Beyond Imagination

beyond-imagination-1What happens when a person whose vision is so clear they can see in the midst of nothing, an entire transformation of both the material and ethereal? Does one believe and move in the direction of transformation or, is more evidence needed to quell the questioning, the doubt, and fear surrounding the invitation to take the next step?

Sitting in the parsonage of a church in Tijuana, and faced with the conditions of the place where over 350 migrants have found food and shelter, the conversation about making an agreement for the sale of property intensified, “No, we don’t need to put in a clause about extending time or return of this deposit – this is going to happen, I know it!” Said with a smile and steady concentration as the last touches of the two-page land purchase agreement was being edited on his laptop, this visionary pastor was about to go next door and hand over the first $5000 to the seller.

I was sitting across from both the pastor and Pancho, his first full-time outside volunteer. I was worried and the questions kept coming: “Are you sure you don’t want to give yourself the ability to extend your time for raising the next $42,000?”, “What if something happens and you just need another month?”, “Is the seller someone you can trust?”, and “Is this how it’s done in Tijuana – without escrow and a third party to hold the funds and take care of the entire transaction?” All of these questions were being asked even as the document was being put together. The next step was to bring the good faith funds next door.

The response was clear, “I already know that this is going to happen.” (Subtext, “I am just an instrument for something that is being asked of me in the service of love and compassion – and I have no doubt.”). He looked up and smiled some more, “I am not worried at all. There is no doubt that the property will be a school, a small clinic, and a space where the children can play.”

beyond-imagination-2The pastor and his volunteer – Pancho who had just arrived two months ago were with me. I arrived from my Los Angeles, urban office. And though I had legal experience with cons and local political struggles it was hard to understand what was happening. The pastor explained he had lived in this place for 25 years. For the past 10 years, his church was here for the local residents. However, in the last 3 years, he has been receiving migrants. Now with the governments of the U.S. and Mexico implementing horrible, inhumane policies related to asylum seekers and migrants seeking a new home for their families, the church was an essential safe place on their journeys.

beyond-imagination-3The camp is full of children who have no place to play. The sewage ditch serves as entertainment where pigs and piglets can be watched while standing on a small overhang. There is a dusty, unpaved road, it is the last 300 yards one has to travel before getting to the sanctuary and its two shelter spaces. The deteriorating road makes trash hauling impossible — so its gets burned, and the toxic fumes are a a big cause of concern for the people in the shelters.

In creating a safe space during times of crises, people do whatever they can. Some people stay informed, some wait and some people risk their very lives. All of this exists in this place.

A one-day trip to bring necessities and donations to this spot felt like a week-long journey. From Los Angeles on this side of what our friend Pancho calls “the imaginary line” or “so-called border” to the place where all this humanity is waiting for an answer to the question, “What’s next?” An incredible effort is being made to be in service to the highest aspirations of our existence – to manifest that which can be called humility, compassion, service to humanity, and love.

How one got to the place, how one envisions the future, what may happen if one turns left or right – doesn’t matter. That is all either memory or imagination.

beyond-imagination-4The only thing that is real is what is right in front of one at this very moment in the desert. The thing to understand is that every step can have huge consequences. The synchronicity that happens when certain conditions and events occur – karmic connections, both material and ethereal – create that which does not yet exist. And, the foundation for building the next thing has to happen without knowing for certain how things will unfold. There are those who live in this way – they are visionaries who are vested with an infinite amount of faith and willingness to work.

beyond-imagination-5A smile and greeting from the residents is precious to maintaining connection and peace. Mopping the floors of the main sanctuary – knowing that in the next five minutes many people will enter and cross that same floor in their dusty shoes, simply means the mopping will be constant and thankfully, there are people who are happy to do that job. Cooking food throughout the day and making sure that those who are in residence eat, is not just nurturing the body but also the spirit. And making space to rest — this is truly a gift for those who know that their journey is far from over. After all, this place is only a temporary resting spot — and we all need to realize that this is the case, no matter where we find ourselves in life.

For my part, bearing witness and offering that which I have capacity to contribute – with slightly less faith that the visionary – is to transmit as best as I can, to you the reader – who may not ever see, but can trust that all this is true.

What is needed next to deepen the resolve that good must come out of conditions of evil? What step can one take to ease the suffering that exists in the world right now, in this very moment, but beyond where your five senses can go? This is where consciousness can take you. This is beyond imagination.

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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.

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Radical Generosity, Magic, Healing

Journey to Justice program with the UFW in Bakersfield

A program with the UFW in Bakersfield

The year so far has been about exploring what might be California’s shared narrative on health, wellness, and access to care.  And the Gift of Compassion (GoC) has done some conventional activity in pursuing what might define this narrative, speaking to a diverse cross-section of individuals.  Beyond the conversations, the GoC has engaged other means to explore the meaning of health and wellness and how one might develop a greater connection to both.  The Journey to Justice: Citizenship for All campaign showed us the power of meditation in movement.
This summer, a group of highly stressed/distressed individuals came together to address their individual and collective trauma — all arising out of their immigration status:  being Dreamers and Undocumented.  The Dreamers are young adults who have received immigration protection through the federal program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA);  and the undocumented are individuals who have a multitude of migration stories.  These twenty and thirty-somethings came together to ride border to border along the west coast of the U.S. continent (from Seattle to San Diego), 1700 miles, cycling for 35 days through towns and cities, rural and urban in order to build capacity to face uncertainty for themselves and their families, to educate and share stories with local people in communities across Washington state, Oregon, and California.
journey-to-justice-On the road to New Cuyama

On the road to New Cuyama

Their bodies were put to the challenge of cycling almost two thousand miles, and their minds were, as one woman described it, “….totally GONE – I was drooling, sweating, yelling at myself — ‘Why am I doing this!’ … and she was laughing all the while.  She shared in one evening’s reflection circle:  “I really have learned what it means to build my capacity to face anything, to let go of the fear and stress, and to see that I am much stronger than I ever imagined.”  Several others expressed the exact same sentiment – a generation is emerging through engagement and creativity in order to have the strength to face all of the trauma that comes with nothing more than their BEING.  This was a leadership training of a different sort.  It was also a personal and collective growth opportunity with support from caring, loving, compassionate elders who could let go of control and see what young energy could reveal about next steps in building a movement for social change and justice.  Not only was the ride fantastic, the engagement of communities, the partnership between a national Korean American group (NAKASEC) and a national African American group (Undocu-Black) was deepened, and the lessons that came were truly beyond imagination.
The conversations with community in Sacramento illuminated the notion of Radical Hospitality (experienced all throughout the ride).  There were moments of magic when a 71-year old immigrant drove his truck from LA to Fresno to deliver 120 bottles of water, Korean BBQ, and ramen noodles — then decided to drive as support all the way to San Diego.  The healing effects were visible in the energy, happiness, expressions of confidence and clarity among the riders.  Not a single rider talked about being sore, unable to continue the journey, or regret about the decision to engage.
A church service with the Lao community in Fresno

A church service with the Lao community in Fresno

What do we know about healing from chronic, sustained, undefined trauma, like being labeled an “illegal” human being?  Not much.  The outcomes can easily be imagined:  physical and mental illnesses that cannot be diagnosed as to cause and cannot be treated in conventional ways.  We are living in a time of great opportunity because there is so much uncertainty, fear, stress, and anxiety from so many different sources.
The Journey to Justice – for now, is about Citizenship for All.  But in the future, it will be about much, much more.  GoC will be there to support and sustain those who find the courage and opportunity to engage in putting their bodies and minds to the test.  Meditation happens in all forms – meditation in movement happened in the summer of 2018 from border to border.
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