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 Radical Act of Surrender

 

 Tibetan prayer flags represent prayers sent to heaven. Tibetan prayer flags often have the image of  the Tibetan mythical creature, wind horse, or Lang-Ta, who carries prayers with the speed of the wind and strength of a galloping horse. I love the visual image of surrendering prayers through Tibetan prayer flags. Different religions and wisdom traditions have practices of surrendering to the Divine Will. The topic of surrender is complex and the practice is tough. During my years of attending catholic school, the most incredible practice of surrender I read about was the crucifixion of Christ. Christ, God-man, cried out to God in anguish and sorrow about what lay in front of him in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He questioned God about whether God had forsaken him at his deepest point of agony. But, then He surrendered to God and accepted that “not mine”, but, “Thine Divine Will be Done”. I was amazed, scared and stunned when I read this in the early years of catholic school. How could a loving God ask this from His beloved  son? It was baffling beyond words and my thought was I don’t think I like this “Divine Will” thing. As I have matured, I see the magnificence of Divine Grace in Christ’s crucifixion. It was for the salvation of humanity. I am a believer that this is a God of fierce and relentless love, who climbs the steepest mountains and dives into the depths of human despair and anguish,  to rescue and heal souls. 

The struggle in surrendering may vary for different people with diverse issues. As I have matured,  I have started rethinking the surrendering process.  The pandemic was a wake up call for me about the fragility and impermanence of human lives.  I am sitting with the underlying uncertainty in life and chide myself for my arrogance at my pre-pandemic assumptions of certainty. To be honest, I struggle mightily with the surrendering process. My central fear is if the “Divine Will”   leads to possible cataclysmic upheaval in my life. Frankly speaking, I am tired of upheavals. I prefer peace and quietness. I am a creature of habits, structure and schedules. Another facet of  “Divine Will” is that it is very much unknown territory. No human being really knows the “Divine Will”. There is a level of comfort in known versus unknown territory. Bono (2022), lead singer of the famous U-2 band, writes in his book, Surrender: 40 Songs and One Story, that the word “surrender” is possibly the most powerful word in the English language. When I think of surrendering to a Higher Power, the serenity prayer comes to mind. The central message of the serenity prayer is praying for wisdom to differentiate between factors in our lives that we have control over, versus, factors that we do not have control over. The serenity prayer encourages us to proactively  make the changes that we can in areas within our control so that life is easier.  These changes often require skills of contingency planning, anticipating and problem solving in facilitating change. However, there are factors in life that one does not have control over. One of the most frustrating things in life is trying to change factors that are beyond our control. This results in wasted energy, negative emotions, exhaustion, and a sense of depletion.  This post consists of some reflections on the surrendering process.  Again, please remember, I am a neophyte in the surrendering process.

SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT SURRENDER

Although I love U-2’s music,  I did not know much about Bono’s faith journey until I started reading his book, Surrender: 40 Songs and One Story. Bono’s book is captivating as the first chapter opens with his experience of struggling to breathe  in a hospital emergency room waiting for surgery.  Struggling to breathe, terrified, and grasping for his faith, Bono had an epiphany. He writes that in all the different  names we give God, “Jehovaaaah,  Allaaaah, Yeshuaaah”, we revere God as the giver of breath and life. No breath, no life. Bono points out that we do not have control over the two most fundamental aspects of our lives: when we are born and when we die.   This led me to question why I struggle with surrendering other parts of my life, which are insignificant and puny, compared to the grand events of birth and death. I am learning to recognize that after I have identified the “uncontrollable” factors in life, why not surrender them to a Higher Power?

In his book, Surrender: 40 Songs and One Story, Bono describes surrender as “the moment you choose to lose control of your life, the split second of powerlessness where you trust that some kind of “higher power” better be in charge, because you certainly aren’t.” (p. 540). Bono argues that the strategies to remain in control are very different than the strategies of surrender. Bono talks about his leap of faith and surrender in his marriage, family and music. Another beautiful example of surrendering to a Higher Power was discussed by Tim Allen’s character in an episode of “Last Man Standing”. Tim Allen used the metaphor of a compass in discussing surrendering to a Higher Power. He stated that a compass  points “north” all the time, which is critical when we are lost in our paths. He stated that just as we can count on the compass as always pointing north, the Higher Power, God or Universe, similarly will point in the right direction in the surrendering process.

SOME STRATEGIES ON SURRENDER

 On the website, tinybuddha.com, Dr. Amy Johnson  writes a wonderful article on the themes of letting go of control and surrender. Dr. Johnson defines surrender as  “stop fighting. Stop fighting with yourself. Stop fighting the universe and the natural flow of things. Stop resisting and pushing against reality”. She writes :  Surrender = Complete acceptance of what is + Faith that all is well, even without my input.”. The key is the recognition that my input is not needed in certain situations. Bono has an entire chapter, “Get out of the way” in his book.  Amy  Johnson states the importance of a core belief in a “Friendly Universe”, that has your back, is very helpful in the surrendering process. People develop core beliefs about the Universe based on different experiences.   This is a super complex topic and I have no definitive thoughts on this. However, I will share briefly my understanding of the  research literature on applying attachment theory to attachment style to God.  Psychologists, such as, P. Granqvist and L. A. Kirkpatrick (2008) have applied attachment theory (the bond between an infant and a primary caregiver) to discuss our attachment style to God or God image (how we see God). John Bowlby was a pioneer in attachment theory and he  discussed that the nature of attachment with our parents set the template for our future intimate relationships. According to the attachment to God theorists, compensation hypothesis posits that people view the Divine One as a parental figure of agape love and a secure haven, who guides and protects them, to contrast to their  inconsistent and unreliable earthly parenting figures.  The correspondence hypothesis suggests people view God as having the same characteristics as their parents. So if you have  punitive and emotionally distant parents, your image of God may be a punitive and distant.  However, if you have loving parents, you may see God as a loving and kind God.

If you believe in a God of agape love that has your back, you may be less stressed about needing to arrange every detail in life. However, it may be difficult to surrender to an unseen Higher Power or God if people in your life have  repeatedly let you down and you have a belief system that  “I cannot trust the world and need to rely on myself” or “the only way to get things done is to do them myself”. I know many people who are livid with God for traumatic events in their lives. I recognize that God is a loaded word where people have many emotions and biases as throughout history, groups of people  have hurt or oppressed others in the name of “God”. I like the idea of a  “Higher Power, as you see it”, as discussed in the language of Alcohol Anonymous recovery groups. Some folks find the word God or Universe as too abstract and they use the concept of  a Higher Power, something bigger than themselves, ASSOCIATED WITH  EXPERIENCES OF UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. I know people who talk about surrender strategies as handing over insurmountable problems to their grandparents, or other relatives who passed away. They talk about the unconditional and powerful love from their relatives and these relatives serve as connections to the Universe. They often talk about the great love that they have experienced in the relationships with loved ones. I used to work with an individual who defined his “Higher Power” as his family and he believed that the love for his family, especially his young children, was a powerful intrinsic incentive for maintaining his recovery.

