JOURNALING BETWEEN WORLDS

Global Citizen Blogging

Waldorf Education, Schooling of Moral Imagination August 20, 2012

Filed under: Education,Imagination — Nozomi Hayase @ 6:31 am

I am a former Waldorf high school teacher. I am often asked what Waldorf education is all about. People tend to expect clear-cut sound bites to describe its essence and I always find myself quite challenged to answer this question.

Many can see the commitment to art in Waldorf education. It is perhaps the first thing that people notice when they walk into a school. In fact, when someone asks me how Waldorf school is different than others and what makes it special, art is often the first word that comes to mind. Yet, Waldorf is not meant to create artists in the traditional sense, like a school that focuses on developing particular artistic capacities in students.

Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf said: “The heart of the Waldorf method is that education is an art – it must speak to the child’s experience. To educate the whole child, his heart and his will must be reached, as well as the mind”.

Teaching as an Art

In Waldorf education, art really does not exist so much as a separate subject. It is not a matter of the length or number of art classes the students take. Instead, art is an integral part of the whole educational experience and in Waldorf School everything is taught artistically.

Image Credit – shepherdvalley.org

For instance, in mathematics, instead of being asked ‘what is the sum of 3 + 7? where the question reduces the activity to only one possible answer, students are asked questions such as 10 = ? where they engage creatively and explore multiple ways of answering the question. This reversal of thinking helps the teacher start from the whole and move to the part, which opens up a plethora of possibilities. This calls for a much more flexible and imaginative process within both the teachers and students.

The alphabet is introduced as pictures from a character within a story. The students then draw and move them with sounds and shapes so they develop a deeper feeling and relationship to both the spoken and written sounds and enliven words that otherwise become rather abstract.

In the early years, almost everything is brought through stories. From fairy tales, fables, mythology to literature and history, students participate in the unfolding story of the world in a way that they can see and sense the events as if they were happening in a moment.

One of the unique aspects of Waldorf education is that the children learn two foreign languages from first grade all the way till high school, where they then choose one. Teacher and author Johannes Kiersch (1997) described how the general objective of language teaching in Waldorf education is to offer students the experience of the inner reality of language:

Through being given concrete experience of the sounds that color a particular language and the shapes its words take, pupils will learn to trust their own artistic sensibilities in relation to such sensations. They will learn to be quiet, to wait, to listen attentively, so that they may be able to take delight in the surprises, the dark ambiguities and strange turns of the foreign language… they will be learning to identify with the perceptions and feeling of others. (p. 22)

This exposes students to more than one way of thinking and cultivates a sense of self that belongs to not just one particular culture or perspective but to a larger global world. In foreign language lessons, translation is discouraged in the early grades and brought much later. Instead, language teachers artistically create a sense of the culture of the target language and invite students to enter into it. Through having a first-hand experience of a different culture and language within its own context, students are naturally stretched to enter ways of thinking and feeling formed by another culture. This helps them develop flexibility in their thoughts and feeling and a sense of cultural relativity such that each culture is equally rich in its gifts for the world. Students develop the ability to see and hold multiple views that even seem contradictory to each other.

With this sense of cultural relativity comes a creative power where youngsters develop a feeling that the reality they perceive out there is not something hardened and absolute but instead is a flexible, socially agreed upon perspective, which they will eventually have the power to create anew if needed.

The Art of Being Human

So now let’s look at why the artistic element is so intrinsic to the Waldorf experience. One of the things I learned through engaging as a teacher is that our very existence is artistic. This does not mean that we are all born to be a painter, a musician, actor or actress. Here I would like to elaborate this notion of art as a primary aspect of our experience. Let’s first compare it with science and its epistemological foundation of knowledge. In science, truth is attained through separating ourselves from the environment with the so-called a creed of objectivity, where we can at least for a time maintain a stance of neutral observer.

Image Credit – emersonwaldorf.org

This creed of objectivity is helpful in exploring the hard solid physical realm, in dealing with mechanical engineering for example, which makes possible the manufacturing of computers, airplanes or bridges. But when it becomes a fundamental and permanent lens through which to see human beings and all life in the world, there rises a problem, because humans are not simply mechanical and do not exist only on the physical plane.

If brought as the primary way to see the world, the creed of objectivity places us in the world as a spectator, distanced from the environment. We then act as if our actions don’t have significant impact on what we are observing. The world becomes an inanimate object that stands separate.

Art on the other hand, honors one’s subjectivity and directly connects the individual with the world as an active agent. With its creed of participation, art invites each person to participate in unfolding history and cultivates a sense that we matter and have the power to create a reality that is true to ones heart.

The World Within: Truth, Beauty and Goodness

Steiner believed that each individual’s creative power is fundamental to their developing humanity. For him, education should be a way to help the young person find their place in the world by unfolding the gifts that they can uniquely offer. Steiner said:

The question is not: what knowledge or skills does a person need to have in order to benefit the existing social order. But, what predisposition does this person have, and what is capable of development? Then it will be possible to channel new energies from the rising generation into the social order. Then the rising generation will not be fitted into the mold of the existing society, rather society will be what these newly recruited adults make of it. (as cited in Kiersch, p. 23, 1997)

In a capitalistic society, values are given more to productive capacity that is measured quantitatively with abstractions such as money. There is tremendous pressure on children to prepare for standardized testing and admission into prestigious colleges, as a route to ‘success’. They are hurried to ‘grow up’ to become a cog in the wheel in the work force with a narrow economically-driven valuation of the world.

Waldorf educators see the world as something that does not exist out there far away from the children. They do not have to go far to find that world. Rather, they find it in themselves. One role of the teacher is to gently invite students to discover themselves and their relationship to the world.

Image Credit – shepherdvalley.org

In order for youngsters to make a strong, engaged relationship with the world, as with any relationship it first requires them to connect with their feelings. Steiner recognized the need for cultivating a resilience that resists being blindly shaped by a limited materialistic picture of the world and helps them develop later a capacity to examine critically and dialogue.

Preparation for developing this faculty starts at an early age. At a Waldorf school, the day starts with a teacher’s handshake and eye contact. Each student is seen with loving interest with a fundamental acceptance of who they are. This daily interest and recognition becomes a deep foundation in their life.

Steiner held the view that the archetypal virtues of Goodness, Beauty and Truth are manifested in internalizing the human faculties of Willing, Feeling and Thinking and that this coincides with a seven-year cycle of developmental stages. This is an incredible framework to guide the teacher to enter the child’s world and be true to the consciousness of these development phases, tailoring how to bring the material in a creative fashion true to the student’s inner comportment.

In early childhood, children experience the world through the will. Teachers live the message that ‘The world is good’ through their deeds. Children need to feel that the world is worth being a part of. Then the next seven years moves more through feeling and the world is experienced as beautiful. Finally, adolescence brings a real readiness to embrace reflective thinking and the child is ready to find the world as a place to find truthfulness and their own individuality.

One of the psychological elements I notice as a symptom of modern society is apathy and indifference. From wars to environmental destruction, unregulated corporate greed and governmental corruption, the world often presents itself as filled with insurmountable problems. I observe how many people see injustice and human misery in the world as a given which they feel powerless to do anything about. I see young people who should have more idealism becoming rather nihilistic or as they say ‘realistic’, saying the world is just like this and one must accept it.

