Thank You, Pablo Picasso

Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not.
– Pablo Picasso

Recently a colleague of mine was explaining that Picasso didn’t mean to invent abstract art, he just insisted that there were other perspectives that could be illumined by drawing and painting from different angles. Instead of drawing a face head-on, he thought about how it might look from the sdora-maar-potraitide, for example. Although this is a simple idea, it created a revolution in how we can represent life–at least from an artist’s point of view. However, I also feel, that this wisdom can be applied to multiple situations other disciplines.

Have you ever heard of the story behind the cure for stomach ulcers? An Australian doctor who challenged prevailing views, Barry Marshall simplymax-plank looked at the current medical paradigm that ulcers were psychosomatic and dared to ask, How do you know (this theory is true)? He proved in his research that it was actually caused by a type of bacterium H. Pylori and providing antibiotics was a simple remedy for patients. Yet no one believed him! For years people tried to discredit his cure; until one day, Dr. Marshall actually drank a broth chalked full of H. Pylori bacterium and caused himself to break out in stomach ulcers, which he treated successfully with antibiotics.  This move was so shocking and convincing that now it is taken as a routine treatment for ulcers. However, it has taken YEARS to shift the attitudes of doctors and can you believe that still there are medical practitioners who still think that ulcers “are in your head”?- They cannot look at this medical ailment from another perspective. (I love that quote from Max Planck that expresses how hard it is to change people’s minds about a long-held scientific belief, which seems relevant still today, whether it’s a cure for cancer, climate change or treating a post-traumatic disorder. The only way a new idea can come into mainstream awareness is that the old stalwarts have to die off. )

Discomfort, fear, doubt, uncertainty–these are all symptoms of a shift in one’s thinking. You know you’re out of the status quo when you experience these feelings. At least that’s how I see it. And when I look at a Picasso, it now makes me think, how often do I look at situations or ideas from a limited point of view, particularly that of the mainstream beliefs of my culture? And I wonder if I avoid taking different perspectives because I was culturally ingrained to be rigid with black -n-white thinking, or am I just trying to prevent discomfort? And, can I teach myself to be more pliable in my thinking? Also, can I hold multiple perspectives at one time, and both of them to be equally valid and true?

As I ponder these deeper questions, I feel appreciation in my heart for a man who provided a visual representation of the need to look at life from multiple angles and challenge pre-existing ideas with How DO I know this is the only way to look at a situation or problem?

Thank you, Pablo Picasso, not only for the enigmatic beauty you tried to represent but for your stirring of the human mind and soul.

 

 

Awareful

That’s not even a word, so my spell-checker tells me. And it doesn’t even have any suggested alternatives but I swear it’s real. I’m going to attempt to define it through this post.

Have you ever heard about the Dhamma Brothers?  Years ago, I watched the documentary about these high-security prisoners that were taught Vipassana meditation and how much it changed them, inside and out. It’s profound, but you can hear about its synopsis in the TEDx talk below.

 

I think what I love most about this story is that they learned to not be victims anymore, to take personal responsibility for their lives (past and present), and recognize that they have a choice. Even in their environment of violence and despair, they can take a moment to reflect on how they feel, what thoughts they are having and the quality of their relationships. We all have that opportunity–we all have that choice, to recognize how our actions, words, and deeds can impact, not only ourselves but others. This is how I am going to define this word: AWAREFUL

I believe that most of us going through life thinking that we are victims of circumstance-someone did something and now we all are paying the price for what THEY did to US. Maybe it’s the politicians or the bankers or the teachers or the lawyers or our neighbors or our families. It doesn’t matter who you think did what when you blame another, you give away your inherent freedom of personal choice. Even in the most oppressive environments, one has the power to choose. Choose what? Your attitude!

Your attitude is the sum of your beliefs about life and your place in “the big picture”. Do you feel powerful or powerless? Do you feel connected or disconnected to others around you? Do you feel well being or sickness? Do you feel happy or discontent? However you feel, it makes a difference in your behavior and affects the “vibe” you bring wherever you go.

You don’t have to convince me about that–I teach 3-5 year olds! They are sponges and act like mirrors. I know that I have to get my attitude in order if I am to teach them or they get completely nutty. I may jest that “it must be a full moon or something” but I know in my heart that they are just responding to what I am projecting upon them through my energy, words, and reactions to them. They provide excellent personal data, I tell you what!

With that in mind, being awareful is a chronic habit timg_3278hat I have been developing. Throughout the day, I have these reminders on my phone that go off, suggesting that I take a moment to breathe and get in touch with my body or ask me how do I want to feel? I want to develop my focus so that I can be more mindful in my actions. It is my intention to develop proper attention. And some days I’m awesome at it, and other days…..um… I could improve. lol  But I know, I always have a choice, and if I don’t choose to be mindful, then it’s MY choice–no one else is in control of me. And me taking personal responsibility for that choice? –well, that’s a work in progress! But at least I am aware that it’s a choice of mine to make.

