I. Am. Afraid. of Cities.

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I am afraid of cities,

all jagged and hard,

blades of concrete

leaving dreams

mutilated and scarred.

 

Where concrete legos scrape

the sky

only to show us

our place is where

the asphalt lies.

 

I am afraid of cities

where trees turn into

light posts and

sky into peep holes

reminding us God

once existed.

 

Where walls turn

into labyrinths,

keeping us confused

and distorted,

and silence is drowned

by sounds that rumble,

and honk and pierce, 

unnaturally persistent.

 

I am afraid of cities where

street lights distract us from

dreaming,

from the stars,

and the stem

of a crack pipe

is more familiar than

the stem of a rose.

 

Where women are asphyxiated

by back alley blow jobs,

and the earth

cracks the sidewalks open

for some air.

 

I am afraid of cities,

with their paper work 

and forms, long lines

and waiting rooms,

cubicles and punch-in 

clocks, rubber stamps

and guards that loom.

 

I am afraid of cities,

financial corrals

where humanity lives for

paychecks, and money

is always scarce. 

 

Where life is erased

by calculated numbers,

law and order is more sacred

than people,

and time rubs us

raw. 

 

But I am more afraid

of living afraid, 

so I plant my bare feet,

solid, on the ground,

let the sun rays shine

sturdy, on my face and

catch the wind as it whispers,

“You matter.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is No Restoration in Dehumanization

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A bird flies over barbed wire on top of fences at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego, California. In 2014 when this photo was taken, California was under a federal court order to lower the population of its prisons to 137.5 percent of its designed capacity after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a ruling that inmate health care was so bad it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. Photographer, Sam Hodgson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

This past weekend, I had the honor of serving inmates a Donovan State Prison through restorative and healing work.  In the process, I connected with a Samoan brother, Utu, who’d been incarcerated for nearly two decades and, most recently, spent four years in, what the inmates and prison guards refer to as, the hole, solitary confinement.  Utu held a type of innocence that is very difficult to maintain in inmates who’ve experienced and perpetrated the most tragic and heinous acts of violence.

There was an immediate spiritual connection that occurred as he began to share pieces of himself in a place where even a little bit of vulnerability can get a man killed; one that allowed me to see we are both greater than our experiences and our choices.

In 2010, do to over crowded and under-equipped California prisons,  Utu was one of many inmates forcefully persuaded to sign a prison transfer request from California to Arizona. He was told it would be a temporary five-year arrangement.  While in Arizona, he discovered that what he had signed up for was “to live in hell,” and doubted he would make it out of Arizona alive.  Not only were tensions between prison guards and inmates more hostile, but racism and inequity were used to instigate more animosity and violence among the inmates.  Without going into details, he told me he got into a confrontation with another inmate, and beat him unconscious.  The next day, Utu was sent to the hole where he would live out the rest of his five-year incarceration sentence in Arizona.

A prisoner named Ahmad Al Aswadu wrote an essay titled “A Black View of Prison” in the April-May 1971 issue of the Black Scholar. In his essay, he describes the experience of living in the “hole” while incarcerated:

The “Hole” (called such because its locality is usually under the prison’s first floor) is solitary confinement. One could stay in the hole for a week or a lifetime depending upon his color and attitude. It is here in the hole that men are made and broken at the same time. It is here that the previous threat of getting “hurt” can realize itself all too quickly. And it is here that the seeds of Black Consciousness have been cultivated in the minds of many black men.

It is very difficult for a layman such as I to describe the atmosphere of the hole but I shall try. I believe that the very first thing that the brother notices about the hole is the desolateness and the feeling of utter aloneness. The first time that I was sent to the hole I felt as if my soul had deserted me. I don’t believe that I had ever experienced such a feeling of intense emptiness in my life before then. I had been sent to the hole to have my attitude changed, because, as they stated, it was not conducive to “good order.” 