Many feel they have little power to creatively participate in the unfolding of our future; to change the situation for the better. This kind of defeatism is prevalent in those who have not developed their creative capacity and a broader perspective. It is difficult to engage fully when unable to imagine a world beyond what is given. I see in many Waldorf graduates a powerful sense of idealism and exuberant passion to engage in creating the future. It is not that they are too protected to see the harsh reality of a dehumanizing, corporate-dominated world. They see injustice and violence in society, but they don’t stop there and simply accept it as unchangeable reality.

When encountering misery and ugliness, those who have experienced and internalized the world as beautiful and good can experience deep disharmony without being overcome by it. When they meet that which has fallen from the wholeness of life, they feel the gap between reality and what they feel and imagine it could be.

It is not abstract thought or belief, but at a feeling level they know the world is inherently good and this becomes a source of creative morality. It is this active knowing that is backed up by the deep experience in childhood that give them inner strength to fill the gap. If children experienced the world as beautiful and good at an early age, they can later meet this harshness, but not simply accept it as the only reality. Instead, they can bring about a world that is truthful and in harmony with their ideals. The truth is not something that is given, but something that they create. Out of themselves, they will come to what is right.

The virtues of truth, beauty and goodness come together in the adult to develop moral imagination. Waldorf education, dedicated to the art of being human helps the youth become active creators of their own lives. In this age of apathy and materialism, Waldorf education is needed more than ever. Only practical idealism, applied with moral imagination can cure the modern malaise of defeatism and create a more humane and just world.

References:

Kiersch, J. (1997). Language teaching in Steiner Waldorf schools. Steiner Schools Fellowship Publications. (originally published in German, 1992)

 

Fukushima to #Ajisai Revolution; The Mosaic of Recollection July 18, 2012

Filed under: Fukushima,Japan,Revolution — Nozomi Hayase @ 8:00 pm

On 11 March 2011, a magnitude 8.9 earthquake struck the northeast coast of Japan. The ensuing tsunami triggered the world’s worst nuclear nightmare since Chernobyl. The jolt woke up not only the people of Japan but also many in the international community to the real dangers of nuclear power. Japan, the only nation that suffered from an atomic bomb attack, have decades later once again been painfully reminded of the horrors of nuclear catastrophe.

As if the earthquake had awakened a sleeping monster lying on the ground, a gigantic tsunami quickly swept away homes and the radiation expelled from Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant covered the whole city and spread into the ocean and beyond. Though the radiation dosage was seriously downplayed by the government and by Tokyo Electric (TEPCO), a wide swath around the city was deemed an evacuation zone.

The shock and aftermath of the tsunami temporarily swept people’s feet off the ground. The usual narrative was for a moment disrupted. In spite of the government’s assurances that everything was under control, the fear of radiation sickness and death arose from the nation’s collective oblivion like the ghost of a bomb victim. After 66 years, the horrific memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had once again come alive.

In 2011 Amy Goodman, the host of “Democracy Now! wrote in her column From Hiroshima to Fukushima: Japan’s Atomic Tragedies how the history of the the atomic bomb in Japan is really about U.S military secrecy and propaganda. She cited Greg Mitchell who has followed the consequences of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for decades; “Anything that nuclear weapons or nuclear energy touches leads to suppression and leads to danger for the public.” Mitchell found confirmation of this in the comments of Sumiteru Taniguchi, now 82, who, as director of the Nagasaki Council of A-Bomb Sufferers linked the tragedy of the bombing to the Fukushima disaster:

Nuclear power and mankind cannot coexist. We survivors of the atomic bomb have said this all along. And yet, the use of nuclear power was camouflaged as ‘peaceful’ and continued to progress. You never know when there’s going to be a natural disaster. You can never say that there will never be a nuclear accident.”

The Japanese people should not have forgotten the destructive force of atomic energy, as the only nation to have borne its epic brutality more than once. Yet we had been told nuclear power is safe, cheap and beneficial to our lives. It had became a symbol of Japan’s new status in the world. As Japan became the first Asian country to join the Industrial nations of the West, the demons of the atom were disguised with a concocted image of safe nuclear power. Nuclear power was sold as a promise for progress to became an engine that would drive the country into a bright future.

In society, there is always power that tries to dominate and control population. Sociologist Kingsley Dennis explained these dynamics using the concepts of the center and periphery. He wrote about how we live in a period of deep uncertainty and this is the time when central structures are being shaken and becoming vulnerable to the periphery:

The consolidated structures of control are seeing disruptive elements emerge to help bring in a new model more appropriate for the next phase. Rather than sudden collapses, what we have are transformational patterns in which the fragments of the old civilization persist alongside the emergence of the new one. … All great ideas and innovations began life as ‘disruptive’ elements from the periphery, from ‘outsiders’ — those people just going it alone, often ‘outside the box.’”

This analogy might help us to see the current climate surrounding the debate on nuclear power in Japan. The central core that Dennis described is here a political power structure that serves for the nuclear industry and a dominant line of thinking that prevails in the nuclear age. The megaphone of corporate media carries out pro-nuclear industry views and distorts the horrific memory of atomic power, replacing it with an image of new technology, science that brings ‘safe’ electricity and benefit for this industrialized nation. The Japanese government is also part of a central system that colluded with the nuclear industry to push all voices that challenged their lies into the periphery. Scientists are discouraged from publishing their reports related to the Fukushima nuclear plants.

Central systems maintain power with their own concocted narrative of time, of past and present and future. With the aid of mainstream media their story keeps the people in collective amnesia. Czech novelist Milan Kundera once said: “The struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” Our struggle is to resist forgetting our past.

The resistance didn’t come from the political arena, where promises for change are often made. It came from art and culture, which has to a large degree been pushed into the periphery in capitalistic Japanese society. Thought provoking lyrics in modern song started to emerge. A Japanese band named the Frying Dutchman criticized nuclear power with their song “humanError”, exposing the Japanese government and media’s collusion with industry. Their rhythmical words of truth confront power:

Don’t say you support nuclear power until you know the real history — Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the radiation exposure from Fukushima Reactor No. 5.; the United Nations ‘peaceful use’ campaign starting in 1953, which was just a cover for the Cold War nuclear development race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.; the nuclear energy plans were drafted by America and sold to the public by Matsutaro Shoriki’s Yomiuri newspaper and TV station. That’s how uranium came to Japan…. Television and newspapers are tools for deceiving the public, and it’s really bad in Japan …The TV news is absolutely horrible …They just kept repeating ‘There is no immediate health risk. There is no immediate health risk.’ That phrase should win some kind of propaganda award ….You TV news people are nothing but mindless cheerleaders for the nuclear industry ….They’re desperately trying to think up excuses to avoid taking responsibility for what they’ve done. That’s their job. ‘Human error’? What a joke! The whole world is watching. The whole universe is watching!”. (Lyrics by Lee Tabasco, English Raul R. Kotta, Translation Minako Yoshino)

Ever since its single release in August 2011, the song spread through social media and more Japanese people have started to wake up to the band’s message revealing the lies of the government shills. From the periphery, something was emerging. Voices that challenge the dominant pro-nuclear discourse were gradually finding their way to mainstream public consciousness, initially by way of the internet.

