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Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Lost and Found

A significant part of my time in India this year has been focused on the beautiful but chaotic process of ever-learning more about myself and the world around me. I’ve been prompted, pushed, pulled, and sometimes dragged into experiences, events, and conversations which make me question what I value most in life and whether I am acting in a way that corresponds with my values. 

What is that I hold onto? What is it that I think is important? Do I spend my time in a way that shows that? In what way do I want to engage with the world? (Am I doing that?) How do my actions and beliefs impact other beings around me? Am I happy? Do I feel loved by others? Am I loving others? Am I loving myself?  

I feel that these are important questions—and I ask them, in one way or another, almost every day. As such, time and time again, I find myself in need of the reminder that all of this is a process. For better or for worse, we are people who are caught in change and motion rather than grounded in constancy. 
(This is felt rather poignantly when travelling to new cities almost every week, but there are other ways of noting this in our lives even when we seem to stay still…we are always changing.) I’m trying to become more comfortable with uncertainty, and also with the seeming-dichotomy of knowing something (“holding onto something”) and being open to new ways-of-knowing/being.

My desire to try out new things and be okay with change, uncertainty, and imperfection has manifested in a rather practical way for me this year, where I have dedicated some time to a new project: shooting and editing videos which tell stories which I believe to be important and interesting. You can stay tuned for the release of some of those in the near future...

Sometimes we lose ourselves to find ourselves; and sometimes those two actions seem to be indistinguishable from each other.

I’m pretty sure that’s why I wrote this song, Lost and Found. (I picked up a guitar the other day and the melody and the lyrics came out within about 4 minutes.) I suppose these thoughts have been percolating for some time now… You can listen to it on my soundcloud here or just read the lyrics below.


I found myself at the sea.
I found myself by the water.
I found myself as I lost all the thoughts
that I thought I had to hold onto.

I lost myself at the sea.
I lost myself by the ocean.
I lost myself as I found all the thoughts
that I thought I’d learned to let go of.

I’m still holding, I’m still losing, I’m still finding.
And searching and praying and cursing and letting go. 

Monday, 27 March 2017


Why I Wake Early
by Mary Oliver

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who made the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety – 

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light –
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

There is something really grounding about being taken away from the busy-ness of regular life and being thrown into a life of simplicity where plenty of time is spent outdoors. I found that, through my 10-day course in Advaita Vedanta at Swami Dayananda Ashram in Rishikesh, India, I was ushered into a reminder of the importance and goodness of stepping back and slowing down from my otherwise generally-chaotic lifestyle. 

This is not to say that our days were empty...our days started early (some individuals attended a daily 5:15am temple ritual; I joined in at the 7am meditation) and ended around 9:15pm when the nightly "satsang" (literally "truth gathering" but essentially a Q&A time with our teacher) finished. In between those hours, we had 2+ Vedanta classes, yoga class, Sanskrit class, chanting class, and free time which, at least for me, generally resulted in either a visit to the library or a conversation with another camper about the material we were learning.

There are a number of key points to Vedanta philosophy which I have difficulty accepting. One of them is the idea that, fundamentally, no person or no thing is different than any other substance. On one side, I find this a beautiful thought and I think it can do much to promote equality and love, but there are some philosophical nuances/implications which I find difficult to accept. (I won't get into those now.) But I must say that having a time and space--- and the guidance of some rather wise gurus--- to contemplate the nature of the self and of reality was a very welcome thing. 

How often do we view ourselves as totally separate from the other people around us, and our very surroundings? What might things be like if we focused more on exploring the varying ways in whcih we are integreally connected? (If you are not convinced by the Vedanta argument regarding total non-dualism, that is fine. There are other ways that you can focus on the interconnectivity.) The neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor shares some interesting thoughts of her experience with a stroke/brain hemorrhage, and the way that the right hemisphere of our brain is responsible for connecting us to the world around us. 

