The Paradox. Walking between two Cultures

Mystics tell us that walking between worlds is challenging. It’s not for the faint of heart. I have not heard them speak of walking between cultures. I wonder what they would say about that. I have been walking this way for more than two decades now.

I wish I can say that it’s been easy because it hasn’t. I wish I can say that it got easier as the years went by because it didn’t. I’ve faced issues in personal relationships because of this dual citizenship, this dual identity. I carry two passports, both of them valid. Each passport comes with its own set of rules. Despite this I have to make my own rules. I have no other option. There’s a feeling of never quite belonging anywhere.

I felt an overwhelming love when I arrived in Beirut recently. It’s been four years since I was here. The last time I visited was shortly before my divorce. Back then I had travelled here wanting to receive my family’s support, and  although I noticed some of the things I write about below, I was more immersed in my personal story, and was not in a space to be writing about them.

This visit is different. It was more about seeing if there’s anything left here for me. Maybe there are things, places, and people I still resonate with. Maybe I belong here. Maybe after all those years it’s possible to make a life here. My answers came too quick. Shortly after my arrival the love bubble was burst and I found myself wondering if it was a wise idea traveling to the place that birthed me.

It has been really difficult to breath, and it’s not just the heat wave and air pollution, although those offer a huge contribution. It’s this aura of tension that surrounds everything, and everyone. Maybe it’s the aftermath of decades of war? Perhaps it’s the poverty? It could also be social expectations, and norms. I am unable to pinpoint exactly what it is because it’s been around ever since I can recall. Ever since I was a child.

This is the land of my ancestors. The country I partially grew up in. It is rich with history, culture, and beauty. I feel the kinship to its ancient past, and yet its present feels so foreign to me.
Sometimes I am not sure what kind of language everyone around me is speaking. I speak, read, and write Arabic yet certain sentences, remarks, and comments are sometimes released with gestures, and tones of voice that throw my world off, and I lose my center of power.

I carried a lump in my throat for the good part of my first week here. All I kept hearing were different versions of the olympics of religious athletes. Who is better than who, who is more pious than who. I am past defending, blaming, arguing, judging, and criticizing. Religious, and spiritual practice just like creative practice are personal, and private. No need to defend what I believe in but also no need to expect everyone to believe what I believe. Mostly, I don’t even need to share what I believe in because it’s my own personal private path. Sharing it will not make it any more or less nor will anyone benefit because it is mine, and mine alone. I believe this applies to all of us. Besides, I’m here to reconnect with the land, with the part of me that once belonged here.

Despite some enjoyable moments. A cloud of disappointment has been following me around, well, in addition to the cloud of chemicals that can be seen miles out over the city. I’m disappointed that I can never be heard here. I’m disappointed that there is a lack of basic consciousness that seems to me may never be resolved. I am disappointed that I am not accepted as I am. I am disappointed in myself for thinking anything can be different.

There is an attachment to medieval practices in these parts that has been going on for much too long, that it has become ingrained in the DNA here. Not just here, I realize, it is in most ancient cultures really. Ideas of wrong and right, good and bad have taken hold of every aspect of life. It’s not to say morality must be outdated, it’s just that it’s just the exterior of things that must always look so shiny. As long as society doesn’t see it, it’s cool, just sweep it under the rug. Keep it hidden.  It is no wonder I have developed a repulsion to perfection. Superstitious practices, social rules and regulations. Ways of being that disrespect all life, look down on some of life, and are completely oblivious to it. Sometimes even in the name of religion. Other times in the name of nothing really.

Wearing revealing clothes is frowned upon in certain crowds. Not to mention other social rules that one must abide by. There are expectations from family members and traditions that must not be broken. Are you praying the way we pray? I was asked at one point. Why would I answer this question? Why would you even ask me such a question? How is this relevant to anything or anyone? How is my practice relevant to you?

And yet, the garbage is on the street, there is mass chaos in anything you attempt to do whether you are trying to drive somewhere or renew a passport. No one knows about standing in line. People cut in front of you even if you were there an hour before them as if it is their right to do so. They cut in front of you while driving too. Anywhere and anytime they can. They actually change the que in line as you are waiting to get your boarding pass, you suddenly become the last in line. You’d think they would set up the barriers before anyone arrives. No. They choose to wait for everyone to stand in the area and then configure their line. Makes perfect sense if you want to drive your people crazy.

