Inspiration

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

A Shout Out to Inspiration

Virginia Woolf, novelist.

(photo: Virginia Woolf’s workspace, buzzfeed.com)

I have gathered some important people around me without even knowing I was doing it.

Any motivational speaker will tell you that to get closer to realizing your dreams you should never be the smartest person in the room. Although it was not always intentional, I see now that I have a strong circle of successful and inspiring people in an international ring around me. Most of them are women and for that I am very grateful.

They feed my creativity, my entrepreneurial spirit, my pursuit of academia when  the duties of having children and keeping the logistics of life going seem to take up all of my time.

There is an environmentalist in Switzerland who loves my children like her own and serves as a constant source of encouragement and affirmation that I am going to achieve my dreams.

There is a world traveler hiding in Boston suburbs commiserating with me over hours of sleep lost at the hands of our infant children. We day-dream about businesses we will start. We pontificate about the preferable cultural details of Spain and North Africa.

Today there is a great reason to celebrate one of my major inspirations. Heather Demetrios is living a writer’s dream – writing and publishing in a wave of energy and creativity. She put all of her intention into her career as a writer for many years and now it is all paying off as she rises to the top of her chosen genre, Young Adult fiction.

Since I was a very little girl  too young to read and write on my own I wanted to be a writer. I have written and I have hesitated to write. When I met Heather four years ago, she was on the brink of this great success she is now enjoying. I am inspired by her because I saw what she did. She sat down and wrote. And she learned everything that one should learn in order to market themselves as a writer, seek publication and flourish. All while writing without rest. It is a formula that anyone can follow: Find what you are moved to do – whatever it is that you cannot live without doing and then do it. Keep doing it over and over again. And something will come of it. Whether it is a private, secret success or a public one, something will happen and chances are it will be pretty good!

Learning this lesson from Heather and others is part of what has led me to this blog -again – after a year of neglecting it. I didn’t write for a year because I didn’t know what I should write – what I was supposed to write. And I still do not know today, but I do know that I must write. Not sure I mind what happens next…

"Secret to Writing a Bestseller: You write..." - Jonathan Gunson #quotes #writing *

(photo: bestsellerlabs.com)

Heather Demetrios, your successes feel like success of my own. I don’t know why or whether that sounds selfish. But when I see all that you are doing and I overwhelmed with pride and I feel the fires stoking in me to press on.

Please read this article about Heather’s current place on a list of 13 Female YA authors That Owned 2014. Just go ahead and see who else is on this list and tell me you’re not inspired!

Here is her second book published, which is also the first of a trilogy! I especially like it because it has the classic details of an old. Arabian genie story, yet it is saturated with heather’s unique style! (photo taken from yaseriesinsiders.com)