I, too, have been angry at God regarding certain events in my life. There are times when my faith has been shattered and I have broken up with God. I believe that like in any relationship, we, as human beings, have different emotions, positive or negative. Someone once told me that God is Big Enough and He can handle my anger and rage and reminded me that I need to deal with my own anger. I did not like this comment initially in my stage of wrath and fury. But, I agree now that this person made a good point.  I recognize that feelings are human experiences, and perhaps part of the faith journey is to process feelings and thoughts about God or the Universe in safe places, just as one may process feelings about other relationships.   My faith journey is partly dealing with my thoughts, feelings and figuring out what is the lesson the Universe is trying to teach me. The surrendering process for me is let go and lean in to learn the lesson. My experience is that if I do not learn the lesson the first few times, circumstances will repeat where the lesson presents itself. 

I believe that as God seeks relationships with us, He reveals Himself in our faith journeys. For example, Bono talked about discovering agape love from his mom. After the devastating and horrendous trauma of losing his mom, Iris, at age 14, Bono discusses his  grief as a lost, “motherless boy”, yearning for his mother in a “house” that was no longer a “home”.  Bono also reflects on his rage in his youth at his emotionally distant father.  He describes his faith journey of discovering  a  God of Grace, who was very interested in the details of his teenage life after the loss of his mom.

  Perhaps, the practice of faith teaches us about the nature of the Universe or God: friendly, loving, kind or not. Practices of faith are key in building a relationship with the Divine Source. Different people have different practices of faith. I love Bono’s argument that his faith is “not a crutch”, but, requires a level of boldness, guts, and sheer courage in an impermanent world.   Bono discusses his fascination with the story of the prophet Elijah, who was waiting to hear God’s voice.  Elijah did not hear God’s word through the earth shaking and celestial fire, but, through  “the still small voice”.  Bono describes his faith as a practice to quieten the noises around him to hear God’s voice.  Bono talks about hearing God’s voice in his relationship with his wife, children, band members, and serving impoverished and vulnerable people. Bono views his songs as prayers and discusses the sacred power of music to help navigate people through turbulent times.

I love Amy Johnson’s differentiation between the energy of control versus surrendering. Amy Johnson describes the energy of control as stemming from fear to avoid certain outcomes. She describes that the fear response often is tied to the fight or flight response.  She very accurately describes that working super hard to control the “uncontrollable” often feels  chaotic,  stressful and “out of control”. She discusses imagery of control energy as  rowing a boat upstream against strong currents in the river. Blood, sweat and tears to move the boat against the current. She describes surrendering energy as letting go of the oars, turning the boat around and riding the boat with the flowing currents.

Amy Johnson suggests asking ourselves three questions to determine if we are entangled in “control energy”. Am I fearful of an outcome? Am I involved in someone else’s business? Is there freedom in letting go? These questions may be guidelines in transitioning from control energy to surrendering energy.

 

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

In all honesty, I have surrendered after having my butt kicked and lying flat on the floor after all my control strategies failed miserably. I have learned that there is no winning against the Universal will. 

Different people have written various perspectives on the surrendering process. On the website, drwaynedyer.com,  Dr. Wayne Dyer discussed surrender as  releasing the “ego mind” that we can fix the problem. Dr. Dyer discusses  that surrendering may appear as handling the big problem to our “senior partner”, God or Universe, who walks with us .My goal is to surrender earlier in the process and not wait until I am punched in the face or kicked in the butt and groaning in pain, lying on the floor.  In exploring the surrendering process, I am learning the practice of reflective delay before decision-making in highly stressful situations. People seem to use different practices of reflective delay, such as, silence practices, prayer, journaling, working out or walking in settings of nature to connect to the Divine Source or inner wisdom of the Divine Spark. In practices of reflective delay, one may need to differentiate factors that are in our control versus uncontrollable factors. In terms of undesirable uncontrollable factors, one may need to process thoughts and feelings in safe places and then, try to implement radical acceptance strategies (“It is what it is”). Reflective delay practices help reduce reactive reactions to difficult circumstances. It is empowering to intentionally respond and adaptively work on “controllable” factors to make life easier and joyful. Intentional responses to uncontrollable factors may include letting go or surrendering to the Universe or God. I am discovering that this surrendering process to the Universe or God allows me to stay out of messy situations.  There is great relief and peace in this. Peace is a beautiful thing.

 

 

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

Bhajans: Songs of Worship

Different religious and spiritual traditions include songs and music in the worship of the Divine Source or God. Music and songs are  powerful parts of worshipping the Divine One. Music and songs of worship can be powerful in strengthening one’s faith in difficult times. According to the website, The Rabbinical Assembly, the human soul is compared to God’s candle.  In difficult and challenging times, the soul, like a candle in a storm, may quiver and tremble  at times. Songs of worship can be helpful at times to keep the candle lit when the candle is caught in tempestuous storms.

I have memories of hearing beautiful hymns during mass while attending catholic school. One of my favorite songs of worship that I learned while attending catholic school, is “Amazing Grace”. The experience of Amazing Grace has been deeply moving for me as the song affirms God’s  infinite grace in our lives, and God’s unconditional love, or agape love.

In the Hindu tradition, bhajans are songs of devotion or reverence and worship to the Divine One. My mom, Anuradha Ganguly, introduced me to the tradition of bhajans in group worship formats. My mom loved bhajans and sang passionately to the Divine One. She sang with pure bhakti (devotion) and passion. She believed that bhajans were her offerings to the Divine One. I remember my mom telling me that her words of the bhajan sprung from her heart, even though, she was not a professional singer. My memories include my mother having one of the best voices I have ever heard. Her bhajans reflected the bittersweetness of her walks through peaks and valleys. She and I were very close and we shared with each other the exhilaration  of our victories and depth of anguish in our defeats. She is a reminder that the human journey is not easy, but, arduous, walking with a God, one cannot see with the five senses. Yet, my mother walked on with her unshakeable faith and her God. She believed that her God was bigger than anything she faced. She often talked about a God, characterized by shakti or sheer strength, often attributed to the feminine aspects of Divine Energy in the Hindu traditions. My understanding of shakti or the female Divine cosmic energy is that this cosmic energy is critical in the dance of the cosmos, a cycle of creation, sustenance and destruction. In Hinduism, Divine energy can be described as having masculine or  feminine features. Please note that I am not a scholar of Hinduism.

