INTERVIEW WITH FOUR ARROWS: THE INDIGENOUS WORLD VIEW AND SUSTAINABILITY

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

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

Indigenous world view and Dominant world view

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

Complementary non-duality

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

Indigenous world view: Nonhierarchical relationship between nature and humanity

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

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

Dominant world view and climate change

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

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

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

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

Concluding remarks

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

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

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

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

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

Please see site for the works of Four Arrows 

FOUR ARROWS books

 

 

Power and Love of Creativity in Navigating In-Between Places

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uncontrollable factors and Radical Acceptance 

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

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

Uncontrollable factors and Radical Surrender

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

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

Isolation as creative solitude

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

Creativity is for everyone and a source of community building.

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

Support system

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

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

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

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

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

 

CONCLUSION

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

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

You can find more journaling prompts at The Isolation Journals.

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

 

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

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Interview with A. Helwa: Islamic Spirituality of Divine Love

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

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

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

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

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

AG: What are core values of Islam?

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

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

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

What are qualities of Allah in Islam?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AG: What are your thoughts about Jihadist movements? 

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

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

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

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

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

AG: How does Islam view women?

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

AG: How does Islam view LGBTQ+ communities?

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

AG: Very true. What is Sharia law?

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

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

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

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

A. Helwa: Thank you for the interview.

 

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

http://www.authorahelwa.com

http://www.secretsofdivinelove.com

 

RESILIENCY RULES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

THE ART AND PRACTICE OF PLOK IN THE PANDEMIC.

Multiple events are happening in the world.  Many things are outside our control. However, the practice of PLOK is in our control and may  lead to some sense of calmness and peace for  periods of time in a turbulent pandemic. What is PLOK? PLOK  is the combination of PLAY and WORK. This is when you are following your heart and loving what you do. It is not work any more. It can be viewed as a creative process. The term was coined by Sister Mary Kent Corita. Sister Mary Kent Corita was an amazing woman, teacher, artist, social activist and nun in the religious order, Immaculate Heart of Mary. This post is a short reflection on practice of PLOK in the pandemic. PLOK activities can be very powerful practices for calmness.

PLOK AND CREATIVITY

Some people are blessed with circumstances where they can engage in  PLOK at a paid job, which, financially sustains them. Many people, however, engage in PLOK as a hobby or side project. PLOK may also represent flow experience in positive psychology where a person loves what he or she is doing and becomes immersed in the activity for hours.  Please see post ON FLOW in positive psychology. Some call it entering the “zone”. I think of it as the sacred space of creation. PLOK activities feed the soul, lighten the heart,  stimulate the mind and replenishes the body. Engrossment in PLOK activities is soothing, refreshing and joyful. I have heard this from writers, painters, athletes, surfers and poets that they are so immersed in the activity, they do not notice time flying by. I had a previous supervisor who was an avid surfer. He said that for good surfing, he watches the waves intently and nothing else is in his mind. He described laser sharp focus in catching and riding the wave. While surfing, he saw himself as part of the wave. While surfing, he and the wave are one. This union with the activity reminds me of yoga experiences. He discussed the exhilaration and utter joy after a great surfing experience.

Some artists have talked about their best creative work as co-creating with the Universe, meaning material comes from somewhere else and they catch it through the medium of art, words or paint etc. The American poet, Ruth Stone discussed the uniqueness of her creative process. The website, coolerinsights.com, describes Ruth Stone’s creative process as the following:

“As a child growing up on a farm in rural Virginia, Ruth could sometimes hear a poem coming towards her like a galloping horse rushing across the land. She would then “run like hell” towards the house so that she can stay ahead of the poem, and catch it with a pencil and paper.

Though the euphoric feeling when inspiration strikes is amazing, we are advised to “let it come and let it go”. In other words, we should continue creating our art, and put it out there for the world (or ourselves) to savour”.

Other writers talk about the inspiration for creation coming from deep inside of self. For example: Elizabeth Gilbert Wrote,“A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner – continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you – is a fine art, in and of itself.”

RULES FOR PLOK

Sister Mary Kent Corita wrote the  ten rules for students and teachers. I also see the rules as relevant to learning,  the creative process, and PLOK. They also seem great guides for life. I love the rules.

Corita Kent: Ten Rules for Students and Teachers
RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for awhile.
RULE TWO: General duties of a student: pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.
RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher: pull everything out of your students.
RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.
RULE FIVE: Be self-disciplined: this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.
RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.
RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.
RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.
RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.
RULE TEN: We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.
From Corita Kent’s book Learning by Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit.
CONCLUDING THOUGHTS
Sister Corita’s rules are fantastic.  It is hard to pick which ones to write about. In terms of the creative process and PLOK, I love the rule of trusting yourself in the process of doing what you love. I also believe in the difference between creation and analysis. Creation is  where the raw material comes out of you abundantly and the primary goal is to capture it on a medium. Paper, paint, words, wood. Analysis is critically examining the work. Analysis cannot be combined with creation because our internal critics will mess up the abundant outpouring of the material that comes out in creation. In creativity, there is no mistake as each step leads to the next. Creativity is an unpredictable process.
Happy PLOKKING to all the readers.  

Betrayal and Trust

The theme of betrayal is in the air.  Most people that I see in psychotherapy report betrayals. Betrayals from parents, siblings, spouses, children, government, political leaders,  friends, co-workers, fellow citizens, and news media. The term “Ghosting” is used when one person disappears from an intimate relationship leaving the other person with no explanation for leaving.  Alexandra Bracken writes that “familial betrayal is, …  the most heartbreaking kind – because if you can’t trust your family to love you and protect you, who can you really trust?”. Very true. Recovery from family betrayal  is very difficult.  People sometimes talk about betrayal by life, a series of unfolding events that leave you in a place that you did not intend to be.  People with mental and physical health issues talk about their bodies or minds betraying them. Betrayal can happen when loved ones die when we need them most. There are also ramifications of historical betrayals where one group engaged in oppression of another group. People have also said that they have been betrayed by God. The list is long. I have had my share of betrayals from people. Bishop T.D. Jakes once stated in one of his sermons that betrayal is part of the human experience. The God-man, Jesus, also experienced betrayal by the most intimate act of a kiss by Judas Iscariot for thirty pieces of silver. The pandemic in some ways is a mass betrayal. How could this beautiful planet we live in be struck with his horrible, contagious and virulent virus? Why is this pandemic not over yet? Articles discuss the anger and depression related to the pandemic.

