Racism 102: It Is Not About Colorblindness

This blog is a response to Matthew Cohen’s comment of concern based on Lauren’s “Racism 101” blog which is found on www.madinamerica.com.

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts Matthew and in particular for pointing out – and I agree with you – what can easily be interpreted as my being naïve, ignorant and colorblind- which I don’t think I am but words and context matter. I offer a bit more context and explanation below and I have copied your comments of concern for ease of following this discussion.

Matthew wrote “I want to express some confusion and concern about your repeated suggestion that we “imagine a world without racism and live your life that way.”

To my eyes, this could be taken as support for liberal “colorblindness” where we pretend racism does not exist and think that merely by working to treat people of color with respect on an individual basis, we are contributing to ending racism”.

I would like to explain that quite a few years ago I was so concerned about the rampant racism I saw operating in “mental health” settings (and elsewhere) that I wanted to create opportunities to address this head on. One action step I took was to provide training in cultural competency/attunement with an African American partner and we created this phrase “imagine a world without racism and live your life that way” as a means of inviting people to transcend their social conditioning and think and act differently – in non-racist ways. Our interactive trainings addressed racism head-on particularly on a personal and interpersonal level and at this level and in the manner we did the training there were always clear implications for both policy and systems level change that was needed.

The intent of the invitation is to take the time to ‘be’ different. It is not about being colorblind but the opposite – seeing all of the colors and hues. Our trainings created a safe space to explore racism. Each participant shared rich information including their cultural heritage, who they are, what they think, how their family came to North America, etc. The space that was opened was one in which everyone could show their caring for each other. Typically the trainings were provided to organizations or programs within organizations so people knew each other to varying extents. The process involved engaging our innate curious inquiry and heart-felt compassion to reach for a deep connection, for deeper understanding. In this way we experienced individually and collectively an opening up of our minds which allowed for more honestly, cultural sensitivity and authenticity in our professional and personal relationships.

What I see pervasively practiced in our culture is people wearing a protective perceptual lens based on their illusion of fear and separation. Racism is one part of the multi-oppression based fear and separation. That learned (not innate) perceptual lens gets fueled by our increasing out-of-control capitalism including the exploitation of all things human and environmental which contributes to the increased violence and disrespect for humanity that currently exists. Sadly and ironically I find that much of my work in the world is about re-learning how to be human and humane and I often do this by facilitating dialogues of discovery. Dialogues create opportunities to evolve our consciousness forward by creating a space where our hearts and minds are open, there is no application of judgment and everyone’s thinking is accurate based on the individual’s perception. Ideally what is created is a synchronistic and harmonious coming together which is hard to describe unless you have experienced this. The ideal outcome of dialogue is that it lifts us to transcend our cultural conditioning and become aware of the following processes:

– Sometimes (probably more often that we like to admit) we notice that our thinking gets stuck on a particular belief (e.g., based on racism, mental health oppression, etc.) or ideology that we have not thoroughly examined and let go. It may indicate that more reflection may deepen our awareness or self-knowledge.

– We see other ways of thinking and being in the world as valid and good – and that means that more possibilities and relationships open up. Our heart and mind expand, our perceptual barriers dissolve. We see life more clearly.

– When we transcend our social conditioning we become more open to co-creating a new paradigm. In this fertile ground of openness, we think more creatively and therefore can more effectively co-create the communities we want. When the war in our mind ends, peace emerges. And yes, racism in one of the ways we wage war in our mind.

Practicing this process (opening my heart and mind in a process of liberation) allows me to envision a world without racism – or any oppression for that matter. Embodying hope, I can see a world made up of culturally rich and inclusive communities where every one is respected and valued and given the dignity they deserve.

On a separate note, I think the excellent article which you cited (“12 Things White People Can Actually Do After the Ferguson Decision” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-david-j-leonard/12-things-white-people-ca_b_6222784.html) has many important actions that people can take and should select some of these actions to take if they want to work towards racial justice and perhaps to begin to work on the edges of their own white racism.

There was one action step in the article you cited that I thought was particularly interesting and relatively easy to do so I copied it below. Can you imagine how we might contribute to ending racist police policies and actions if a lot of white people staeted filming these injustices?

8. If You See Injustice Occurring, Do Not Stand Silently or Walk on By. Do you see police officers engaging in a stop-and-frisk interaction? It turns out that it is entirely legal to film police interactions without interfering. Hold police accountable. Watch them. They may be less likely to engage in outright violence if they are being filmed. If not, the video can be critical evidence as police can claim that they were being assaulted, or charge disorderly conduct, when video evidence clearly refutes these claims. There are apps and organizations that accumulate these videos and data. Use them.