We’re so excited to have Heather Demetrios with us today celebrating her new release EXQUISITE CAPTIVE. Thanks for the interview, Heather! YA Series Insiders: Who is your favorite character to write and why?  Heather Demetrios: Not gonna lie, my favorite character to write is Malek, Nalia’s master. I’ve known from the beginning that he has a dark past and while we get hints of that in Exquisite, it really comes out in Book 2 (Blood Passage, which comes out next October). There’s something so incredibly satisfying about slipping into a voice and skin so unlike your own. Malek is unbelievably cruel, but it’s his vulnerabilities that get you off balance. Nalia’s confusion about him is a direct reflection of my own: you’re so evil—why am I drawn to you? This isn’t a love triangle situation, though. At most, Nalia has symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome. We learn some secrets about Malek as to why there is this seemingly inexplicable connection between them. But even as Nalia is repelled by him we, the readers, can’t help but see those things Nalia isn’t privy to. YASI: If you were going to write a spin-off about one of your characters, who would it be and why? HD:  I’d love to write a spin-off about Leilan, Nalia’s BFF, who is a free jinni living in Los Angeles. There are a few different kinds of jinn: those who are on the dark caravan (the slave trade), those who are expatriates (they’ve run away), and political prisoners who’ve been banished to Earth by the ruling caste of jinn. We learn a little bit about how Leilan escaped Arjinna, but I’d love to explore what it was like for her to make that decision to run away from home and go to an entirely different plane of existence, brave the dangers of crossing through the portal between Arjinna (the jinn realm) and Earth, and how she navigated living in the human realm all on her own. I also suspect cute boys and girls are involved. Leilan’s an artist and she sells her work on the Venice Beach boardwalk. I’m curious about how her art helped heal her after some of the stuff that went down in Arjinna. YASI: Who or what was the inspiration for the villain in your book? HD: Exquisite has two major villains (though there are more than two very unsavory characters). One of them is a ghoul—a cannibalistic jinni—that basically uses Earth as a buffet on his search for Nalia, whom he’s been hired to kill. I did a lot of research about jinn—there is a wealth of folklore out there—and ghouls are often mentioned. My inspiration came from the book Legends of the Fire Spirits, which is a non-fiction book about jinn lore. I took certain common traits of ghouls and added a little, shall we say, flair. What you get is Haran. If he doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will. I had so much fun working on his sections, which are about 3 or 4 pages each and scattered throughout the book. Each section takes place in a different country (I’ve been to all the countries featured in the book). I had no idea I would enjoy writing horror, but it was great fun! YASI: What motivates you to write even when you don’t feel up to it? HD: Fear. Honestly, I make myself sit down and write even when I don’t want to because I’m terrified of having a totally dried up creative well, of somehow losing touch with that part of me that writes. There’s also fear of disappointing myself, fear of not meeting a deadline, and fear of not being able to crack the code of my work-in-progress. My favorite quote about making art is tacked onto a board right above my laptop—it’s by Picasso: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” YASI: What book have you read that somehow changed your life and how? HD: I actually wrote a blog post all about this called “Coming out of the YA Closet” because one of the reasons I write YA is because of Twilight. This is a pretty unpopular thing to admit, but I’m trying to be more open about it. Haters gonna hate, right? Say what you will about it, that book made me want to write for teens. It was the first time I’d been so hooked on a book that I literally lost weight because I didn’t want to take the time to eat—I just had to keep reading. I’d never read a romance before, not that kind, anyway. I loved Harry Potter, but that was pretty much the only fantasy I’d ever picked up too, other than The Hobbit. Imagine my surprise when Edward Cullen walked into that cafeteria. Since then, I’ve become very educated in the YA genre and have an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. I’m not a book snob, but I know what’s what when it comes to craft. Obviously Twilight has its problems, but I will be forever grateful to the culture that dropped that book in my lap and made me want to create book crack for my future readers someday. YASI: What is the core thing in your book? The one thing you would never in a million years have given up no matter how much money someone paid you? HD: The thing I wouldn’t have given up in The Dark Caravan Cycle is its connection to slavery and, more specifically, trafficking. There are a lot of other huge issues that come into play with the novels, but I think the thing that sets this apart from other fantasies is the jinn folklore connection to slavery. We always see jinn enslaved to human masters who make them do their bidding. It was important for me to really highlight this unique aspect of their character. They are magical creatures with enormous potential, yet they are constantly being stifled by people who have zero magical power. I quickly realized that this idea of transporting jinn in lamps and bottles means that they’re being trafficked in some way. I wouldn’t have wanted to give up the idea of the dark caravan, which is a euphemism for the jinn slave trade. This was never going to be a cute book about wishes. YASI: Did anything happen in your series that surprised you, that you didn’t plan? HD: I would say that the biggest surprise so far has been the changes I’m making in regards to Book 3. In Book 2 (Blood Passage), there are definitely things that came out that I hadn’t expected, but I always knew Book 2 would have surprises for me and for the reader because it was the one that terrified me. I am SO PROUD of Book 2. I really keep the reader on their toes, if I do say so myself. A LOT of unexpected things happen and I was just as surprised as the reader is going to be. Now I’m working on Book 3 (Freedom’s Slave) and I realized that my original ideas for it just aren’t satisfying after all the cool places Book 2 took me. I want to surprise my readers and find unique ways to honor these incredibly cool jinn legends my story is born from. So I’m really going back to the drawing board and figuring out how to use some of the new characters that come in the story in Book 2 and reconsidering my plans. It’s exciting and terribly scary, all at the same time. YASI: If you could pull one thing from your series world to have in real life, what would it be? HD: I created this magical energy force called “chiaan” – it’s how my jinn draw magic from the elements around them, but it’s also the energy they have inside themselves. Each energy force is individualized within each jinni. Just like fingerprints, no two are the same. So their particular magic is related to a feeling you get about them that is also somehow related to the element they draw magic from (so earth jinn—“Djan”—might have a calm, resolute, strong kind of feeling to their magic). I discovered it when writing the sexy dance scene between Nalia and Raif—I love how it can be unbearably sexy, this exchange of energy even when nothing sexy is necessarily going on (okay, but that dance puts Dirty Dancing to shame). It’s extraordinarily intimate—kinda like touching someone’s soul. I love this idea, that you can share this really intense connection with another person that is transmitted through a simple touch. You can get the true measure of a person this way. Chiaan will out, so to speak. That’s why my jinn very rarely touch one another. To touch someone’s bare skin without their permission would be the height of rudeness. About the Book  Forced to obey her master.  Compelled to help her enemy.  Determined to free herself.  Nalia is a jinni of tremendous ancient power, the only survivor of a coup that killed nearly everyone she loved. Stuffed into a bottle and sold by a slave trader, she’s now in hiding on the dark caravan, the lucrative jinni slave trade between Arjinna and Earth, where jinn are forced to grant wishes and obey their human masters’ every command. She’d give almost anything to be free of the golden shackles that bind her to Malek, her handsome, cruel master, and his lavish Hollywood lifestyle.  Enter Raif, the enigmatic leader of Arjinna’s revolution and Nalia’s sworn enemy. He promises to free Nalia from her master so that she can return to her ravaged homeland and free her imprisoned brother—all for an unbearably high price. Nalia’s not sure she can trust him, but Raif’s her only hope of escape. With her enemies on the hunt, Earth has become more perilous than ever for Nalia. There’s just one catch: for Raif’s unbinding magic to work, Nalia must gain possession of her bottle…and convince the dangerously persuasive Malek that she truly loves him. Battling a dark past and harboring a terrible secret, Nalia soon realizes her freedom may come at a price too terrible to pay: but how far is she willing to go for it?  Inspired by Arabian Nights, EXQUISITE CAPTIVE brings to life a deliciously seductive world where a wish can be a curse and shadows are sometimes safer than the light. Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Goodreads

Tell me who inspires you!

Categories: Developing a Practice, Inspiration, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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