Betrayal can be seen as a wound in the mind, body and spirit. Wound is referred to as trauma. I have heard betrayals portrayed as “punched in the gut”, “knife stuck in the heart” or knifed in the back”. In betrayal, something deeply painful happened that was not supposed to happen.  An invisible virus is not supposed to shut down a planet, destroy people’s lives, lead to multitude of deaths, economic havoc, homelessness, food insecurity, mental and physical  health issues. Another effect of betrayal is regarding the  people’s distrust of each other and the world around them. Mass distrust is dangerous in a public health emergency. The scientific fields of public health and virology are politicized.  There are debates of masks, social distances and vaccinations with various camps having very passionate arguments.  Wear a mask or not wear a mask? That is the question. For me, I am a believer in science.

Betrayal may carry different themes, such as,  groundlessness in our understanding of the world, anger, sadness, fear, tears, loneliness, surprise, loss and grief of a relationship or person we loved. Love and trust are intimate companions. Groundlessness refers to a loss of what we thought was true. Feelings of groundlessness when we lose what we relied on in the past can be extremely anxiety provoking. It often shakes us up and threatens our sense of safety, such as, the pandemic. In some cases, perhaps we assumed that someone we thought was always going to be there for us and loved us actually left, perhaps,  leaving a note or no note. Betrayals may lead to various strong emotions, such as extreme anger, frustration, loss of trust and trust and deep sadness. Betrayals may include grief and loss because what was once thought of as safe and  trustworthy is unsafe and even dangerous. People feeling betrayed also sometimes question themselves about their feelings (“Am I over reacting or overthinking?”). Perpetrators often engage in gaslighting which is invalidating the betrayed person’s feelings with statements, such as, “Nothing happened and it is in your head”. Escalation of feelings in the person experiencing betrayal in relationships may be labeled as “over reactive” by other people who do not understand the nature of the relational trauma of betrayal. Betrayals are almost always marked by an element of surprise because we are betrayed by friends or loved ones who are close to us, who are supposed to be there for us. We do not talk about betrayals from enemies. That is expected.  Betrayals cause an unsettling and disturbing feeling that we need to reassess our assumptions about life. Who do we trust? Who is not a safe person to trust? How did this happen? Why did I not see the red flags before the betrayal? What are my blind spots? Sometimes people with betrayals in early childhood may find themselves picking people in their lives who betray them again and again. Another layer of betrayals include the judgement that other people may place on us and we place on ourselves. Many people are quick to judge the person betrayed. Statements like, “I do not see how she/he did not see this coming”. People often judge themselves even more harshly, such as, “I am so stupid/ dumb/ to let this person do this”. People use also unkind words to berate themselves. People tend to blame themselves for what happened disregarding the context of the circumstances which contributed to the wounding. Hindsight is 20/20. Perfect 20/20 vision does not happen in perplexing, stressful and confusing set of circumstances. It is always hard to see the path when walking in a fog. Betrayal is often facing a reality, one did not envision. This loss of vision that you have for what was supposed to be like may lead to grief and loss feelings. One of the greatest casualties of betrayal is loss of trust in self and others. Martin  Luther ‘s statement, “Each betrayal begins with trust” is spot on. It takes a long time to develop trust but trust can be broken in seconds by a betrayal. Regaining another person’s trust is difficult. How do we regain public trust after the collective trauma of the pandemic is a relevant question. I do not have definitive answers. I do believe that trust is critical to the harmonious functioning of societies. The topic of trust and betrayal is a vast topic. This post addresses only some aspects of this grand topic. This post is about reflections on the trust process, and trust after facing a  betrayal. This post reviews two very seemingly different things, courtship of eagles and Steve Jobs, to explore issues in betrayal and trust. 

EAGLES AND TRUST   

I love eagles. They are powerful in flight, bold in reaching incredible heights, often fly solo and are majestic creatures. One of the features of eagles that I learned in my youth is that eagles, unlike other birds such as pigeons,  fly into the storm and use the energy of wind currents to reach greater heights until they are above the storm. Then, they glide to greater heights above the storm. Eagles appear fearless as they seem to trust that the storm will carry them to greater heights. However, pigeons  hide until the storm subsides. Eagles may be perceiving the storm clouds as how high can I go? It is like looking at trouble in life and seeing what do I have to learn here and become better?.  Another aspect of eagles that is fascinating is that they mate for life. Eagles have a courtship ritual where the female eagle picks a male eagle and both fly to great heights. The female eagle carries a stick or twig and drops it. The male eagle dives down at high speed to catch the stick before it falls to the ground. This exercise is done repeatedly by the female eagle until she decides the male is worthy as a mate. The rationale is that the female tests the male eagle to see if she can trust the male eagle to help her as eagles build nests and hatch eggs in high places. When eggs hatch into eaglets, eaglets learn flight from dropping through  great heights. Before eaglets learn how to fly, the eagles have to catch the  eaglets who have not learned to fly. The courtship of eagle reminds me of trust tests. Trusting others may involve little trust tests, where we give some information to someone and see if they betray it or honor its privacy.

