Foundations for Decision Making

When I consider the process of decision making, I immediately go to my mind.  I reflect on the thousands of articles, books, and lectures that document the best and most effective tactics. I think of business management, analysis, and strategies.  And while I do think one should fully activate their instincts, I never thought of the concept itself as one that relates to the heart.  It was always a cerebral concept for me. But how about if we think of decision making, be it in politics, business, or personal, as an activity that involves the heart as well?  What happens if we include compassion or love? How would decision making be different then?

Each person has a different style and approach to decision making. There are those who charge into a decision, move forward, and never look back. There are those who take their time, and ask for more information before any decision can be made.  And then there are those who make sure they hear the consensus before they can decide. These are all techniques that are based on each individual’s personality.  It does not matter which kind of decision maker you are, but I believe it does matter if you make your decisions from a place of compassion, from knowledge, from free will to choose, and from love—as love is always bigger than all.

The way I see it, Compassion, Knowledge, Free Will and Love are the foundational pillars of decision making regardless of your personality, the kind of decision you are making (professional or personal), and where you are placed in life (regardless of the authority you have or you may not have in any aspect of your life).  At the end of the day, each person has one thing fully: the self. You are always the leader, the lover, the jailer, and the freer of yourself. Regardless of your current status in life, where you live, how much you earn, what circumstances you are living in, and how you see the world, consider the following pillars as you make decisions.

1.  Compassion

Compassion for me is the ability to see another’s perspective regardless if you agree with it. Compassion is always easy to give to those we love. But when asked to show it to those one competes with, disagrees with, and is even angry with? Well, that is a much, much harder thing to do. When I worked in war zones, I never thought I could show compassion to those who raped, killed, and pillaged. When I first heard the concept of “compassion” being applied to everyone I resisted, it was difficult for me not to show anger at those who committed crimes and oppressed others around them let alone express compassion. But then, I became curious to learn the meaning of true compassion so I embarked upon the exploration within myself. I started searching in my travels by going to the people I would usually run as far away from as possible: the enemy, if you may. For me, that is a brothel owner in India, an executioner in Iraq, and a rapist in Congo, to name just a few. Instead of fleeing from them in my anger at their crimes, this time I walked towards them, curious to understand their logic and their perspectives.

I clearly remember every single moment of my encounters with each of these criminal men. When I sat in front each of them, my heart would pound fast as I knew they could have harmed me in another moment in time. But I also knew that if I had to access compassion, I needed to truly hear what they had to say. I let curiosity my guide and I asked questions without judgment. How am I to understand the “other side” if I am not genuinely interested to learn of its reasoning?  I asked and when they felt that I was genuinely interested, they answered honestly without hesitation.

The executioner described his executions in detail, as did the rapist. And the brothel owner told me the business logic behind buying girls and making them work 5 years for free before giving them any income.  At the end of each encounter I came to the same conclusion. I didn’t feel anger, but sadness for the loss of their souls.  They talked numbly without any feelings. It’s almost as if they do not allow any emotions to go through them; they might as well be a robot. They described their crimes as if they were on autopilot.  And when I noticed their complete detachment, I was able to, for the first time in my life, develop compassion towards them. But that compassion did not mean letting them get away with their crimes, or make excuses for their actions by blaming it on rough childhoods they had. Compassion in that case simply meant truly listening, and seeing things from their outlook even when I found their viewpoints repelling.  I realized then that if my goal is the transformation of behavior—and, with that, societies—rather than a “kill them all” mentality, then compassion is critical in altering the narrative, both their own stories as well as their own engagement with the society around them.

Although these are examples of heinous crimes, the concept applies the same way to a person who hurt you, said something bad about you, or snapped in anger at you. Well, these things are upsetting. They always are. Still, it is possible to be understanding if you allow yourself to take a deep breath, put your own emotions aside for a moment, and try to see things from the other person’s point of reference. Often you will see they are snapping out of their own pain, insecurity, or whatever they are going through. That awareness, simply that awareness in you, can help transform your assessment of them from reaction to that of compassion.  You can still set boundaries and limits, and you can still decide whatever you want. But when seeing another’s story with contextual awareness your own emotional engagement or decision making will take a very different turn.  Compassion allows one to make calmer decisions which stem out of centeredness rather than reaction–even to the worst stories that we encounter.

2.  Knowledge

Knowledge is the ability to acquire as many points of information about one issue and from as many angles as possible.  Imagine looking at a room not only from your perspective, which by definition means a certain way of looking, but from multiple standpoints. Imagine if your eyes were accessing the four cameras there were put on the four corners of the room. Each camera sees a different reality.  Each sees the same exact picture from a different perspective. What is small in one viewpoint can be huge from another and what is harmless from one perspective can be harmful from another.

Knowledge for me is the ability to examine the same story from all characters’ perspectives without emotional judgment on any side.  It is merely a process of data collection: as factual as fact can be, in tune to analysis, and multi-dimensional.

Try asking your siblings about your childhood. I guarantee everyone has a different description of the exact same story.  Each saw the story from his or her own perspective even if it is the exact opposite of yours. Knowledge is simply a process of information collection without emotional engagement. But it’s important to be aware that every story has multiple perspectives and everything ultimately gets filtered through an emotional lens.  Knowledge is inquiring and listening to everyone’s experience of the same event: noting the facts as they see it and adding it in your library of information as a critical source for decision making.

