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(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.

 

 

INTERVIEW WITH DR. MALINI KRISHNAMURTHI :BHARATANATYAM (DANCE OF WORSHIP)

In many religious and spiritual traditions, dance is a form of worship of the Divine Universal Consciousness. For example, dervishes are associated with certain Sufi traditions, where continuous rhythmic twirling dance movements,  are seen as physical meditations on the Divine Consciousness. Native American spirituality includes complex dance forms.  Hinduism also has a very rich tradition of dance forms as actions of worship of the Divine Consciousness or God.  Bharatanatyam is a classical dance form, which originated in the temples of Tamil Nadu, in the southern part of India. It is also referred to as a “temple dance”. Temple dancers, known as Devadasis, worshiped the Divine through their art of dancing. Some of the postures of Bharatanatyam dances can be seen in the beautiful sculptures of Indian temples. 

Bharatanatyam dances are seen as forms of worship and reverence where the dancers attempt to awaken the divine consciousness of themselves and the audience. My experiences of watching Bharatanatyam dancers, in ornate costumes, jewelry, exaggerated makeup, performing their dance sequences with accompanying vocalists, musicians, like flutists, artists of percussion instruments,  have been breathtaking and mesmerizing. The choreography of Bharatanatyam seamlessly integrates complex rhythmic patterns of movement in hands and feet, different postures, and facial expressions to embody the character and emotions of the dancer. The choreography of dances can be slow, and languid where dancers demonstrate gentle emotions. However, as the story progresses to the climax, the choreography escalates in rhythm and  movement, which leads to a crescendo of explosive bursts of dance forms, where the dancers express intense emotions, such as, fear, rage, joy, victory, celebration, defeat or deep sorrow.

Bharatanatyam dances have stories which are based on Indian mythology  and characters enact the stories with powerful emotions. The background lighting also enhances the emotion of the dancers. A salient narrative that dancers express is the love affair of the Divine and the human being. The interplay of Lord Krishna, one physical manifestation of the Divine Consciousness, and Radha, representing humanity, is one interpretation of Krishna’s  “leelas” or stories of his life One scenario of the Divine and human love affair includes dance forms where Radha sits in adoration and awe of her Lord Krishna, as He plays His flute with haunting melodies. Another scenario is Radha adorning herself with flowers in her hair and makeup, such as “kajol” in her eyes and “bindi” on her forehead, before she meets her Divine Lord. I  have observed dance forms where the dark night of the soul is depicted as the soul feels lost, and confused  without Divine guidance. The dancer portrays Radha, in deep distress as she tearfully expresses her fears of abandonment, and searches  frantically for her Divine Lord in a dark and stormy night with thunder and lightening. Despite her female companions (sakhi) trying to sooth her, Radha appears inconsolable  until she finds her Lord Krishna, where one sees the sublime joy between lovers, Divine and human. Radha realizes that Lord Krishna is never far away from her despite her fears of abandonment.

Although, I have watched Bharatanatyam dance forms, I do not know much about the ideology and discipline of this dance form. Therefore, it is a great pleasure and honor to interview Dr. Malini Krishnamurthi today. She has taught Bharatanatyam for 42 years in the United States. She studied this art form for several decades under the careful guidance of her Guru, Kalaimamani K. Kalyanasundaram of the Sri Raja Rajeswari Bharata Natya Kala Mandir, Mumbai, India and she is now a Guru to her students. She has transformed many young girls into passionate dancers. Dr. Krishnamurthi points out that dance forms involve the mind, body and spirit of the dancer and the dancer and audience can reach higher levels of consciousness. Dr. Krishnamurthi  discusses the critical point that Hinduism is a monotheistic tradition and not a polytheistic tradition, as portrayed in some parts of the world. She beautifully articulates the ideology that God can be viewed as with or without form. Devotees may choose a form of God for worship, since an abstract God without form, can be difficult to conceptualize for some people. The Divine manifestation of the Cosmic Dancer is Natraj, Lord Shiva, designated as the Lord of Dance.

Natraj: King of Dance

(clipground.com) Free Image

 

This post consists of my interview with Dr. Krishnamurthi about Bharatanatyam. Please watch the video clip of the interview with Dr. Krishnamurthi. I am deeply grateful to Dr. Krishnamurthi for her kindness, diligence, brilliance and time commitment in editing the video clip ( link for video clip is below) 

Interview with Dr. Malini Krishnamurthi on Bharatanatyam

 

This is the link for Natyanjali, school of dance, founded by Dr. Krishnamurthi. Her email contact: Leapingfeet@gmail.com

 

Dr. Krishnamurthi (Guru)

 

Dr. Krishnamurthi (Bharatanatyam dance posture)

CONCLUDING REMARKS

There has been an abundance of research about physical movement benefiting physical health. Due to the inherent connection between mind and body, new research suggests that movement is beneficial for mental health. Dr. Pillay (2016) wrote in the Harvard Health Publishing from Harvard Medical School that movements, including regular exercise or meditative movements like yoga, tai chi, qigong are beneficial for mental health. Dr. Pillay discussed a study by Joanne Lumsden and her colleagues (2014) that found  that synchronizing movement with another person increased the person’s self-esteem.  Synchronized movement facilitates strong interpersonal connection and cooperation. This points to the fulfilling and enriching relationship between the guru and the student of dance, a relationship that often lasts for a lifetime.

 

 

 

Interview with Tara Krebbs: Marked By COVID

Multitudes of people are experiencing losses and grief in this pandemic. According to John Hopkins University School of Medicine COVID Resource Center,  5,904,723 deaths occurred worldwide related to COVID-19 as of 2/22/2022. Grief and loss, the most painful and gut- wrenching experience, is universal.  The pathway of working through grief and loss is also very much influenced by individual and cultural factors. Grief and loss experiences are often characterized by groundlessness where the assumptions of the reality we lived in previously dissipate completely and we are faced with uncertainty, an unpredictable future, painful feelings in the inner chambers of a broken heart and recognition of how much the lost loved one meant to us. Grief work means encountering parts of our psyche that may be unknown and/or discovering aspects of the lost loved one that we never knew. For example, after my beloved mother passed away, I connected with relatives who knew her as a young single woman.  I did not know this young woman. I only knew her as my mother.

Grief is the testament of how much we loved the person. The unbearable feeling of emptiness dawns with the realization of how our lives were intricately interwoven with our lost loved ones.  Grief work happens in moments of wakefulness, sleep, and dreams of the loved ones we lost. As we process feelings and thoughts related to grief in an adaptive manner, the intensity of negative feelings tend to decrease over prolonged time periods. As we endure, we start to remember the positive memorable experiences with the person, sometimes smiling in the recollection process. Each individual processes grief and loss in unique ways. Experiences of grief and loss are a powerful reminder of impermanence in the human condition and the importance of addressing “unfinished business” in our lives so that there are minimal regrets.

The process of grief is compounded with new challenges in the pandemic as people’s sense of belonging in communities and rituals of honoring the dead have changed.  Natasha Mikles (2022) wrote an informative and powerful article, “The pandemic changed death rituals and left grieving families without a sense of closure” for The Conversation website. She discussed how death rituals in religious and spiritual contexts are important in the moments of groundlessness that occur in loss. She stated that changes in normal death rituals during the pandemic have impeded people’s ability to process grief effectively which is critical for some closure. Gatherings for funeral and prayer services have changed. In 2020, I attended a zoom- based funeral.  I did not get to hug people or receive hugs which are part of communal grieving. I, like others, turned off the camera on the zoom call when I felt intense emotions. This zoom based funeral was a very solitary experience. No lingering conversations after the funeral service. Not eating food together with other mourners. No recollections of vivid memories regarding the uniqueness of the person lost. My prayers for this family helped me the most.

Grief becomes complicated when people report inability to visit loved ones with COVID in the hospital before loved ones passed away. I know several people who lost loved ones in other parts of the world but could not attend funerals or services because travel was shut down in the pandemic. Many folks reported losses upon losses of loved ones and discuss the surreal nature of losing 3 or 4 people in their lives. Numbness, shock, denial, devastation. Surviving such losses include leaning on the living and faith in something bigger than the self. God, Universe, Higher Power.

