MF 46 – Reconnecting with Nature through Eco-Therapy with Laurel Vogel

MF 46 – Reconnecting with Nature through Eco-Therapy with Laurel Vogel

MF 46 – Reconnecting with Nature through Eco-Therapy with Laurel Vogel

Laurel Vogel, M.A. received her degree in contemplative ecopsychology (A Psychology of Writing) in 2006, and is an ecotherapist, writer, Zen practitioner, and Nature Immersion group facilitator. She founded and runs the Holding Earth Sangha on Whidbey Island, and conducts Nature Immersion camps on the West Coast. Her writing is anthologized in Rebearths: Conversations with a World Ensouled (ed. C. Chalquist), and her articles have appeared in Ecotherapy News, and Restoration Earth Journal.

Interview with Laurel Vogel

(What follows is a summary transcript of the interview. Listen to the episode for the full conversation)

What brought you to a contemplative practice?

I’ve been a spiritual seeker for a long time, from a young age. Vacation bible school busses would haul us off to church, and this opened up my seeking personality. I had a seeking personality, but couldn’t find a home in the traditional traditions. I couldn’t reconcile myself in those traditions. There was this God father that would punish people into eternal damnation. So I left that kind of church, and continued seeking. As a young adult, I went through many things.

In my 30’s I started Yoga, and had a strong Yoga practice for a long time. And in my 40’s I started meditating with Vipassana. Eventually came to Zen practice 11 years ago. I found that Zen was the one place where I could have all my doubts, and be exactly who I am, but still have a really strong containing kind of a practice.

Even though I came with all of my questions, and my sometimes contentious relationship with spirituality, it can hold that, and it can stand up to that. I find the non-exclusive nature of that, to be as close to a home in a practice as I could find.

Interesting that you mention the judgement of the old testament religion, and then the non-judgement and inclusivity of Zen.

Yeah, I don’t really belief anymore that all Christian religions are like that, but I’ve come to find that, maybe even not all Buddhist sects aren’t as inclusive as I would like. But for the most part, the one that I found seems to really embrace… it doesn’t tell me what to think, what to feel, and how to be.

So I had to go away from practices that were too prescriptive..

And the preconceived notions, and conditioning that they come with..

And of course there are precepts which we follow, but nothing like you have to believe, and have to think this way.

But there’s also a faith element in Zen as well. How do you relate to that as opposed to accepting something on blind faith?

The faith is to keep practicing. To keep going, to keep sitting, to keep doing the meditation practice I think. That’s really where the faith comes in. The process will take us toward wherever it is that we’re going. I see that as different than being told what I need to have faith in.

Through the culture, certain churches, not all of them, have really come to try to tell people a lot on how to live, and what to do. The particular church I was in for a while, they got into your life, from telling what length the sleeves of your shirt should be, to whether or not you should go bowling or swimming. It’s that kind of a context that I was reacting to when I was looking for a spirituality that was more open and inclusive.

Would you say you’re still seeking, or is some of that now dropping away, now that you’re feeling more at home in your practice?

In a way I think I feel at home seeking. I do feel like, no matter what I do, I’ll find a way to be seeking. Not sure if that’s a good/bad thing. I think it’s just part of my nature, and i’m finally coming to a place where I’m accepting that more. That I just maybe one of those people who needs to question everything. Maybe that’s just part of my path.

..You’re accepting it, whatever state of mind you are, you’re accepting that. That’s a very liberating feeling right?

Yes, it is, it’s very liberating to realize that no matter where i’m at, i’m accepted in this practice..As I am with all my questions and doubts. It doesn’t mean that I’m not practicing right, or doing the right thing.

Yeah, I think it was Shunryu Suzuki who said (Correction: Suzuki was actually quoting Dogen), life’s one big mistake…that meditation and the whole process of finding your own true nature are one continuous mistake. 

..One continuous mistake, that’s right (laughing). That would describe my experience of practice.

How does this practice affected your relationship with the world. We’re going into Eco-therapy, which seems very similar to changing your view or relationship with everything.

Yes, the more I go into Zen practice, and the more I go into Eco-therapy, the more they seem to dovetail with each other. Especially with the ways I practice Eco-therapy. I actually defined what I was doing during my degree, as contemplative Eco-therapy. Which was very much about bringing people in a contemplative open state in their practices out in nature.

Has the sense of self/other changed over your practice?

Definitely..explain more what you mean by solid self and other?

I guess our culture and conditioning is about believing in a separate identity, I’m here, and that person is out there. I end at the ends of my skin..or skin bag.

Yes, that’s a good point to bring up. Both Zen and Eco-therapy are really congruent in a way. They give me a sense that I am interconnected and not separate from the natural world. There really is a mutuality, and inter-relatedness. The more that i practice contemplative practice, the more that I dissolve in my sense of nature and the natural world. And that happens when I walk in the woods. If I’m engaging my senses, pretty soon it feels like…I am my senses. And I’m not only sensing the world, the world is also sensing me. So there’s an inter-being.

When you started your Zen meditation practice, was there a moment that you can remember that you realize that you wanted to deepen your practice?

Probably…It’s been a sort of slow dissolving into practice, that I’ve gotten into. I’m doing a combination of Soto and now started studying the Aitken tradition, the Diamond Sangha. And I was doing Vipassana meditation, with a group sangha, but there was no teacher, no guidance. But I needed someone who i could ask questions of, and explore things more deeply with in terms of my practice.  I just needed help basically to understand some things.

I happen to see a flyer at the local Dharma hall, in Bellingham, and Norman Fisher was coming to town. I remember attending my first Zen weekend retreat with him. I got a very strong sense that, here’s this person who didn’t have big charisma, which would scare me away. I felt like I could connect with him. And I pretty much jumped in at that point, became his student, and have practiced with him almost 11 years now.

How do you practice with him?

He’s in Marin County, Ca, but at the time he was coming up to Bellingham and Vancouver, BC about 6 times a year, so I would catch those retreats. I would go to those retreats, and sometimes I would go down to Ca as well. He has decreased the retreats up here, so that was part of the reason I started looking around for other Zen practice places.

Could you elaborate on what retreats do or give you, that you wouldn’t get from just joining a group and/or sitting on your own?

The experience of Sesshin, the extended 6-8 day retreats, are really immersions in the practice where you come together with different members of the Sangha/community. You live with them, cook with them, you do everything together, as one body. For me, it increases my sense of belonging, and the sense of being supported. And supporting others, because there are always many, many opportunities for service in those practices.

Some of those people I’ve barely spoken a sentence to, but I feel very close to them. So that’s part of it, why it’s important. But it’s also the structure of the schedule. Having all of the constraints of your life removed for a time. Or all of the things that are calling you, or pulling you out of yourself, and really just getting a chance to not have to make decisions and not have to have to do the usual life that you do. You just get to be contemplative. That in itself is a real possibility for opening.

Do you recall getting an example of getting an insight that you would likely not have gotten if you hadn’t gone to an immersive retreat?

I would say almost every retreat i have something like that. There’s just something about being away from my life, that is just really conducive towards that kind of thing. At one point I went to a practice period at Green Gulch down in Marin County, and that was really conducive to some openings, because not only are you relating to yourself in a practice place, but a lot of other people, a lot of different personalities. So there’s a lot of opportunity to look at your habits and patterns.

For me one of my biggest patterns is resistance. And so I almost always get a chance I can look at the ways that I’m resisting, like following a schedule, or whether I like people wearing robes, and things like that.

Do you have a funny example of that?

I don’t know if it’s funny…It’s just part of my contentious nature.

There’s times when it’s really serious and annoying, like you say, and then there are other times when it almost becomes comical. 

Yeah, I guess that is pretty much it. It became funny to me, that I do spend so much time resisting and not just allowing myself to just follow the schedule. Obviously I’m there for a reason, and I’m putting myself in that position for a reason. Putting myself in that pressure cooker of a Sesshin for a reason. So it’s funny that I come up against this part of my personality…I have authoritarian issues, so I’m going to map authority onto everybody. So it could be funny sometimes, if we know how to laugh at ourselves.

Robert Aitken, who is our teacher’s teacher, has a story where his entire Sesshin retreats revolved around as he called it, “his damn mother”. Some issues that he had with his mother in the past was just brewing and dominating during his retreat. It can happen like that, a whole retreat where you have one issue that is taking the dominant form. 

Yeah, I’ve had many Sesshin like that. It can happen even as you walk into a retreat. That I decide I need to obsess about something for a while. Now after 11 years of doing these, I’ve just started to get much better about dropping these stories. Where I can go, “OK there’s another one, I can let that go now.”

I think most of us, have some habits that are easy to let go, slide of, and some that are much harder to let go of. And we may look at another and see us struggle with a habit that for us would be very easy to let go of, but then they might look at us and see something we struggle with that they could let go off very easily. 

All depending on our inheritance from our particular upbringing or culture that we were brought up in.

Then when you come back into the busyness of life, how does a retreat then affect the way you attend to your regular life? How does that affect your regular life?

At first I used to be bothered, because regardless of how many perceived openings I may have had, I was disappointed in myself. Because I was “supposed to be all peace and love now right?” years ago I would think that. Eventually that wore off, and I stopped trying to be something…once I left retreat.

Particularly work practice, and certain moving mindfulness practices, are helpful with this. All of a sudden, you find yourself becoming mindful, coming back to your mindfulness when washing dishes, getting to your car and driving to work, or walking through the woods, etc. It’s not something that I was able to bring consciously from Sesshin, into my daily life. It’s just something that happened as a result from consistently going.

We keep doing the practice, and at some point the practice does us. And carries you wherever you go.  

That sounds right yeah..

Do you have an example where you notice that in your daily life, maybe in traffic, or cooking, or.. How do you become aware of that?

I’m not sure how it happens, maybe it was Jack (her teacher) who said using those experiences as mindfulness bells. Like when something difficult or alarming happens, like my neighbor’s leaf blower. That’s one of my favorite ones. I can use that experience as a mindfulness bell, and bring myself back, when I remember. And I do think as a result of pretty intense practice, I’ve come to where I can do that more often, and remember to do that more often.