Then, I apply this courtship ritual to the relationship between God and people. Perhaps the greatest aspect of trust and faith is that God will catch us before major falls. Or that God will guide us up after a fall. It is better to stumble and balance oneself than total falls. Faith and trust grow over time as one looks back of how God Or Universe picked us up from very difficult situations. Regardless of one’s  faith, falls, betrayals by people and failures happen.  Many people of great faith have suffered. The key is getting up after the pain of betrayal, fall  and suffering. I wonder if that is what faith is about: get up, keep moving and trusting that things will work out . In the Bible, there are references of God raising you to majestic heights, as eagles fly high with their strong powerful wings. I love Nelson Mandela’s statement. “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”  

STEVE JOBS:  “You have to Trust Something” even after a betrayal

The question of trusting God in difficult circumstance is a tough one. I have no definite answers. Trusting God is a personal choice and a leap of faith. However, I will share my thoughts about the late  Steve Jobs ‘s very insightful and brilliant graduation speech in 2005 at Stanford University. In my opinion, Steve Jobs demonstrates “eagle like” features. He started the speech about his philosophy of connecting the dots. He talked about his adoption, his dropping out of college because he did not feel he was learning anything and he was wasting his parent’s money. He said “I dropped out of college trusting that everything will be Ok”. Interestingly, he dropped out, but, he stayed on campus, often sleeping in friend’s rooms, and took classes that he was interested in. He talked about taking a calligraphy class. Ten years later, he developed the Macintosh, where he used the typography that he learned in the calligraphy classes at college. He stated that he did not know that his calligraphy class would impact the development of the Mac and its success. He stated that connecting the dots happen when moving forward and then, looking back. He said “You have to trust something” that dots will connect in the future. In other words, things happen for a reason. Things that seem horrible and make no sense happen for reasons that are unfathomable in difficult times. It is only later that a reason or purpose for events emerge.

Steve Jobs narrated that at age 30, he was fired from Apple, the company that he created. Apple’s Board of Directors picked his partner to run the company when Steve Jobs and his partner had a major disagreement. Talk about big time very public betrayal. This was shocking to me because I never knew that he got kicked out of his own company. He reported that he was initially devastated by the Apple incident . He discussed experiencing a sense of deep rejection and thoughts of running away from the valley. Then, he realized he loved his work and he can start over, even, if it was outside Apple. . He trusted himself, his love for his work and that everything will work out.   He started working and created Next Inc. and Pixar, which became super successful enterprises. He  stated that Apple bought Next Inc. and the Next Inc. became crucial t0 the “technological innovation at Apple”. He also talked about meeting his wife, falling  in love, marrying her and had a family. After a public betrayal, he trusted, loved  another person and married her. He connected the dots by saying that “Getting kicked out of Apple was the best thing that happened”. Without that, he would not have developed newer technology and met his wife. This reaffirmed his belief in connecting the dots and trusting that dots will connect. Jobs’ being kicked out of Apple, which was devastating for him at the time, lead to much greater accomplishments. I think of connecting the dots often when I question the loyalty of God. Bad things happen which are painful and horrid. But new opportunities arise. You can only connect the dots moving forward after bad things and look back. Not easy. But connecting the dots is powerful.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

 Steve Jobs stated that ” You have to trust something”.  God, Universe, Higher Power, Love, Karma, Values or Code of ethics. I agree that you have to trust something. Trust after major betrayal is difficult. What I loved about Steve Jobs is that after a major betrayal, he picked himself up and kept moving, trusting that everything will work out. Steven Jobs exemplifies resiliency, reaching greater heights after adversity. The important aspect of betrayal is developing healthy coping strategies for the painful feelings and moving through the grief and loss process until there is acceptance of the new reality. Then, there is work of building effective strategies to navigate the new reality. There is also the search for a new or renewed purpose and meaning, which can be a journey also. This is something that is perhaps applicable to both mass betrayal and   personal betrayal.  Learning from a betrayal is important.  Dealing with the pain of betrayal with helpful strategies, acceptance and navigating a new reality and finding new purpose  is all painful, and arduous. More self-compassion, the better.

I also love Sister Mary Kent Corita‘s rule #1 for students (also applicable to everyone) which is ” RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for a while”. Sister Corita was a teacher, artist, social justice advocate and a sister in the Immaculate Heart of Mary. She was a very inspirational person. 

I will end with a quote from Emily V. Gordon:

Betrayal can be extremely painful, but it’s up to you how much that pain damages you permanently.

Keep the faith and move forward. One day at a time. One step at a time. One breath at a time. If you find yourself struggling significantly with betrayal, please consult professional help. This material is not a substitute for mental health services.

 

Faith on the Frontlines: Crises in Bondo, Kenya

 

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Bible, Hebrews 11:1) 

 

Faith often gets tested when personal will or plans do not match Divine Will. Faith on the frontlines often occur when one finds himself or herself in circumstances that are totally undesirable, horrid and terrible. The pandemic is a great example of troubled times. Battleground spirituality is how to get through faith tests. The pandemic has tested many people’s faith. One thought on battleground spirituality  is sitting with the duality : Incomprehensible Nature of God’s Will (How can so much trouble be happening all at once?) versus Faith in God’s Loyalty (He will get me through this as He has Done Before). Battleground spirituality includes circumstances that are so difficult, there are sometimes two choices: give up or lean in faith in God as exemplified by the statement “Trust God and take the next (helpful) step.” I added the word helpful. Faith in God is a powerful sustaining force in the storms and crises of life. Faith  gives meaning and sense of purpose in navigating life circumstances.

The entire world has been hit hard by the pandemic, especially, the continent of Africa. A article on 8/3/2021 by CNN states that the delta variant has contributed to an increase in 80 % in deaths in Africa over last month. According to the  World Health Organization,  the COVID-19 has severely impacted African countries, in terms of economic, social, health and education sectors experiencing devastation. There is discussion of  under-reporting of COVID-19 cases in African Countries due to the fragile health care system. Numbers tell an important story. But so does the personal experiences of people. Faces of people and their humanity speak to the urgency of the needs in these communities. I believe that there are communities all over the world with such critical needs unmet.

I reached out for an interview with Jackline Ouko, director of the Kenya Volunteer and Community Development Project.  I and my family met her in summer 2018 during our family trip to Nairobi. I immediately connected with her due to her kind, humble, optimistic and giving nature. She is a woman of service in facilitating school programs, foster homes for orphans and providing economic opportunities for widows. She is also a woman of strong faith. This is a post on faith on the frontlines when you are persevering on faith and hope despite the world turning upside down. I know many people who have experienced this phenomenon on faith on the frontlines. It is also a post on Jackline and getting help and resources for the community she loves and serves. My prayer is that readers will reach out with resources for Jackline’s program to support the community in Bondo.