Grief work is difficult because as one processes grief triggered by one incident, one may experience feelings of residual grief from other losses in the past. As a psychotherapist, I often use the image of dominos where one domino toppling over impacts a series of dominos to topple over.  The political discourse regarding COVID also impacts the grief process. As I was reading about the devastating losses in the pandemic, I came across an article  about Marked by COVID, an organization, which is focusing on helping people with grief work. I recently had the honor and privilege to interview Tara Krebbs from Marked by COVID. I am very grateful for Tara’s honesty, wisdom, and compassion in discussing this very difficult topic. A Big Thank you to Tara.

Here is the link to my interview with Tara. Please copy and paste the link in the browser to view the interview.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Kdu8gwRDDK-NS4jUVU38LP5bJKiN6tx9/view?usp=sharing

 

 

 

Attached below are descriptions of different services provided by Marked by COVID.

Marked By COVID is a grassroots movement demanding a coordinated, data-driven, national response to the pandemic. We uplift the stories of those who have been affected, support families who have lost loved ones, publish honest obituaries, and host vigils and memorials nationally. Our community is actively turning grief into purpose by spreading COVID-19 awareness and education and organizing direct actions that hold elected officials accountable for hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths. Our lost loved ones will not be forgotten. Our voices will be heard.

 

https://www.markedbycovid.com/

 

https://www.markedbycovid.com/cards

 

https://www.covidmemorialday.org/

 

Here is a link to our PHX COVID Memorial last year. We are hosting the 2nd one this March 7th. 
https://www.azfamily.com/news/continuing_coverage/coronavirus_coverage/memorial-held-in-tempe-to-honor-covid-19-victims/article_4f3f0584-7aee-11eb-ad4d-37834a82ac08.html

 

Here is the Facebook grief support group we work closely with:

Covid 19 Loss Support for Family & Friends is a Facebook group for people who’ve lost a loved one to COVID and are struggling with the unique challenges of grieving during a pandemic. The group was founded by Sabila Khan (NJ) and Angelina Proia (NY) only days after they lost their fathers to COVID. What started as a space for Sabila and Angelina to find comfort and community as they navigated their own losses, has become the largest COVID bereavement group online. The group now offers free meditation classes, four weekly admin and moderator-led Zoom calls for members to connect, free and low-cost mental health resources, and memorial and media opportunities to its almost 14,000 members from around the world.

 

https://www.facebook.com/groups/covidlosssupport

HOPE READERS FIND SAFE SPACES TO PROCESS GRIEF AND LOSS.

PLEASE NOTE: This is not a therapy site. Please reach out for professional medical and mental health services, as needed. Additionally, please contact Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for safety guidelines regarding COVID-19

Drawing from Deep Inner Fortitude: The Finnish Power of Sisu in the Pandemic

Flag of Finland

Finland Flag Photography

pexels.org: Baptiste Valthier (free image)

 

I am very excited and delighted to present my interview with Emilia Elisabet Lahti, the Finnish wonder woman, who shared her experiences on sisu. Ms. Lahti is a doctoral candidate in Aalto University in Finland and conducts research on sisu. She received her master’s degree in applied positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania where she studied under very well -known researchers in positive psychology, Drs. Martin Seligman and Angela Duckworth. Dr. Seligman is referred to as the father of positive psychology when he challenged psychologists to study factors which contribute to leading flourishing and happy lives. Psychology, traditionally, focused on  “disease model” or study of strategies to alleviate clinical symptoms.

Ms. Lahti is a Renaissance woman of many talents. She is a powerful advocate in creating spaces of courage to speak about the perils and lethal dangers of domestic violence and need to end intimate partner violence. She is also a coach, consultant, author, researcher, world -wide traveler and an ultramarathon runner. Ms. Lahti’s book, “Gentle Power”,  published by Sounds True is going to be available in winter 2022/2023. I came across Ms. Lahti’s research on sisu in a journal article. I was struck by the concept of sisu, discussed in Finnish culture, especially as this concept is very relevant in modern times as we collectively enter the third year of the pandemic. 

This post consists of my interview with Ms. Lahti about sisu. She is very open about discussing her experiences of overcoming domestic violence and how this taught her about sisu. She is very intelligent, articulate, knowledgeable, compassionate, enthusiastic about her field of study and generously shared her wisdom. It was a pleasure to chat with her and I felt energized after the interview. She embodies the great reserve of resiliency that is in human beings: mind, body and spirit. She is truly an incredible woman and it was an honor to interview her. After this interview, I reflected on how I can draw upon my sisu. Hope this post inspires readers to draw on sisu reserves.

 

INTERVIEW WITH MS. LAHTI : EMBODIED FORTITUDE OR SISU

AG (Anindita Ganguly): Thank you so much for the interview. I am very excited to learn about sisu.  First, please tell me about yourself.

EL (Emilia Lahti): I have a nomadic soul and have lived in different parts of the world. I am a curious explorer of life and the human phenomenon. Throughout the unfolding experience of life, we, as human beings, experience a variety of events ranging from times of celebration and accomplishment to darkness and challenge. Just like joy, each and every human being shares the common experience of pain. In every experience there can be a diamond hidden and I believe that through self-care, having support for our healing, and reaching the depth of our pain by transforming our pain ultimately into renewed levels of understanding knowledge, we can access them. This is a process which  we can’t push. We can’t hurry healing.

AG: What exactly is sisu?

EL: It is “embodied fortitude” that is invoked by adverse events, which means it is not only mental but is like another power circuit, more visceral than cognitive, that we access when we have reached the end of our preconceived capacities. It is a subjective experience as every human’s limit for what requires sisu is personal and influenced by their past experiences, coping strategies they have at their disposal, and even how we take care of ourselves. I often say that through self-care we charge up our sisu which can be used during stormy days. It is being “naked in the face of intense struggle”. Sisu is triggered differently in various individuals. What may be perceived as “adverse” to one person, may not be seen as “adverse” by another person. For example, when I started ultramarathon running, running just a few kilometers would be demanding but as I progressed, I moved this line further. Later in training I could with very modest effort run a 15 K in the morning and do another 10 K in the evening. Ultimately, I was running several days of 50 KM consecutively when I ran and cycled 2400 km across New Zealand in 2018 for my campaign called, Sisu Not Silence, highlighting the strength and grace of overcomers of domestic violence.

AG: Sisu is so relevant in the world as we collectively enter our third year of the pandemic, exhausted and worn out.

EL: Yes. Sisu is triggered when we feel like “we just cannot handle anything anymore”. I feel we are right now in the middle of a collective worldwide empirical experience of sisu. Sisu is the zone we step into when we feel like we cannot endure anymore. It is the extra reserve of energy, like an extra tank of fuel, that we switch to when we feel that all perseverance and endurance has perished. It is like the rocket fuel that helps a space shuttle break through the earth’s atmosphere. It is an intense, powerful energy… warrior energy. It is not only thought or emotion based. It seems to be a kind of visceral energy originating from the gut, core of the body and being.

AG: Researchers are finding out about the importance of the gut. The gut-brain connection is currently investigated, demonstrating the connections among stress, mood, digestive system, and health.

EL: Sisu is referred to “embodied fortitude” triggered by adversity. It is anchored deep within every human being and it is different from some cognitive qualities because of this. Grit for example, the sister of sisu that has been beautifully pioneered as a research concept by professor Angela Duckworth. Grit is different from sisu.  While grit includes  passion and perseverance for long-term goals, sisu is something that we tap into a moment, and don’t need to feel a passion for a long-term goal. Sometimes we simply do what we must do to keep life and our dreams going.

AG: How did you discover that you want to study sisu?

EL: I will share a personal experience that taught me about sisu. Twelve years ago when I lived in New York city, I left a relationship that was extremely abusive. I endured a year and a half of gaslighting, demeaning comments that tore my self-worth apart, and ultimately, physical violence before I found my way back to my core and my sisu. After this traumatic experience, when I began a long journey to healing, I developed a passion to understand how on Earth human beings overcome all kinds of significant adversity. This personal journey of healing and growth has revealed me so much knowledge about myself, interpersonal relationships, as well as the importance of not being blind to power dynamics in everyday life.

