The call to ‘creative action’

In 2007, roughly about a year after my first-born daughter Serena was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, she and I co-wrote a book about a little girl with cystic fibrosis. We did so because at the time there were no books that approached a severe and life-shortening condition from a holistic perspective. We also wrote it to help us contend with the unimaginable grief of it all.

Our local newspaper did a story on us, and then a local television station produced a little piece about this work. Co-producer, videographer, and lovely human being Larry Baker posted our story here.

Years later, finding myself in the lecture halls of both Kent State and Case Western Reserve Universities, I spent a great deal of time talking about the ‘disconnection’ or perhaps the lack of emotional, spiritual, and energetic intelligence in our most important institutions. One of my last lectures came by way of colleague Chris Laszlo who invited me to be a guest-speaker in his class Quantum Leadership. The slide deck from that presentation is attached below.

Today, finding myself in a position of some degree of personal and professional insight, due to the devastation of losing a child, the economic abuse that is currently an inherent aspect of being a head-of-household and parent-caregiver, and the visible failures of our current policies and system of law, I have been called to creative action once again. Why? Because mothers and parent-caregivers need our support. Because leaders are hurting and need our support. And also, to help me, and us, contend with the grief of it all.

Writer and philosopher Charles Eisenstein, whose work and writing I love and follow, once said (I think it was an interview he did with Oprah Winfrey), that the reason we have so much injustice is because “our hearts have not been sufficiently broken-open.” Meaning, we have yet to realize our inter-connectedness to each other, but fundamentally, to our own selves.

Collectively, many are living ‘disembodied lives’, operating solely from their heads and reason that was reasoned well before ‘now’, and therefore cannot address the human needs of ‘now’, of today.

Leaders in our institutions and communities who operate from this narrow lens, are hurting and hurting others who see more because they are not only fully-feeling, but viewing life as it is— not through the veils of dogma, or fearful policy, but from the lens of the clear intelligence that occurs when our hearts have been ‘broken-open’ all the way.

So, to anyone reading this; to anyone who has been moved, shaken, or stirred by these simple words and observations, what can you do in your own life, right now, to help dissolve, evolve, or transmute an injustice of sorts? Whether it hit you personally, or it affected someone or a lot of ‘someones’ you love, what ‘creative action’ (not protest, nor hate-speech, nor violence of any kind) can you co-create and share with us that will help make your and our life better, more productive, and richer in every way? Our wholeness, your wholeness, is only a creative action away.

Quantum Leadership Presentation, Spring 2018,
Presented at: Case Western Reserve University, School of Design and Innovation,
Weatherhead School of Management (download below)

Humanizing a chatbot

I recently received a solicitation email about building my own chatbot. I was sincerely flabbergasted. Yet, personally, I know a number of individuals whose jobs have been ‘outsourced’ to chatbots. Is this good or bad for business, society, health, and well-being? We are all observing and learning together– that’s for sure!

I recently wrote about ‘humane humans as a necessary ingredient or resource for creating better institutions and organizations. There are nuances of intelligence (e.g. awareness, intuition, imagination, creativity, etc.) that are not binary. As such, I’m sincerely curious to see ‘if’ humanizing a chatbot can ever be truly well done….(although, now recalling Martine Rothblatt’s “Bena48”; a prototype of many more to come.)

Artificial intelligence (AI) pioneer, Marvin Minsky, was once quoted as stating that “emotional intelligence is an evolved way of thinking” and something that we had yet to ‘crack the code on’, if you will.

Can a chatbot ever replace the tenderness and complexity of a warm human heart? Will a chatbot ever embody the intelligence of a soul? If they do, perhaps it will be ‘they/them’ who will teach us how to become better humans.

The Humane Human

This post follows a recent one on Building Humane Organizations and the recognition that while this is a desirable vision for many, this dream begins within each of us.

Although there are billions of human beings on the planet, there are distinct differences in the level of awareness and maturity for each. With a few notable exceptions, most humans have a limited understanding of their own humanity, let alone that of others.

When my girls were little, I would tell them that there were “younger souls and older souls” among us and that this had nothing to do with age, race, gender, creed, etc. Some human beings wrestle with this or that, and some seem unbothered by anything, but fundamentally, we are all here for some ‘reason’…and I sense that until one locates ‘that reason’ they will act and behave in inhumane ways because that is all they know.