And when you come back, that changes your relationship to the leaf blower?

Sometimes (laughing), sometimes I can drop the story that I have about that. I guess it does, because if I don’t do that, I can be agitated for a long time. And if I do that, I go can go somewhere else and focus on something different.

That’s nice, I bet a lot of people want to understand how that works better (laughing). 

I wish I understood it better, but i really do think practice makes that happen. I don’t know how else to explain that, I don’t think we can try. It’s like you said, the practice practices us eventually.

That’s great, something de-escalates, becomes less tight, constricted, it sounds like from what you’re saying. 

Yeah, and the heart opens up a little more to the other person. This happens all the time in human relationships. You get this email with a tone that you’re uncertain about, and at first you feel like, oh, that person is saying such and such. And instead of reacting, you take a break, there’s another mindfulness bell. And then come back to it, you can kind of let go of the story that you have about that person. Maybe it’s someone you’ve had conflict in the past. And maybe you, or I can see it as my trigger. That was my own personal psychology at work there, I can now let go of that. And deal with this person who has their own particular way of seeing the world also.

That’s great, and that then has the ability to create a new opening in that relationship too. And the de-escalation, and then maybe a new appreciation.

Yeah, so often we encounter others except through the lens of our own stories. The more we can discern between what is my story, and what is your story, the more potential there is for an authentic meeting. 

How did you come about to explore Eco-Therapy?

I grew up as a barefoot kid, running around, and climbing trees. At some point that got closed of, and shut down, probably age 13-14-15. Whenever that happens. And I kind of moved indoors, probably a lot of stuff going on in my personal, and family life. Then when I was about 24/25, and married at that time, and he decided we needed to go to the Grand Canyon. And I didn’t want to go. I had pulled away from nature in a way that I was unaware of. But we went..

So we went down into this canyon, and I’d been afraid of everything in nature. Like some young women are. I was fragile around it. I was taken into the Grand Canyon, and it was this process of stripping away culture for me.

We entered in at Lees Ferry (part of Glen Canyon), as most people do..and we had these oarsmen who were wild men. It was cold and rainy, I hated it, and thought it was the worst thing in the world. We had to hike out of Bright Angel, due to half of a trip pass. And by the time we hiked out, I was begging to stay and go on with the rest of the guides. Something happened to me in that canyon.

I think it was just the awakening of the senses. I was touching rock, seeing wildlife, feeling the river, the sky, the sun. We were open and in nature. I had not seen or felt what I had been missing. And so that experience stayed with me. I started camping much more. We continued to go back to the canyon. I became much more the person I was supposed to be.

Eventually that relationship ended, I went back to school, where I got a degree in Eco-Psychology. I was interested in the field of psychology, but not so much interested in working in a confined room/office. Which I tried to do for 3 years, but eventually taking my practice back to eco-therapy and eco-psychology. Practicing in context with the world.

So what is the main difference between eco-therapy and eco-psychology?

Eco-psychology is the academic field that i’m in, and Eco-therapy is the way that it’s practiced. Applied eco-psychology. There are some other nuanced difference, but I like the term Eco-therapy because it’s readily understandable and gets away from the world psychology.

(Below a short video from the Eco Belonging web site)

How does that work in practice, do people have some eco or nature deficiency, and then get referred to you, how does that work?

I do have some referrals with therapists in the area, who think it would be beneficial for their clients. A lot of work is coming out in hospitals now, that this is a good adjunct to certain illnesses that people have. You know that is one of the biggest challenges in this field is, how to help people see the difference between doing eco-therapy, or going to a therapists office.

We have found that working with other groups, or with other types of things is the best way to go. One of the things I do, is write a lot about the topic. I used to write to eco-therapy news and I’ve written for restoration earth journal and an anthology for the topic. And so that’s one area where it’s a big educational piece, to try to join it to other things.

The other thing i started doing is when I started our Zen practice group here, we are moving it towards becoming a green Sangha. Introducing a little bit of Thich Naht Hahn’s materials, he has the “holding earth” idea.

We’re also taking people camping. My husband is a psychotherapist, he works with couples. So one of the things we’ll do is taking couples out. This is a great way to work with couples, combining his marriage counseling with the eco-therapy. It gives it a context, and gives them something to hang what they know about therapy, and yet we can do it outside in nature. And so they like that piece of that. They’re getting something that they know about, and they also get to go kayaking, or whatever it is that we’ve concocted to help them experience nature.

You mentioned taking folks outside. What else do you do with your clients to change their relationship with themselves, those around them, and nature?

Sure, I have a 6 part series that I do with people. So there are 6 sessions. I’ve extracted some Buddhist ideas, which has to do with the senses. And I’ve also combined it with Shinrin-Yoku. A Japanese forest immersion practice or forest bathing”. It is a way of using the sense roots, in Buddhism, which is part of the Abhidharma. So the sense roots would be the eye and sight, ear and sound, nose and smell, taste, touch, and mind.

I’ve taken each of these senses, and made a practice that they can do out while we’re outside, partly when we’re together, and part at home on their own. So they can do their own micro quest with that particular practice. And really help themselves open that particular sense up.

And then these build on each other. And eventually we get to the 6th, which is the mind. It’s domain is thinking. So mind and thinking. That would culminate this initial series with.

The mind in the west is pretty much the primary organ that is paid attention to. Which is why it’s so dominant, so how do you treat that in your eco-therapy session?

First of all we distract from the mind, by taking people out. One good way is getting people out of their shoes. Just getting them sensing, touching, and feeling. And in that process dropping stories. Just coming to direct visceral contact.

And eventually when you get to seeing the mind as yet another sense-root, you can also see thinking as something that is like a sense, you can drop it.

What are seeing people reaction to that, do you see people have reactions to that? Do they resist?

Some people are resistant to that, just like me. And very often..can’t talk about individuals, but I can talk about folks I’ve paid attention to outside my practice. I find that they experience a sense of joy in the connection. When they have a contact with something wild, or something that’s not in their normal domain. And when they feel their mutuality/relationship with that other being, that more than human being. And this really sparks in us both what’s missing from our lives, and our need to reconnect.

It instills a desire hopefully to continue these re-connection practices.

Do you give them assignments to go out every day to reconnect with those senses? 

Ideally that’s how it works. One person I can talk about, she passed up her porch swing everyday for the last 3 years. They put in this beautiful porch swing. And after this retreat she was adamant, she was no longer going to do that. She was going to enjoy her porch swing.

Other people have different experiences. We had a couple kayaking, and it brought up their relationship difficulties. And they were able to sort through some of those things. One person needs to steer on the rudder in the back, and another needs to paddle. They need to paddle in unison with each other for it to work! They’re metaphors that can happen in the process of taking people out on adventures.

So it gives them insight where they’re stuck in their relationship…

Yes, it did. Actually my own husband and I we got some insight into our relationship on that trip too (laughing).

What kinds of mental illnesses are particularly benefited by taking part in eco-therapy?

There is a lot of research coming out, for those who are inclined to the western way of thinking. Mostly from England, Scotland, Ireland, and Finland. And they are showing actual quantifiable effects. Decreases in anxiety and depression, increased immune function. They’re finding that people who exercise outdoors, what they call Green Exercise. It helps people to have better stamina, when they’re outside, working out. they found a reduction in ADD symptoms, that focus is improved from increased contact with nature. And even improvements in self-esteem.

That’s great, you can’t go wrong with that. I saw one (2007 study from the University of Essex in the U.K), which found that a walk in the country reduces depression in 71% of participants. (The researchers found that as little as five minutes in a natural setting, whether walking in a park or gardening in the backyard, improves mood, self-esteem, and motivation.)

So the challenge is that not everyone is aware that this is solution they can use right now, they can go outside…

Yeah, it’s a challenge because I think people can get kind of bored after a while, if they don’t really understand how to connect outside..Because we’re of of practice, and we’ve also been conditioned by a culture that needs us to be dependent on what it gives us. A constant stream of entertainment, media, maybe sugar…. (laughing)..I struggle with that…things like that.

So I think this dependence on this culture detracts from our ability to go out and fully experience the subtleties that nature has to offer. Also I don’t think we understand how much reciprocity there is in nature. That it’s actually giving to us, as well as us giving to it, her/him…There’s so much to this.

Like you said, I don’t see Facebook anytime soon asking people to go outdoors. They do not want people to leave their platform, and their sugar, and whatever else..

Right, and that is where I think mindfulness helps. And having a little bit of stamina to sit and stay with something..You know there’s a good story by Eve Ensler. She wrote the vagina monologues, and in her more recent book, In the Body of the World, she talks about her experience with cancer.

The only salvation is kindness.

Eve Ensler

Eve Ensler ended up in a hospital being treated for her cancer. And after treatment was so debilitated. She didn’t have the strength to watch TV, or check her text messages, or do any of the things that we’d ordinarily do to distract ourselves from the pain that we’re in. And in her hospital room out her window, she could see a tree. And this is a person who left a rural area for New York City, and said she hated trees. She wasn’t going back. So here she is, stuck in her own situation with no other outlet, and here is this tree.

There’s a beautiful distillation of this story on brainpickings about what happens to her as she interacts from her hospital room with this tree. Staring at the bark day after day, and getting to know the bark. Then staring at the shiny leaves. Then near the end of her stay the tree blooms. It had a profound impact on her. She found a lot of healing both emotionally and metaphorically she was able to understand her relationship to the tree and all that had happened. And also as she was fighting cancer to her own body. So it’s a great story and example.

You see these stories in the literature. Like Derrick Jensen’s book,  A Language Older than Words. His own story of childhood sexual abuse by his father. And the ways that his relationship to his father, and a mirror of what we’re doing to the culture plays out in the book and his own personal healing.

And a more recent book, H is for Hawk, by Helen McDonald, about grieving, the death of her father. Beautiful stories about the ways people interact with nature, and find the deep spiritual, emotional, and physical healing.

