, trust and love myself even more.  They remind me to stand in my own truth. The Black Madonnas of Spain got my back. They remind me that this too shall pass. I take great comfort in this.

I will end with a full circle moment. After the pilgrimage, when I went to return Cleveland’s (2023) book, “God is a Black Woman” to the library, the same librarian, who had ordered the book, saw me and recognized the book. It is an odd experience because I see different librarians every time that  I go to the library’s front desk. I thanked the librarian for ordering the book. She said “I order many books but I remember ordering this book”. She smiled and took the book from me.

 

REFERENCES

Aslan, R. (2017). God: A Human History. Random House

Galland, C. (2007). Longing for Darkness: Tara and the Black Madonna. Penguin Books

Cleveland, C. (2023). God Is a Black Woman. HarperCollins Publishers

Delp, Christine ( September 23, 2021). Gender, Cultural Change and the Catholic church. https://thesocietypages.org/trot/2021/09/23/gender-cultural-change-and-the-catholic-church/

Duricy, M. Black Madonnas: Origin, History, Controversy. https://udayton.edu/imri/mary/b/black-madonnas-origin-history-controversy.php

Hall, T. W., & Fujikawa, A. M. (2013). God image and the sacred. In K. I. Pargament, J. J. Exline, & J. W. Jones (Eds.), APA handbook of psychology, religion, and spirituality (Vol. 1): Context, theory, and research (pp. 277–292). American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/14045-015

Kidd, S. M. (2022). The Secret Life of Bees. Penguin Random House LLC.

Landman, M. R. (2012). Doctoral Thesis: Investigation in to the Phenomenon of the Black Madonna. University of Roehamptom, London. chrome-extension://hbgjioklmpbdmemlmbkfckopochbgjpl/https://pure.roehampton.ac.uk/portal/files/445689/Melanie_Landman_PhD_11_Jan_2013.pdf

Michello , J. (October 10, 2020)   The Black Madonna: A Theoretical Framework for the African Origins of Other World Religious Beliefs, Religions:   https://www.academia.edu/60331901/The_Black_Madonna_A_Theoretical_Framework_for_the_African_Origins_of_Other_World_Religious_Beliefs

Peterson, J.F. (2014) “The Virgin of Guadalupe, Extremadura, Spain.” Object Narrative. In Conversations: An Online Journal of the Center for the Study of Material and Visual Cultures of Religion . doi:10.22332/con.obj.2014.22

Rozette, E. (2022). The Madonna and the Child of Soweto, The Black Madonna. https://www.interfaithmary.net/black-madonna-index/soweto

 Ruyle, L (June 18. 2005). Goddess Icons of the Dark Mother Around the Globe. https://www.academia.edu/12028983/Goddess_Icons_of_Dark_Mothers_Around_the_Globe?rhid=28520978496&swp=rr-rw-wc-24439000

 

Veciana, M. L., Who is the Black Madonna Our Lady of Montserrat?https://www.foreverbarcelona.com

 

 

 

 

 

OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE

Apparitions of the Virgin Mary have been reported in many places, such as, (Lourdes) France, (Fatima) Portugal, Kibeho (Rwanda) and Yuzawadai Akita (Japan). Our Lady of Guadalupe is a highly revered Marianne apparition that occurred in Mexico almost 500 hundred years ago and her basilica is in Mexico City. She is referred to as “the Mother of Love and Compassion to all who call her name”.  Nabhan-Warren (2023) referred to her as the “the Indigenous Virgin Mary”, as a symbol of inclusive love, who “loves her children no matter what”. Ayala (2021) discussed her “many names: Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, La Virgin de Guadalupe, Empress of the Americas, Our lady of Tepeyac”. According to Gorny and Rosikon (2016), the shrine of the Lady of Guadalupe is the most visited pilgrimage place in the world, with over 20 million people visiting her basilica in Mexico City every year.  Ayala (2021) also addressed the popularity of the Lady of Guadalupe with “Catholics, non-Catholics and …non-believers”. Ayala (2021) wrote that Our Lady of Guadalupe is not just on an altar or church but also “emblazoned on a pair of dangling earrings or on a muscular forearm”.

Our Lady of Guadalupe means many things to different people.  She speaks to people all over the world. I am 100% “Guadalupan”, but not Catholic. I do not identify with a particular religious affiliation. However, the three religious traditions that have influenced me heavily are Hinduism, Catholicism and Buddhism. I grew up for the first ten years of my life in India where I was exposed to images of the Divine Mother in Hinduism.  I attended catholic elementary and high schools and the figure of Mother Mary stood out to me.  My search for the feminine face of the Divine started after I lost my mother 12 years ago. In my search for the face of the Divine Mother, Our Lady of Guadalupe resonated in my heart. She is an anchor for me in my faith life. I pray to Our Lady of Guadalupe regarding the details of my life. For me, she is interested in both the mundane humdrum and significant matters in my life. Just as my mother was. I recently watched a beautiful movie about relationships, “Past Lives”, brilliantly directed by Celine Song (2023). Song (2023)  explores a semi-autobiographical, powerful and poignant story of relationships between two childhood friends, lost loves and the Korean Buddhist concept of “in-yun”, or” inyeon”, related to reincarnation, which is very intriguing.  Son (2023) described the concept of “inyeon”, through the dialogue of Nora, Korean American protagonist of the movie “Past Lives”. Nora stated “It’s an inyeon if two strangers even walk past each other in the street and their clothes accidentally brush, because it means there must have been something between them in their past lives. If two people get married, they say it’s because there have been 8,000 layers of inyeon over 8,000 lifetimes”. I wondered how many layers and lifetimes of inyeon must occur for a mother daughter relationship.

My devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe also led to my reflections about attachment theory of John Bowlby (1969), a British psychiatrist.   Attachments can be viewed as anchoring relationships in our lives, which help us navigate through the complexities of life. John Bowlby talked about the attachment between the primary caregiver and the infant as essential for the survival and development of the infant. Wilson-Ali and colleagues (2019) differentiated between primary attachment with the caregiver and secondary attachments that the child may form with other people in their lives. This refers to the different anchoring relationships that people have in their lives. Both primary and secondary attachments shape our stories.

According to Bowlby, the primary caregiver is attuned to the needs of the infant and takes care of the infant. This attachment relationship is the matrix through which the child develops socio-emotionally, physically, and neurobiologically. This attachment shapes the fundamental aspects of the developing child’s self-image, relationships with others and the environment. Mary Ainsworth (1971, 1978) was one of the first researchers who studied different types of attachment styles. In secure attachment, the developing child views the caregiver as a secure base and safe haven from which to explore the unknown, learn to manage feelings (regulating feelings) and learn about love. Our caregivers can be our first teachers of how to love, learn, experience joy, and live with wonderment, experience awe and manage negative feelings, like fear and uncertainty.  A neonate does not have a developed sense of self. Heinz Kohut, a self- psychologist, discussed the concept of emotional attunement of a primary caregiver to the infant’s needs and mirroring or reflecting to the developing child about who he or she is. Through the mirroring process of the primary caregiver in infancy and other significant people in the child’s life, the developing child answers fundamental questions:  Am I good? Am I loveable? Am I smart? Am I creative? etc.  Through the primary attachment relationship, the child learns different identities, such as “I am a worthy and loveable person, who can trust myself to make wise decisions” .Through the empathic attunement and mirroring of the primary caregiver  to the infant and other significant people in the child’s life,, the developing child learns about others and the world at large :  Are people safe? Is the world a safe and kind place? Can I trust others?

