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. 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 breath 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.

 

 

 

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 for my interview with Tara Krebbs. 

Interview with Ms. Tara Krebbs

 

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.