Author Archive

Trust

April 11, 2014

Yesterday as I was coming home in the evening, walking up the steps to my apartment and pulling out my key, a young man standing by the door of my neighborhood’s leasing office called out to me. The office was closed for the day, the door locked and no one there, but all his personal belongings were inside. He had been in the office a couple of hours earlier finalizing a lease for an apartment he was hoping to move into that day, but he had to leave for a couple of hours and the office staff said they would wait for him. They must have forgotten because they were gone and he was locked out with no way of contacting them. He was a student who had just moved to the United States from France and didn’t have a phone yet. So he asked to borrow mine. It was a simple request, but I almost said no. Something not-so-nice happened to me in that very place only a few months back and a few months before that my phone was stolen. So, since then I’ve been hesitant to lend my phone and much more cautious around people in my neighborhood that I don’t know. Fortunately, my gut told me to trust him and I listened. He talked to the office people and within a few minutes someone was on their way back to open the door for him and finish processing his lease. He looked so relieved and thanked me sincerely for helping him.

It was a simple and small interaction really–the kind of thing I know happens everywhere everyday–but in the moment it felt quite significant because it reminded me of how important it is to trust. Actually, many things over the last week or so have opened my eyes to this, but yesterday is when it became more concrete.

In the world we live in today, we are given a lot of reasons not to trust each other. We hear terrible things in the news, like the school stabbing that happened yesterday in Pennsylvania or massive credit card frauds. Or harder yet, we witness crimes and injustices in our own communities that affect us or our close friends and families directly. And these are just the more obvious reasons to mistrust. On Facebook statuses or in person, friends share again and again their frustration with people in their lives who do not get back to them or fail to follow through with their commitments and promises. They express feeling disconnected. They feel unvalued, unloved, and they mistrust. I feel it too, everyday almost.

But I am determined, more so than ever now, not to forget to trust because it is only through trusting that we allow ourselves to serve those around us, let down our walls, and make the effort needed to create and sustain true, meaningful friendships. In fact, trust is one of the key ingredients needed to change our world. Here’s a quote a I like from a cool political scientist named Francis Fukayama: “Law contract and economic rationality provide a necessary but not sufficient basis for both the stability and prosperity of postindustrial societies; they must as well be leavened with reciprocity, moral obligation, duty toward community, and trust.” And here’s a beautiful song/music video by Jason Mraz that I think touches on the same idea: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1-4u9W-bns.

How do we keep trusting each other when we have so many reasons not to? I’ve asked myself this a lot lately and it’s probably something I’ll continue to ask the rest of my life. Part of the answer is clear. For every reason we have not to trust, we are given dozens of reasons to trust. For example, my phone got stollen by one person a little while back. But it also has not be stolen by hundreds of people who could have stolen it if they wanted to. And yes something scary happened in to me in my neighborhood, but almost every day something sweet and lovely happens, like children who I know run up to me asking me to play or my next door neighborhood wishes me a good day at school.

I am learning that another part of the answer to my question is to trust in God, not people. When we trust in God and in the purpose for which were created, we don’t fear as much and we are able to trust others even knowing that we may get hurt. Trusting in others and showing our love for them becomes not about us or them but about our love for God and for all of humanity. And any challenge or difficulty we meet along the way we know has a reason and purpose. Here’s a quote I love from the Baha’i Writings on trust: “Verily the Will of God acts sometimes in a way for which mankind is unable to find out the reason. The causes and reasons shall appear.Trust in God and confide in Him, and resign thyself to the Will of God. Verily thy God is affectionate, compassionate and merciful … and will cause His Mercy to descend upon Thee.”

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Fasting in North Carolina

March 13, 2014

A few years ago I wrote a blog post called Fasting in the Holy Land”, which was about the experience of observing the Baha’i 19-day fast at the spiritual and administrative world center for the Baha’i Faith in Israel. This is my first Fast back in the United States after almost three years in Israel and I’ve been reminiscing a lot on the bounties of fasting in the Holy Land, as well and reflecting on my experience here now. Fasting in the Holy Land was like heaven on Earth. After breakfast with my room mates, I would go up to the roof of my building to say prayers. I’d  watch the sun rise behind Mount Carmel, the reflection of the bright orange-pink sky on the ocean bay, the golden dome of the top of the Shrine of the Bab peeking through cypress trees, and behind me the magnificent Seat of the Universal House of Justice. Afterwards I’d do yoga and journal until it was time for work. During “lunch break” I would walk around the beautiful terraced gardens–so beautiful they are considered a World Heritage Site–and meditate or read Writings on the significance of the period fasting. After work, I would visit the Shrine of Bab and pray peacefully as the fasting day came to an end. Then I’d join 600 or so other Baha’i staff for dinner in dinning room, specially decorated with flowers, plants and platters of colorful fruit. At no point during the day would I be tempted by the sight or smell of food because everyone else around me was fasting too. The days would fly by and fasting became an easy, wonderful thing I looked forward to and considered the highlight of the year.