Researchers, like Granqvist (1998), have applied attachment theory to God and proposed two different hypotheses of attachment to God:   compensation hypothesis and correspondence hypothesis.  The compensation hypothesis states that with insecure attachment histories in childhood, there is a greater need for a stable compensatory attachment figure, like a Divine figure. The correspondence hypothesis suggests that early relationships influence future relationships and thus, if there was a secure attachment with a parent figure, then there is most likely a secure attachment to God. Thus, according to correspondence hypothesis, if one had a very conflictual relationship with a mother figure, the person may have difficulty with a secure attachment with a Divine Mother figure. If there is secure attachment with a mother figure in childhood, one may view the Divine Mother  as an anchoring or stabilizing relationship from which to navigate life.  I see Our Lady of Guadalupe as a secure and safe anchoring relationship in my life. Our Lady of Guadalupe’s blessings have profoundly impacted me. For that, I have much love and gratitude towards Her.

Thus, I am very honored to present my interview with Dr. Andrew Chesnut regarding Our Lady of Guadalupe. Dr. Chesnut is Professor of Religious Studies and holds the Bishop Walter F. Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. He completed his doctorate in Latin American history at University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Chesnut’s specialty is in the religious landscape of Latin America. He is a scholar, researcher, prolific author, and professor. He eloquently discussed the various aspects of Our Lady of Guadalupe: her historical roots, cultural, religious, and political aspects, and the mysteries of the tilma, which first showed her image. A big thank you to Dr. Chesnut for taking the time to do the interview for the blog and sharing his knowledge and expertise. Also, much gratitude and appreciation to Mr. Ryan Corcino for editing the video.

VIDEO LINK: OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE

Please note that the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the video is from unsplash.com (free image) by Antonia Felipe

 

Contact information for Dr. Chesnut:

https://vcu.academia.edu/AndrewChesnut

https://worldstudies.vcu.edu/directory/chesnut.html

Follow AndrewChesnut1 on Twitter.com

 

Contact information for Ryan Corcino:

Corcino Productions: www.corcinoproductions.com

 

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

Mary is the only person who was present with Christ from His birth to His death. Some theologians argue that Mary was the first person to see the resurrected Christ. She represents the unconditional love that a mother has for her son. She is also a representational image of the Divine Mother to many people as indicated by the  line “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me” in the famous Beatles song, “Let It Be”.

I will end with a quote from Hetzel’s (2023) article which indicated what Our Lady of Guadalupe reportedly stated to Juan Diego:

“Listen, put it into your heart, my youngest and dearest son, that the thing that frightens you, the thing that afflicts you, is nothing: do not let it disturb you…Am I not here, I who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need something more? Let nothing else worry you or disturb you.”

 

 

REFERENCES

Ayala, E. (2021, December 10). “500 years later, Our Lady of Guadalupe still consoles millions with her message: God has not forgotten us”. America: The Jesuit Review. https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2021/12/10/our-lady-guadalupe-feast-day-texas-242016

Chesnut, A. & Kingsbury, K.  (2018, December 8). 15 Fascinating Facts About the Virgin of Guadalupe.  The Global Catholic Review. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/theglobalcatholicreview/2018/12/15-fascinating-facts-about-the-virgin-of-guadalupe/

Gorny, G & Rosikon, J. (2016) Guadalupe Mysteries: Deciphering the Code. Ignatius Press.

Granqvist, P. (1998). Religiousness and Perceived Childhood Attachment: On the Question of Compensation or Correspondence. Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion, 37(2), pp.350-367. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1387533

Hetzel, W. (2023, August 8).  “Am I Not Here, I Who Am Your Mother?” Words From Our Blessed Mother. Good Catholic.  https://www.goodcatholic.com/am-i-not-here-i-who-am-your-mother-words-from-our-blessed-mother/

Nabhan-Warren, K. (2023, December 8). VIVA Guadalupe! Beyond Mexico, the Indigenous Virgin Mary is a powerful symbol of love and inclusion for millions of Latinos in the US. The Conversation.  https://research.uiowa.edu/news/2023/12/viva-guadalupe-beyond-mexico-indigenous-virgin-mary-powerful-symbol-love-and-inclusion

Son, S. A. (2023, September 12). Past Lives: inyeon is a Korean philosophy of how relationships form over many lifetimes. The Conversation.  https://theconversation.com/past-lives-inyeon-is-a-korean-philosophy-of-how-relationships-form-over-many-lifetimes-213289

 Song, C. (2023). Past Lives. CJ ENM Killer Films 2AM

Wilson-Ali, N., Barratt-Pugh, C & Knaus, M. (2019) Multiple perspectives on attachment theory: Investigating educators’ knowledge and understanding. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 44(3) https://doi.org/10.1177/1836939119855214

 

 

 

 

 

HEROIC HOPE: CAMPHOR TREES WHICH SURVIVED ATOMIC BOMB IN NAGASAKI.

This post is a follow up to the last blog post, “Essential Hope”.  In the last post, I discussed the phenomenal book by Jane Goodall, Douglas Abrams, and Gail Hudson’s (2021)  “The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times”.  In the book, Dr. Goodall  discussed the amazing resiliency of nature as a powerful reason for hope.  I was awe struck by Dr. Goodall’s account of the survival of the camphor trees after the atomic bombing in Nagasaki. 

These are pictures of the camphor trees from Shannon Lefebvre’s  website .  Please see pictures below. A Big Thank you to Shannon for giving me permission to post the pictures of the camphor trees. As you can see in the pictures, the two camphor trees, surrounding the Sanno Shinto shrine, were destroyed in 1945 by the blast of the atomic bomb in Nagasaki. However, they regenerated and and continue to grow magnificently. An incredible testament to the resiliency of nature and strength of hope. 

One of the pillars of the Sanno Shrine was destroyed but one remains. There is also a plaque honoring the loss of lives that day in Nagasaki.

REFERENCES

Discover Nagasaki: The Official Visitors’ Guide. Sanno Sign and the One- Legged Tori Sign.  https://www.discover-nagasaki.com/en/sightseeing/117

Shannon, F. (2011). Restored Camphor Trees: Nagasaki. https://www.tour-nagasaki.com/2011/07/nagasaki-camphor-trees_26.html,

ESSENTIAL HOPE

I recently came across a study that blew my mind.  Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert (2010), Harvard psychologists,  found that participants in their study reported their “minds wandering” almost 47 percent of their waking hours. The term, “mind wandering” refers to thinking about stuff that is not in the present moment. Researchers concluded that a wandering mind is not a happy mind. In the Buddhist tradition, the untrained human mind is referred to as the “monkey mind”. I have become increasingly familiar with my own monkey mind. The combination of a wandering mind and given recent turbulent times can be a toxic combination.   Ruminations of past negative events and projections of future disaster may lead to feelings of hopelessness.   Mindfulness, intentional living with goals for a better future and practices of positive psychology, including cultivation of positive emotions,  such as hope, can be a powerful remedy for the wandering, unhappy and hopeless mind.

Given the current state of the world rife with crises, such as, frequent mass shootings, geopolitical turmoil, racially based violence, political divisiveness and mental health crisis,  I am more curious than ever about the hope factor. In my readings on hope,  I came across a phenomenal book, Jane Goodall, Douglas Abrams, and Gail Hudson’s (2021)  “The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times”. This book makes a compelling case for hope and activism for a positive future. Dr. Goodall, a renowned researcher of animal behavior, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and United Nations Peace Ambassador, defined hope as a desire for a better future and “a human survival trait” when faced with adversity. She stated that without hope we perish. She also added that we need to work intelligently and diligently to optimize the occurrence of positive outcomes  (our hopes or visions) for a better future. I agree with Dr. Goodall, especially in terms of active hope fueled action as very  powerful. I prefer hope fueled and focused action rather than being stuck in the quagmire of the  wandering “monkey” mind.

