Blog 10. Examining gender.

In Sujata Moorti’s classes, we discussed how gender is a construct consisting of gender roles and gender scripts that are culturally conditioned, the intersectionality of gender with the other categories that divide people, and the relational, contextual quality of gender performance.

I have prided myself before in understanding these concepts, but I had actually come to the realization before this course that I was not as enlightened as I thought I was, that I had not made mental space for gender fluidity in other people because I was so clear in categorizing myself as a woman. So I examined my own attitudes during this session, and realized something interesting: even though I agreed that gender roles were fully constructed and not natural or intrinsic to us, I still felt like there was something about me that was intrinsically female! But Sujata’s point was that culturally-conditioned gender roles and norms are all there is in regards to gender – in fact, scientists have been unable to prove that there is anything intrinsically male or intrinsically female. Cultures differ in what we think are appropriate roles for men and women.

I think what my experience illustrates is that gender roles are so deeply ingrained to feel natural to the extent that, even if I reject that having the female sex makes me naturally follow my culture’s female gender roles, I still feel like something about being a women is natural to me. I have long been aware that this is the case, and in fact I have felt relieved by it, thinking how it makes life easier when you feel comfortable in your gender role. Even as I reject notions that being a woman means I must do certain things and not do others, I still fundamentally embrace the notion of gender as intrinsic: I am not really seeing the construct, just trying to change the range of activities acceptable to women so that I will not feel constrained in my role.

A basic realization that emerged from the feminist movement, especially the third wave, is that just because women are female does not mean they have anything in common. It can be convenient to convene women’s groups based on the idea that the people will connect just because they are female, or to claim solidarity with women around the world just because they are also female. But other social categories – race, class, etc. – play a role in dividing people as well.

This realization could be helpful to me by driving home another point Sujata made, which is that women need to be included in community development and peacebuilding process, not because they are intrinsically better at peace but because they are part of the community, and everyone must be included. In fact, I think a fundamental tenet of peacebuilding is that everyone must be included. You cannot build a partial peace. Inequality is often a symptom of structural or cultural violence.

Blog 9. Reconciliation and forgiveness.

I’m writing this on our lunch break between class with Libby Hoffman, founder of the organization Catalyst for Change. We just got to learn about Fambul Tok, the reconciliation initiative in Sierra Leone created after the civil war there ended. I’m inspired to write because I understood a few things better this morning.

First was forgiveness. I have never forgiven the people who have harmed me, and I never thought I would. I was even starting to think that was the way it had to be, that perhaps there was no forgiveness possible, sometimes. Watching a film that had been created about Fambul Tok gave me a visceral experience of forgiveness and made me realize that it is necessary. How that might look for me, though, I do not know.

We were struck by how easily forgiveness seemed to happen in these Fambul Tok ceremonies around a campfire. Part of us felt incredulous: could it really be possible that the victims had forgiven the perpetrators? The victims described to the large group gathered around the fire what had happened to them and then the perpetrator acknowledged they had done it, explained why they had done it, and bend down, asking for forgiveness. The forgiveness was granted. I could feel in myself how much the people wanted to forgive – but really, I was feeling in myself how much of a relief it would be to forgive. I could feel how resentment, anger or hatred against someone else is a wall you have to create in yourself, and how forgiveness involves taking down that wall, which allows your energy to burst forth, whole again.

Libby extrapolated off what I had shared of my experience, saying that it sounded like I was talking about how when we have been hurt, regardless of whether we can reconcile with the person who harmed us or not, we must fine a way to release that internal wall and be whole again in ourselves. This is certainly true for me. I feel exhausted by what I am holding on to, tired of it, but how do we convince ourselves that it is safe to let down our guard, how do we reconcile?

We will go further into it this afternoon, but Libby described how the way Fambul Tok is administered and organized and coordinated and carried out – how the process is structured – such that it is a trustworthy process for all involved. A series of steps, from engagement with districts and forming teams with people from the district to engaging with villages and forming teams with people from the villages, ensures that the process is real and authentic. All engagements involve the four questions of do you want to reconcile? how do you want to reconcile? what resources do you already have to do it? and how can we walk with you in the process? serve to create space for the villagers to make their own healing.