Circling back to bhajans, they may be offered to both female or male aspects of God.  Bhajans are accompanied with percussions instruments, harmonium, a keyboard instrument and dancing at times in group settings in places of worship. Bhajans include variations in rhythms, with rapid rhythmic beats or slower beats. Some bhajans include a lead vocalist and a chorus following the lead singer.  The bhajan lyrics and melodies vary according to the different emotions expressed.   My experience of bhajans include devotees expressing the depth of emotion in praising the Divine One’s Compassion (“Karuna”), pleading and crying out to the Divine One for Grace in resolving difficulties, trials and tribulations, alleviate distress and suffering, and praying for the Divine One to strengthen the devotee’s faith in the Divine. Some bhajans include praying for blessings, joy and (“ananda”). Other bhajans include prayers for prosperity. Bhajans sometimes proclaim the relationship with the Divine One, as closer than one’s “father, mother and/or best friend”. I remember my mother being a solo vocalist, often without any accompanying instruments, in her bhajans. Her devotion or bhakti shone through her voice. Memories of my mother’s bhajans are mixed with the beautiful smell of sandal wood incense in the temple.

This post is about keeping our candles lit especially in difficult times. This includes different methods, like devotional songs, prayers, chanting mantras, hugging loved ones, or creative acts (painting, writing) etc. I recently started listening to the bhajans, especially  bhajans which were sung by my mother. For me, bhajans  nourish the soul, especially in challenging times. I am attaching  one of my mom’s favorite bhajans. I attached the English translation of the Hindu version (Om Jai Jagdish Hare) from the website, Temples in India Info.com.  It is a reminder of Divine Grace from the Divine Source and also that the Divine Spark  is within all of us.

Om Jai Jagdish Hare

Om, Victory to You, the Lord of the Universe,
Swami, Victory to You, the Lord of the Universe,
The difficulties of Your devotees,
The difficulties of Your servants,
You remove in an instant.
Om, Victory to You, the Lord of the Universe.  1

Whoever meditates on You will get Your grace,
Whoever meditates with a mind free of sorrows,
Swami, with a mind free of sorrows.
Joy and Prosperity will come to them,
Joy and Prosperity will come to them,
And distress of body (and mind) will be relieved.
Om, Victory to You, the Lord of the Universe.  2

You are my Father and Mother,
And my refuge,
Swami, You are my refuge.
Apart from You there is none else,
Swami, there is none else,
I aspire for.
Om, Victory to You, the Lord of the Universe. || 3 ||

You are the Puran Paramatma,
You are the indweller of everyone,
Swami, You are the indweller of everyone.
You are the Parabrahman and Parama Ishwara (Supreme God),
You are the Parabrahman and Parama Ishwara (Supreme God),
You are the Lord of everyone.
Om, Victory to You, the Lord of the Universe.

 

Concluding Thoughts

Hope readers protect their candles  and keep them lit until storms subside.

 

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

Interview with Dr. Raymond Moody on his best selling book, Life After Life.

I am very honored and privileged to present my interview with Dr. Raymond Moody, a philosopher, scholar, physician, psychiatrist and prolific author. He received his doctorate in philosophy and taught for years as a professor of philosophy and then attended medical school and practiced for years. He is credited with coining the term “Near Death Experience” in 1975. He introduced the topic of “Near Death Experience” (NDE) into the mainstream discussion with his bestselling book, Life After Life, published in 1975. The book has been in publication in current times due to his the book’s selling status.

This post includes my interview with Dr. Raymond Moody. He discusses his study of Greek philosophers, such as, Plato, who described people’s encounters with death and dying. He also integrated other cultural traditions, such as, the Tibetan Book For the Dead which includes topics of death, dying and references to NDEs in the Bible. The book is compelling, beautiful, and moving in people’s retrospective accounts of NDEs. I am fascinated by Dr. Moody’s discussion that  people who report NDEs point to a key life lesson for humanity is to learn how to love. Dr. Moody also pointed out that many of the people who report NDEs state that this experience transformed their lives to focus on love rather than chasing external factors, like accolades, degrees or titles. I was also fascinated to learn from Dr. Moody that the debate about whether NDEs are rooted in neurochemical reactions of the dying brain or point to consciousness existing after physical death (after life) dates back to philosophers in antiquity, such as debate between Democritus versus Plato.

Hope readers enjoy Dr. Moody’s interview. I found him to be interpersonally  warm, genuine and kind as he shared his wealth of knowledge. Here is the link for Dr. Moody’s interview.

INTERVIEW WITH DR. RAYMOND MOODY

 

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Dr. Moody beautifully  and eloquently integrates his thoughts on philosophy, medicine and the wisdom of living well that he learned from interviewing people who report NDEs.  I appreciate  his generosity in sharing his knowledge and wisdom.  I highly recommend Dr. Moody’s, book, “Life After Life”.

Dr. Moody discussed not having a particular religious or spiritual tradition, but, a relationship with God. Dr. Moody’s current book regarding his relationship with God is called  God is Bigger than the Bible . It was published in 2021.He discusses that the human mind cannot comprehend God. He beautifully discusses his thoughts on his relationship with the Divine. . He also discusses negative reactions he has received from people regarding the new book.

 

Please note that this is not a therapy site. Please consult medical and mental health professionals, as needed.

Interview with Jody Long: Near Death Experience Research Foundation

Humanity’s search for  afterlife has continued over the centuries. After interviewing my dear friend Mari about her near death experience, I became very interested in the phenomenon of Near Death Experiences (NDEs).  Regardless of whether one believes in the explanations of NDEs as neurochemical or neurological manifestations of the dying brain or continuation of human consciousness after the physical death of the brain and body, the NDE accounts are powerful reminders to live our lives with meaning, love and compassion. Living with meaning, purpose and compassion is especially challenging in our current times.

I am very honored to present my interview with Jody Long, the webmaster of over 20 years of the Near Death Experience Research Foundation (nderf.org).  NDERF is a very popular website with accounts of NDEs in over 23 languages and research articles.  Jody Long is an attorney, licensed in Washington, New Mexico, Louisiana, and the Navajo Nation.  Jody discussed her philosophy of living with love and compassion in the here and now as she reported hearing themes of unconditional love in people’s accounts of NDES.

Jody discussed that she became interested about NDEs after her husband, Dr. Jeffrey Long, a radiation oncologist, studied this phenomenon and he and a colleague wrote the best selling book, Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences. Dr. Long presented his research and book in different media outlets, such as, NBC Today Show, The Dr. Oz Show, National Geographic television, and the History Channel. Dr. Long established the Near Death Experience Research Foundation. Jody discussed helping with  “Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near Death Experiences,” the New York Times best selling NDE book. She has written “From Soul to Soulmate: Bridges from Near Death Experience Wisdom” and “God’s Fingerprints: Impressions of Near Death Experiences,” which was the first book of its genre published in mainland China.