His father died shortly after he was placed in the hole.  Samoans follow a code of living and culture called the Fa’a Samoa which means “the Samoan Way.” Central to this culture is the Fa’amatai. The family is the most significant socio-political element of Samoan society. Family responsibility and the care of family land are the keys to the culture. For Utu, not being able to be at his father’s funeral or with his family was devastating and a source of shame; and there was nowhere for him to escape this shame.  As he began to unravel into hopelessness and deep depression, a few months into his solitary confinement, he heard  a clank as someone opened the  small window of his iron cell door and asked if he wanted to find God.  God was nowhere to be found, he thought; that hole was the furthest he could be from God.

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Photo credit: Modesto Bee Newspaper/ Bloomberg via Getty Images 

A clergyman visited him once a week, on the same day, at the same time, like clock work. He learned to keep track of time by keeping track of his visits.  He’d be Utu’s only visitor for the four years he remained in the hole.  Utu was not allowed any possessions, but the clergyman somehow got the prison guards to agree to allowing him to have a bible, which he fiercely read and studied during his four years in solitary confinement.

Solitary confinement strips away anything that can possibly remind a man of his existence. There is no radio, no television, no books, no pencils or paper and no hobby-facilitating materials. Inmates are provided institution-issued clothes and possibly, but not always, sheets.  Personal hygiene provisions are reduced to only toilet paper, which some inmates may not receive.  Cells frequently have no windows and inmates are housed with a vacant cell between them to reduce the possibility of communication. The 23/1 rule (23 hours in your cell and one hour outside of it) usually applies, but only if the guards get around to it. This could mean that inmates may only get one hour every five days, and often during that one hour, inmates are not allowed to go outside or anywhere with windows, but are confined to a “common area,” alone. Depending on the institution, sometimes they are provided with golf pencils and paper to write during their hour, but may only be allowed to mail out and receive one letter a week. Utu felt his mind slipping away from him while in there, and reading the bible was the only experience that helped him hold on to his humanity.

No one is ever SENTENCED to solitary confinement – the determination of that punishment is made in each institution at their own discretion and for a duration they presume to be necessary. It could be because an inmate violated a rule within the institution or merely because an inmate is presumed to be affiliated with a gang. It also could be just cruelty and sadism on the part of the institution administrators.

Utu was transferred back to California a little more than a year ago.  His mother passed away three months ago, and though he wasn’t able to attend her funeral, he was close enough for his family to come visit him and pray with him. As he shared  glimpses of his life with me, I wondered how a man who has lost so much could still hold innocence and gentleness in his soul.

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During the three days of restorative and healing work, we delved into discussions and activities that pushed us to think more deeply about transformative power through forgiveness, empathy and consensus building.   One of the activities in which the inmates were tasked to practice the consensus building strategies they had just learned required that each select a photo.  The objective was for each person to partner up, and through consensus building, agree on one photo to represent both.  Once the partners agreed on the photo, they looked for another set of partners and the process of consensus building began again until one photo was selected to represent the group of four, which then joined with another group of four to repeat the same process.

I partnered with Utu who had selected a photo of a blueish-turquoise ocean gently swaying against black cliffs abundant with vegetation. That morning he had spoken of going home to Samoa where his heart had always told him he belonged. His family came to the Unites States when he was a little boy, but it seemed that leaving his motherland had been more of a curse than a blessing.  His family broke apart in the United States.  Upward mobility and the accumulation of things became a priority.  Home to him means returning to a place that nurtures family and community, something Utu feels he can no longer achieve in the United States. There was a profound longing in his eyes for home as he described the aspects of his photo that reminded him of Samoa. He is homesick for a feeling, an experience he hopes to find when he returns to Samoa.  One where his heart is full, his body loved, and his soul understood.

Then came my turn to explain why I chose the photo I held in my hands.  The photo reminded me of the purest love between a child and his parents or grandparents; the bond that exists when a child is nurtured as the one who will continue the wisdom and legacy of the elders, and in turn, of the ancestors. It is this passing on of knowledge that creates strong and dignified communities.  I told Utu that the photo reminded me of the unconditionally love my grandmother poured into me. When children are raised with kind love, veneration and respect, they grow up to be the keepers of the greater community.  Finally, I explained, that most of all, the photo reminded me of the importance of knowing how to give and receive, the collaboration that manifests in a beautiful way within families and communities when everyone is working together toward a common goal.