This post will look at Dr. Goodall’s powerful invitation to humanity for hope. As a 90-year-old woman who lived through World War II and the cold war, Dr. Goodall stated she has hope for a better future in the face of numerous crises, ecological, economic, racial violence, religious discrimination, and geopolitical turmoil. This post will include reflections on her compelling reasons for hope. It will also examine some of the correlates of hope found in scientific studies.  Additionally, this post will explore  hope through the noetic paradigm.  The noetic paradigm includes the mysterious nature of hope, where hope is sometimes the only thing that arises out of our souls and occupies our hearts and minds when nothing else remains.  Dr. Goodall argued hope is for both people of faith who believe in a Supreme intelligence behind the Universe, as well as, for secular people.  She described hope as having both aspects: logical versus illogical. I agree.

 THE HOPE FACTOR

Dr. Goodall argued that the “amazing human intellect” when utilized wisely is a powerful reason for hope. She stated that wisdom is when we use the powerful human intellect in actions with awareness of consequences of our actions and thinking about what is good for the whole. Wisdom integrates the sharp intellect with the compassion of the human heart in deciphering what is the best course of action to actualize visionsor hopes for a better future . Wisdom is the opposite of narcissism, where actions are based out of undiluted selfishness.

After reading Dr. Goodall’s reasons for hope, I took a deeper dive into what does psychology has to say about hope. The two most common theories of hope in psychology are Charles Synder’s hope theory and Kaye Herth’s hope theory.

Synder (2002) described hope theory as having three key components:

  1. Setting goals which can be achieved for a better future.
  2. Pathways of working towards the goal
  3. Agency or determination in utilizing resources to move forward on the pathways for goal achievement.

Tomasulo (2023) stated that goal setting needs to focus on what we can control. I am a big believer in visualizing goals, like creating vision boards, or writing goals down concisely. Another strategy is to think about macro goals (long term) versus micro goals (short term) to help you achieve macro goals.  Tomasulo (2023) described effective micro goals as “brief”, reasonable” and “present focused”. Tomasulo (2023) also discussed the importance of maintaining a “positive outlook”. A key factor in maintaining a positive outlook is to cultivate the growth mindset, discussed by researcher, Carol Dweck. In a growth mindet, it is Ok to make mistakes because we can learn from our mistakes and become better. The growth mindset fuels the phenomenon of “fall forward”. The growth mindset is different from the fixed mindset, where the expectation is perfection at first attempt, which is unrealistic and often leds to stagnation and unproductivity.

Flexibility is also critical: as one pathway closes, we need to explore new ones. Positive emotions, self-confidence, social, emotional, and spiritual support always fuel our energy to work on pathways to achieve goals. Disappointment, failure, and negative emotions are inevitable on the road to achieving goals.  Negative emotions may be processed in safe relationships, including spiritual resources, for new pathways to progress towards goals. In Herth’s theory of hope, there is a “affiliative-contextual” dimension of hope, which is very  cool. This refers to people’s perceived social, emotional, and spiritual support, and sense of belongingness. The affiliative-contextual dimension speaks to the gift of hope that we may get from supportive people in our lives and spiritual resources. The gift of hope is what we give to each other. It is like one glowing candle lighting another candle. The actions of one candle lighting a multitude of other candles does not diminish the strength or beauty of the original candle. This highlights the notion that hope, like other positive emotions, is contagious. Hope spreads rapidly, often fueling movements.

Persistence is  critical in the achievement of goals. Pathak (2020) wrote that when Thomas Edison was asked about his numerous failures before his invention, he stated “I didn’t fail 1000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1000 steps.” Interestingly, Pathak (2020) wrote that Thomas Edison, as a four year old boy with partial deafness, came home and gave his mother  a note from his teacher. The teacher wrote  “ Your Tommy is too stupid to learn, get him out of the school.” Edison’s mother responded “ My Tommy is not stupid to learn, I will teach him myself.” This highlights affiliative and contextual dimension of Herth’s theory of hope and Tomasulo (2023)’s point that an important aspect of cultivating hope is to “stick to positive people”.

Hope begets hope. As we reach our goals, we tend to develop self- efficacy or belief that we can accomplish things we were unable to do before. Hope births new hope. Like other positive emotions, hope generates itself, expands the range of possibilities, increases problem solving skills and allows us to see old problems through new lens, where solutions appear more readily.

Research on Hope

Psychologists have studied correlates of hope. Barbara L. Fredrickson, a psychologist, did phenomenal work in studying positive  emotions, such as, hope,  love, and joy. Fredrickson’s theory, called Broaden and Build theory, refers to positive emotions permitting us to build more intellectual, social and physical resources.   Cuncic (2023) pointed out that positive and negative emotions often co-exist and the goal is not to replace negative emotions with positive emotions. Cultivation of positive emotions can create an upward spiral which can help us create more coping and problem solving skills, greater resilience and gain perspective in the midst of negative emotions. Positive emotions can lead to more psychological flexibility, whereas, negative emotions, like fear and anger, are constrictive and narrow our ability to view different possibilities for problem solving, growth and well-being.

Day and colleagues (2010) followed first year undergraduate students over three years and found that their hope levels (agency and pathways) were more powerful predictors of their academic achievement than their intelligence, previous academic performance, and personality styles.  Reichard and colleagues (2012) reviewed 45 different studies and identified a 14 percent increase in  successful work performance when employees report higher hope levels than random chance.

Stern and colleagues (2001) found that hopelessness is a significant predictor of mortality in middle aged and older adults, such that, twice the number of adults who reported hopelessness died compared to their counterparts who reported feeling hopeful. Hopelessness was also a significant predictor of adults with cardiovascular or cancer.

Hope and the Indomitable Human Spirit

There are mysterious and illogical aspects of hope, difficult to decipher by the human mind, which can perhaps be better accounted for by the noetic paradigm. Peter M. Rojcewicz (2021) noted that in the noetic paradigm, phenomena are explored through the modalities of   mind/body/spirit and transcendent dimensions. The human spirit conjures hope in remote, barren places. To hope is to dream. To dream is to live.

Dr. Goodall argued that a powerful reason for hope is the “indomitable human spirit”. She described that this is the inner courage and strength to fight for goals despite tremendous adversities, like scorn, ridicule, hopelessness, discrimination,  and the ultimate cost of one’s life. She discussed people, like, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi and Ken Saro-Wiwa, a Nigerian who led nonviolent demonstrations against pollution by the Royal Dutch Shell and was executed by his government. She discussed  the critical role of Sir Winston Churchill, who inspired Britain to fight against Nazi Germany, in the face of many European nations facing defeat. I love Winston Churchill’s quote “If you’re going through hell, keep going”. No point stopping in hell. Walk through it to the other end.

 

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

The topic of hope is complex and nuanced, an area of intersectionality between psychology and spirituality. Hope is powerful, and a necessity for survival, resiliency and critical in thriving and flourishing. Resiliency is human beings in overcoming adversity is demonstrated by the vast research in Post Trauma Growth (PTG). Dr. Goodall talks about the resiliency of nature as a powerful reason which makes her hopeful. I was particularly struck by Dr. Goodall’s story of seeing two five-hundred-year-old camphor trees which survived after the explosion of the atomic bomb in Nagasaki at the end of World War 2. She described the city in ruins, tremendous loss in human lives but the lower part of the tree trunks of these two trees survived. Unbelievable. Each spring the tree grew leaves and continues to grow. Remarkable. She described how Japanese people consider these trees as holy and symbols of “peace and survival”. She stated that “spiritual power exists in all of life”. We, as human beings define this spiritual spark as “the soul”. She added that this spiritual spark exists in nature. I agree.

On another note, one needs to be careful of false hope: goals not realized with repeated pathways and agency. Trapped in false hope can be a miserable and dismal experience. Grief and loss issues may need to be processed in letting go of false hope and old visions.

I will end with the remarkable comment about hope by the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu, human rights activist, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, and Anglican Bishop of South Africa. In an interview in the film, “Mission:  Joy (Finding Happiness in Troubled Times)”,  the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu described himself as a “prisoner of hope” when it came to his difficult struggles for an apartheid free South Africa.   Nelson Mandela, the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and his collaborators were successful in ending apartheid.

Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu

WISHING EVERYONE A FRUITFUL AND HOPEFUL 2024 YEAR.

 

 

 

REFERENCES

Cuncic, A. (2023). An Overview of Broaden and Build Theory. Verywellmind. https://www.verywellmind.com/broaden-and-build-theory-4845903#:~:text=Barbara%20Frederickson%20first%20proposed%20the%20broaden-and-build%20theory%20as,in%20psychology%20on%20negative%20emotions%20and%20psychological%20maladjustment

Day, L., Hanson, K., Maltby, J., Proctor, C., Wood, A.  (2010) Hope uniquely predicts objective academic achievement above intelligence, personality, and previous academic achievement. Journal of Research in Personality, 44, 550-553.
https://doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2010.05.009

Goodall, J., Abrams, D & Hudson, G. (2021). The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times. Celadon Books (Division of Macmillan Publishers), New York

Killingsworth, M. A. & Gilbert, D. T. Gilbert (2010). A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind.
Science 330, 932 DOI: 10.1126/science.1192439

Pathak, I. R. (2020). What Thomas Edison can Teach you about Perseverance. Illumination. Medium.com.  https://medium.com/illumination/what-thomas-edison-can-teach-you-about-perseverance-3c6d05caa57d

Pursuit of Happiness (2023). Barbara Fredrickson .https://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/barb-fredrickson/

Reichard, R. J., Avey, J. B., Lopez, S & Dollwet, M (2013). Having the will and finding the way: A review and meta-analysis of hope at work.    The Journal of Positive Psychology. 8(4).    292-304 https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2013.800903

Rojcewicz, P. M. (2021). Existential Intimacy of Learning: A Noetic Turn from STEM. Academia Letters. https://doi.org/10.20935/AL2873

Stern, S. L.,  Dhanda, R, & Hazuda,H. P. (2001). Hopelessness Predicts Mortality in Older Mexican and European Americans. Psychosomatic Medicine, 63(3), 344-351

Snyder, C. R. (2002). Hope Theory: Rainbows in the Mind. Psychological Inquiry , 13 (4). 249-275. Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/1448867

Tomasculo, D. J.  (2023). The Power of Hope. Psychology Today. Dhttps://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/202305/the-power-of-hope

 

 

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS IS NOT A THERAPY SITE. PLEASE SEEK PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH THERAPY SERVICES, AS NEEDED.

Conversations with Dr. Jean MacPhail: A Spiral Life, Spirituality and The Divine Mother

During the months of September or October (depending on the Hindu calendar), Durga Puja, worship of a manifestation of the Divine Mother (“Ma” or “Devi”), is the one of the grandest Hindu festivals in West Bengal, India. New clothes, sweets, attending puja (worship service), giving Pushpanjali (offering flowers to the Divine Mother after chanting mantras), and singing during Arati (worship through fire). Growing up in the first ten years of my life in Asansol, West Bengal, this festival, over four days, was the highlight of the year. Sri Gyan Rajhans (2019) described Durga (Sanskrit word for fortress) as a manifestation of the Divine Mother, who protects her children against evil. She has ten arms, multitasker as most moms I know, rides a lion (demonstrating tremendous strength or “shakti’), embodies compassion in eliminating suffering in the world and grants resiliency in the inner and outer lives of her children.  I find it fascinating that Ma Durga carries a lotus, not yet in full bloom, in one of her hands. Sri Gyan Rajhans wrote that the word lotus in Sanskrit translation means “born of mud”. This indicates that spiritual awareness and enlightenment in human beings, symbolized by the magnificent lotus,  often arises from the struggles, hardships, sweat, blood, and tears, in the human condition (referring to the mud from which the lotus arises).

Given the patriarchal underpinnings of many cultures, religious and spiritual traditions tend to depict God or Divine Consciousness with masculine energies and features. However, the concept of the Divine Mother, God depicted with feminine energies and features, is also discussed in some religions and spiritual traditions. Jaya (2021) wrote an article, ” The Many Faces of The Divine Mother”, where he described the different manifestations of the Divine Mother, such as, Durga in Hinduism. Images of the Divine Mother include Kali, Saraswati, Lakshmi, Parvati, Chamundi in Hinduism.  Tara  is viewed as the Mother of Liberation in Buddhism. Dr. Sherry Ruth Anderson discussed the feminine faces of God in Judaism and Christianity. Dr. Sherry Ruth Anderson used the terms: “Shekinah” (feminine face of God in Judaism) and “Sophia” (feminine face of God in Christianity).  The Virgin Mary is an  embodiment the Divine Mother in some cultures.

In light of spirituality and the Divine Mother, I am very honored to introduce Dr. Jean MacPhail to the readers. She is my good friend, and an elder of immense wisdom, sharp intellect, wit, bold and fearless in expressing her thoughts and feelings.  She is an artist, physician, medical researcher, prolific author,  philosopher, and a nun in the Vedanta Society. I attended her presentation at a conference. I read her book, “A Spiral Life”. I am still working on her book, “Swami Vivekananda’s History of Universal Religion and its Potential for Global Reconciliation”.   Dr. MacPhail discussed that she worships Ma Kali, a form of the Divine Mother. She stated that her exposure to Celtic tradition of Goddesses led her to find refuge in Ma Kali. She also described being a big fan of the saint, Sri Sarada Devi, wife of Sri Ramakrishna.

In my opinion, Dr. MacPhail is a fully bloomed lotus, demonstrating magnificent spiritual growth despite her personal tragedies. She has studied the philosophy of Swami Vivekananda extensively and completed her doctoral thesis on Vedanta philosophy. Swami Vivekananda gave his brilliant and groundbreaking speech on Hinduism’s focus on tolerance and universal acceptance of all religions at the Parliament of World’s Religions at Chicago in 1893 (artic.edu).  He addressed his speech to the American audience with the endearing words, “Sisters and Brothers of America”, which led to a standing ovation by the audience.

This post consists of my interview with Dr. MacPhail, which is rich and fascinating, as she discusses her life cycles or “spirals” through a developmental perspective, each cycle consisting of disruptive stressors and healing relationships with teachers and the sacred. She discusses many facets of her spiritual journey and experiences of the sacred through Christianity, Buddhism, Celtic wisdom, relationship with the Divine Mother (Ma Kali) and Vedanta philosophy of Sri RamaKrishna and Swami Vivekananda.

Here is the link to my interview with Dr. Jean MacPhail:

Conversations with Dr. Jean MacPhail: A Spiral Life, Spirituality and the Divine Mother

The video was edited by Mr. Ryan Corcino.

Many thanks to Dr. Jean MacPhail and Ryan Corcino.

 

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

Spiral imprints are powerful symbols occurring repeatedly, ranging from the microcosm of one individual life to the macrocosm of galaxies in the universe. Dr. Brenner (2015) discussed the “spiral process” and particularly the  cycles in the spiral imagery as  stages of life where our consciousness experiences transformation, birth, death and rebirth of the self. She also discussed the spiral imagery as demonstrated in many facets of nature, such as the solar system, galaxies, and the flow of water.  Dr. MacPhail’s discussion of the spirals or life cycles and her relationship with Ma Kali (Divine Mother) was very rich, powerful and intriguing.  Dr. MacPhail’s interview was very timely as I just came back from the Durga Puja festival yesterday.

Dr. MacPhail’s interview led me to reflect of my own life cycles and their impact on my biological, psychological and spiritual development.  Hope this post inspires readers to reflect on their own “spirals” or life cycles as we come closer to the end of this year and start of 2024.

