About Me

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Born in the US, raised on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, lived in Italy, the US, and Canada. Lover of language, travel, colour, and the natural world.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Zero degrees of separation

Me in my Green & Black's community development t-shirt that arrived in the mail today

It is almost midnight, and is raining. The past three weeks it has been raining more often than not raining, and the sound of water falling has become a part of my internal rhythm as I move through my days. I have been thinking a lot about community this week. What got me started was the group of women that are sharing the amazing journey that our collective, round the world journal is currently on. Listening to Pascale's experiences over the past few weeks since the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand destroyed her family home (and many other homes and buildings in her community), and watching as she struggles to find ways to contribute to re-building her community, has moved me deeply. Life has been incredibly difficult for her, but instead of isolating herself from the suffering that is happening all around her, she has reached out, recognizing that a single person or family cannot achieve happiness and prosperity alone. It requires teamwork. So she has been out making meals for volunteers, baking for her friends and family, returning to her family home, that she and her parents had to abandon when the earthquake damaged it beyond repair, to feed the resident ducks, and wandering around Christchurch filming positive quotes and poetry that some amazing human being had been writing on rubber hearts and posting in random places all over the city to help improve morale. The following is a short video of Pascale's latest community adventures:

Another thing that has me thinking about community is this quote: "Do you not see that we are one? You cultivate your purity in me; I feed my mud in you. You support me; I support you-- and together, we flower love and joy." (From Rapport with Thich Nhat Hanh on Interrelationship). The quote is on the front of a card that my close friend Ahava left on my desk before I took her to the train station. I have it standing on the corner of my desk still, and I look up at it often. It reminds me that even though I feel incredibly alone a lot of the time right now, that I am in reality part of a very strong, closely knit community that stretches all the way around the globe, and for which I am incredibly grateful.

One way that I have decided to nurture my writing is to create writing time with friends. I do not have any close friends here that write, so while my friend and fellow poet Ahava was visiting, the two of us went out on a writing date. We sat in a coffee shop, set our timer, wrote for short periods of time on different subjects, and then shared what we had written and gave each other feedback. It was such a positive experience for me that I asked her if we could continue to do this even once she was back on Saltspring Island, in BC, and she agreed. So today was our first writing date. It was shorter than planned, but with the aide of Skype, we could see each other and hear each other, and we could sit writing with each other. It was an incredible experience, and I am really looking forward to our next writing date. One of the amazing things about technology is that it enables us to see the context that a person exists in. I have not yet visited Ahava on the organic farm she lives on, but within a few minutes, she had given me a panoramic view of her writing and yoga studio, the creek bubbling past outside and the forest behind it, and the hand-made gate right outside her window. I could see the light that she is surrounded by, and I even got to meet her partner via webcam, which was a first! I give technology a hard time, but today it provided me with a gift. At one point during our writing session my neighbour blew his car horn, startling both me and my friend in British Columbia. We had to laugh at that one. To be able to be so present with each other across such an enormous distance on so many levels totally transforms human relationships, and our definition of community.

Another thing that made me think of community today was another Skype conversation I had with a friend in Cyprus. I miss my friends from back home tremendously, and I rarely get to talk to them, so our conversation today was like a drink of fresh spring water after a long hike. Deeply refreshing. There are words that I grew up using to communicate affection that I do not use in my everyday conversations in North America. Speaking with Helen back in Cyprus, I notice our common language and understanding come bubbling back up, and I realize that no matter how far apart we are, she, and my other childhood friends, will always be a very real, very present part of my community. Having strong friendships with people who I have known for so many years keeps me grounded and strong in my beliefs and values.

I received a big box in the mail today. It was from Raleigh -- the organization leading my upcoming expedition to the Dominican Republic, and contained a first aid kit, water bottles, a mess tin, sleeping mat, and a number of Green & Black's community development t-shirts. Receiving this box made me reflect on the fact that in two weeks I will be expanding my community yet again -- this time to include my fellow expedition colleagues from all over the US and the UK; our expedition leaders and medic; and the organic cocoa farmers from the Dominican Republic that we will be working with and living with for two weeks. Community is fluid. Always changing, growing, and becoming more diverse. 