Utu timidly asked, “which one should we pick?” I told Utu that I had the privilege to experience home, and nothing would fill my heart more than for him to experience home, even if was just symbolically.  So I told him, “You choose.”  His eyes became watery and he said he’d choose the picture I held in my hands, because more than the beach and the tropical trees and the smell of the salty mountains, he missed the love of his mother and father.

Utu is due to be released in 2021.  In a place void of humanity, where vulnerability and compassion can get one killed, where suspicion lurks in every corner, and where brick, steel, cement and barbed wire remind inmates of the total aloneness of enforced solitude and deprivation, Utu was able to maintain an innocence and gentleness rarely found behind bars.  I pray he makes it out.

Another inmate whose been on a long, arduous path of healing said, “I’m thriving in prison. For the first time in my life, I am thriving.” If these men whose hearts have been hardened and hopes shattered can transform themselves in a place meant to annihilate what little love they remember from their childhood, imagine what could be possible if we created opportunities for healing and restoration.

Restorative justice and restorative practices are ancient approaches that are being revived in modern-day systems. Aboriginals around the world have used religion or tribal leaders to peacefully resolve conflicts or crime for hundreds of years. This traditional approach to restoration is rooted in the belief that there should be social harmony, redemption and a pursuit of absolute good for the individual and the community in the handling of conflict and crime. Rather than the punitive elements connected to shame, guilt, humiliation and dehumanization, aboriginal cultures around the world have focused on restorative elements of redemption, reparation, rehabilitation, healing and forgiveness.

 We have long known that in the act of destroying the other, we are destroying ourselves.  In Mayan tradition, there is a greeting that many people working with Mayan tradition know of. In Lak’ ech Ala K’in means I am the other you and you are the other me. It is an honoring for each other, for the sacredness of our belonging.  Ubuntu is an ancient African word meaning, “my humanity is inextricably wrapped up in yours.” Bayanihan is a Filipino custom derived from the word bayan, which means nation, town or community. The term means being in bayan, which refers to the spirit of communal unity, work and cooperation to achieve a particular goal. In ancient Sanskrit Sarvodaya mean universal uplifting; the good of the individual within the good of the whole. So you see, we come from each other, to commune with each other, and to thrive with each other.  Even scientifically, we have discovered the presence of mirror neurons, which allow us to feel the other’s pain.  In essence, what we do onto others, we do to ourselves. This is who we were before colonization, industrialization and capitalism.  Who we were has been erased from history, but the memories remain in our DNA, and we are once again being called to rewrite our history, and re-right the injustices we have participated in.

I recently came across this:

Remember: Oppression thrives off isolation.  Connection is the only thing that can save you.

Remember: Oppression thrives on superficiality. Honesty about our struggles is the key to your liberation. 

Remember: Your story can help save someone’s life.  your silence contributes to someone else’s struggle. Speak so we all can be free. Love so we all can be liberated. The moment is now.  We need you. 

Remembrance and imagination are the greatest tools we have to create a world in which our children can love and be loved, fully and unconditionally.

AHIMSA – nonviolence in thought and action.

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AHIMSA INSTITUTE 

This is Dr. Sethia, founder of the Ahimsa Center and Institute for teachers. I am eternally thankful to her for planting the seed of nonviolence in my heart; for the grace I have received because of the opportunity she gave me. My whole life had been about violence, and that is the only way I knew to stand up for myself, to protect myself. She inspired me to sing the song of silence, and in its rhythms find peace, truth and a profound connectedness to all that is. When I attended  the Ahimsa Institute, I was a deeply wounded bird, searching for a reason bigger than myself, To Be. A nine year journey of forgiveness, healing and awakening lead me to discovering the greatest love within myself. A love that allows me to see I am everything, and everything is in me.

Nine years ago when I was teaching at Hoover High School, I received an e-mail from my principle around 4:00 pm, just as I was going to head home for the day. You know one of those all staff e-mails forwarded by your principle, so she/he can delete it from his/her inbox and quickly move on to more important matters.