sunset in Goa, India

Monday, 30 January 2017

A Cultural and Spiritual Transformation


I am still grappling with a succinct "reasons why humans hate/discriminate against/kill each other," but it is in this same vein that I am motivated to study religion/theology and its dynamic intersection with culture. We indeed need a cultural and spiritual transformation.
And, if you even glimpse at the news sporadically, you are more than aware of how much room for change there is in our many religious, political, educational, and cultural spheres. There is so much more room to love more widely and more deeply. I think all hands are needed in this--no matter your career/hobbies/skills/passions etc.--because each of us have our own ever-widening circles of influence where we can be more loving and encourage others to do the same.
And to those of us who are able to devote ourselves 'full time' to questions of religion and culture (I would place many students and scholars of religion more broadly in this category, as well as those in leadership positions of spiritual communities), well...... I hope we can find creative ways to use our insights and knowledge to evoke positive change.

p.s. please feel free to kick me in the pants whenever I (again) begin to fret more about trying to walk delicately on egg shells in some imagined-path to a tenure track job than I do about following my passion.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Unafraid of Contradictions

This quotation reminds me to not accept or construct false binaries; not everything in this world is either black or white. It also reminds me not to not jump to conclusions--especially when it's about the character of another person--and not to hate that which I've barely taken the time to know. It reminds me that these beliefs which say 'I am right and you are wrong,' or the beliefs which discourage real dialogue (even when under the guise of conversation) are painful not only in the sense that they destroy positive relationships that might have otherwise flourished, but they also imprison us. We become chained to our dogmas, to our safe interpretations of our world. It is sometimes the same walls which surround us and makes us feel protected that close out the world around us. What a pity.

"I am not an idealist, nor a cynic, but merely unafraid of contradictions. I have seen men face each other when both were right, yet each was determined to kill the other, which was wrong. What each man saw was an image of the other, made by someone else. That is what we are prisoners of."
- Donald Hogan (1972)

I wonder what we all see when we look at the people in our lives. When we see them in a positive/negative light..what is it that has encouraged/allowed us to paint them in that way?

Below are some thoughts/questions I have, which I originally wrote out for a different purpose, but they seem applicable to this conversation.

1) What convictions do you hold? Especially, which convictions do you hold to when it comes to the nature of God, reality, truth, love, etc.? Because we all hold to something. Throughout different periods of my life I have considered myself to be a Christian, an atheist, and a bewildered agnostic (to name a few!), and in each of these identities I held strong convictions. What are the convictions that you hold to?

2) How do these convictions affect those whom you love? (Or, since many religious scriptures call us to be loving to strangers and even enemies, let us go one step farther: how do your convictions affect others in your community more broadly speaking?) Is there any degree or form of hurt that results?
And, importantly, is their hurt worth more or less than you maintaining your conviction? This can sometimes be an extremely difficult question; and, like all difficult questions, I do not think there is always an easy answer.

3) In what light do your convictions paint those who think or act differently than you? Try to think of some specific people—perhaps you could choose a spectrum of “different worldviews.” How do you view these people? Are they ‘lost,’ ‘blind,’ ‘deluded,’ ‘deceived,’ ‘ignorant,’ ‘hell-bound,’ ‘na├»ve,’ ‘plain stupid?’ How does your worldview paint you? Are you among the spiritually elect, the elite, or the enlightened? Has God ‘chosen you?’ and what might this say in terms of the love of God.

4) What would others think of your idea of them? (And how do you think they perceive you?)

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Why 2016 Wasn't The #WorstYearEver

2016 was difficult but it was also good. Some shitty, horrible, heart-breaking things happened but it was not the infamous "#worstyearever.

I've learned a lot about myself as an individual (and a small amount about executing self-care), a lot about what it means to exist relationally/ with intentionality, and a lot about what I value in myself and others, who I want to surround myself with, and who I want to strive to become.

I think our broader communities and societies have learned a lot about what it means to fight for justice, to give voice to the oppressed and to show our support, to protect what is sacred, to stand up against what we believe to be wrong, to amplify love in the midst of hate, to choose to live vulnerably and to admit our brokenness to each other even when it’s tempting to appear like we’re self-sufficient and totally fine, to act selflessly and care for those who are in need, to persevere when things look rough, and to find ways to make positive changes even when they are small and may seem insignificant. This year had bad things (all years do) but it also had loads of good come from it. And I think history has shown that times of significant difficulty open us up to being more loving than we were before; we are often not challenged to step up when we are in our comfort zone. A ‘the stars shine best in the darkness’ sort of thing. 

