Monthly Archives: November 2016

A View of My Process in Identifying Connections.

 

This, then, is a story about process and connection. It may not make perfect sense to everyone but the ones who need to will hear the message. I wrote it in a bit of a stream of consciousness and it is taking ALLL of my determination not to break it down and try to rewrite 200 times to make it into some kind of perfect essay! So let this also be a source of inspiration to those of you who are trying to start something but feel caught in the crippling desire to do it perfectly.

This is a call to all of you to find a way to tell your story. Your experience is invaluable. Sharing what you know, taking the time to recognize how you have come to view the world around you will help us create a truer vision of who we are as a collective humanity. It will help us build connections and find our commonality – especially valuable and necessary when we face challenges to the way we understand the world in the form of perceived threats to our sense of who we are – what we believe in – our very identities.

There was a moment in my life, around 7 years ago when I was fully immersed in the Ganges river. I was in India. And I was sick and wild and starry eyed, wandering around a place called Rishikesh at the foot of the Himalaya mountains. Achraf laid up at the hotel, fed up, nursing an ugly stage of culture shock by disappearing into the TV screen dancing with Bollywood films.

All the yoga halls were closed in this hot, unusually rainless August monsoon season.

But I wandered anyway – until I stumbled upon a woman who was on her way to take a dip in the Ganges. She was Korean, if I remember correctly. She had a carefree air about her. Traveling alone, somehow enthusiastic, curious and almost aloof at all once. I followed her down to some concrete steps leading right down into the river. Chatting intermittently, each taking moments to gaze across the water, bringing our attention within, my new companion and I lowered ourselves in to the water.

Yeah I know it’s dirty. I know it is becoming quite toxic due to the cremations, bathing, and other toileting in and near the water. It’s a shame. But in the moment, and where I was, there was no visible filth. And I was totally absorbed by the exhilarating energy that seemed to be coursing through me. That was India.

There is a lot of moving energy in India. I witnessed and experienced what seemed to be a microcosm of the world. There were so many people. All different colors, hundreds (over 1,000?) languages spoken, all major religions represented. And still through all this difference, there was a shared culture, a spirit, a complex sociology. I felt that I was in a place of distinctly concentrated life energy. I don’t know how else to describe this.

In India, I tuned in to the presence and influence of Islam and yoga, Arabic names, Sanskrit language and Hinduism. Living in the UAE at the time of this trip, I had been steeping in the Islamic world for over 9 years. For just as long, I had been practicing and studying yoga avidly. Taking classes daily when living in the US, and continuing my practice alone on my travels, working through the images and instruction in BKS Iyengar’s, Light on Yoga.

From the very first time I was invited into a mosque in Casablanca with the intention to pray with the other observers one Ramadan night in 2005, I recognized that prescribed Islamic prayer prostrations and the movements through a yoga sun salutation were deeply intertwined. This was important to me because I felt increasingly grounded within both practices. And this was the link that brought it all home for me.

Perhaps strangely, I found that yoga was a kind of an American aspect for me – in the beginning. It was an acceptable form of spiritual practice in the circles of educated liberal urban youth I ran in where religion was strongly frowned upon. As I had entered my fifth year of living in Morocco and developing an ever-deepening sense of connection and relationship with Moroccan people and culture, I started to explore different aspects of practicing Islam. I took an interest in the messages of the Qur’an and when I had the opportunity to follow my friend’s mother in law to the mosque that first time, I accessed a state of deep calm and connection to a Source of energetic being that I had only ever known in yoga practice.

Four years later I would approach my master’s degree program advisor and tell her that it was my chief aim to find and define this connection between yoga and Islam. I am chuckling to myself now when I think about how determined I was – that this would reveal something seismic. What I came up with in that effort was a study of human consciousness – the experience of what it is to be – from behind the lens we all develop, even subconsciously, through the layers of culture, family, language, gender association and more.