This post includes my interview with Jody Long. She is very generous in sharing her wisdom and knowledge about the  NDE phenomenon. She is very warm, engaging and has a wealth of information about the NDE phenomenon.  Jody also emphasizes NDES as “human experiences” transcending different religious, spiritual,  and cross cultural wisdom traditions. Her work on the website is a labor of love and she is passionate that knowledge garnered from the NDES can transform our world. I love her passion and enthusiasm on the subject matter.

Here is the link for the interview with Jody: 

Interview with Jody Long

 

CLOSING REMARKS

I read a few journal articles by Dr. Bruce Greyson, mentioned by Jody, about the question of NDES overlapping with mental illness. Dr. Bruce Greyson is a professor  emeritus of psychiatry and neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia and he has also studied the NDE phenomenon extensively. In The Journal of the Missouri State Medical Association, Dr. Bruce Greyson (2013) wrote in his article, “Getting Comfortable With Near Death Experiences: An Overview of Near-Death Experiences”  that although reports of NDES may contain features which resemble responses to severe trauma encounters by people, researchers have found that people who report NDES are largely psychologically healthy. Dr. Bruce Greyson (1997) estimates that NDEs are more common than previously thought, estimating that 5 percent of the American population may have experienced this phenomenon. He outlined this in his article, “The Near -Death Experience as a Focus of Clinical Attention” in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. As mentioned by Jody in the interview, Dr. Greyson discussed a code for religious or spiritual problem in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM-IV). Dr. Greyson reviewed four cases where people with NDES had difficulty integrating these experiences into their lives. For example, in some of the case studies, people struggled with their NDES being inconsistent with their current values. In one of the case studies, the person who experienced an NDE reported frustration because she could not find the deep unconditional love experienced in the NDE  in other human relationships and she expressed attachment to the entities in the NDE, which people could not replicate in her life. More research about facilitating people to integrate NDES in their lives is critical.

HOPE READERS ENJOY MY INTERVIEW WITH JODY. A VERY BIG THANK YOU TO JODY FOR SHARING HER WEALTH OF KNOWLEDGE ON NDES. 

 

Please note that this is not a therapy site. Please consult mental health professionals and medical professionals as needed.

 

Interview with Mari: Coming Back from a Near Death Experience from COVID

Mari is a very dear friend. I have known her for 20 years. Mari is remarkably optimistic and brave in the face of adversity. She is one the kindest people I know. She is an amazing woman, mother and grandmother. She was diagnosed with COVID-19 on August 2, 2021. She was in the hospital for  nine weeks for COVID-19, fighting hard for her life.   Mari’s story is powerful in her finding courage, meaning and purpose as she discusses her near death experiences, while fighting COVID-19. She discusses the powerful role that her faith in God played in her healing journey. I love her quote, “If you have life and you are breathing, you have a purpose in this life”. She is a huge source of inspiration for me and a reminder about the fragility and preciousness of  life. She also demonstrates some of the principles of Post Trauma Growth (PTG)

This post includes my interview with Mari today (July 31, 2022), almost one year after her experiences with COVID-19. I hope that readers  find her story of fighting COVID-19, near death experiences and her new life inspiring, given  our difficult and challenging times. Please see link below for my interview with Mari.

Interview with Mari

 

After the interview, Maria talked about good people who passed away and her “survival guilt” about why she made it and others did not. She talked about her fears that she could have also passed. I also had the opportunity to talk to Mari’s daughter, Brenda. Brenda stated that she and her siblings were shocked and very worried when the doctors said Mari was “giving up” in the hospital as Mari had always been very upbeat and optimistic. Brenda stated that she and her family started sending her more love and get well wishes on the phone, which they felt was critical. Brenda talked about sending her love, which was critical for Mari’s recovery. Brenda discussed her joy when Mari’s condition improved. Brenda said that Mari became more hopeful and started fighting to improve and get out of the hospital. Despite Mari’s greater depth of appreciation of life, Brenda talked about Mari’s suffering after her release from the hospital as she struggled breathing with an attached oxygen machine from October 2021 to January 2022. Brenda delineated her fears about Maria’s fluctuations of oxygen levels, extreme fatigue and immobility. Brenda talked about Mari losing a lot of weight and appearing very fragile after her release from the hospital. Brenda was her caregiver until Mari recovered and Mari was able to breathe on her own in January 2022. Brenda talked about Mari’s appreciation of life, but, also her fear of going back into the hospital.

Mari reports symptoms of long COVID or post COVID conditions. She did not ask for any donations. However, I am including her email below for people who wish to contact her or donate to help her with her outstanding medical bills from a nine week stay in the hospital. A Big Thank You to Mari and Brenda, her wonderful daughter.

Mari is an incredible woman with a powerful message for a world, facing turmoil and suffering. Her Contact Email: Marisitalacabrona@gmail.com.

Contact email for Brenda, Mari’s daughter,: Byarella@uci.edu

 

CONCLUDING REMARKS

There has been an extensive body of research on Near Death Experiences (NDE).  Dr. Raymond Moody is a key figure in North America, who conducted research on NDEs and later established the International Association for Near-death Studies (IANDS) and the Journal of Near Death Studies.  There are academic institutions which are also currently studying NDES. At the University of Virginia, School of Medicine, Dr. Bruce Greyson and his colleagues have been studying NDES , brain states and levels of consciousness. A recent article, on NDE in Psychology Today, discussed some of the issues concerning NDEs.  Regardless of people’s particular beliefs about afterlife, Mari’s story is powerful in reminding us to seek our purpose in leading meaningful lives in the human condition, especially, in such challenging times.

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Interview with Dr. Jeffrey Rediger on “Cured: Strengthen Your Immune System and Heal Your Life”.