Maybe the “grass is always greener” thing is skewing my memory, although somehow I think not. In any case, going into the Fast this year I thought, it really can’t get much better than that can it? And it’s true, there’s really nothing that can compare to the experience of fasting in the most spiritual place on Earth. Yet I realize now a week or so into fasting in North Carolina that having an easy, out-of-this-wold, nearly perfect experience during the Fast is not really what fasting is about. 

Fasting here has been like a messy, unpredictable adventure. Some days my classes are early enough so that I have barely enough time after the sun rises to say a short prayer, get my clothes on, and run to catch the bus. On my way to class I walk through a deliciously coffee-scented library. I sit through three-hour lectures in the afternoon (the peak hunger time) surrounded by students sipping on coffee or eating what, at that moment, look like the most incredible sandwiches ever made. When the sun sets, sometimes I am able to say prayers and eat calmly. Other days I am in the middle of a junior youth group, dance class or meeting with students to work on a group project.

Yet despite these challenges–which I guess come from living in a fast-paced world in which most people are not even aware of this fasting period–the special virtue that every hour of these days is endowed with (as described in the Baha’i Writings) can be felt strongly. Maybe it is actually these challenges that make this time, in contrast, seem all that more powerful and necessary. Waking up and sleeping at the same time each day, following the rhythm of the sun, saying prayers with every meal, getting together with friends (Baha’is and not) to break the Fast together, remembering God each time I feel hungry or thirsty–these all feel like precious gifts in a life so unpredictable and filled with reasons to be distracted, to forget my true purpose.

For the first time in a couple of months I feel like I’m able to appreciate life’s simple, small pleasures. The kids and junior youth I see every week seem cuter. My friends seem sweeter. My illnesses fewer. Okay, that’s the end of my little poem 🙂

I guess the point of all this has been to say, fasting is an incredible blessing, regardless of where it is done, and I am so grateful to experience a not-so-easy one this year.

Evolution

September 9, 2013

I woke up this morning with an unfamiliar feeling that I’m not sure I quite understand, but it’s pretty cool I think. I was jogging on the same path I always jog on when I’m at my parents’ home in Vermont, and as looked at all the familiar houses, murals, mountains and lake, I thought about the last few years of my life. I strongly believe that spiritual growth is a continuous, unending process guided by forces beyond our understanding, kind of like the evolution of species on Earth. There’s this evolutionary theory called Punctuated Equilibrium, however, which proposes that the evolution of species is generally steady and gradual, but it can sometimes occur in bursts of rapid species differentiation. I think the equilibrium of spiritual growth can be punctuated too, and while I was jogging this morning I got the feeling that I am about to go through one of those rapid bursts. And it felt as though a lot of what I’ve experienced and learned the last few years of my life have been getting me ready for this burst. It could have just been the adrenaline from running or the epic song I was listening to, but whatever caused it and whether real or not, the feeling inspired me to start blogging again, which is nice. Reflecting and writing about our experiences in life and then sharing those reflections with others is pretty important I think. It helps us all move along our evolutionary paths. But it’s not something many of us do. I know I haven’t much recently. So I’m determined now to write a series of entries about my last few years in Israel and transitioning back to the States. This is the first. More to come 🙂

What empowering women could mean…

May 29, 2012

Recently I’ve come across phrases and images that have made me realize just how confused and lost most of us are when it comes to understanding the meaning and implications of the equality of men and women. What are the rights of women and how do we defend them? How can we empower women to reach their true potential – a potential that I believe women as a whole have yet to understand, let alone achieve? What are the roles of men and women in society and how can we learn to respect and value each? How can we help both men and women feel comfortable manifesting their true, inherent potentialities?

During my recent visit to my parents’ home in Burlington, Vermont, I attended a dance recital and watched a good friend perform in a beautiful ballet. Her dance was one of many lovely dances performed by young women learning the art of ballet, hip hop, contemporary dance, tap, and so on. I had a great time and enjoyed reminiscing about the days when I also performed in recitals. Towards the end of the recital one of the dance teachers announced that the last dance of the night was going to resemble a burlesque and warned that children or sensitive viewers in the audience may want to leave. She explained that her burlesque-style dance class was part of an initiative to help young women feel more confident and empowered and that her students say they have gained a lot from the class.