Ideally we’d teach this ability to recognize this at an earlier age then when someone gets cancer right? How do you think that’s going to happen in the future?

Little kids already have this, and humans in general already have this knowledge. To me it seems that what we’re doing is we’re training them out of it. And so it’s a good question. I do believe that we’re seeing more, my ears are attuned to hearing stories about nature. And I was at a writing retreat last weekend. And many of the stories that people were compelled to tell each other, had to do with like, “well there was a squirrel dragging a giant mushroom around.” This is at a retreat center in the woods, so there was a lot of nature around there. They were able to go around and walk.

Another story i heard was, “Well a deer chasing a coyote!” And you know one story after another about their interactions with nature. So it gave me some hope that people are interested in nature. When you hear people tell stories like that, and you’re listen to them, you’re hearing something about their longing for what is wild. And what is not so domesticated.

So I think if somehow we can speak to this longing that they have, we can help turn people toward…yes.. this is our desire to be back in relationship with the natural world. I’m trying to do this on all the fronts that I can think of to do. I think people know it, they don’t really know how to do it. If I can get someone in the door, then we can work from there. But we have to write, blog, and talk about it. I love taking people out, and immersing them in it. And that’s what happened for me, and I think that is a really good way to support somebody to sort of peel off those layers that they’ve gathered from the culture.

And the wall that’s build up between them and nature. To take down that wall. 

Yeah, take it down or play with it. There are many things we can do to interact with it,  in a way to help it come down.

Do you have any remaining thoughts on how someone can benefit from nature. Maybe some remaining ideas they can explore to reconnect…

Pay attention to those moments when you encounter wildness and pay attention to what that feels like.

I was walking around the arboretum in Seattle the other day, and encountered a young couple who had just got really close to a great blue heron. They didn’t even know what it was. They came out of it, and had this delight on their faces. And I questioned them a little bit about this. It was clear that they didn’t have a lot of contact with nature, but they were sooo happy! That they got to see this bird up close.

I would say, really attend to and pay attention to those moments. It’s really important that we all recover and bring rich non-human environments into our lives. To learn as much as we can about it. Whether this is gardening, or photography…This is an activity, that gets you to put your shoes on, and get out the door. And we need something like that in our lives. That not only gets us out into the woods and enjoying it, but go out and do something that will really motivate you, whether it’s gardening or kayaking, something that makes you want to do it.

Because that is going to give you the long sustained contact with nature that will get you thinking in a different way. And to experience your own wild nature, and to also experience the domesticity. How domesticity is affecting your life. Because if you do that, you won’t tolerate animals that are caged or in factory farms. It’s going to wake up the heart. Because there’s a lot in the natural world, that wants to speak to us. If we can develop these ears to hear. 

Thanks so much!



MF 45 – Stepping Out of The Busy-ness of Daily Life Into The Sanctuary of Our Heart with Bruce Davis

MF 45 – Stepping Out of The Busy-ness of Daily Life Into The Sanctuary of Our Heart with Bruce Davis

MF 45 – Stepping Out of The Busy-ness of Daily Life Into The Sanctuary of Our Heart with Bruce Davis

Bruce is the author of  The Heart of Healing, Monastery without Walls ~ Daily Life in the Silence, My Little Flowers, Simple Peace ~ The Inner Life of St Francis of Assisi and The Calling of Joy. His latest book is The Love Letters of St Francis & St Clare.  Bruce is a regular contributor to Huffington Post. A graduate of Saybrook University, Bruce is a spiritual psychologist and teacher of the essence of world religions. He has taught at JFK University in Pleasant Hill, California and many spiritual centers in the United States, Germany, and Switzerland.

In 1975 he wrote the book The Magical Child Within You which was the first book written on trusting and nurturing the inner child.  A couple years later he coauthored another best selling book Hugs & Kisses about loving life, which has been a theme of his work ever since.

While a graduate student, Bruce met and became an apprentice to a remarkable Shaman who had the gift of entering into and teaching people in their dreams.  For four years, Bruce was introduced to many realms and worlds outside normal western thought. These years were to be the beginning of Bruce’s quest to understand the potential of psychology and spirituality.

Since 1983 he has led interfaith spiritual retreats in many parts of Europe, Asia, United States.  Taking people to sacred places like Assisi, Italy, participants discover the sacred place within themselves.  For twelve years Bruce and Ruth lived in Assisi, founding the Assisi Retreat Center where people of all backgrounds are welcome to enjoy the simple peace and spirit of St. Francis of Assisi.  He returned home to California in 2012 and established, Silent Stay. It is Bruce’s wish to provide a sanctuary for everyone who yearns for real peace and quiet towards finding their own inner joy, spirituality, and purpose.

Through the years, Bruce has studied and lived with spiritual teachers in India, Philippines, Germany and Bali, Indonesia.  In 1992 Bruce & Ruth established a free food program for the homeless in San Francisco that continues till this day.  High schoolers from some of America’s wealthiest communities are traveling each weekend, into the poorest neighborhoods, serving food to people living in the streets.  At Silent Stay, Bruce has a great interest in supporting people who have had a Near Death Experience or spiritual awakening. His primary intention is helping others to develop a meaningful spiritual life including a daily life of joy.

Interview with Bruce Davis

(What follows is a summary transcript of the interview. Listen to the episode for the full conversation)

What brought you to a contemplative practice?

Began when Bruce was in grad school, in psychology. He was looking at his serious teachers, uptight, not happy, all grown up. So he wrote a book, The Magical Child Within You in 1975. It was the first book on the inner child.

That there’s more to life than being serious and dull, grown up and responsible. We each have an inner child to trust and enjoy. Ever since he’s been exploring the place of the heart. Then I gradually became more interested in meditation. Because meditation is a doorway to the really big part inside the heart.

And when you saw all those “grown-ups” and serious people  around you, did you ever go through that stage of being lost, and finding your inner child again?

My wife says I never grew up. (laughs). She says, “Bruce you’ve never really had a job”. You’ve never really worked. That’s true, I’ve been leading retreats for almost 40 years, all over Europe, and US, and now going to Bali and other places. I’ve always been living from my heart, sharing from my heart. And it’s worked. Trusting. Not an easy path, but it was the only true path I could do.

Since you already found your inner child, was there anything that you did struggle with, where meditation practice was beneficial?

Those days you didn’t really know much about meditation, or India, or Buddhism, and all these new feeling therapies were out. I started a clinic in Denver, where people would come and we’d ask them how old they felt. And the ones that would say 15, we’d send these teenagers upstairs, the 5-7 year olds to another room, babies to another room. They would explore these different ages inside of them. This was the Denver feeling center. We thought this was a new frontier. We were adults, we were grad students, all different ages, but remembering the inner child.

Meanwhile I was at a seminar in grad school, with a shaman. I didn’t know at the time what that meant. One night I fell asleep and she came into my dream to my bed. The next day I went over to her, she said, “do you remember me coming to you last night?”. So for 4 years, I was her student. And she’d come into my dreams, and take me to the other side, teach me in my dreams. She said I was the most stubborn student she had ever had. So mental. I was raised in a non-spiritual, non-religious family. I didn’t really believe in any of these things. I thought finding my inner child and feelings, and thought that was a breakthrough. I didn’t know that there was something even more. So she slowly taught me more. Even though I had all these direct experiences, I was resistant. Because it wasn’t in my background, my culture.

Once in Germany, she again came into my dream, she came into my dream, and I said this is not real. She said, “oh yeah?” And she pushed me, and I woke up on the floor. So slowly I began to realize there is much more to this world, then what we normally think in western culture.

I spend some months with Philippine healers. These people were very poor, had no medicine, but they were using their hands to heal. And I saw and experienced incredible things. And then again I realized there is more to this world. These shamans and teachers all told me to think less and be more present. That I needed to learn how to meditate. Get out of your mental mind, and just to be present. 

So that was your main struggle, and stubborness, that you were not being present at the time?

We’re caught up in our heads, we don’t realize that our mental life is only a very small part of a much bigger picture.  In the west, we think our mental life is everything.

Right, we let it dominate, even though it should be a support…

We should think when there’s something to think about. My wife tells me, Bruce you don’t think too much ..(laughs) It’s nice to just be present and enjoy life. And there’s so much presents to receive. 

And appropriate action come out of non-thinking as well. Even though it is common to think that you have to think a lot before acting. Sometimes that is necessary, but often times, appropriate action comes about due to being fully present, available, and attentive to the present. 

Exactly, now 40 years later, we live mostly in silence, we run a silent retreat. People discover the silence of their heart. And as you discover the silence of your heart, our intuition is more available. Creativity is more available. But more importantly, this borderless, this vastness inside that’s usually covered up with all of our thinking and busyness we have to do. 

So we enjoy living mostly in silence, and having people absorb the deep joy that was inside of us.

A joy that they didn’t think they had, but was covered up by the thinking, conditioning, etc. 

Exactly, most people are so busy with their mental lives. They don’t know underneath it is this vastness. Even people who’ve been meditating for many years, watching their thoughts, thinking about non-thinking. They haven’t really gone in and absorbed this deep heart inside of us, which I call our heart-essence.

So in the west, even those on a meditative path, a lot of them have not experienced this space, this lightfulness.

And some would want results that the meditation would have quick results, but  that is not always the case…

Well, in our case it is the case..My wife takes beginners, particularly beginners, they’re the easiest, into this space within their hearts, within 5-10 minutes. And they find this big space, and their innocence is right there.

Now people who’ve been meditating for many years, its’ more complicated for them. Because they already have a system to of going inside. Generally more mental, more challenging for them to let go, and go deep into their heart. And then we ask what do you find, and they find this space that has no borders. And then we ask what do you feel in that space, what’s your experience? Everyone has their own experience. Some people will say, they feel at home here. Or I feel this gentleness inside with no end, or they feel this deep joy.