I am super excited to present readers with my interview with Dr. Jeffrey Rediger about his best selling book, “Cured: Strengthen Your Immune System and Heal Your Life”. I found the book intriguing as Dr. Rediger discussed his journey of initial  skepticism, when he started studying the cases of people who had spontaneous healing, to recognizing that these individuals  have discerned important knowledge about health and healing. He discussed that as he studied these cases of spontaneous remission, where the disease process reversed itself, he discovered core practices of living and lifestyle that can optimize health and healing for people in general. It is an incredibly powerful book as Dr. Rediger discusses core concepts in health and healing, in terms, of different pillars of health, such as, nutrition, boosting the immune system, reducing chronic inflammation, rich social and emotional connections  healing our identities, and importance of stress management.   His view of healing is very wholistic, reflective of the intricate connection between the mind and body. He discusses the incredible and brilliant gains in the accrual of knowledge systems of modern medicine in diagnoses of diseases and evidence based medical treatment protocols for symptom reduction. Dr. Rediger also reflects on the shortcomings in the systematic practice of modern medicine and discusses his own paradigm shift in medicine after doing the research and writing the book. He discusses his paradigm shift in modern western medicine consists of the medical field needing to  investigate the deeper underlying processes of how people heal and strategies of maintaining health and wellness, and, not just focus on symptom reduction related to diseases. He points out the importance of physicians listening to their patient’s stories. I am  fascinated by his discussion that  health and healing is not just based on our genes, but, also our lifestyles, how we think, feel, live. Epigenetics refers to our behaviors and environment which impact how our genes are expressed.  I love his argument that healing includes looking at our relationship with life.

I found the book has a wealth of evidence based knowledge, but, it is easy to read for people who are not in the medical profession. He brings a depth of wisdom and knowledge in writing the book due to his background of studying theology at Princeton, completing medical school and specializing in psychiatry. He is currently the medical director of McClean Hospital and assistant professor at Harvard medical school.

This post consists of my interview with Dr. Rediger. His book is a must read for people on the health and healing journey. In addition to his expertise and knowledge in medicine, I am truly impressed by his discussion of theology and philosophy in healing.  I found Dr. Rediger very  compassionate as he discussed his own experiences of losses and how this  shaped his search for truth and authenticity in his life. Dr. Rediger also reflected on his journey on challenging his spiritual beliefs about the Universe or God as a source of fear and judgment to God or Universe as a source of love and grace. Please see link below:

 

Interview with Dr. Rediger

 

In conclusion, I am deeply grateful to Dr. Rediger for the interview and sharing his wealth of knowledge and wisdom in health and healing. A big thank you to Dr. Rediger. H0pe that readers find this information as phenomenal as I do.

PLEASE NOTE: This is not a therapy site. Please consult with physicians and licensed therapists, as needed.

Interview with Angela Featherstone: Faith, Healing and a Powerful Voice for Youth in the Foster Care system

I am very honored  to interview Ms. Angela Featherston. She grew up in the foster care system in Canada and emancipated from the foster care system at age 17. Then, she pursued her modeling career and became a top model in Canada. She moved to New York and flourished in her career as an elite model. She transitioned into her acting career with roles in well-known sitcoms, such as, “Friends” and “Seinfeld”. She served as a consultant for the Netflix special on trauma, “Cracked Up”. Angela also completed college courses and began a writing career with numerous articles, which have appeared in high profile publications. I read her articles, “God Said No” in Gargoyle magazine (2014) and “Can I forgive the Unforgiveable?” in the Dame magazine (2021). Angela has worked extensively with  mentoring children and advocacy for changes in the foster care system. She also started a non-profit organization, called Fostering Care, for foster children ages (18-21 years), who aged out of the foster care system.

Healthy families and communities are core foundations of raising children in a safe manner.  The child welfare system was developed for the temporary and safe care of children, who cannot live with their families as their families cannot provide adequate care for them. The child welfare system is complex as it interfaces with other systems, such as, mental health care systems and justice systems. The primary pathway through which children enter the child welfare system is through Child Protective Services (CPS). The foster care system is also a key component of the child welfare system.  Foster care placements to keep children safe occur on the continuum of care with placement of children with relatives, nonrelated families, and higher level of care, such as, residential facilities.

According to Child Maltreatment (2019),   2.4 million (2,368,325) referrals of children were screened  and entered into child welfare system nationally through Children Protective Services during the 2019 federal fiscal year. A disproportionately high number of African American and Native American children entered the child welfare system. These marginalized communities also are linked with structural inequities, in terms of poverty, lack of jobs, lack of robust educational and health resources, housing instability and food insecurity, which may contribute to families incapacitation to provide adequate care for children. It is important to note that the 2019 data was collected before the pandemic. The pandemic crises may have contributed to an increase in the number of child abuse cases as more families and communities face a multitude of stressors.

  I admire Angela’s strength in discussing her difficult experiences in the foster care system. I am grateful that she is speaking up about experiences that other children in the foster care system may be experiencing, but, do not  have safe spaces to speak up for self-advocacy. Having worked as a clinical psychologist for county behavioral health system for ten years in the past, I believe that addressing reform in the foster care system is a public health issue. Although, some foster parents receive adequate training in parenting foster children, there are many families who do not receive the necessary training to care for foster children with special needs, such as, mental and physical health issues.  According to  a comprehensive study which looked at trauma, children and foster care (2019) at Concordia University, St. Paul, almost 90 percent of children graduating out of foster care report experiences of trauma. One area of concern that I have seen is lack of foster families receiving training in caring for children with histories of complex trauma. In my experience, there appears to be a higher need for foster families as there are fewer foster families than children who need placement. Although I have encountered excellent social workers in the child welfare system, I also interact with social services practitioners who are assigned too many cases of children to monitor and appear burned out. The pandemic has most likely added incremental stress to the  child welfare system. On another additional note, burn-out rates are likely to be high in the last two years for many people. For example, The California Psychologist publication for Spring 2022 (volume 55, number 2) featured an article, “Burnout: Colleagues Share Their Stories” where a team of psychologists discuss their personal and professional stories of burnout symptoms and strategies of effectively coping with burnout.

During my conversation with Angela, she pointed out the challenges faced by youth in the foster care system. She discussed the lack of infrastructure for foster children after aging out of the foster care at age 18.  Although there are foster families who provide outstanding care for their foster children, certain research findings suggest that foster children aging out of foster care system face numerous difficulties.  According to research by Dr. Fowler and colleagues (2019), about 25 % of youth transitioning out of the child welfare system face high risk of homelessness. The experience of homelessness and lack of family support of transitional age youth (age 18-21 years) are key risk factors for adverse outcomes, such as, prey to human traffickers, higher rates of substance use, mental health issues and entry into the justice system.

Angela also pointed out serious issues in foster care, such as, overmedication of children with psychotropic drugs in foster care. According to Advocacy in Action website, a disturbingly high number of foster children take psychotropic medications than children who are not in foster care.    California Child Welfare Indicators Project reports that 12 percent of children in the foster care system in California were on psychotropic medications from October 1, 2020 to September 31, 2021. Additionally, it is recorded that 3.1 percent of the children in foster care at this time period in California were prescribed anti-psychotic medications. Long term side effects of these medications on a developing child are of utmost concern.