Slavery still exists, the house help is not allowed to eat the food you eat despite that they may have helped prepare it, they are not allowed to sleep in the beds you sleep in. This really made me angry.  I was thrown off when I was informed that there is hierarchy that must be adhered to. They didn’t mean just a hierarchy of class they also meant that the young are expected to approach their elders in a certain manner while the elders can just keep being hypocrites. And so it goes the poor and rich, the weak and strong…

If good and bad do not exist, what would you call someone who is evil? I am asked. They are influenced by the devil right? I suppose the answer is yes if you believe that the devil is an outside force but I believe the devil is an inside force… the devil is the suppressed shadow. To learn more about the shadow check out Carl Jung, I suggested …( not that anyone will check out Jung’s work but I thought why not give it a try).
I attempt to explain my beliefs but I am not sure anyone can understand my language. The concept of owning your shit does not exist in these realms. It’s always someone else’s fault. Everyone else is responsible for my misery and so I must be careful around every person. I will socialize in anxiety. I will be so tense so as to ruin my experience and the experience of everyone around me.

I was put on the spot several times while here. Questions and comments that I felt gaslighted by. Gas lighting has been quite a theme in my life. Random questions I would never dream of asking anyone. I just resorted to my childhood techniques of zipping it up, and throwing out the key. Ha!

There’s a feeling of helplessness which seeped into my being unwillingly. I’d rather be practicing yoga, writing or even dancing and yet could only get myself to paint. The heat has not been helping yet it’s not the heat, it’s this feeling of helplessness that has been taught by the social rules and religious beliefs and in the case of this country was solidified by endless years of war. Life was uncertain, unpredictable, and disastrous. The instinct of freeze became ingrained in the psyche of everyone here. And it’s contagious. Especially for an empath. How can I help? Can I even help?
I can literally feel this in my bones, the idea that we must wait for our saving grace instead of taking action and becoming our own saving grace. Feelings of helplessness within helplessness are hell in and of themselves. If you ask me what evil is I would say this helplessness within helplessness that everyone around me is feeling. No where on earth have I felt this way except here and this will be the last time I am willing to feel it. That is the hell that humanity has created. Many do not realize they have choices. They keep hoping for a savior outside of themselves and never knowing that savior is within.

After grappling with all these ideas and feelings for a good ten days I kept asking: what is it I need to see? What is it I need to know? What is it I need to do? And finally a few breakthroughs…

The medieval perspective is as valid as any. Especially if past, present, and future exist together. There is a reason for being so attached to the details that we lose the bigger picture of things, and that’s ok. I personally think life on earth may never fully make the leap to more expanded consciousness because there is always a need to see the details and to be immersed in them, and that helps others access the larger field. Two different perspectives, two opposite poles.
As much as at times we wish it was non existent we need this primitive lens.
It’s part of the prism of life reflecting life. Any piece of this prism that goes missing will render the prism defective.

When I booked my trip I had completely forgotten that my return date was a few days prior to Eid al adha, the feast of the sacrifice, and that the season of Hajj is upon the Muslim world. Those are auspicious days. Some are in Mecca for the pilgrimage around the Qabaa and all are preparing for the great big feast where each family must slaughter a sheep, in a safe and non harmful manner, as a commemoration of Abraham’s sacrifice. Yes it sounds cruel to all my vegan and vegetarian friends. I know. I have struggled with this too. Most of us are concerned with the suffering of animals and I have always had solace in knowing that when slaughtered in this way the animal will not suffer. It will die, yes, however, it will not suffer before it dies. That is what halal means. It is the same as Kosher for Jews. That is why Muslims do not eat other meats. In America, they put live chickens through a machine to make chicken nuggets. There is something redeeming about a culture and religion that wants to make sure it’s source of food is not suffering.

A level  of poverty exists here that will bring anyone to their knees. People are willing to take your scraps if you give them. They will eat your leftover whatever, and so when you slaughter a sheep the poor can eat because every family is obliged to give a share of their sacrifice to the poor. In this part of the world, it is a necessary source of sustenance for many starving families.

There’s a hospitality about the Lebanese that I’ve never seen anywhere else in all my travels. They love to feed guests, they offer their best to their visitors and expect nothing in return because that is a social rule. Life revolves around food, and community.  There is very little room or time for self care or privacy. I can’t help but notice that on the other side of the spectrum one of my passports belongs to a society that praises its members on being independent, self sustaining, and alone for the most part of their life.