Even more what I have learned from my continued movement through yoga and Islam – including the practical applications, philosophical study and the cultural inquiry of the worlds, people, societies these practices are attached to – is how to take the reins of my own consciousness. I can make choices about how I feel, perceive and experience the world. I am not obliged to be dragged along on an impulse. I can see very clearly how all things are constructed by our minds and that freedom to create something other than whatever is spinning through the old mind – recording now.

We have the power to recreate who we are from one moment to the next.

Culture is learned.

Fear, Doubt and Hate are learned.

Wild emotions are born from an unsettled mind trying to solve and control things that don’t’ need to be solved or controlled.

The core of our being is love. I know this can sound hokey. I went through years of not quite wrapping my mind around this. But it is true. And seeking a connection across cultures and between unlikely spiritual traditions has shown me all the evidence I need.

When we train ourselves to act from this space, we can achieve states of being – attracting experiences – realizing dreams – making choices where we thought we were trapped – creating a lifestyle that has been burning and glowing in our hearts for longer than we can remember.

Many paths exist to lead us to this goal of self-mastery. All ways for the practitioner to find the gateway to NOW. I have found my path balances on the razor’s edge between ways of being – cultural consciousness – knowing where I come from with the keen willingness to call myself into question as I move through various experiences.

My work now, is to help others learn the art of questioning what they have settled for as truth.

What habits, what beliefs, what attitudes and actions are we falling back on out of comfort, safety and even a fear of change, that are keeping us from expanding into the full expression of our lightness?

How can we be grounded in a sense of belonging, while also being courageous enough to put words and clarity to our visions and giving ourselves full permission to take practical, forward moving action in the direction of our purest dreams and desires?

I’d love to see you in my Facebook community – Worldly Women of Purpose where we work to answer these questions every day, supporting one another on our parallel paths.

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Reaching Beyond the Limits of My Own Feminine Consciousness

 

Okay, I cannot ignore the fact that I am publishing this post on the day that the US presidential election awarded the highest office in the country to a man who is now widely known as a sexual predator a for his vow to restrict or even completely block entry of Muslims into the USA.

Quickly this morning I was able to recognize that – as with everything else I am currently experiencing in life – it will be in my best interest (perhaps ALL of ours) to see how this situation is working FOR me and NOT Against me. Echoing many friends and mentors, I will point out that this choice did not all come together in one day. We have been leading up to this for some time now with our collective negativity, complacency and general reluctance to fully stand up for what we believe and know to be true. I know some people have put lots of effort and blood/sweat and tears into it but as a collective nation, we are clearly quite divided. And I am certainly not innocent! I have taken too long myself to finally get it together and share my stories and the things that are dear to me.

I see this election outcome now as an opportunity to be inspired, to organize and unite with Americans and international communities alike. I have no idea exactly how to do this. I suppose I will figure it out along the way. I will start by opening my mouth and raising my voice right here. Singing my song for everyone to hear.

On that note:

The following is a reflection on ways  feminine spaces in Islamic culture have taught me about community, trust and support and the importance of pushing limitations and boundaries.

Living in Morocco, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates over 10 + years from 2000-2010, my continued relationships with the cultures through my marriage to a Moroccan man, my love for Arabic language and the Arab – Muslim friends and acquaintances I have grown close with around the world exposed me to the magic that can happen when women regularly gather together to work, live, raise their children and go through life inwomen-only spaces.

Now don’t get me wrong. I know this thought is loaded with politics. I know that some of this separation of women and men in Arab-Islamic societies has been a way of controlling and keeping women down. I know so much of it is unfair – BELIEVE me! I have been down that road. I rejected and resisted entering these women-only spaces for a very long time. For several years,  I barely dipped a toe in – the hammam (public steam bath) in Morocco, which I visited only once in my first year in Morocco and at the weddings and parties I was invited to in those first couple of years – I stayed close to my male friends with only a brief nod in acknowledgement of the women who were sitting on the opposite side of the room. I feared those spaces. I thought being with the women would somehow make me smaller and even restricted. And I acknowledge that from valid perspectives in certain contexts, this is exactly what it would be.

