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Archive for the ‘Empathy’ Category



Fall Harvest

Jun20

by: Mary Agnes Rawlings on June 20th, 2017 | No Comments »

The earth has yielded its harvest; God, our God, Blesses us.”  Psalm 67:7

Today I return to writing about God’s gifts in our lives!   It seemed to me that everywhere I turned this summer I heard retirement conversations going on and those same conversations caused me pause.  My cousin Charlie, my brother in law Larry, my friend Herman all talked about the event with an excitement which made me stop and think.   Questions surfaced, Do I want to retire?  When? Why? What would I do if I didn’t go to work?  Questions swirled through my mind, an endless and consuming battle raged inward.

Without advanced warning;  I awakened  in the middle of the night to this small peaceful space within me. I realized in that moment I was finished with paid work!  From that point each day in prayer, clarity came as friend and deep comfort surrounded my spirit.  Of course I am done I said to myself; I have worked for many long years.  Years of providing for our family in a small yet consistent way I had done my part and it was time to let go.

The surprising thing is that when I let go an amazing thing happened.   When I spoke with my boss he seemed open and aligned in agreement with a decision I had already made.  As I write this meditation we are in discussion about my departure date!  It certainly hasn’t been the way in which I thought it would happen; but like so many things in life transformation happens in the twinkling of an eye!

As I anticipate fall harvest I feel a deep connection with the earth.  This season of life is when one is able to see the abundance of what the earth has brought forth.  Being a farmer I realize sometimes a crop seems small while other years are abundant and overflowing.   The same seems true for a life.  Some years seemed more fruitful than others; some years seemed as though the earth’s parched dry wind stripped the ground of life itself.  Yet as I ponder the terrain I realize that my one constant has always been the sense that God is with me.  No matter what the circumstance or the challenge I experience God’s loving presence in my prayer and meditation on life and the harvest becomes a deep sense of gratitude for what I have been given.  The opportunity to live- grow- and love more deeply than I ever anticipated or thought possible is the real harvest in life.

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Haitian Mourning Rituals and Just Don’t Wear Red!

Jun16

by: on June 16th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

Upon hearing news of the death of an older cousin, I immediately recalled times spent in the lakou (yard) of his late grandmother, whom everyone knew as Aunt Boots – the family matriarch and piercer. I call her that since she had done all our ears at the most tender age to assure the making of girls in Haiti. I remember running around freely with the scent of roasting coffee beans swarming us. She had a coffee and peanut butter business. On Saturday afternoons, grownups sat on wicker ladder-backed chairs, catching up on the latest news, and family matters. This was a refuge where we, as children, were allowed to be children who played while being repeatedly told to stay clear of the huge cauldron that fumigated the entire neighborhood.

I had not spoken to this cousin in ages, yet felt the need to attend the funeral — shameful that I have been something of a delinquent family member because the last time I saw him eons ago was at another cousin’s wedding. Nearly a decade ago, his brother had made the trek to Boston from Montreal without fanfare to attend my maternal grandmother’s funeral. He came he said, “because you show up for family.” The diaspora may have spread us all over the Americas and the rest of the world, but that did not mean abandonment when it matters.

"Cendre" Painting and photo: Gina Athena Ulysse

Putting aside all my other responsibilities, I suddenly grew melancholic, focused on a sense of duty – a commitment to not only properly show up, but be fully present. I made the call to offer my condolences. His brother quickly pacified my obvious deep sense of regret. He was happy to hear my voice despite the occasion. It was a peaceful death, he told me. In the week that followed, I became hyperaware of some Haitian mourning rituals. Conversations with my mother were about who’s who in our large family tree as well as periods of mourning, cultural codes concerning dress and proper behavior at funerals. I found myself making tons of phone calls for plans for an extended family road trip. Who could take off work? Who would drive with whom? What kind of car should be rented? Of course, there would be a kotizasyon, give whatever you can. It’s not about the amount. C’est le geste qui prime. Indeed, it is the gesture that counts.

My first memory of anything related to mourning in the family ironically has to do with the food served at receptions held after wakes and funerals. I seem to only remember that we were served finger sandwiches or patés flaky savory pastries. The adults drank té jenjanm (ginger tea) or coffee, always black, with or without sugar. There was also Cola Champagne, Tranpé (moonshine with bitter herbs, usually cerasee), Prestige–our national beer, and Rhum Barbancourt. The young ones were guaranteed hot chocolate. Sometimes, our infamous pumpkin soup made its culinary appearance.