AG: That is an incredibly tragic thing and sadly too common. Victims of domestic violence experience such deep wounding on a physical, emotional, cognitive (belief systems) and spiritual level. Interpersonal violence (IPV) is one of the most pervasive yet under-recognized human rights issues in the world. It affects hundreds of millions of individuals across the globe each year from every social class, income group, race, and culture. Every year, at least 270 million children too are exposed to violence in their homes. According to the National Coalition against Domestic Violence, 1 out 5 women and 1 out of 40 men experience rape or attempted rape within their lifetimes. Additionally, 1 out 2 female murder victims and 1 out of 13 male murder victims are killed by their intimate partners. 

EL: The danger is very serious and in the pandemic time, intimate partner violence has been shown to escalate and may be at higher rates with additional stressors of economic challenges, limited freedom, fear and tension over future that then finds its outlet on the family members. Emotional injuries are just as painful as physical injuries. The perpetrator engages in dynamics where you feel completely unworthy, powerless and start believing you did something wrong to deserve the abuse. I often say that an absurd reaction to an absurd behavior is a normal reaction. You might slowly begin to reason you must have done something really bad, there has to be a logic to this, or why would a loved one hurt you repeatedly.

AG: Self-worth is shattered.

EL: Yes. A few years ago a speaker at an event on domestic violence and I challenged the narrative that victims of domestic violence are “weak” and “damaged”. I pointed to the resiliency of human beings. I discussed Dr. Richard G. Tedeschi’s research on posttraumatic growth. Within a trauma framework, these experiences are sometimes so intense that after that there is ‘life pre-trauma’ and ‘life post trauma”. What Tedeschi and his colleagues found is that trauma doesn’t only break us (post-traumatic stress and so on), but humans sometimes grow and change in unpresented ways as a result of these challenges. As I was talking about my experiences at the conferences, I remembered the perpetrator, my then boyfriend saying, “First of all no one cares and secondly, no one would believe you.”

As I spoke to the audience of about a hundred people, who actually were there for my Sisu Not Silence fundraiser, I thought “The biggest tragedy of the abuse was that I believed him. That was the trap. People do care, they do listen, and this audience and the other thousands who participated globally over the process is just one proof.” I had developed the Sisu Not Silence movement to support building cultures of compassion and nonviolence, and to promote and idea of zero tolerance to abuse of any kind.  There are circumstances in life where one, while seemingly free to anyone looking from outside, is in fact held emotionally captive by the diminishing words and actions of another. This can be a toxic co-worker, parent, a school mate, a partner, and the like. The first steps to choose courage over silence, as the silence is one big thing that the perpetrators power is based on. When in a abusive relationship, one must of course be careful and seek help too as there can be real dangers when challenging the perpetrator.

AG: Your escape from this domestic violent relationship demonstrated sisu. 

EL: Well, I tapped into sisu afterwards especially in my healing that in itself has been a long road. Imagine just the courage it takes to love again after something like that, you know? I stole my diamonds from this dark and ultimately used the challenging experience to reach greater heights, and to build a lighthouse of sisu for others too. I believe that similarly as we come out of the pandemic, we will align with our sisu and use the collective tragedy for growth. But we need each other, and we need to stick together for that. Regardless of differences in opinion and so on. Life is so precious and unrelenting in its power, but it is very fragile too.

AG: Are there negative aspects of sisu?

EL: Yes, sisu is an intense energy. For example, once the space shuttle that I used as an example earlier, pierces through the earth’s atmosphere, the space shuttle must let go of the rocket fuel because then it is too explosive for long-term use. Having to (or choosing to) maintain sisu for extended periods may turn into stubbornness and make you so rigid that you’ll break. The higher expression of sisu is what I call gentle power,. This is leading life with love and suppleness, while having your self-worth in place anf having the firmness to set boundaries. You are not entangled in thinking that using force over others is healthy power and neither is your gentleness secretly based on patterns of people-pleasing or codependency. Gentle power is us in a state of dynamic balance with ourselves and others.

AG: How did this concept of sisu develop in Finland?

EL: Finland is a tiny country whose history is influenced by it being located between Sweden and Russia, countries with very different ideologies. Finnish people have had to fight to maintain independence and their culture, language, and identity. The best example is the Winter War when the Soviet Union wanted to acquire land from Finland for defense strategy. The Finnish leadership refused. As the world watched, Finland, the puny underdog defended itself against the mammoth-sized Red Army, miraculously endured and maintained sovereignty.

AG: Wow. Thank you for the interview. I see such resiliency in your soul. I hope you spread your research findings on sisu. Your words are very powerful.

EL: It was an honor to share this moment with you. May you always have courage and compassion running in your veins, and the power of love in your heart. I always say that while sisu is stunning, gentleness is greatness.

 

ADDENDUM:

I have added some more information on topics that E. E. Lahti discussed.

The first war between the Soviet Union and Finland, known as the Winter War, started in November 1939 and ended in March 1940. The Soviet Union demanded certain areas of Finland for defense strategy and security purposes, but Finland refused. The Soviet army invaded with advanced military technology, including aircraft and tanks, but, made little gain as the Finnish army fought valiantly against the Soviet Army for two months sometimes in extreme cold weather (–43 °C (–45.4 °F). Despite the Soviet army’s military might, the army sustained heavy losses and the war ended with the Moscow Peace Treaty. Finland maintained its sovereignty and gained international fame on the world stage.

Richard G. Tedeschi has conducted extensive research on posttraumatic growth. Dr. Tedeschi (2020) wrote an article, “Growth after Trauma”   in the Harvard Business Review. He discussed that growth from trauma occurs when there is education of how the trauma impacted you, finding effective tools for managing emotions so you can learn effectively, disclosure or talking about trauma and narrative development, which, is developing a meaningful understanding of pre-trauma life and post trauma life. He writes that some of the gains in posttraumatic growth include greater appreciation of life, improved relationships, spiritual growth, and engaging in service- oriented work to help others.

I AM WAITING EAGERLY FOR MS. LAHTI’s BOOK, GENTLE POWER.

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS IS A NOT A THERAPY SITE. PLEASE CONTACT MEDICAL , MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SHELTER  RESOURCES AS NEEDED.

Interview with Dr. Harold Koenig: Religion and Health

I am very honored to interview Dr. Harold Koenig, very well known for his pioneering research about the relationship between religious and spiritual practices and health. He has conducted research about the impact of different faith traditions and practices on health outcomes. He is currently the Director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at Duke University and also a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical Center. He is a preeminent researcher with many publications in peer reviewed journals and books, and a physician with many years of clinical practice.  Dr. Koenig also does an incredible amount of public service through the center, such as, newsletters regarding religion and heath in the age of COVID and informative video lectures about the relationship of health and religious and spiritual practices.

I particularly wanted to interview Dr. Koenig about his research findings because in my  professional experiences as a clinical psychologist working with many people over the past 20 years, I have seen how people’s belief systems of a relationship with a benevolent, loving, sheltering and protective God,  regardless of a specific faith tradition,  contributed to their effective coping and working through mental health issues. I have also seen  people with secular views describe their relationships with loved ones as a driving force in their healing.  The example that comes to mind are people, that I have worked with, who successfully maintain recovery and sobriety and later state that their hard work to reach sobriety was partly because of their love for their children. A love so great, profound and powerful, that they described this love as their Higher Power. I also will add that the American Psychological Association views religious and spiritual factors as human diversity factors which impact mental health and well-being and has promoted  research and discussed guidelines for clinical practice in this area.

This post includes the video link of the interview with Dr. Koenig. The two main questions that I asked Dr. Koenig: 1) What is the relationship between religion, spirituality and health in the extensive research studies that he has conducted? What are possible pathways of how religious and spiritual practices are protective factors of health? 2) What are his thoughts about certain religious groups, not all, demonstrating behaviors that are not in compliance with CDC guidelines to prevent spread of COVID?