 

This post includes my interview with Angela Featherstone. I found her to be a powerful and a compelling speaker. I was struck by her openness, honesty  and vulnerability in sharing her experiences of trauma and resiliency in her healing journey. Angela demonstrated sheer courage as she discussed her experiences in foster care and a deep desire to advocate for changes in the foster care system. Given her level of success and accomplishment, she does not have to discuss her painful past. Yet, Angela demonstrates determination to make changes to help other young people in the foster care. I admire her boldness in voicing her experiences in foster care which may resemble the experiences of many children in foster care ,whose voices are not heard. I am also very thankful to Jocelyn Kalsmith from Mind Over Media press to arrange my interview with Angela.

Here is the interview with Angela Featherstone

(Anindita Ganguly: A.G.) Please tell me about your work in advocating changes in the foster
care system?
(Angela Featherstone: A.F.) I would probably say that I am contributing to the awareness of how devastating the child welfare system can be. The numerous parasitic pipelines, whether it is the pharmaceutical companies that make billions off the more than 1 in 4 kids on more than 5 psychotropic drugs, the shockingly high statistics of trafficked youth from foster care, the justice system, pedophile pipeline, and just the general hundreds of billions of dollars generated annually from the lives of these near 500,000 kids. I think people know it is not okay, but don’t know what to do about it. I certainly don’t have the answer, but I have an option. And because of my personal experience in foster care and from mentoring a kid for nine years through Kidsave, what is  closest to me is that moment when you are so incredibly vulnerable because you are 18, on your own, but have no idea how to live life. That was definitely my story.

I saw something while in foster care, and through my years as an advocate and volunteer with youth in foster care, that I cannot “unsee”. It’s my truth. It’s my experience and since I’ve had that opportunity, I want to share it for others who are caring but didn’t have the opportunities I’ve had. And, of course, the same is true for these children. Most of them won’t have the platform or space, even, to speak of the horrors and injustices they’ve experienced. With that, I founded a nonprofit trauma-healing intensive for youth aging out of the system. I can see that it will work well with other agencies looking to affect change within the foster care system. We aren’t looking to change the system, we are looking to care for the souls of the survivors. I see what we are doing at Fostering Care more as a path to change and empower the world through the trauma-healing intensive and healing trade teaching certificate program. Once the world begins to see the wealth within these neglected youth, I believe the system will change on its own. That said, our students will graduate with a teaching certificate in a healing modality. We hope to see our graduates go into the community, and the foster care industry; group homes, jails, and back with us as we expand, to teach David Elliot Breathwork, Kundalini yoga, or the nutrition and cooking skills they learned with us – we are healing the healers of tomorrow.

 (A.G. )Please discuss the organization that you created, Fostering Care.
(A.F.)Yes, thank you for asking. For the last 13 years, I’ve been led, somewhat mysteriously, on this healing path. I have  found so many deep, rich healing modalities, healers, and spiritual and religious ways to explore. In the summer of 2020, being torn between the hot, national guard-addled streets of Los Angeles and the love of family in a rather idyllic part of Canada, I chose to stay because I felt that I was meant to give back to this city. Still, I had to commit to something real and great. I had to find a purpose and fast, or there was no point staying in Los Angeles any longer. As I was already involved with the foster care world – through my volunteer work and mentorship of a youth through Kidsave, and because there are many crossover paths such as; my trauma-healing work, the essays that I was publishing on the Heart Gallery, and the foster care to trafficking pipeline, and since I had written about my experience in foster care, I already understood that something so dark could be brought into the light in a creative and transcendent way. I asked all my healers if they would be interested in being a part of the school. Immediately, they all signed on. Within two days, we had staff for the first year, a board, and a pretty healthy advisory board. The last year has been more about learning how to fundraise and fine-tuning what I would consider to be the moral code, the practical guidelines, and our heart mission. We are now fast-tracking to create a pilot semester. All of our semesters or three months long and the youth graduate with a teaching certificate in the healing modality, and I was looking to raise the money to run it for a whole year that I recently pivoted seeing what great interest there is from places such as the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Child and Family Services for these healing services. I feel it is everyone’s advantage for us to open our doors as quickly as possible. This way, everyone from potential donors, major foundations, and government agencies can see what it is we are up to. It can be a bit challenging as it is a little outside of the box. It is basically like three a three-month rehab stint except that it is outpatient five days a week, weekends are optional, and it is solely for creating spiritual, emotional, physical, neurological, health, and overall wellness of the mind, body, and spirit. The intensive also aims at supporting these youth to grasp their autonomy, individuate, and learn how to set healthy, firm boundaries lovingly to sustain that individuality and create a bridge to healthy, prosperous relationships within the world and in intimate relationship. There are also a few practical skills, such as culinary therapy, where they will learn cooking skills and nutrition. There are the Breathwork Teaching Certificate – they will graduate with a healing trade. And, we have recently added a fantastic Dating and Authentic Connection coach. Coach Lee is a master at decoding the mystery of dating, and the rules that would be pretty much unknown to youth aging out of foster care, in a simple and direct way. For many of us we have been in foster care, setting aside all of the trauma, sexual and otherwise, and the abuse of vulnerability, the simple fact is you don’t learn about healthy relationships when you are in foster care. The ultimate goal is to set these youth up for the most prosperous life possible, knowing full well that the entire world will benefit when these youth are in alignment with their purpose. Immediately following our first board meeting we applied for tax- exempt status from the IRS and CA Franchise Tax Board. The CA Franchise Tax Board gave us the status in three days and followed up with a personal call to thank us for creating this program. The IRS, in 2021, a year when most people told us we wouldn’t  get status for at least a year, if at all, give us the status within less than three months. It seems pretty clear to everyone that we need to do something about the 500,000 children in foster care, 80 to 90% of whom will commit suicide, become homeless, or go to prison. 40% of that is within the first 3 years. That’s our demographic – getting them before they fall prey to the system they’ve been adapted to and fortifying them with autonomy, community, and connection.

