Processing a session with Leo

Imagining my own home, nestled in the redwoods, deeply rooted in the earth. A stream trickles by on its way to the ocean not far away. The space is safe, cozy, full of light and nature, a space for true rest and creativity. The image is vivid and alive in my mind, and I am certain it is out there for me to find. Kind of like finding a romantic partner: the clearer my vision, the easier it is to make a request of the universe and to say yes to its discovery in the world.

I want to live in harmony with nature, the redwoods my gentle neighbors. Accepting their wisdom and invitation to rest. Nature reminds me that slow is beautiful, that when conditions are ripe, the first buds can be found on the tips of the winter branch.

Recognizing all of the interwoven threads of my life right now, my desire to settle in a stable, cozy, warm home coupled with the fear of returning to Palestine and the hope of a new relationship. My body is tired. I am the apple juice after shaking the bottle, needing time to let the many emotions settle and rest. My body is telling me a message. Stop changing time zones. Stop flying. Stop visiting friends in new cities for a while. Allow yourself the luxury of arriving fully where you are.

It may take a month for the anger and fear I left back in Palestine to arrive back in my body, another week for the playfulness and hope I found in Vienna. Pieces of me are spread across time zones, cities, places and people I love. I want to give them all a chance to arrive with me. It may take years to let all of the unspoken sorrows settle.

I will settle in the redwoods of California, with a library, an art studio, a zendo and greenhouse. Each piece of me is invited to find its cozy golden corner, the place where it feels safe to rest, play, and be seen. Each piece will have space to be.  

I am afraid to go back into a conflict zone, to refamiliarize myself with the terror of soldiers with machine guns at checkpoints, speaking a language I do not understand. I want to scream with the horror of it, these young adults forced into the role of oppressor and occupier before attending college, forced to bear witness to war in their bodies. They are younger than my youngest brother and carry the weight of generations of fear and persecution themselves. I feel powerless against the machine gun slung across their torsos regardless. In Israel I fear the threat of surveillance, saying or doing the wrong thing in front of the wrong person, and being kicked out of the country, separated from the work in which I find meaning and value. I fear not having control of or access to my work.

What’s the point?

What starts as a question about the point of political conflict lands in my body as a question about why I am returning to a conflict zone. Why am I choosing to be in an environment of violence, with conditions that trigger my own anger, futility, and hopelessness?

I try to answer by justifying my work and Leo laughs. I don’t have to prove anything to him, he says. I’m trying to be with this part of you that feels powerless and afraid. What beliefs do you hold that, when accepted, will allow you to step into your power?

This is a choice.
The Israeli government can accept or deny me access to the country, that's how the infrastructure of political borders works.
I can leave.

Where does freedom exist on a bus with an armed soldier? The answer “I can leave” feels too simple, for there will be conflict and violence in many places, even on the streets of San Francisco. And I do not want the answer to be, practice compassion. Practicing compassion for the other often invalidates my own anger, as if my anger should dissipate when I understand the aggression of a soldier as the fear of an 18-year-old boy. FUCK THAT.

My anger has a right to be here, to be seen and acknowledged. My body holds its breath crossing borders, at the sight of Israeli police, when entering any new space where I am unsure if I am safe to express who I am, where I work, who my friends are. It is a constant process of perceiving danger, holding my breath, releasing, proceeding. I never completely let my guard down.

I’m returning because I feel valuable and creative in Palestine, capable of exercising my unique gifts in the service of young people without access to skills education. I get to experiment, to propose new ideas one day and see them tested and improved the next. I get to play in the conflict zone.

There is little competition from other entrepreneurs; instead, there is a spirit of collaboration and understanding. We are all enduring the suffering of war together in the hope that we can bring some semblance of happiness and peace to the region. We are unique, for we have chosen to be here. We are special.

For whatever reason, I see myself in the Palestinians I am looking to help. There is a resonance with the plight of my friends. No matter how much my rational brain argues that I’ve grown up in incredible privilege and wealth, I still often feel groundless, unseen, undervalued. The process of being with and valuing Palestinians becomes a process of being with and valuing myself. The process of empowering others by actualizing Tamkeen becomes a process of empowering and actualizing myself.

I lay down my uncertainties in the Tamkeen meeting room. The things I do not know become invitations for others to lead, the questions I have become opportunities to read another article, watch another Ted talk, learn from the experiences and energy of others that have come before. I do not see my doubt or gaps as weaknesses when I am working on Tamkeen. I celebrate who I am. I do not speak Arabic, which allows me to practice letting go and my team to practice ownership. I am not in Palestine, which allows me to work on remote collaboration tools and my team to develop camaraderie and trust in themselves. I do not carry the burden alone, even finding a house in Bethlehem is a team activity.

Is it possible to touch this gift of creativity and experimentation without enduring a conflict zone?
Can I transform my own suffering into greater freedom, the constriction in my body into expansion?

I am afraid to return to California, afraid that I am not valuable here in the ways I feel valued in Palestine. I am afraid that I am only valuable on other people’s terms, working as an engineer or consultant on other people’s dreams. I am ashamed of my own failures in entrepreneurship and carry deep insecurity about my wealth and “success” in comparison to others. I am afraid that a 9-5 job is the only place where I can earn a good salary, that I won’t be able to be creative and of value here doing what I love. I dread becoming stuck in red tape and bureaucracy here, being asked to prove my worth in pitch decks and sales to mostly white men.

I doubt my own worth here in the states.

Optimizing my “zone of genius” means clearing away all of the things that do not serve me: the beliefs, cows, obligations, confusions. What do I want to let go?

  • The belief that that I am worthless in the states as I am
  • Exhaustion and lack of settling from traveling so much
  • My desire to be productive all of the time
  • Shaming myself for wanting to earn money
  • Fear and anger, constantly churning about the conflict zone and my own presence there

I am realizing that giving voice to my needs allows me to access my own power. Needs are not strategies. Attachment to strategies can appear as stubbornness or controlling/manipulative behavior to the other. A strategy is merely one way that I’ve identified to meet my need.

When I can decouple the need from the strategy, I can see that my needs are always valid and worthy of being heard. I open to the possibility of many strategies allowing my need to be met. I can be creative, ask for help and guidance. I can honor myself while allowing spaciousness for others.

Leo talks about the “levels of organization” in somatic experiencing, starting from a base state of disorganization (paralysis, where even saying no is difficult). As I move from disorganized to organized, I can step into my “no” more easily. At first, no may be a reaction in the body: NO. I don’t want that thing to happen. I don’t want to do that. Slowly, that gut “no” becomes a rational “no”, where I can explain why the offer doesn’t serve me. Another step may be the transformation of “no” into “yes”: Yes, I will meet you because I see that I can meet my needs while honoring yours. What starts as constriction in the body can become expansion.

What do I need in Israel Palestine? To be safe, to be protected, to be powerful. Maybe part of being powerful is recognizing that there are places where I am more capable of stepping into my power: where my body is safe and settled. A place like the home I imagine.

I don't just want to imagine home. I want to be home.