3.  Free will

Ah, and what is “free will”? Free will for me does not mean that one is living in a free country that allows freedom of expression. Nor does it mean that one is a free agent–as say, an entrepreneur–to make whatever decision they may choose.  If you are the owner of your company or the boss of your team, you may think that you have the free will, or authority, to make whatever decision you choose to make. But that is not what I mean by “free will” either.

Free will for me is to be free from your own inner story. Free from our fears of judgment, from our desires to be loved and accepted, from our desires to please others, from our desire to be popular; or to show that we are hard working and intelligent. These desires take away from our true meaning of “free will,” where we take each step and make each decision by following the absolute truth of our values and beliefs regardless of any appeal we each may have to be accepted and seen by others.

Freedom, true freedom, is the freedom that stems from being anchored in the true self.  In that place there is a knowing what is true to one’s values irrelevant of the world outside of us. Imagine if you made life choices not based on what other people thought, or what the society dictated as the norm, but in your truth of who you are and what you believe in.

I don’t know about you, but I have been guilty at times of compromising my own values to please others. I came to realize this is a losing proposition.  If your life goal is to please others, then it is a goal that can never been accomplished. “Others” have their own stories and their pleasure or lack of pleasure may never be related to you. When I compromised myself, I died inside and that was the worse kind of death.

But there were many times in which I lived every step of my life out of utter truth regardless of  how people around me felt or judged. These are times in which I could breathe fully even when times are hard. Although being in truth is never easy, being committed to your desires and dreams leaves you with a sense of significance and freedom that is priceless.

It’s easy to fool ourselves about the meaning of free will, especially if one is living in a society that sees itself as free. The freedom in this case is an inner peace where we are not deciding in reaction to our needs, but in truth to ourselves. It takes full knowledge of oneself to distinguish between the decisions that stem out of an outer desire for other’s responses and between inner truth that truly does not put much value on outer reaction as much as inner peace.  That is the true meaning of free will within decision making.

4.  Love

Yes, Love!  For love should be part of everything we do in life, even when we are unhappy, upset, or tired. In love there is a centeredness that grounds us on this earth. And while it is easy to think of love as a major agent in our personal decision making—whether related to marriage, friends, and families—many do not see love as part of our decision making in business.  You may ask what does love has to do with making professional decisions, such as hiring or firing, buying this computer, or negotiating deals? Well imagine if you use love in such decisions. What would that entail?

I personally would start by asking myself simple questions. Is my decision loving towards nature? Is it really necessary to have or want to make a decision? Most of us buy things because it is the latest thing, or it has the trendiest fashion or appeal.  And sometimes that does not mean that we need it as much as we simple desire wanting the newest materials in order to meet social norms. But what if your decision making in this case is based on love for something other than pressure from others? What if it is based on whether that decision is loving of earth and its resources or not. What if your decision to buy shoes, for example, is based not only on your needs for beauty but also on the impact of its production of the animals and the practice of treating the animals it to make that shoes.

If the question entails a person, be it hiring or firing, I would ask myself how to follow my decision in truth but also in love.  In other words, you can fire someone for example, but how do you do it in a way that keeps that person’s integrity intact. It will make a difference for you and the other person.

I will then ask the question about myself. Is doing this or that act, or eating this or that food, loving of myself and my body or not?  I am a big foodie.  I love food so much and so when I eat, I think of it as a loving act for myself.  But recently I realized that when I eat that muffin or bagel, it is actually not a loving act to my body at all. It is rather a cruel act to my body when I don’t put healthy things inside of it. It ends up using more energy than needed and is poisoning its very core. Suddenly that chocolate ice cream that I so love to eat did not look loving of myself. And with that its appeal changed.

Making decisions based on love does not mean you do not set boundaries or say no to people, but it is in the way of deciding and acting upon your truth, you do it with love. That love is a reflection of you and your own being in this world.  Everyone wants to live in a more peaceful, caring world.  This cliché goes beyond beauty pageant statements.  “I want world peace” is an easy sentence to place in everyone’s minds.  Well, it all starts with you.  The world does not change outside of you and wait for your reaction. It is the opposite, actually.  You change and with that the world around you transforms in response to you.  Try it…It works  🙂

The Journey of Truth

It is much easier to talk about being in truth with oneself and one’s values than to act on it. To be in truth entails shattering old perceptions of yourself, your life,  and some of the  values you grew up with.  Most of us live in response to norms set by society without questioning the conventions and their validity—or their timeliness, for that matter. The day you catch this discrepancy between your heart’s true desire and the life you actually have is the day the journey of truth starts.

But that journey is not easy. One will need to confront ambiguity while entering unfamiliar territories.  That includes confronting what is not working including within yourself as well as others around you.  The path of truth may actually bring instability and uncertainty but it is worth it.

In walking the journey of truth, each individual create their own path based on the circumstances and experiences they faced.  But there are patterns in that path and the way I experienced it, it entails the following:

 1. Standing on the cliff

There is always a catalytic moment in which you find yourself with an emptiness, or catch a lie you told yourself. In these instances exists a reality you need to confront but had been avoiding. One of my moments of awakening was when I found myself bored in front of the very people I loved.  It was like an ax of consciousness that came with a clarity I couldn’t deny.  That awareness kept me up for nights. I knew that if I hid this feeling I would be betraying myself—and, more importantly, betraying the very people I love.  But to confront this reality can risk everything.  It would involve destroying the figurative brick walls that I have built to define who I am for myself.  That moment feels like one is standing on the edge of the cliff. One is too afraid to jump off the edge because you just don’t know if you will land safely or die. And yet one is too afraid to stay on the cliff because you know it is no longer sustaining you. It is a feeling that is summed up in the old adage “damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.” In this moment you will discover the strength of your convictions, curiosity, courage, and desire to be in truth. Do you free yourself, or do you stay on safe but shaky grounds with heartache while continuing to suppress a calling that you keep inside of you?