 (A.G.) You have discussed your experiences of trauma in the foster care system. Please describe your healing journey.
(A.F.) Well, my trauma existed before foster care. Going into foster care was traumatic, as were the life-events prior to it, and then there was the trauma of being in foster care and all of the subsidiary pipelines. I’ve also had trauma as an adult. It was then, when. Became homeless after making tons of money and truly being successful in business, that I realized my unhealed trauma was contributing to poor advocating for myself as an adult. My healing journey all just unfolded not naturally. One thing led to the next. First, I stopped doing all mind- and mood- altering substances. For the first couple of years that I basically just slept and exercised when I could. I read and rested, basically, and went for hikes. I was in a huge detox. Then, slowly I began to come out of it. My friend introduced me to her acupuncturist, and I went to her for a pain I was having in my back and the doctor, Jeannie Khang, quickly diagnosed me I was having blocked energy in my solar plexus area. I had often had digestive and other stomach and intestine issues, so this made sense to me. It was there, while under her pins, that I saw a white veil around me – a shroud as it were, that revealed itself to me as shame. I understood then the meaning of the title of the book, “Healing the Shame That Binds You” . I saw, in fact, that my trauma, my corporal trauma especially, was trapped in my body tightly held – almost like a sarcophagus – sealed with shame. Soon after that, I was led to an Indigenous woman, Shari, who was trained by Maori healer Papa Joe. At each step of the way, I would test the healers to see if they were safe and trustworthy. Immediately, I knew Shari understood me. We did some amazing work together, energetic I suppose, but it was profoundly metaphysical, and we dealt with not only the immediate energies, but she understood and released a lot of the ancestral energies that were surrounding me. Especially, since I had been beginning to tell the truth about my life, childhood, and ancestral lineage. As I began that process of telling my story, the energies of intimidation began to escalate. It can be terrifying to tell the stories no one wants you to tell. Knowing I was seen and supported in the current moment, helped me to continue my journey. Next came a relationship with Kundalini yoga that began with infrequent classes, slowly escalating to weekly, and then by 2019 I was fully immersed and meditating using the Sikh lineage as it expresses itself through Kundalini yoga, almost daily. From 2020 to present day, I’ve experienced a daily practice – in fact 2020 and 2021 I was basically in class all day – doing some type of healing Breathwork, sound healing, yoga, cardio, or meditation. It was then I came across the power of the David Elliot Breathwork technique, and the ultra-healing lineage of Sat Nam Rasayan. I’ve done EMDR with an amazing therapist, and that continues to encourage my body to release trapped trauma, I then found another brilliant acupuncturist whose style was complimentary to Dr. Khang’s, but also unique, that’s Russell Brown who’s also a board member, there’s the important, Rabbi M Finley’s, Wisdom Works and Parenting the Soul of the Child course, blood work testing – to balance hormones, minerals and vitamin – the body goes through some real shifts and changes whilst healing trauma and it requires additional support. Prayer, meditation, exercise, nature, 12-step programs when and as needed, intimacy and vulnerability courses; and always studying the Stoics, mysticism, religions, and poetry… all of these have helped.

(A.G.) I see your resiliency, endurance, and a strong will to move forward. Please discuss how you are resilient and grow from these painful experiences?

(A .F.)Yes, thank you, we talked about this earlier. Its interesting, I don’t identify as being resilient. I feel like I signed up for a very full and impactful life and with that has come great responsibility and heartbreak – at times near devastation, yet an extraordinary sense of destiny and the Grace of God. If I am resilient, it is a byproduct of my ongoing commitment and devotion to the Divine.

 (A.G.)How has your faith in God played a role in your healing and resiliency?
(A.F.)Ah, the Questions are leading into each other! Well for the purposes of clarity, I wouldn’t say I have faith in God. I’ve always had a relationship with God. When I was three was the first time that I was aware of myself as a soul here on a journey – a mission but tethered to something far beyond. Something that I always felt its presence and with whom I frequently silently communicated So, even in my darkest moments, and there were many, some directly self-imposed and others probably subconscious pressure, I knew in some way that suicide wasn’t a real option for me.  I was concerned that I would have to do everything all over again and that was enough to let go of any ideations I was experiencing. It was always in those moments that I felt the Grace of God swoop in and alleviate my pain for long enough that my mind could grasp an elevated plane of thought. That’s all I need. Just a split second to think differently and I am free. After that, if I’m unhappy, it’s a choice and I need to take responsibility for that.

 (A.G.)How do you see God?
(A.F.)You know, I have studied and I’m continuing to study different ideas about God. I don’t know that I have an idea of what God is of my own. I made a decision in 2005 to stay open minded. To let God reveal itself to me. I literally said how could I with my tiny mind understand some things so profound and infinite. I then asked with my heart for the Divine to reveal itself to me and over time, it has been an exquisite journey of revelation. It’s there in that ongoing revelation that I feel an experience similar to what I’ve read from Sufi poets like Hafez, and Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī – an exquisite Divine romance; longing, love, and wise guidance.

 (A.G.) How do you make sense of how a God of agape love can allow so much suffering?
(A. F.)I think there too I’m probably more an alignment of what I’m starting to study – ideas that suffering is a part of the love. I’ve always felt that by overcoming my challenges; healing my trauma and transforming my existence, I am increasing my life force, I begin to vibrate at a higher energy and if that spark of the Divine is, in fact, my soul, as it says in Proverbs 20:27, and I understand is one of the foundational beliefs of Kabbalah, then by increasing my flame I am increasing the fire of the Divine. That’s what I’m here for I believe. The Divine is experiencing itself through my life experience and it is because I choose to show up for this and to praise God and heal my trauma – increase my life force – I am contributing to the expansion of the Divine and all. So, I don’t see suffering as outside of God. It’s neither here nor there. Perhaps, I like the idea that pain is obligatory, suffering is optional.

(A.G.) Please discuss your thoughts and feelings which led you to write, “God said No” in the Gargoyle magazine?

(A. F.) In 2009, I found my first religious teacher, Rabbi Finley. That’s really when my healing began. Well, it really started in 2005 with a powerful dream that included an Indian Chief at the top of a mountain that I flew up to meet. But, once I found this brilliant Rabbi, and started to study with him, things started to flow. I went to a trauma rehab and committed to the healing path I’ve descried above. All the while, on a parallel plane, I began to tell my story. First, it was a photography curatorial that was autobiographical in nature, then began the essays. So much so that I signed up to the UCLA memoir writing program. God Said No was my first essay. Shawna Kenney was my professor. She is the one who suggested Gargoyle and I’m so grateful she did. It’s a prestigious literary magazine and its being published there lead to the Pushcart Prize nomination. The essays that I continue to publish come as a natural part of the healing process – it’s all intertwined; the healing, communicating, and using the emancipated chi to create new worlds.

 (A.G.) What are your thoughts on God being an emotionally charged word because many people have oppressed and hurt others in the name of God?

(A.F.)Those ideas are far above my paygrade. I am not a scholar. I have a GED. All I know is what the Divine is for me – that my life’s work is to serve the Divine by transmuting hardships to joy – as brutal as that can feel. I believe the Divine wants me to achieve bliss through transmutation. That the Divine wants us to keep expanding ad infinitum. Beyond that? I cannot comment on other people’s experience of God. When I try to think of that I inevitably hear, “What if Sisyphus were happy?” Meaning, to me, that my suffering – mental or otherwise, is a decision. I can choose to be happy anywhere. I stay away from arguments about God. My God doesn’t need to be defended. My God is here to be honored. Its enough that I keep constant tabs on myself! LOL. I can’t keep track of other people’s ideas too.