Since the Fukushima disaster, all 50 of Japan’s workable reactors were shut down due to safety concerns or for maintenance. A year later, as Japan moved closer to restarting some reactors, some concerned citizens began protesting. On Friday June 22, a mass demonstration erupted in front of the Prime Minister’s official residence against the restart of the Oi nuclear plant. What could be perceived by the center as a disruptive force was catching fire from the margins. The Friday protests have been held since the one year anniversary of the Fukushima disaster in March 2012 and were increasing in number each week. In his blog, Satoshi Nakajima noted how the major mass media, by their voluntary censoring had been ignoring the protest. The only reporting on the event was made through Internet and social media grassroots connection.

Despite the large June 22 demonstration, this event still did not get much media attention. With social media and citizen journalists, people organized themselves. Friday June 30 was the threshold. A huge crowd gathered in front of the Prime Minister’s residence and broke through the media blackout. Local activist, blogger and musician, Rei Abe following the movement analyzed the media response by comparing each news outlets and changes in attitude before and after this unprecedented mass demonstration.

Abe pointed to the media’s apparent collusion of silence about the June 22nd protest and the impact of concerned citizens calling the newspaper companies, which manifested in the major media coverage of the following week’s critical mass.

Photos of this massive crowd that gathered in the evening in front of the Prime Minister’s residence quickly spread on social media. On Twitter, the question, “Is this Japan’s Arab Spring?” began buzzing around. Japan now joined the trend of the social media revolutions happening around the globe. Centralized socio-political structures are deeply engrained, yet something peripheral had quietly mobilized. Through their inter-connection, people are remembering the untold story of their country’s past, the visceral experience of the dark side of nuclear power.

Dennis elaborated on the rise of the ‘New Monastic Individuals’ (NMI), a term coined by Morris Berman:

Often the monastic worker strives for assisting change within their own communities. They are like ink dots on the paper, slowly spreading their impact by diligent yet creative work. What makes this model not only more appealing today, but also much more effective, is the rise of global communications and distributed networks. Now, the hard-working monastics can connect, share, and collaborate.” (Dennis, June 2012)

This very thing was happening in Japan before our eyes. The name Ajisai (hydrangea) revolution emerged organically on Twitter and came to represent the movement. This quote summed it up brilliantly:

6月に咲く花、紫陽花。小さな花がたくさん集まってひとつの大きな花になり、咲く場所によってさまざまな色どりになる。老若男女、立場の異なる人々が結束する、この官邸前に集まる人たちにぴったりだ。 」― 阿部玲氏

Ajisai (hydrangea in English) blooms in June. Little flowers gather up to form a big flower, with colorful variations depending on where it blooms. All people from various backgrounds, young and old, men and women are united for one cause. The naming matches these people that are gathered in front of the PM’s residence right now, just perfectly.” ― Rei Abe, English translation by Takahiro Katsumi, BALÉS

This mosaic is our collective recollection. It becomes a shield against forgetting and disrupted the narrative that surrounds us. June 30th became a turning point. Citizen networking had been under the radar. Those who have been made invisible by mass media finally captured international attention. Despite the restart of Oi nuclear reactor on July 1, public opinion and the will to go along with their government appeared to have shifted.

Japanese public opinion has clearly been changing, particularly a couple of months since the first anniversary of the Fukushima disaster” said Okayasu Satoo, Director at Foreign Media Press on the 2011 Japan Earthquake and Fukushima Nuclear Disaster. He continued “Some people say it seems a bit irrational to stop all reactors completely just now. However, in either case, it must be a certain progress that Japanese people, including me, have begun discussing and acting against the nuclear threat. We have belatedly become aware of the importance of facing this matter.”

A 66 years old retired man in Japan spoke:

“I think politicians and government officials in Japan only think of their own benefit and safety. What will happen to the future of this country? The earthquake feels like God’s punishment on Japanese society and it just happened to be Fukushima. I feel very sorry for the victims. The tsunami was a natural disaster, but the meltdown was apparently a man-made misery”.

On Thursday July 5, a parliamentary panel investigating the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe submitted a report blaming the responsibility for the disaster on plant owner TEPCO and government regulators. The report pointed out collusion between industry and government and there was egregious negligence in preparing and informing the public about the compromise of their safety. The panel report said: “They effectively betrayed the nation’s right to be safe from nuclear accidents… Therefore, we conclude that the accident was clearly ‘man-made’.” The report finally caught up with public sentiment and the candid assessment of the disaster that was made in the Frying Dutchman song humanError.

The Fukushima nuclear nightmare was a wake up call for the world. The memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not the only thing that the Fukushima disaster retrieved. Modern Japan, which has been busy imitating the West is now seeing what has been buried beneath her Westernized face; her insecurity and submission to US interests and most importantly her relationship to nature before industrialization.

“Throughout European history, Nature has been a concept which stands in opposition to culture and civilization, and continues to be objectified by human beings.” (p. 27) wrote Psychologist Hayao Kawai. He described how Japanese had no conception of Nature until they encountered Western culture:

The word ‘Nature’ was translated into Japanese as shizen, 自然. Prior to this we did not have a concept of Nature. When Japanese wish to talk about ‘Nature’, we use such expressions as sensen- somoku, 山川草木 which literally means ‘the mountains, rivers, grasses, and trees’”. (p. 27, 1995)

In a way, Japanese culture had the attitude that man is contained within nature and finds a way to co-exist with this spontaneous autonomous force that surrounds us, such that it could not be objectified.

The Fukushima crisis brought a moment for the country to pause and remember her past, a time when her people lived harmoniously with nature. We forgot we were a part of her as we learned to manipulate and control her. Beneath the rubble of Fukushima lies something we have long forgotten.

「 ひとりひとりはちっぽけな私たちが、その大きな可能性に気づくとき それが紫陽花革命の始まり」― 阿部玲氏

When each person in their smallness realizes the large potential that lives in themselves, that’s the beginning of hydrangea revolution.” ― Rei Abe

People will not back down and demonstrations continue. We are beginning to remember our past, the true story of our nation. On Friday July 13, from Twitter account @herobridge, Takahashi Hiroyuki cheered the people on the streets:

“There is no need to fear geographical dispersion. This is not the 70′s. No matter how geographically dispersed and divided we may be, we are always connected through the internet. We have nothing to worry about. We just flock en masse, anywhere we deem to be. It doesn’t have to be in front of the PM’s residence. Wherever you are IS the center of any demonstration.” @herobridge, English translation by Takahiro Katsumi BALÉS

We are connecting across towns, cities and beyond borders, reminding each other of what we woke up to. When secrets are all out in the air, people can ground themselves, not on a false footing, but in touch with reality. We can actively engage in history that is happening. It is not a technology or science, but this participation of each person in their own lives that is becoming an engine to guide the world into the future. The Ajisai Revolution is a mosaic of recollection of our own power and connection to nature. All struggles against corrupt power are the struggles of memory against forgetting. In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, our remembering has just begun.

References:

Kawai, H. (1995). Dreams, Myths & Fairy Tales in Japan. In J. G. Donat (Ed.). Switzerland: Daimon.

 

From Tunisia to Tokyo, We Are the Winds of Change July 2, 2012

Filed under: Collateral Murder,Fukushima,Japan,Revolution,WikiLeaks — Nozomi Hayase @ 7:16 am

Image Credit – 池田良撮影 via 横野 勝

On April, 2010, it was a typical spring in San Francisco. The world I knew was about to change forever. The cruel scenery of modern war seen from an Apache helicopter gun-sight was laid bare for the whole world to see. The 18 minute video started with an opening quote from Orwell: “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

The WikiLeaks release titled Collateral Murder became an international sensation. This video footage revealed the modern face of war perpetuated by a country that had for the last 10 years become my home. WikiLeaks lifted the veil from the insulated American mind and showed the truth of war that had for so long been masked by corporate media. For some Americans, it was a confirmation of government malfeasance, of war crimes overseas. The Pentagon’s reaction to the leaks led to vicious verbal attacks on WikiLeaks as well as a secret Grand Jury investigation. For the US government, the WikiLeaks releases were more than just inconvenient truths. They were a threat to US hegemony and needed to be punished.