Twenty or so young women – of all shapes and sizes and wearing dance outfits that looked like modestly-revealing lingerie – danced sensually to the beat of catchy songs often heard on the radio. They certainly did look confident, and I was truly impressed by their bravery. I would have never had the guts to do something like that at their age. Yet as I watched these beautiful young women dance, I began to feel sad. I was looking at their provocative facial expressions and their twirling hips, but I was thinking about their lives. I wondered about their favorite subject in school, their career goals, their passions and hobbies, their friends and families, and their aspirations to contribute to the betterment of the world. I also began to wonder how this dance was contributing to their sense of empowerment. More specifically, I wondered what about their identity as a woman was being empowered?

The answer to my question came to me in the lyrics of one of the songs, which professed the need for women to love their bodies and embrace their sexuality. This is exactly what the dance was helping these women do. They were learning to feel confident presenting their bodies to others and expressing their sexuality. While there is nothing wrong women’s bodies and sexuality – in fact, they are beautiful things – I wondered how the message being conveyed by this dance was any different from the messages that have been portrayed by the media for decades: women have beautiful bodies (or if they don’t they should), and we make wonderful sex partners (or if we don’t we should).

There is so much more to be said about women. There is so much more about a woman’s identity to encourage and empower. What about our capacity to be loving, nurturing friends and partners; to endure long hours of pain during labor; to be the first educators of children; to be great scientists, teachers, doctors, painters, authors, lawyers; to stand up for the rights of women and minorities; to strive to resolve conflicts with peace, not war; to remind each other of the importance of thinking with our hearts as well as with our minds; to encourage open communication and consultation; and to be compassionate and forgiving even in the face of grievous injustice?

Let’s create more dances that empower these aspects of a woman’s identity. Let’s make more paintings, posters, songs, poems, books, plays, and movies that portray women manifesting these strengths and qualities. In this way, we will undoubtedly speed up the process of learning the true meaning of the equality of men and women.

Here are pictures of four inspiring young women I spent a lot of time with two summers ago. This post is dedicated to them.

Please feel free to also share a photo, story, poem, video, song or anything else that inspires you :).

Imperfections

May 8, 2012

A few days ago when I was in China visiting my sister–which was amazing by the way!–I had a realization. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to put my trust in God and try to live according to His will rather than my own. I think that the peace of mind and heart that comes from being able to trust in God requires recognizing the He has created humanity and the Earth exactly as it should and needs to be. Each of us are born with and develop unique talents and capabilities, each of which are accompanied by complementary weaknesses. A gentle, kind-hearted person may have the tendency to be naive. A frank, well-spoken person may have the tendency to be brash. In a way, our strengths are our weaknesses and our weaknesses are our strengths.

This tremendous diversity in personality, character, and culture exists because the operation of God’s will depends on it, I believe. When these diverse strengths and weaknesses come together and interact, people grow and develop spiritually; we clash and become tests to each other and these tests make us grow.

It is often during the hardest of times, when many things seem to be going wrong for us or we just feel off, that we come across a person who really pushes our buttons, disappoints us, hurts us, or simply cannot offer us the support we need. And it is often through the pain experienced in these interactions that our eyes are opened to a truth we could not see before. Perhaps there was a lesson God wanted us to learn–something at the heart of all the other things going wrong for us–and He put that person in our lives to give us a push in the right direction.

With this understanding of the interconnectedness of all things and of the necessity of diversity, it becomes easy not only to appreciate human imperfections but also to love them. When we love God and love God’s will and creation, we love the diverse system–perfect in its imperfection–by which the operation of His will depends. I think, for myself at least, that understanding this is what makes overlooking the faults of others possible. It is also what makes it possible to come face-to-face with my own imperfections and work on overcoming them. When I accept and appreciate my imperfections, it’s no longer so scary and painful to look at how my characters can be improved.

Haifa is home

April 5, 2012

About a week ago I traveled to Istanbul, Turkey–an amazing, ancient city divided by a channel of water that separates Europe and Asia. It has an incredible cityscape beautifully decorated with hundreds of minarets, and the people there are so warm, welcoming, and happy. I travelled with my good friend Flo, and we enjoyed visiting the most famous sites: the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Galata Tower, the pedestrian street in the Beyoglu district, the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar. We also experienced a traditional scrub and massage at a Turkish bath that has been operating for over 500 years! It felt so nice, and the lady who massaged me kept pretending I was like a baby and she was my mama, which was pretty funny but also a little embarrassing. The most memorable part of our trip was visiting the houses where Baha’u’llah was imprisoned over 150 years ago–one in Istanbul, then known as Constantinople, and one in Edirne, known as Adrianople. These are places of pilgrimage for Baha’is, and I felt so lucky to have finally completed my pilgrimage. It was also lovely to meet some of the Turkish Baha’is, despite the fact that our conversations were limited by our lack of knowledge of each other’s languages.