However, there is a realm I had never imagined. A level of collective, supportive feminine consciousness that nurtured my soul and taught me how to be a member of a group – something I had never known as an only child to a single mom in the USA, moving from state to state every few years of my childhood. I was very good at being alone, justifying this with a prideful independence. That independence has served me extremely well. In fact, it facilitated my inclusion into the female collective I now describe.

In the UAE, I worked inside Abu Dhabi public schools where all staff are female through primary school and in high school male and female students are separated into different schools with male staff for the boys and female staff for the girls. For three years, I went to work every day with only women. The security guards and a maintenance man here and there were the only exceptions. These men had to announce themselves – standing just outside of a doorway with eyes averted – before entering a room, giving the women inside time to cover their heads and sometimes even their faces before he entered.

Inside those rooms I was welcomed. My otherness was recognized and acknowledged but for the most part did not hinder my inclusion. My deep interest in and experience with Arab/Islamic culture and my willingness to listen earned me their trust. Every day we shared food and coffee, stories about our husbands, children and lifestyles. (I did not have children yet so they loved to offer their wisdom about what to expect in the future – some of them were a bit worried about my age (I turned 30 the first year) and the fact that I still hadn’t had a child. They were fascinated by my knowledge of yoga and meditation. Some of them were even so brave as to join me in group guided meditations in the school gymnasium – though they weren’t so sure this was an activity approved by Islam.)

I was invited to come to their homes, developing am especially close friendship with one woman mentioned in the previous post. Through her, I was able to witness and participate in cultural and religious gatherings: weddings- which are also female only in the UAE, the men’s party taking place on a different day or in a different location – birth celebrations, trips to the mosque, or lazy Sunday afternoons hanging out watching Egyptian soap operas and drinking more tea and coffee.

There were women who got a wistful and faraway look in their eyes, asking me what it felt like to be on the beach in a bikini. There were other women who stifled laughter when they asked me why American and European women felt okay going jogging in the street in their underwear (shorts and a sports bra/tank top). As my interest in Islam began to grow, and when I eventually declared my own belief in Islamic practice (while meditating at a yoga ashram on a Thai Island – that’s another story), there were some who wondered about my sincerity – asking me to recite various parts of the Quran – which I did – and others who worried for me and my decision not to wear the hijab – not covering my hair as they did. Still they welcomed me, every day. They embraced me. I prayed in mosques in rooms full of women at times savoring the profound collective energy of a group feminine meditation. At other times I found myself in mosques suspiciously empty in the women’s room – indicating that for many women their duties inside the home or other cultural (patriarchal) restrictions related to womanhood required or made it easier for them to just pray at home.

Women in these cultures often shared the care of their children. In Morocco it was not uncommon to see breastfeeding women feeding the infants of their cousins or sisters. I met grown men who introduced me to their “milk brothers,”  – a close friend who was otherwise unrelated and had been breastfed by the same woman (one of their mothers, another woman all together, etc). I have had Moroccan mothers on long train rides pass me their infants to hold while they ran to the toilet or got up to stretch or rummage through their bags for food, a diaper change, etc. In the UAE more women had foreign housemaids to mind their children but the Emirati mothers were never far away and in the beginning I would lose track of which child belonged to which woman since all of the extended family freely blended together and women took responsibility and care for all of the children.

And at the risk of rambling on – how awesome is it that there is a separate – much shorter line for women at the bank and the DMV!?!?!?! (Some of them with curtains so you are totally free from the leering eyes of men! Yeah there are leering men all over the world!)(Yeah, I’m stifling a joke about the new president elect.)

