The last several months have been a time of immeasurable human suffering all over the world. I have heard about loved ones in Nigeria and India facing unimaginable difficulty and recent violence in the Middle East touches the deepest ancestral wounds within my physical body/mind and also in the body minds of my Jewish and Arab/Muslim brothers and sisters. And then in Canada, we are facing the the terrible hate motivated murders of a Muslim family and our collective reckoning around the deeply painful and frankly horrific history of colonization and cultural genocide of the First Nations people here. I have been both deeply saddened by what is happening as well as spurred into reflection and action.
Sometimes the totality of all this has felt like too much and I have wanted to close my heart and shut away the pain but I know that this is not what life is asking of me. Instead, I would like to invite you to join me in allowing your suffering and the suffering of our fellow brothers and sisters here and around the world to pierce our collective heart and to be known as if it is our own. Why you might ask? Because each and every one of us has an immense, vast, boundless heart that is capable of compassion. Each of us, at our core and in our essence, is vibrating love and the world needs our love right now. I am not writing as a doctor today; I am writing as a spiritual being and a human being committed to humanity and to this earth and to the co-operation of all people of all colours and faiths to bring about a shift in our collective understanding.
The challenges we face around the world today are an invitation to go deeper into our hearts to find the full breadth of our wisdom and our compassion.
As I have been reflecting and digesting the past months, a few things feel key in my response:
1. Slowing down….my thoughts, my conversations, and my writing and PAUSING.
2. Allowing myself to touch and compassionately hold what is present and grieve current or historic wounds that are arising – in my case there has been deep sadness about what is happening everywhere, in our Indigenous communities, in Nigeria, India, and the Palestinian Territories and there have also been cellular memories of Jewish ancestors being murdered. As I sit with the pain I try not to move into reactivity, defense, or contraction.
3. Recollecting the equally alive cellular memory of boundless compassion that I have experienced inside myself and from people all around the world and from the teachings and transmissions I’ve received from mystics and teachers of many different faith traditions.
4. Taking action to address the challenges and injustice from a place of deep acceptance and love of all beings, and all energies. This can look like holding space for loved ones to grieve, signing petitions, speaking up, writing etc.
If you would like to read more about this rEvolution of the heart that I have been exploring, please continue below…
STEP 1 – PAUSE
Reading this, are you feeling any reactivity in your body? I know I am feeling some as I write. This means it is time to pause.
So just right now, as you read this, I invite you to:
And touch what is alive inside of you (in your body and mind)?
Can you listen for any unrecognized emotions or unmet needs?
Perhaps you would like to take a break and write down what you’ve noticed.
STEP 2 – Touching and compassionately holding the wounds inside
When I hear of all of the different things happening here and around the world, I often cry. It comes like a powerful wave that hits the shore and recedes.
In addition, over the past year I have started to feel in my own body and cellular awareness, the full depth and pain of my Jewish ancestors. I can feel the ache of centuries of rejection, discrimination and pogroms (violent assaults on communities often ending in massacres of men, women and children) in Eastern Europe culminating in the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust. As minorities without any political or institutional protection in the shtetls of Eastern Europe, they were utterly vulnerable. I can feel their fear in my body and their desperate searching for safety as they go into survival mode. I recently heard an interview of author and speaker Resmaa Menakem by Gabor Mate in which Resmaa said ‘The march of time decontextualizes trauma’. He went on to say, “By the time it gets to me, I sense [the ancestral trauma] as a notion. I sense it as vibes, I sense it as meaning making or urges or sensation. I sense in myself that something is wrong defective or fraudulent because I don’t see anyone expressing individually what happened communally.”
Feeling the ancestral fear is such a potent reminder to me of what we humans do when we feel threatened: our bodies contract, our minds become tight and we are likely to do one of the following – fight (and potentially try to control or dominate), flee (and potentially turn to addictions or dissociative numbness), freeze and become paralyzed, submit (and try to please those with power), or collapse (often in depression).
As I feel this fear and pain and allow it to be there, I work towards not contracting inside myself and instead allow the grief to flow. I hold this grief with compassion. I also remember that my ancestors were and are not alone in experiencing this. This pain reminds me of how important it is to act in support of my brothers and sisters who today continue to experience hatred, discrimination and killings. Allowing the grief to flow allows me to bring a greater clarity to the present moment and to the action(s) I will take.