2. A leap of faith

There is no way to embark on the journey of truth without taking a leap of faith and jumping off that cliff. That moment for me includes speaking up and telling people your truth—your simple truth and nothing else.  There is no way of knowing how anybody will react. Will people around you understand your truth? Will they judge you? Will they hate you for it, or love you for it? Will they be angry at you, or feel hurt by you? There is just no way of knowing what will happen when you start this discourse with yourself and others, whether it relates to starting a new business initiative or speaking your truth to your family members or friends. But the act of articulating what is going on in your heart, however you choose to express that truth, is the biggest leap of faith one can make. It sometimes feels like you will be risking everything—and you may be risking everything, indeed, for the truth.  It is a choice one makes between dying within silence or speaking up and living, but risking potential change in one’s life. The next step, however, is the most difficult and horrifying.

 3. In between places

This is the place of nowhere.  It can feel like the abyss at times, a very dark forest in another time. Or just that instant in the middle of falling without knowing if you will land or not, and if you will die or endure.  That is where true courage comes. To be in that place and survive it, one needs to harness confidence and believe in their own truth to keep them going.  And yet it is in this place that doubt arrives.  This is the place of fear, too.  You start asking yourself, am I crazy for doing what I just did? That is when you panic due to the idea of risking everything in order to follow what your heart tells you. You may not even see the path out of the dark moment. That is also the time where some people show up and some friends disappear. Those who show up become like angels, their words and support is an acknowledgment of your path. Those who stand by you provide an insight from a different perspective that can help a lot when you are facing the pain of the unknown.  Those who do not show up leave you with a hurtful confusion of what they once stood for in your life and why.

This is also the time where you need to make sure you have a support team: a handful of people whose perspectives you trust.  Their eyes become like flashlights into your own darkness until you can find your way out.  They don’t have to be friends. They can be paid professionals such as a therapist. There is no right or wrong about that.  What is most important is observing the consistency of their feedback.  The way I see it, if I hear the same observation three times then it is the truth. And when my support team did not know each other and yet were still telling me the same exact thing, I took their input seriously.

Within this period, I used books, movies, lectures, my body, and all kinds of knowledge I could get my hands on as a crutch until I could walk on my own feet again. I needed to know if I was on the right path or not. I needed to learn tips and input on how to deal with this unknowingness. And, of course, there is just crying out of fear—deep and utter fear—at the possibility of jeopardizing everything without knowing the outcome and where you will land in your life.

Whatever you do, hold the space and the place for this period.  You can get out of it but you must go through it.  What comes next is freedom and freedom is delicious.

4. Finding your wings

I cannot promise there is a particular pivotal moment where things just land themselves and new wings sprout in a way that is surprising even to you.  The shedding of old pains and old stories is always a painful process. The shedding of old skin hurts even if you are just using a luffa in a Turkish or Korean bathhouse.  But what materializes is a new clarity and a cleaner skin for sure.  That new person–yes, I call this emergence as “that new person” as it is not familiar even to the self.  In my case, I became curious about this new woman that came out of this process.  I knew she behaved differently. What she accepted and tolerated before may not be acceptable anymore. There is a kind of calmness in the heart that is just too delightful to forgo. A fresh spirit and strength comes out of walking through that dark forest, where you must encounter all the shadows of yourself and some of the people around you. Consequently, your new narrative starts to develop from a revitalized source of truth to oneself.  It may result in a very different lifestyle, setting, and kind of existence. But in all cases they bring about a silent peace inside, where joy lies in a most subtle way.  Just a taste of being in truth with oneself is so delicious.  Once you get a glimpse of it, you will want to have more of it. It lightens the weight off your shoulder and releases all the pressure that we’ve accumulated through our experiences.  And it makes everything worth it—even if your life is so very different.

May we each walk the journey of our truths, and be aware that they don’t come only once.  Being truthful to ourselves and sharing our best potential to all beings is ultimately the best anybody can do for themselves, for others, and for the earth.  The journey of truth may be difficult, but it is a definitely worthwhile. The leaves of your tree may fall in the process, but the blooming blossoms always come back, filling you with new meanings and a more truthful essence of yourself.

On fear

We each possess fears that hold us back, hide us from the world, and alienate us from the essence of our true selves. And more often than not, we act out due to blinding fear rather than benevolent emotions that allow us the courage to show our true desires, whatever they may be. If fear were a person, he or she would be very satisfied for perniciously and successfully conquering and dominating people’s hearts in today’s world.

Each one of us has her or his own story of fear. Some fear stems from material success: will I get a job, will I make it, will I be able to have a home and build a family? Other fears stem from the need for safety and security: will I be safe enough, or will I be attacked, raped, or killed? Other forms of dread come from the fear of loss: will I lose what I have, or will I lose my loved ones? But, in my opinion, all fears come from our deepest desire to be loved and accepted at the core for who we are. In care and acceptance we are safe and we can be comfortable with who we are without ever worrying. And yet we unconsciously build the walls of fear to surround us lest we expose the vulnerability of who we are and our simplest need: love.