 

 

 

FOR CONTACT INFORMATION for Dr. Jean MacPhail:

 It can be accessed by anyone who has academia membership.
This is for anyone who is not a member of Academia.
FOR CONTACT INFORMATION For Ryan Corcino:

 

 

 

REFERENCES

Art Institute of Chicago. Swami Vivekananda and His 1893 Speech. https://www.artic.edu 

Brenner, A. (2015). Shape of your Life: The Spiral Process. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-flux/201501/the-shape-your-life#:~:text=Within%20the%20spiral%20form%20%E2%80%9Cthe%20potential%20for%20movement,evolution%2C%20humanity%E2%80%99s%20developmental%20climb%20to%20realize%20heightened%20consciousness.

Jaya, N. (2021). Many Faces of Divine Mother. Ananda India. https://anandaindia.org/blog/many-faces-of-divine-mother/

MacPhail, J. C. (2010) A Spiral Life. Xlibris Corporation.

MacPhail, J. C. ( 2020) Swami Vivekananda’s History of Universal Religion and its Potential for Global   Reconciliation. Cook Communication.

Rajhans, S. G. (2019). Goddess-Durga. https://www.learnreligions.com

 

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS IS NOT A THERAPY SITE. PLEASE SEEK PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES, AS NEEDED.

Interview with Dr. Carolyn Torkelson: Holistic Health Beyond Menopause

Menopause refers to the process of cessation of menstrual periods in women, marking the end of the reproductive years. What does post menopause mean? Dr. Traci C. Johnson (2022) defines post menopause as a time  in a woman’s life after she stops having menstrual periods for 12 months. Carrie Madarmo (2022) estimated that there will be over 1.1 billion postmenopausal women in the world by 2025. That is a lot of women. According to Katherine Lee (2021), there are increased health risks that women in post-menopause may experience, such as, increased weight gain, heart disease, osteoporosis, urinary tract infections, and urinary incontinence.  It is again important to note that each woman’s experience of post menopause is influenced by her unique biological, sociocultural and spiritual factors. Given my journey in starting to navigate  post menopause, I came across a phenomenal guidebook, Beyond Menopause: New Pathways to Holistic Health by Carolyn Torkelson, M.D.  and Catherine Marienau, Ph.D. I love the book’s holistic approach to post menopause by exploring the multitude of issues related to biological, psychological, social, cultural  and spiritual shifts in women. Drs. Torkelson and Marienau discuss  keys ideas, such as, developing a “web of wellness”, “harmonizing body, mind, and spirit”, self-awareness”, “self-compassion” and “self-advocacy” in a health care system which may not optimally address different health issues of women in post menopause. 

This post consists of my interview with Dr. Torkelson. I found her to be very knowledgeable, passionate about her area of expertise, interpersonally warm and unique in terms of her training and experience in holistic or integrative medicine. She started her career as a nurse practitioner in a holistic clinic, and then, attended medical school with a focus in preventative care and holistic health. She practiced family medicine for ten years, and then, joined as a faculty member at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine. She also completed her masters degree in clinical research and conducted studies on integrative medicine. She  is a pioneer in integrative medicine because she discussed that there was no formal training in integrative holistic medicine when she started her career and therefore, she actively explored this area and became involved with the American Holistic Medical Association. I found it particularly intriguing that she studied indigenous healing approaches, such as, Native American healing systems,  Tibetan medicine and also worked in Guatemala. Dr. Torkelson is currently an adjunct associate professor at the University of Minnesota. I am super excited to present my interview with Dr. Torkelson on post menopausal women’s health through a holistic perspective and the importance of implementing evidence based changes in women’s lifestyle in promoting wellness rather than only focusing on disease -centric model of addressing symptoms.  I very highly recommend this book. I love her discussion of the five pillars of health: restoration and sleep, nutrition and digestion, movement and exercise, emotional well-being (“healing power of love” and “listening to our body, emotions, thoughts”) and connection to others. This book also has chapters on multiple critical areas, such as, balance, sleep, weight issues and diet (“viewing food as medicine”), alternative healing techniques, anxiety, fatigue, hormone replacement therapy, sexual health, and brain health. The book addresses the important areas of nurturing the mind, body and spirit. Much gratitude and appreciation to Dr. Torkelson in her generosity for doing the interview and sharing her wisdom and knowledge.

 

PLEASE SEE LINK BELOW FOR INTERVIEW WITH DR. TORKELSON

INTERVIEW WITH DR. CAROLYN TORKELSON

 

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

I agree with Dr. Torkelson that post menopause may be a prime time of growth and self actualization for women, especially emotionally and spiritually. Psychological changes in post menopause vary, such as, shifts in identities, roles, relationships, body images, jobs, finances, grief and loss issues related to life transitions and sociocultural factors which impact aging women, especially in  our American  culture that is obsessed with youth. People’s chances of navigating  life transitions effectively are likely to increase when the number of their resources for coping and protective factors are greater than their risk factors. Spiritual factors, including relationship and encounters with the sacred, can serve as very powerful protective factors in finding new meaning, purpose and fostering resiliency in different phases of life. I feel that Drs. Torkelson and Marienau’s concepts of  “web of wellness”, “nourishing the body, mind and spirit”, “pillars of health”, and healthy relationship with self (self awareness, self-compassion,  and self-advocacy) and others can be helpful to any human being. I hope that this post encourages readers,  no matter your gender or age, to cultivate these concepts in promoting health and well-being.

 

Other very cool resources from the authors:

Womenagingwell.com  

Carolyn Torkelson

Womenover70.com

Podcast by Gail Zelitsky and Catherine Marienau

 

 

 

 

REFERENCES

 Johnson, T. C. (2022). Your Health in Menopause. WebMD.com https://www.webmd.com/menopause/health-after-menopause#1-4

Lee, K (2021).  5 Health Risks Women Face After Menopause. Everydayhealth.com https://www.everydayhealth.com/menopause/health-risks-women-face-after-menopause/

Madarmo, C. (2022). Menopause Facts and Statistics: What You Need To Know. Verywellhealth.com.  https://www.verywellhealth.com/menopause-facts-and-statistics-265659#:~:text=Everyone%20with%20a%20menstrual%20cycle%20will%20go%20through,there%20will%20be%201.1%20billion%20postmenopausal%20women%20worldwide.

Torkelson, C, & Marienau, C. (2023). Beyond Menopause: New Pathways to Holistic Health. CRC Press.

 

 

 

 

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS POST IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL OR MENTAL HEALTH CONSULTATION. PLEASE SEEK PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES, AS NEEDED.

Are You There, GOD? It’s Me in Menopause…

The pairing of God and menopause hearkens back to the famous, bestselling  book, “Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret” by Judy Blume, where Blume explores tween related issues through the character of Margaret. Margaret is faced with menstruation (e.g. first period, sanitary napkins), her personal relationship with God ( without a particular religious affiliation) and boys. I love Margaret’s prayer notes to God about her various problems, such as, her father’s accident where she is worried about his finger being cut off by the new lawn mower, asking for help in “growing her bust”, questioning whether she should celebrate  Christmas or Hannukah, and visiting different churches and temples, as her parents have different religious backgrounds. I love Margaret’s raw honesty in expressing her feelings to God, especially, her frustration that she is “not normal” because she has no religion and has not started her menstruation. She even angrily breaks up with God for a while after both sets of grandparents try to force her to choose a religion. I relate to Margaret in some regards.  I, too,  formulate short email- like prayers (with capital letters and exclamation marks) in my mind during stressful times. Like Margaret’s prayer notes to God about her menstruation, I sent a lot of prayer emails during my struggles with menopause. The experience of menopause during the pandemic  hit me like a ton of bricks, kicked me in the butt and knocked me over.  Without getting too much into the meandering details of my own particular menopause experience, I found myself  physically, psychologically and spiritually shaken and stirred during my perimenopausal and menopausal experiences. Drastically different from the movie character, James Bond’s general philosophical approach to his turbulent adventurous life, “shaken, not stirred” (which is also how Bond prefers his vodka martini).

