The Art of Reconciliation

I don’t know how to fix things. I don’t know how to make things work again once they fail. I’m no engineer. I am a tinkerer.

I know how to listen. I listen with my ears. I listen with my mind. I listen with my memory. I listen with my heart. I listen with my intellect. I listen with my emotions. I listen with my eyes, my experience and my pen.

Each listening hears differently. Each listening possesses its own attunement. Listening is a teacher, a healer and a decision maker. Listening is passive and active. Listening is an ancient form of communication, a dance with the moving molecules of existence.

How do we listen to one another? How do we listen to the beloved? How do we listen to God, to history, to our deepest self?

These simple questions, unpacked, can tell us about how we hear and process the world.

In many religious traditions, a time of quiet contemplation, reflection and solitude are prescribed for a special kind listening and hearing to happen. The challenge in contemporary society like ours is to value and consecrate time to the practice. We unfortunately view quiet and solitude as suspect, luxurious or superfluous. Without dedicated time for listening and stillness, we cannot hear our highest calling—we are not able to listen for our next steps. And, instead, we fill all of our time with noise, in essence, censoring our own receptors from the deep hearing our souls need to thrive.

With what do we fill our lives? For some, life is endless talking without pausing to digest, listen or consider. Next, we permit ourselves to be saturated in the constant bombardment of media from televisions, radios and other sources of media. We are addicted to social-media platforms, unable to eat a meal without a device in one hand, consuming tasteless food and ingesting unexamined content with our eyes. Whether we fill our time with other people, fictional or factual content, sounds in any form, we cannot reconcile without some sort of retreat into solitude and serenity. In the second episode of the deeply grotesque and compelling series, Black Mirror, the main character tries to lie down silently in his room; unable to shut down the endless stream of programing that is forced upon through all of his waking hours, he shatters one of the many screens lining the walls of his room. Even this does not afford him even a temporary reprieve from external stimulation.

The metaphor in the episode is only partially hyperbolic. We are under the constant pull of instant news, messaging and reminders. Only when we are about to burst will we try to shut the devices down—even then, we may not be able to sever ties to the technology that plugs in to the noise. We may not pay in the literal sense that the show depicts, but we come close. Serenity, the show suggests, becomes the domain of the wealthy, but I’m not sure that the wealthy are any better at getting quiet or sitting in stillness.

We all need to step back from life, devices, Internet, news, chatter, magazines, regularly. For some, a daily retreat in the form of meditation or prayer is necessary; for others, a periodic abstaining from external stimulus or a foray into nature will suffice. The dedicated time needs to be intentionally gifted to the self, an official offering of the heart, for renewal to happen. If we don’t make a conscious choice, our bodies and minds will often decide for us. That can be a very painful process.

Clearly, I am not an expert on how to patch up broken moments. I am a woman who was once desperate to repair important relationships, holding to an uncompromising optimism about outcomes and drowning out the pain with business. The surrender for me came when I could no longer exact effort, forced into isolation by physical ailments and immobilized by emotions owing to my inability to repair the damage to important relationships. At that time, I found the opening into radical acceptance, a place of listening and hearing, a knowing that was the entirety of the experience—sitting with my pain with my raw emotions. At first the solitude and quiet turned into an enormous dragon, my monstrous failures eating me alive. Gradually, the dragon settled into a protective guard dog, alert and vigilant, yet utterly gentle and loving, a new experience of the self.

Now I seek moments of solitude, reflection and silence regularly. Cultivating the practice of retreat in myself, I allow for serenity and stillness, to make the necessary peace with my life. Peace requires turning the external world off periodically. We can lose so much of ourselves in the process of life. We are prone to forgetting our priorities when we don’t make time for introspection. The process of retreat is necessary for compassion and healing and opening. The reconciliation with the self, returning the self in loving kindness is the only possible way to find peace. We must cultivate that peace in ourselves.


Making the Count: Our Rights and Duties

Election season is upon us, again. It is a joyous time, one full of demanding intellectual rigor, requiring contemplation and discernment in order to ascertain which propositions to support and which presidential hopeful to embrace. With all the valid concerns Americans face, we must weigh the balance of a society enduring broad disparities in services, goods and care, based on income levels, gender and race. That’s why I love this country: even with our national foibles, rampant discrimination and numerous beneficiaries of unearned privileges, we each get the same opportunity to vote. Regardless of political leanings, no matter our party affiliation, voting is a duty that must be taken seriously. There’s too much apathy—too many people declining their responsibilities, not making time, and shirking the duties bestowed upon a liberated citizenry.