I left the UAE and returned to the USA in 2010, when I was still pregnant with my first child.For many reasons the last six years of living in the US and being a mother have been a strange and challenging transition. Something I have missed most about living in the Middle East/North Africa is that sense of community. It has been lonely at times raising my kids in the USA where it can be very natural for Americans to isolate themselves in the hustle of the lightning-speed of the daily grind. I have fantasized about all of the community I would have had available to me in mothers in Abu Dhabi or in Morocco that sometimes only translates to text messages with other overly busy, overworked, overtired American mom-friends over here.

What to make of this? In my personal experience, I have been fortunate to explore my American feminine consciousness as highly independent, a solo traveler, a rebel in some cases, a trail blazer. All of this has beautifully led me to see and know some complementary, harmonizing aspects of Middle East and North Africa feminine consciousness. I learned what it looks like to belong to a group, to steep myself in feminine energy, issues, and practicalities where before I tended to avoid understanding what it is to be a woman.

Reaching beyond the limits of my comfort in these ways has incited a personal expansion, a deeper compassion and understanding for others than I could have developed if I had insisting on clinging to what I thought was comfortable – what I thought was the “right” way. And in turn, I have inspired others to challenge their own boundaries – as in the case of the women who adventured into yogic meditation with me, those who dared to learn to speak English with me, invited me into their homes, allowed my different ideas to spur conversation a their dinner tables.

I regard all of this as deeply significant at a time when my original country – the USA – and the rest of the world – is in dire need of unity, healing and a renewed sense of connection – with the self and to others. There are plenty of illusions, distractions, falsehoods disguised as truths that parade through our lives. We latch on to those – recognizing differences and allowing fear to dictate our responses to those differences at the encouragement of media, politics, and others with questionable, selfish agendas.

What is possible when you push the limits of your perceived boundaries?

What is revealed when you pull back the veils of perception and assumption?

What’s left when we strip away labels, “shoulds,” and attachments to identity?

Honestly, the simple answer to this is: Truth. Love. Purpose. Potential. Literally everything is possible when we remove limits and fear.

What will that look like for you? What will you do?

“Recognize the other person is you.” -Yogi Bhajan.

 

“The degree to which your Consciousness expands, is the degree to which you understand yourself and the universe.” ~ Gina Charles (Artist: Alisha Lee Jeffers) ..*:

Categories: Feminine Consciousness, Inspiration, Morocco, UAE | Leave a comment

The Privilege of Awakening Through Intercultural Experience.

I thought I was a liberated, empowered and independent woman until I encountered Islamic feminine culture. Over the course of ten years living in the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region, I learned to recognize the vastness of possible expressions of femininity and how I had been rejecting certain feminine ways of being to my own detriment.

Everything you experience is subjective because you naturally and unavoidably filter all that you see, do, and understand through your own consciousness – your own experience of being.

The thing is that people are living in different cultural consciousness wherever you go and it is a privilege and a duty to recognize that. Even if you cannot ever completely understand it or have it – taking the time to recognize it will make all the difference.

Here’s what happens when you start to realize where you come from culturally –

  1. You recognize your gifts and your challenges. For those of us who are free to buy a plane ticket, pay the fees for a passport and visit almost any country we choose – this is a privilege easily taken for granted. When I began to recognize this privilege as a gift, the quality of my experiences changed. I became more open to respect and experience the cultural differences I met – even when they made me uncomfortable or angered me, in some cases. To take it even a step further, I could see that the things that made me most uncomfortable could be directly traced to something within myself that needed attention.

 

  1. You have a deeper understanding of where your beliefs come from – for example – when I noticed I felt discomfort, confusion and even rejection around the idea of creating relationships with Muslim women in Morocco back in 2000 – my introductory year to the MENA , I didn’t realize at first that this was my American culture – or my understanding of that culture rising to defend itself against the “otherness.” I slowly came to realize that Arab/Islamic feminine culture was challenging everything I thought made sense about the world. And this caused me to first reject….and later grow.