So, yes, I am welcoming 2017 with open arms: the liminal space offered by the change of calendar years provides us with a sort of clean slate, and with new energy. We can use this to become better versions of ourselves and to work together to create better (move loving, more inclusive, less selfish) communities. But I’m not running away from 2016 as if I want nothing to do with it, or as if I want to pretend it didn’t leave a mark on me. It did. It has shaped me. It was not always sunshine and rainbows, and yet I have reason to smile. (Wouldn't you say the same?)

Least I seem overly-optimistic, let me reveal my stoic/realist-tendencies via this photo.

Also: not totally related, but I am really appreciating this excerpt from Seneca's letters
Let's not fear what we don't need to.

"There are more things, Lucilius, likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality. [...] What I advise you to do is, not to be unhappy before the crisis comes; since it may be that the dangers before which you paled as if they were threatening you, will never come upon you; they certainly have not yet come. Accordingly, some things torment us more than they ought; some torment us before they ought; and some torment us when they ought not to torment us at all. We are in the habit of exaggerating, or imagining, or anticipating, sorrow.

[...] Do me the favour, when men surround you and try to talk you into believing that you are unhappy, to consider not what you hear but what you yourself feel, and to take counsel with your feelings and question yourself independently, because you know your own affairs better than anyone else does.

[...] It is likely that some troubles will befall us; but it is not a present fact. How often has the unexpected happened! How often has the expected never come to pass!

[...]The mind at times fashions for itself false shapes of evil when there are no signs that point to any evil; it twists into the worst construction some word of doubtful meaning; or it fancies some personal grudge to be more serious than it really is[...]. But life is not worth living, and there is no limit to our sorrows, if we indulge our fears to the greatest possible extent[...]There is nothing so certain among these objects of fear that it is not more certain still that things we dread sink into nothing[...]."

Sunday, 25 December 2016

"Peace on Earth" etc. etc.

Merry Christmas! I am thrilled and grateful to be with my siblings and parents for Christmas, as well as with a number of friends-who-feel-like-family in the days surrounding the holiday. I'm enjoying it quite a bit :)

About 25 years later, my siblings and I still indulge in
silly laughter around my parents' Christmas tree.

But I also know that holidays, more than the average day, can place a megaphone to the pain in our lives. Maybe it's the first Christmas without a particular loved one. Maybe you aren't with family or friends or other loved ones. Maybe gift buying has made you broke. Maybe you feel lonely, or wistful, or apprehensive, or sad, or empty, or confused about what is really important.

I find myself in some of these spaces.

I think these pains are legitimate and so are the questions evoked by them. This is my advice--to all of us who have moments (or extended moments) of hardship in the holidays: try to glean what good stuff you can from this opportunity for such reflection. Try to use it as a time to explore yourself deeper and know yourself better. Try to look at the most frightened, puffy-eyed part of you and tell yourself 'you are loved, and you are going to be okay.' Try to walk forward--not running away without ever looking back, but walking steadily with your eyes fixed on where you want to be, yet comfortable to glance around and look your past square in the eye. It's an important part of you, and whatever you've walked through is what allowed you to get here. Try to continually reorient yourself so that you are simultaneously wrapped up in love, supported by love, and are walking toward love. Try to let your heart and hands be loosed of any unnecessary things you've been carrying; it's easier to walk forward without them. Try to ask someone else for a hug, or a listening ear, or a walk, or a sleigh ride if/when you need it. It's okay to need it.

my sister took this in Cypress

There's a beautiful Christian tradition in some churches to physically "pass" the peace of Christ from one person to the next. I've partaken in this whilst in a Syrian Orthodox Church in India: one person starts with the intangible "peace" held symbolically in his hands and, as he passes it to 2+ people, it gradually makes its way through the congregation. It's a beautiful way of enacting the symbol of spreading peace on earth. And this--the celebration of a birth of a baby who people believed would bring peace on earth--is a worthwhile Christmas reminder. It may be about giving/receiving gifts, it may be about spending time with family+friends (both of these can be done in healthy or unhealthy ways, I think), but it's also about peace. And that encapsulates a whole lot of things. I hope you partake in peace this Christmas

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Recognising and Combating Gender Bias in the Workplace

So, this research summarises the ways that gender-bias is alive and well in academia. In other words: it was my disheartening read of the day.

In sum, here are some of ways that female-ness affects individuals in academia (according to what seems like some pretty well-grounded research.)

...I'll let you guess whether these elements are in favour of being female, or not.!