I have attached Dr. Koenig’s power point of a recent presentation that he did. Please view Religion, Spirituality and Health: Review, Update and Future Directions

I found his interview as  thoughtful, insightful, and very informative. A Big Thank you to Dr. Koenig for his generosity in doing the interview. Attached below is the link for the interview with Dr. Harold Koenig. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1vJOnDcp4ENzb-ypTwFxTrwT2Q0AmxJyY/view?usp=sharing

 

This is the last blog post for the year. Wishing readers a Joyful New Year:)

Please note that this is not a therapy site. Please seek professional mental health and medical services, as needed.

Interview with Rabbi Waskow: A Prophetic Voice in the Pandemic

I had the honor and privilege to interview Rabbi Arthur Ocean Waskow about his book, Dancing in God’s Earthquake: the Coming Transformation of Religion. This book is very relevant today as another variant of COVID-19 virus , omicron,  arises. The “worldquake”, as the Rabbi discusses in the book, continues in a weary, exhausted world. The pandemic has been raging almost over 2 years now.

Rabbi Waskow is a scholar, prolific writer, spiritual leader and  political activist with a doctorate degree in American history, who founded the the Shalom Center. Rabbi Waskow’s book addresses the modern crises. He discusses climate changes resulting in earthquakes, tornadoes, fires and floods. He also delineates a massive  “socio-cultural and political earthquake” or “worldquake” which leads to social justice movements, such as Black Lives Matter, mass distrust of many institutions in political, religious, scientific arenas, xenophobia or fear of strangers who are perceived as “other”, idolatry of guns and widespread violence, major economic disparities with concentration of wealth in a small group and rise of authoritarian figures who cater to people who feel displaced, forgotten and left behind by current sociocultural and political changes. However, the most astounding fact is that Rabbi Waskow emailed the completed book in November 13, 2019 to his publisher, who accepted the book for publishing in December 4, 2019. We started hearing about reports of the strange virus in Wuhan, China in late December 2019. This eventually became the corona virus pandemic, which rattled the planet. Rabbi Waskow wrote that after the pandemic, he went back and wrote a chapter on the corona virus as the 11th plague. This is the prophetic nature of the book. It is uncanny to me that he was writing about  the multifaceted crises before the turbulence escalated in the current times. I found the book gripping as I finished it over two days. It is filled with ancient wisdom and knowledge from Jewish spirituality and traditions which can be used to understand  our current times.

This post  includes the interview with Rabbi Waskow on the book. The book is bold, beautiful, poetic, clear and concise. He fearlessly challenges old paradigms. He discusses the metaphor of dancing as the dance floor is shaking in an earthquake. Rabbi Waskow also relies on ancient Jewish spirituality and wisdom to discuss the current crises that we face. He challenges us to develop a more inclusive spirituality or religious transformation which is focused on demolishing hierarchy and humanity’s dominion over nature, fostering unity through diversity and above all, consciousness formulated by the ethics of love. The other point that struck me is Rabbi Waskow’s conversation with his eight year old grandson who discovers the brilliant insight that God’s spirit cannot be captured in a photograph as matters of spirit cannot be captured by a camera, but, that God’s photograph includes the many faces of people and nature. 

Rabbi Waskow discusses that the Hebrew Bible views “YHWH with no vowels” and refers to it as “simply a breath–Yyyyyhhhhhwwwwwhhhh: the Breath of life”. God is seen as Interbreath of Life” which holds all of life together. I love Rabbi Waskow’s interpretation that as all living beings breathe, they sound the Holy One’s name, showing such a deep connection through the  Divine Source, humanity and nature. He points out that one of the key impact areas of the  corona virus is attacking the  respiratory systems of the body. Rabbi Waskow writes this powerful sentence that as George Flyod stated, “I can’t breathe”, we cannot breathe and eventually the earth is destined to not breathe, unless we change our practices and relationship with the planet. Rabbi Waskow articulates that this worldquake, including the pandemic, is not from a God of vengeance or anger, but, a natural karmic consequence of human behaviors in the web of life.

I have attached the audio link of the interview with Rabbi Waskow. I agree wholeheartedly with Rabbi Waskow that we need to learn from these crises and change our practices to save the planetary ecosystems of humanity and nature. We all have so much to learn from Rabbi Waskow. The love ethic has to prevail in our relationships with each other and the planet. A mighty task for the coming year.

Interview with Rabbi Waskow on his book, Dancing in God’s Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion

 

Please see The Shalom Center for more information on Rabbi Waskow’s books and other works

INTERVIEW WITH FOUR ARROWS: THE INDIGENOUS WORLD VIEW AND SUSTAINABILITY

I first saw Dr. Don “Four Arrows” (Wahinkpe Topa) Jacobs’s presentation in the Spirit of Humanity forum where he talked about the dominant world view and the indigenous world view. Dr. Don  “Four Arrows” Jacobs, Ph.D., Ed.D  is a visionary social transformer, scholar of indigenous world view, professor in school of leadership studies at Fielding Graduate University, and prolific writer of numerous books and peer reviewed articles. His video of how the indigenous world view can save us was used in the closing of the 2021 UNESCO sustainability seminar. It was a tremendous  honor to interview Four Arrows about the wisdom of the indigenous world view and kinship model of the inter-relationships among Divine Consciousness, nature and humanity. He discussed the oneness of existence.

Four Arrows discussed his heritage:  Irish and  Cherokee. He stated his grandmother was of the Cherokee nation and this led him on the journey to study the indigenous world view. He is very wise, accomplished, knowledgeable, humble and explained critical ideas of the kinship model with great clarity. He was very generous in sharing his knowledge and wisdom in this interview, for which I am very deeply grateful. This post is regarding the key ideas that Four Arrows discussed about the indigenous world view and how this wisdom can help solve modern day challenges.

Indigenous world view and Dominant world view

Indigenous people are referred to as native people who have originally lived in many parts of the world, such as, North, Central and South Americas. They are are sometimes referred to as First Nations. Four Arrows conducted extensive research and scholarship in studying the indigenous world view. A world view includes certain assumptions, beliefs and lens that people use to relate to self, others and the world. In contrast to the indigenous world view, Four Arrows discusses the current dominant world view.  Please view different worldviews at  www.provensustainable.org. In his talk on indigenous spirituality, Four Arrows discusses that diversity is respected and honored . He describes that indigenous spirituality encourages an inclusive consciousness, where different perspectives co-exist. Four Arrows also reports that we have much to learn from these  cultures to address current problems of the modern world.  He discusses the need to protect these indigenous cultures which are on the road to extinction.

Complementary non-duality

I love Four Arrows’s position of complementary nonduality which is that nothing is either dominant world view or indigenous world view.  Most of us have components of both dominant and indigenous world view perspectives.  Four Arrows discussed that indigenous cultures emphasize the need to create spaces for multiple perspectives to peacefully co-exist.  Given our highly divided nation, it is critical in creating spaces of dialogue, where diverse conflicting views can be shared. This can lead to greater collaboration to solve current challenges we face in the world. . He discussed his experiences of co-writing a book with another author with whom he disagreed with on many points.

Indigenous world view: Nonhierarchical relationship between nature and humanity

Four Arrows stated that the dominant world view perceives human beings as hierarchically placed over nature.   In the dominant world view,   we see how natural resources can be used or exploited to serve our humanity. He stated that this hierarchical relationship between human beings and nature can lead to dangerous conditions which places us at the risk of extinction.

According to the indigenous world view, there are interrelationships among the Universal Divine Consciousness, humanity and nature. Four  Arrows discusses that the wisdom of the indigenous world view sees the critical importance of humanity’s respect and honor of nature and peacefully co-existing with nature. Four Arrows also stated that indigenous world view encourages us to be our authentic selves and learn from our teachers. He described nature as a powerful teacher of humanity. I absolutely agree that nature has much to teach us, especially,  in terms of wisdom of balance.

Dominant world view and climate change

The dominant world view where human-beings are placed above nature may be a driving factor for a major challenge,  climate change, faced by humanity. Recent research suggests that climate change causing drastic and severe alterations in weather patterns is caused primarily by activities of human beings.  Researchers at the World Health Organization discuss climate change is a major threat facing humanity and outlines  health risks due to climate change. 