This was just the beginning. In 2011 from Arab Spring to the Indignado protest to Occupy, an upsurge of global resistance began. People all over the world rebelled against a corporate world order and its chattel governments. I saw something bursting out. It was the winds of change. I felt a new Zeitgeist building momentum on the global stage. I sensed a vital energy convergence at a level I had never seen before. It is now hitting the streets and city squares.

Now two years have passed since the Collateral Murder burst out to the world. On Friday June 22, I was alerted to news from my home country, Japan. A massive anti-nuclear demonstration had taken hold in Tokyo at the Prime Minister’s Official residence to protest against the first restart of a nuclear power plant since the Fukushima meltdown. Watching from across the Pacific, it felt like the Arab Spring moment for Japan. This protest had been growing since early March and was totally ignored by the media. But now it couldn’t be stopped.

The following week on June 29, the anti-nuclear demonstration swelled to 200, 000 people according to the organizers while police estimated 15,000. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal started to cover the event, so major Japanese news outlets were forced to pick up the story. The New York Times reported it as the largest protest in Tokyo since the 60’s: 29-year-old homemaker Yoko Kajiyama was quoted as saying, “Japanese have not spoken out against the national government;” “Now, we have to speak out or the government will threaten us all.”

Image Credit - AbeRei/阿部玲 Blog

Image Credit – AbeRei/阿部玲 Blog

Image Credit – AbeRei/阿部玲 Blog

From across the Pacific, I was watching this global uprising finally hit my home country. For me this trend toward revolution never felt so close as it was now. I saw these people, my own blood and culture who have been known as polite, obedient and apolitical citizens, now openly challenging their government. People from all ages filled the street in front of prime minister’s Noda’s official residence chanting in Japanese; “No More Restart!” What triggered this reaction by the Japanese populace?

On June 7, about 70 women including 10 women from Fukushima conducted a ‘die-in’ in front of Prime Minister’s Official Residence to protest the restart of Ooi nuclear power plant. Before the die-in, 10 Fukushima women visited the Cabinet office and spoke to officials about their pain and everyday fear of living with this radiation. The real voices of these women were heard on social media and could no longer be blocked. This lit the fire of outrage that had been held in for months. Once again, social media was instrumental in spreading the word like wildfire, just as with the revolutions in the Middle East.

Despite the media blackout, these bubbling civic forces were irrepressible. Now this movement has a name, The Ajisai (Hydrangea) Revolution. Citizen journalists on YouTube and Twitter rallied people for this mass movement whose numbers then exploded exponentially, culminating in the June 29′s critical mass in Tokyo.

The power of the people spread with networked social media. Like the Arab revolutions, I saw a similar pattern. In Tunisia, US diplomatic cables played a key role in the people’s uprising. Findings in the cables confirmed their government’s  corruption, which empowered the Tunisians. For Japan it was the Fukushima Leaks. The tragedy of the 2011 earthquake not only released massive radiation, but also induced a meltdown of the illegitimate authority. It leaked deep government corruption and ties between the nuclear industry and the state. We were lied to. It is now clear that the media is an arm of government and the government doesn’t care about the people. This is what the Fukushima Leaks revealed.

Around the world people are taking to the streets. After bankers ravaged the economy, Iceland forgave mortgage debts and nationalized the banks, even putting some of the CEOs behind bars. The people of Iceland are engaging in a non-violent revolution to overthrow the banker’s control of their government.

This Spring, in Toronto an estimated 40,000 students engaged in tuition hike protests for more than 100 days. It culminated in a throng 50 city blocks long, as demonstrators challenged the legitimacy of the government that was trying to further privatize public education and outlaw protest itself. Harsh reaction to this despotic act united Canadians with the fire for civil liberties. At the end of May, the student movement spread nationwide with the name “Casseroles Night in Canada”. This movement continues. Recently, 146 Greek academics joined in support of the Quebec students.

Frustration and anger toward flawed education systems was shared. Last Thursday in Santiago Chile, Tens of thousands of high school and college students took to the streets of the Chilean capital to call for an end to public financing of private universities and other reforms to the country’s corrupted educational system.

WikiLeaks cable fueled the fire again. This time is in Mexico, bolstering its peaceful youth movement against political corruption of the media. “The TV is yours,” read one banner, “but Mexico is ours.” In June 10, more than 90,000 protesters took part in a mass demonstration. The students continue to protest calling for more democracy and democratization of the media as many are challenging the validity of the recent election.

This month alone, large protests occurred globally; From Brazil to Nepal, and on July 1 in Hong Kong. Throughout the world, government illegitimacy is mobilizing citizens to stand up and take action.

On Julian Assange’s show The World Tomorrow, Bahrain activist Nabeel Rajab spoke of the upsurge of civic power that swirled through his country: “I think the whole family has become activists. We are almost more than a thousand members… the family… and, I mean, I think many of them become activists now. The whole nation – the revolution have made the whole nation activist”.

Now the world we knew is changing before our eyes. We are all becoming activists. For so long we have been told we don’t have power. We had become invisible in this global corporate matrix. Politicians foist lies upon us as truth, make murder respectable and democracy becomes empty rhetoric.

People are waking up. We are no longer invisible. I see unquenchable spirit in the courageous actions of ordinary people. Borders stretch and dissolve. The grand illusion of legitimate governance is crumbling. When police attack and evict, with increasingly brutal tactics, claiming land is private property that belongs to corporations or the state, we say, No! Planet Earth is our home. Around the world, people are coming to realize a larger reality and a higher law than ones that defend and serve the interests of a tiny portion of society and global corporations.

On June 27,  Anonymous struck in Japan. A Twitter feed, @op_japan associated with the online collective claimed responsibility for taking down Japanese government websites in retaliation for draconian new anti-piracy bill passed recently. The World Wide Web has no borders. This is confirmed every day now: we are living in a world where one country’s policy and problems affect everyone. Enthusiasm for free information sharing and common cause for justice is contagiously uniting a rising tide of Anonymous around the world. On June 29, @AnonymousIRC tweeted:

The legal attacks on Julian Assange that were meant to be an example for all who challenge power have become a unifying force for citizens around the world. While corrupt Western leaders regard him as an enemy of the state, he has become a crusader for free speech and justice. At the news of his asylum request in Ecuador, support for Assange surged. People are uniting and joining the battle to call out an illegitimate Western justice system.

On July 1, despite the nonstop protest, the Japanese government restarted the nuclear plant. This is only the beginning. Musician and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto’s sent an urgent message:

“I will continue to appeal that humanity cannot cohabit with nuclear power, whether as a weapon or as a means of electricity. I believe this is how we can contribute and be responsible to the international community as a nation that was exposed to radiation for the third time.” – (Ryuichi Sakamoto, English translation by BALÉS, Takahiro Katsumi)

On December 17th 2010, the fire of self-immolation lit the fuel of the Arab Spring and sparked waves of uprising around the globe. Now in the summer of 2012, a collective epiphany has begun. The awakening to our sacred planet is uniting people in global solidarity. I now see unfolding what I felt back in 2010. I feel it in the chanting and drumming of ordinary people, her breath beneath my feet. We are the winds of change. Our solidarity is the true solidity in the pure wind.