The e-mail read something about an institute where I’d be learning about Gandhi and nonviolence. The words that most caught my attention were, “Nonviolence in thought and action.” There was immediately a call to action from deep within the seat of my soul. That night I sat at my computer to type a statement of purpose that was to be submitted with my application the next day when the application was due. I wrote all night. I found my pain taking over, and each time I attempted to write my statement, I’d end up writing about some of the most painful memories in my life.

Like the time I got in a fist fight with my mother.  I was so angry at her.  I wanted to show her that I was stronger than her; hat even though I wasn’t good enough to be loved, I could still stand up for myself.  So in that moment, I raged against all the times she left for months at a time, against all the screams and accusations, against the men that had been in and out of her life, because like me, she was also searching for love. We tossed and tumbled across the living room floor. She was my enemy. I pulled her hair as if I wanted to rip it off of her head and hit her as if to destroy every part of her that had ever hurt me.

Or the time I almost hit my daughter with a broomstick.  She was about 12 and her room, more and more often, looked like it had been shaken, upside down.  It was definitely a point of contention.  Later I’d come to realize that it triggered memories of instability and neglect, reminding me of dishes piled high in the kitchen sink, loads and loads of dirty clothes scattered everywhere, an empty refrigerator, and cockroaches scattered amongst it all. I remember quarreling with my daughter about why she couldn’t just keep her room clean.  Why she couldn’t just take the time to care for and be thankful for what she had. Subconsciously, I was reproaching my mother , “If you love me, you’d take care of me, you’d take care of our home.”  I grabbed the broom that had been propped behind the door all morning as she procrastinated to clean her room.  I saw myself holding the broom over her and she laying on the bed with her arm shielding her face.  I hit her once with the bristles, before putting the broom down and going to my room to cry.  I had always been so careful to not hit her or scream at her, and there I was becoming the very violence I had hoped to never perpetrate on her.

I turned in my application and was given a fellowship to the institute and a chance to transform my life in ways I could have never imagined.

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JAPANESE GARDEN 

When I came to the Ahimsa Institute in 2007, my wounds and pain were stripped raw. Often, during breaks or lunch, I’d slip away and come down to the Japanese garden to cry. I had so much anger, it hurt. The Koi fish were calming. Their slow movements soothed my angry thoughts, their patient proximity to one another comforted my anxiety, and their coloring warmed the parts of me that were void of nurture.

Many of the attributes of the Koi symbolize several lessons and even trials individuals often encounter in life. The Koi fish has a powerful and energetic life force, demonstrated by its ability to swim against currents and even travel upstream. That’s what the journey of forgiveness, nonviolence and healing I was embarking on felt like. Some of the characteristics associated with the koi include courage, perseverance, and ambition; all characteristics I would need to practice on this arduous path.

Many of the above described symbolic meanings of Koi fish stem from the Chinese legend of the Dragon Gate in which a Koi fish swam upstream, through waterfalls and other obstacles to reach the top of the mountain. At the top of the mountain was the “Dragon Gate”. The legend says that when the Koi finally reached the top, it became a dragon, one of the most auspicious creatures in Chinese culture.”

This past weekend after a nine-year journey of healing and after a powerful three-day Ahimsa conference on Giving and Forgiving, I visited the Japanese garden once again to cry. I didn’t cry from pain, but from extreme gratitude for the Grace I have received through my experiences with the Ahimsa center. For the grace I received that day in my classroom when I received the application. I came to thank the Koi fish for their support and unconditional love. To thank spirit for its guidance and lessons. I came here to remember, to renew my commitment to healing and non-violence and to set new intentions for the next beautiful stage of my life.

 

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HORSE STABLES 

One last stop before leaving…
When I participated in the  Ahimsa Institute, I stayed on the Cal Poly campus. Every morning I’d get up early enough to walk to the horse stables and commune with the horses. I’d often pick up leaves and the horses would eat them from my hand. At some point, the caretaker there started to expect me, and would give me alfalfa to hand feed the horses.

I visited them once again this past weekend, and I stood in silence while one of the horses ate. At some point, it cam closer to the fence and stood their with me. And that was enough.