Although Dr. Aaron Bernstein from the Harvard University School of Public Health reports there is no direct connection between climate change and corona virus, he does delineate different scenarios where changes in climate, such as temperature and rainfall, may lead to release of pathogens. Given the havoc that the corona virus and its multiple variants are creating in the world, I wholeheartedly agree with Four Arrows’s powerful argument that we need to look into indigenous world view and kinship model because unless we do so, we are at risk of extinction. He discussed that indigenous world view sees the kinship between humanity and nature so that we need to reframe our view of natural resources and the environment as our “relatives” and teachers in earth’s ecosystem. . He argues the importance of  exploring the indigenous world view about the critical need to honor nature is an important principle of sustainability of the planet. The mentality of exploiting nature can lead to the risk of extinction on the planet. He also emphasizes that not only are human beings equal to nature, but, also equal to each other.

Indigenous world view: Fearless engagement and Trust in the Universe.

Four Arrows discussed that in the indigenous world view, fear is seen as an opportunity to practice a virtue. He discussed fearless engagement, which means having the courage to follow through with virtuous action while in fear mode, and trust the universe that things will work out. He discussed widespread fear in the current world, and fearless engagement is critical. Four Arrows also discussed the idea that in situations of mass fear, authoritarian leaders, who offer a sense of safety or solution through words, can gain much power. He stated that when people are fearful, they are more likely to follow authoritarian leaders. He discussed the power of words in shaping our experiences. He cited the example of Hitler rising in Germany as the country faced many challenges, generating much fear in people. Four Arrows described this as a mass hypnotic experience. I feel this is very relevant to our current situation of mass fear due to pandemic.

Concluding remarks

This interview with Four Arrows challenged me to understand the kinship model of the interconnectedness of humanity and nature. I also thought about the dominant world view giving permission to human activities of polluting air and water, creating imbalances in nature. This is a leading factor of climate change. I agree that we need to shift to an inclusive consciousness to honor nature and take steps to protect the planet. I also recognize the depth of wisdom in the indigenous world view which can help solve challenges faced by planet, such as mindfully creating spaces of complementary nonduality dialogue . We need to create spaces in our world for rich dialogue which are diverse and conflicting, to develop solutions for complex problems.

I will end with a quote from (Wahinkpe Topa) Four Arrows.

Hau kolapi. Okiciya makiyokipi na iyuteya, cuke wayokapi, mitakuye oyasin.

(Hello friends. Help each other acclimate and adjust, because the truth is, we are all related.)

https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=Indigenous+Worldview+Four+Arrows&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8

Please see site for the works of Four Arrows 

FOUR ARROWS books

 

 

Power and Love of Creativity in Navigating In-Between Places

 

As a psychotherapist, I work with many people who are suspended in -between places. People often embark on the journey of psychotherapy due to rapidly changing external environments in their lives ( e.g. illness, loss of job, or  loved ones) and internal changes in the psyche (e.g. depression, anxiety, panic attacks, intrusive recollections of trauma related memories, rumination ) . In-between places are defined by the constant of change, often unsettling turmoil and anguish. Healing from mental health issues are in-between places, where people have to develop coping strategies to manage change and grounding strategies to anchor themselves.  People in therapy sometimes say that they see what was before the trauma, but, as healing happens ,they are not sure what the future will look like. In-between places are pathways of moving forward, but, marked by uncertainty and fear  due lack of clear vision of what the future might look like.   People often report confusion, bewilderment,  lack of control, exhaustion, hopelessness due to the frustration of moving forward three steps  and sliding back a step.    In-between spaces are uncomfortable, bumpy, uneven,  and seem directionless.  There are few rules in- between spaces as old rules and assumptions have withered and new rules have not yet fully crystallized.   People’s identities, attachments and belief systems are changing while in liminal spaces. In between places also are often described as “neither this, nor that”. More like purgatory. We may not often have the language to verbalize our experiences  in-between places. The concept of  “smooth transition” is an oxymoron. Despite the turbulence of changes, healing happens as people discover loving grounding strategies which anchor them. It can be prayer, spending time with loved ones,  chanting, rosary, gardening, cooking meals, sewing, reading, carpentry work, and sitting with a beloved pet in front of a fireplace. Faith in a Higher Power, Universe or God can be a powerful factor in navigating in-between places where the terrain is not visible. The Biblical statement of “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians, 5:7) is a  source of much tranquility with the belief that you will be guided to where you need to be.

I love Betty Harlan’s and Andee Tagle’s (2021) article, Caught in the limbo of the pandemic :rebounding from life’s interruptions. The authors depict people in the pandemic as suspended in-between worlds.  The pandemic is a collective trauma which disrupted so many aspects of daily life that it created  in- between space. A recent study conducted by the American Psychological Association reports that  about half the adults reported difficulty with daily decision making.  People reported feeling as if in limbo in the pandemic, an in-between space, with alterations in eating patterns, physical exercise, sleep, daily routines and excessive uncertainty about the future.  Numerous questions loom in the air. Are we ever going back to pre-pandemic days? Is there a new normal? If so, what does the new normal look like? What are the new norms, rules, roles and social scripts in the new normal? Despite the multitude of questions, there are few answers.

Betty Harlan and Andee Tagle (2021) conducted a very thoughtful and insightful interview with Suleika Jaouad. Jaouad knows intimately the murky waters of  in-between places before the pandemic. In the book, Between Two Kingdoms: Memoir of a Life Interrupted, Jaouad shares her  personal experiences of being diagnosed with leukemia after college, four years of medical treatment and remission. She describes much of this medical treatment requiring her to be in isolation due to her weakened immune system. As a cancer survivor, she discusses with brilliant insight how she navigated this in-between space of diagnosis and treatment, marked by all- consuming uncertainty and  fear as she was given a 35 percent chance of long-term survival.

This post is a reflection on some grounding strategies or daily routines, especially creative acts,  that might be helpful when suspended in-between places.  We have much to  learn  from the wisdom of Suleika Jaouad about navigating in- between places. She demonstrates sheer resilience, tenacity, and incredible endurance. She reflects on the power of creativity which sustained her, brought her inner stillness and a safe space in the midst of incredibly difficult circumstances. I have also added my own thoughts about navigating the deep, dark and turbulent waters of in-between places. The goal of the post is to inspire readers to find their grounding strategies of generating safe spaces of stillness, anchoring and moments of tranquility while navigating in this pandemic or other in -between places in life.

Finding grounding strategies, especially creative action, and a sense of control

There are many grounding strategies, such as, painting, sculpting, praying, meditation, chanting, mindfulness exercises, reading and listening to motivational speeches. The regularity, consistency and familiarity of love filled and soothing grounding strategies may be key to resiliency in turbulent circumstances. Jaouad discusses the importance of finding a grounding strategy to keep her anchored during her illness, marked by abysmal fear, uncertainty and loneliness. Strategies that helps with gaining a sense of control over certain features of turbulent experiences is powerful, therapeutic  and stabilizing in a destabilizing situation. Jaouad discovered the act of journaling as a powerful “creative act for survival”. She described journaling gave her a sense of control in creating a narrative of her experiences. She created a deeper  meaning of her experiences through her writing. Creative acts can be powerful in creating meaning in difficult circumstances. Victor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for meaning addresses the relationship between healing and creating meaning regarding adverse experiences. Please see post on Reading Victor Frankl’s Search for Meaning in the Pandemic. Other famous creative acts of survival are Anne Frank’s famous Diary and Cheryl Strayed’s book, “Wild: from lost to found in the Pacific Crest Trail” which describes her healing from grief, loss and a broken heart while trekking.

Uncontrollable factors and Radical Acceptance 

There are different ways to address uncontrollable factors. One strategy is radical acceptance of the in -between place. The famous song by Doris Day captures this mindset  through her  song “Whatever will be will be”. I worked with a young man who wrote rap lyrics with beats and rhythms as part of accepting his difficult circumstances. He was inspired by  the brutal honesty of lyrics by the late Tupac-Shakur. He wrote honestly about his depression and loneliness in high school.