So enough about my trip to Turkey because what really inspired me to write this entry was my experience coming back to Israel. People say that the best way to get to know yourself and the culture you come from is to travel. Observing another culture makes you much more aware of the beliefs, values, and attitudes that make your own culture what it is. Israel is not where I’m from, nor do I know that much about Israeli culture. But I have lived in Haifa, Israel for just about a year and a half, and traveling to Istanbul made me re-appreciate things about Haifa that I had begun to take for granted.

I love the diversity of the people in Haifa, the fact that Russian and Arabic are spoken just as much as Hebrew and that you see tourists, Baha’i pilgrims, and Jewish Birthright youth visiting from all parts of the world. Because Haifa is on a mountain–Mount Carmel, the mountain of God–you see beautiful views of the city, the Baha’i gardens, or  the vast Mediterranean Sea by simply walking down the streets and stairs. Haifa is not very big, nor is it overly touristy, so unlike Istanbul, the traffic isn’t bad and you can walk downtown without being pestered by people trying to sell you something or convince you to eat at their restaurant. Actually, shopping in Israel is quite easy I discovered. You often have to barter, but for the most part Israelis are very honest people and they would rather preserve their dignity than do anything they can to make you spend your money. As much as I enjoyed the Starbucks in Istanbul, I appreciate and admire the laws in Israel that partially protect its local economy from the threat of huge international chains and unrealistically cheap imported foods. I also love Israel’s health conscious people who have made health food stores, homeopathic pharmacies, brown bread, quinoa, and salads popular and readily available. And, of course, I love that living in Haifa means that I can walk in the Baha’i gardens and pray in the Shrines almost every day–a bounty I am so grateful for.

Leaving Haifa wasn’t the only thing that made me more aware of the things I appreciate about the city. Last Thursday, my first day back in the office after my trip, I found out that I am not going home at the end of April like I thought. Well, I am going to China and then the United States on April 24th for a three-week holiday, but I am coming back. Haifa will continue to be my home for the next year and half because I was asked to consider serving in a different department and extending my stay here, and I decided it was a something I am more than happy to do. Of course it was scary at first and I must say I was pretty sad at the thought of being away from my parents and home for another year and half. It was also hard to decide if deferring my graduate studies another year was the right thing to do. But in the end I realized that the only thing I was struggling against was time and that time is not as important as we often think.

My trip to Turkey and learning that I will be here much longer than I thought have made me look at Haifa in a new light. As much as I feel like a fish out of water and often get lost in a sea of languages I cannot speak or read, Haifa is home.

Health Coach Training

January 14, 2012

For the last six months I’ve been taking an online course through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (a school based in NYC) that is training me to become a holistic health coach. I am really loving it, and I don’t even remember now exactly how and why I got into it. But I am certain that it will help me in my practice as a midwife in the future, and it’s already helping me a lot now. Lately I’ve been approaching my own health and diet quite differently, and I know it’s one of the reason I’ve felt happier and have had more energy lately. It’s funny though because I think I’ve actually started eating worse in a lot of ways–I eat sweets sometimes and I almost never would before, dairy and wheat are a part of my diet again, and most of the veggies and fruits I eat are not organic. But eating worse is not the reason I feel better. It’s just that focusing on my diet less has allowed me to focus more on improving the things that have had a much greater influence on my health the last couple of years, like stress, sleep, may attitude/approach towards life, having loving and supportive friendships, and prayer.

The course I’m taking emphasizes the fact that health is affected by all aspects of our life, of which food is only one. In fact, food food is called our secondary food, and our primary foods–the ones that really fulfill us and have a broader affect on our health–are  relationships, spirituality, exercise, and profession/career. Among health professionals in the West, this is a pretty revolutionary way of thinking about health and diet, but if you think about it, it makes perfect sense and it is what we all intuitively know to be true.

One of my assignments this week for this course is to keep a food mood journal–to record all of the foods I’m eating and how I feel throughout the day. Then I’m meant to analyze the relationship between the foods I’m eating and my mood, and look for foods I may wish to cut out of my diet or eat more of depending on how they make me feel. It should be interesting, but it will also take a bit of self discipline and motivation, which is actually why I decided to write this blog entry. I am hoping that if I share with others what I’m doing and promise to write back in a week to report on what I learn, I might be more likely to actually do it. We’ll see. Hopefully I’ll be writing again in a week with interesting discoveries :).