Borders and Bridges

The long walk of  my friend Francicso Ramos Stierle – aka Pancho or Panchito – began on March 12, 2019.  It began as a way to honor the sacred act of migration – an act that occurs among all living species that seek to survive and dance with the rhythms of Nature. The idea came to him in final fruition during the Fall Gathering of 2018 at Commonweal.

Our deep bonding happened without words, over several days during early morning, silent meditations. Over dinner one evening, we talked about the news of the migration of people coming from South and Central America.  We shared stories about how we arrived in the part of the Planet we call the United States (this description, “the part of the planet we call…” is how Pancho describes  the arbitrary and imaginary lines created to mark nation states.  Our conversation turned to what was happening in that moment at the southern part of the state that meets at the San Diego – Tijuana region. We envisioned another Overground Railroad project in which people from California could join to walk toward Mexico and the pilgrimage would be to express something more welcoming and kind that what was being expressed by the federal government and “Customs Border Protection” (CBP), also known as the California Border Patrol. Originally, we thought it would be incredible to host a giant holiday celebration for the families migrating north; then, the realization that the heavens, human considerations, and timing would not work in favor of a year end rendezvous

The thing about Pancho is this: he is clear.  Pancho is a deep meditation practitioner, and his life is dedicated to being in service to others. He realized as a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley (UCB) that everyone and everything is so deeply interconnected that one small change could lead to huge differences in outcomes.  As a student of astrobiology and astrophysics, he understood that his doctoral research could be used as a facade by the institution and government to produce “safer nuclear weapons” threatening all life on this Planet.  In his realization of what might happen with his work, Pancho decided he could not allow the possibility of his studies to be used for such a purpose.  He loves the planets, the stars, the galaxies that exist across the universe(s) and his meditation practice gave him an appreciate for the preciousness of the life that each has been given.  As he puts it, “I decided not to cooperate with the University of California anymore.  I chose to leave the research I was doing and it opened up all of these most incredible ways to learn more deeply about the known, the unknown and the unknowable!”  

The fundamental practice of being in silent meditation aligns around compassion, wisdom, and love. In expressing and living in this way, a person can overcome the blind spots that get in the way of letting go of unhealthy ideas and actions.  Becoming numb to toxic conditions or insensitive to human needs can easilyhappen as a person gets caught up in what is called “daily living”.  Over time, a sadness or confusion about what is happening in our world can arise — and this is when the question of what to do to change things becomes a tug at the conscience, the heart, the being. At this moment insight is needed — and in many cases, there is no “figuring it out”.  Rather, it is time to go into a place where no one is telling you what to do, how to think, what is possible and not.  In a place of silence, determination, discomfort – things happen; lights turn on; connections are made.  What happens next, is up to each individual who has the experience.

The departure date of March 12 was identified when Pancho met with a good friend, Nipun Mehta.  The two had built a relationship around meditation in the home of Nipun’s parents for several years.  The trust and care between the two led to the creation of mutual love and insights.  March 12th was when Mahatma Gandhi started the great Salt March in 1930 to commit a massive act of nonviolent civil disobedience.  The intent was to defy and break the imposition of unjust British taxes.  Also, it was New Year’s Day of the Aztec calendar whose civilization flourished in Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City where he and his family grew up; and March 12th also happens to be the date upon which Pancho made entry into this world.

He was “feel-thinking” that the day was the right one – and he wanted to invite anyone else who wished to activate their desire to “do something” in the face of all that was happening.  So he began the walk with a half dozen or so others with whom he kept company in the days of slow movement across the region where he began – in Huichin, Ohlone territory, now known as East Oakland.  His intention was to go to the so called “border”. And the entire way, he would carry an image of what he calls the true “ultimate” selfie – it’s a flag of the Earth –  the blue marble. It is beautiful, unifying and peaceful all at once. He carried this big flag on a 6-foot bamboo pole for the entire time of the pilgrimage.

The company of others was always welcome and mutually beneficial to taking on the conditions that were encountered:  changes in weather, meeting people along the way, foraging for food, and searching for shelter. (They left with nothing – literally, no food, no water, no currency, no intoxicants, nothing but their certainty of receiving all they would need was met with exactly what they expected:  generosity, curiosity, and supportive words and gestures that took care of everything necessary during the pilgrimage.). It was a pilgrimage, with meditation anchoring the day and night.

The response of the heavens gave the pilgrims a clear endorsement:  rainbows appeared and stayed with them for nearly 45 minutes in their first week;  farmers greeted them and offered fresh fruit, nuts, and a place to rest/wash up; and people brought them many questions and advice for how to be safe on their walk.  

At some point, others left and Pancho was left by himself.  Perfect, again./p>

When Pancho began the walk alone, the feeling was of a different kind.  Lots of solitude, no idea of when and where encounters could turn into unexpected delays – but the flag garnered a lot of good will, with many people expressing agreement and understanding that this was a true photograph – it is us and we are all in it together.

The core was about exploring this issue:  We may be living in a time when laws and borders that limit the migration of people who need to move to survive – should be raised as an issue to examine.  What does it mean to have restrictions in the name of nationality when we are living in a time when it is clear we are inextricably tied to one another across the Planet

For some, the idea is preposterous, for Pancho and many others, there is no question that it is time to hold space to both honor national origin and to internalize the fact of our politically-maintained notions and practices being at odds with conditions that are clearly saying it is time for the world to work together.  Harmonizing is necessary for many reasons – the most obvious of which, is human survival and prevention of the collapse of societies across the globe. What do every day person think?

The migration of thousands of people leaving untenable environmental conditions, man-made conflict, and crushing poverty — has sparked a new kind of conversation that has to happen.  But it won’t happen until there are actions that will raise the question being posed by the pilgrimage. It is not just a question of justice and the need for a civil society to follow the rules of law.  It is not just a question of sharing resources that will meet the needs of newcomers. These are things that we are capable as a society of working out. How do we know? Because we have met much more challenging conditions.  This is best evidenced by the fact that we have figured out how to travel human curiosity into the galaxy and beyond, and we have created tools to study other life forms or places where our life form might survive.  This is a field that Pancho knows well from his training and education. He is certain that if people wish to do it, solutions to the many imagined “problems” related to the migration of people can be solved.

On June 15, 2019, Pancho was detained while trying to cross the so called border to attend to a people’s assembly in Tijuana. He became the first “Mexican” deported to the part of the Planet we call the U.S. by the Mexican police. Confused by what to do with any human being who shows up at the border proclaiming to be “a citizen of the World” with no ID, he was handed to the U.S. Customs Border Protection where he was imprisoned for two days. Later, the Mexican authorities realized the absurdity of the situation –as they found old information about him– and he was released from the U.S. jail, “allowed” to enter Tijuana and he was “repatriated”.  Since then, he has connected with pastor Gustavo Banda and his wife –also a pastor–, Zaida Guillén, a couple who has been ministering to refugees from the parts of the Planet we call Haiti, Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Venezuela, Brazil and even Mexico. They live in a place called Cañón del Alacrán (Scorpion Canyon) – where hundreds of migrants have been offered a home.

We are in conversation weekly/daily about what is next.  The idea is to share thinking and events and occurrences with those who cannot go to the so called “border” now;  but who can offer strength in the spirit of knowing that it is possible to ease some of the suffering that exists because we have not yet had the conversation that needs to happen.  We are building bridges from spirit to soul; intellect to conscience; and head to heart. Meditation made it happen for Pancho. It is an act of healing and compassion and wisdom that is sorely needed by individuals and communities across this glorious Planet.

Look forward to more stories from the place of the Planet we call Mexico in the weeks to come.