To Africa, with Love 

A long time ago I had a friend from Senegal who used to admonish me for telling kids at camp to finish their food because “there are starving kids in Africa”. He would tell me that there is so much more to the continent of Africa than kids with bloated bellies and he didn’t want me to spread this message. It has taken me years to finally grasp what he meant. I owe him a sincere apology.

I reckon most people from the western world don’t travel to countries in Africa unless they want to go on safari or are involved in some religious/charity work. I don’t know what compelled us to journey to South Africa exactly but we ventured there during our long Chinese New Year holiday. It’s been, hands down, the most amazing time spent as a family.

From the moment we boarded our Ethiopian Airline’s flight in Shanghai, the whole atmosphere of the airplane was different. It was a full flight with seeming strangers but I immediately felt like we were apart of a community, in which fellow African passengers helped each other with their luggage, made jokes and referred to each other as “brother” and “sister”-even though they were not even related.  I am not a person who knows much about the history and culture of many African nations, but it was obvious to me that they shared some common values which were easy to connect with, no matter the age or language barrier between them. I’ve done a lot of traveling but I’ve never experienced anything like this before. Needless to say, it left an impression on me.

I’ve known quite a few people who feel drawn to the soils of Africa and now I totally get what they cherish about it. Even though I only spent time in Addis Abbas and Cape Town, I believe that you can be anywhere in Africa and have a similar experience. And what experience is that? An experience of breath-taking beauty–not just of nature but of the human spirit. And it was a place full of contradictions, particularly between poverty and wealth. It’s really hard to even relate this in words. Words can not capture what it is that I want to say, but I am utterly grateful for my experience there. And, I urge you, the reader, to go visit and experience for yourself. And if you keep your mind and heart open, I believe that you will have an unforgettable experience that will leave an indelible mark on your consciousness.

….. Enough 

When I was 14 years old, I ran away and lived on the streets in Atlanta, Georgia for several weeks with my best friend at time. Thinking of all the terrible things that could have become of me is baffling and nothing short of miraculous, however we were taken in by a couple of neo-nazi skinheads who sheltered and fed us during this time. (Yes, even neo nazi skinheads can be caring)One night we went to a skinhead party with them and I met a “white power” skinhead named Christopher and we talked until a fight broke out. What intrigued me most about Christopher was that he was a young African-American who believed that something was inherently wrong with him and that he should be subservient to white people. I was confused by him. Up until then, I had never really thought much about race, but after that, I absolutely knew that I was in the wrong crowd and I needed to get away from these skinheads.

Although this part of my life story is embarrassing, interesting and complicated, I have to leave it there. Obviously, it left an indelible mark on me. And my story has a happy ending since I am writing this today. Clearly, I am lucky to have a loving family who has always supported me through my troubled times.

Although it may not be as obvious in places like America, it is blatantly clear in countries like South Africa in which race inequality is apparent.

However, it was the first time I became aware of my white privilege. I wouldn’t expect most white people to identify it let alone acknowledge it, but I know it’s a real thing. Not only have I experienced it first hand but I’ve lived its opposite vicariously through my husband, an Indo-Guyanese, and witnessed it with others. And no matter where I go, in South America, the Middle East, Asia or now in Africa, the attitudes toward race are consistent: the paler your skin is, the better. This attitude that was imprinted during imperialistic times still is in different cultures today.

Lately the international news is full of all things American- mostly the social discord brought about by Trump’s presidency. In particular, women are protesting him and his vision of “greatness”. However this has struck a chord with women around the world and these protests went global. Undoubtedly this confuses Trump supporters, men and women alike, with them thinking that he has been fair enough to women. Perhaps white women are “privileged enough” but what about the women of color- whether black, brown, yellow or red?-maybe they are tired of slathering on whitening cream and putting on pants to justify that they deserve a fair shake at the benefits afforded by men-especially white men- men like Donald Trump- who never had to make difficult choices about whether to buy food or diapers for his children. It seems clear to me that there is another perspective to this reality tv show called American politics that is being reflected across the oceans,  and ideas about race and gender are being challenged.

All I know is there seems to be a day of reckoning that is upon us as we hold our collective cultural beliefs up to the light.  This is a time for reconciliation, courage and thoughtful action. To be unaffected by these events seems impossible and it has definitely stirred up a lot of emotion, even for non-Americans. As I am a tourist here in South Africa, a nation still grappling with its recent past of apartheid, I am wondering if I treat my fellow humans with the dignity and kindness that should be afforded to all people, or am I just being “good enough” to them.

From my Christian background, this is one of those bible verses that clings to my heart and reminds me that kindness and understanding should be my compass as I encounter others.

I know that I can’t change the inequities of the world but I can change my behavior as I interact with others. I can see others in their humanity and embrace the differences between us. I can acknowledge that their struggles are real and offer them genuine compassion- not pity or indifference- but respect for who they are and encourage them. We are all one. I truly know that with every fiber of my being. The Catholic faith taught me that first and my life experience continues these lessons. I can be more forgiving, more patient, more willing to see others’ perspectives.

I do not know if this “enough” but I feel that this is the soundest action to take in the moment.