STEP 3 – Touching Ancestral Wisdom
My ancestors are more than their suffering. So are yours. What are the incredible strengths that your ancestors have passed along to you? Sometimes they are buried but we can find them in song, in prayer, in dance, in community, in service, in silence. Can you touch your ancestral wisdom?
My ancestral cellular memories are a tremendous resource for me: Resilient and open-hearted, my ancestors were committed to human dignity, to mitzvot (ethical behaviour, acts of kindness and remembering God) and to supporting those in need in their community and in the community at large. I can feel it in the cells of my being. There is also a profound richness of spiritual wisdom.
I have only to think of my sweet grandmother who grew up Jewish on the immigrant side of town in Sydney, Nova Scotia. She volunteered tirelessly for many community groups. She also opened her home to graciously welcome my Muslim, Afghan boyfriend when I brought him to Nova Scotia (this was many years ago).
My own family has been similarly welcoming to friends and family from around the world joining us every year at the Passover Seder table. Together we recollect the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt, a story of liberation from slavery, a story of freedom. This ritual has such powerful resonance with the needs of so many people today and is a reminder to us all about the importance of standing strong for freedom: Freedom from injustice in our world and freedom from the tyranny of our own minds.
When I feel into these memories, I feel myself turning towards goodness, towards justice and towards compassion. I feel my ancestor’s courage in the face of hardship and their perseverance. And I am grateful.
I also turn to my spiritual ancestors and guides. As Father Charles Ogada (a Nigerian Christian mystic and spiritual mentor) said in a talk this week:
“We must go back to the source. There is no other way. We must go back to the source which means – our Self. Going back to the source does not mean we are blind [to what is happening around us]. Going back to the source means that we realize that we are the source of everything. We are in everyone. It’s not going to sit in meditation all day, which is also good. It also means action. It means action in love. It means being there for people. It means bringing the presence of oneness in the environment, in the land, in the air, in the culture, in our thoughts, in whatever we do.”
His words remind me that I am not trapped in hopeless despair and sorrow, nor reactive rage and that I can always come back to my boundless hearts and know that, as I am able to feel compassion for EVERYONE and EVERYTHING inside and out, that I am actively changing our world. When even one part of myself, one person, one group of people, one religion, one life form is left out, I am shut off from my very essence.
STEP 4 – Loving Presence, Loving Action
Only after doing the first three steps do I start to turn towards loving action.
Right now, I hold space for my Muslim brothers and sisters who are hurt, angry and grieving. I am reaching out to them and I am grieving with them. I will also continue to turn to the beautiful light of Islam whose radiant teachings of peace have touched my heart deeply over the years and I will continue to organize multi-faith services so that we may all know and feel that we are connected in the heart.
Advocating alongside my Indigenous brothers and sisters is another urgent loving action that is collectively needed now. The truth of our country’s past is calling out to be heard. The recent discovery of a mass grave containing the remains of 215 Indigenous children who died on the lands of a residential school in the hands of the church is horrific but not surprising. The attempted cultural genocide that the church and our government committed needs the urgent attention of the public. Even after the government of Canada set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to hear testimonies about the human rights abuses that took place in church-run residential schools, they have still not acted on the many recommendations that were made. I’d like to quote an excellent letter I received from Christy Ferguson, Executive Director of Greenpeace which describes well the recent history and has some specific calls to action:
“Between 2007 and 2015, Survivors of the residential school system shared testimonies before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Stories about children being stolen from their families, about forced assimilation and abuse, about missing children, and about mass graves. These atrocities were lived and experienced. These stories were told. This painful exercise was followed by the release of 94 Calls to Action, including six recommendations directly related to missing children and burial information.  Yet six years later, only a handful have been implemented — and none of the six on missing children and burial information….
Federal government actions continue to harm Indigenous peoples disproportionately. Every day we see the impacts of ongoing genocide. In the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in the child welfare system. In the continued disappearance and murder of Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people. In police violence and mass incarceration. In the Federal government fighting residential school Survivors in court.  In decades-long boil water advisories. And in the many ongoing attempts to deny Indigenous peoples’ sovereignty over their lands in order to extract resources and wealth. It is beyond unacceptable.
Honouring the lives of these 215 children must drive us to act and to demand change. Today, I ask you to listen to the Indigenous voices speaking to these issues, amplify their stories and demand the implementation of the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action.
The 215 children buried in Kamloops were loved. They are still loved. Do not look away. Do not sit idle.“
PAUSE – Let yourself feel the impact of reading this. Can we allow ourselves to bear the full pain of this truth?