My longing to be with the horses every morning came from the deep unconditional love I saw in their eyes. The first time I saw that kind of love in a being’s eyes was in my grandmother, and later I’d come to see it in my daughter. In those horses, I saw the love I’d ultimately come to discover in myself.  A love I’d come to understand connects us all. At some point in my journey, I realized that no matter what I had experienced, the wounds and trauma I carried, or the love I was still searching for, I was whole.

WHOLE                                                                                                                                                           

One day I became conscious enough to ask:

“Who Am I?”

To which a powerful, but at the time,
indistinguishable voice
inside of me responded:

“Everything.”

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F O R G I V E N E S S

Every autumn season, the eucalyptus tree sheds its bark, and the process is highlighted by a wonderful display of color and / or amazing patterns of strips and flakes.

I imagine this is what our bodies look like as we open our hearts in vulnerability and and allow the wounds and bruises to air out.

When the bark is shed, lichens and parasites that are toxic to the tree are also shed. And a smooth, bark appears, until the next autumn season when the tree sheds once again.

We have seasons of growth and we have seasons of letting go. Both forgiving others and forgiving ourselves is part of the process of learning to let go of things that no longer serve us.

Cleansing and grieving are important processes, so our pain does not metastasize as hate. Hate will ultimately destroy us.

 “A sufi holy man was asked what forgiveness is.  He said – it is the fragrance that flowers give when they are crushed.” – Rumi                                                                                                  

The Gratitude I have for Dr. Sethia, her work and commitment to nonviolence, and the opportunity she gave me to transform my life, I can only honor by dedicating to her my life of service and commitment to nonviolence. There are people whom I recognize as having saved my life – Dr. Sethia is one of them.

The Soul Loves the Truth

Truth . . . What does it mean to speak my truth? How do I step, completely and intentionally, into the space of an authentic life? A life that I deserve and that is aligned with the deepest desires and yearnings of my soul.55

I have continuously pondered these questions, and my experience in Costa Rica has affirmed the following:

To speak my truth requires that I have an unwavering commitment to the requests of my soul and heart. I’ve also come to understand that living and speaking my truth takes courage. Not the kind of courage that one is backed into when there are no other options left, but the kind of courage that precedes when our soul nudges us because the circumstance we find ourselves in is not aligned with who we are, and we are left with the choice of responding to that nudge, or ignoring it for the sake of practicality.

“The liberation of the soul comes from the simple truths of basic experience.”  – From The Joy Diet

The first day I met with the folks I would be working with in Costa Rica, the Ticos were playing in the world cup, and my soon-to-be team had just finished their first leadership session with 30 kids. There was a lot to celebrate. They were hanging out at a bar with some of the local folks they had built great relationships with, and I had a couple of beers with them, before we moved on to the next bar. I’m not much of a drinker, so when I was offered some kind of local moonshine, my soul nudged me. I was immediately caught in a situation where I had a split second to make a decision that would either validate my soul, or would push me to succumb to exterior pressures and norms. I knew I didn’t want to drink, but I also knew that it was important to bond with my team and the local folks, and to be open to the experiences in Costa Rica. So I kindly rejected the glass in which the drink was about to be served, and instead offered to serve everyone at the table. For the rest of the night, though I didn’t take one extra sip of alcohol, I was able to be part of the community and the celebration that built a sense of togetherness.

It is the little everyday truths that call on our courage. Like telling your boss that a project he or she has given you will require more logistics and time than has been foreseen when you are afraid that he or she will see you as not being competent enough; explaining to a student that when he refers to poor communities as ghetto, he is further criminalizing a group of people already marginalized by oppression; or speaking up when the clerk behind the counter is being humiliated by a customer who doesn’t understand the importance of treating people with dignity.  47

“Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.”

― Franz Kafka

These truths allow me to practice having courage. These are the truths I am faced more abundantly with than extraordinary, life-altering truths. I once read that the soul loves the truth. Our soul waits for us to stand up for it, to validate its presence in our lives. Sometimes our mind fools us into not speaking our truth. “It’s not a big deal, I have to choose my battles, I’m just going to let it go because I don’t want more problems,” are the excuses we make. Each time we evade our courage, our soul simply takes that as a message that we aren’t ready or we are still too afraid to live the life that is meant for us – the life we deserve. But when we choose to begin to practice courage through truth, our soul leaps with excitement for it knows that the path to an authentic life has been exposed. The fear is still there sometimes, but the process is not about not feeling fear; it is about knowing that my truth is much more powerful than my fear.