 

The Other America June 3, 2012

Filed under: America,The Constitution,World — Nozomi Hayase @ 6:37 pm

Growing up in Japan, I looked to the United States across the ocean. I admired the First Amendment, the idea of democracy and the statue of Liberty with her torch of freedom. As a child, I learned about the forefathers of this country, brave men who fought for their independence from the monarchy of King George.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” This was the most beautiful idea that I ever heard in my life. I know it was not all perfect, that from its beginning the US had betrayed its own ideals. The Declaration read, “All men are created equal”, yet the word men didn’t include everyone. With genocide of the natives, slavery of blacks and deep racism, America cast its own shadow. But I also found light in history, in the courage and tenacity of men and women who held onto the true ideals of equality, from the Suffrage Movement to the Civil Right Movement.

I immigrated to the United States over 10 years ago. As a foreigner fresh off the plane, I felt at home with the spirit of this country that I had been so dear to my heart since the days of my youth. Yet in the last few years I have seen step by step these ideals being destroyed in the country where they had been born.

With illegal wars raging in the Middle East, the passage of unconstitutional bills like the NDAA, acceptance of surveillance, drone murder and assassination of its own citizens, I saw an America betraying her own ideals. Presidents one after another act as if they are themselves kings above the law. With Congress bought and sold to the core, there seems  little Congressional or judicial authority over this dictatorial executive power. Egregious dismantling of the Constitution are quickly turning this country into a lawless state.

In the last year, there have been increasingly militarized police attacks on those who exercise freedom of speech and engage in First Amendment activities, including journalists. I saw lost teeth, cracked bones among demonstrators who peacefully assemble to express their grievances toward their own government. In their pain, I felt the spirit of America crying.

Where was the America of my ideals, her living commitment to individual freedom and equal justice? It has inspired so many who have yearned to breathe free and I still believe this is possible even now.

I was a foreigner. Decades later I still am a foreigner. Yet, in my sense of isolation and solitude, I heard voices from a hidden stream of history. It was a silent pulse of hearts, fragile at times, almost disappearing, but at the same time never to be erased. In those voices, I found allies. The voice of Fredrick Douglas echoed with a beautiful tune in my heart:

“I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine”.

I found the voices of my ancestors in the Natives who fought to guard the spirit that lives here and no more felt alien in this land.

“The white people, who are trying to make us over into their image, they want us to be what they call ‘assimilated,’ bringing the Indians into the mainstream and destroying our own way of life and our own cultural patterns. They believe we should be contended like those whose concept of happiness is materialistic and greedy, which is very different from our way”.

I found my sense of alienation comforted with the voice from death row of Mumia Abu-Jamal:

“Do you see law and order? There is nothing but disorder, and instead of law there is the illusion of security. It is an illusion because it is built on a long history of injustices: racism, criminality, and the genocide of millions. Many people say it is insane to resist the system, but actually, it is insane not to”.

Maybe Ralph Nader too felt like a foreigner in this country during his run for the presidency. He was an outsider in Washington, condemned and ridiculed by both Republicans and Democrats, and most of all by their corporate sponsors and media mouthpieces. He experienced first hand the weakening of civic power and apathetic voters who forgot what it is to be effective in a democracy. Perhaps he felt alone with his fellow citizens so unwilling to confront the reality of their corrupt political process as they accept the lies of a corporate duopoly and the corruption behind the empty rhetoric.

More and more, beneath the hardened veneer of the corporate state I began to find another America, a place where I belong. And here I saw this margin expanding globally. Through the underground currents, a deeper stream runs beyond borders. The spirit of American soil permeates the whole Earth. The ideals in the Declaration are truly universal. In 2010, I saw someone from Australia fighting for this vulnerable spirit. What he and WikiLeaks have done is to take the First Amendment and bring it to the world. As a transnational journalist, Assange did what the Press should do: challenge power and hold governments accountable. And yet he is punished for it ironically by the very government that is supposedly based on these ideals.

There is no denying how Assange’s courage enlivened those forgotten American ideals. What is happening to Assange and WikiLeaks is political persecution of those who challenge corrupt or illegitimate power. It is an effort to kill the very spirit on which this country was founded; the right to speak and write freely and able to criticize any government. The ruling of Assange’s extradition case is not just a personal concern, but has much larger implications, as it threatens the spirit of freedom and the First Amendment all over the world.

In face of the decline of the rule of law in America, Ralph Nader implored “So lawyers of America, apart from a few stalwarts among you, what is your breaking point? When will you uphold your oath of office and work to restore constitutional authorities and boundaries? Someday, people ask – where were the lawyers?”

When I see the very spirit of this country being assaulted, I ask, where are the Americans?

It was said that American citizens have a responsibility to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I see people all over the world taking the ideals of the Declaration to heart as universal human rights and fighting to restore them. They are occupiers, demonstrators in Montreal, people in Egypt resisting the militarized leadership and activists in Tunisia on hunger strike to protest against violation of press freedom. It is with the people in Greece and Spain fighting against austerity measures. Regardless of nationality and race I see the true American in any person’s courage to resist tyranny and suppression of their voices and their human rights.

I used to feel I am a foreigner in this country. I often wondered if I could ever truly call this America my home. But in my foreignness, I found a larger world where I am not really a citizen of any one particular country, but belong to a place opened in deep connection with others beyond borders and nation-states. This is the Other America that has always existed. Her compassionate heart sees no borders and welcomes all who are persecuted and marginalized. This is our planet our home.

Image Credit - roarmag.org

Image Credit – roarmag.org

 

George Carlin, Muse of the 99%: The Legacy of a Truth Teller May 6, 2012

Filed under: George Carlin — Nozomi Hayase @ 6:03 pm

George Carlin was one of America’s most beloved standup comedians. Even after his death, his great performances have lived on in the memories of many. There is now a whole new generation discovering his work on the cyber-stage. Some recorded performances have become hits on YouTube with waves of laughter going viral on Social Media.

George Carlin had a way of revealing the truth. With his gift of irreverent satire, he softened the truth of his biting social commentary with a unique humor. He could for a short time cut through America’s collective consciousness and belief systems. His performances gave the audience enough distance to not feel offended when invited to look at the truth about their own lives. Truth can hurt, especially if one has long avoided confronting it. But Carlin’s truth-telling left the audience at ease. His words have become more and more relevant and seem to have a prophetic edge. Let’s take a look at one popular piece where he dismantles the notion of the American Dream:

“But there’s a reason. There’s a reason. There’s a reason for this, there’s a reason education SUCKS, and it’s the same reason it will never … ever … EVER be fixed. It’s never going to get any better, don’t look for it, be happy with what you’ve got. … … … BECAUSE … THE OWNERS, OF THIS COUNTRY, DON’T WANT THAT! … … I’m talking about the real owners now … … … the BIG owners! … … The Wealthy, the REAL owners! …”

 

 

In this performance he points out how a small percentage of America’s population, driven by narrow self-interests control the destiny of the majority. Four years after his death, in light of recent bank bailouts and massive mortgage and student loan scams perpetrated on the populace, his passionate words on stage seemed to have captured the sentiment behind the growing 99%. The Occupy Movement is a sign of people becoming aware of a more overt takeover by the wealthy elite, whom Carlin referred to as ‘the owners of this country’. Carlin’s performance brought attention to the unconscious narratives that guide Americans and his piece on the American dream revealed how the constructed story brought so many under its spell.