In 2018 when I first met Jackline, she was very optimistic of the future. When I interviewed her earlier today, she stated that much of the developments that the program had done in serving her community since 2018 have been impacted negatively by the pandemic. She talked about the effort of persevering and keeping her program open for the children is a struggle. She stated that her program is serving the community in Bondo, which has been deeply negatively impacted by the pandemic, with international and national programs  shutting down, loss of jobs, children orphaned as their parents died in the pandemic, growing rates of suicides, conflicts in families, food insecurity, and homeless families and youth.  She talked about people in her community losing hope, especially children who blame themselves when sponsorships for them stop. She discussed scarcity of the COVID-19 vaccines in Nairobi. She stated that she cannot close her program no matter what because she has to be there for the children, who bring her joy. She also talked about leaning on her faith that “God will not abandon her and her community.It is difficult when our faith is tested. She is truly a shero with her courage, dedication, sheer perseverance, remarkable faith on the front lines in serving the most vulnerable people: children.

Please view her interview. I have also listed her contact information and contact for donations. Please feel free to spread the post to other readers who may wish to donate or contact her. Big Thank You to Readers.

 

Interview with Jackline Ouko

Please note that I misspelled her last name, Ouko, in the video clip. My apologies for that.

CONTACT INFORMATION FOR ORGANIZATION
ACCOUNT NAME: KENYA VOLUNTARY & COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT PROJECT
BANK: EQUITY BANK LTD
ACCOUNT BRANCH: BONDO
P.O BOX: 261-40601 BONDO
TEL: +254 20 2369577
ACCOUNT NUMBER: 0750262462288
SWIFT CODE: (IBAN) EQBLKENA
BANK CODE: 068
BRANCH CODE (SORT CODE)
Jackline’s Contact Information.
Jackline Ouko
Project Director
Kenya Voluntary and Commumity Development Project
Tel: +254 820453857

 

Interview with Dr. Alok Pandey: Bhakti Yoga and Integral Yoga

Raised in India for the first ten years of my life, I heard about yoga that spiritual masters do. In the US, I attended yoga classes in the pre- pandemic era for centering and grounding myself. I love the restorative yoga postures. I discovered yoga in my 40s. I have often entered yoga classes feeling unsettled with the demands of juggling many aspects of a busy life. I have always left yoga classes with a certain level of serenity and a feeling that “everything will be Ok”.  In my fifties, I realize that there is an entire body of research on yoga for health benefits, as well as, spiritual attainment. According to Yogapedia ‘s post on Yoga sutras (October 2020), Patanjali, the ancient Hindu sage, wrote about yoga in 196 sutras (threads) , known as the “Yoga sutras”. Patanjali wrote that goal of yoga is union. Union can mean many things. Union of physical, mental and spiritual states. For me, this mean awareness of my breath and the current moment, NOW. It is a reminder that all I need to do right now  is breathe. I love a saying I heard (cannot place the source right now) which states that all the breaths of the past are completed and one cannot complete the breaths of the future. The future is unknown. One can only breath in the now.

Yoga can mean union of the human consciousness with  Universal Consciousness or Divine Source. Union may mean liberation from suffering. Union can also mean attaining higher states of consciousness and conquering  the ego.  In the Gita, there are 4 forms of yoga for God realization (Union with Divine Consciousness) . Bhakti yoga is one type of yoga, typically known as yoga of love and devotion. Dr. Pandey additionally discussed Sri Aurobindo’s integral yoga, best defined as “All Life is yoga”. My understanding of integral yoga is that not to separate our spiritual practices as confined to finite points in time, such as when we pray or meditate, but that how we live our daily lives is a manifestation of yoga and  Divine Love. This is a very challenging practice, which I will discuss later.

I feel very honored to interview Dr. Alok Pandey on bhakti yoga and integral yogaI am very grateful to Dr. Pandey for sharing his wisdom and insights about bhakti yoga. Also my gratitude to Mr. Vivek Nagar for helping set up the technology for interview. I am not the most proficient person technologically. Thank God that the interview finally happened. This post includes introduction of Dr. Pandey, the video interview with Dr. Pandey, and  introduction of Sri Aurobindo and Mother.  Discussion consists of themes in bhakti yoga and integral yoga.

 

DR. ALOK PANDEY

I found Dr. Pandey to be very  kind, patient especially with the technological difficulties that were happening. He is extremely accomplished, knowledgeable, voracious readers of ancient Hindu sacred scriptures and generous in sharing his knowledge. He is a  man of science and faith. He describes himself as a “psychiatrist by profession and philosopher by temperament”. He discussed serving in the Indian Air Force and then taking premature retirement to serve in the  ashram of Sri Aurobindo and Mother in Pondicherry, India.  He stated that while confronting death, disease and suffering, he found perfect answers at the “feet of Sri Aurobindo and Mother”. He discussed practicing integral yoga developed by Sri Aurobindo. He provides health care services through Integral Health Center of the Sri Aurobindo Society. Dr. Pandey is the co-editor of the  quarterly health  journal, New Approaches to Medicine and Health, published by Sri Aurobindo Institute of Integral Health  and Research. He is editor of monthly All India Magazine (AIM) published by Sri Aurobindo Society. He has also written three books, “Death, Dying and Beyond”, “Patient at the Crossroads” and “Veda of the Body”. He has facilitated symposiums on yoga, psychology, health and education in India and internationally.

Due to my technological ineptitude,  I started recording after 20 minutes of the interview with Dr. Pandey. Therefore, I will discuss some of the points that Dr. Pandey made before my recording started. I have posted a link to his interview later in the post. Dr. Pandey talked about the critical point that Creation is not an accident. It is a progressive manifestation of the Divine. The outer process of this manifestation is called evolution of forms. Its inner core is evolution of consciousness. Humanity has a key role to play in this manifestation of divinity through creation. But we are unconscious at times of our Divine origin, engulfed in darkness, suffering, limitations  and death. He added that our encounters with suffering, pain, shadow parts (parts that we are not proud of)  and healing of the shadow through love and light is also part of the spiritual journey. He stated that our spiritual evolution will lead us to realize that we are part of the Divine Source and eventual God realization.  Dr. Pandey discussed that when we are unconscious of our Divine nature, we are in egoic mode, where “I”  becomes central. The notion of the ego or (I) is in direct contrast to the Divine. The ego is finite, self absorbed and thinks it is in control of everything. In contrast, The Divine Source is Infinite, Vast, and  Incomprehensible to the human mind. Dr. Pandey relayed Sri Aurobindo’s words that human beings in ego mode are like  “petty adventurers in an Infinite Universe”. I am no stranger to the ego and have been a “petty adventurer” many times in my life.