And then we ask them where are your thoughts? And they say, what do you mean? There are no thoughts there. There is just this big space. And I think in all traditions, more and more of us are discovering this, as we learn to get creative with our mental role.  And really not just watch what’s in our hearts, but go deep inside our hearts and receive.

When you mention that just anyone can walk up to your retreat, and have this opening experience? Do you find it’s easier for this opening experience to take place for younger folks, than folks who are more set in their ways? I’m thinking of for example a very divisive politician for example, how easy would it be for them to turn around and become this joy and openness?

Most folks who come in, they stay mostly in silence, and they feel the silence of the heart, and from that place we ask them what do they find. And they find this beautiful space. But if they’re in the middle of emotional trauma or drama, they just broke up with their boyfriend, or they’re sick, or they lost their job. You can’t just push through those feelings, and go underneath to this big space.

So if they’re in the midst of a big emotional drama, we just have them embrace that place and be with it. Maybe they go underneath it and find that big space. Maybe their retreat is just being loving and being with what is going on with their lives.

We don’t get to many politicians to our retreats, but we do live near Silicon valley and get people from Apple, Google, Twitter, and Yahoo. They love it, just to put their mind aside, and feel this deep valley of non-thinking. So for them it’s not difficult to find.

I write for the Huffington post and once wrote this article, “Can you be a republican and still meditate?” I was making fun, but I’m not sure if you can be republican and meditate. If you go into your peaceful heart, you’re going to find compassion for yourself and others. But how can you have compassion and do some of the things that are going on this world? I don’t know.

I’m finding on the liberal side, there too can be a lot of mocking of the other side, that could be mean spirited and also isn’t all that compassionate either. I’ve seen mean spiritedness on both sides of the political spectrum that could turn into something more destructive harmful…you know what I mean?

Yeah, I don’t think it’s related to politics. We all have a personality and ego, and just by nature we want to be comfortable. After 40 years of meditation, I’m finding that that personality has not gone away. I still have an ego, still uncomfortable. But it’s not so intense, it’s a bit thinner. I’m a little bit more understanding, a bit more patient, and open, and happy. But that structure, our ego, our personality, all this deep patterns. I think it stays with us, we’re just a little less reactive. Hopefully a little less aggressive. We’re just a little more giving and caring.

And that space that you mentioned, the ability to pause to respond, rather than have a reflex and reaction. Having that space alone would make a huge difference in the de-escalation of violence and all those things that spiral out of control. 

Exactly, we tell people that once they find that space, and we help them find that. Then their intention is to receive that space, to absorb that space in our awareness.

Going back to the inner child. When we were kids, we were naturally open, trusting, receiving, spontaneous. That awareness was just here…But as we filled our awareness with all that stuff, all kinds of drama, feelings, and intellectual stuff, we become separate from source of trusting, and just be.

So we tell people coming to retreats, to really drink from that source as much as you can. And so we have no media, no cell phones, no everything, and it’s pretty quiet, beautiful nature. So people have a few days to really practice drinking from that place inside.

And then when they get home, that’s their spiritual practice. To continue absorbing our deep self of no-self. This deep being-ness.

And then when that becomes our source, our personality, and our mental life, it becomes less busy, hopefully more open, less automatic, more choices.

I was just talking to our daughter, who works with us. And she says she feels so much more freedom. She has two kids, yoga center, very busy with lots of responsibility. But doing this big heartfulness meditation, she just feels so much more free, so many more choices, feels better and more relaxed.

Do you have some examples in your own life, where you felt more freedom as a result of your contemplative meditation practice?

I’ve been on this path for a long time, so it’s hard to say…I’ve always been close to the near-death community, with folks having near-death experiences. I found folks there that could understand what I’ve gone through better.

We just finished living in Assisi, Italy for 12 years. Mostly in silence, just ouside of town. Then when I came back, there was things like Youtube, and books, and other internet experiences, where I had never anyone to talk about these experiences, like my experience with the Shaman. It’s a big thing where we all have begun to talk about these things. Whereas it wasn’t in my culture at the time, it wasn’t normal. Where it was normal in those cultures.

So I’ve been going through a process of discovering community. Just hearing their stories. It’s been a big hug to I am. I’ve been to retreats for all these years, and leading and sharing retreats for myself, not for others so much. But for my own health and well being. Enjoyed sharing it with others, wasn’t exactly planned.  I just live this way as a contemplative in a non-contemplative world.

Are you seeing people move away or towards silence and stillness, because they have less of it. What kind of frictions do you see with that?

A little of both. A lot of people at Google for example are now meditating, they have a silence room. But most of the meditation in California is mindfulness. Which is OK, because mindfulness helps people to be present, that’s a big gift just to learn to be present. But just watching our thoughts and watching our experience, we’re still separate from our hearts. 

And I think that the whole Silicon Valley technology world has to reconnect with the heart, and realize that technology for it’s own sake in my opinion is not that great. It just keeps the kids busy. The important thing is to get connected to our heart, to have purpose, to have service.

I love all the opportunity to reach out and touch each other, it’s amazing what you can do with the smart phone these days. But on another level, if you’re not grounded in our own hearts, there’s no meaning, there’s no purpose. We’re just playing with technology all the time.

Just endless distraction. One thing after another…

Exactly, an endless distraction. And it’s very seductive. Very hard, we have grand-kids. In our days it was only television, and we could get off the television. But these days, it’s very hard for kids to be away from it for more than a few minutes. That’s sad..

It has a bullying effect to it, they are constantly tethered to it.. they can’t leave it, fear of missing out. 

We have this beautiful place in nature, 25 acres on top of a hill. I think the kids would like to come out here, see the animals, turkeys, etc. And they’re more or less tethered to their machines.

What do you advice folks to help them ground themselves once they go to your retreats, and go back home, and its very tempting to come back on full distraction mode? 

That’s the challenge. In a non-contemplative world, it’s very hard to embrace meditation, to embrace spirituality. We tell them to find a local group. Whatever it is that you can resonate with. To sit and meditate with a group. There’s something very beautiful about sitting with a group.

If not a group, make a regular time, morning and/or evening where you sit. And some days are wonderful, and some days your mind is very busy and will not stop. That’s OK, just do it, discipline is very healthy.

And then there’s the nurturing yourself, I’m still into the inner child. People have to find their joy, practice receiving your joy.  You can’t go deep into your heart if it’s closed, angry, or uptight or frustrated. It’s not just a meditation practice. We have to live our joy, and enjoy life. 

Sometimes that means you might have to go to a therapist. If the knot around their heart is too strong, and they can’t loosen it up through their own practice?

I’m trained as a psychologist, and folks always ask what is the best therapy? What do you suggest. I always tell them, doesn’t matter what kind of therapy, just find someone with a good heart. Someone with a good heart whatever their training is, they’re going to help you get more deeply open up your heart.

You mentioned the monastery without walls, maybe you can elaborate on that..

I wrote the book with that title in 1986. It’s this idea that we each of us have an inner monk or nun, but we’re not about to join an order. But we still need to learn to listen, and create a space in our lives to receive this monk/nun inside of us. So this whole book is how do we live in the world, and make our own monastery but without walls. 

The first step is to recognize is that there is a part of us, in everyone of us, that is a monk or a nun. That needs that solitude, we need some time just to listen…to be, and to receive the presence.

Through the years, I’ve met many monks and nuns, living cloistered lives, in monasteries, and they have the same challenges as we do, living in the world. There’s no easy answer. It’s not a question of whether or not to join a monastery. It’s a questions of creating a monastery without walls. Creating your own monastery and making it work for you.

You also talk about brother body, brother death, sister rain, etc. You talk about the change in relationship with the world around you is no longer an it. Where it’s no longer me vs it, or me vs them relationship. When you dissolve that too, then the world becomes the monastery without walls too….

Yeah, the world becomes your family..I got that teaching, I become a bit of a Franciscan monk in Assisi. An incredible place. I started going in 1983, and eventually lived there for many years. But this whole path of St Francis. Brother body, brother death, brother tree, sister rock, and sister moon. It’s another way of being, that we’re all one family, living in harmony, receiving each other. 

The big thing about St Francis that most people don’t understand, is this idea of poverty. It wasn’t outside poverty so much, but this great sense of emptiness. In Buddhism you know this emptiness. But in the west, in the Judaeo-Christian world, there is no talk about emptiness. So emptiness was a big part of my path of becoming free of the mental world. This profound emptiness that’s where you begin to see brother moon, and sister sound, all the animals in nature, because it’s very present. Very intimate on some level.

Besides Italy, we spent a lot of time in Bali, with the Shamans, which is Buddhist, Hindu, but also shamanic in some ways. With emptiness they’re making offerings. They’re offering everything in their heart. That’s another thing that is missing most Western spirituality. We don’t have an understanding what offering is.

We’re missing devotion, offering, and emptiness. These three elements are key to opening profoundly to the space of no-thought. This border-less space.

We talk about “intimacy”, everything is family. These fictitious boundaries, you take away these boundaries between you and everything else, and you become more intimate. And so that practice helps you become more intimate, you realize yourself more intimate with everything. 

So for St Francis it was through nakedness. That we’re all profoundly human, profoundly naked. In our nakedness, we see each other, nature, trees, flowers, we see it differently.

We started a little order in Italy, called the “little flowers”. The community of little flowers. Were were all just little flowers, where we shine the best we can for a few moments, with a few petals, and then we disappear.. And that’s how life is. So we have a community of little flowers in 17 countries now. All kinds of people, from priests to Buddhist monks, all kinds of normal people. We just support each other in the nakedness of being a little flower in this world.

Wonderful…In your book about St Clare and St Frances, you talk about pope Francis, being inspired by these two saints right?

Right, as soon as we came back to California, from living in Italy for 12 years, we started to learn about pope Francis. We never imagined a pope Francis, it’s the first one. So I started wondering, I wonder what St Francis and St Clare would think…

So I started writing these love letters between Frances and Clare. Could a pope be a real brother of ours, could he raise the poor, hug nature, is this really real? So I wrote the book in about 3 weeks, had a great time. All these love letters back and forth. And now, a few years later, I think pope Francis is real brother. And I think the church is a muzzle. (32:05) I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s a big opportunity for the church.

