Safety in the Unknown

By: Nermine Mohamed, Writing Intern 2015Venice, Interfaith, Safety

On a foggy and cloudy day, it becomes hard to see what’s ahead of us. We start to think about all the awful possibilities that could happen. I can see the gloom on everyone’s face. Where is the sun? Is it going to rain? How dangerous it is to go out in such an unclear and gloomy weather, full of hazards and risks? The unknown, the unclear makes us afraid; almost anything that we cannot predict or anticipate; darkness makes our bones creak with fear; roads and paths that we are not used to taking, that are unfamiliar to us make us panic. What if we stumbled and fell and broke our necks? What if we got lost and never found our way back? What if we were confronted – out of nowhere – with our greatest fears? What if we lost on this unclear path the important things that define who we are, the important people that make our lives worth living? What if the sun never came out? What if the pictures remained blurry? It is an endless and nerve-racking labyrinth of questions that blocks our vision and trips our steps up.

I have been on this unclear and foggy path for quite some time now. I still don’t know where I am going. I still cannot see the end of the road, only the mist and netted clouds that reach from high above; melting down to earth- that sometimes I cannot even see where I am stepping my foot. But I find safety in the unknown, in the foggy weather and its mysteries and the solitary and abandoned roads, even if my steps are slow, wobbly and unsure; even if I stop sometimes: out of fear of falling into a dark and bottomless pitfall; out of regret that I might have left and lost irreplaceable things behind; and out of shock at how the journey transformed me into a person I hardly know; a person that I’m still not sure whether I like or hate.

If there’s one thing I came to be sure of is that our fears and worries will never go away; that it’s okay to be afraid sometimes of getting hurt, of falling, of failing, of losing. It’s okay even if we just sometimes want to play it safe or not play at all. But we should also learn how to find safety elsewhere: by moving beyond what’s expected of us– outside of our comfort zone and into the unknown and slippery roads, in shoes that are twice bigger than our size and with nothing to guide us but faith and a dream that might seem at the time out of reach…We can find safety in there; in the unknown, in the dark as being there in the first place is a proof that we’re fighting, that we’re not settling, that we’re pushing ourselves to the extreme of fear in order to reach to the extreme of safety, that lies in the simple fact that we’re still here, still breathing and fighting and still have a shot buried somewhere out there in the unknown.

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Exploring Identity

We’re pleased to share another guest post by Esraa Mohamed, who previously wrote When Rituals End and Desires, Sex, and Love. Esraa is an Egyptian Muslim and physical therapy student with strong passion for the universe and its mysteries. Today, she shares with us a glimpse of her own black box; with all the things we dare not to dig up and explore. The struggle and reward of exploration in a thought-provoking post!

Perhaps curiosity is the best virtue of man

Generally I consider myself a courageous person. I hold pride in the curiosity to explore everything, to the extent that I recall committing suicide to explore death and delve into its mystery. We all have black boxes, in which we tend to keep the things we dare not to explore, and I’ve got plenty. With each and every box I open, I get to lose a piece of my identity, unleashing another imprint into me that happens to be either compelling or astonishing.
So far I’ve opened many boxes and with each time I had to explore things for the first time; things that clash with my old principles and that’s how I explored the change of principles. Nothing is absolute. As much as there is virtue in exploration, as much as it drives you to struggle, I wonder sometimes who I am between all these personalities I explore throughout the day.  Am I the sociable and outgoing or the aloof and introvert one? Am I the chatterbox or the cistern? I’ve previously believed that by exploring different skins, I would know my identity, but I was abandoned with an identity crisis.

Spiritually, I’ve always wondered whether I am a religious person or an ignorant person who’s convinced with the idea of ethical human beings! An infinite loop of questions persist its roots into my sub-consciousness, perplexing me even more. And that’s why on top of all things I want to explore and delve into the spiritual life. I long for exploring new rituals, prayers and customs. I want to be set free of any boundaries. And there tickles a question: what is the point of exploration if I have no guts to change my religion? Yes, it’s nourishing my soul, but still it’s driving me into an unbearable struggle. Though I am a Muslim, yet I haven’t really explored Islam.