Dr. Pandey talked about bhakti yoga (path of devotion and love through the heart) which is one of the swiftest ways to reach God realization and experience Agape  Love. Dr. Pandey  described that avators ( incarnations of God) in different human forms through out the ages, such as, Christ, Krishna, Buddha (incarnation of Divine Aspect of Compassion), Sri Aurobindo and the Mother,  serve as human representatives of the Divine to lead our humanity by their divine examples. The other point that he makes is that when we are connected to the Divine Source, or God, we experience unconditional love and we are capable of giving unconditional love to others and manifest the truth and beauty of love in our  daily lives.  Love is the savior power, the ultimate healing energy.

I also love  Dr. Pandey’s discussion that the spiritual path of God realization is different for every human being: “there are as many spiritual paths as different individuals”. He articulates that we are searching the Divine Source from which we came and the Divine Spark we carry with us. I also asked him that one of the struggles many people, including myself, is that when in deeply painful times, we forget that The Divine Source Walks with us. Dr. Pandey stated that remembering this is part of the path. But to truly remember Him during our pain, we must remember Him at all times. That is the secret.

Here is the link to the interview: Interview with Dr. Pandey

 

SRI AUROBINDO AND THE MOTHER

SRI AUROBINDO (pictures from Dr. Pandey)

I learned about Sri Aurobindo (born as Aurobindo Ghosh)  and Mother of Pondicherry from my late father- in -law (Subrata Ray) who was a lifelong  devotee of them. I had the honor and blessing to visit the Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s ashram in Pondicherry, India in 2001. The ashram is a serene. peaceful and beautiful place close to the Bay of Bengal. The cool winds of the ocean sweep through the ashram grounds.  Interestingly Pondicherry was previously a French colony in India.

Sri Aurobindo was an Indian poet, yogi, nationalist against British rule , rishi (seer) and  writer. He studied in King’s College, Cambridge, England. Historians have described him as knowing 12 different languages. Interestingly, in early life, Aurobindo defined himself as an atheist and later as an agnostic. However, upon returning to India, he became  involved in politics against British rule of India. Sri Aurobindo was imprisoned due to his involvement in nationalist movement to free India from British rule. Sri Aurobindo wrote that during his time in jail, he experienced a profound spiritual realization that followed upon a number of spiritual experiences that he has had earlier.  He eventually moved to Pondicherry India. He developed Integral Yoga with the aim of manifesting Divine Life here on earth. He, then, met his spiritual collaborator, Mirra Alfassa, a French national, who moved to Pondicherry. Mirra Alfassa was born in Paris and studied art. She was an accomplished painter. When Mirra Alfassa, at the age of 36, met Sri Aurobindo in Pondicherry in 1914, she immediately recognized him as her guru who guided her spiritual growth. She traveled back to France due to World War One and then lived in Japan for sometime. Then she returned back to Pondicherry and collaborated with Sri Aurobindo in spiritual work. She became known as The Mother.  In 1926, Sri Aurobindo entrusted The Mother the charge of taking care of  the ashram. Mother was highly involved in developing the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry into a multifaceted and active community.

Dr. Pandey  discussed that yoga means practices seeking union with the Divine and that bhakti yoga is one such path. Sri Aurobindo’s yoga being integral, bhakti is also an integral part of it. Surrender and faith being central to the Integral yoga we may say that it is even the core of the Integral Yoga. Sri Aurobindo beautifully describes that with worship and prayer and a manifold relation with the Divine, by a turning of our emotions towards the Divine, we can arrive at the union and our human bodies become temples of the Divine. He contrasts Divine love with human love. Divine Love is something “deep”,” vast”  and “silent” and we have to become quiet to sense it and respond to it. Sri Aurobindo writes:

Bhakti and love are not quite the same thing, but love is one of the elements of bhakti. There are different kinds of bhakti and that which is of the nature of love is the strongest and is considered the highest, most intense and ecstatic of all. Also in love itself that form of it which is made of self-giving; surrender, absolute adoration, urge towards a selfless union is the true kind of bhakti that is love

Pg 356, Vol 29, CWSA

 

MOTHER (pictures from Dr.Pandey)

 

The Mother writes the following about love:

For instance, love between human beings, in all its forms, the love of parents for children, of children for parents, of brothers and sisters, of friends and lovers, is all tainted with ignorance, selfishness and all the other defects which are man’s ordinary drawbacks; so instead of completely ceasing to love — which, besides, is very difficult as Sri Aurobindo says, which would simply dry up the heart and serve no end — one must learn how to love better: to love with devotion, with self-giving, self-abnegation, and to struggle, not against love itself, but against its distorted forms: against all forms of monopolising, of attachment, possessiveness, jealousy, and all the feelings which accompany these main movements. Not to want to possess, to dominate; and not to want to impose one’s will, one’s whims, one’s desires; not to want to take, to receive, but to give; not to insist on the other’s response, but be content with one’s own love; not to seek one’s personal interest and joy and the fulfilment of one’s personal desire, but to be satisfied with the giving of one’s love and affection; and not to ask for any response. Simply to be happy to love, nothing more. If you do that, you have taken a great stride forward and can, through this attitude, gradually advance farther in the feeling itself, and realise one day that love is not something personal, that love is a universal divine feeling which manifests through you more or less finely, but which in its essence is something divine.

19 Sep 1956, Pg 301, Vol 08, CWM

 

Mother wrote a beautiful piece  on Divine Grace as Everywhere and Infinite. One of the points of Mother I loved learning about is that bigger the trouble, bigger the Grace. I remember hearing that when we are in good times, we do not notice the Grace. But we notice it more in tough times. Mother, a saint,  had great spiritual faith and strength to completely trust in Divine Grace. She talked about how people react with confusion and despair when experiencing difficult circumstances.  However, according to Mother, when we look back at our past, we realize that exact circumstances (difficult thought it may have been) were needed to get us to a another point in our lives.