What color am I supposed to wear? I was uncharacteristically concerned with being respectable. Rebel me sought motherly advice. She had been shopping for stockings and trying to find the right outfit. “Well, it depends,” as she began a litany of mourning dress codes in Haiti, “If you are immediate family, you wear black. Young children can wear white, or black and white, or even grey. You could wear purple, if you want, or a print. Nothing too bold. Cover your shoulders. These days, these things don’t matter as much because people wear anything to funerals. Just don’t wear red!” I had a conversation with her godchild, the deceased’s brother who underscored this point, “absolutely no one should wear red unless you are the killer or assassin of the dead person”. In deeper mourning than I knew, I opted for black.

During the wake, as his pictures flashed across the screens, the weight of the loss was evident in the faces of his wife and children. Incessant tears welled up and streamed down already stained cheeks. Pictures of him with school buddies growing up in Haiti. Mother reminded me that his nickname was Little Lion, a play on his name Lyonel. Wedding pictures. More talk of the aunt who could not attend but had played matchmaker. Pictures of him holding his newborns, with friends, coaching a youth soccer team, at his job. He was always smiling and loved to laugh. As he peacefully rested in a casket, his youngest brother demanded if anyone knew whether Death was male or female. With his usual bravado, he dared anyone to answer. What would he do if there was ever an encounter? “Death keeps taking too many of your own,” he lamented. How would he express his anger? His brutal honesty and fierceness demanded our attention in different ways. In so many instances, I found myself choking up on tears. There was an abundance of love.

At the service, his pastor offered a beautiful sermon. A dear friend recited a fitting eulogy while his children and nieces paid him greater homage. Everything had been delayed by weeks. His family generously waited because people would be traveling from afar to pay their respects. Amidst this despair that resonated, some of us were reconnecting in new ways. It took this moment for us to gather again. There was also laughter among the tears as memories of siblings, cousins, came through to reveal the ties that bind immigrant communities despite the thousands of miles that separated us. To be sure, we are far from a monolith. These days, the diasporic lakou has been redefined composed of an even wider range of family structures, incomes, livelihoods, and tastes. We represent and inhabit different social worlds and religious practices. Now, there were new generations born on this side of the water who had never been to our beloved Haiti. Family stories became quilted tales that could only be woven together from different bits by those who had been there back in the day. We all know only too well that memories fade.

The last day, in a private chat with his eldest brother, I realized why I have been flooded with such sorrow. “Gina,” he said, “don’t you remember when we used to come to visit you and your sisters before we migrated? We use to bring you candy and cookies and we would hide them in our pockets, we made you run around looking, but you knew they were there.” I went to the funeral, not out of obligation, but the purest form of gratitude because my departed cousin was part of my most salient recollections of happiness in an elusive childhood.

Back on U.S. soil, in these times when we are too cavalier about the dead, his younger brother offered these last words, “in our culture when a death occurs, it becomes everybody’s business.”

Violence Begets Violence

Jun15

by: on June 15th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

We at Tikkun were glad to hear Senator Bernie Sanders unequivocally condemn the shooting by Bernie supporter, James Hodgkinson, who injured five Republicans, one of them a Congressman, who were part of the Republican Congressional group going to play a for fun annual baseball game with Democratic Congresspeople in Washington DC this morning, June 14th. In his statement, Senator Sanders said: “I am sickened by this despicable act. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society, and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms. Real change can only be obtained through nonviolent action and anything else runs counter to our most deeply held American values.”

We at Tikkun are fully aligned in our opposition to violence of any sort and condemn it in the strongest possible terms. We do so on spiritual, religious, and ethical grounds. Human life is sacred and should be protected and helped to flourish. This is a central teaching of the Bible and of Judaism through the ages. We also oppose it on strategic grounds. When anyone who could be seen as connected to liberal and progressive causes engages in violence, (against property even, but especially against human beings) he or she creates a new opportunity for the most reactionary forces in our country to pass new laws restricting free speech, to bring indictments against social change activists, to incite law enforcement to use excessive levels of violence, and to build popular support for new measures of repression.