Yet later on we discussed how in the Sierra Leone context, forgiveness was necessary because there were no real other options. Victims were living amongst their perpetrators, so what choice did they have to move forward? They could not move away.

And sometimes I think forgiveness is not healthy, or not possible. There was a reason why that wall was put up against another person – because they had hurt you and you needed to project yourself. It feels like by letting down that guard, you could be hurt again. Practically, we know that there are situations where a person or a situation does not change and will always be dangerous. We learn from our experience.

Blog 8. Facing our past.

The question about whether we should relate to an unjust past has an obvious answer to me – of course we must. I started out our session with scholar Lili Cole by stating my position, that I stand on the side of truth, regardless of the consequences. I still hold that view, but through our session on historical memory and later our session on justice in accounting for the past, I got to explore the nuances of excavating the past.

Truth is incredibly complicated, and excavating the truth needs to done very carefully. Different groups have different interpretations of events, and in some cases, getting the different groups to agree on the fact of the events themselves can be problematic.

In my notes from the sessions, I wrote that historical trauma and collective memory cannot be bypassed. For those who would argue that rehashing the past merely creates conflict unnecessarily, I would say that any conflict that arises in a societal discussion of the past merely shows that the existence of latent conflict. In other words, the conflict was always there; it did not burst into existence the moment we started talking about the past.

The challenge is what can be done when various parties really cannot find common ground. I think this is why I am somewhat afraid to dive into the fact of genocide of Native Americans during the founding of the United States. I am afraid to dive into it because I am afraid of what the implications will be, afraid that I might have to change something about the way I live or where I live or how I relate to others. What would it mean to really respect a Native American person’s perspective, which could be fundamentally in conflict with that of a descendent of the people who first colonized the land, or a descendent of people who immigrated to this country after others had paved the way by colonizing the land? Something would have to give.

History is charged; it is not neutral. And we cannot construct our shared story by giving equal weight to all sides. Where someone has suffered, I must side with them. I must privilege the view of Native American nations and of African slaves and their descendants. But to really do this implies something for me, some change of no longer going along with my society’s grand narrative and status quo. Am I ready to face the implications of this?

Blog 7. Answers to violence.

Back from the prisons on Tuesday, and then Wednesday, we focused on community responses to violence. We met with Community Alliance for Safety and Peace (CASP) members in Salinas from the city of Salinas, county of Monterey, health department, and local non-profits. We visited Rancho Cielo and spent time with the Salinas chief of police, also getting a tour of the police station.

The contrast between this small gathering of community members and city and county employees on the violence prevention side stood in obvious contrast to the immensity of the Salinas Valley State Prison, a testament to the breadth and depth of the problems our society needs to address that lead to violence. It almost makes it seem like the folks working for peace and equity are too few, that even the remarkable level of coordination they do exhibit is not enough.

Salinas mayor, Joe Gunter, had an answer to that. Or was it Jose Arreola, CASP’s director, who said this? It might have been Jose. He spoke to the incredible dedication and effort put in by the people in the room and by all the members of CASP, which we saw when we attended a meeting our first week, is a very large group. He spoke to how underrecognized it all was: while a shooting makes news, the constant work of community organizations with kids in schools – to reduce bullying, for example – does not make news. But not being on the front page does not make the work any less powerful.

The organizations working to combat violence in Salinas are helping. No, it is not enough, but that many individuals’ lives have been improved is undeniable, and we spent some of the evening considering the relative merits of various approaches, such as that of Rancho Cielo. Travis kept asking an interesting question, which is whether the organizational techniques employed by gangs had ever been considered as inspiration for violence-prevention technique, and the answer everywhere seemed to be no. The underlying logic of his question, to me, is that the response to organized violence must be equally organized and powerful. But organized violence relies on the lucrative drug trade, while organized peace relies on short-term and fickle donor funding.

We didn’t get deep into all the various ways one can build healthy communities and heal ones that are hurting – there are simply so many ways, through education and employment, advocacy, laws, community centered policing, dialogue, training, engaging, self-reflection. But we did see how two elements underlie the strength of the effort: coordination and funding. The better we can work with each other in our efforts to strengthen and heal communities, and the more reliable and sustainable our funding mechanisms, the more effective we will be.

Blog 6. Just another day in the prisons.