Like menstruation in the past, menopause is still very much a taboo topic. Please note that the experience of menopause is not monolithic. The World Health Organization (WHO)   views the experience of  menopause as influenced by biological, familial, psychological, social and cultural factors in each woman’s life. This blog post addresses menopause through the lens of the biopsychosocial-spiritual model of psychology. Menopause refers to the end of the menstrual periods in a woman’s life. There are many symptoms associated with perimenopause (before menopause) and menopause.  Whiteley and colleagues (2013) reported the following specific menopausal symptoms from women in their study: hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia/difficulty sleeping, forgetfulness, mood changes, decreased interest in sex, joint stiffness, anxiety, vaginal dryness, urine leakage, depression, and heart racing. Whiteley and colleagues (2013) collected data from the 2005 United States National Health and Wellness Survey of women in the age range of 40-64 years, where 4116 women in the sample experienced menopause compared to 4695 women who did not experience menopausal symptoms.  The WHO frames menopause as a public health challenge because, even though, half the world’s population experience symptoms related to perimenopause, menopause and post menopause, these symptoms are not openly discussed in many families, communities, work-places or health care systems. The Society for Endocrinology reported that 75 % or more of women experience symptoms of menopause and 25 % of women  report severe symptoms of menopause. In the Harvard Business Review, Alicia A. Grandey (2022) discussed the stigma of menopause impacting women in the workplace. It is also important to note that the time of menopause may also be a time that many women are considered for leadership positions in their work domains. Stefanie D’Angelo and colleagues (2023) conducted a research study of 400 women in the United Kingdom, who were working in their time of menopause, and found that one-third of the women reported difficulty coping with their menopausal symptoms at work. These researchers found that three symptoms, psychological factors of irritability, tearfulness, anxiety and depression, severe headaches,  and aches, pains in the joint, contributed to the most difficulty in coping at work.    Additionally,  Dr. Wen Shen and colleagues,  (2013) found in their study that out of 510 residents in obstetrical -gynecology training in the U.S, only 100 residents reported a formal menopause learning curriculum in their residency programs and 78 residents reported that they identified a menopause clinic to train further. This speaks to the importance of finding a physician who is trained in menopause as there appears to be alarmingly high numbers of physicians not trained in this area of menopause.

In my own journey of reading about menopause, I came across Dr. Dana E. King, Dr. Melissa H. Hunter and Jerri R. Harris MPH, ‘s (2005) book, “Dealing with the Psychological and Spiritual Aspects of Menopause: Finding Hope in the Midlife”. I found the book very informative, rich and impactful, especially due to the book addressing menopause through the biopsychosocial-spiritual lens. This book addressed the seismic psychosocial and spiritual shifts that may be  occurring in menopause, critical to explore and navigate effectively for the overall health and well-being of women.  Dr. King and his colleagues discussed  major psychological shifts that women may be experiencing during  biological changes, such as, facing the empty nest syndrome, taking care of elderly parents, grief , loss and regrets,  shifts in partnerships where their partners may be experiencing their own “midlife crises” and difficulty managing menopausal symptoms with work demands, especially, in work places with minimal support. Dr. King and his colleagues addressed the sociocultural factors impacting women in midlife, such as, overall stereotypical  images of psychological and physical decline in aging women. The authors argue that spirituality of women can serve as a powerful resiliency factor as women face many changes in midlife and develop new identities, explore meaning and purpose. I agree that women develop spiritually with wisdom and excellent skills to navigate life as they age.

I am very honored to present my interview with Dr. King, a family physician, researcher, and prolific author in women’s health and spirituality . He retired as professor and Chair of the Department of Family Medicine at West Virginia University School of Medicine. He was an associate professor of Family Medicine at Medical University of South Carolina, completed an academic fellowship at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and received his medical degree from University of Kentucky. I was struck with Dr. King discussing that although he is a male physician, he learned much about menopause by listening to  his female patients and co-authors.  I very highly recommend the book as it also lists numerous resources for women dealing with menopause. Please see video link for my interview with Dr. King. Much gratitude to Dr. King for his generosity in sharing his knowledge and wisdom with compassion.

Video Link for Interview:

Interview with Dr. King

 

Concluding Thoughts:

Margaret Simon, Judy Blume’s character, renews her conversations with God in the final chapter after she starts her periods.  Margaret writes, “Are you still there God? It’s me, Margaret. I know you’re there God. I know you wouldn’t have missed this for anything!. Thank you God. Thanks an awful lot….” (p.171). Like Margaret, I am deeply grateful that God or the Divine Source got me through the menopause mess I was in. Also a big thanks to my doctors, nurses, family and friends for all their support.

 

 

REFERENCES

Blume, J. (1970). Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret …,  Atheneum Books.

 

King, D. E., Hunter, M. H. & Harris, J. R. (2005). Dealing with the Psychological and Spiritual  Aspects of Menopause: Finding Hope in the Midlife. The Hayworth Press, Inc.

 

D’Angelo, S., Bevilacqua, G., Hammond, J., Zaballa, E., Dennison, E. M. & Walker-Bone, K. (2023). Impact on Menopausal Symptoms on Work: Findings from Women in the Health and Employment after Fifty (HEAF) Study. International Journal of Environmental Research and  Public Health, 20(1), 295-312. doi:10.3390/ijerph20010295

 

Grandey, A. (2022). Research: Workplace Stigma Around Menopause Is Real. Harvard Business Review.  https://hbr.org/2022/12/research-workplace-stigma-around-menopause-is- real#:~:text=A%20recent%20survey%20of%20women%20in%20the%20UK,people%2C%20and%20just%20a%20third%20would%20disclose%20openly.   

 

Society for Endocrinology (2022). Evidence Based Recommendations on Menopause Management Advise Individualized Care. https://www.endocrinology.org/press/press-releases/evidence-based-recommendations-on-menopause-management-advise-individualised-care/

 

Wen, S., Ducie, J.A.,  Altman, K., Khafagy, (2013). What Do Ob/Gyns In Training Learn About Menopause? Not Nearly Enough, New Study Suggests. John Hopkins Medicine.  https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/what_do_obgyns_in_training_learn_about_menopause_not_nearly_enough_new_study_suggests

 

Whiteley, J., DiBonaventura, MC., Wagner, J-S., Alvir, J. & Shah, S. (2013). The Impact of Menopausal Symptoms on Quality of Life, Productivity, and Economic Outcomes. Journal of Women’s Health. 22(11). 983-990. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2012.3719

 

World Health Organization(2022) Menopause. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/menopause 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL OR MENTAL HEALTH CONSULTATION. PLEASE SEEK PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES AS NEEDED.

What’s Forgiveness Got To Do With It?

Forgiveness has a lot to do with freedom from painful emotional states which allows us to live and love well. Recent research studies in psychology have  found the beneficial effects of forgiveness on emotional and physical health.   The concept of forgiveness is discussed in various spiritual and religious traditions. I came across Dr. Fred Luskin’s fascinating research on forgiveness training,  a particularly important topic of intersectionality between psychology and spirituality.  Forgiveness skills exemplify the concept of “practical spiritual practices”, which may enhance well being. Thus, I am very excited to present my interview with Dr. Fred Luskin regarding his phenomenal and impactful book, “Forgive For Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness”. Dr. Luskin is the cofounder and director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project. He received his doctoral degree in counseling and health psychology from Stanford University and has done many years of work in forgiveness research. He is an acclaimed scholar, professor, psychologist and has written numerous  articles in academic journals.