There are distinct conditions and even qualities between humane and inhumane beings. Many of these qualities have been defined throughout history from spiritual, religious, philosophical, or psychological view points. The graphic below offers a summation of the chief qualities of a humane person (or chatbot!)

Knowing that in order to create more humane organizations and institutions we need ‘better humans’ (humane humans), it’s important to not only question ‘who’ we wish to be, but who we want leading our most important organizations and institutions.

Art as Life

No one really wants a clump of clay. No one really wants to have to look at it, let alone touch it. We silently hope and pray that someone, anyone, will just take it away from us. We may want to throw it at the wall or just let it sit there and allow it to harden. Very few among us actually wants to sit and mold this damn thing. But alas, each one of us is invited to do just that.

In most lives, there comes a time when one is either personally handed or ends up the recipient of a pile of s^*t, we’ll call “clay.”

Your particular “clump of clay” may be related to physical issues, mental issues, emotional issues, social issues, or even spiritual ones.

No one really wants a clump of clay. No one really wants to have to look at it, let alone touch it. We silently hope and pray that someone, anyone, will just take it away from us. We may want to throw it at the wall or just let it sit there and allow it to harden. Very few among us actually wants to sit and mold this damn thing. But alas, each one of us is invited to do just that.

As the sculptor of your life, and your particular clump of clay, you first begin by acknowledging that no one is going to make art of this for you. No one.

People can suggest ideas. People can support your work. People can cheer for you as you labor. But no one can sculpt your clump of clay for you.

As all good artists, sculptors, writers, (and editors!) know, we begin by subtracting or taking away what doesn’t belong. How do you know what doesn’t belong? You go with your gut– with how you feel.

The regular “thinking mind”, your analytical mind, cannot help you with “your art”. It’s a feeling and flowing kind of process. You subract a little of this, and then you add a little of that, and you do this, subtracting and adding process, until the moment you realize the beauty of your “damn clump of clay”. In that instant, your heart fills up with a knowing. The knowing may be so humbling and overwhelming that it may move you to tears.

As many know, the most beautiful art (music, poetry, paintings) are often borne from the most debilitating and catastrophic events– things that forced the invidual to sit with their particular “clump of clay.”

Although you may have been told otherwise, your present life, your home, is yours to make beautiful– your life is its own body of work and its own work of art.

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Reprise: re-reading, writing, and ruminating

This brief essay, originally published in December of 2019, still resonates and speaks even louder to me today. May it comfort all who read it with the knowledge and awareness that our present challenges are merely a preparation for better times ahead. Mayra

Much like millions of others, my 2019 was hallmarked by a number of dramatic shifts leaving abundant space for contemplating the deeper meaning of it all. Something is different this year, though, and I think it’s definitely me.

Before I was fully aware, my life was rather mechanistic and duty-bound. I was operating from a fear-based mentality; our default human software. Not all, but many of the decisions I made up until now were based on “the fear I wanted to avoid” versus “what lit me up like a Christmas tree”.

In this last decade in particular, because so many of my/our greatest fears have actually come true (e.g. mass economic instability, job losses, chronic illnesses, suffering) there’s millions of people world-wide who have been forced to operate from their higher faculties (e.g. heart-intelligence/wisdom, intuition, perception, will, reason, and imagination), and this is actually a good thing. Although it is excruciatingly painful to be broken-open by life, it is actually a gift, too. It’s like getting a software upgrade, just when you thought you were about to die.

The greatest riddle and paradox of our shared humanity is the ability to transcend the binary (“right-and-wrong”) and fault-finding stance to embrace the fact that it is merely a step, or stage in our evolving consciousness. However, to be able to see this does require a quantum leap in our understanding, and thankfully, it is one that is attainable for each and every one of us!

The changes afoot may seem weird, “crazy”, or radical, but fundamentally they are not; they are about the essence of what it means to be a human being and about the world we wish to co-create, inhabit, and love.