It’s said “Not until you lose yourself that you find yourself.” This saying, in the past, used to piss me off but someone told me that by losing, we’re losing our foolish and immature selves, to finally reach to the core of our real self.

Thus, I have learned not to complain about the struggle and agony of exploration, but be grateful for its long-term imprints.

Preparing For Modesty

By: Autumn Elizabeth, Editor in Chief  

modesty prepreareI’ll admit, I am not the most modest person in the world. In some senses I have worked hard on doing things that most people consider immodest, such as embracing my sexuality, loving my body, and having excesses of fun. So as I prepared for a trip to Morocco, it wasn’t that surprising that my closet contained virtually nothing that met the cultural standards of modesty there.

Despite all my travels, I’ve never been to a predominantly Islamic country before, so I wanted to make sure I was prepared. I researched what parts of the body I shouldn’t expose, and read copious articles on the mix of European and Moroccan values and fashion happening in places like Casablanca.

I found lots of diverging opinions on dressing modestly. Some people said ti was a political statement to wear whatever they wanted as women, others felt most comfortable adopting the fully traditional Moroccan dress. My favorite piece of advice, coming from a European woman who spent several months living in Morocco, was that she tried to embrace the cultural modesty while still being herself.

Of course, this isn’t simply a cultural question, but also a religious one as well, and I think it is important to respect both religious and cultural values as a traveler. So this brings me back to my closet, and its complete lack of what one might call “Moroccan Modest” clothing. Although I could go for the political statement, as I write this my partner is packing several sari’s I have acquired from around the world to help me cover what my clothing won’t. Hopefully this international hodgepodge of fabrics, and a Ramones t-shirt or two, will sufficiently allow me to feel like myself while embracing a new level of modesty. Hopefully, I will be able to respect the culture and faith of Morocco, while honoring my own. Hopefully, I will be prepared for modesty and presented with new ways of viewing this complex concept.

5 Ways To Start Your Journey Towards Self-Acceptance

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So far this month we have talked about accepting our choices, accepting differences, but we haven’t delved too deeply into the realm of self-acceptance. Loving and accepting ourselves may be one of the hardest aspects of acceptance, but self-acceptance is far from impossible. Here are five ways to begin your journey to self-acceptance. We hope they bring you lots of wisdom and love.

  1. Be a bumble bee…which is to say watch Harry Baker performing spoken word about self-acceptance at a Ted Talk.
  2. Take a course on self-acceptance. Everyday Feminism has a great one focusing on self-love (with reduced rates for folks with lower incomes), and Oprah offers a free ten day path towards self-acceptance.
  3. Explore your own unique type of courage with this quiz from Greenpeace.
  4. Stop comparing yourself to others and just breathe.  Read about the ways that yoga to help with that in this article from Yoga Journal  or this one from Rebelle Society.
  5. Try praying, meditating or writing about the best aspects of yourself. Enjoy them, revel in then, and share them!

Have other ideas about starting the journey to self-acceptance? Share them with us in a post, or below in the comments!

An Interpretation of Accepting Acceptance

Today’s guest post is by Jenica Brittingham who is an English Literature and Theatre teacher originally from Normal, IL and currently living and working in Shanghai, China. Jenica shares wisdom on accepting our choices, coming to terms with different cultures, and living our dreams.

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For the last five years, I have been living in a foreign country.  Now this isn’t just ANY foreign country, but China, a land of a different language, different morals, beliefs, religion, but mostly, culture.  Anyone who has seen me or even talked to me about my experiences would know that on a general basis, I have not been a fan.

Most days, I will rant about the inconsiderate individual, a strange, and sometimes gross custom or stereotype (like spitting in the street or defecating in a trash bin, which yes, a large part of the population does do), but some days, I will have a moment of pure wonder as I glance outside the window of a taxi at a city, like any other, that is full of people with traditions, and on the occasion, magic.