Yeah, you talk about a living church vs a dead church. My sense of what your’e saying here, is that you’re looking at a dead church. That the pope, and a ton of brothers and sisters who have allegiance to the church are trying to make alive again. Living rather than a dead institution that is just hoards money and isn’t really practicing what they preach. 

Exactly, the church is a very complicated place. We’ve met a lot of beautiful people, monks and nuns in Assisi living there a number of years. But we’ve also met a lot of, I feel like used cars salesmen. What are you doing??? So there’s both extremes. And the pope created a year of Mercy. Sort of like a year of devotion. Asking everyone in the church, to just practice mercy for a year, despite of what your head is telling you. Try to show mercy. He’s doing the best he can, but it is impossible. But the good part about it, is there really is a God, Mary, Jesus and angels, all these things are not just fabricated by the church.

The problem with the New Age, and people who’ve left religion altogether. They have no connection to these deities, the deities are part of us. So it’s too bad. So it’s either a dead church or no connection to everything. The Pope, Dalai Lama, and others, etc, are really a big opportunity for all of us “normal” folks.

But do you sense that because it’s so hard to relate to the institution of the church at this point. That this hierarchical structure in the end is too vulnerable to getting the wrong person floating to the top. Alienating a lot of people from this practice? Do you think this will work for future generations?

Yeah, but any organization has a little hierarchy. The problem right now, I was a teacher out here at a university. And generally the kids have no respect for teachers. They don’t understand that they are our teachers. And so it’s gone from one extreme to another. There are teachers, and the Western world, there really aren’t priests. They’ve gone to school, and learned some things, but we’ve had priests come to our retreats in Italy, ask us how do you pray, what is prayer. They were like beginners, and they were priests!

And so, that’s the problem. The western church is missing real priests. In Bali, the priests are priests. They are amazing beings, been through initiation, been through the inner path. They stick to that inner path.

So that’s part of the problem why people have trusts in most religions. Because most of the leaders are not real priests.  I don’t know what their training is, but it’s not the same.

So it’s a form of corruption that crept into these institutions. And they’re no longer trustworthy, the wrong people have come into positions of power..

Well the church in general is in my opinion no different than the culture in general. Our culture is only mental, and is missing heart. So whatever religion we’re talking about. Most of them in the west are mental, and missing a deep connection to the heart. When there’s a deep connection with the heart, then there is a religion going on. Doesn’t matter which religion it is. 

Religions are pointing to that which is beyond words and thoughts, they are not IT itself, but they’re pointing to it. 

Yeah and it’s important that people have a place to go to, to find their inner sanctuary. But most religions talk about it, thinking about it, reading about it, but not actually going there and experiencing it. And even if you’re experiencing it, that’s just the beginning. One experience doesn’t change you. You have to live out of that experience and drink it everyday. Absorb it through your whole being. And that’s a life practice. That’s a path. 

What would you say to someone who wants to go back into say a Christian church, but don’t want to go to a dead church. Who would you point them to?

We’re ecumenical, we don’t really ever discuss religion, because we live mostly in silence. But with regards to churches, I would say the same as I say with finding a therapist. Find the church with the biggest heart. Find a monk, priest, or nun, and if they have a heart, then they can lead you to the heart of that religion. 

And if they’re more intellectual or doctrinaire, or more into rules, then that is where they are going to lead you. Just find the one with the biggest heart.

And also other signs of wisdom and compassion, like trust, vulnerability, joy, etc. 

Yeah, they don’t get upset with rules, or controlling. I wasn’t raised Catholic, but what’s nice about the Catholic church is their devotion. Very deep with the Catholic church. Devotion is missing from a lot of other Christian churches. The Eucharist, presence of Mary, most of the Christian churches are also missing the divine feminine, Mary. So there’s rituals in the Catholic church that are very deep. And in Europe there’s places that are very powerful, that embody these rituals. Embody these deities.

I spend time in Holland as well, and the people are very beautiful, but all the churches are social clubs. There’s no presence, very little spirituality in most churches there. That’s too bad. A lot of Europe lost the fruit of real deep religion, spirituality. It’s deep rooted there. Whereas in America there is very few what I would call, “sacred places”. Where you can really feel that presence. There’s no Assisi in America that I’ve found. Where if you walk into town, and even normal people begin crying, because there is so much presence there.

And a church that has a heartfelt teacher or priest will create that sanctuary for people, so that you can feel it. You can’t feel it inside unless you have some support, or some place to feel it.

And you have to cultivate some stillness so you can actually be open to it…

Right, a sanctuary actually is stillness. So you walk into it, and you breathe into it, and you don’t know what is going on. And before you know it, you find yourself crying. There is something more than stillness here, there’s something special that’s here.

Coming back to Pope Francis, do you think he’ll be able to loosen the tight grip that the institution of the church has?

I have no idea, because the church is so conservative. A lot of people are spiritual, not religious. So they left the church. Just the other day, the pope was talking about having women deacons. But for many of us, that’s a non-starter. We should be having women priests, deacons, women everything..etc. So we’re starting back in the last century. And I’m living next to Google, Yahoo, Twitter…

That’s not even the real issue. The real issue is, you want women involved in the church, because women are closer to their hearts generally. And we need more heart in the church. So there is less masculine, mental energy, and more feminine heart-full, giving, caring energy of the mother. That is called, “Mother Church”. But we need more women and women leadership in the church. Women deacons is just a small step. 

So your’e saying it’s still generations away at that rate…

Yeah, and on the other hand, it could happen in the next few years. It’s not like the president of the US. The pope can do almost everything. But if he does something, then the conservatives may break away from the church and start another church. So it’s not an easy place where he is.

I think the biggest thing he does, is set an example for his own life. Which he’s doing. Like the feet washing of Muslim prisoners, women, and more..every Easter. That is totally revolutionary. It used to be just washing the feet of 12 male Catholic priests. That was it for centuries. But now it’s this whole idea, to wash the feet of the sick and the poor, people in jail, and of other religions. It’s revolutionary and beautiful.

Yes, he’s setting a powerful example. 

Yeah, I think it started a lot with Mother Theresa. She was the first person who went to the poor of the poor, and hugged them, and was with them. Nobody was talking about that before her. It really brought the poor out of the background, making us feel some responsibility. And it’s a very Franciscan idea, Francis did this when he was with the lepers. Mother Theresa was the modern Francis. Now we have pope Francis. So as a Franciscan, I think this is very beautiful.

Some folks in religions see being in the present moment, or say worshiping all creation, is idolatry. Even though creation is the very manifestation of God, or whatever word you want to use. How do you see that? That all of creation is sacred, and deserves to be fully attended to? Rather than waiting or looking forward to something in the hereafter. 

Throughout the years, we’ve had many ministers come to our retreats, and they’re almost always the most difficult people at the retreat. Because they have such a mindset, and the mind can be a real enemy of being with a simple heart, and simple peace. People who’ve been meditating forever, if they haven’t connected to their heart, they can be the most difficult people coming into silence. Both ministers and priests through the years have been the most difficult, because they make life so complicated.

I really having these intellectual conversations is without meaning. I’d rather hug the guy, and ask what are you feeling, why are you in so much pain, what’s this all about? Have you seen the sunrise this morning? It was incredible! That’s God presence. Just the beauty that we can sit here together, talking through the internet, that’s life, that’s God’s presence, beautiful. That I can meet a Zen brother like yourself. Why make life complicated? That’s just avoiding being present. Here is life, and here is God.

Great way to explain that, if people spend too much time in their thinking, they really do miss what’s right before them, whether that’s a sunrise or their partner. 

Thinking is one of the little closets in the universe. It’s terrible to spend your life in a closet.  We get so impressed with out thoughts, they’re just thoughts, but there’s much more.

You also deal with not-knowing a lot right?

The main thing we’re trying to share with people is that there is a definite presence in our hearts. Meditation is does not have to be complicated. You just need to spend some time in silence, nature, and your own sanctuary. And to really receive deeply, not just think or not think about it, or observe it, but to really receive the heart inside our heart. And that is we find that the other side is totally present on this side. God is so present inside of us. But we got this filter of our thinking world on top of it.

So when we receive this silence of our heart, we feel this vast gentleness, and absorb it into our awareness, and take a bath in it. I tell people who come to our retreat, you want to bathe in the silence so deeply, that after a few days, your skin is all wrinkled up with silence. Wet through and through. Absorb it, and enjoy it. Because silence is actually full of everything. 

Not just outward silence, but inward silence. The silence of the heart is really our mystical journey. And I tell you, it’s normal that we’re not always open like a flower. A flower is also closed, it releases it’s petals. We spend so much time judging ourselves, judging each other. 

If we can rid of one thing, I tell people to get rid of our judgments. Just to be as much as you can.

A retreat is not about always being open, and being blissful. It can have just the opposite. That’s OK. Our judgments are really heavy doors, we’re intense about each other, and ourselves. If we just lighten up on that one door, life would get a lot easier and a lot more fun.

And it’s OK that sometimes a door is closed, and you come back on another retreat, and the door can be opened a bit more. 

Sometimes the door is closed, but still you see deeply anyway. In my life I’ve had any issue like we all do. And that’s part of being a human being..

It makes us more equal, as human beings, and understand each other better..

We’re all completely human.  What’s amazing is that in our awareness is a place of incredible love. That we’re not observing, reaching for it, thinking about it. It’s just an incredible presence of love. Nothing else is really that important. That presence of love is who we are. And eventually we’re going to give up that human story, and we will be presence, we’ll be this love. We are this presence of this love that expands out forever.

That’s part of this problem of people who have spiritual experiences. And it’s a challenge to be so human at this same time. And all of us are experiencing that now, living both, knowing how divine we are.

That’s a great way to end it. It’s like you say, that thinning of the hard sense of separate self, and becoming much more transparent to that much bigger Self that we are all part of. 