History teaches many lessons to those willing and able to observe them. Since the advent of human existence, there has been slavery and its lesser forms of abridged liberties, myriad forms of oppression: the Egyptians enslaved the Israelites, the Romans subjugated any conquered person, the monarchs of Russia created serfs of countless legions of peasants; the early Americans enslaved boatloads of Africans shipped over like so many other tradable commodities. Less severe are the disenfranchised of the world, ruled by tyrants, people unable to decide their own fates, for example, in places like South Africa, where once only those born with the right skin color could vote or North Korea, where even dreams of liberty are taboo. The list of deprived world citizens, past and present, is endless. We must not forget this reality. We must honor these fleeting privileges. They are precious jewels in the shifting power structures of the tumultuous geopolitical landscape.


The privilege of suffrage is a profound responsibility, necessitating our distilled convictions to not let others decide for us. We must not defer our power for another day, else we may find the power lost forever. It is our duty to exercise our right to vote. It’s what many people have died for over the centuries—a right too many take for granted: the privilege, in this country at least, has worn dull with use. We have entered a time of ennui with disposable everything; this insatiable desire for quick consumption has us in a vice grip of boredom with our own democratic process. Now that we no longer need die for the right to vote, it has become nearly worthless.

If one were to search the centuries for a single reason for unrest, uprising and revolt, it would most likely result in the quest for agency—freedom. Humans, rightly so, want the right to choose their destiny. That yearning defines us as humans. We may even have too much choice, too much freedom. We are lulled into a stupor by our easy lives. We grow fat on the expectation of having our way. We forget that we are one of many, deciding a common fate in a power-sharing process based on the full participation of society’s members.

To abstain from the vote is to betray our own democracy, our own moral mandate to be agents of change. Were it a question of people subjugated under laws without the slightest possibility of mitigating outcomes, we’d die for liberty. And yet, we have the ability to impact our own governance, but easily abandon our duties as a form of stubborn foot stomping. We have the power to decide our fate and the direction of our nation, our states and our cities. We must use our power.

People make every imaginable excuse for not going to the polls. They attempt to justify their inaction—they seem to be waiting for a magic carpet to transport them to a mythical utopia in which voting is irrelevant and only the candidates they want will appear on the ballot. This complacency is akin to the child archetype, rendering citizens helplessly mute, overcome by indecision, protesting carelessly about their discomfort with their choices, eschewing their responsibility in obscene temper tantrums. The nation is not formed to serve individuals; we serve one another, the collective good decided by all, sharing both the burdens and the glories of our making. Relying on excuses while ignoring the past and the current political reality in our nation prevents progress, ingenuity and the pursuit of truth and justice. We must allow the past to inform us so that we may correct the mistakes of the past and leave a legacy of love for our children. We only put our own civil liberties at risk when we succumb to fantasy and refrain from exercising our personal power. Even if we don’t get our way this election, we still have an obligation to participate in the established democratic process in our nation.

The past is available to us as a powerful tool. Without the right to vote, we lose our democracy—one that many people have died to secure—early settlers who fought the British Crown, poor white men and later white women who gained suffrage under new systems, and most recently, African Americans, whose blood wrested the vote from those in power. Will we abstain from the duty of this obligation out of complacency and apathy? Don’t we have an obligation to our predecessors to cast a ballot? I believe we do.

Too many people in our country are ready to take up arms, assemble bombs and shed innocent blood to be heard when there is a viable, peaceful option in place and accessible to us right now. My hope is that our hunger for liberty and justice, democracy and activism is peaked by injustice, cruelty and tyranny, and that our needs will be slaked by performing our civic duties, especially our right to vote—for we need that hunger to stay engaged, awake and empowered. And, we must do our duty to nourish our souls and pacify our spirits.




My Essay In The Mindfulness Bell

Dear Friends and Family,


Happily, one of my essays has just been published in the Autumn 2016 issue of The Mindfulness Bell, a journal dedicated to the practice of mindful living. My essay is a reflection on my recent journey to New Orleans with Mindful Peacebuilding’s Roots Retreat 2016. You can subscribe to the Mindfulness Bell or order the autumn issue directly from the magazine. Proceeds from the Mindfulness Bell go to support the worldwide healing and transformation work of the Thich Nhat Hanh community.



In gratitude,


Edissa Nicolás-Huntsmanimg_8954