While it can be difficult to find among the blaring horns of drivers and among some of the locals arguing (or possibly laughing, I can’t always tell) about the price of something, that magic can still be discovered, usually on a warm spring night, much like this one, when the air is somewhat clean, the lights of the city are shining like a beacon, and just a few stars are visible about the skyline of the city. It’s moments like these that create a sense of contemplation, moments that bring me back to my thoughts overall.

While living in China, I have had the privilege of teaching some amazing students who have reignited and re-inspired my passion for theatre and performing, causing me to actively pursue and perform in plays and musicals once again.  As I am nearing the end of my five year stint, I am faced with questions and options.  As I am preparing to leave, I am faced with the possibility of once again being a “leading lady” in a musical theater production, something I haven’t gotten to be since I was 17!  So, I must decide if this rekindled passion is enough to convince me to stay in a “world” and culture I have not always gotten along with, or if I should let go of my new-found community and family and start a new journey of self-discovery.

While facing this dilemma, I am reminded of my grandmother Dorothy, who taught me to always follow my hear, my passion, and to always believe in myself.  She was always one of my biggest fans and I continue to take her words of wisdom to heart.  However, the trouble is while living in China, I have constantly doubted myself and have consistently struggled to continually believe in myself.  So the question is, should I return to America where I have more confidence and self-esteem for myself in general, or should I remain a bit longer to continue to fight and strive for my passion?

Either way, I both win and lose a little, which doesn’t seem to bother me.  What does seem to give me pause is the thought of having to make a decision overall, and then accepting my choice, as well as embracing it full on without looking back or having any regrets.

Having now written down all these thoughts, I find I am not any closer to making a decision.  Still, having it truly out in the universe (or at least out on the internet), I am finding that I am accepting that a decision is going to ultimately have to be made. So, thank you China for your obscure five years and the potential few months more that may still occur.  You have been both a challenge and a blessing, but don’t tell anyone I said that!

The Wisdom of Acceptance

By: Jenni Taylor, Author in Chief

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Wisdom always appears as a woman to me. In this case, she is Victorian, with upswept hair, high collar, and looking somewhat like a character from Anne of Green Gables. She is middle-aged, experienced, and vivacious. We sit down for tea- complete with wicker chairs, large windows, crossed ankles and perfectly formed sugar cubes.

I begin to tell her about my life. Current struggles are first placed in the boundaries of polite language, and then spill out in waves of excuses, reasons, doubts, fears, wonderment, bewilderment, disappointment and an occasional wry laugh. Lady wisdom nods her head, graciously. Acceptance. Everything I am, everything I say, she takes in and with one gentle gesture, sets me at ease. I am accepted. My past is accepted. My doubts about the future are accepted. My current condition, in this moment, in this second of imaginary life sipping tea and sobbing uncontrollably, is accepted.

But, when my heart has been spilled and the weight has lifted from my shoulders, Lady Wisdom leans in and prepares to tell me that while I am accepted, completely accepted, there are things that are unacceptable. My focus on myself instead of others, for one. My self-pity or self-dislike, for another. She speaks gently but in no uncertain terms. In all her wisdom, she helps me draw boundaries. Going back is unacceptable. Wallowing in mediocrity is unacceptable. Not daring to dream is unacceptable.

Is it wisdom talking, or my own guilt? Does guilt have a place in this? When do we get off the comfy couch and say enough is enough?

Lady Wisdom reminds me to start small. A moment of prayer, a moment of thanks, a ten-second interval before airing my grievances to the world. She reminds me to accept my journey, and to not accept the baggage that is begging to come with me.

Solomon says there is a place and time for everything. Acceptance and unacceptance alike. I can see Lady Wisdom nodding her head and placing a bookmark at that passage to use in our next conversation. Until then, I accept her friendship, her love, and her advice for my life.