What is the American dream? It is a concocted ethos that proclaims the idea that with simple hard work, anyone can succeed economically regardless of their class and race. Over the years, the idea of American Dream had become an essential part of American popular political culture and was normalized to the point that its validity was not even questioned. Carlin confronted this dominant idea very aggressively. He dismantled the myth of equal opportunity and revealed how it has covered up the reality of inequality and injustice with a false sense of hope.

The American dream was in a sense a transition from the blunt racism in America to the subversive subjugation of the will under corporate masters rather than slave-masters. Color lines matter goes the narrative, but the American dream offered the promise that if one worked hard enough, even black and brown people could succeed and rise in social and economic status.

In actuality, this idea of bootstrap success enslaved a majority to a system that is run almost exclusively by greed driven profit motives. Not just businessmen on Wall Street, but politicians and government officials increasingly have subjugated their autonomy to corporate elites. Carlin concluded this particular performance with the statement:

“The fact that Americans will probably remain willfully ignorant of the big red, white and blue dick that’s being jammed up their assholes everyday, because the owners of this country know the truth. Its called the American Dream, … cause you have to be asleep to believe it . . .”

Carlin was right. The American dream required a nation to fall asleep in order for it to work as a shared illusion. By collectively falling asleep to the glorious materialistic Maya of American capitalism, many have closed their eyes to the suffering of others, which is necessary to sustain this illusion of the dream back home. The victims of this illusion are found both inside and outside the country, the neoliberal world order being the most recent expression of the shadow of the American dream. People outside the US and even whole nations (currently in the Middle East) are systematically placed on the wrong side of the barrel of the gun, with the military industrial complex enforcing a globally extractive economy. In the US, the socially abandoned poor class in this country was always hidden and never meant to have any real access or voice in electoral politics or middle class advantage.

Carlin’s performance showed this dream as a kind of constructed delusion that sucked a majority of the American people in. Through mass media and films, the images carried the idea of the American Dream across the nation. Mainstream media in the US, in a reality TV of corporate entertaining consumerism and false portrayal, has till now insulated people from the injustices supported and perpetrated by their own government, which itself has been effectively hijacked by transnational corporations. It is becoming more obvious that the much vaunted American Dream revealed by Carlin as an illusion is sustained by a false bipartisan framework of electoral buffoonery, where voters allow their spectrum of potential to be narrowed by a manufactured mindset of the lesser of two evils infecting a contrived political landscape.

The last couple years have been the beginning of a historical era of awakening and revelation. WikiLeaks, with its scientific journalism have cut open the mask of shielded reality concurrently with the largest economic meltdown in 80 years and helped kick-start a global movement. Leaked documents showed to the world many brutal actions of the US regime overseas carried out while many of this nation’s sleepers still hitting the snooze button. With more and more Internet based information sharing and citizen journalism, the true actions and corruption of governments and corporations are exposed and this ugly reality is becoming harder to conceal.

People are gradually coming to realize the true nature and purpose of brutal military operations overseas, invading countries for ‘humanitarian’ reasons, or in the name of ‘bringing democracy’ and ‘liberating innocents from dictators’. It is increasingly clear that this is part of a larger lie. What all these countries have in common is a black sticky substance and most of the people are clearly worse off after US ‘intervention’. Inhumane labor conditions and corporate exploitation of sweat shops carried out in a service to this Western exploitation and consumerism are also coming to public light. Now the fleecing of the middle class itself has left little room for the sleep to continue.

American audiences have been laughing long enough. Held in collective amusement, many still remain asleep. But this amusement is quickly coming to an end. Carlin’s prophetic view is now being powerfully confirmed. When the gravity of reality hits home, laughter slowly fades, replaced with a numbing silence. More have started to feel the pain in the humor of George Carlin. It is in this silence that the Occupy Movement across the country struck a new chord. Audiences once entertained by Carlin’s humor and his brash honesty are now beginning to wake up.

Who would have imagined the rise of the 99%; standing up and starting to take hold of the course of history? In the eyes of some, Carlin appeared as a simple entertainer. He inserted himself in the constrained reality of the American dream as a satirical comedian and performed his magic of truth-telling. He used the stage to mirror back the theater of our own lives, bringing laughter that serves as a safe context and catharsis for those waking up from the dreaming state of American illusion.

George Carlin is the muse for the 99%. His dry wit is now transformed into awareness, anger and passion for a greater social movement and transformation. Perhaps America lost a great comedian, but the transformative power of his humor lives on in the hearts of his audience. He was surely ahead of his time and his legacy of truth-telling is truly revolutionary.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

This piece was originally published at Dissident Voice:

http://dissidentvoice.org/2012/05/george-carlin-muse-of-the-99/

 

Prayer to Fukushima March 12, 2012

Filed under: Fukushima — Nozomi Hayase @ 6:41 am

March 11, 2012

Today is a day of remembering. This day last year the news of the Fukushima earthquake shook me in the morning. All day long my heart grappled with memories of my homeland. I know that Japan was changed when the first waves of Tsunami hit the shore. I know the world will never be the same after the smoke rose from the devastated nuclear plants. I knew the governments repeatedly lied to us, but their illegitimacy has never been more real than now. People are still suffering; we are still being lied to.

Tears of the children came in waves to the town. The ghosts of the evacuated city whisper; “When will we hear the wake-up call from future generations? Can we wash off the poison past of this nuclear world and start over again?” March 11, 2011 -a whole nation trembled to the core. When all tears are dried and anger washes away, we once again look up to the sky. In my mind this was a day of great awakening and the beginning of the Japan-Spring. We see the budding of new seeds underneath the cover of the nuclear lies. This is my hope, my prayer sent across the Pacific Ocean.

Image Credit- Fukushima in Photos: Remembering the Japan Disaster by Cowboy

 

Street Spirits March 5, 2012

Filed under: Between — Nozomi Hayase @ 6:20 am

This piece is an ethnography project that I conduced in 2006 as a part of clinical training. This is a shortened version with clinical implications excluded.

Introduction: A strange encounter

It was a warm evening. I was going to the bookstore for a book reading. There was a middle-aged African-American man sitting on the side of the street. I glanced at him with his dirty clothes and disheveled hair and saw him as homeless. To see homeless people is not a particularly unfamiliar thing, and I tried to ignore him. Yet when I walked by, I heard a soft, gentle voice, in very upright and dignifying manner, say “Good Evening”. Unlike other homeless people that I see everyday, there was something about him that was strikingly different. I looked at him. His bright eyes caught me in the moment. I felt a warmth inside of me that I don’t usually feel. At the same time I was confused. I did not know what to do with this feeling. In the end, I walked away as I usually do with homeless people. His soft voice remained echoing in my head. I started to ask questions to myself… “Who is this man? Why did I walk away? What was the feeling that I experienced at that moment?”