Another point that Mother makes is that people can develop spiritually everywhere, not just in secluded ashrams and monasteries. I love the everyday spirituality and seeking the Divine in regular life as beautiful and strong. Divine Grace can spring up everywhere, even in least expected places.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

Bhakti yoga is a beautiful path. It is so much easier to practice bhakti yoga with people we love. Loving difficult people, who are major sources of stress, is a tough one. I admit I am a beginner in the spiritual path. One strategy I learned is loving difficult people, who have repeatedly hurt me, is to love and wish them well from a distance. Wishing them happiness and joy, like I would also wish for myself.  But from a distance. Remember, I am not a yoga master, but, a beginner.

The idea of integral yoga is very powerful: practicing yogic practices and manifestation of Divine in everyday interactions in our lives. Responding with kindness to people who are saying mean or offensive stuff. Persevering through difficult and challenging times with  loving-kindness in your heart for self and others. Patience when we are interacting with someone who is irritated and rude. Loving-kindness in the middle of affliction. This is  tough and challenging. Yet Sri Aurobindo’s path of integral yoga challenges us with the idea that spiritual practices, such as love and devotion, are not just for confined times or spaces of worship of the Divine or Higher Power, but, to be practiced in our daily lives, peaks and valleys. According to Sri Aurobindo, one’s entire life is a practice of yoga. For me, this includes  loving intentions and presence  with family, friends, work, walks, watering plants, washing dishes, stuck in heavy traffic, rough days, challenging interactions, and cooking a meal.   As I write this post, I realize I have so much to learn.

 

Interview with Reverend Nancy Brink : Agape Love and Voices of Silence

I have written about agape love : all embracing, unconditional and loving. However,  this blog has not covered voices of silence from marginalized communities when it comes to agape love. I am referring to people who receive messages that they are not worthy of being loved by God. Messages are from certain religious, social and cultural institutions  So I decided to interview  Reverend Nancy Brink, who is the Donna Ford and Fahmy Attallah Endowed Director of Church Relations at Chapman University. She is very accomplished with an undergraduate degree in religious studies and Masters of Divinity from the seminary at  Vanderbilt University. She has also served and ministered to different communities.. I met her through a centering prayer group that she facilitates at Chapman University. She is not just accomplished and very knowledgeable, but, has a very loving , kind and nurturing presence. I interviewed her about her service to young people, especially LGBTQ+ communities, who are traditionally shunned by certain religious and cultural organizations.

I set up my computer to videotape her interview, which was fantastic. But alas, the account that I used did not have recording device. Very bummed about this. I expressed my sincere apologies to Nancy. Therefore, I am writing up the post.

AG (Anindita Ganguly) : Welcome Reverend Nancy Brink to the blog for the interview. I have so honored to have you for the interview. How do you see yourself serving other people?.

REV. NB (Reverend Nancy Brink) : I see myself as someone who walks alongside other people who are walking on their own journey.

AG: You are very open about working with people from different religious and spiritual traditions, theistic or nontheistic?

REV. NB: I work with people from different religious and spiritual beliefs and the centering praying is very powerful.

REV.NB: The centering prayer is similar to mindfulness practices. It originated from the Desert Fathers and Mothers of early Christianity and then later picked up by people, like Thomas Merton. It is a practice of contemplation which originated in Christianity. Since God is everywhere, there is a piece of the Divine in all of us. Therefore, the practice includes stillness in body and mind while repeating a word that one chooses. Most people think that how can I do this because my mind is always racing. But the idea is that despite the wandering mind, we come back to the word and listen to what God has to say to us. Prayer traditionally meant I talked to God, but, centering prayer is listening to God and allowing space for God to work in us. Whatever that may be.

AG: This is an absolutely wonderful practice because of my belief that God speaks in silence places and our busy lives create a lot of noise.

REV. NB: This practice is about being and not doing.

AG: Most of us are so caught up in doing.

REV. NB: The centering prayer was very powerful for me to understand, challenge my internalized homophobia  and process my sexuality. As I challenged my internalized homophobia, I realized that God is BIGGER than these homophobic statements. I grappled with the thought  that as a lesbian woman, coming out was a scary process. I was afraid of rejection as I ministered a parish in Omaha, Nebraska. I practiced centering prayer for seven years which helped me to decrease my fear of coming out. After coming out to the congregation in Omaha, Nebraska, I was was embraced and welcomed by the congregation.

AG: The agape love of God which is deep, unconditional, fierce and fearless is for everyone. Yet, certain cultural, religious and institutional messages state that agape love is not for the LGTBQ+ communities. People are given the painful message that there is something deficient, wrong or bad because they are not heterosexual.

REV.NB: Yes, agape love is for all. God does not create trash.

AG: You said in one of your interviews that “you can be gay and  loved by God”. That is incredibly affirming to people struggling with homophobic messages in our world. That is incredible. You embody the powerful  message of agape for all. I think that this is very important because having worked with LGBTQ+ youth, there is a belief in some LGBTQ+ youth that there is something “wrong” or “bad” about their “core being or essence” due to their  sexual orientation. LGBTQ+ youth seem have to have one of the highest risk groups for depression, suicide and homelessness as they are running away from families who reject them because of their sexual orientation.

REV.NB: Absolutely. I run a spirituality group for LGBTQ+ youth to support people in their spirituality. The whole discussion on critical race theory led me to study more about the civil rights movement. As I study the civil rights movement, I realize that African American people attended church and built spiritual community and worshipped and this was a powerful source of strength for the civil rights movement.

AG: Absolutely, even with Gandhi with his nonviolence program and Martin Luther King, influenced by Gandhi. Both Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King  were  very spiritually grounded men with movements firmly based on spiritual principles.

AG. There is also the discrimination of LGBTQ+ communities at institutionalized levels and microaggressions (e.g. name calling) on individual levels. Discrimination deeply wounds the heart and soul. Privilege of heterosexism which we also need to be aware of. For example, when I walk to the movies and hold my husband’s hands, no one looks. But with same sex couple, people may look and or say mean things.

REV.NB: Things are getting better as progressive movements are more embracing of diversity, especially on college campuses. I teach classes on topics, such as, “Reading the Bible through Queer Eyes” where we analyze statements in the Bible which “clobber us”. We study that certain statements in the Bible are mistranslated from original text to English. For example, if you are to read Shakespeare, you read the footnotes, which is essential. But for the Bible, people do not always read the footnotes, which they need to. For many college students, the sexual orientation issue may not be  as polarizing due to their progressive values.