While we agree with Sanders on most of what he said, we are also aware of statements made by others that have picked up  the notion that violence runs against American values or is in some way oppositional to what America stands for in the world. We will soon be celebrating Independence Day, July 4th, in which many Americans will celebrate the violent revolutionary uprising against the British and sing songs like the national anthem with its praise of “rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air” and set off firecrackers to relive that violence. The sad fact is that the United States of America has consistently used violence to achieve its policy aims, invading other countries with troops (Korea, Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and the list goes on), training South and Central American police and military at the “School of Americas” in Ft. Benning, Georgia, in the use of violence and torture to defeat populist movements challenging undemocratic governments, , the Obama and Trump administration’s’ bombing from drones or airplanes civilian populations (e.g. these past many months assaulting the people of Yemen as part of our growing alliance with the reactionary and repressive and human-rights-violating regime in Saudi Arabia), and the policy of the Obama presidency to select individuals to be assassinated by drones and without trial in countries around the world who are suspected of being or aiding terrorists (and in the process, murdering at least several thousand non-combatant civilians). It sickens us to listen to the hypocrisy of those in the media who talk about this latest (immoral) assault on government officials as if it is somehow outside the path of violence that has been part of American society and celebrated as such by many.

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Staying Open to Life despite Losses

May9

by: on May 9th, 2017 | 9 Comments »

When I sat down to count the number of times that I lost a friendship by actions of another, I didn’t imagine I would reach the number 29 in the last 27 years, almost all of them close friends, or other people with an ongoing connection, who chose to sever contact with me. Each a story of its own. Some with reasons I understand. Some without any reason ever told to me, though surely with a reason that made sense to that person. The worst was a condensed period of two years during which I lost seven of seven close friends, and then had no new ones for more than six years. The most recent last month, during my visit to Israel, one of the extremely few people in my life I was sure beyond any doubt was a friendship for life. No more.

I decided to write about it when a friend who heard about it wrote: “Wow. Just Wow. It’s a miracle, and a testament to your tenacity, that you continue to trust and to open your heart.” Even though I know that such cutting off is traumatic, and that I have endured most likely a higher-than-usual rate of these, reading this response I realized more strongly that what I was doing, how I was responding to life, was perhaps something useful to reflect about publicly. Specifically, a look into what is making it possible for me to trust and open my heart, and how far does this openness go.

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A Plea For Compassion

Mar12

by: Jeff Grande on March 12th, 2017 | 8 Comments »

Day after day, I wake up to one mind-numbingly tragic shooting incident after another, immediately followed by politicians and civic leaders giving their speeches. The give their inevitable soundbites, standing in front of makeshift flower-laden memorials, about stopping the epidemic of violence in America. They always talk about the need for better police training, more police officers, gun control, more prisons; in short, the rhetoric dances around the symptoms, tacitly avoiding any mention of the true root causes of these tragedies.

I stand with both American police officers and citizens who are victims of senseless brutality and killing. Each group also must contend with being part of a system that pits one group against the other, defining an agenda of division rather than the unity which must exist for our nation to truly solve these problems. Every time there is an incident of violence, we either blame one group or the other.

We talk symptoms.

Political and civic leaders don’t speak enough about the root causes that create the conditions for this violent behavior.


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A ‘Moment’ for our Movement: The Work of Creating a More Perfect Union in 2017

Mar10

by: Karin Swann-Rubenstein on March 10th, 2017 | Comments Off

Following the now-famed Women’s March on the day after President Trump’s inauguration, speculation mounted about whether we were seeing a real “movement” or simply a “moment” of reaction from an outraged electorate. Since that day, there’s been no dearth of citizens speaking up, in town halls, airports and on city streets. People who never imagined themselves “protesters” have seized the reins of citizenship suggesting that surely somethingisgalvanizing America. But the question is an important one,doesthis yet qualify as a movement?

Since my days as a student at UC Berkeley in the 1980s, the question of what makes a movement has always intrigued me. I noted the vast difference between the Iran-Contra protesters, characterized by fierceness and all-black garb and the masses, and 20 years prior, of tie-dyed youths who turned out for the summer of love. The Civil Rights movement was something different altogether, and ultimately the force that most powerfully redefined the politics and consciousness of our deeply divided country in the 1960s.

What strikes me most about what we see emerging today is that the vast majority of protests in recent weeks have taken place inreactionto President Trump’s initiatives, mobilized largely by a strong “anti-Trump” sentiment. Looking back at movements that have proven successful, however, I question whether this axis for organizing is enough?