It’s easy to talk about words – words read, words spoken – but what about experience? And beyond merely describing that experience, how do we draw meaning from it?

The image of the prison yard at the Salinas Valley State Prison is emblazoned in my mind, and I don’t quite know what to do with it. The image that sticks with me is the general programming yard, where we waited for many minutes so we could see the inmates come out of their cells after lunch and so we could witness the gang activity. Gangs dictate where people walk, how they stand, who they associate with. I was completely astonished that we could see it, out in the open. I would have thought that the gangs would be hidden from view, secret. But no, they are out in the open. And there is nothing the prison guards can do about it.

This is the first time I’m writing about this since we saw it. The sun was very bright, although we actually felt a bit cold due to the wind. The yard is vast. At one point we saw an inmate being brought out from a cell block in handcuffs and all the prisoners had to sit on the ground. They used to have to lie face down on the ground, but a lawsuit has changed that. A lawsuit also closed the security housing unit (SHU or “shoe”) at Pelican Bay, which once housed the notorious gang leaders, on the grounds that it caused too much harm to inmates’ mental health.

That was one thing that we learned: how the success of lawsuits in the legal system has, over time, changed how prisons operate. “Cruel and unusual punishment” is a fine line here. Keeping inmates in line… is the name of the game. Our tour guide said it’s not about control for the sake of control; it’s about getting through the day efficiently, getting the job done, the inmates fed, and in and out of their cells, no mess, not trouble, simple. But human beings are not simple. They have a way of making things complicated. Why? Well, the prison system alone would make life pretty meaningless. In and out of your cell, into the vast yard, obedience, keeping your head down, how could you stand it? Especially if you grew up knowing that academic and economic success through mainstream pathways was not an open avenue for you, and that you had to find some other way to have power, and a voice, and an identity?

And so the inmates try to assert themselves, and the prison guards reassert control.

The visit made me grapple with some unpleasant questions.

First, a banal question: what about sunscreen? Do the light-skinned inmates have access to sunscreen, or do they suffer sunburn in the yard, where there is no shade? Do they care? Do they get skin cancer? I don’t have the answer to this question, as I did not ask it. I was afraid to ask it, because I was afraid of exposing my naivete. Oh well, I’m exposing it now.

But more disturbingly, I found myself wondering why all the guards and care around keeping the prisoners safe, preventing suicide, preventing homicide, providing medical care, providing mental health care and medications, providing multiple yards for inmates to program in so they will be safe, this very elaborate system to keep inmates alive and well during their punishment? With Julie Reynolds Martinez, we had learned the day before that the official purposes of imprisonment are these: to protect society from individuals who commit crimes, to deter people from committing crimes out of fear of imprisonment, to punish people who commit crimes, and (more recently) to rehabilitate inmates and prepare them for reentry into society. The reason why I felt disturbed as I asked myself the above question is because it seems to imply that I don’t care about the inmates’ well-being; yet I do. I guess I was just surprised to hear the prison guards’ view that without all the careful structure, inmates would tear each other to pieces. I’m sure after seeing enough attacks and attempted homicides in the yard, you would eventually come to that conclusion.

But it does seem like prisons exist in a nebulous floating zone between punishment and rehabilitation. They cannot overtly punish, or they would be hit with a lawsuit, yet they fail to successfully rehabilitate either. I do think that being in prison is enough punishment for someone who has committed a serious crime, but I mostly believe that punishment is unnecessary, that if the entire purpose and focus of incarceration was rehabilitation, we would have a much better society and reduce the recidivism rate. People commit crimes for a reason, I believe, and it’s not because they are inherently bad. It feels as though the ambiguous purpose of imprisonment is related to this fundamental confusion in our society: do people commit crimes because they are bad, or because their circumstances are bad? I have to admit, if someone in the best of circumstances – supportive family, good education, wealth – commits a crime, I have little sympathy. But this is not the case for a lot of the people in prison, it seems.