Yeah, we all are it, and we all are. It is who we are. Great meeting you!


Books authored by Bruce Davis




MF 44 – The Role of Mindfulness, Gratitude, & Peace Practice in Islam with Rose Hamid

MF 44 – The Role of Mindfulness, Gratitude, & Peace Practice in Islam with Rose Hamid

MF 44 – The Role of Mindfulness, Gratitude, & Peace Practice in Islam – Interview with Rose Hamid

Rose Hamid in Salam Peace shirtRose Hamid is a Muslim American of Palestinian and Latin descent.  She was born in Buffalo NY, grew up in Cleveland OH, and has been living in Charlotte since 1987.  She grew up in the Catholic tradition but chose to follow Islam when she started her family.  She has been married for 33 years, has three children; Suzanne, 28, Omar, 26, Samir 24.

She has been a flight attendant since April 1985.   She is the Co-Founder and President of the Muslim Women of the Carolinas; a local organization whose mission is to bring the diverse Muslim women of Charlotte and the surrounding area together in order to get to know one another and to do good works. She is a frequent speaker about topics such as Islam and the role of women in Islam and is a guest columnist for the Charlotte Observer, writing monthly columns.

After the attacks in Paris, Donald Trump proposed the establishment of a database of all Muslims in the country. Later, Trump called for a “complete shutdown of all Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” The First Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of religion.

Hamid told CNN before the Trump rally that she only wanted to give Trump fans “an opportunity to meet” a Muslim. “I figured that most Trump supporters probably never met a Muslim so I figured that I’d give them the opportunity to meet one” she said.

Interview with Rose Hamid. How did you get to a spiritual practice?

My mother is from Columbia, South America. And her father is Palestinian. He went to South America in 1938, when his country was in turmoil. And the economic development had a downfall. Where he met Rose’s mom, and they got married.

We grew up in the Catholic religion/tradition. Where she had a lot of questions. I remember asking nuns these questions. My biggest question was this concept of original sin. And when I grew up, this was they way it was taught, or at least the way I absorbed it. I recall that Eve in particular had tempted Adam, and they had eaten the forbidden fruit. And they had sinned against God. And that was the break between God and humanity.

Therefor people couldn’t have a direct connection with god. That’s how I understood it. Therefor I would have to talk to a priest, who would talk to Jesus, who would then talk to God. Because I was not worthy of this connection to God.

So a lot of middlemen, intermediators?

I felt at an early age that that was not fair. So we plotted along, with going to church, until right before confirmation. When she was about 12, or 13. By that time, her father started to learn about his own faith, he was a Muslim, but wasn’t practicing it growing up.

So we started to realize how the church was very different compared to what he was used to growing up in Palestine. Where Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived among each other and were all considered people of the book (adherents of Abrahamic religions that predate Islam) from the Muslim perspective.

I don’t think he realized how different the teachings were, until he came to America. And until he really started to learn his own faith. So he was trying to teach us more about Islam, but we really didn’t have much interest in it, at 13 years of age. And he wanted us to wait until we were older to become confirmed.

So I really didn’t practice anything. I believed in a higher power, God. But not much else. So it wasn’t hard for her to leave the Catholic church at that time. It seemed to me that religion was being used to divide people in her experience. So I didn’t have much desire to join any particular religion.

Until after my husband and  I got married and we started a family. My husband didn’t talk much about religion, he is Palestinian. There was an assumption there was some Muslimness going on. But we didn’t talk much about it. But I was going to have to teach my kids something. I started to learn about Islam, and it answered a lot of questions I had growing up.

The biggest Aha moment, was the idea in the Islamic tradition of the story of Adam and Eve. In this tradition, the two of them. God here doesn’t make Eve more culpable than Adam. The two of them disobey God. Then when the two of them, realize what they’ve done, they ask for forgiveness. And God forgave them. So there was never a break between God and humanity. 

There was always a connection. They suffered the consequences of their actions, but they were still connected to God. That to me was monumental, to have this ability to connect to God.

Interesting..Where there other questions as well that were answered for you in Islam?

This is just what I remember, I don’t want to make the Catholic faith sound bad. I’m just telling my personal experience. I remember it seemed like God was always angry.

Yeah, the old testament God for sure…

Even in the Catholic tradition, I just feel like it’s from that concept of original sin. You just feel like you’re not worthy if you don’t do that kind of thing.

I remember a couple of things in Islamic teachings that drew me. And one of them is this idea that God is not just your judge. He’s your attorney, your character witness, your supporting friend, who’s going to be there to help you during the judgement. Seeing God in that perspective was very comforting.

Also, the concept of there’s a saying, that if you turn towards God, he comes running towards you. That idea, of a God who wants us to come to him, that felt more like the connection that I had been searching for.

And also from my own reading from the Koran, as compared to reading from the old testament, it seems like God is described as much more compassionate and forgiving.

Right, most merciful, most kind. That’s repeated time and time again.  As Muslims pray, 5 times a day. We repeat it 5 times a day 3 or 4 times within each prayer. We’re constantly saying, “In the name of God, the most merciful, the most kind…Praise is due to God, the cherisher and sustainer of the universe, most gracious, most merciful. Master of the day of judgement..Guide us along the straight paththe path of those whom You favored, not of those who earned Your anger or went astray. ”

So is something we say in Arabic. Those words, are things that, contrary what people think, that is how we see God.

Was there a particular transformative moment of grace in your journey as well? 

I wound’t call it a moment of grace, the understanding of the story of Adam and Eve was my Aha moment. Realizing, if God was willing to forgive Adam and Eve, then how should we as humans treat other people as well, as far as being forgiving beings.

My shift in the way that I saw God, and the relationship I had with God. That was really the most transformative thing. 

You mentioned the 5 times a day of prayer, which I see as a very beneficial practice. I practice Zen Buddhism, and there too is a strong emphasis on constant practice, not just once a week, but constantly. This is much more likely to help you give you a more intimate spiritual connection. 

Yes, and I know that with any faith tradition there’s a big range. There’s people who pray daily, Christians who are more spiritual daily, and try to make more connections with God throughout the day. And then there’s folks who go just once a week, and then there’s what a friend of mine calls the, “Creasters”, the folks who just show up at Christmas and Easter. So there’s a range.

The same is true with Islamic faith. People who are very diligent about prayer, and then some who not so much.

Same thing in Buddhism as well, a lot of people who paying lip service to this practice, or those who wear the clothes, but don’t practice it. And I was going to talk about that later. But to me to some extent the people who are hijacking the narrative of Islam, the actual terrorists…

…they didn’t read the whole Koran book at all.

They’re not doing anything that’s being said, and they’re very judgmental. They kill and chop people’s heads of, etc. They’re being the judge and executioner. That shouldn’t be their job at all. Based on what I’ve been read in the Koran (In the Koran God instructs the prophet and Muslims not to judge or harm disbelievers, that this is his job to deal with them). 

You probably read more than they have (laughing).

I think these folks who are in power in many places in the so-called Muslim world, are not following Islamic doctrine. When I hear about things that people have done, I can’t fathom that these people have read the Koran, or whole Koran. They might have read snippets that somebody handed them, and told them this is what it says.


Unfortunately I think that humanity is like that. If you get a new cell phone, and you get all these instructions on how to use it, but you tend to just usually go to a 12 year old, and ask them how to use it. Just show me the basics so I know how to get along. That’s what people do…they just want the quick, get it to work, work for me in whichever way I want it to work. Without really understanding the depth of what it can do…

So I take that analogy into how people understand their faith. It’s just easier to listen to whoever has the microphone, and then go, “Ok, I’ve done my studying”. And people don’t get into the depths of it.

Yeah, that’s very expedient…not doing the work themselves, kind of outsourcing it to whomever has the loudest horn. 

And another big part I noticed, I see it a lot in the old testament as well. It required me to have fresh eyes in reading it. Is the gratitude part, and how important that is. As humans we have such a tendency to take things for granted so quickly. One of the advantages…Spiritual and religious practices get such a bad rap, but there are so many good things as part of it, that would make humanity as a whole be in a much healthier state of mind. Like for example, the gratitude emphasis. 

What’s your take, or what role does gratitude play in your practice?

Part of the daily 5 prayers, there’s some parts are structured, where there are certain things you can say and do. And other parts, you can read different parts or verses of the Koran. And some people have memorized certain verses that they’ve connected to, depending on how they feel. And a lot of them have to do with gratitude.

When you’re in submission, you’re praying, and your forehead is on the floor, you’re in a state of gratitude. Thanking God for what he has provided. It’s difficult to pray 5 times a day without having an element of gratitude in it. So there’s constant gratitude.  

There’s an expression, “Al-ḥamdu lillāh”, which means, all praise is due to God. Like if someone says, “you did a great job, or other compliments, you respond with Al-ḥamdu lillāh. All praise is due to God, that to me is this gratefulness that God has bestowed on us.

There’s even a sense of, if something bad happens, it’s an expiation for past sins. So there’s even a gratitude for that. Thank you for providing me an opportunity to expunge a sin. So they’re a constant sense of gratitude for what has been given, even if it’s a bad thing. For having the opportunity to get through that.

Do you find that since you converted to a religion after evaluation rather than being born into it, and I’ve seen that with other religious traditions, that you are not taking it as much for granted, compared to folks who’ve been born into their religion/tradition?

Definitely, I think that when people learn their faith through osmosis, they learn it, because that’s what everyone else is doing. And people don’t have the sense then to go in depth and learn it. Karen Armstrong is a writer of religious books. She can’t find a big market for these books in England where she’s from, but can find much more of a market in America. Maybe I’m talking about Diane Eck, A New Religious America. 

In this book, she talks about because in America have competing religions, they almost have to step up their game, like they almost have to advertise to bring people in. So there’s more talking, conversing about it. Whereas if you’re in a country where there is a State religion, and everyone has more or less the same religion, then there is less discourse (Rose thinks a lot of European countries have that). Then there is less opportunity to investigate, to question or search, or to question ourselves. Where in America there is more opportunity because there is more competition amongst religions. At least that is what she wrote in her book.