I once imagined fear as a big, giant scary dark structure that horrified everyone outside of it by how it looked. It was the only way I could think of it—as having an entrance to explore its meaning from the inside. I imagined entering this dark scary compound with much trepidation. It was like being in an underground tunnel with multiple rats coming at you, but you’re cornered by dark walls and cannot see what lies ahead. But I kept on going until I reached a point where there was a small room with warm light inside. When I peeked in, I realized that inside that structure of fear was actually a very base desire to be accepted. Perhaps we each build that horrific edifice around us as a way to protect ourselves from people’s judgment and all that comes with it. From the outside, it looks very scary to all who only see the exterior. But from the inside it is both vulnerable and isolating, as we attempt to protect ourselves from the other.

It’s as if we feel more comfortable with building fear around us instead of taking a leap of faith to exhibit our true desire of love and acceptance. What if our own individual fear creates fear in others and the consequential fears of others lead to more horror inside of our own hearts. What if we are each responsible for that creation of fear and its maintenance in our lives? What if the same applies to different cultures and nations as we deal with each other in today’s complex world?

The way I see it there is only one way to dismantle this fear. It takes trust and an act of affection from all parties. Imagine for a moment that you have dismantled the walls of fear that you have built around you. It is a very difficult act indeed for it requires one to put down the shield of protection and in that instinct there is utter vulnerability. Will they love me? Will they accept me for simply being who I am?

This is a story of collective responsibility—not only individual. For as the individual puts down their armor of fear, outsiders must also see beyond that fear and see the individual for who they really are rather than the projection that one has put on them. In other words, to dismantle the power of fear in our lives takes all parties to show faith in the other and requires all involved to show actual love in that crucial moment of vulnerability.

I share this because I feel we are living in times of fear. We started 2015 with a horrible attack in Paris, and reports of more ISIS executions, more refugees, and more unemployment. In a way, there is more violence everywhere we turn. Fear is spreading its own wings these days without hesitation. Our news is covered with stories of fear: Christians fearing Muslims, Muslims fearing Christians and Jews, Jews fearing Muslims, Hindus fearing Muslims, Muslims fearing Hindus, atheists fearing all religions, Muslims fearing other Muslims, and this xenophobia is relentless. It is easier to remain anxious and to spend hours trying to understand it. It is much harder to ask people to reflect on and deconstruct their angst and show love, compassion, and acceptance towards others’ vulnerabilities.

It is like a big tsunami that is heading our way and taking everything—every value, every love, every sense of unity in humanity—with it. And yet the only way to rid ourselves of that fear is to surmount the wave of anger, resentment, and judgment. We should see the “other”—whoever that “other” may be: a friend, a lover, a colleague, a different religion, or a different country—for the essence of their hope to be loved and accepted. As with all emotions, it starts with the reciprocal act of hearing and telling stories. So the question is: can you take that leap of faith, dismantle your armors, and show that desire to people close to you? Can you also show love for someone who is vulnerable and see the essence of his or her soul and desire? Can you do that in your life? Can you do that beyond your life and extend it to the larger story of today’s reality? I believe we can. If I could, so can everyone—whoever you may be—as it takes more than just the individual to conquer fear.

The world we live in is a product of our imagination, so we might as well reclaim our imagination.

The world we live in is a product of our imagination, so we might as well reclaim our imagination.

On December 21st, the day the Mayans predicted the world would change, I got together with friends recounting our learnings from 2012.  I had embarked upon last year with Martha Beck’s advice of resting until one needs to play and playing until one needs to rest.  It took me a while to come to an understanding of that way of life.  At the beginning I thought the resting meant sleeping and the playing meant playing pingpong.  But eventually I came to the realization that what she meant by resting and playing needs to be felt in everything one does.  In other words, if whatever you do does not feel restful or playful and thus not lifting your spirit than it is probably not the right thing to do.   I had been working so hard all my adult life that it took me a long time to find my new equilibrium, my balance, and my peace.

It is in that peaceful silent space where I got my learnings from last year.  In that space I learned that only if one feels love to themselves can one feel and see the love in others.  I had always shied away from love for myself thinking of it as selfish.  It took me reading Warming the Stone Child by Clarissa Pinkola Estes to understand that loving and mothering thyself has nothing to do with selfishness and everything to do with maturity of spirit and an understanding that the love we are seeking is not outside of us but lies within us.  As a matter of fact, everything we are seeking lies inside of us.  If we love the Mother and respect her, than we need to love ourselves and give the proper respect to how we treat ourselves.  She can only exist inside each one of us.  And if we are waiting to see Her outside of us than it is going to be an endless process of waiting.  Imagine how different you will treat yourself if you actually will give the same treatment as you would to the Divine Mother; the Mother in each one of them; a mother that is not only kind, loving and generous but also strong, determined and clear.

To love oneself means to also accept all of the self: the shadow and the light and and good and the bad.  Up until recently, I had separated all of these meanings away from me thinking of their existence as only outside of me.  But in truth, in love one can see the shadow that exists within oneself, and rather than reject it or hide it, we need to see it, acknowledge it, and accept it as part of the self.  For me this was an ordeal and a painful process to accept the part of me that I was embarrassed of and that I hid in the caves of my caves.  But as long as I was hiding it, I could never address it, and eventually I came to the conclusion that only when I acknowledge it with love can I actual love myself fully and thus calm and balance that shadow within me.  Wilma Mankiller once said when asked about a necklace of two wolves she was wearing where was black and one was white, “they are both part of me.  Which one I choose to feed more is my choice”.  I had quoted her for so many years but only when I came to realize that darkness and light are both inside me andonly when I love that full part of me and do not deny either can I address my light and my darkness with consciousness and will.