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Pedagogies of Freedom

Dec31

by: on December 31st, 2016 | 1 Comment »

On New Year’s Day, at home and abroad, Haitians and Haitiphiles are all about soup joumou. A squash based consommé laboriously made with chunks of beef, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, some kind of pasta, seasoned with epis-that concoction of Haitian spices, which was hopefully brought to perfection by an expert who uses enough scotch bonnet pepper without overshadowing the fragrant aroma. This soup is traditionally consumed to commemorate Jean-Jacques Dessalines’ proclamation of Haitian independence from France on January 1, 1804. Thirteen years after the only successful slave revolution started that abolished colonialism and slavery, Haiti became the first Black Republic in the world, second only to the United States.

For many of us, the soup is as much about its gastronomic delight as it is about redressing history. Under French rule, the enslaved population was specifically forbidden to eat this delicacy. As the story goes, that fateful day, Dessalines’ main squeeze Marie-Claire Heureuse Felicité Bonheur, outdid Marie-Antoinette and declared, Let them eat soup! Indeed, “the antidote to dehumanization has to be rehumanization,” culinary or otherwise, as Zingermans’ Ari Weinzweig has said.

As a child, I enjoyed avoiding those sprigs of parsley and rosemary to gobble up this annual staple. Here we were on Christmas talking soup plans, George Michael was dead, none of the family members could relate to my state of gloom. “Who?” “Wham! Don’t you remember ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-go?’” I sang to no avail. A couple bars of “Everything She Wants” — no response. “Careless Whisper” got me some I-feel-sorry-for-you hums while other lyrics did not resonate at all.

Minutes before, the speakers had been blaring our beloved Kompa rhythms. Not quite my thing, which is enough to get one’s Haitian authenticity card revoked by diehards. Blame it all on migration, as if we have never been plural. Depending on where you lived, resources, and what you had to spend, there were variations of the soup. In keeping with our diasporic tendency to rename things, according to Miami-based reporter Nadege Green, it has been dubbed “liberty soup” or “freedom soup” by younger Haitian-Americans. Dudley Alexis has a documentary in the works about it. Perhaps the greatest honor of all is the brand new Afro-beat mixed-genre soup joumou anthem by Alize Music featuring Paul Papi.

Lately, I have been meditating on notions of freedom and our not so common principles as presidential elections in my birth and adopted countries collided my worlds. Having grown up under a dictatorship, ironically, I feel primed to soon be living under an authoritarian regime. “All we have to do now/is take these lies and make them true somehow.” Yes, I know George was talking about his battles. I had my own. A Black woman who refused to be docile, I was struggling to complete my dissertation in an historically white institution, “Freedom 90″ was my personal anthem. “All we have to see/is that I don’t belong to you and you don’t belong to me.” In the aftermath of migration, it was music that guided my path to individuation. That’s why I lamented his passing. Decades later, the song still resonates. And in these times, it matters now more than ever. “Freedom/You’ve gotta give for what you take.” Someone in the kitchen knew the words. I wasn’t singing alone.

These days, you can find vegetarian and gluten-free soup joumou recipes online. I have been flirting with the idea of a pescatarian version as I imagine my aunt, a caterer, vigorously shaking her head at this sacrilege. Would it still be soup joumou? That depends, has nationalism ever really recognized its inherent differences? Haiti’s L’Union Fait la Force and the United States’ E Pluribus Unum are mottos built on contradictions from brutal colonial histories that have steeped the past in the present, yet remain unknown. Unity, under such conditions, is improbable without complicity in white supremacy, as well as our silence and absolute negation. For belonging is fundamentally based on a hierarchical system of ownership. The chains of slavery were broken long ago, but there remains unfinished business.

Happy 213thBirthday Haiti Cherie. Now, off to go get some salmon!

Photo: Andy Vernon-Jones

 

 

 

 

 

Trauma and Community in San Jose

Nov12

by: on November 12th, 2016 | Comments Off

Trauma and Community in San Jose

Some drank. Some called in to work, sickened. Some wore black. Some sobbed. Some stayed up all night, unable to escape the pain and dread in their stomachs. Two therapists I know were flooded with crisis appointments. One of my students was on suicide watch. Those who were lucky had a community.

San Jose Public Library rally

The first community I turned to was my Facebook friends who provided these comforting words: “We must now be better. In France, after Hitler’s ascendancy, there was the Resistance. That must be us. Stand up. Protect the vulnerable. Volunteer locally. Donate globally. Say something when you see something. Be courageous. If we are the privileged, for goodness’ sake, for God’s sake, for our country’s sake, for our friends’ and families’ sake, for the least of these, use that privilege. If there is someone you don’t know, or understand, get to know them. Make friends, like kids do. The Muslim man, the trans woman, the Black little girl, the frightened little boy…”

Another friend reminded me, “I never thought I’d make it through the Reagan years but dancing and community and protest were certainly at the center.”

