Integration

Having arrived back on US soil just a couple of weeks ago, I notice that there remains a sense of being lost, even in the city in which I’ve spent most of my life. At first glance, it may seem to be a case of culture shock; though this place is very familiar, I have spent the last month of my life in the midst of very different cultural contexts. It’s difficult to put into words or observations what exactly seems shocking here, but it’s very clear that just the existence of profound differences must be difficult for my system to cope with during such a quick turn around. Yet I think there’s more to what is going on inside of me than just my response to my environment.

Playing at the kindergartenPlaying at the kindergarten in TehranFor the first week after I left Tehran, I did not have a complete night’s sleep, and those nights that I did seem to get some solid chunk of rest I had very vivid dreams. Confused dreams. Repetitive dreams. Unsure of whom I’m talking to, or what task we are trying to complete, I wander through the dreamscape with a certain sense of desperation, simply trying to figure out what is going on. The only thing that seems to represent a sense of continuity is that each of these dreams are intimately connected to the faces I saw and things that happened while I was in Iran. Reconciling the momentous shift in my life that happened in the two weeks that I was there and back again with landing here and moving forward with the next step has bubbled to the surface even of my dreaming life.

On one hand it does not seem like a very big deal to have gone somewhere for just 10 days, to give workshops on something that happens all over the world. And on the other hand, I'm struggling to grasp onto and integrate what seems to be a profound moment in my life, so that I don't just let it go.

If anything, the confusion must stem from the juxtaposition between how different I wish the world was and the well of hope that was filled more and more with each passing moment that I was in Iran. The openness of emotion at the three-day training, and the willingness of the university students to explore nonviolence were baby steps compared to my visit to the kindergarten on my fourth day. I was surrounded by smiling faces and bouncing energy, the eager faces of 4, 5, and 6-year-olds looking at me expectantly. I could have been anywhere in the world. It didn't matter what language I was speaking, or what activities we did; the two groups that I spent the morning with exuded the same compassion that humans their size always seem to--unabashed by conditioning toward domination that comes with growing older. Both groups were excited to give and to receive the necklaces made by the Temba students, and both were inspired to create art of their own, filled with messages of friendship and love, for me to bring back to California. As I told the story of how Grandmother Spider stole the sun, one little girls eyes got wide as they traced my hand gestures, and she clutched her teddie-bear companion tightly as the story's intensity grew. The teachers, too, were eager and inspired to to learn about new ways of connecting with their students. One's eyes teared up as she described to me how important it was for each of her students to know that she loves them.

In every single one of the trainings that Eva and I offered, it seemed that the biggest group represented was teachers. We offered one evening introductory workshop specifically for those working with children, where we played games and answered questions about how to build a nonviolent or compassionate classroom without any rules, punishments, or rewards. Yet even apart from that evening, teachers were always in the crowds, always asking questions, always eager to find a way to inspire their students to live in a more peaceful, more understanding world than that in which they themselves had grown.

Showing off the new necklaceShowing off the new
necklace
And spending time with people who were in or just out of university was such a gift, as well. Whether we were on the university campus itself, driving crazily through Tehran's traffic-laden streets, or going out to eat with friends, I was always received with warmth and enthusiasm, and always with a fun and playful attitude. One of the most memorable parts of my stay in Tehran was spending an evening at an apartment filled with people in their early 20's, dancing and laughing until late into the night. It didn't matter that I'd spent the day recovering from a mild bout of food-poisoning; I was constantly surrounded by people ready to meet me and talk with me. I was dragged onto the makeshift dancefloor in the middle of the living room and happy shown traditional dances amidst the bumping dance and hip-hop music. We laughed and played games and looked at art. I felt a strange level of equality that had been missing since I left Atlanta a life time before, noticing that everyone was wearing the same clothes that my friends at home would wear, that guys and girls were touching and hugging, that everyone was eating and drinking tea together. I felt like I was in college again.

It all seems like a rush and a blur as I think about it now. It seems so long ago, yet still feels so alive in my body. The last two days of my time in Iran--the two days spent in Ghazvin--went by so quickly, every hour filled to the brim with NVC training. Almost two hundred people in two days, the first of which spent with psychology PhD's and MD's in a square room with square tables at the medical school and the second in a theater. Both days I managed an outburst of what felt like harsh and critical words connected to my observations and needs around what I had seen and experienced in Iran. I spoke against violence and retribution as strategies for building peace, and I spoke against the vast inequalities along the lines of gender that exist in their country and my own. I expected blank faces, or angry faces. Both times, I got applause. Now as I think about it, it strikes me again how hungry people were to be seen as something other than monsters, and how hungry people were for a chance to be heard with compassion so that their creative ideas might be added and valued.

So it is from this rollercoaster of hope and confusion that I have disembarked. It contines to be in my being. I long to integrate and to move on, and I long to tighten my grasp so that it doesn't slip away. I struggle to find a way to move forward with the projects that were born over the last months, and yet I notice that I continue to stand still. In my head life seems so dynamic and overwhelming, on the outside it seems static and placid. Everything seems so far away, yet every time I close my eyes or take a moment for myself, that world comes rushing in again. So I continue to let these waves crash over me, trusting that each time I touch the ground, I will be able to take a breath, and that each breath brings me closer to the shore. That one day soon I might have some clarity....