AG: That is true of college campuses. However, in different parts of the world, people are killed  because of their sexual orientation.

REV.NB: That is very true. The cultures of different parts of this country too are so different and unique.

REV.NB: One of the concerns I see in college students is that they do not define themselves as binary (either male or female) but exploring both aspects of gender and have pronouns (they/them).

AG: This reminds me of certain spiritual traditions, such as, Hinduism, where God has both male and female aspects.

REV. NB: Yes, in Christianity, there is a tradition of Sophia which addresses the Divine as Female. In my trips to India, I have also seen the female aspect of Divine. I have also learned that most westerners have the misconception that Hinduism is a polytheistic religion when it is monotheistic. There is one God but different aspects of God are expressed in different forms.

AG: Very true. The female aspect of Divine, Goddesses, are described as sources of strength. The other thing about Hinduism is the belief that one worships God as one wishes to perceive God, (with or without form). I am been influenced by Catholicism, Hinduism and Buddhism.

AG: Is there anything else that you want to add before we close interview?

REV.NB: I also want to add that restriction of voting rights is not just because of racism but the threat of young people voting. Young people tend to more progressive in their beliefs.

AG: Very True. How do you do self-care?

REV. NB: I love to walk, listen to audio books to learn about issues, centering prayer, travel. My wife and I love to travel but that is not happening now. I also hope to entertain and have groups of people together which is very healing.

AG: I miss parties too.

AG: Thank you so much Reverend. This is a wonderful interview. You are not only accomplished but, very generous, loving and kind. I love attending your centering prayer group. I also want to end with a very powerful anecdote which I read about you. The article stated that the   the Chapman University has four pillars at the center of the campus for intellectual, social, emotional and spiritual aspects of development. When you interviewed for the job, you were asked about your thoughts regarding the spiritual pillar being shorter than the others. You answered beautifully which is that the spiritual pillar is lower because humility is key on the spiritual path. 

AG: I love that. You got the job.

REV. NB: That was the Holy Spirit inspiring that answer. That was a sneaky question. It is also interesting that with Chapman University campus closed and less water supply to the pillars, the pillar representing spirituality still pours the most water.

AG: Wonderful. Thank you so much for the interview.

REV. NB: Thank you, Blessings

Ag: Much love and Blessings to you too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good Leaders and Collective Wellbeing: Steps towards a Kinder and Loving world

I am very excited to inform readers about the coolest conference, that I attended virtually, on topics like good leaders, collective well being, narratives of love, and steps to a loving and kinder world.  The conference is the  5th Spirit of Humanity Summit: Towards a Loving World  during first week in June 2021,which was hosted in Reykjavík, Iceland over three days, but, participants were from around the world. A  dear friend forwarded the link to me and  I was able to virtually see some of the wonderful presentations.  The taped sessions of the summit are on line, in case, readers are interested in viewing them.   The summit began by addressing and acknowledging the suffering in the world impacted by this pandemic, especially, in communities with high risk social determinants of health, like lack of economic opportunities, poverty, instability in housing and inequity in health care and educational systems. The focus of the summit was the importance of   reconnecting with core human values of love and compassion to create effective political, economic and social policy, and practices by global citizens, including  leaders, to reshape a world where our collective well being is key. The argument is that  we need to envision pathways to a more loving, kinder world. I totally agree.

The prime minister of Iceland , Katrin Jakobsdottir, made a critical point which is that a society cannot prosper when citizens are reporting poor well-being or quality of life. She discussed that she developed a commission which interviewed people in Iceland about what does “well being” mean to them.  According to Katrin Jakobsdottir,  the commission researchers found following factors as important in the well being index. The list includes : 1) good health, especially mental health and access to high quality health care, 2)work-life balance and good relationships, 3)affordable secure housing, 4) good education, 5)target of zero carbon commissions by 2030 for ecological health, and 6)better communication systems, including digital communication. Katrina Jakobsdottir emphasized is that in order for effective social change, people have to engage in inner personal transformation. This is so true. When one brings forth loving and compassionate interactions with other people, most people react in kind ways.  Katrina Jakobsdottir discussed that when a person, including a leader, is internally immersed in fear, chaos and anger, he or she cannot be part of effective  social change. I agree with her 100 percent.

In terms of health and well being index in the United States, mental health needs are noted as critical in the United States, as in Iceland. According to a recent Centers for Disease Control survey, 40% of US adults reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues. The survey was conducted in June 24-30 2020 time period.   Research from Society From Human  Resource Management) SHRM  released findings in 5/2020 that 41 % of employees in the U.S. reported burnout and 23% reported feeling depressed and hopeless. The report indicates over 1 out of 5 employees experience a tangible loss related to COVID in their jobs, such as, lack of opportunities, benefit of job etc. Interestingly, over 1 out 3 employees reported not having coping tools to deal with feelings of burnout and only 7% have reached out to mental health professionals. The study also found that people more heavily impacted by pandemic stress were: women, younger workers, people living with health care provider, essential worker, elderly family and people with immunosuppression health conditions.

However, this post is not about resolving the complex issue of mental health needs in the world.  This post is a reflection of some of the ideas discussed about effective leadership, in alignment with core values of love and compassion, at the Spirit of Humanity Summit. The discussion is on redefining leadership as selfless, service oriented and motivated on collective well being of communities, which are steps to creation of a kinder and loving world.

 

Leaders who promote collective well-being.

When I think of leadership, I think of political leaders or CEOs of major organizations. However, this summit presented the radical notion that we are all leaders in some aspects of our lives: as parents, teachers, school administrators, university professors, government officials, health care or business professionals. The idea that a leader’s love and compassion, in developing well-being for the people and communities he or she serves,  is a key factor in effective leadership. Effective leadership is not fueled by what can I get out of this, but, how can I empower and serve communities and create wellbeing. There is an element of selfless service with love and compassion to others, which characterizes great leaders. Good leaders are service oriented and thus allow “others in the team or community” to shine when they do good work. A spiritual component is that the leader is not serving his or her ego, but, the “larger than self” community .The ultimate example of leadership through agape love through service is Christ’s leadership of his disciplines where He washes the disciples’ feet before the Last Supper.