I can never explain the relief that comes with this process.  I felt like I was particles of sand dispersed all over the place, and only when I loved the fullness in the light and in the shadow could the particles come back together and form the full me and only when I could do that could I make the conscious choice that Wilma Mankiller was talking about.  Otherwise my suppressed side always forced itself outside of me despite of me.

Then, and only then, could I deal with all the things I have been struggling with: my doubt, my pain, my hurt, all of it in a way where I acknowledge the feelings for what they are and make the choices to listen to them or to move away from them.  The choice was mine.    And then, and only then could I take full responsibility for the love I need to give myself not as being selfish at all but rather as  being mature and responsible towards oneself.  I realize that only then I could show true love to others.  Love that understands  my boundaries, my good and my bad, much better.  Love that understands that unless I give myself what I need, I could never receive it from others outside of me.

Nothing in this journey is magical outside the realm of our imaginations.  Each one of us, all of us, are part of this experience.  The divine lies in each one of us.  In our love, in our innocence, in our joy, and definitely in our freedom.  The secret to all of that is to get the “I” out of the dynamics.  The trap is when we think that only “I” am special.  Only “I” feel this or that feeling.  The truth as I see it, is only when we get the ego out of the way can we actually feel the divine.  For we are all part of the oneness of this world and only in oneness can we feel the divine.   And only in oneness do we all exist.

A farmer once told me “I don’t understand why everyone is so obsessed with self-sustainability.  Nothing on earth is self-sustainable.  Everything on earth is dependent on each other, so why we humans think we can be self-sustainable.  It just doesn’t make sense.”   What he was sharing is true to everything we do.  Our actions are interdependent and codependent on each other, our survivors, our food and our energy and definitely our feelings even though it is far less obvious.

So with that spirit, my friends and I started imagining the world…. a world where every time a man rapes a woman, he feels that violation onto himself….a world where every time a person carries arms to kill, he feels that death inside himself and drops the arms as quickly as he picks it up.  We imagines a world where every bite we take out of an apple or any food we think of how the earth was treated, about the farmers that picked it, the person who packed it and sold it and about the apple itself.  We imagine a world were we are all free to fulfill our full potentials. We imagined a world were we can lead out of love and not out of fear.   We kept on imagining and went wild with our imagination until we came to only our breath.  And that is when we realized we are but breath in this massive, beautiful amazing world.

The world we live in is a product of our imagination.  So we might as well, with the beginning of a new era and a new year, reclaim our imagination and make magic happen.  But remember, the journey always starts with the self.  It may be the hardest journey to make but the one that holds the secret to utter joy and love.  Happy new year everyone.

August Poem

Of the same mother

Fed from the same roots

Yet a tulip does not question its right to come out in its full beauty, but I do.


Of the same mother and from the same roots,

Yet a water spring never questions its right to come out in this spot or that spot, but I often do.


So what if I allow myself the same clarity a tree has when it blossoms in spring

What if I allow myself the same peace a water fall has in its strength


What if I spread my wings in its fullness without hesitation or fear. 

How will the air feel?

Where will my heart take me to?


What if I know that I am the rose and the thorn in it as well.

What if I am OK with the best part of me and the worst part of me. 

What if I see fully me and still love what I see.

What if I see fully you and truly love the full you. 


What if I let the energy of my volcano erupt fully in its roar

What if I let the sweetness of my spring to nourish all

What if I let my peacock feather to open in its beauty and seductiveness

What if I am OK with the bee inside me to stink when attacked. 

What if I know when my rose is cut off, it will come back again and again. 


Of the same mother

Fed from the same roots

Yet I spent too many years depriving myself of what my mother has always given me:  the clarity of the tulip,

strength of the water fall,

sweetness of a rose smell,

defensiveness of the bee sting,

beauty of a peacock,

and the softness of a water spring.


What if in this spring I am clear

with an open, full, strong, vulnerable, beautiful heart.

What would life be.

So let it be.

What Do You Do With Those Who Betray You? Love Them!

I remember myself as a youngster playfully repeating “Et tu, Brute?” to my friends after reading Julius Caesar.  Regardless of Shakespeare’s brilliant description of betrayal, I still had no idea of the deep pain betrayal causes when I first read about it.  When I experienced the feeling myself later on in life, I realized it is like a dagger that digs deep down into alleys of the heart no one knows about except those we willingly let in.  Betrayal can only happen when there is love and thus trust.  For in the act of love, we let people into the most intimate aspect of our hearts, letting down our walls and protections.  That’s when we risk hurt and betrayal but that’s also the place of utter love.

Whenever I felt betrayed by people I love, for it can only be triggered by those we love, I was left with a very confused feeling.  The shift from a place of love to a place of hurt and anger triggered by betrayal is a radical shift over a short period of time.  It feels like an earthquake has shaken the foundation of your love and it leaves one desperately trying to grab on to any solid land to get a grip of what has just happened.  I usually grab the land of sorrow first, then anger, then disappointment.  Eventually, I realize that all of these feelings eat my heart from within and I come to the realization that the only way out is through love.  But love? Really? You may wonder how one can transform the pain of betrayal into love.  I too did not believe it could happen at first but now I do.

Cambridge Dictionary defines betrayal as the “act of not being loyal when other people believe you are loyal.”  In “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” Oscar Wilde describes betrayal by saying “each man kills the thing he loves.  By each let this be heard.  Some do it with a bitter look.  Some with a flattering word.  The coward does it with a kiss.  The brave man with a sword.”  I see it simply as the lack of courage at being truthful to oneself or to others.  Betrayal for me is not in the act of abandonment but in the lack of ability to communicate the truth, one’s truth, with integrity and grace to those we love.  Only when we tell the truth can there be true healing.  And the truth, no matter what it is, resonates in people’s hearts even if it sheds light on the worse aspects of who we are.  For, the worse information, when told in the simple and honest truth, can be taken with the grace and love truth carries.