Every time I get into the car to drive anywhere I hear more about what is happening in Japan. Disaster after disaster in Japan. It is heartbreaking. But amidst all the heartbreak, there is story after story of people risking their lives to save other people. Those who are working to prevent further disasters at the nuclear plants even though they know that by doing so they are jeopardizing their own lives. Those who are going into the areas destroyed by the tsunami to help distribute food or search for survivors. Individuals who, while most are fleeing to the south of Japan, are heading to the worst-hit areas to lend a hand in any way they can...the list is endless. Today I read an article by Ed West, about how unlike pretty much every other country that has experienced a major natural disaster of any kind recently, Japan has reported no looting. The reason given is that the Japanese feel it is wrong to steal even when you are destitute. That values still matter even when things are tough...perhaps especially when things are tough. Obviously the Japanese have a thing of two to teach the rest of the world about community ethics and mutual support and collaboration. Being thrown into collapse and chaos has a way of peeling back the layers and exposing what is at the heart of a culture or peoples. The heart of the Japanese people leaves me silent with awe and respect for their courage and integrity.

Tonight I had seven friends over for supper. We are currently on day 14 of the Baha'i 19 day fast, and so we are not eating or drinking from sunrise 'til sunset. My friends and I broke our fast with healthy servings of tomato artichoke pesto pasta with mushrooms and turkey sausage, parmesan cheese and fresh basil. We were gathering to study the Kitab-i-Aqdas, which is our Most Holy Book. After filling our bellies with pasta, and making hot cups of tea, we settled down to a couple of hours worth of study and deepening on our holy writings. It was an evening of deep spiritual conversation and connection, and we all went away from it feeling rejuvenated and inspired. I did not know any of the people in this group this time last year. And now we are a community. It is amazing to me how quickly community develops when I am willing to open my heart and be present with it.

All of these thoughts are reminding me that in reality there is no separation. My separateness from those in Japan, BC, Cyprus, and New Zealand is nothing but an illusion. In reality we are one. Any shift in the earth on one side of the planet necessarily means a shift in the planet on the other side of the world. A loss in New Zealand or Japan is a loss here. Tiny acts of kindness, compassion or courage in Japan are a reflection of the capacity of humankind to show kindness and compassion; to act with courage.  

And now it is almost 1am, and it is time to rest so that I can get up again before the sun rises to eat breakfast and drink before another full day of fasting.

As you move through your Wednesday, maybe you could reflect on what community means to you. Where do you find community? How do you create it? What communities are you a part of? I would love to hear your experiences within community. Have a great Wednesday. See you soon!


  1. Ariana, i just want to hug you!

    I have had the same feeling several times with my Crimson Connection group - we are all different ages, creeds, cultures and ethnicities and we are all one big family. I didn't know them 5 months ago and now we are weekly soul-revivers, it's quite magical.

    I really loved your acknowledgement of the Japanese people and their sincerity and respectfulness of their core values - it is quite an amazing thing to behold and such a great lesson for us all. Something i've noticed though that differs between Japan and Chch is the simple embrace. It would be a perfect example of a community overcoming strife if there were the combination of the free hugs and cuddling consolations that i've seen here and that is natural of kiwi people, paired up with the honesty and decency of Japan's orderly society (not that kiwis aren't honest and decent, just that we did have a couple of looters here ruining the good mood!) - it broke my heart to see distraught families reunited and just tap each other on the arm as an acknowledgement rather than give each other a heartfelt hug - it was something i had to get used to when living in Japan but something i truly missed and felt was missing there - the hugs and outpouring of love, the human contact, something so desperately necessary for our survival. It is that part of the soul revival that i loved so much in the Tokyo Baha'i community because we were a mixture of foreigners and Japanese and we respected each others' values but the hugs and openheartedness was as natural as it is in all Baha'i communities around the world - but was so different to the rest of my daily life there.

    Thank you for sharing my story and for sharing your writing date stories - i almost felt present myself! You are such a wondrous soul dear Ariana, and i can't wait to be in your sphere again (where i assure you i will be giving you the biggest hug!)

    much love x

  2. I echo that, Ariana. You are such a wondrous soul, and it is an honour and joy to write with you, and read your words here. Like Pascale, I too am reminded of how we are all one, and how we feel the ripples of what happens in other parts of the world.

    May the people in Japan: those who have been lost and those who have lost; those who are still searching and those who are doing the searches; those who are cold and hungry, and those who are scared and tired be filled with compassion for themselves and others. May all people everywhere who are cold, tired, scared and hungry be filled with love and compassion.

    May we each count our blessings in the hugs we give and receive, and those we remember having received and given.
    May all the people, and beings, on this beautiful,wild, unruly earth find refuge in the warmth of their own love or in the love of another, in whatever form it takes.

    Thanks Ariana for the gift of your colourful, wide open heart(s):), which stretches out to many parts of the world and touches many people. And it invites those who receive it, to do the same.

  3. Thank you both for those beautiful comments. It is an honour to write and create with you both. I look forward for much more collaboration over the months and years ahead!