Our tour guide made a very important point, though, which was that if you are looking to reform the system, and you are looking at prisons to do that, you are looking at the end of the line, where it is in some ways too late. What he meant is that if we want to reduce crime, we need to start in communities, working with families and youth, changing the underlying social, psychological and economic reasons that cause people to turn to crime, whether it be joining gangs, selling drugs, and inflicting verbal, physical, and sexual abuse on others, most devastatingly children. We need to dismantle our systems of privilege for some/marginalization for many. We need to provide educational opportunities for everyone and help to people who need it. We need to reform our justice system – a process that is already happening in California and elsewhere – so that everyone who possibly can gets funneled into a rehabilitative system, instead of prison; so that drug crimes aren’t treated like homicide; so that children aren’t tried as adults; so that laws that unfairly target black and brown people are struck down. We need to create a political climate where politicians can be “smart on crime,” not “tough on crime,” and can get elected by advertising the good they will do, rather than attacking their fellow candidates. We need to work with our police to reduce bias and develop trusting relationships with communities.

Don’t look to the prisons to transform society.

At the same time, it is never too late. Personally, I feel more drawn to understand and engage with those who have hit rock bottom. I have for many years been interested in the prison system and its wards, so I may well prefer to engage with people at the tail end of the justice system, instead of youth in the schools. It’s my personal psychology that makes me this way, I think.

Blog 5. Transcending our Point of View.

Continuing from my previous blog, I would say that white privilege in America feels like latent conflict to me. At least among most white people, it is. In our mostly segregated neighborhoods, many of us can ignore racial disparity. Or we have the feeling that we care about problems in society, but from a distance, as if we were floating in our safe existence above the problems of immigrant detention and violent policing, cushioned by a vast inner tube of complacency, ready to swoop down with a good deed at any moment, afterwards to return to our kitchens for a delightful cup of tea, perhaps a yoga class in the evening.

We don’t realize it for a long time, but the positionality of white privilege entails pain, just as being oppressed is painful, though oppression is far more painful, as evidenced by the worse health outcomes faced by communities of color. Privilege is the flip side of oppression. I think feeling this pain – if we can get to that point – is the doorway to understanding what it means to be white in America. The complacency that is made possible by a privileged position, the numbness… I will explore this more later.

Father Cedric Prakash, a Jesuit priest from India (currently based in Beirut) and an activist for peace, visited us on Thursday. The point that he made that I appreciated the most was to describe how the US military-industrial complex helped create the refugee crisis we are currently seeing out of the Middle East. It’s not that the US caused the war in Syria, but that if we were to be, say, feeling concerned about refugees entering the US, we would do well to look a little deeper and ask ourselves how we could treat a refugee as having anything other than an inalienable right to enter our country when our country is supplying so many arms to the Middle East, that find their way to ISIS fighters, when so many Americans and people of other nationalities make their living off this arms trade. If we blame refugees for being refugees, we are missing the point. Money makes the world go ‘round, and money loves war. War makes a lot of money (for some).

The last piece I need to touch on from last week is our class on dialogue with Dr. Mara Schoeny. Dialogue doesn’t belong everywhere; it is not a solution to everything. But a model of dialogue she described showed how it could be used to allow a group of people to “suspend” a concept together, in order to observe it from all sides without feeling pressure to take sides or make a decision, and how this is different from discussion. Discussion often involves hashing out positions or known viewpoints; suspension of a concept gives the opportunity for completely new positions to emerge, for new understandings to form. This could be very powerful with the right group.

Dr. Schoeny also said that a useful contribution of academia to the peacebuilding field is that it encourages us to take a step back and survey all the possible tools we have for dealing with conflict and to examine which tools work best when, and how. It’s not bad to become an excellent practitioner at one modality, like dialogue or streetwork, but that one method will not always be effective. With study we learn to step back, take a second look, and choose our tool appropriately.

Blog 4. What Is Conflict?

I have to share a realization I had recently, on Bridget Moix’ day, to be precise, in a discussion with Amanda. My thinking went something like what follows. At first I was wondering why I was even at a peacebuilding program because I had not experienced very much conflict in my life, and I am very conflict-avoidant. I was thinking about violent conflict, loud verbal arguments, fist-fights, war, that type of thing – overt conflict, expressed conflict. I thought about how interested I felt when I saw an overt conflict, like a recent argument I witnessed on the sidewalk of a shopping center, possibly over a fender bender. I felt a sort of voyeuristic fascination and excitement, which didn’t seem appropriate given that two individuals were angry at each other.