There was a few times in which I felt betrayed in my life.  My first experience came from my mother the day she tried to commit suicide when I was a child, and then again when she pushed me into an arranged marriage later on in my life.  Other betrayals came from friends and romances, people I deeply loved and trusted. As I am writing this, I am thinking to myself, “Well, it’s not so bad.  I am almost 44 years old and I only felt betrayal 5 times in my life.  Once for each decade.  Not so bad really J.”  I can laugh about it now but I can assure you each was a very painful experience that left me confused at the whole world, not knowing how to make sense of it all.   I held on to the anger I felt towards my mother for many years for example.  How could the woman I loved the most in my life, betray me so deeply, I often asked myself?  But that question kept on repeating itself every time I felt betrayed.  How could this person that I loved so much betray my trust and my love?

I was told once that a horse’s biggest act of love is when it lets humans caress it in between its eyes.  I am sure there were times in which there were violations of this most intimate moment for the horse.  We violate such spaces when we are afraid, insecure, feel powerless, or even jealous.  I have a hard time believing people we love do things out of meanness.  Hurt can only come out of hurt.  Maybe I am wrong, maybe not, and maybe there are exceptions to this theory.  Whatever it is, I am sure there were horses whose eyes were injured or even blinded in that moment of violation which can be seen as betrayal.  If I was a horse I could only process what happened to me if I understood the feeling that triggered the person I loved so much to violate my space in such a painful way.  Suddenly, I wondered if a horse would so easily let people come into that space.  And that’s when I started wondering if I have ever betrayed myself?

Things started shifting from seeing any point of betrayal from inside out (its all about the others who betrayed) to seeing it from within the self.  When have I betrayed myself?  I started asking.  What were those moments?  What triggered me to betray myself?  Ouch!  For the journey to the self is always the hardest one. Here, I am embarking on yet another inner journey to see what I needed to discover, heal, love and accept about myself.  Just as I was hurt, angry, and disappointed at the loved ones who once betrayed me, I became angry and disappointed with myself for all the times I let go of my instinct and did not trust it; for all the times I did not stand up for my rights or own my voice and power; for all the times I justified sacrificing myself and my well-being in the name of love; and for all the times I tried to protect my vulnerabilities by creating illusions and projections of the people I loved, rather than addressing and seeing my true needs and what I was seeking thereby seeing the true being and who they were.

I continued to dig and dig and dig deeper until I found the little girl in me that was acting out of her pain, vulnerability and fear rather than from the strength of the adult woman that I had become.  The betrayal of me came from my own injuries.  Some go back to my childhood and are still working themselves out in my adult life.  Suddenly, the anger and the disappointment I felt towards myself transformed into deep love and affection right down to the vulnerable part of me that was acting out of pain, for I understood that pain and its source.  As women we are trained and so used to being hard on ourselves and almost fearing self-love that it can be seen as selfish, not motherly, or as not giving enough.  Fluctuating the self and punishing it for all the wrong we have done is so much easier than loving it.  But then again, there cannot be healing, true healing, without love.  And I had to consciously go into love to heal myself from the time I had betrayed myself.

In order to heal and love, one has to forgive.  I once had a dream where I heard someone telling me, “We must forgive even when not asked for forgiveness.”  I objected to that line in the dream.  “This is too much,” I said.  “Is it too much to ask to forgive those who have not asked for forgiveness?” But, the dream kept on repeating, “We must forgive even when not asked for forgiveness.” Finally, I calmed down regarding the saying, rested in it, accepted it and understood why we need to do it.  It’s the only way we can heal ourselves and let the self be free of all resentments, anger, pain, and hurt.  People hurt each other out of their own pain just as we hurt ourselves out of our own pain.  So only when we release ourselves from that pain, see it, love it and forgive it, can we truly love the essence of the self in its most beautiful aspect and also in the aspect we are most embarrassed of, our own shadows, for that is the true meaning of love.  That’s when I could love, truly love, those who have betrayed me and love them from their very point of betrayal.  If they betrayed me out of their pain just as I betrayed myself out of my pain then I can understand, sympathize and I can love without needs or expectations but for what it is and what that person is, without any illusions or projections.

So yes, it is possible to forgive even when not asked for forgiveness and even when people betray their own courage at telling the truth. Though I still believe that only when we tell the truth can there be true healing, I also understand that it takes much courage to tell that truth and sometimes it will entail revealing the most insecure, frightened aspects of ourselves.  I can only go through this process for myself.  I cannot expect it at all from others.  To each his or her own.  For me, it is a journey of love.  For I believe love is bigger than all.  And love is the only true healer.  That includes deep, utter, and true love for the self so we may give it the respect it deserves and not betray it again.  At least hopefully so…  Is it possible to love those who betrayed us?  Absolutely YES!  I LOVE each and every single one of them, most importantly my mother and also the friends and the loved ones who later came in my life. parental guidance  And in that I found my healing.  I am sure a horse would have done the same.