The website, www.teamgnatt.com, discusses a style of leadership called servant leader.  This style of leader prioritizes people’s and team’s successes over establishing his or her power. The success and growth of the employees and governance   are critical, whereas, ambition of the leader takes a back seat. The art of effective listening and empathy demonstrated by servant leaders is critical.

The article, The Real Summit Picture is When Everyone is Back Down , highlighted for me what good leadership looks like. The article talked about  a group of people setting out to climb to the top of Mount Everest. The best leader of the group is not the person who climbs first to the mountain top and “wins”. The best leader is determined by when the whole group returns to base camp after reaching the summit of Mountain Everest, and then, the leader ensures that everyone in the group is safely back in base camp. This analogy spoke volumes to me about good leadership looking out for collective wellbeing. As parents or teachers leading a group on such a trip, that is what one does. One is not worried about making it to the top of the mountain first, but, ensuring that the whole team  is successful in reaching the top and safely returning to base camp. This model of leadership makes sense to me. I believe that effective leaders are not concerned about who wins or loses, but, the collective well being of the community. Effective leaders ensure the protection and well-being of not just majority, but, also minority groups. Effective leaders need to be able to work with people having different perspectives.

Leading with empowering and inspiring the governance for collaboration

What does effective leadership look like? I found this fascinating article about effective leadership in wolf packs. Wolf pack leadership includes the alpha male and female. Wolf packs are effective in survival because leaders make decisions in the best interest of the group and the leader empowers different wolves based on their unique strengths. I also found it fascinating that the leader of wolf pack is not the strongest or loudest, but, has capacity of inspiring other wolves for group collaboration and cooperationGroup collaboration includes different wolves sharing responsibilities about taking care of the young and sick or elderly wolves. Some wolves have “healer” roles in taking care of the sick. The elderly wolves are respected for their knowledge  about survival. The mentality fostered in wolf packs is that group functioning is more powerful for survival than individual wolf. The hunt of prey includes wolves acting in harmony and following strategy.

The goal of the pack is to take care of each other. An interesting note is that “bad behavior” of an individual wolf, who threatens the cohesion of the group, is  corrected by others.  Another aspect of wolf packs is resiliency. This means that the group leader assesses the group performance, and likelihood for successfully catching the prey and may decide to terminate the mission if the conditions are not favorable to the group. The leader shows assessment skills and re-strategizing based on novel situations. The leader’s role is challenged if he or she presents with negative attitude. It is not about leader’s ability to dominate others.

As a side note and stepping away from wolves, I have seen human leaders, as parents, coaches and teachers, who inspire others in the teams to put forth their best effort. Inspirational leaders see the best in people, identify people’s strengths and set up tasks where people succeed. Inspirational leaders seem to have a growth mindset where, failures are opportunities to learn from, develop better strategies and increase chances of success. Inspirational leaders separate shame and guilt feelings from failures, and , reframe failures as part of the human condition and possible  growth opportunities. Another aspect of inspirational coaches, teachers and parents are that they embody the belief that one day the student or child will develop greater expertise and outshine them and they welcome this. Impactful teachers and coaches are not threatened by talented students. Great teachers and coaches see our potential when we may not be in a space to envision our strength. They lift us up. I am so grateful for the wonderful teachers and supervisors who have shaped me.

I believe that good leaders have the humility to step back and give credit to the team because he or she realizes that success is a team effort.  My experience in social service organizations is that social issues and problems are complex and one person cannot solve all the problems. It takes partnerships, interagency collaboration and good working relationships to succeed in developing innovative and effective delivery of social services. An effective leader builds collaborative work environment for accomplishing goals, instead of division and distrust in the team. I also believe that effective leaders are not threatened by talented members of the team. Just as wolf pack leaders, effective leaders empowers the team member to work on tasks which tap into his or her strengths. A leaders who is easily threatened tends to shut down development of talented key members.  Effective leaders are also quick to correct a toxic member of a team, who jeopardize harmony and collaboration of the team. This is very important in creating a supportive community.

 

Conclusion

We are all leaders in some aspects of our lives. We need to be good, effective and inspirational leaders to create collective well being in the communities we serve. The Spirit of Humanity Summit redefines effective leadership, as characterized by loving and compassionate values, where leaders are service focused in creating political, economic and social policy and practices for the collective well being in their communities. I am all for a kinder, compassionate and loving world.

I will end with Howard Washington Thurman. He was a grandson of former slaves. He became a brilliant scholar, professor, theologian, possibly the greatest preacher of the twentieth century (according to Life Magazine), and a prolific writer. Thurman  was a mentor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and met Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore of India in one of his travels. He is known as unsung hero of the civil rights movement. Thurman is said to have inspired Dr. Martin Luther King to merge the nonviolent movement of Gandhi to the civil rights movement. Thurman was the first pastor to cofound a multifaith and multiracial church in the United States. Incidentally, Katarina Jakobsdottir,  Prime Minister of Iceland, ended her speech at the Spirit of Humanity Summit with a quote from Thurman’s philosophy of great leadership.

I am so impressed with Thurman’s educational philosophy that a student must understand self as a “human being” and accept oneself which is key to character development.  Thurman discussed the relationship of character and leadership and that a visionary leaders must seek the truth. Thurman talked about the “inward journey”, the relationship between “personal transformation” and and yearning for social justice. He argued that integrity, honesty and taking responsibility for his or her own actions are key to successful leadership. I will end with Thurman’s quote. 

Kipton E. Jensen (2020) (2020) writes that what “Thurman wrote in 1960 is doubly true today”. Thurman wrote :

We are living in a time of revolutions, technological and social. Our reaction to these revolutions may be one of fear, panic, and despair. We may in our reaction be stripped of all hope and all confidence not only about the meaning of our own lives but about the significance of the future of mankind. Or we may in our reaction be inspired to deeper commitment to higher purposes and more meaningful resolves to the end that in us the dreams of mankind that are cherished will be worked at with fresh vigor and new hope. How we react is our responsibility – and from this there is no escape.