Then I remembered that the expression of conflict is not the conflict itself. Conflict exists as soon as two individuals experience conflicting desires or needs, whether or not they express themselves. Conflict rising to the surface, becoming overt, we consider a good thing. Yes, it can be expressed in harmful ways, but it can also be expressed in ways that create understanding between the parties and lead to a new understanding of the situation, resulting in, hopefully, everyone’s needs being met.

Shambhala International, an organization that teaches meditation and a type of secular teachings related to Buddhism (as well as some traditional Buddhism) is currently reckoning with allegations that the head teacher of the organization has committed numerous acts of sexual misconduct, and that these actions were to some extent condoned and covered up by the leadership close to him. There are clearly some in the organization who feel that a conflict has been created by the recent report that detailed a few allegations. But I have been reflecting that despite the enormous change that has taken place since the allegations came out (people leaving, withdrawing their financial support, leaders stepping down), nothing has actually changed in terms of the essential conflict. The conflict existed as long as sexual misconduct was happening. The only thing that has changed is that now everyone knows about it.

This led to recognize that I do know conflict – latent conflict. The type of conflict I am very familiar with simmers below the surface over a very long period of time, unacknowledged, ignored, misunderstood, unrecognized, denied. I was always afraid, from when I was very young, that my parents would get divorced. I had no idea where this fear came from. I only realized very gradually, probably after leaving home, that the reason I had that fear was that there were no signs that my parents loved each other. It took me until I was several years into college to ask my mom why she was married to my dad. She told me she had thought about divorce many times. Several years after that, they actually did divorce. Growing up, the relationship between my parents, dysfunctional as it was, was my prime example of marriage, and I had no idea what was wrong. Something was definitely wrong, and family vacations were often miserable, but the true source of the problem – that my parents were pretending to be a couple when they did not love each other – was never named. I always felt like there had to be some connection between me verbalizing the problem to my mom, and the divorce that happened several years later, although that may be taking more responsibility that I am due.

And latent conflict, I have to say, is not necessarily better than overt conflict. I can still remember the type of fear and pain I felt growing up in a “dysfunctional family” where, however, no one ever yelled or broke from routine, except occasionally my mom – where I felt terrified to say something, not knowing what to say, just feeling terrible and not knowing why. The feeling of my throat gripping when I tried to speak, becoming more and more intense as the moments wore on and I did not speak, so much so that I often gave up on speaking, and the shame that came over me after that.

Maybe that’s why I feel so excited when I see people yelling at each other. At least the lid is off! Energy is moving, communication is happening, listening has a chance to play its part. When everything is clamped down, breaking the ice with a word feels like moving mountains.

Blog 3. Career or Calling?

The next part of our program that stands out to me is the sessions we had with Bridget Moix on how the international peacebuilding field is failing local peacebuilders and what can and is being done about it. Here is the situation in a nutshell: There is an international peacebuilding apparatus that consists of the United Nations, governments, international NGOs and other agencies that have a particular approach to peacebuilding, namely, to look at conflicts as originating at the level of governments and to work to solve them at the level of governments through a somewhat standardized recipe of democratization, elections, and free markets, also known as “liberal peacebuilding” (owing to the fact that it draws on some of the same assumptions as neoliberal economics). The problem is that conflicts do not always originate at the level of governments and they are not always (or often?) caused by a lack of democracy, elections, or free markets. Instead, conflicts have much deeper, more complicated causes, and they often simmer at a local level, the everyday life level of towns and villages, even though this level may interact with the national or international level in some ways that affect the conflict.

The key fact that is overlooked, that the organization PeaceDirect is based on, is that in the midst of any conflict situation, no matter how dire, there are people working to build peace, who are rejecting the use of physical violence and looking for another way, who are working to resolve the roots of the conflict.

Ignoring the existence of these local peacebuilders, the international peacebuilding apparatus designs programs for peace and exports them to conflict zones. In the US, programs may be created using a combination of what people in Washington DC think will work and what they know USAID will agree to fund. If their proposal is funded, they charge a local organization with implementing their (1-2 year) program.

It is not that the international peacebuilding apparatus should not exist, or that it has no role to serve. Simply, it is very hard to know what the real causes of conflict are and to come up with appropriate, creative solutions for reconciliation if you do not have ample experience in the community. It also seems logical to me that the creative ideas that arise from people working for peace in their own communities are likely to be right for their communities in ways no needs assessment could have predicted.