Courage is Acceptance

FullSizeRenderBy: Autumn Elizabeth, Editor in Chief 

Recently, six amazingly brave people climbed on an oil rig that is still headed to the Arctic. These six people were part of a Greenpeace mission to stop Shell from drilling in the arctic. Along side this direct action, Greenpeace also  started a conversation about what courage is.  Then I ran across a post about living cross culturally and I remembered that this Saturday is Global Citizen Earth Day.  Suddenly, courage was an international question. I began thinking about courage, acceptance, and my cross cultural life as interconnected concepts.

Living abroad has taught me a lot of things, and has involved a strange mix of struggle and beauty. Yet, of all the things I have seen, and learned by  living in a world of cultural mixing, I think the most important is that accepting difference is brave, even courageous.

When I am experience someone’s difference, or a different culture, when I am confronted with a different idea about how to greet my neighbor or how to pray, I have two choices. I can degrade the things I find strange and different, or I can accept them.

It takes a lot of courage to accept difference. It is easier to degrade it, and our history as humans has shown that humanity often takes this easier route. Racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, even the degradation of the earth can all be seen as ways we humans have tried to degrade difference.

But every day each of us has the chance to choose something else, to be brave, to embrace difference. I may not understand someone else’s faith, but I can be brave and accept that it is true for them. My support of Greenpeace’s direct action against Shell may seem wrong and strange to you, but you can be brave, you can accept that this is my path, my way of saving the planet.

We are each called to our own spiritual journey, our own life path, our own interpretation of faith, we all have our own passions, our own beliefs, our own way to save the world. Be we can all also share the common courage of accepting each other’s difference. Courage isn’t belittling the things we find different, courage is accepting them and seeing if they hold any truth for our path.

Silence and Writer’s Block

By: Will O’Brien, Social Media Intern 2015

IMG_0545I seem to have a story, quip, or adage for every possible moment. I often write these down, telling myself that some day when I’m sitting in my little apartment over a pub on the Dingle peninsula working on my next novel these scraps of stories and characters will come in handy. However, as I have sat staring at this blank word document attempting to reflect on silence for the past four weeks not one of these scraps has come in handy.

I haven’t been experiencing the external silence I was yearning to write about. I faced an internal silence – writer’s block. This rut I was stuck in while being stared down by a blank word document is not vastly different from the rut I often feel when isolated from my religious community.

When I first arrived in Morocco, I was told an adage about travel that didn’t make the list, but should have. ‘When you are in a place for a week you can write a novel, for a month you can write an article, and when you are there for a year you have nothing to write.’ As you become accustom to a practice and a culture it becomes the norm. The same phenomenon occurs in the course of ones religious practice.

What happens when one develops spiritual writer’s block? Many practitioners or organized religion have been practicing in the same tradition for years if not decades. They participate in the same communities with similar people worshipping and creating community in the same way. Does the practitioner still have something relevant to say? How do they go about finding a fresh perspective?

Now, this is not an evangelical how to blog post – 10 Easy Ways to Rekindle Your Passion in the Chapel – but perhaps looking at a few authors’ suggestions might serve as a nice road map. When I struggle with my own bouts of writer’s block I often turn to the all-knowing Internet to find how the best deal with a similar problem. Without fail the top advice is always to set a routine for yourself.

While this sounds like reinforcing the problem perhaps the ‘yourself’ is more important than the ‘routine.’ We often rely on the timing of exterior factors to determine when we take time for religion. Whether that is the placement of the sun or a priest changing the time of mass this routine is not uniquely yours.

When I stepped back and took the time to worship and reflect on my own, my perspective was refreshed. I developed a relationship and point of view that I could not have built on someone else’s schedule. It takes a personal routine to break down a personal block.

Finding Yourself in Silence

By: Jenni Taylor, Author in Chief

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.–Khalil Gibran

I spent three days on the back of a motorcycle steadily winding its way through the mountainous north of Vietnam, through the villages on the outskirts of Hanoi. The guide was driving, and because of the roar of the motor I was excused from making conversation.photo 4

It was three days of near total silence, and the silence was welcomed with open arms. Stress, responsibilities, and agonizing meetings had dominated my life recently, and a break was long overdue. So it began- one the back of this dirt bike Honda.

