Joy Tip Wednesday: Expand Your Heart

It's Wednesday.  On a week with so much love and so many tears all at once.  With news of Orlando, what are we to do in a world where it feels like there is so much hate?  

My old post about what to do in dark times, still feels relevant.  But today I want to get personal in a way that many of you may not know because the events in Orlando are a strange tapestry of connections with my past and my present.

I've always been interested in the human psyche and I'm no stranger to terrorism.  In undergrad, I took coursework in criminology through my sociology degree.  In graduate school I studied the psychology of terrorism.  I spent hours in doctoral research studying and unpacking the complex real human processes of radicalization.  My time at work included a focus on drivers of extremism and programs that could address societal, structural, systematic problems that lead people to commit acts of violence.  During one work trip overseas, the threat of terrorism drew near.  Upon arriving in country, I was told by staff on the ground that there had been attempted kidnapping of Americans to remain vigilant.  To avoid certain areas of the city.  Our movement was strangely restricted and yet open which made many of us uncertain how safe we actually were at any given moment.  

One night my colleague received a phone call in her room from an outside number.  A man was on the other side of the line and she had no clue who he was.  At first we thought he was from the hotel and trying to solicit prostitution.  This is quite common with high end hotels in some parts of the world.  But then the phone calls continue.  I can't recall how, but after we started getting to the bottom of things, she and I learned that both her room number and mine had been leaked by someone in the hotel to people outside.  Who these outside people were was unclear.  As someone who had spend so many years studying terrorism, I knew this was not good.  Immediately I contacted security and asked that we get moved to a new hotel.  We were told there was no where to move us to and that they didn't think there was anything to be alarmed about.  To which I knew in that moment that she and I would have to take things into our own hands.  For the remainder of our time in country, she and I slept in the same small hotel room, leaving her's vacant.  We decided to barricade ourselves in with furniture each night before we slept.  We knew how many flights up we were in case we had to escape out a window.  And we had an emergency plan.  Several years later the same hotel was attacked and held hostage by a group of terrorists...

I'm also no stranger to Islam and the Muslim experience.  I moved across the globe after 9/11 happened to Cairo, Egypt to understand what was happening for myself.  I was moved by the amount of commitment and faith I witnessed all over the Middle East.  A place where Spirit was everywhere and infused in everything.  I converted to Islam after spending hours stuffing my nose in books and after reading the Quran for the first time.  I spent six years wearing a headscarf.  Was the first woman in my government bureaucracy to wear it in headquarters.  I once was asked in an elevator at work whether I wore a headscarf because I was "oppressed."  (in case you're wondering the answer was no.) I was followed by police cars most days I drove.  I was always given "special treatment" when I went through security at airports.  Most people believed my faith was because of who I married, negating my independent decision-making power.  I was privy to conversations inside and outside Islam about Islam.  And for almost a decade, Islam was fused in the blood of my spirit, my activism, my worldview.  I spent countless hours on retreat studying with teachers and I dreamed of becoming a religious scholar myself one day.  

I'm also no stranger to the LGBTQ community.  When I was Muslim I struggled with questions of morality around LGBTQ issues.  I later cracked open my heart to free love like never before.  And I went from questioning to supporting.  From supporting to developing some of my closest friendships with members of the vibrant multi-faceted community.  To the present day where my thinking, worldview, and understanding of love is increasingly influenced by the ideas coming out of LGBTQ conversations.  I've been spending increasing amounts of time immersed in gay-owned establishments, learning about queer politics, and engaging in enthusiastic debates during dinner.  And some of the places I have felt most "safe"...most at "home" have included the night I went country-line dancing at a gay bar and standing in the streets during DC's Pride Parade two years in a row.  

As I stand at the edge of watching elements of my past clash with elements of my present I wonder about the future.  What does this all mean for me.  For everyone.  The victims of a horrible tragedy.  A complex story of a young man who took up a strange calling that resulted in massive violence.  That has strangers, friends, family, and communities crying, angry, howling, all over the nation.  I stand here asking, what now?

My past whispered love.  My present whispered love.  My future called come  

One of the people that has influenced me most in the last ten years is a Muslim scholar named Shaykh Hamza Yusuf.  I had the honor of going on religious pilgrimmage with him in Saudia Arabia many years back.  It was one of the most profound experiences of my life to connect with such ancient wisdom through the experience of connecting with the lands they were birthed from.  I spent countless hours on retreats with him.  Listened to lectures from him.  And read texts that he wrote.  One of the most impactful pieces he authored is entitled Purification of the Heart.  Under the section entitled "hatred" he asserts "Love is an attribute of God; hate is not."  What is the treatment for hatred?  According to the Prophet Mohammed, "None of you has achieved faith until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself."  

I cried when I recently learned that Shaykh Hamza is now on a hit list for ISIS.  One of the most beloved teachers on my path that taught me about the richness of a tradition misunderstood by practioners and non-practioners a target for hate.  As I reflected on the strange personal internal collision for me around Orlando over the last several days, I recognized that we are asked to do precisely as the Prophet Mohammed for others what you love for yourself.  

How far can you stretch your heart for your "enemies?"  Can you see them as human rather than demonized?  Can you see the suffering deep down inside behind a person hurting so much they could commit large-scale horrific acts?  Can you see the self-hate required of someone to hate others?  Can you see the gaping hole of self love that manifests a gapping hole where love of others is not possible?  Can you see the internal turmoil that facilitates external turmoil?  Can you soften the hard parts in yourself for the sake of softening the outside parts of your life?  This week for Joy Tip Wednesday I want us to do just that.  Expand our hearts.  Stretch them like never before.  To encompass people who you believe are unworthy of your heart space.  To embrace those who are perceived to be less than human.  Because guess what, what we currently are doing isn't working. So let's try something else.  

I wonder what would a world be like where hearts were constantly expanding.  Where we all stretched further than our imagination.  How much of a foothold for hate, for darkness, for violence would be possible?  And would it shrink?  I say yes.  

I believe in the butterfly effect.  One small action creates a ripple effect that gets larger and larger as it moves away from the center.  What if we created a ripple effect of expansive love? In our hearts, in our minds...and most of our actions. Can you be courageous enough?  Powerful enough? expand?  Will you join me?  

much love,