…Interesting. It’s like it has a fresh chance to be seen again…

It also goes deeper. In America we go deeper into our faith. A lot of Muslims who come from so-called Muslim countries, who come to America. Once they realize they’re in a minority religion, they find themselves to becoming more adherent to their faith here in America, than they did at home. Because back home everyone is just following along, and learning through osmosis. But here in America, you have to really learn it, absorb it, in order to live it. Because it is not all around you. 

I heard a Jewish woman say the same thing, she’d grown up in Israel. She didn’t keep kosher, she didn’t read the Torah, didn’t adhere to her faith. Until she came to America, and became a minority. She realized that she had to be the one who knew how to be Jewish. So she learned more about Judaism in America, then she did in Israel.

I think most people come from a place, where the majority of folks come from the same faith.

I’ve seen the same with Buddhism as well, it kind of languishes and goes into auto-pilot in some of the older countries. But here in America it is much stronger, and like you said, much more seeking, questioning, and being inquisitive about it.

 What about fasting, what does that teach in your view? We had a friend who did that, and he talked about how humbling gratitude type practice that is. What’s your relationship to that?

Ramadan, I have so much will-power (to abstain from eating) when I’m on Ramadan, when I’m on a diet…not so much. I gotta have this peace of pie, not as much will-power. But when fasting, so much will-power.

My kids are young, they look forward to Ramadan, part of it is the social experience. I think it also has to do with what your environment is. We’ve been blessed with a large Muslim community, and we get together a lot during Ramadan. So we look forward to it and the concept of fasting. They all started when they were in second grade. My daughter did, because she had a Muslim classmate. They’d go to the library instead of the lunch room. My boys, not so much. They stayed in the cafeteria, because they didn’t have to waste time standing in line. They could just start talking to their friends. To them it was like a badge of honor to tell people they were fasting. There’s a sense of community at that time.

That’s the outside part. The inside part is this deep desire to connect with God. I usually end up taking vacation days during Ramadan. I try to connect more, read more, be introspective. And just try to take all of it in as much as I can.

Sounds like a retreat to me…

Yeah, people spend a whole lot of time cooking during Ramadan, making everyone’s favorite foods. It’s like having Thanksgiving every night for a month (laughing). The battle is to not allow yourself to do that, to find a balance.  You want to make it festive, you want to make it a tradition that people, in particular kids look forward to. Trying to make it festive as well as spiritual. 

So it’s not too serious…


And do you think part of it is easier because you’re doing it with a whole group together? Because if you were doing this fasting alone, it would be a lot harder..

If you’re menstruating, you’re not required to fast. But you make up those days. Making up those days after Ramadan by yourself is really hard! Or there’s a recommendation of fasting 6 days the month after Ramadan. Even though you just finished a whole month of fasting, it’s really hard. So definitely there’s this whole sense of community and connectivity the month of Ramadan brings with it.

The other thing I wanted to ask you…The Koran talks a lot about being mindful (of God). How do you see mindfulness of God. How do you practice that?

When I see a tree, I’m just enamored by trees. And I think about what goes into a tree. And God has provided us with this thing that we could benefit from in so many different ways. Just being mindful of the things that God has created, the sunset, sky, stars, moon. All of that is like mindfulness. All of that God created for us to help us.

And so there’s many verses in the Koran that talk about what God has created for us. So we have to be constantly mindful of living things. Even the things I have. If I get in my car, I’m mindful, and feeling blessed that I have a car. There’s people who don’t have a car, so I feel blessed that have a car that works.

But then my kids are now the ones taking the bus (laughing).

When I think about everything I have, I have water, power, etc. So there’s constant mindfulness, and there’s the prayers that bring me back to it.

So the prayers help you with being more mindful then…

Oh definitely. That goes without saying. I’m doing this, because we’ve asked him to. God didn’t ask us to do this because he needs our prayers, he asked us to do this, because we need our prayers.

What’s your take on this life, vs the hereafter. How does it affect your life today, to look forward to the life hereafter? Is that affecting how you live your life today?

Muslims believe in the concept of heaven and hell. We know that life is a test. How faithful we are, how we behave, how we adhere to the guidance that God has provided us. Is going to determine our afterlife. This life is very short, unlike the hereafter. 

So it’s also a constant, that you should always be thinking about the actions taken today are going to affect the hereafter. There’s a belief that every bug that you killed unjustly will speak against you on the day of judgement. Everything that you’ve done will be a witness to what you’ve done. Your hands, will testify against you on the day of judgement if you struck people. “This hand was used to strike or beat people.”

So we’re very mindful (or we should be) about how we live our lives. Knowing we will be held accountable for how we treat each other. 

So being aware of the consequences of one’s actions…

Definitely. We have the concept of free will. We are making choices in everything we do everyday.

Making conscious choices….

Sometimes not so conscious (laughing). It’s what we aspire to I should say. To realize that everything we do has consequences.

The Koran talks about disbelievers a lot. And that is something that some people in America has latched on to. My interpretation of that is that they’re afraid that Muslims see disbelievers as something bad, or trouble (and even needs killing). But from my reading of the Koran, that is not up to Muslims to decide, as that is something that is only God’s business. In other words, it’s not up to Muslims to judge disbelievers. What’s your understanding of it?

That’s exactly right. There’s a group of people in America, Islamophobic network of specific groups/people, and specific groups that are funding these people. They are working hard at presenting misinformation about Muslims and Islam.

Muslims themselves in other countries are not doing themselves any favors either, because they’re doing some stupid stuff also.

But the fact that there is this group in the US, that’s constantly churning out this misinformation. Presenting it in a way that people believe it, especially people in power. These groups have the ear of people in power.

It is quite frightening to hear some of what they say. For example, they say things like how Muslims are, “required to kill non-Muslims.” That’s not anywhere in the Koran.

Yeah, I did not read that anywhere in the Koran either…

If you look at the history how Islam spread. Not the abridged or tainted history that some present. Islam is not spread by the sword. There was different reasons why people became Muslim around the world. It was not a forced conversion. 

They didn’t kill people who were not Muslims. They were battles that were had, but is wasn’t in the doctrine to kill people who are not Muslim. There is this concept of the People of the Book, which are the people who received the messages before (Islam). This includes Christians and Jews and some other traditions that I can’t think of right now. They are given respect to the People of the Book. And there is constant reminders and guidance on how to treat and speak with people who are not Muslim. How to treat your neighbor, the believer and disbeliever.

Even in the life of Muhammad, you could see the way that he treated non-Muslims. When he migrated from Mecca to Medina, there was a treaty that he signed. That outlined how to treat people who are not Muslim. It said pretty much says that non-Muslims can administer their laws according to their faith tradition. There was rights and responsibilities for Muslims and non-Muslims. So there was a framework set right in the beginning on how to interact with non-Muslims. In a certain context then as a defense they had to kill, but that story has been perpetuated by the Islamophobic network.

And so in a way, and part of what this interview is about is as taking back that narrative. That they’ve almost hijacked narrative for terrorist propaganda for less peaceful reasons. 

Yes, whenever people hear about religious wars around the world, it’s not about religion. Every single religious conflict. It’s always about the haves against the have-nots. The people in power wanting to maintain their power. The people wanting wealth, resources, wanting to take ownership of a place, or an oil field, whatever it is. Religious battles are not based on religion, it’s based on political socio-economic struggles that people are having. It just happens that those folks have this religion, and the others have another religion. Like in Ireland, it wasn’t really about religion at all.

Right, it’s just easier to pit people against each other, if you use religion. 

Yes, it’s a great baiting hook, demonizing the “other”.

Yeah, and creating an “other”.

And that brings me to your Trump experience, because I found that a very creative way, that you showed your face, and showed you as a human being. Because this rhetoric, this constant repetition, and mis-characterization. It just takes the human face out of it. And that is when I think it becomes dangerous, when they take the human face out of it, and they’re creating something that is not really true.

I have to say, that it was not my idea to do this particular protest. There was this man next to me in the audience (in the pictures, his name is Marty Rosenbluth, (who happens to be Jewish and practices as an immigration attorney). He’s a friend of a friend of mine who I had gone with that night.

Rose and Marty Rosenbluth standing at Trump rally

They do work around social justice, immigration rights, black lives matter, voting rights, anti-hate, anti-Islamophobia. These folks do a lot of diligent work on the ground, trying to educate people. My other friend, works with Amnesty International, they do a lot of that kind of work. And it was their idea to do this campaign, called, “Go Yellow Against Hate”.

And Marty, when Trump said that Muslims should have special ID’s, and they should tracked through a database. For him as a Jewish man, that really struck a chord with him, that was very disturbing to him. So when he had seen this yellow star, somewhere in England, and he purposely made it with 8 points. And not the start of David, because he didn’t want to…

Bring up the holocaust?

He wanted people to be reminded of what happened to the Jews, he just didn’t want to use it inappropriately. That means so much for so many people, but it was painful for him, to see how things are starting to go down that slippery slope. That he recognizes that this thing started that way for the Jewish people back in Germany.

So it was also their idea to stand silently, they’d done that before.

But you were the only Muslim standing?

The group of people there were various different faith traditions. There was Marty who was Jewish, there were Christians, non-Christians. Gabril was the man shouting off to the other side, he shouted when Trump started saying, “we’ve got a problem, we’ve got a problem”. Then Gabril yelled, “Islam is not the problem.” We talked about this in advance, this was his way of protesting.

We decided it was not a good idea for Rose to stand near him, because in Akron, the crowd attacked him when he yelled. I didn’t plan to say anything, so I can’t take credit for it. I just wanted to stand silently.

It could have been a problem if you had stood with the wrong crowd though…


The other thing I read you said somewhere, that “If we all said hello with a smile, just start an encounter that way, that gesture alone can change the world.” And I think it spoke volumes by the way you stood silent, and smiled. Did you find that people saw you as more human, as a result of those actions?