I found Dr. Luskin to be very knowledgeable and wise with a sense of humor as he discussed his forgiveness research results. I was struck with his discussion that he started research on developing an evidence based skill set for forgiveness as he found that the field of psychology did not conduct much research on this important skill. By conducting his research, he discovered that forgiveness is a set of teachable skills which can lead people to let go of their suffering and pain in response to being wounded and allow people to gain some agency and freedom to navigate life intentionally without becoming prisoners of past hurts. He also clarified the misconceptions of what is forgiveness versus  what it is not. Forgiveness is not excusing, forgetting, condoning or minimizing past hurts. It does not mandate reconciliation with the person who hurt you. Dr. Luskin emphasized  that forgiveness is a choice that must be made by each individual without any duress. He normalized the experience of emotions, such as anger, frustration, rage, bitterness, deep sadness, anguish and suffering after being wounded. He discussed that these  emotions need to be acknowledged and processed through the passage of time in safe places  before the option of forgiveness is explored. I also loved Dr. Luskin’s discussion in the book that the wounding process often violates one’s rules and assumptions about life. He described the critical idea of “unenforceable rules”, which we all have, that are grossly violated in experiences of being wounded. Dr. Luskin discusses that when this state of inner emotional equilibrium is disrupted over extensive periods of time  by the past wound and  we are stuck in anger, we need to explore the option of forgiveness. I also love Dr. Luskin’s description that forgiveness is a resolution of the grief process when something happened that is not wanted or something that is desired did not happen. During the interview, we discussed that the grief process is universal but unique to each person based on diversity factors, like cultural and familial factors. Different people grieve differently. Grief and loss are deeply painful experiences of groundlessness due to intense negative emotions and questioning of the assumptions that we had about our lives and the world before the wounding experience or loss. I agree with Dr. Luskin  that  forgiveness work is for oneself and a critical process which contributes to  “inner peace” and “acceptance of life as it is”.

This post includes my interview with Dr. Luskin. I  firmly believe that forgiveness skills should be on the menu to explore in cultivating wellbeing.  I very highly recommend Dr. Luskin’s book “Forgive For Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness”.   He discusses conceptual models of interpersonal and self forgiveness, practical tools for forgiveness practice,  and stages in developing forgiveness skills. Dr. Luskin also discusses the health risks associated with chronic states of anger. He demonstrates vulnerability and compassion as he writes about his own wounding experiences which initiated his research on forgiveness training. I was also struck by Dr. Luskin’s friendship with the late Ram Dass, who is one of my favorite spiritual teachers. I love Ram Dass’s description of the “earth curriculum” that we, human beings, sign up for. Ram Dass characterizes the “earth curriculum” as including deeply contrasting experiences:  beautiful, awe-inspiring and wondrous moments versus dark,  horrific experiences filled with anguish. I completely agree with Ram Dass. The “earth curriculum” is rigorous and challenging at times, such that, we may sometimes stumble, fall and have to get up again and again.  As the biopsychosocial and spiritual model of understanding human beings is prevalent in psychology, I agree with Dr. Luskin that the spiritual dimension of human beings may offer the possibility of great resiliency and strength. Ram Dass (formerly known as Dr. Richard Alpert while a psychology professor at Harvard University) discussed that the spiritual dimension may help people transmute negative and painful experiences in the “earth curriculum” to narratives with underlying meaning and purpose. 

Hope readers find this post on forgiveness helpful. Many thanks and much gratitude to Dr. Luskin for taking the time out of his busy schedule to do the interview. Please see the link below for my interview with Dr. Luskin.

Interview with Dr. Fred Luskin: Forgive For Good

 

Concluding Thoughts

The tools of forgiveness can be powerful in allowing us to let go of our pain and suffering to past hurts from interpersonal relationships and give us freedom to enjoy the present moment. Dr. Luskin talks about forgiveness skills  freeing us of past hurts so that we can nurture healthy relationships with people who love and care about us in the present.  Self forgiveness is a key factor to self acceptance and self love. Forgiveness tools can allow us to live and love well. It allows us to seize the day (Carpe Diem).

The cultivation of forgiveness in self and interpersonal relationships is critical to enhancing the art of “relationship yoga”, coined by Ram Dass. I love Ram Dass’s discussion of yoga of relationship as grounds for spiritual and psychological development. Forgiveness can be an important tool in facilitating the equanimity produced by yoga practices within the context of relationships.

 

Note: This is not a therapy site. Please seek professional medical and mental health services, as needed.

 

INTERVIEW WITH JASON STEPHENSON: GURU OF SLEEP MEDITATIONS

 

I am very honored and excited to present my interview with Mr. Jason Stephenson. I discovered his powerful and soothing sleep meditations in 2020 when I was struggling to sleep some nights during the COVID-19 pandemic. Zara Abrams (2021) wrote an informative article in the Monitor in Psychology through the American Psychology Association regarding the link between sleep and physical and mental health. Abrams (2021) discussed the rise of sleep difficulties many people experienced during the pandemic and noted many factors may have led to this phenomenon, such as, blurring of boundaries between home life and work due to virtual workdays, more stress, uncertainty, limited social support, disruption in routines, more screen time, and increased alcohol use. Additionally, Leah Campbell (2021) wrote a powerful article in Healthline about a phenomenon called “coronasomnia” (sleep difficulties during the pandemic). It is important to note that there are many different approaches and treatments to enhance sleep quality, quantity and routine.

I am deeply grateful to Jason Stephenson for his sleep meditations and sleep stories because they helped me immensely to sleep soundly and peacefully. Now his meditations are part of my nightly ritual before sleep. This post consists of my interview with Jason Stephenson. As I did some research about Jason’s background, I found him to be immensely popular. He is the founder of Relax Me Online Australia. Jason Stephenson’s Sleep Meditation Music you tube channel has 3.01 million subscribers with 879 videos. His you tube channel records 789,408,373 views. He talks about sharing a “peace” of his life with viewers and his goal is to help people cultivate “immense harmony” in mind, body and spirit. He has been a meditation teacher and practitioner for many years. I am also impressed by his commitment to public service as many of his sleep meditation online videos are free. Despite his success and popularity, I found him to be very humble, authentic, composed, and wise beyond words. I am tremendously honored to interview him. Again, I have much gratitude for his sleep meditations and how positively they have impacted my sleep.

 

LINK FOR INTERVIEW WITH JASON STEPHENSON

 

CONCLUDING COMMENTS

I am struck by how Jason gently and compassionately invites listeners to participate in deep breathing and body scan exercises, and sensory engagement to be in the current moment. Jason’s meditations calm me to implement mindfulness practices, especially nonjudgmental observation of the unruly nature of my erratic “monkey mind”, which is often focused on anything, but the present moment. Jason’s narration of sleep stories is marked by vivid, beautiful, calming visual imagery, affirmations of an individual’s inner wisdom. For me, Jason’s sleep meditations facilitate my surrendering process into the sleep journey as a safe and sacred experience in a kind and compassionate Universe.

 

REFERENCES:

Abrams, Z. (2021, June 1). Growing concerns about sleep. Monitor on Psychology 52(4), American Psychological Association. ttps://www.apa.org/monitor/2021/06/news-concerns-sleep

Campbell, L. (2021, March 1). “Coronasomnia: How The Pandemic May Be Affecting your Sleep”, Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/coronasomnia-how-the-pandemic-may- be-affecting-your-sleep

Stephenson, J., Sleep Meditation Music. https://www.youtube.com/@jasonstephensonmeditation/

 

 

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS IS NOT A THERAPY SITE. PLEASE CONSULT WITH MEDICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS, AS NEEDED.

 

 

HOW AGAPE LOVE SAVED MY FATHER’S LIFE?

There is agape love in the world. People doing heroic things and saving other people’s lives  with no personal gains. I have an unique story of agape love that saved my father’s life. My family and I celebrated Ramananda (Ram) Ganguly, my father’s eighty first birthday yesterday. He is a powerful influence in my life. He sent me an article that was posted in the website (https://www.immigrantbengalis.com/new-articles.html) on April 1, 2023. This post is Ram’s article  about his journey from Virginia to California after immigrating from Kolkata. The article is transcribed by Amitabha Bagchi. I have posted the article for the blog with Ram Ganguly’s authorization. For me, this article is an affirmation of the goodness and kindness in most human beings, which I am a firm believer in. Whether one believes in the Divine Source or Divine spark within people, people are generally good and have tremendous capacity for agape love.  This gives me hope as we live in difficult times.