My dear Lebanon, if I’m back to visit you in the future, please promise me you will not expect me to change the way I look, dress, think, and act. Please accept what I believe as I accept what you believe. Please don’t expect me to be anyone else other than who I am because really non of us belongs to a creed or a clan. We only belong to the One infinite source of all life.

Every single human being deserves this acknowledgement: that they belong to the one infinite source of all life. This is a basic human right. To all humanitarian gurus of the world, dear Amnesty International, and any humanitarian out there, please add this to your basic human rights list.

Respecting each others cultures and religious paths is important for humanity to survive.
It would be wise for us to continue to look for what unites us what makes us similar instead of what separates us. So much activism and activists have tried, but in reality it is up to each individual to take it upon themselves. Until then we will always revert to disconnection.

We are here on earth to offer up our lowest nature and attempt to move into our highest. The symbolism of sacrificing the sheep is about that. While the pilgrimage to Mecca is symbolic of an internal pilgrimage. Going inward is the way we rise up.

Islam is the basis from which I understood other larger mystical, and spiritual concepts. Other paths maybe the basis for others. This does not make them less valid. Islam is a path of metaphor, and rich in non-dual philosophy if one is able to dig deep enough. I have read the Quran, in Arabic, over thirty times, from cover to cover and have always found a gem there. I understand Islam from a global perspective.  What I mean by this is, I have an insider view, and an outsider view, and I realize they are both valid. Such is the paradox of my life.

There are multiple spiritual teachers I currently follow and adore, non are Muslim, but their messages resonate with my core beliefs. Their teachings resonate with my being. The reason I share this within this context is because I want to send the message that you can believe what you want, and still be a valuable part of all life. Every perspective is valid.

Palio of Siena, a Self Organizing System for what cause?


After attending this year’s Science and Non duality conference in Titignano a friend of mine suggested I accompany her to Palio in Siena. Her husband is taking care of one of the horses in the competition and she will be attending to support him.

The more I learned about this event the more I hurt inside.  The more I witnessed, the more disgusted I became with humanity.  The more disgusted I became with myself.  This is how wars happen. This is how we can make people participate in ugly behavior in the name of a great cause.  In this case, winning a race.

Palio di Siena is a race that takes place twice a year in Siena, Italy, held in honor of the Virgin Mary,  and dates back to the middle ages.   Each neighborhood selects a mixed breed horse to run on their behalf.  Obviously, the goal is to win. I will not write about the details of this event as they can be found online.  I wish to describe a little of the events I witnessed this year.  I feel like these events give great insight into how social programming works and how it is a powerful force that will always exist as long as humanity exists.

When my friend and I arrived in Siena at the race site of the Piazza del Campo, one of the horses, Quore, was already injured.  The jockey riding the horse had also injured his ankle. You would think that in the least they would both be replaced, or maybe even better still, the remainder of the race would be called off, but that was furthest from the truth.  The horse and jockey were getting treatment so they can race for the next two days and win on behalf of the neighborhood, or contrada. Is this for real? The horse is not well.  I would just call the race off.  Sadly, it wasn’t my call.

The next day, festivities are as planned, the horses march up the street and trot around for all to admire, and then head to the race.  As we attend a banquet in the evening the speeches begin.  I ask my friend to translate what they are saying. Shortly after learning what the speeches are about. I am in tears.  I just could not stop myself from crying.  What made me cry?  This coming together for a purpose is great. Infact, it is huge, that humanity can self-organize around a given purpose, just as we did for the Science and Non Duality Conference.  Yet the purpose was different.  For the race it was about winning.  For SAND it was about realizing the oneness of all of humanity.  That despite our outer differences and individuality, we all come from one common source and that on a different level of existence, not seen with the eye, we are all one.  The purpose of this race however, was about winning a silly game.  How can humanity get so into the illusion?  They think they will win.  They are chanting in unison, it’s a power that is primal. If you heard what I heard, and how powerful it sounded, you would think what a great cause they are fighting for. We are all able, we all have it in us, it’s a matter of recognizing who, and what we are giving our power to.  I wished right then and there that this chanting, this primal power, this self-organizing ability, this fighting for a cause could be channeled towards realizing the oneness of humanity.  I wished that this coming together was about non-duality. I wished that this chanting happened at Titignano. I wished someday the entire human race would be chanting together about our oneness.

On the third day of the Palio, I had to travel and could not be there for the finale.  I messaged my friend about it the following day, and she said that their horse did not run because it was not well enough.  I was so relieved to hear this! I really was worried they would make that horse run despite its injury, just so that they can win a race.