Definitely. When I was standing in line, we purposely split up, so we ended up in different parts of the line. I was worried they wouldn’t let me into the rally, so I was trying to keep low-profile.

But in line ahead of me, there was a woman who caught my eye, and as we got closer to the front. She came to me, she said, “I’m so glad to see you here”. And there was another woman, who said to Rose, “I didn’t look scary, that I looked nice”.  I was wearing the shirt, “Salaam, I come in peace”. I imagined I might get my picture taken, but did not anticipate at all the amount of media attention this turned into. But I wanted my shirt to say something in case my picture was taken.

My son owns a T-shirt printing online business, That’s one of his designs, so that is what I wore. And I happened to have a matching headpiece at home, so that went well together. People thought I chose that on purpose, but that just happened to be the color of his design.

After this media frenzy, did you notice anything that surprised you as well. With the social media, etc?

My son was sending me stuff. We were out of the door, and they led all the other folks with yellow stars out as well. They were pretty aggressive with that. So my son was telling me, you are all over social media. There was a reporter from CNN, he came over to talk to me, before the rally started. He came over and talk to me where I was sitting. I purposefully sat behind Trump, because of the camera.

People were kind of criticizing me for sitting there, and I’m like, “well yeah, I’m protesting!” So he spoke to me, so as we’re escorted out, he asked me what had happened. So before we even got to the restaurant where the protesters met up again, Anderson Cooper had tweeted about me being escorted out of the Trump tower, (laughing) I mean the Trump rally for no apparent reason.

And them my niece, she’s a social media wiz, and a makeup artist (her Instagram page was taken down when she posted about it). She was sending me stuff that people were saying, mostly positive, but also…people

Yeah, behind the computer creates this invincibility, separation, which makes it easier to be verbally abusive..

Same as mob mentality. I’ve a friend who studies the genocide, and how a society can allow that, what is that makes society permit that? Behind the computer mentality is very similar to the crowd, mob mentality. Where you’re not taking personal responsibility, creating an other entity.

A mob mentality, individual gets dissolved of that, and absolved of individual responsibility. 

Exactly, when I was going upstairs, and people were yelling at me. I wasn’t mad at them, I just couldn’t believe you’re behaving that way, you’re a human. But I tried to make connections, and snapping them out of their trance they were in. But they were pretty stuck in their trance.

One of the negative things that has happened, and it’s all tied to this Islamophobic group of folks, who have labeled any valid group of Muslims as a terrorist organization. So they’ve labeled an organization as terrorist supporting organization. So anyone with a connection is then also labeled as supporting terrorist organizations, or unindited co-conspirator.

That’s a dangerous thing, for people to make these ridiculous claims. At first I was like, no one is going to believe that. But the other day a friend of mine who I work with, told me that there’s people who I know, and have known for years, that are starting to believe some of that stuff. That is the scary stuff, you’ve known me for 30 years, and you think I’m a secret terrorist? Really? It’s actually painful, because I’m thinking, what can you do about that?

Other than being a decent person you’re whole life, and then for someone to claim you’re a terrorist supporter. Now people believe it, it’s disheartening.

Like the 2nd Bush, when he said, “If you’re not for us, you’re against us”, that kind of black and white thinking that Trump appears to be doing and promoting as well. 

There’s a report called Fear, Inc that outlines who those people are, who are behind that Islamophobic campaign. But as negative as that is, I’ve also got overwhelming support, like this gift certificate I got for 100 dollars from a restaurant! So that, and people send flowers and cards, and people who say they were inspired. It’s so heartwarming, and overshadows the negative. It’s amazing support. Someone who said I was a bad-ass (laughing) rock-star. I don’t want to be seen or portrayed as a victim..

I expected to get walked out, but did not expect the crowd to turn so quickly. In retrospect I should have expected, because I saw how others had been treated.

There’s a German reporter, who’s been following Trump around for a year. And he said there is a written statement, at every rally, they say the same thing. Mr Trump supports the first amendment, almost as much as he supports the 2nd amendment.

Then they say, “This is a peaceful rally, if you want to exercise your first amendment, freedom of speech, you’re free to do so outside the door.” And if there’s anyone who disturbs this rally, the supporters were told to stand up and chant/shout, “Trump, Trump, Trump…”, and point to the person whomever is causing the disturbance, and security will escort them out.

Oh, so they’re actually being instructed, all the people that come in there?

Yes, and this reporter said that they say that every rally. But I did find out that they took away the “almost” from the first instruction. Because they must have realized how wrong it is that Mr Trump almost supports the first amendment “almost” as much as the second amendment.

What I discovered is that media has been interviewing me, like Al Jazeera, and they said, “So Americans really hate Muslims now?”. And I said, “No, no, that’s not how America is!” It’s just a few people like that, it’s not all of America.

It’s still a minority..

And I found myself having to explain to these foreign press. That’s not how America is, and having to explain the concept of the first Amendment. So this one interviewer then asked her to explain for our audience what this first Amendment is. And then I realized how significant it is, what the first amendment is, because other countries don’t have freedom of speech, and freedom of religion.

So if we’re going to export anything, THAT’s the thing we could export! But us Americans often don’t realize how fortunate we are. People have said, why don’t you go protest in Muslim countries against the Muslim terrorists. And they don’t realize that who protest in these countries end up dead! People who are trying to fight these regimes who’ve taken power, they end up dead. They don’t have these protections we have here. It’s not as easy to just object to it, it’s a battle, like the Arab spring, but it’s just not as easy, then you end up not knowing who are the good guys and the bad guys.

And were you contacted by any conservative media after this Trump event?

Not really, I’ve had about 30 interviews. And they’ve been very supportive. There were a few things that they inaccurately. So some misinformation, but it’s all been positive. There were people who interviewed me, and then there were people who didn’t interview me and just took information and quotes from the main interview that was posted right after the rally.

And then the negative stuff, I don’t know where they got that from, or what they were looking at. I’ve created a web site to archive all those things.

I write a monthly column for a local newspaper that addresses a lot of questions that a lot of people have, like why do women cover, what the Muslim holidays are like, how Muslims celebrate those. Basically, what it’s like to live in America.

A know a lot of folks have the question about the hijab, and you mentioned you find the head covering liberating, freeing, could you share your thinking about that?

For me the hijab is an act of worship. That’s one aspect of it, I”m doing something that God has asked me to do.

It also sends a message, that my value and my worth to society doesn’t come from my physical attributes. That who I am as a person, is how I behave, and how well I follow the dictates of my faith, and how well I do  my job, or whatever it is I do, and how I treat people. Those are the things I should be measured by, not by my physical attributes.

In that regard it is very liberating, because I can pretty much put together whatever outfit I want, I have scarfs that match every outfit. I feel like I don’t have to adhere to whatever the latest fashion trends are, and I can pretty much wear whatever I want.

And it also feels like protection to me. And I also feel protected. We only have to cover in front of men who are not family. For example, a neighbor comes over, I have to cover. But not with my kids, dad, uncles and family. And I also don’t have to cover in front of other women.

However, I would not feel comfortable to uncover with someone whom I don’t trust. So even though it’s permissible to uncover among other women, especially other Muslim women. But I’m more careful about uncovering with non-Muslim women. I’d have to evaluate. Because I feel more protected.

You also mention you’re still do your job as an airline attendant, this continues without problems?

Yes, I’ve never had a single passenger do or say anything negative to me. If anything, people have been extra nice, is what I’ve noticed. I might get a funny look, like, “look at that!”. Not in a bad way. And I see hundreds of people everyday, never seen anything threatening to me.

That’s really good to know..

Last question…What is your deepest wish for the future?

I wish people would follow their faith, whatever their faith is. Because if you look at the guidance the creator, God has sent. Whatever faith tradition there is, if people followed their faith tradition, and not the leaders necessarily…who they think are their leaders. But actually learn what their faith tradition says. And follow those guidelines, we would have a much better world.

There’s nothing in these teachings that permits the way that we’re treating each other in so many ways. Like the ways that we treat people who are “different”, whatever that difference is, in a negative way.

There isn’t a faith tradition out there that promotes that kind of mentality.

I agree, that’s my wish too…a wonderful way to end it.

Thank you so much for your generosity in sharing!





  • Fear, Inc. 2.0 Behind the network to manufacture Hate in America “These two reports reveal how a well-funded, well-organized fringe movement can push discriminatory policies against a segment of American society by intentionally spreading lies while taking advantage of moments of public anxiety and fear. We are seeing this dynamic play out yet again in the aftermath of the attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, as former elected officials and certain media commentators have used the terror attack as an opportunity to call for increased profiling of the American Muslim community……

    A number of these misinformation experts are still able to disproportionately influence public policy in America. From hate-group leader David Yerushalmi’s impact on anti-Sharia legislation across the country to Islamophobe William Gawthrop’s influence on the FBI’s training manuals, it is clear that the well-funded and well-connected individuals within the Islamophobia network still have the ability to promote bad public policies that ultimately affect all Americans.”…”Islamophobia in the United States takes many shapes and forms. It takes the form of a general climate of fear and anger toward American Muslims, as seen in the “civilization jihad” narrative, the religious right’s rhetoric, and the biased media coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing. It comes out in cynical political efforts to capitalize on this climate of fear, as seen in state-level anti-Sharia bills introduced across the country and in far-right politicians’ grandstanding…..And perhaps most dangerously, it manifests itself in institutional policies that view American Muslims as a threat, as seen in the FBI training manuals that profile Islam as a religion of violence.””Although the American public largely dismisses such prejudiced views, the Islamophobia network’s efforts to target American Muslim communities remain significant and continue to erode America’s core values of religious pluralism, civil rights, and social inclusion. The rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, offers the Islamophobia network a new opportunity to leverage unrelated geopolitical events in order to create a caricature of Islam, foment public anxiety, and push discriminatory policies against American Muslims. The Islamophobia network’s new effort to equate mainstream American Muslims with the perverted brand of Islam promoted by ISIS is a reminder of the ongoing vigilance needed to push back against the anti-Muslim fringe.”