I reflected on what had happened, and after the evening’s engagement on the way back, I was hoping he was still there. As soon as I saw him, I searched for change and approached him. I gave him money and he said, “God Bless you” in a very upright manner. The respect and dignity he had was striking. I noticed a calm feeling surrounding this man. Later, as I looked back at my encounter with this complete stranger, I reflected on how I wanted to connect with him in some way, trying to understand the feeling I had from this encounter. This was rare for me. I realized that he had not even asked for money, yet I automatically offered him some. Why did I assume homeless people always want something from me? If I did not have this assumption, the encounter with this stranger would have been different. He did not ask for anything. If anything, he gave me something. He gave me a feeling that I would describe as respect. In that moment, amid my assumptions and preconceived ideas, I had failed to see him. I failed to recognize this stranger in front of me for who he truly was. Why was I surprised? How had I expected him to behave? Trying to answer those questions, I was led to confront my assumptions and preconceived ideas about homeless people. This made me want to explore homeless people and their culture.

A scribbling on the ground

My experience with homeless people goes back to when I was living in Seattle. The high school I worked for relocated into a church that used the lower floor as a lunch kitchen and sleeping place for homeless people. I often passed by them in the morning, resting on the steps up to the entrance gate. I remember feeling uncomfortable passing by them to get into the school. They looked so tired without vitality to do anything. It was painful for me to see them sleeping outside. Soon, this became a familiar view and passing by became my daily routine. Once I was inside the high school building, it was a different world: full of youth, vitality and sense of the future. My work as a Waldorf High School teacher was to educate youth to care about society; create a better future. I often felt this was a strange situation as I got to witness the other side, the darker side of society on my way in. I felt what I saw every morning was somewhat contradictory in light of what I did everyday in the classroom because somewhere inside, I was wishing to avoid encountering this scenery… this painful reality in America. I did not do anything about this feeling and the voice inside of me asking this question was repressed and negated. Should I blame society for not creating a solution to this, or blame their family or upbringing that led them to where they are now? Isn’t it ultimately each individual’s responsibility? I felt powerless. The problem seemed too large for me to handle. So I stopped thinking about it. I did not know what to do about it.

After moving to Berkeley, I noticed many more homeless people downtown. I saw a middle-aged man with a little puppy, growing very fast, sitting in front of the bookstore and taking care of the puppy. I saw a mid 30nish long haired white man who stands in the same place everyday, in front of the Bart station, asking for spare change. I often saw the older man pushing his shopping cart with his husky dog, a flag attached to the front of the cart stating Viva Bush! They are a part of my familiar street, with their own place to hang around, sleep and belong to the community. They are blended in the landscape of downtown Berkeley. The street is their home, yet they have a different relationship to the street I walk every day.

Downtown Berkeley

Downtown Berkeley

The street welcomes everyone. I take a walk for fresh air, go to the store or catch a BART train. So others also are drifting on the street or sit down for a rest. There is another scenery surrounding my ordinary life, the street I see. Streets are like an open canvas. People project their thoughts, feeling, desires and wishes upon the street. My street, the view from downtown Berkeley is different from others. What makes my view different are my thoughts, my point of view and the lines that I draw –what I choose to see. We each sketch the landscape of the street with what we see from where we stand, paint it with the unique colors of our emotions and hidden prejudices. The other face of the street is hidden from our eyes, unless we pause and look carefully at the landscape we are a part of.

The line I drew on the street is one between homeless and homeowners, jobless and workers, family-less, and those with family. It is like an innocent child’s scribbling on the ground, moving my hands as I feel. Depending on which side of the line I belong to, the view is different. I step out on the street; walking the lines I identify my life with, depending on this familiar view. I leave my home, walk toward my destination, going out in the world. I return home to my familiar landscape which confirms my existence, the world I know. I was the one who heard a homeless man begging for money: “Spare change?” I was used to the reactive feelings I had to such a voice, so it was adopted into my world and placed in a certain way to construct my view. What if the tables were turned? What if I was in his place? What would it be like to be on the street seeing people passing by… ignoring me? What is this that stands between us, the line that divides us? How did they come to cross that line? I imagined some of them were on the other side of the line sometime in their life. How do they view the world now? In the first place, do the lines I see really exist? Or are they something created in my mind? I wanted to enter into their world, understand everyday activities such as eating, sleeping, hanging out in that world we call life.

Disguised feelings

As a first step, I tried to pay attention to the feeling in order to reawaken and call my numbed heart to open up. Before entering into their world, I tried to pass by them as I usually do, but with consciousness, trying to be aware of my own bodily experience such as feelings and arising thoughts as I pass. First on my ordinary street, then shifting into an unfamiliar street, deeper into parks for homeless people, gradually crossing the line from my world to theirs. The strong feeling that arose in me on seeing homeless, especially sleeping at night in the entrance of the stores, was painful. It aches my heart. It saddens me. Why? Because I feel no one should sleep on the street, in cold weather or hot, on a hard floor of concrete. It is a fall of human dignity. Like a stray dog on the street, they have no home to go back to. I identified this feeling as something close to compassion, the pain of seeing and feeling human suffering.

This pain and compassion then turned into frustration and a sense of guilt in not being able to do much for them. The feeling that I had back in Seattle was arising again strongly. It is so painful to see them, but not knowing how to help brought me an overwhelmed sense of responsibility and a feeling of helplessness. When I pass by the homeless people asking for change, I noticed myself trying not to feel and sympathize with them. I had a rationale and almost automatic intellectual defense, telling myself “If I give this person change, the next one will appear. I thought despairingly, this is endless -if I keep doing it, I will be broke…” My conclusion was that homelessness is a social problem that one individual cannot change by themselves.

What was disguised beneath this defense was fear. The feeling that I identified as compassion was connected to other feelings such as fear. This made me examine my initial feeling that I had understood as compassion. Is it really compassion? Why would I  fear homeless people if I were compassionate toward them? This question brought another layer of hidden emotions. I was a bit afraid of getting to know someone so disconnected from my world and felt uncertainty in talking to complete strangers that do not have a solid social foundation. He was a stranger who might need so much, triggering my fear of losing money in helping him. After deciding on homeless people as my subculture, I still found lingering doubts and I wondered if I had made the right choice.

Another example of how I was inwardly conflicted was manifested in the process of writing a consent form for this project. After spending a lot of time writing this up I looked at the final form. Would I write it differently for a wealthy person? I saw the line that I unconsciously drew on the street was also on this piece of paper. My underlying feelings and preconceived ideas surrounding the homeless came out in this process. There was even a sense of seeing them as dirty, nasty, inferior people in society, which brought me to look down on them. That made me understand why the respect given from the stranger I met was experienced as a surprise. I realized what this consent form represented to me. It was my last place of protection. It was the line I used to divide myself from them, clinging to the viewpoint of the clinical observer and researcher. I decided not to use it. I felt it would stand in the way of creating the kind of relationship I would need to actually enter that culture. After all, I wanted to cross the line; I wanted to step into that world. I had to find a gatekeeper to assist me.

In search of a gate keeper

At first, I looked for the man that had greeted me that night, but unfortunately I could not find him. It turns out finding a gatekeeper was very challenging. I don’t usually talk to anyone on the street that I don’t know. I feel uncomfortable approaching and talking to strangers generally. I practiced the lines in advance of how I might break the ice in conversation, so that it would sound natural. For a couple of days, I went out on the street with an intention to engage in conversation, yet I did not have the courage to do it. After several trials, my determination became stronger and I told myself I needed to not think about what would happen, but to just do it.