Satyagraha was a term I first learned at a Gandhi institute I attended a few years ago.  It is a Sanskrit word that is connected to the idea of insistence on truth, or what Gandhi referred to as soul force.  When I first studied the principal of Satyagraha, I did so within the context of Gandhi’s search for justice and dignity through non-violent resistance.  He referred to it as the force that is born from truth and love.  Many years later, I have made a more profound connection to this word.  Satyagraha is not just about the insistence of truth for external forces of oppression and violence, but also for oneself.  I spent so much time looking for truth outside of me, when all along, it was my own truth I needed to become intimately acquainted with.

un-Mexican: In Search of Truth Part 2

In The Tortilla Curtain, a novel by T.C. Boyle,  Delany a “liberal humanist” who lives in a gated community on top of Topanga Canyon in the hills above Malibu hits an undocumented worker with his car as he is coming back from recycling glass bottles, which he took careful effort to separate by color.

Candido, an undocumented worker who lives in a makeshift hut in the Topanga Canyon, does not want the police to get involved for fear of being deported.  Delaney is afraid of ruining his perfect driving record and an increase in his insurance premiums.    “Candido is in very bad shape, with blood seeping out of his mouth, a torn left sleeve and arm, and a shredded left side of his face. In addition to the tortillas, Cándido has a grocery bag, which is now torn by pieces of glass and wet with orange soda. He is in very bad shape, groaning, barely able to stand and unable to focus his eyes.”  Though Candido is badly injured, to soothe his conscience, Delaney gives him $20 and drives away.

That is the image I confronted as I wondered why I had only given Lourdes $20; I was the “liberal humanist” soothing my conscience.  For weeks I could not take her or the incident out of my mind; a sense of guilt and pain loomed within like fog.

I have discovered that the world is a mirror, and through it I have the opportunity to learn about aspects of myself that otherwise would continue to exist unrecognized.  This was a very difficult concept to accept for it forced me to look at each experience internally rather than externally.  I had to take accountability for all the experiences in my life, and realize that even if I wasn’t a direct cause, I was still a participant in everything that occurred to me and within me.  Shakti Gawain says the mirror process is based on the following two premises:

  1. I assume that everything in my life is my reflection, my creation; there are no accidents or events that are unrelated to me.  If I see or feel something, if it has any impact on me, then my being has attracted or created it to show me something.  If it didn’t mirror some part of myself, I wouldn’t even be able to see it.
  2. I try never to put myself down for the reflections I see.  Everything is a gift that brings me to self-awareness.  I try to maintain a compassionate attitude toward myself and my learning process. 

What did Lourdes mirror within me?  What did I see in her that was a reflection of me?  Vulnerability.  Lourdes was a reflection of my vulnerability; the fear of rejection and abandonment that abides in the little girl inside of me.   Seeing her marginalization from society evoked painful childhood emotions that were a product of the instability and uncertainty I lived as a child – and the poverty. There were many times in which hopelessness loitered in our lives – no one to come rescue us.  Lourdes, like millions, will never be rescued from her poverty.  My grandmother’s birth certificate was my “lottery ticket” – she was born in Texas.

What I also saw, was my participation in structures and institutions that create and perpetuate the structural violence responsible for the conditions and oppression of Lourdes and so many like her.  This is why I was confronted with the image from The Tortilla Curtain.   When I choose to pay cheaper prices for a product like green onions without having awareness of where the product comes from, I participate in the perpetuation of structural violence.

Paul Farmer, a physician and anthropologist who has made it his mission to transform health care on a global scale by focusing on the world’s poorest and sickest communities, defines structural violence as “the invisible structures of modern society [that] divide humanity into the impoverished and the affluent denying large percentages of the world’s population access to” the opportunities and resources that those who are privileged have (An Anthropology of Structural Violence).