 (A.G.)What is new for you?
(A.F.) Firstly, thank you for creating this space to share such deep and important ideas. You are a blessing to the world. My hope is that people will support fosteringcare.org. We are healing the healers of tomorrow and it’s an investment of great importance, we, at our healing school believe. We have invested our lives to the healing path. We have such a wonderful mix of ideologies, religions, and cultural and ethnic experiences in our healers there. It’s in many ways a healing portal. My journey now continues as I seek new teachers. I was just given a Qur’an by a beloved Muslim friend and have begun to seek new teachers. I think it’s important for the school that I always continue to seek and grow so that I can give even more insight and experience. It also feels like a dive into the mystical places that fascinate and captivate me, whilst having, like Judaism, the deep foundation of ancient language, letters, and law.
To be continued!
Blessings.
Angie

 

CONCLUSION

Angela Featherstone is an amazing and courageous woman. She is bold in her ideas and actions to help foster youth. I am deeply grateful for her generosity in sharing her time and wisdom in doing the interview, despite her busy schedule. I believe that reform in the foster care system is a public health issue.

At the end of our conversation, Angela also pointed out the prominent issue of suicidality in foster youth. I came across an article published by the Suicide Response Prevention Center on educating foster parents to prevent suicide in foster youth. The article indicated that due to various factors, such as, history of abuse and neglect of foster youth, shame and lack of belonging after placement in foster care system and loss of natural support systems such as teachers, friends, other support systems in the community,  foster youth are three times more likely to contemplate suicide seriously and four times more likely to attempt suicide than youth who are not involved in the foster care system. Again, the imminent need for reforming the foster care system.

In summary, I am extremely grateful for Angela to speak up about her experiences in the foster care system, which other children may also experience. She is very passionate about helping foster youth. I wish her much success in her advocacy as she sheds light on a key issue. I see her as a powerful change agent.

Please see FOSTERING CARE for different ways of supporting or donating to the program that Angela is administering to help foster youth.

 

Please note: this is not a therapy site. Please contact medical and mental health professionals as needed.

Interview with Dr. Richard G. Tedeschi : Post Trauma Growth (PTG)

In our current times, many people are encountering or have faced adverse and tumultuous events in the recent past. The traditional relationship between encountering increased traumatic events and demonstration of psychological symptoms, distress or disorders is being challenged by the new research on Post Trauma Growth (PTG).  Dr. Richard Tedeschi and Dr. Lawrence Calhoun conducted pioneering research on Post Trauma Growth (PTG). PTG is the science of how people, who face adversity and experience psychological struggle, can demonstrate positive growth. I am very excited to share with readers my interview with Dr. Richard Tedeschi.. Dr. Tedeschi is a professor emeritus of the department of psychological sciences at University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is Distinguished Chair of the Boulder Crest Institute for Posttraumatic Growth. He is a prolific author of books and empirically based research articles on PTG. He has vast experience as a clinician and developed programs based on his research findings on posttraumatic growth principles to help combat veterans and first responders.

Before sharing his interview, I think that it is important to note a few points that are published on the PTG website. People have varying psychological reactions to traumatic events based on their unique risk and protective or resiliency factors. Trauma leads to distress in people and people who experience PTG also suffer.  Trauma is never good. PTG is not universal. 

Dr. Tedeschi (2020) outlines the components associated with PTG  in his article in the Harvard Business Review . Some of the  components which facilitate PTG, include, people needing to be educated about trauma as their core belief systems are shattered and they experience high levels of distress in response to traumatic events.  Some people refer to traumatic events  as “groundlessness”, as if, the carpet was pulled out from under them after encountering adversity. PTG may be attained as people learn to manage painful emotions, find safe places to disclose what happened, and create a narrative of pre-trauma life, nature of traumatic event and post trauma life. The benefits of PTG include discovering personal strength that people were not aware of in pre-trauma life, closer interpersonal relationships, increase in  empathy for the suffering of others, greater appreciation of life and spiritual growth. In different religious and spiritual traditions, suffering had been linked with spiritual growth, such as the “dark night of the soul” as part of spiritual growth.

This post includes my interview with Dr. Tedeschi. I am very honored to have met him for the interview. I am very grateful for his generosity in sharing his wisdom and research expertise in PTG. I hope readers find the phenomenon PTG helpful and powerful as it highlights the resiliency in the human condition.  The link for the interview is below.

Interview with Dr. Richard Tedeschi: Post Trauma Growth (PTG)

 

CONCLUDING REMARKS

In conclusion, I will share some of my thoughts on PTG based on my work, as a clinical psychologist, with different people. PTG manifests differently for  people. PTG can co-exist with suffering. The development of the person’s narrative from pre-trauma life, trauma incident and post trauma life may include processing the multifaceted  and raw emotions associated with the wounding process and reaching a level of acceptance of current reality. There is sometimes a paradigm shift when people understand how trauma impacted them and there is a realization at a fundamental level that some vital aspect of their thought and behavior patterns stemmed from past traumatic events which they encountered. Once people understand how traumatic events impacted them, they are more likely to challenge their distorted self images as “bad” human beings to accept their sense of being wounded. This sometimes leads to an increase in the practice of self-compassion. People may experience increased awareness of “why” they are engaging in certain patterns of behavior rather than unconsciously enacting old patterns of behavior. People’s increased awareness facilitates enhanced capacity to change maladaptive behavior patterns.  There is less comparison of reality with a previous vision of  life. In post trauma life, people often report discovering new meaning and purpose in life. In trauma work, it is often said that people cannot change the past, but, they can change their reactions or relationship to the past events. People may reprioritize their values and relationships. In PTG, people sometimes talk about making peace with the events of the past. I love Dorothy Hunt’s poem, “Peace is this moment without judgment”. I think that this peace of being fully immersed in the moment with radical acceptance of reality and no judgement is a crucial part of PTG.

 

Please see Dr. Tedeschi’s  contact email and latest publications:
Richard G. Tedeschi, Ph.D.

Distinguished Chair

Boulder Crest Institute for Posttraumatic Growth
Bluemont, VA
Transformed by Trauma: Stories of Posttraumatic Growth (2020)
Posttraumatic Growth: Theory, Research, and Applications  (2018) at
The Posttraumatic Growth Workbook (2016) at

Here is the link for Post Traumatic Research Group for Dr. Tedeschi’s publications and other resources on PTG. 

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS IS NOT A THERAPY SITE. PLEASE CONTACT MEDICAL OR MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS, AS NEEDED.

 

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.