Some Affects of Gender-Bias in Academia

1. The qualities/traits that supervisors draw attention to in reference letters.
2. The perceived hire-ability for academic jobs
3. What students expect/ask of their professors
4. The criteria by which students evaluate professors in formal and informal evaluations
5. The likelihood that other scholars will choose to cite our work
6. The way other colleagues will interact with us when it comes to things like supervisons, staff meetings, etc.
7. The pay received for same or similiar jobs 
8. (There are more...)

Also, this kind of gender bias is not limited to academia, but studies show it is also prominent in politics and the workplace more generally. 

What causes this kind of discrimination?

Well, unfortunately there are some people who are just jerks. These jerks dislike or distrust certain individuals or groups of individuals and don't want to offer them equal opportunities...but I assume a lot of these inequalities are the result of unconscious bias (click here for definition/explanation) being at work in good and well-meaning people.

I think that is worth repeating.

A lot of these inequalities are the result of unconscious bias
at work in good and well-meaning people.

Yassmin Abdel-Magied did a Ted-Talk which poignantly revealed the reality of gender bias. Give it a listen by clicking here. It might surprise you. 

My intent is not to come off as preachy or hypocritical. Truth be told, I hold unconscious bias, too---we all do. In fact, to my shame and dislike, I hold unconscious [negative] bias even when it comes to the capabilities of females in academia; when I'm reading a particularly noteworthy text I assume its author to be male. Catching myself at this simultaneously humbles, irritates, and disheartens me. (I caught myself at this just yesterday.)

In fact, studies show that we can even hold unconscious biases against ourselves which affect our performance. Check out Shen Zhang's study on mathematics tests, which suggests that women often underperform when they are being identified as women. A summary of it can be found on Smithsonian. 

Anyway, every cloud has its silver lining and every shitty statistic has the potential to promote change. (...Right?)

Image from Hyperbole and a Half's blogpost on depression

Some Avenues for Positive Change

1. We ALL need to think a bit more carefully and thoroughly at the way we interpret things and individuals. The chance of us holding onto an unconscious bias is extremely likely, but GOOD NEWS, if you dig around your unconscious with a bit of intentionality, you will unearth some shitty stuff! (Keep reading...the good news will come, I promise...) And then you find a way to scrape it away or toss it out! TOSS.IT.OUT!

2. Brainstorm some concrete ways that you can avoid or counter the tendencies of unconscious bias. Are you writing a reference letter for a female student? Make sure you speak to the skills asked for in the job rather than, say, to her ability to care for the elderly. (IT HAPPENED. SERIOUSLY.) Are you evaluating a female professor? Don't write off her confidence or assertiveness as "bitchyness" when you categorise the same action (done by males) as confidence. (AGAIN. IT HAPPENED.) The list can go on.

3. Listen to females when they speak in meetings. Of course, listen to males too, but studies show that when females are listened to in meetings, their original ideas are all-too-often attributed to males. Listen to individuals when they speak, and give those individuals credit for the ideas they bring forth.

4. Consider publishing / applying to jobs with your initials rather than your full name. This goes for females AND males. While it is mostly females who reap the negative results of gender bias, if only females start using their initials it may not have as strong an affect as if males and females both choose this. For comparison, think of LGBT individuals who, prior to legalisation of marriage, could not use terms like 'spouse' or 'wife/husband' to refer to their significant other. As a result, the term "partner" began to become more prominent. But, and this is important: THE TERM WAS NOT ISOLATED TO LGBT COMMUNITIES. Instead, straight individuals (married or unmarried) also began to also use the term "partner," and a type of solidarity was created. In affect, it acknowledged the limits of stigma-free vocabulary that LGBT individuals had at their disposal and decided to use the same vocabulary. I think we can draw a line of comparison for the use of full names when it comes to publishing and job applications. For better or for worse, recogniseably female names are met with unconscious bias. This affects publications, job hirings, and citations or engagement with scholarship. (And probably more.) A natural way to eliminate the affects of this bias is to remove the indication of gender.

(This fourth one is really really shitty and sad to think of doing, but I view it as a short-term fix for a problem that will take awhile to change.)

And, because I just remembered about this minutes before pressing "publish" ...check out these tips directed toward junior women scholars given by tenured female professors.

Okay, that's it. I'm really curious to hear your thoughts about this. Feel free to comment below or to PM me.