What the article did not mention, however, was the internal work – the emotional and perceptual work we can do to embody justice not only in our minds but in our hearts. How do we genuinely heal from the damage of racism and internalized racism, as well as mental health oppression, adultism and all form of oppression? We can change all the laws in the land – and we have changed many laws (civil rights laws, employment laws via the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Americans with Disability Act laws) but that doesn’t change attitudes. I hope I have sufficiently planted a seed for future conversation that will address the emotional and perceptual or attitudinal issues and how we can come to truly embody justice for all – in our laws and in our hearts. It is good that we have opened this conversation to speak more honestly about oppression and particularly racism. All oppressions are linked so as we clean up the damage done by the internalization of one form of oppression we are cleaning up or freeing ourselves from the damage from other forms of oppression.

Racism 101

What I like most about getting older is getting wiser. What if white people in America could admit that we are racist? It’s very hard to not be racist if you are a white person raised in the U.S. Can we be honest? I have spent much of my life trying to find my truth. This morning, with racism on my mind and with that very important topic being exposed on the front page in all of the major U.S news outlets, I remembered that I wrote a short piece about racism that I will share below. First I want to ask you to imagine a world without racism and live your life that way.

Another brief comment before I share my thoughts on racism 101. There are many similarities between mental health oppression (which is an umbrella terms for what this blog/web site is about) and racism. I invite readers to contemplate the similarities and differences in these pernicious forms of oppressions. Sera Davidow has begun a wonderful Mad in America blog-discussion on this. Thank you Sera. In the mean time let me admit to my own racism. Here is what I wrote previously. I offer it as an invitation to racism 101.

A book excerpt

… I had to be informed about racism (my own white racism) and institutionalized racism. In working on my racism, it became clear that I did not agree to be racist – it was installed from the outside and it left me damaged, as is the case with all people in oppressor roles. The minds and spirits of those conditioned by society to act as the agents of racism are corrupted. The damage done to individuals targeted by racism — the hurts from being treated as inferior, denied basic material needs, denied a fair share of resources, demeaned, attacked, threatened with destruction and much more — is done to individuals through their contact with society’s institutions and by the actions of individuals….
Cycles of unhealed hurt perpetuate misunderstanding and miscommunication that may lead to further conflicts, intolerance and violence. The damage from oppression clouds thinking… dissemination of information about internalized oppression has the potential of healing painful wounds and stopping the cycles of hurts that have continued for generations.

This excerpt is from the chapter on Forgiveness, Living for Two: A Daughter’s Journey from Grief and Madness to Forgiveness and Peace, in which I write about how I came to forgive the seventeen year old who murdered my father.

In previous blogs I have written about the importance of dialogue, healing from trauma, facing the unfaceable and other related topics. All forms of oppression are intrinsically linked and interact with one another. You can’t heal from one oppression without it impacting healing from another. It makes sense to me that the opposite is true as well – that is, as we form judgments and close our minds in one area (be it racism, sexism, able-bodyism, etc) it increases judgments and occludes our clear thinking in other areas.

What happened that caused us individually and collectively to begin to lose our humanity, our sense of connection with ourselves and with others. I am happy to share what I have learned about my own process and perhaps it will be useful to you and your process. I go early in my search for my truth. At the time of my birth and soon after that I find many answers to some of my core struggles. I don’t think I am alone in these struggles, I think they are pervasive human struggles. When I was born I was looking for connection – the same connection and sense of belonging and safely I felt in the womb. I eventually learned as a very young child that no one was really there, consistently present to protect me, hold me, and keep me safe from an unsafe world. In that early hurt where disconnect begins, the seeds of separation were planted. If I can’t trust a person who looks like me, how can I trust anyone? I learned to disconnect from others and from myself – it was the best way I could figure out to survive. These seeds form early beliefs that allow the development of all forms of oppression. I began believing in the illusion of separation – that I am a separate entity from you. My socialization process reinforced the sense of separation and the vital importance of protecting this illusion. That created a trap wherein more and more judgments were created to justify my illusions such as beliefs like – I am right, you are wrong or you are right and I am wrong. All of this led to inner war which then got projected onto others which in turn sets up relationships based on separation and war. And I come to believe that war is necessary in order to hold on to what I came to believe was true and mine – whether it be protecting my property, my family, my political or religious beliefs.

For me, healing as meant transcending my social conditioning. How can we see other ways of thinking and being in the world as valid and good? As we approach that more possibilities and relationships open up. Our heart and mind expand, our perceptual barriers dissolve.