Because of international economic policies like NAFTA, many American agricultural companies are exporting their farms to places like Mexicali where they are able to pay workers as little as $0.57 per hour, but where a gallon of milk costs $2.20.  In other words, a worker has to work half his/her shift to earn enough money to buy milk. American companies benefiting from NAFTA, “despite the law, pay less than minimum wage, with no taxes, health insurance or retirement benefits [and] are now estimated to employ over half the workers in Mexico (Mexican Miners Fight Privatization in Revolutionary Cananea).  This of course is no different from the sweatshops in Asia, which manufacture so many of the products I enjoy sold at stores with mottos like “Expect More. Pay Less. and Save Money.  Live better.”  At whose expense do I get to live better?  In my pursuit of the American Dream and the comfortable lifestyle I have come accustomed to, what dominant structures have I turned a blind eye to?

The pain, guilt, and shame continued to loom.  I kept questioning why I had only given Lourdes $20.  I continued to probe in the places that made me uncomfortable, even in the places I wasn’t being honest with myself, but it became a guilt-inflicted process in which martyrdom and victimization would over shadow the true lessons the universe wanted me to learn about myself.   I came to realize that in many ways I was like Delany in The Tortilla Curtain, an American in my own invisible gated community of comfort and privilege who had become unmindful of the plight of the have-nots.  It’s one thing to read about it or hear about it, and it’s another to confront it within you.

Once when discussing with my daughter Carmen why it was always only a small group of people who effected change, she responded from her personal observations that people tend to stand up for injustice until it becomes a burden on their sense of comfort or safety.  That day I gave Lourdes $20 because giving her more would have meant I would have had to sacrifice how I had planned to spend my money.   There I was with my expensive camera and my indulging display of food and I couldn’t bring myself to offer her everything I had.  I realized later, that my spirit wanted to give her more, but my form was afraid that by giving her everything I had, I would experience the same sense of instability and uncertainty I had experienced when I was a child.  My form had learned to compensate for that fear with the things that brought me a sense of comfort.

Not only were the pain, the guilt, and the shame coming from my having to admit my participation in structural violence, I began to realize that the compassion I thought I was feeling was really a reflection of the parts of me I had not yet healed.  Compassion does not come from a place of guilt or pain.  Compassion is a selfless emotion from which the drive to help someone is rooted in love for that person, not pain for oneself.  I finally understood that as I use the mirror to heal, I would begin to channel divine energy to truly help heal the world.

I will make a greater impact on those whom I make a connection with when I radiate love and light.  I know  in this state of being, I will no longer have to struggle with what action to take, because I will begin to trust that the universe is guiding me in the manner in which I am aligning with my purpose.  This also means that as my form continues to align with my spirit, I will have to have compassion for myself, because my form will sometimes be guided by fear, and I will just have to learn to forgive myself as I continue to learn to trust my spirit and the universe.  “. . . when I’m trusting and being myself as fully as possible, everything in my life reflects this by falling into place easily, often miraculously” (Shakti Gawain).

What I am also learning is that this is a time of tremendous transformation and spiritual awakening in my life.  It is also a great time of uncertainty because my ego is not in control anymore.  I am learning to completely surrender to the divine wisdom within.  From what I have experienced so far in my spiritual journey, I know that the more I surrender “to and move with the spirit, the more enlightened and empowered it will become” (Shakti Gawain).  I also know that I cannot force my form to trust my spirit through will, for this is when guilt and fear take over the process.  Nothing one does that truly aligns with the universe should ever feel like a sacrifice or forced.  If and when I am truly channeling the light of the universe, I am filled with love, compassion, and trust.  What I am doing is becoming more aware of my emotions, observing the process I am undergoing, and being honest with myself.  When I feel fear or guilt or uncertainty within, I sit with those feelings and learn to accept them as part of my transformation.

This doesn’t mean that I won’t continue to question and probe and challenge myself through the transformation.  I have learned in my Yoga practice that if I push too hard, my body will have a tendency to resist.  Instead, I use my breath to make the space I am holding more comfortable and with love slowly melt into the form I want to achieve.

Like the soul of the hummingbird, in being I am doing what I was always meant to do.

Thank you Parminder for your spiritual guidance and light.