I very much agree with Jaouad that honest reflection of  experiences is important. Jaouad discussed the balance of looking at silver linings, but, not engaging in  toxic positivity. She discovered that writing allows leaning into places of discomfort, unknown territory, suffering without happy endings. Very true.  Certain experiences suck. There is no other way to put it. Getting through a difficult experience is an act of survival.

Uncontrollable factors and Radical Surrender

There are often factors beyond our control in between places. As a person of faith, the brave act of radically surrendering uncontrollable factors to the Universe, GOD or Higher Power can be effective at times. The tricky part is there is no manual of surrendering. I find myself surrendering and trying to control and then having to radically re-surrender moment by moment. Creative acts of radical surrender may include mental visualization practices of placing uncontrollable factors in tight boxes and giving them to the Universe. I have heard of other mental visual imageries of surrender, such as, rafting through a river and throwing away burdens. Writing letters and throwing them in  the ocean. I knew people who surrendered their burdens to loved ones who passed away, such as, parents and grandparents. They stated they were unsure about  God or Universe but had powerful attachments with loved ones and their representation of a loving Universe was the beloved relative who passed away.

In twelve step programs for recovery from addictions, the key steps are the person’s acknowledgement that she or he does not have complete control over the disease and choice to surrender uncontrollable factors to God or Higher Power.  The common saying is “Let go and Let God” .  Dr. Amy Johnson beautifully and succinctly defines letting go and surrendering of factors beyond our control. She defines, ” Surrender = Complete acceptance of what is + Faith that all is well, even without my input”. Dr. Johnson differentiates between energy of control versus surrender when faced with factors beyond our control.. She visualizes the energy of control as rapidly and relentlessly paddling a little boat upstream with minimal progress. She visualizes energy of surrender as letting go of the oars of the boat in uncontrollable circumstances and go with the flow of the Universe. She also articulates that it helps to trust a Universe, which is seen as kind, loving and compassionate.

Isolation as creative solitude

Creative solitude reminds me of practices of stillness in the present moment as critical in- between places. Jaouad reported that she had been in isolation during many years of her medical treatment . She reported being  cancer free for five years when the pandemic descended on humanity. She was astonished that the world was isolating, which she already had done. Creative solitude is powerful and can sometimes be described as flow  experiences, characterized by total immersion in creative activity, filled with joy, love, and contentment. Creative acts can be like meditation, with immersion in the present moment. Some people view the creative act as communing with the Universe from which material flows to them. Others see creativity as gushing from the depth of their souls. Please see post on art and practice of plok when play and work intersect in the creative act.

Creativity is for everyone and a source of community building.

Jaouad argues that the creative instinct is in everyone, not just in artists. She also very brilliantly notes that creativity does not require perfection. It  is a contained safe space of self reflection.  Creative spaces can be a source of community.  Jaouad established  the Isolation Journals, a website of people reflecting on their experiences. I have seen people develop online poetry clubs, weekly bridge (card game ) clubs, family meetings and friendship circles in the pandemic. My father, for example, spends many hours reading books on the complex strategies of bridge as he is part of an online bridge club. Cooking elaborate meals are creative meditative experiences for some people. For example, Julia Child’s passion for the French cuisine and introducing this cuisine to Americans lead to her books, shows, creation of a community of people who follow her recipes. I also love Jaouad’s idea of creative cross training as energizing. This means starting a creative act in some other medium besides the medium one is familiar with.

Support system

Leaning into love of a support system is soothing and wonderful. Jaouad described her mother as a critical support person for her. Self compassion   is also critical.

Jaouad writes eloquently about her three steps to think about in moving forward from in-between spaces, as reported by Harlan and Tagle (2021).

One is reckoning with the impact of what we’ve all been through.

The second is allowing ourselves the space to reimagine what our lives are going to look like moving forward, because none of us can return to the person or to the lives we had pre-pandemic.

And the third is really identifying what we want to carry forward with us from this experience.”

 

CONCLUSION

I will end with Jaouad’s favorite journal prompt for in between places. She states this prompt is from her friend, Hollye Jacobs and it is called “A Day in the Life of my Dreams”.

Imagine yourself at some point in the future — maybe a year from now, maybe five, maybe 10 — living the life of your dreams. This is a normal day, not a holiday or a special day; rather, it is a typical and perfect everyday. What do you see? What do you feel? What do you hear? What do you taste? Who is there with you in your dream day? Describe the day in present tense, from the moment you wake up to the moment that you go to sleep. Creation begins with imagination.

You can find more journaling prompts at The Isolation Journals.

WISHING READERS MANY HOURS OF  LOVE, TRANQUILITY  AND CONTENTMENT IN  CREATIVE ACTS WHILE NAVIGATING IN-BETWEEN SPACES.

 

NOTE: Please seek professional mental and medical health services ,as needed. This post is not a substitute for professional mental health services.

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Interview with A. Helwa: Islamic Spirituality of Divine Love

 I recently came across Ms. A. Helwa’s book, “Secrets of Divine Love”. The beauty, holiness, and deep wisdom of the book touched me greatly. Her words, “Allah or God is love”  deeply resonated with meShe uses the words God and Allah interchangeably, referring to the Divine Source. Ms. Helwa’s discussion of the universality of seeking the Divine as summarized by the sentence, “God is bigger than one religion”, and her respect for different spiritual paths opened my heart and mind to the book.  

It was an honor to interview Ms. Helwa. She is very knowledgeable, patient, and brilliant in explaining complex ideas of Islam. I discovered a gentleness in her spirit, accompanied with a sharp intellect and passionate heart on a spiritual journey, as she discussed her views of Islam. This is a woman of  wisdom and compassion. My experiences of exposure to Islam have been mixed. Growing up in India, I was exposed to Sufi music, like the wonderful rhythmic devotional qawwali songs celebrating the deep unconditional love of God and the haunting ghazal songs about romantic love, loss and longing for the Divine.  I had the honor of visiting beautiful mosques in Istanbul, Alexandria and Cairo.  The golden silence in the mosques is peaceful to the heart.  However, my experiences of growing up in India, and living  in the US now, I also am continuously exposed to the televised images of violence associated with the Taliban or other terrorist groups. Ms. Helwa’s book and interview helped me understand the sacred teachings of love, compassion, mercy, and unconditional love of God (Allah)in Islam.  

The interview is below. Ms. Helwa cautioned that her experiences is just one person’s views of Islam. 

Anindita Ganguly (AG): Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today. I found your book deeply profound and beautifully written which taught me a lot regarding Islam. Please tell me about your background.

A. Helwa: I was born and raised as a Muslim in California and attended a Christian school. Growing up with my family, I practiced as a Muslim, but, I did hot have a personal relationship with God. I took a sabbatical and stopped all religious practices. It took me ten years and a series of events to develop  a personal relationship with God.  I think experiences with God led to a personal relationship. I studied Islam and have a masters in  Divinity Studies focusing on Islamic Spirituality. Having attended a Christian school, I have developed a concept of universality and goodness of Divine Consciousness. My teacher, Sidi Muhammad Al-Jamal , is very well versed in universality of truth and different spiritual pathways to Divine Consciousness.

AG: What are core values of Islam?

A. Helwa: Everything that exists is because of Divine Will. Every moment is infused with Divine Love. There is a saying in Islam that “There is no God, but God”. Human Beings are innately good and are reflections of Divine Love.  Islam teaches that we need to remember that we come from the Divine. We are created to represent the loving qualities of the Divine. However, we are not God. We pray five times to worship God and remember who we are. Prayer is not driven by a compulsion. It is what we have the privilege to do in our relationship with God. All creation stems from Allah and thus, all beings are connected. The theme of interconnection in Islam is same as Buddhism. So as a Muslim, when I pray, I am praying with all of creation.

In Arabic, the term humanness refers to forgetting. Human beings are forgetful of their origin from God.   It is like human beings are often wandering through fog without knowing their true nature.  The spiritual journey includes the person unveiling the Divine reflection of Divine love and compassion in his/her  selfhood. The journey is more internal as opposed to seeking something outside of self. The spiritual journey in Islam includes surrender to Allah’s Will for us. When we block Allah’s Will in parts of our lives, we experience struggle. In Islam, Prophet Mohammad is the human manifestation of the Divine to teach us our true nature. 