One Sunday afternoon I went to People’s Park in Berkeley, where I knew homeless people gather. As I walked through the park, I found people sleeping on the grass, some reading books, others just lying down. My mind immediately started to categorize people, trying to identify which ones were homeless. When I identified a crowd that I surmised were homeless, I noticed that I started to walk faster and my body became rigid, experiencing some sort of discomfort or fear. My intention to talk with them was gone and I became very nervous, just wanting to get out of the park as soon as possible. On the way back, I found a middle aged white man who appeared to be homeless. I saw him sitting in the shade of the building. As I approached him, his shadow moved toward me, gradually covering my foot. He was selling newspapers called “Street Spirit”. I stopped and asked about the newspaper. At first, this paper seemed to be our only common ground. We exchanged some words for a few minutes. Now as I think back, this newspaper was the key to the door for my entry into the homeless world. I was very aware of myself being a bit uncomfortable, not knowing how to carry conversation; my eyes were glued on the printed words on the paper as if I was trying to hide my discomfort and awkwardness in that moment. His voice was so fragile that I was not sure I understood what he was saying, and didn’t know if he understood me.

60s Berkeley

60s Berkeley

Then he mumbled in a soft voice, “This country, America… supposedly the wealthiest country in the world…” He did not have to finish the sentence. I understood his feeling and what he had to say at that moment and so did he. That was the beginning of our conversation. I raised my eyes from the newspaper to look at him, asking him a question about his life. He moved his body back and forth, mumbled, his stumbling words creating pauses and silence. I waited in this silence, wanting to hear what he had to say. Gradually his mumbling voice got louder. All of sudden, a person that had not been present before started to appear. This new person started to talk to me passionately as if he had been waiting for someone to talk to for a long time. I realized what could be called his spirit found a voice in that moment.

Questions started pouring into me, ones that emerged but I would repress. I found out that he was in Berkeley in the 60’s during the historic Free Speech and Antiwar Movement. He was a veteran of the Vietnam War, where he refused to fight. He was charged and spent time in jail. After coming home from war, his life turned upside down and he ended up on the street. I spent some time with him, as he showed me around, greeting his friends and showing how he got food, showers and slept; how he conducted everyday life. He introduced me to a man that grew up in Germany and hit the street when he was 16, who at one point said excitedly “Back then, we were seriously trying to change the world!” As I got to know them, my fear started to disappear. I found myself intrigued and engaged, sitting down with him on the street. I noticed the line between us gradually breaking down. Through his words, I saw another face of the street, an intricate web, a human network underneath the community that I am a part of as a neighbor, yet whose existence I was not truly aware of.

Street Spirits

He showed me around his neighborhood, which is also my neighborhood seen from a completely different angle. I learned how dangerous and hard it is to be homeless. I had imagined a degree of the hardship, but it was more real hearing from those living it. He explained the rules of the street that keep them within their lines, such as how to deal with police, merchants, complaints of other residents; how to deal with fights, drugs etc. The invisible rules I came to see were deeply interwoven with the rules of the other street that I knew. I started to see how the line that separates us is actually very thin and that we are connected. With one big mistake or bad luck, I could be on the other side. At the same time, I recognized that for the homeless, this thin line is a very thick one which one can hardly cross back over, once on that side. It is hard to know what it would be like to live on the other side of the line. For some, life on my side is an old memory, a dream that they feel that they once lived. Some might see the line as a wall that they bump up against, having embarrassed feelings, being misunderstood and feeling like a loser. Another might attack the line as unjust, wishing to break down the wall.

As I understood more about this world, in a different way, fear came back. I certainly do not want to become homeless. This fear was that of losing what I have, the danger in living at a survival level. I recognized this fear was not mine alone. It was shared with homeless. They are often afraid, wondering if they can survive, if they will ever get off the streets. I know this fear is a universally experienced human emotion. My gatekeeper revealed things that I could never have imagined happening to people on the same street on which I walk every day. At the same time, in his voice and eyes he exhibited something he had gained through this hard life. This vitality toward life was remarkable, for living life on the street is a full time job. A couple of times, I was urged to ask him about the purpose of his life and hopes. I realized these are questions that many people whether homeless or not are striving to answer. In this hard life that I can only try to understand, there is hope in  living. I don’t even have to ask if they have it or not.  Without hope, the wind and cold storms of tough luck would simply toss them away. There are two groups of contradicting feelings. On the one hand, despair and fear; on the other hope and joy coexist each moment of their lives, bringing the human spirit to the street. It is really a pendulum of emotions that they experience; hope wins over fear, or despair taking over, for all of us everyday moments of life become a challenge.

I know I live in comfort, far from the feel of hard concrete, the coldness of wind blowing on my face, of the people just passing by and leaving me to choose between hope and fear, between life and death. As the night fell, many others started to appear on this street to sleep. It was a dream of the street. While I am gone from this scene, sleeping at night in my comfortable beds, there are many are sharing the streets, at times harassed by police, shouldering the cold on a hard concrete bed. When he and I were sitting in the entrance of the building, the owner of that building came out and asked us to leave. With a wry smile, the gatekeeper winked at me as if telling me, “See, this is what I mean!”

When we parted, we went different directions, me going back home; him I don’t know. I looked back and saw his back going further away into the darkness. After all, it is really street spirit that humans possess, whether you are wealthy or poor, whether you have a warm bed waiting, or a sleeping bag on hard concrete. It is the same spirit wanting to live, wanting to be fully human; fearing the same things. It is the spirit that lives beneath appearances; what is universal among all of us. We just forget this truth as we grow, as we start to learn how to scrabble our way down the street of life. Our own scrabble becomes a line that cannot easily be washed away; a line that separates worlds and grows thicker and harder if we let it.

Through understanding life from the context of another’s life and differences, by crossing that line and stepping into their world, I could gain a place where I could understand one for who they are, without judgment and without my personal feelings such as fear or prejudgment. I began to see my street as our street, the street as it is; the dark of the night and light of the day interwoven as a whole experience. I searched in the dictionary of experience in my heart, trying to come up with words that describe the feeling in that moment. To some it may sound trite, but I found something like compassion, love, an understanding of the full human being. It dawned on me that it was deeper than mere words; it was respect, a calm feeling behind the soft voice I heard in that one evening on the way to the store. It is the ability to relate to others without preconception, without the lines that protect and divide us. It is an inner gesture as that stranger on the street demonstrated that first evening, an honest greeting to a fellow traveler. The respect he offered set me free from expectations I had held and offered the opportunity to reveal who I am.

The end: Where healing begins

Good Evening!” the man on the street said, toward the stranger in his world. That evening, something had changed. He interrupted my own understanding of the world. I turned toward this stranger, trying to bring meaning with the concepts and definitions that help make sense of my world. His words shattered the line that surrounded me and my landscape changed. This experience of stepping into a homeless person’s life changed how I view my world and its inner construction. I now have more appreciation of the simple things. I used to like rain, but I now wish it wouldn’t rain because I know it affects those who are spending the night on the street. Now I still walk the street, but my eyes notice different tones in the landscape. This morning, on the way going to the BART station, my eyes met one homeless man. We looked at each other for a moment, as if we know something. I could see him and I think he saw something.

I am now aware of a delicate line between us, which I had not been aware of before. My life was enriched because of this experience. I feel that each relationship can be like this, an encounter of two individuals, a meeting of worlds, interacting, creating change in both in a kind of exchange of being.

I learned about true encounter; whoever the world brings to me is a gift that enriches my life. This one encounter helped me to find my wounds cut by the lines society drew to define my existence. This is where the healing starts.

 

 
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