Celebrating the Ordinary

Rumi once said that “silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation.” As a lover of God, I always seek God in the wonders of the world, in serving other people, and in the exploration of all kinds of spiritual practices. I felt like these were attempts to catch a glimpse of God but in the process I could not hold onto that glimpse as I returned to my daily life. That glimpse was always somewhere else outside of me. Sometimes I saw it in the beauty of humanity amidst the worst of human atrocities. Sometimes it was in an act of kindness by someone we may know or may not know. The glimpse has always been like a jar that poured water of hope and belief into my heart. It was that belief that kept me going even as I worked in wars for many years. Other times that glimpse was in spiritual retreats I explored as I tried to make sense of all the wars in the world and the stories I was being exposed to. Other times I found it in my daily meditation and prayers. All were beautiful experiences but I also wanted to hold on to the sensation during my ordinary routines, be it attending a meeting, giving a speech, or traveling.

But recently I decided to explore that silence in the ordinary of every moment in my life. Instead of only separately carving some space for my meditation and prayers each day, I decided to integrate my seeking of the presence of God in every inhalation and every exhalation I take. So instead of checking my phone and my emails as I sat in the taxi or the subway, I just focused on my breathing—and with that, I focused on God. And so the practice spread throughout my day: in the shower, while walking from one place to another, and with every meal. And suddenly I noticed a beauty—a new beauty—I had not experienced before and that is the beauty of the ordinary.

Ecstatic feelings came out of the simplest experiences: the sensation of my feet touching the ground as I walked, the softness of every breeze touching my face, and even the drinking of a glass of water. And when everything was so beautiful, my seeking of the divine turned into the exploration of the ordinary of everyday life with no more separation between that, my prayers, and my daily activities. All became one.

And with that came a new curiosity. A curiosity to see everything in all its truthfulness for I figured that is where beauty lies. For example, I am someone who always put nail polish on my toenails because one of my nails broke a long time ago and never grew back normally. Therefore I always covered it up with all kinds of colors. But when the ordinary became so beautiful, I took off all my nail polish and was enjoying my broken toenail in its fragility, beauty, and even ugliness. I shaved my head and took all my makeup off. I know this is a bit extreme, but it is an extreme I can afford and am willing to do. Soon I started noticing how makeup felt like a mask that I was putting on every day: sometimes for good reasons, sometimes to cover up sad stories, and sometimes to pretend everything is perfect. It is not that I stopped putting makeup on, but at least I laugh at my silly attempts at masking. And “why mask?” I started wondering to myself. It is in our vulnerability that we connect to each other as people. It is in our joy and our sorrows, in our light and our shadows that we connect, learn, and grow. Suddenly those in my life who covered their shadows, as I covered the dark circles under my eyes with concealer, stopped being of interest to me. How can I connect with those who hide their shadow so deeply? It feels as unreal as the perfect looking woman who is full of plastic surgeries. She is beautiful! But everyone knows it is not real, natural beauty. And it is hard to connect with the unreal. For God is only in the real!

So here I am starting my 2014 with the most obvious knowledge that I have not paid attention to all my life: the beauty is in the ordinary. It is in the ordinary of our behavior of love, generosity, and kindness. The beauty is even in our behavior that triggers shame, embarrassment, and anger. For these moments help us grow. And in the cracks of the self, new light eventually comes. And with this, I started experiencing God with every breath: not separate from my daily life but part of every movement and every step I make. And for that, I am grateful!

May 2014 helps us all see the beauty of the ordinary.

Why there is more desire to live the life of a celebrity instead of the life of Gandhi?

Everything around us is inundated with news about celebrities: their lifestyles, what they wear, what they did, their homes and boats, their love affairs, and everything in between. You can’t actually escape such information even if you are not interested in the subject. What I don’t understand is idealizing the life of a person we know nothing about beyond their acting skills. We do not know the individual behind the celebrity—their hopes, dreams, desires, accomplishments, feelings of inner peace, and who they are as individuals in their hearts. We see the masks and we are obsessed by it. We desire it thinking it is the real thing—perhaps thinking it is real happiness and peace. In the meantime, we look at people who have walked the journey for real peace of heart and mind, such as Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, in an admiring way but we leave them alone on a pedestal to admire and maybe criticize but not to aspire towards.

Do you see the absurdity of our obsession with the masks rather than what is behind the masks? Do you see how convoluted our understanding of happiness and contentment is? We think we desire only the mask: the lifestyle, the glamour, the clothes, the cars, the houses, the travels, and the beauty. And we want the mask for we think that is the journey that will get us the joy we all seek in our lives. And so we leave the journey that is behind the mask alone, and with it we leave Gandhi and Mandela alone too. We respect them but rarely do I meet people who want to walk their journey. “Why?” I wonder.

All I know is that the journey to truth and inner happiness is a hard one for you cannot buy it no matter how much money you have. You can only work on getting it from within and that entails confronting yourself, your demons, and your heart’s truth. In that journey, no material possessions matter.  You can have it all, as many celebrities do indeed have it all, and still do not have joy and happiness.

How ironic, the thing that is accessible for all, for rich and poor alike, is not popular and the people who have walked that journey are just studied in history from afar. You see that inner peace and happiness does not require buying anything.  That desire to help people, and to speak truth to power, requires a lot of courage and even sacrifice at times. But it allows the person to sleep soundly at night and when the moment of death comes, there is no resistance to it.  To get real joy is to surrender and release our egos, as well as desires to being acknowledged or loved. Oh, it is so so much harder to walk that journey than it is to make money and buy that fancy car. And it is so much more joyous to feel that peace–and to dance with joy in your own skin–than it is to buy that gorgeous dress that you can’t afford. The first gives you a prolonged taste of that joy and the latter gives it to you momentarily, maybe daily and maybe only hourly.