Additionally, there is the feature of moral authority: the most powerful leaders are those who are seen by the others around them to have a legitimate authority to lead – either someone whose actions are informed by their own experiences of conflict or violence or someone who works for peace out of a strong personal conviction and out of a sense of their own implication in the situation.

The way I see it is that there are people who do peacebuilding as a career, and those who do it as a calling, and the latter roughly correspond to local peacebuilders, the former, to those who work in international organizations and who work on conflicts to which they are not necessarily proximate, who work as cogs in a machine rather than agents in their communities.

This doesn’t mean those who work in international organizations are always cogs and never agents, or that the work they do is illegitimate or unhelpful, or that their jobs are not their calling. I think the work of individuals in international organizations could be incredibly helpful and necessary, and that some individuals in these organizations may feel that they have found their calling. But the lesson I’m drawing for myself is that I cannot work as a peacebuilder with authenticity and moral authority if I do not take a stand on issues in my own community and work to improve them. For me these issues are white privilege and racial inequality in the United States, particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area where I am from.

It’s very difficult for me to come to this conclusion. I went to graduate school to get experience that would lead me to have a career and make enough money for a comfortable living. I am tired of doing jobs that mean nothing to me, and I long to provide for myself and my family with a job that feels worthwhile. I am soon to graduate with loans to the tune of $100,000, and I will have to earn a high enough wage to provide for my family while also paying for childcare and loan repayment, not to mention saving to buy and house and invest for retirement. If I’m in the United States, that means earning at least 2 to 3 times the cost of childcare, or $4,000-$6,000 per month. This means that I cannot devote myself full-time to anything that does not pay well. Additionally, I have put a lot of effort into learning French and Arabic. What point of learning these languages if I do not use them? I see myself working in France or the Middle East or North Africa, or at least on programs targeting those regions. How do I reconcile my allegiance to multiple localities, my responsibilities to multiple communities?

Maybe the point is that no conflict is really “someone else’s conflict.” If people are dying anywhere, that is my problem, too. Maybe the question is really how everything will come together for me, how I will work to improve racial justice in California and the US more broadly – which is my problem and my responsibility, and how I will improve the situation for refugees in the Arab world or Europe – which I am also called to do.

Blog 2. The Calling.

I’d like to talk about our session with Kazu Haga, founder of East Point Peace Academy in Oakland, about nonviolence. Kazu seems to be a person who practices what he preaches, and that is really what I want to learn to do. Fundamentally, I’m looking for my calling in life. I’m looking for that thing that I can do all the time. I want to go to work at do that thing, and come home and do it more. I don’t want to live an apathic or checked-out life, ignoring all the injustice around me, and go to work every day to work on conflicts somewhere else in the world, someone else’s conflicts. I want to be integrated. One person, one life, one work.

Kazu talked about Gandhi’s philosophy, saying it contained three parts: self-purification, a constructive program, and satyagraha, the political action. I love concepts like the one of self-purification, as Kazu described it. Self-purification, in this case, means working on yourself, the inner work to reduce your confusion, your ignorance, and increase your ability to be an authentic, fully-realized person. For me this entails knowing and accepting all parts of yourself, dealing with pain and trauma, and taking care of oneself.

The constructive program was also an enlightening concept. The idea is that you spend most of your time working on the reality you’d like to see, rather than protesting or fighting the realities you don’t want. Then, when the status quo or the establishment threatens the reality you are working towards, you engage in strategic action to bring attention to that. It’s possible that I have over-simplified the idea. But the key point is that you don’t spend your life railing against the machine, the establishment, the evil in the world. You work towards the reality you’d like to see, you build community, you create livelihood, you do whatever it is you’d like to do, and then when you have to, you do something to disrupt the status quo or dismantle part of the dominant system. For me, the advantages of this approach are that 1) you won’t burn yourself out protesting or feeling terrible and 2) you will use disruptive action strategically, where you think it will make the most difference, not indiscriminately.