It was in the silence of the roads, the strength of the mountains, and the patience of the empty rice paddies where I emptied my heart like emptying lint out of old, unused pockets, and filled it up again. If eyes are the windows to the soul, my eyes were due for a window washing. I spent those hours watching the landscape and filling my eyes with beauty, with fog creeping over lakes and fisherman casting their nets.

I let my mind go free. I let thoughts float by, without judgment, just acknowledgment that they needed to exist in order to move on. I thought about places I’ve been, people I know, things I have done. Positive blended with negative in one big pool of remembrance, acknowledgment of pieces of my life I had not given thought to in a long time.

photo 1It was in the silence I began to find healing. There was no music, no conversation to drown out the honesty flashing through my mind, and I stood face to face with myself, a full look at my naked soul in a mirror. I saw someone who was tired, but strong. I saw the experiences that left marks on my heart and began to see those marks as beauty marks. I saw my soul reaching for beauty, truth, and strength.

So I took my soul by the hand and showed it the spectacular beauty, truth, and strength in the mountains surrounding me, and began to see it echoed and copied into my soul’s DNA. I soaked up nature like a sponge in a bathtub, and made it a part of me.

I so desperately needed that silence, the quiet, the roar of the motor and the flashing pavement beneath the wheels. Within another two weeks I found myself crying on a beach looking at a rainbow, and sang a song of thankfulness to the skies. Silence leads to song, and mountaintops lead to more journeys. It is in the silence when you can truly find yourself.

The Desire to Know Myself

We’re pleased to share a guest post from Sherif El Herraoui, who describes himself as a bipolar Orthopedic surgeon/Osteopath in training, and a Writer/Storyteller in a love/hate relationship with Cairo and everything else. In his post, Sherif shares with us his unwavering desire to discover himself and unearth those buried layers of the soul.

In early 2014, I was going through what I called an existential crisis, although some said it was merely a grounding problem. Regardless of terminologies, I felt completely lost and even got diagnosed with clinical depression. Instead of being medicated, I decided to start writing – after a four year hiatus – and joined a creative writing workshop. I thought being amongst other fellow writers who think alike would help me feel balanced and welcomed. And they truly have helped me beyond my imagination.

In one of our meetings, the discussion shifted to the realm of dreams: keeping a dream diary, receiving messages from the subconscious, and a whole lot of other dream-related issues that had never crossed my mind. I had never remembered my dreams or even realized it was possible for me. I knew some people who could, but thought it was just a gift I didn’t have. Nonetheless, I accepted the challenge of my fellow writers to write down and send over my first written dream by our next meeting.

I got a tiny notebook and a pencil to start a dream diary and laid them on my bedside table. With the help of Google, I found some articles about techniques to remember my dreams. I even got a white noise app and a before bed meditation app on my phone to help me set the mood and everything else I stumbled upon in my search. And by the end of the week, I remembered my first dream after waking up and wrote it down.

The whole process was a thrill to me during that difficult time of my life, so I just kept recording my dreams and substituted the little notebook with another app that shows me dream patterns after a while; patterns of dominant colors, recurring themes and emotions and people appearing in my dreams. Comparing my dream diary to my journal has led me to the discovery of a whole different dimension of myself I had not met before: my subconscious.

I enjoy getting to know my likes and dislikes, destroying the limiting beliefs one after the other, experiencing new aspects of life and accepting the challenges it offers. And it all started by the knowledge that there is more to me than I had already thought and an ongoing desire to observe and raise questions about myself and the world and learn more about it all even if I don’t reach definite answers. Nothing is finite.

This introduction to my subconscious ignited the desire inside of me to learn more about myself and embark on a self-discovery journey which has not yet reached its final destination and may never end, but  my journey has definitely  take me to some very interesting spots and I am enjoying the ride.