AG: That is beautiful.  Islam’s concept of innate goodness of people which people are on the journey to reawaken sounds very similar to the Hindu belief of self-realization and Buddhist belief of reawakening Buddha nature.

What are qualities of Allah in Islam?

A. Helwa: Allah is referred to as Al-Rahman which is described as (Most Merciful). The true meaning is not just that Allah is merciful, but that He holds creation and humanity in the Divine Womb with the compassion and deep love that a mother has for her child. It is said Allah loves His children more than a mother loves her children.

AG: When I think of the womb, the child in the womb is protected, safe and nourished.

A. Helwa: The child is safe and grows without knowing the mother. The child also does not know he/she is in the womb.

AG: Yes, very true. We, as children, are in the Divine Womb, but we do not know the Divine One completely. The incomprehensible nature of God is part of our relationship with God.

A. Helwa: Al-Rahim refers to Allah’s Grace, like a focused flashlight which is directed at us.  In Islam, there is a difference between trusting Allah versus trusting other human beings. So as human beings, we are like two boats leaning on each other in daylight. However,  we will drift in the ocean at night and we do not know our location in the morning. Anchoring our boat in Allah is fortifying because Allah is stable and firm ground because He does not change, as people do.

AG: I agree with you 100 percent. People can change but Allah does not. He is unwavering in His unconditional love. However, people’s love for us is subject to change.

A. Helwa: In Islam, we see God everywhere, whether you head to the east, west, south, and north. Since God created everyone with love, we cannot hurt others. You can hold the person’s behavior accountable but recognize the holy, sacred mystery of the person.

AG: What are your thoughts about Jihadist movements? 

A. Helwa: I think Islamophobia is a bias where any violent act conducted by a Muslim is automatically correlated to his/her religion and the term “terrorist” is used. When Christians engage in violent acts, their actions are not automatically correlated with Christianity. Buddhist nationalist monks have led anti -Muslim movements targeting violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. However, this is not automatically correlated with Buddhism.

This bias against Islam is very similar to the race related bias against minority groups, such as African -Americans, in the US.

AG: Very true. Bias distorts perception and beliefs. There is  implicit bias where we are unconscious of the bias, versus, explicit bias where we are more conscious of the bias.

Fundamentalists or radicalization of a religion can happen in any religion. There is a rising Hindu nationalist movement in India also. I have also seen Islamophobia in India. Your book and interview are very informative because of my distorted skewed views and lack of knowledge about Islam.

A. Helwa: The rise of ISIS and Taliban occurred in a vacuum of society defined by poverty, and lack of social order after the negative impact of western colonization or interference. The ISIS and Taliban are unjust regimes who killed the most Muslims. These movements with radical beliefs date back 100 years ago. Islam does not promote violence or killing. People who call themselves as Muslims and engage in such horrific acts are not following Islam. Just as people, who call themselves as Christian or Buddhist and engage in violence, are not following true Christianity or Buddhism. People may call themselves as Muslims or Christians. However, their beliefs may not be compatible with what is articulated in the heart of the religion.

AG: How does Islam view women?

A. Helwa: In the spiritual context of Islam, women and men are seen as equal. It is not so much the gender but the work you do in life. The prophet Muhammad had a daughter and he cherished her. The Prophet would be what we call “girl-dad”. The Prophet advocated for the rights of women. When the Prophet was asked whether mother or father is important, he focused on the importance of mothers. However, sociopolitical structures in society may not reflect the views of Islam.

AG: How does Islam view LGBTQ+ communities?

A. Helwa: There are similar beliefs about homosexuality in the Koran, as the Bible. However, I am a firm believer that we, as “reflections of Divine love and compassion”, need to demonstrate this love and compassion to everyone, even those we perceive as different from us.

AG: Very true. What is Sharia law?

A. Helwa: Sharia is a scholar’s interpretations of the Qur’an and words of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). It’s important to point out that Sharia law is not agreed upon by everyone. The only agreed upon text by all Muslims is Qur’an in its original language. People often make the mistake to think that Sharia law is agreed upon by all and it’s not. Not to mention you can’t just read it blankly and make judgments. A scholar needs to interpret it AND people can’t take matters into their own hands… there is a judge and court. Also for example in terms of Jihad it’s original translation is to strive for and you cannot declare it as a person militarily. It’s something that a government employs under very specific laws and only in defense. The notion of suicide bomb etc is completely new cultural politic act attributed to Islam with no roots in it.  

AG: Very true. Any other points that you want to share about Islam that I did not ask about?

A. Helwa: My prayer is that anyone who comes across this post knows that they matter regardless of what valley they are in. God’s heart sees all, even the seeds in a desert. Everyone matters because they are here because God has willed for them to be here for a holy sacred purpose. People need to find their purpose.

AG: Thank you so much for the interview. I loved listening to you.

A. Helwa: Thank you for the interview.

 

Readers interested in learning more about Ms. Helwa and “Secrets of Divine Love” (a book I highly recommend), please check out these websites:

http://www.authorahelwa.com

http://www.secretsofdivinelove.com

 

RESILIENCY RULES

Dr. Fiona Starr and Dr. Michael Solomon present an excellent talk on guidelines to foster resiliency. They humorously referred to the guidelines to foster resiliency as “shit manifesto”, which is managing life when shit happens. Shit refers to events which are unwelcome and challenging. People experience “shitty” stuff as “bad”, or “painful” .I love the TED talk, “Shit Happens. What next? 8 lessons on resiliency”. I think the talk is very relevant as shit happens in life. Shit happens in exponentially greater rates   in the pandemic. Please view the TED TALK if you feel up to it. (8 lessons in resiliency).

Dr. Starr is a professor and clinical psychologist. Dr. Solomon is a clinical psychologist and organizational psychologist.  Both Drs. Starr and Solomon appear not just very knowledgeable, but, share their lived experiences of navigating difficult circumstances. Dr. Starr discussed losing her husband and father of her three children due to suicide.  Dr. Solomon reported having stage 4 lung cancer. Drs. Starr and Solomon summarize eight compassionate and wise guidelines of resiliency to navigate difficult circumstances.

 This post is on Drs. Starr and Solomon’s resiliency rules.   I have added a section on Eckhart Tolle’s talk on letting go of pain body and its components: thoughts and feelings. Tolle is one of my favorite spiritual teachers with his wisdom and compassionate perspective on navigating life’s challenges. I have  added little bits and pieces of my own reflections. Please note there are different strategies to deal with difficult circumstances. These are just a few strategies. Please apply the resiliency rules as you see fit.

  1. Finding the appropriate social support system to lean on during challenging times.

When we think of support system, we think of supportive, kind and caring people in our lives. Support system can include informal support (friends and family) and formal support (health professionals). However, as a person of faith, faith in a loving and caring God, Universe or Higher Power is  powerful to lean on. The Buddha states that in difficult times, a kind heart who listens to us may be more critical than a brilliant mind.  The social science literature states that social support buffers us from the stress of challenging life circumstances.  The better social support system we have, the impact of stress is less damaging on us.

      2. It is important to process emotion and perceptions regarding difficult events.  Drs. Starr and Solomon state that processing of emotions do not occur effectively in moments of crisis. In crisis, the actions of walking through the storm may require all the energy we have. Drs. Starr and Solomon discuss the concept of practicing a skill called “thinking about thinking”. Another word for it is  metacognition. Metacognition refers to observing your thought patterns. Metacognition can be helpful in navigating tough times.

Eckhart Tolle presents a very insightful talk on letting go of painful feelings. Tolle states that the pain body (painful experiences) has feelings and thoughts. He states that in painful experiences, we need to accept and acknowledge that painful feelings exists.   Acceptance of feelings is the key first step. He says that denial of painful feelings causes more suffering. Then, Tolle states that we need to explore and identify the thought patterns associated with the painful feelings. Tolle states that one strategy is to detach from the thought related to the painful experience. He says that the time that people spend in detaching from thoughts related to painful feelings varies from person to person.  Tolle recommends not feeding thoughts which trigger painful feelings.    The Buddha states that overthinking is a primary cause of unhappiness. Rumination, for example, is type of overthinking, where one thought is mentally reviewed repeatedly from different angles.  Rumination tends to include feeding a thought which triggers painful feelings. It is like chewing on a thought repeatedly. It leads to painful feelings, such as feeling stuck in difficult experiences,  and it tends to be unproductive.