In terms of a constructive program, it’s clear to me that I want to build community. But it’s unclear to me whether the lack of community lies within me or without. The thing with me is that it doesn’t really matter whether there is community around me or not; in either case, I will not feel belonging. And it’s increasingly clear to me that that feeling has more to do with me than it does with others. It’s hard for me to see through my own faulty perceptions, to tell what is reality and what is my interpretation of it. Is the problem “in here” or “out there”? Maybe finding the community I seek is about integrating all the parts of myself. In my first version of this blog I wrote: “Insert Rumi quote here about inviting in strangers, emotions, for they are here to teach us something.” Here’s the actual poem (Coleman Barks translation):

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

To build community I would have to trust others, which I don’t. I would have to be able to relax around other people, which I can’t. It’s frustrating to find, yet again, that I have to work on myself. But in Kazu’s presentation, self-purification did not precede the constructive program; it was simultaneous with it. So perhaps the two can proceed together – internal and external healing as one.

Kazu also said the Tao of Pooh is his Bible. Mine is a collected translation of Rumi poems.

Blog 1. Expectations and reflections at the beginning of the program.

The biggest question on my mind as I drove down to Monterey on Sunday afternoon from the Bay Area was what the balance of theory to practice would be in this program. I feared too much theory, because I find that practice and simulation build confidence in me – I see myself actually doing something – whereas reading too much about it without doing anything physically tends to sap my confidence – could I actually do this in real life? Me? Actually?

It was interesting to hear Pushpa say on Sunday that her concern is making sure there’s enoughtheory. I do want to know the basis and justification for what we’re doing, but I do want some opportunities to see what I’m made of. As someone with chronically low confidence, I greatly benefit from seeing myself in action and realizing that yes, I can do this. Unfortunately, I seem to need to see the proof of my own competence again and again.

Why am I here? The short answer is that I’m here because of a class last semester with Pushpa called storytelling for change. In this class, I happened to read one article from the optional reading list that Pushpa provided, and this article was about “chosen trauma,” which is trauma that is passed down through generations, and contrary to what its name implies, is not intentionally acquired. I realized that something along those lines had happened to me.

For this class, we were also required to write a personal story about our area of passion and where it came from in our lives in response to some prompts. In writing my story in response to the prompts, I at first wrote about my passion for working with immigrants and refugees and looked to my college education for the roots of my interest in other cultures and language to explain my passion. Pushpa asked me to dig deeper. I looked deeper, and I saw my family’s trauma history. Suddenly, everything made sense: my interest in refugees but also the fact that I always read the articles about prisons and imprisoned people in the New York Times; the fact that I thought about foster children and “at-risk” youth with a sort of longing and curiosity to get involved, but not the confidence to do so; my summer interpreting at an organization in Baltimore called Advocates for Survivors of Torture and Trauma. The common thread, I realized, was trauma – trauma was frequently a part of the life experiences of each of these groups. And suddenly I saw my own life as a string of explorations with healing modalities – yoga teacher training, meditation retreats, craniosacral therapy, somatic experiencing, boxing training, etc., etc., to deal with an understand the difficulties I experienced.

But I’m also a very lonely person. I think that’s why I never really wanted to become a therapist, even though I often considered it, and still do. I just don’t want to sit in my own private office by myself and see people one at a time. That would only increase the sense of isolation. I want to be in community, with community. I want to feel like I belong somewhere. That’s why I want to do my work, trauma healing, in communities. That’s where peacebuilding comes in. Of course, I doubt I have enough experience and training to actually help anyone else resolve their trauma at this point. But at least I can get involved with organizations that do what I am interested in and see where it leads me.

The standard narrative for someone in my position would be how much I have to offer and how much I want to help. But that’s not a narrative I can write. Two weekends ago I went to a weekend program called Risk of the Self. It’s part of a community and program that works with white people to explore white conditioning and structural violence in the US. One thing we noticed over this weekend was how many of us had learned, as children, to suppress our feelings of having needs. We learned to not express our needs and to instead try to meet them by ourselves, or to push them aside, out of fear of being “needy,” disliked, pushed away, or disappointed by others not understanding us or being unwilling to help. That program helped clarify for me that I need to be honest about what I’m seeking and why I’m seeking it. I am seeking connection, belonging, and to be part of something bigger than myself. Perhaps I will travel the world and discover that I’m actually running away from some part of myself, or that everything I am seeking, I already possess. But until that happens, I have to keep seeking.