I Decided to Stand Up


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With a heavy heart . . . and then . . .

Nov9

by: on November 9th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

I’m trying to pick myself up since the election results came in and finding it extremely difficult. While I thought Trump would win, the actual experience of it is altogether different. I have been in shock and like so many of you have been trying to do what needs to be done and yet have not been as able to be as fully present as I would like. So I have largely been silent. Yet slowly, very slowly, I am finding my voice.

And I want to share a few thoughts.

First, please, please take as much time as you need to come back to your highest, most centered self. It will be impossible to heal, repair and transform our world, if we do not deal with our own shock, rage, and grief. We must, each of us in our own way, take the time we need to come home to ourselves. What is it that nurtures you? Who helps you be your highest self? Who provides you unconditional love? Who makes you laugh? Where do you go when you need to grieve? What offers you the greatest solace? Take the time to love and nurture yourself. Offer love and nurturing to others.

Second, when I think of the movements that inspire me, I think of all the nonviolent movements over history. Movements steeped in deep and rich spiritual traditions of refusing to see the ‘other’ as your enemy, refusing to demonize, refusing to pick up arms, refusing to close one’s heart. Where people somehow, often miraculously so, stood in the face of tanks, guns, violent attacks on their bodies, and forces far greater than they to insist on the power of love over the love of power, the power of truth over the power of hate, the power of compassion over the power of fear. We see this today in Standing Rock. This is the path forward. We must refuse to demonize and hate and instead need to dig deep, very deep, to the core of our being – our beating hearts – to find a depth of love and fortitude that perhaps we did not know resided within us.

Third, and from that place we need to organize. I have created a four-session training that addresses the psycho-spiritual suffering that people experience in their lives and in our society. It has modules with readings, recordings, and exercises that provide the tools and skills you need to build a local NSP (Network of Spiritual Progressives) group and be a spiritual change agent. If you are interested in receiving the training, please email me at  cat@spiritualprogressives.org. We need to find a way to love each other across our differences – to see the humanity in each and every person. To see each other’s brokenness and imperfections not as fundamental flaws, but as scars and wounds that have been inflicted upon each of us through a history of missed connections, misunderstandings, parental projections of pain, and societal structures and systems that fail to see our value beyond our capacity to produce and consume. This training does that and so much more. It provides a framework for understanding the psycho-spiritual crisis in our society and the tools to help others understand it, as well as giving concrete visionary proposals that if adopted would create meaningful and lasting change. Join our efforts.

Fourth, we need to recognize, and this may be the hardest of all, that simply doing the inner work on oneself without simultaneously engaging in societal transformation to heal, repair, and transform the world is a fool’s errand. The two are intricately connected. We will not attain the spiritual depth, connection, and wholeness we seek unless the world changes and the world will not change without us changing. They go hand-in-hand.

If this speaks to you, please consider supporting  our work, not only with your dollars, but also with your time and energy. Contact me (cat@spiritualprogressives.org) to get involved. Come to our conference  this weekend or watch it on livestream (www.tikkun.org/30thcelebration).

This is the time my friends. We are in this together. We, atTikkunand the Network of Spiritual Progressives, are doing the work that, if embraced, really could heal, repair, and transform our world – work that is now even more desperately needed than we thought previously. We will not be silenced. We will continue to speak truth to power. We will continue to bring our fullest selves with our loving, broken, scared hearts and provide the spiritual guidance, compassion, and fierce truths that have inspired people for the past 30 years. Won’t you join us?

With a very heavy heart,

~ Cat

The Practice

Oct11

by: Boo Geisse on October 11th, 2016 | Comments Off

The practice is not downward facing dog.

The practice is not ragdoll.

The practice is not stretching hamstrings, strengthening quads.

The practice is love. The practice is learning how to love.

It is messy; it’s beautiful in its nonconformist way. It’ll break you down – visible in the sweat, audible in the huffing of breath.

The practice is not utthita hasta padangustasana. The practice is not standing split or reverse half moon. It’s not a pigeon in which both hips hit the floor. The practice is not looking beautiful while you transition from chaturanga to updog, or feeling invincible in warrior II.

The practice is love. The practice is learning to look for love.

A lighthouse on a hill.


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