Tolle articulates that self observation of thinking patterns (metacognition) related to painful feelings is a critical step. He refers to this self observation as bringing consciousness to thought patterns associated with painful feelings and unhelpful behaviors. Consciousness of thought patterns and feelings are liberating because then one has the option of not engaging in past patterns of unhelpful behavior. Rising consciousness or awareness of thoughts and feelings optimize our opportunities to engage in intentional, healthy actions and not reactive action. Tolle states that while we are unconscious or unaware of thoughts and feelings, we are more likely to react, not act with intention.

There are many different strategies of dealing with  and distancing from thoughts patterns connected to painful experiences after awareness stage.  One of my favorite strategies is   thought surfing. This is related to urge surfing, a mindfulness technique in the cognitive behavioral therapy world, used in preventing relapse of addictive behaviors.   In this model, the mind is viewed as an ocean with thoughts as waves. The idea behind thought surfing is detaching from the thought by identifying the thought wave linked to painful feelings, glide or surf on top of  the wave. As an mindful observer of the thought wave, one notices thoughts, feelings or body sensations with curiosity and nonjudgment as  the wave peaks and melts away.  The idea is to surf on top of the thought wave without falling in the thought wave associated with negative feelings.  As one surfs the thought associated with painful feelings, one can notice intensity of thought and feelings escalating in intensity, peaking, deescalating in intensity, and then melting away. The mindfulness approach to thought surfing includes observation, description (name the thoughts, feelings, body sensations)  and participation (ride it out). I love the analogy of sitting on a beach and observing thought waves. This is one strategy of learning how our minds works.

As Drs. Starr and Solomon state that naming scary things makes them less scary. They talk about Harry Potter naming the “nameless dread” as “Voldemort”, which reduces the dread. As with mindfulness techniques, thought surfing becomes easier with practice. Some models of therapy suggest different adaptive tools for soothing one’s painful emotions while thought surfing. However, thought surfing may not be helpful for everyone. Different therapy models have various innovative approaches to address painful thoughts and feelings, which are not addressed in the post.

In the Acceptance and Commitment therapy (ACT) literature, cognitive entanglement is like falling into the wave (maladaptive thought patterns) and being swept away by its current despite all of one’s attempts to rise above the water for air. Cognitive entanglement in turbulent thought waves is stressful, as you are fighting waves, gasping for air and trying to reach the surface of the water. Cognitive entanglement includes painful feelings and engaging in unhelpful behaviors. Thought surfing allows consciousness of painful thoughts, feelings and not unconsciously engaging in destructive behaviors. Consciousness of painful thoughts and feelings permits intentionality in behaviors and implementation of helpful behaviors. An example of cognitive entanglement is being caught in catastrophic thinking. This is when we add “what if” scenarios endlessly. Pretty soon, we are like “Chicken little” who fears the sky is falling.

In thought surfing, we are not fighting or trying to control or  suppress the thought waves.   Waves are unstoppable. The nature of the ocean, like the human mind, includes different waves and moments of stillness and calm.   Some thought waves are turbulent. Some thought waves are gentle. Sometimes, there are no waves. When conceptualizing the mind as an ocean with changing thought waves, we recognize that thoughts and feelings are impermanent. One of the most insightful aspects of Buddhism is recognizing the impermanent nature of reality. In the middle of suffering, the knowledge that “this too shall pass” is very helpful.  In thought surfing, the key is observation, description and participation of (ride out) thought waves and feelings without any judgement and curiosity. I love the nonjudgmental perspective of experiences, “It is what it is” . I also recognize that this nonjudgmental stance is hard to cultivate in difficult times.

Tolle states that painful feelings dissipate in time when there is detachment from thoughts.  Cognitive fusion in the ACT literature means perceiving maladaptive thoughts waves as “facts”. The common reminder is “Do not believe everything you think”. Our minds are thought factories and produce all kinds of thought waves. In states of high stress and anxiety, our minds produce turbulent thought waves which are not always aligned with reality. Observation, identification, verbalization and surfing of thoughts help us distance ourselves from thoughts and recognize thoughts are just thoughts, not always matching with reality. Thoughts, involved in generating intense emotions, such as fear,  can be very powerful. Researchers have noted that people report higher levels of fear of public speaking than fear of dying. This is astounding. I will argue that fear may be anticipatory anxiety or fearful thoughts about what can go wrong in public speaking than the actual task of public speaking. Interestingly, Dr. Gabor Mate, well known for his contributions to the treatment of addiction and psychotherapy, states in one of his TED TALKs, that people are most afraid of their own minds, other people and death.  Again the notion that the mind can be best friend or worst enemy is very true. Mindfulness skills of observing thoughts emphasize curiosity and nonjudgement in learning thought waves without fear. There is minimal fear because as you get to know your thought patterns and feelings, you step back and not react, but choose helpful behavior with intention.

 

 3. One step at a time This may mean one hour at a time or even one breath at a time. The central question is am I accepting the now and what is the best healthy helpful thing I can do in the present moment. Drs. Starr and Solomon describe that the present moment can be beautiful, wonderful or downright shitty. Acceptance of the now  is important before we can decide how to engage with the moment skillfully or to the make the best out of the present. This includes training in attention and focus. This is training the mind to focus attention on what we choose to think about. Sometimes in difficult times, focusing attention on the now is critical as our mind tends to gravitate towards the past or future.  As Alan Watts, student of Taoism, states, we are always in the eternal now. Tolle also emphasizes we only  can act in the now. The past and future are unavailable. 

4. Stare at the sun Dr. Irving Yalom writes in his book, “Staring at the Sun” about people’s unconscious fear of death as  the root of anxiety and depression. Dr. Yalom argues that even though we know that death happens to all of us, when it happens, it is shocking with a sense of finality, that is overwhelming. It is difficult to stare at the sun. The pandemic has increased awareness of the possibility of death and fragility of life. The fear of death is significant for many people including myself. Drs. Starr and Solomon argue that despite staring at the sun at times, the importance of savoring the time between birth and death is critical. Carpe Diem!

 

5.Weebles wobble and do not fall. Weebles are resilient . Resiliency includes psychological flexibility, a powerful strength. Adaptability to different situations is a very effective tool in life as change is a permanent feature of life. Interestingly, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution suggests that the the most flexible of species which adapted to the changing environment survived. Not the strongest. The fittest. Fittest means being most flexible.

Drs. Starr and Solomon discuss the critical importance of  self compassion and self kindness as we “wobble” when faced with difficult circumstances. Self Compassion is a good thing because it removes self-judgment. We can be hardest on ourselves.

6.Love is healing.   Love soothes and heals. Please see posts on Practices of Love on the Brain which changes brain. Please also see the post on polyvagal theory and dance of the vagus nerve .This suggests that when people experience stress, any experience of feeling heard, understood and seen can be powerful co-regulatory experiences to reduce the stress of the nervous system.

7. Perfection is not the  aim The British psychiatrist, Winnicott, discussed a better focus is on  “good enough” as a surfer, parent and other areas in life.  Drs. Starr and Solomon argue the importance of “good enough” as a better goal than searching for perfection. The process of searching for perfection is like chasing a mirage of water in the desert. Drs. Solomon and Starr argue that  honest and authentic relationship with self and others are healthy and can be part of resiliency. I agree wholeheartedly that authentic relationships with loved ones are important.

8. Maya Angelou: We do not have control over certain circumstances, but, we have control over how we react to circumstances. We can choose not to be reduced by them.

 

Hope readers find the resiliency rules helpful. Again, a quick reminder, this is not a therapy site and material on this website is not a substitute for medical and mental health services. Please reach out for professional medical and mental health services,  as needed.