Now let’s turn to Resources and actions from Christy’s letter:
Deepen your knowledge of Canada’s colonial past and present
Check out the variety of learning resources on the Settlers Take Action page of the On Canada Project.
Join Indigenous Canada, a free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) that explores Indigenous histories and key issues facing Indigenous peoples today.”
Learn more about residential schools and the TRC’s Calls to Action:
Donate to Indigenous organizations
Donate to the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation by mailing your donation at Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, 200-330 Chief Alex Thomas Way, Kamloops BC, V2H 1H1.
Donate to support counselling and other services for residential school Survivors and their families: Indian Residential School Survivors Society.
Donate to support advocacy for Indigenous women, girls and gender diverse people: Native Women’s Association of Canada.
Donate to support First Nations child and family service agencies: First Nations Child & Family Caring Society.
Donate to support Indigenous communities fighting legal battles for their land and rights: Raven Trust.
The other area I want to speak to (specifically as a person of mixed Jewish/Caucasion heritage who is deeply committed to interfaith work) is the local and international events related to Israel, the Palestinian territories, the Jewish, Arab and Muslim communities and human rights abuses locally and internationally.
As a Jewish person, I want to say straight out that the violence we witnessed primarily in the Gaza strip and to some extent volleying into the state of Israel was ethically and morally wrong. Even worse, this occurred in the context of ongoing systemic violence that is wrought by Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian territories and recurrent confiscation of Palestinian lands for the construction of Jewish settlements, which is illegal under international law and the 4th Geneva Convention. To my Jewish brothers and sisters, please pause long enough to take this in and consider. Allow yourself to feel uncomfortable. Notice what happens in your body. I have lived in the Palestinian territories and seen first hand the effects of the military occupation on the Palestinian people and it is wrong. No amount of past Jewish trauma can justify what is happening now. I want to say it clearly that I stand with my Palestinian friends against the violence and the military occupation of their lands. I do not support these actions committed by the state of Israel and supported by some members of the Jewish community and I invite other members of the Jewish community to join me in finding our collective voice to speak against human rights abuses committed in our name. Judaism teaches about the value of every human life, it teaches us honesty and generosity and, fundamentally, it teaches us of the Oneness of God: Everywhere, in everything and everyone. So just as we mourn the loss of life of our Jewish brothers and sisters, I invite you to bravely open your heart to equally feel and mourn the losses of our Palestinian brothers and sisters and say. “Enough”!
Fortunately, there are more and more Jewish voices starting to speak up and, for my Jewish readers, I’d like to invite you to read more about the work of any of these Jewish organizations who are trying to support human rights and academic freedom: T’ruah, Rabbis for Human Rights, Standing Together, Breaking the Silence and Jewishfaculty.ca
I also want to say that I stand with my Jewish brothers and sisters in the midst of the growing waves of antisemitism that have swept around the globe. I reflect on the power that words have to evoke a whole world of meaning and to bring forth deep layers of unconscious bias towards groups of people allowing us to dehumanize other human beings. Giving way to stereotypes and labels, we lose our capacity to see the utter beauty of each and every being in this world. In so doing, we also lose connection with our own clarity and inner light.
Right now many of us are moving through life with broken hearts and I know that at this time we need a new way forward. What we have done in the past has not worked. So to all my beloved brothers and sisters everywhere around the world, I hold you in my heart and invite you to remember our fundamental interconnectedness. Violence (in thoughts, words, and action) will never bring an end to violence. It only serves to strengthen fear and the belief that “I need to be in power and to dominate to be safe”. Nor will staying silent in the face of injustice bring an end to violence. This only serves to perpetuate structures of violence as well as the beliefs that go along with them. Racist systems and the very deep rooted beliefs that uphold them (internalized in the bodies and thoughts of oppressors and the oppressed) need to be shifted not only externally, but equally, I believe, from the inside out.
So let's begin a new conversation, One that involves listening deeply
Listening to yourself
And listening to others
And with care.
There is a deeper wisdom born out of the inner silence that I trust will guide us. We all have this wisdom. Let us touch that place of silence so that we can find a new vocabulary, discover love in action, become the powerful creators that we all are capable of being, and bring forth a future that is just and that is caring. We must do this together.
I look forward to hearing your reflections on this post as it is only through discussion and dialogue that we build new understanding.
With much love,