Seriously, we’ve all experienced the excitement of buying a beautiful new dress or a new car. But if you are just slightly like me, that joy lasts no more than a few days for a dress and maybe a month for the car. That joy stops when what you already possess becomes the norm. And so you want to buy a new dress and another new thing over and over again to give you that taste of that joy rather than reverse the journey and do the hard work to achieve inner peace, where the self lies blissfully in silence.

We know nothing of celebrities and who they are as individuals. What we know is the mask they wear, as we all have our masks, and the obsession with how beautiful their masks are. Rather than viewing role models as those who have historically excelled in living his or her truth, our society asks us to idolize the mask of a celebrity. Are you with me? I think this is weird.

On Anger, Justice, and Love

A man in the audience of a recent speech I gave asked me for advice to help him deal with his anger at all the injustice he sees in his community and in the world. I was so touched by this man’s courage to talk about his anger publicly, an emotion that is seen so negatively in society that we would rather suppress any discussion of it than address it in public.

There are many definitions of anger. One of them, from Webster’s English Dictionary, defines anger as: “excited by an injury offered to a relation, friend or party to which one is attached; and some degrees of it may be excited by cruelty, injustice or oppression offered to those with whom one has no immediate connection, or even to the community of which one is a member.”[1] I understand that definition as I feel it every time I see injustice in front me, be it in my own surroundings or in world at large.  As a matter of fact, my anger at injustice has been a major driving force in my life. It has helped me maintain my determination to serve those who have been marginalized, and impacted by injustice, in some of the hardest parts of the world.

Anger at injustice may be the spark that serves as an impetus for actions but angershould never manifest in the action itself. In other words, I believe that when we see injustice we need to do something about it—but that doing has to be with love, kindness, respect, and generosity of spirit. Otherwise, if we allow anger to dictate our actions, we end up becoming the very thing that we are trying to fight against to start with. To make real and healthy transformation from injustice to justice we need to utilize compassion rather than anger, and understanding rather than ignorance.

Recently, however, I had to question all these notions when I was faced with an act of manipulation and violation on a very personal level. In a moment of pain, I reached out to the person where the violation happened in her place for perspective and counsel. To my surprise, she answered saying  “concepts of right-doing and wrongdoing always cause suffering so I can’t deal with it.” She continued and explained that she feels everyone is ultimately “innocence seeking peace.” That includes, in her description, fathers who raped their children, husbands who cheated on their wives, and definitely my own encounter with injustice.

Well, her answer left me perplexed and even disoriented for a while. It didn’t make sense to me. The world I live in has right-doings and wrongdoings. The acts of rapists are simply wrong and the raped victims have faced injustice. The act of stealing, lying, killing, manipulating—just to mention a few—are fundamentally wrong.  To equate all wrongdoings and right doings as the same, and brushing everything together as “innocence meeting peace” felt cruel. And that “cruelty” was covered in the name of “love,” which makes it even harder to accept, as it represents the betrayal of love itself.

Love is not stupid and it is not blind to injustice. Love, as I see it, is clear and truthful. Through love we can address wrongdoings and do something about it. But to brush off injustice in the name of love is an insult to love itself. In other words, when we see something wrong, we have to confront it. Seeing and acknowledging wrongdoing is part of the healing process for the victim and the aggressor alike. And doing that with compassion is what leads to true healing.

I didn’t think my anger could transcend into compassion towards those who have committed injustice until I met a certain 16-year-old young Iraqi woman. She told me how she appealed to her rapist moments before the rape by looking at him in the eyes and saying: “Please, please don’t rape me. Don’t you have a heart?” At that moment, he looked her in the eye and said, “My heart died long time ago,” and then he proceededto rape her.

When I heard that story from the girl herself, I had tears in my eyes and a painful ache in my heart. But the emotion of hurt wasn’t only for her–it was for her rapist, as well. You see, her soul is intact even though she was violated. It is he who has experienced “soul death” and that is the saddest thing in life. So today, I cry for him, as well. But that does not mean I think he is “innocence trying to meet peace,” and thus should do nothing despite him committing such violation. What peace is that? As much compassion as I have for him, I also think he needs to face justice, go ontrial, and serve whatever service necessary to allow understanding, repentance, and hopefully redemption. It is possible to usekindness to expand the discussion and lead to the healing rather than deny the wrong doing all together.

That woman I reached out to is a very spiritual person and that is why I reached out to her. And, in truth, “love for all” and “all is good” are concepts that I hear often from people in the spiritual Western world. Allow me to clarify something: being ungrounded in values reflects being out of touch with the reality of this world and irritates the heck out of people who suffer real injustice in the world. If I tell all the people that I have encountered in my life who have faced more horrible stories than my pen can write about that all is “innocence seeking peace,” I will lose any connection to them, to their real pain, and to their real stories. And I will definitely lose all respect!  Spirituality is beautiful but only when grounded in this earth and this reality. For when it is not, it leads to more disconnection than connection between not only individuals but cultures and nations as well. So for those who are out there, please come home to this earth. The world needs you to show up and be fully present in this reality.

Back to the man who had the courage to talk about his anger–thank you for seeing and hearing those who are suffering. And make sure that when you act against injustice, you do it with clarity, justice, and most importantly love and compassion. That is the only way we can make a difference in the world. And for me, What I experienced recently was great pain indeed. But that pain is no longer there and I am left with lessons that helped me grow and scars that will always remind me that life is ultimately beautiful and love is indeed bigger than all.