Lila in the SAND Castle

More tears fill my eyes as I sense the blood trickling into my pad. My period is early this month, just in time for travel.   The universe always jokes with me. I am traveling to Italy today. Then I realize the blessing of this blood. It is a renewal, a new beginning, the phoenix has risen from the ashes again.  She has been burned down so many times that the skin has become thick.  There is healing and cleansing in the ashes.  I am woman, sacred, pure,  and mighty, and yet I am unraveling.  I am happy I think to myself,  but on some level, there is an underlying sadness.  I will spare you dear reader the details for now.  They are stories, mostly, nothing that will break me.  I realize  life is abundant, and plentiful.  After all I am traveling to Italy, to be a part of something magnificent, a paradigm shift, a love movement.

There is something about traveling that allows me to go deeper into my being, deeper into my self.  The daily distractions of caring for teens, errands, groceries, cat litter scooping, and home maintenance do not exist when I am thousands of miles high in the clouds.  I reflect on so many things, some more private than others.  My main concern is that I keep seeing reflections of myself mirroring me everywhere I turn.  It is humbling, sometimes really sad, and mostly very scary.  What if I never stop seeing these reflections? What if there is always something I need to work on in myself ? All the what ifs….

I left Michigan at 6 pm Eastern time on August 6th and arrived at 9 am Tuesday August 7th Italy time.   I took the train from Fuimicino in Rome around 9 am and by the time I made it to the train and out the train connecting to Orvieto, and then a shuttle to Titignano castle.  It was around 4 pm.  Nada sleep in me, yet managed to stay up until midnight the following night.   By the time I actually got to bed I had had zero sleep for about 48 hours straight!   I was planning on camping and as soon as I got here I realized there is no way I will pitch a tent or go without a shower and restful sleep for yet another night. So, I opted for the bed.  My mind was creating confusion for me, but my number one priority really was to take care of myself.  And so I did.  I am my top priority these days, very unlike myself in past years where it was always about everyone else.

The castle is a wonderous site, and it feels like I am walking back into history.  As they say, the past, present, and future all exist together in this moment.  And this is truly how I have been feeling here.  It is surreal, and real all at the same time.  If I painted a painting about my experience, this will surely be a psychedelically fantastical piece.

On the second day here I asked the castle personnel about the history of this place and they handed me a print out typed in a fancy font.   As turns out Titignano was built in the 1100’s by Farolfo di Montemarte. It started out as a fort, and was transformed into a palace in the 16th century, by the Guelph Orvieto and the Ghibelline Todi families.

A part of me wishes I could live in a place like this.  I know that I must leave at some point and that is okay, because the past present and future, will always be together. Even if I tried to separate them, I will fail.

I am also here in the present.  This moment. This family.  I know most of the faces around me here, we have met before, even those I am meeting for the first time feel familiar. Like I have known them some other place and time.  Soul family.

My body is still adjusting to the intense heat this place has had since I got here, although I grew up in warm climates, my body feels exhausted and I am not sure if this is because of the intense heat, the jet lag, or my personal monkey mind stories.  Probably a combination of all three… and that is okay! It is known as the divine dance.  Lila.

I am not here just because of the location, although the location adds to the magic of the experience, I am here for the people, for the sense of community that this offers.  I am here for the connections, and the experiences.   I would not even know where to begin relating these experiences, so much in so little time and I am still digesting everything.  I will have to choose individual topics to explore in the future and blog about them so as to give them enough attention.  I can say that there are instances where my edge is being pushed, and other instances where I feel so comfortable in my own flesh.

The first day was a series of orientation meetings, in which Zaya and Maurizio encouraged every participant to be fully present and to feel like they are a leader in this conference.  There is a bit of hustle and bustle around me.  Music rehearsals, people checking in, sound system checks, food and drink prep…its laid back and yet so much is getting done.  It is what happens when something comes together out of love.

Why is it I love being a part of this community so much? It is because you are free to be who you want to be among these beings and you are not criticized, condemned or judged for it.  How liberating is that?!

I have listened to and had many deep conversations and there are yet more in store.  My plan to blog everyday obviously didn’t work out as I had intended.  It has been busy the last few days and I just found sometime to finish this blog that I started the day I got here.  For now, I am choosing to experience rather than write.  Perhaps more writing will come up eventually.    I will stay content in this for now, until my next blog.