HERE IS THE ARTICLE:

MIDWESTERN HOSPITALITY

“I must say I am not much into miracles and supernatural stuff. I have limited faith in a Supreme Being. But I am convinced that angels were looking after me on that fateful trip from West Virginia to California late in 1985.

First a bit of the background to set the context. After graduating in 1963 from the School of Mines in Dhanbad, I went rapidly through post-engineering training, practical experience (by working at coal mines) and a government-administered Competency Test to become a colliery manager in the Raniganj coal belt. Life was indeed good until the Government of India (GOI) decided to nationalize coal mines over a two-year period (1971-73). The impact on me was immediate and severe: I lost my managerial position, had a substantial pay cut, and lost most of my perquisites.

I bounced around for the next six years between field jobs — in and around mines — and a desk job in Ranchi. In 1979, I was made aware of, and then applied successfully for, an engineering position at the Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM). I joined the company as a Senior Design Engineer at an attractive salary. Also in late 1979, my sister, who had emigrated to California, sponsored me and my family for Green Cards so that we might come to the United States as immigrants.

I joined ZCCM in a very pretty part of northern Zambia with excellent weather. The one issue, though, involved children’s education. There was a local English language school that went up to grade 6. After that, the mining company supported all-expense-paid education (including managed travel) for schooling anywhere abroad for the employees’ children. I sent my daughter, our eldest child, to a boarding school in Kodaikanal. In 1985, when the time came for me to think seriously about sending my two boys to attend, say, the Mayo College in Ajmer, I decided to take a break and come to the USA.

In July 1985, I came with my family to Los Angeles where my sister lived. I found menial work and sent out oodles of applications to American mining companies with no success. I decided to buy a car and, at the suggestion of a friend, drove to and through the mining country of the US: Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Virginia. Little did I realize that my long 22-year experience in mining — most of it in a senior capacity – would count for so little in America. My efforts from October through mid-December yielded just two job offers at an apprentice level in coal mines!

Finally, around December 15, a friend of mine told me of a vacancy at the Department of Mine Safety in Charleston, West Virginia. I managed to land an interview with the Chief Mining Engineer on a Thursday of the week before Christmas. The interview went so well that I got a verbal job offer, subject to medical test, to be followed by a written offer with salary. My luck was beginning to change at last!

That Friday evening began a downpour that was incessant, and it came on the heels of the 1985 Election Day Floods (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1985_Election_day_floods) – also known as the Killer Floods of 1985. Taken together, they were the worst floods in West Virginia in 100 years and led to widespread property destruction and considerable loss of lives. The Governor declared a state of emergency and froze all hiring by the state government. I heard about it on the Sunday evening newscast.

The Chief Engineer called and confirmed the news on Monday. He told me to come back in one year. I was completely heartbroken. I decided then and there that there was no hope for me in the mining industry in the USA. I started my trip back to California with a heavy heart.


1. Somewhere Past St. Louis, Missouri

It was a dreary, miserable day when I drove past St Louis on my way back to California. The sky was overcast and the atmosphere raw with a sense of foreboding.

I was some distance past St Louis when it began to snow – slowly at first, then steadily and with greater intensity. I had no prior experience of driving in snow. I tried to do the best I could, going slowly and carefully.

Suddenly, the car sputtered and showed signs of stalling. That too was a new experience. With a lot of effort, I moved to the side of the highway when the car stopped completely. I was marooned in a sea of white, pristine snow.

I looked around. Not a soul anywhere – no car in sight. Only a dim light was visible in the distance. The choice before me was grim: freeze in the car or go out to seek help. Choosing the right option was a no-brainer.

I stepped out of the car and began walking toward the distant light. My clothing was fit for Kolkata or California. With only a light jacket, without a hat or gloves, I was clearly ill-equipped to face the brutal Midwestern winter.

I trudged through the accumulated snow for maybe 10 to 15 minutes. By the time I reached the light, my hands and feet were frozen, and my face was numb. It turned out to be a garage for repairing automobiles. The garage was closed, and the light came from the door of the adjacent room or office. I did not have the strength to lift my hand to knock on the door; I banged my head on it instead. A tall man opened the door, and I literally collapsed in his arms.

The man lifted and deposited me gently on the floor. He covered me quickly with several blankets, then put his hand under it to gently massage my chest. Some minutes passed before I was warm and conscious enough to speak.

I saw that there were two mechanics. They had shut down the garage and were getting ready to go home. After I had recovered somewhat from hypothermia, they fed me warm milk. They showed me the refrigerator and the bathroom and told me I should spend the night there. The room had a fireplace which, they assured me, should keep me warm through the night.

“You know how to put a log in the fire?” my savior asked.
I stared blankly at the roaring fire in the hearth. I did not have a clue.
“I will put enough wood to last through the night.” The man’s voice was reassuring. He could understand my helplessness.

The two men left and came back sometime later with food. I was famished and took no time to wolf down the fare on offer. Thus refreshed, I began to worry about my car. The mechanics told me not to worry. Nothing would happen to it overnight in the snow. They would look into the car’s problem in the morning.

The next morning, my car was towed to the garage. The problem lay with a frozen radiator. You do not need anti-freeze in Southern California, but the Midwest in wintertime is a different matter. The two guys fixed it – replacing damaged pipes and all – and led me to the now running car.

I offered to pay them money for labor and parts.

“Don’t worry about it,” was their reply. They were happy that they could nurse me back to health from near death. “Just drive,” they quipped, “and do not stop until you reach California!”

2. Amarillo, Texas

It was early evening of Christmas Eve when I drove into Amarillo, Texas. Spotting a motel with a “Vacancy” sign. I made a beeline for it and went inside with a feeling of relief.

The young woman at the desk startled me with her greeting: “You poor bastard!”
“What was that?” I said, mildly flustered.
“You realize you won’t get any food in town?”
“Oh, really? But I am starving.” My voice cackled with anxiety.
“You pay for a room and get settled. Let me see what I can do after that,” said the receptionist.

I paid and got a room. There were not many guests in the motel. The young woman shut down the reception area and left. I was left to ruminate on the situation. Back in 1985, there were very few stores and restaurants that were open the night of Christmas Eve.

Later that evening, the young woman came back with a plate heaped with food. There were poultry and ham, mashed potato and sweet potato, pasta and vegetables. It was sumptuous as well as delicious — easily one of the best dinners of my life.

When I offered to pay for the food, the young woman refused. She looked sincerely pleased having shared her family’s Christmas feast with a complete stranger. Hers was an instance of generosity and warmth that is forever etched in my memory,

3. Epilogue

As I look back and reminisce about that drive from the East Coast, two thoughts come to mind. The first is one of horror to contemplate what might have happened to me. The second is a sense of relief and gratitude at the Midwestern hospitality that I received. I cannot be sure about angels in heaven, but I surely ran into flesh-and-blood angels in the Midwest on that return trip to California.

Luckily for me, my story has a happy ending. I gave up on my plans to continue in the field of mining and enrolled in classes on computer software. I was still a quick study, found the area interesting, and transformed myself in a short period of time from an unemployed mining engineer to a happily employed software engineer and manager”.

Source: Ramananda Ganguly (April 1, 2023)

Trranscribed by Amitaba Bagchi

(www.immigrantbengalis.com)

 

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS:

A BIG THANK YOU TO THESE FOLKS OUT THERE FOR SAVING MY FATHER’S LIFE. I DO NOT KNOW YOUR NAMES, YET, YOU AFFIRM MY BELIEF IN THE HUMAN CAPACITY FOR AGAPE LOVE. MAY GOD BESS YOU ABUNDANTLY.