Decolonized Parenting

When I was young, my mom had a rule in our home anytime family or friends were scheduled to visit; “no talking about religion or politics!”. She would remind my dad, and then if at any moment anyone veered into either one of those polarizing topics, she would repeat; “no talking about religion or politics in this house!”

Given that stance you may surmise that mom was somehow anti-God or religion. However, nothing could be further from the truth. To this day, she is a daily rosary-praying, weekly online-mass-viewer in the Catholic lineage of our culture (Spain).

After each visit from family or sometimes randomly, she would proclaim: “this home is our church–how we behave here and with one another is what matters most.”

Throughout my entire childhood and even into adulthood, one of the greatest passions my dad instilled in me was the study of comparative religion– the main ones; Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. From an early age, I understood that all these religions were simply languages, stories, and recipes for living. They provided guidance for understanding that which could not easily be described; the universe, creation, beingness, oneness, humanity, hidden variables and unseen forces, and of course, Love.

What both mom and dad shared in common was a deep and sincere understanding that “the church”, the man-made, regulatory, rule-making, dogma-promoting organization(s) was not God; that God was actually in each of us already. In you. In me. In ALL of us.

Being raised in this environment instilled in me the deep awareness of God not as a weekly event, but a lifelong and lived practice. It also reinforced in me the understanding that organizations and institutions have an implicit purpose. There are those designed to keep individuals “in place” and the status-quo intact. These are the ones which often resort to fear-mongering, “othering”, and shame-promoting tactics. And then, there are those designed to promote our inherent divinity and our shared humanity.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Maya Angelou

My parents were not “perfect”- no human is and obviously, their parental philosophy and approach was informed by the tensions of their childhood; civil rights and women’s liberation movement chief among them– all about “r-e-s-p-e-c-t”. Accordingly, one of the greatest examples from my upbringing and such parenting was the deep and abiding respect my parents not only preached, but modeled. I was taught respect by being respected. I was taught about God from every major lens, not just one. I was taught about love through my parents life-long commitment to honor and respect one another.

Today, many parents and families are raising their children this way; affirming of their children’s inherent divinity and humanity. For me, it’s one of the most profoundly important and inspiring things to see occuring in our communities; the decolonization of parenting.

“Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”

Khalil Gibran

The tactics and methods of “possessing and oppressing” are done. We’re outgrowing that. It is no longer useful or helpful– it is not growthful, in fact, it is toxic and paralyzing. We are all learning how to do better together– to be better humans, parents, friends, and children of God. To realize this we must simply move forward. That which no longer serves must be abandoned, not out of contempt or hatred, but simply out of love and respect for one another and for ourselves.

Dedicated to Mari Fernandez-Prestamo y Santiago Porrata-Doria (aka, my parents).

The future of health education

I’ve been thinking a great deal about the next frontier of health education, and in particular the concepts and language we need to consider and integrate across the lifespan.

When I was in graduate school working towards my master’s degree (in community health education & promotion), the entire program was focused on the physical aspects of health, and in particular diet and exercise. There was no class on emotional intelligence. No class on mental health as an integral aspect of wellness. No mention of spiritual health, nor anything pertaining to our soul, and there was very little mention of ecology or the environment as inextricable “conditions” very much related to our own health and well-being.

It was not until I was teaching, did the first wave of information and knowledge around how we are “connected” began to emerge. This is now a well-known and established fact, but prior to this we generally overlooked (?), disregarded (?), a number of critical realities such as racism, social justice and equity, and dominant culture “power-over” language, institutions, and policy (just to name a few), and their detrimental impacts on individual and community health.

What might a health education curriculum look in the 21st century? That question really excites me and certainly it will need to weave some of these concepts:

  • personal energy management
  • autopoiesis/self-actualizing
  • embodiment
  • energy flow
  • evolving
  • expanded consciousness
  • inclusion
  • levels of consciousness
  • equanimity
  • equilibrium
  • flourishing
  • living gift
  • living system
  • mutualism
  • policy
  • nurturing
  • regenerative
  • relational
  • self-generating
  • shared vision
  • soul
  • symbiosis
  • transcend
  • uniqueness
  • wholeness

As our awareness evolves and the complexity of the human condition becomes more visible to us, our entire approach to health education and community health must also evolve and reflect reality.