 

  1. Your world becomes bigger and enables you to make choices about what you believe, what is universal truth and what is made up of assumptions and locked into certain spaces and times. We are now in a time when the world is seeming to grow smaller. Political strain, climate change, location independent career paths and lifestyles and more factors are bringing us into contact with cultural thoughts, traditions, languages, religious and spiritual practices most people would never have had to consider even as recently as 20 years ago. For many of us, we find ourselves faced with a necessity to expand our sense of what is true. As we are driven closer together as a global population, our narrow beliefs will no longer serve us. We will need to learn to extract what is best and most useful from our history, traditions and social systems while we work together to unveil new, more universal truths about who we are and how we fit together.

 

I have had the luxury and the fortune to draw from the history and experiences of women in both Western/ North American and Middle Eastern cultures. These cultures – varied and diverse even in themselves – have equally empowering, enlightening aspects that can be blended to create a new consciousness allowing for more freedom of movement between a range of feminine cultural constructs and architypes.

 

I remember what it felt like to be in a large group of Arab women every single day at work. By this time, in Abu Dhabi, I had already been living in Morocco and Turkey off and on for 7 years. I had read deeply about Islamic history and culture. I spoke a fair amount of Arabic – though I discovered with some frustration and embarrassment that my Moroccan dialect was not so useful in the Emirates. The only missing connection had been an opportunity to spend time with women.

 

I worked in an elementary school where all the teachers were women – as a rule. We would spend time in the teacher’s room eating Egyptian coushery (a heavenly meal of pasta, brown lentils and a slightly spicy tomato sauce), gourmet chocolates and endless streams of saffron and cardamom spiced coffee from tiny glass or porcelain cups. Back then I did not have any children. I was newly married and all the women were curious about me and my marriage to a Moroccan man.

 

Over time I began to spend more time outside of work with some of the women. One of them became my UAE bestie and would invite me to her downtown apartment during the week, or take me with her to her mother’s home in a suburb of Dubai where we met with all her siblings and their children, attending weddings and birth celebrations and so on. My number one take away from all of this was the simple yet rich pleasure of belonging to a female community. Their acceptance of me acknowledged our differences. In a culture where the native Emirati women believe it is inappropriate to dance at a party – even a party where only women are attending – they still encouraged me to dance when the music started hopping and the hired belly dancers came onstage at a party. I was dancing with the Filipino housemaids and possibly some Egyptian or Tunisian women – in a minority that was a contrast to the quietly seated Emiratis. But still we respected one another.

 

I will never forget a day, sitting in a luxurious living room at 2 in the morning with my Emirati bestie, listening to the music still loud and booming at the tail end of a new birth party – the kids and the house maids were dancing the night away. I teased my friend about not joining us for a dance, even at a private party in her own family’s home. She looked at me then and smiled. She stated that she was only doing what her mother told her was right. She was doing her best to be a good person, a spiritual and dedicated Muslim woman. Yet, she said that our relationship had begun to show her something else. And though she did not feel the need – or even the freedom to dance, she somehow understood why it was okay for me to do so. And she loved me for it.

 

There we were, two women from vastly different backgrounds, looking at one another across a room in a house in the Arabian desert. We disagreed on so many things. Really. So many. But somehow we met one another where we each were. And we shared a mutual love. We were equal in that each of us was doing what we knew how to do in our desire to be strong women. We were striving to act from love and achieve a sense of satisfaction, balance and fulfillment.

 

This story is neither a beginning nor an end.

 

Stay tuned for the next post where I will talk more about how my feminine consciousness was opened, challenged and reaffirmed through the phenomenon of being “required” to exist in women-only spaces in the Middle East and North Africa. I will talk about the value and the limitations of these spaces, and how they  can help encourage support and community in north American culture (and already are!).

 

The picture is me at an art exhibit in Abu Dhabi around the time of the above story. I won’t share any photos of my good friend mentioned here because she prefers not to share photos of her face on social media.

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