How do we free ourselves from racism, mental health oppression and all forms of human beings harming human beings? How do we create peace? Can we be with another person without judgment, holding multiple truths, standing firmly grounded in another persons moccasins? This is not easy but I think it is the work we need to do to embody inner peace. For me, it is the most important and very dynamic process I am involved in. It affects everything in my life – every relationship, how I view myself, every step I take. At least that is the bar I would like to hold myself to.

Can we hold Michael Brown and Darren Wilson in synchronistic harmony, holding both as correct? Why is it seemingly impossible to do this? Why do I keep forgetting to try? Those are the edges of oppression, where I get a taste of the work I need to do in order to find peace and healing.

What steps are you willing to take to end racism? I plan to continue to work to be more deeply aware of my own white racism. I will also continue to build close relationships with people from my own culture as well as people from cultures different than my own.

I believe that we can end racism in our lifetime. It is worth repeating, imagine a world without racism and live your life that way.

An Unplanned Path to Discovering My Truth

What began as a story of self-discovery, spiritual awakening, and healing written only for family and friends evolved into a memoir reflecting my path towards liberation that other people might find useful on their journey of awakening to the person they were born to be.

A power greater than myself became a wind under my wings moving the creation of this memoir forward. The story was enhanced by the process of creative expression that deepened the intimate look at my experience of loss and grieving that were intertwined with my liberation journey. Finally, after ten years in gestation, I gave birth to a memoir, Living for Two: A Daughter’s Journey from Grief and Madness to Forgiveness and Peace. Here’s a brief glimpse at what it’s about.

At first I thought the purpose of the book was to let people know that even though my father died when I was 14 years old, his life and his death continue to have a significant impact on me. My father was murdered by a teenager with a handgun in an act of street violence. In some ways my life ended with his death. I needed to recreate myself, to find meaning in an unsafe and irrational world. This led to my being put in a mental institution at the age of 16 and labeled with chronic schizophrenia.

Yet the story is about healing, love and some of the bountiful gifts that are revealed when we look deeply at what our lives are, what meaning is to be found on our journeys. I often ask myself, who was I born to be? Who do I want to be? Telling my story has been about standing firmly on the ground, deeply connected to the earth, naked, showing all of my dimensions – my thinking, my strength, and revealing what I have learned

Much of the journey has been about scraping, scrubbing and peeling off the effects of social conditioning and the impact of brainwashing that created who I thought I was but through the process of self-discovery and liberation I can see it has little to do with who I am.

Like so many of us, I had to work through and journey beyond layers of misinformation. I needed to revisit, remember, reevaluate, review, and pass through some experiences to finally feel at the age of 58, like I am now beginning to live more honestly and true to who I was born to be. The book gives an emotional flavor of my life and some of my work in the world.

This ten year process of exploration and finding the right words to describe my journey has opened up new possibilities for me to explore. When I use words (instead of other forms of creative expression) those dimensions will come out as blogs. My most recent blog is an example of this new dimension opening up to me. I am still processing what happened by the pond in Auschwitz two months ago. I know that I am forever changed by my experience there. I feel more deeply connected to life, death and spirit – than ever.

The book is an invitation to look more closely at the meaning of your life. The Dialogues of Discovery tour that I began facilitating this year have validated for me how much people want to share where they struggle, their questions, their learnings and that when a safe space is created to do this – they courageously come forward. Many people have said that they showed themselves in ways they have never before done in public. The message I got at the pond in Auschwitz was to “go forward into the light”. And so with the wind at my back I find new ways to create community. As a teenager I had a vision of a world that was peaceful, inclusive, and honored all life forms. That vision and my attempts to communicate it were labeled ‘chronic schizophrenia’.
It has taken me decades to deeply reclaim that vision and walk towards that peaceful place. I join with others, making heart to heart connections that allow us to co-create communities that sustain us and honor life for yesterday, today and tomorrow.

No matter what pain, oppression and suffering we go through, reclaiming our humanity is always possible.


Three Free Dialogues of Discovery to Share Our Collective Wisdom: Think, Listen and Share

Join me for three free teleconference Dialogues of Discovery to explore, investigate and discover together: meaning and purpose, who were you born to be, who do you want to be, who you already are and how to embody that peaceful being, shining your light, creating inclusive communities, and other topics which participants bring forward.

All three free teleconferences are the 4th Tuesday of the month: 3pm-4:30pm ET/ 2pm–3:30pm CT/ 1pm–2:30pm MT/ 12pm-1:30pm PT. No reservations needed. Let’s keep it simple.


Dialogue 1: Who are you? Who were you born to be?

In preparation for this topic it may be useful to:

  • Imagine entering your childhood through your heart and remember your earliest emotions, images or thoughts; Tap into your pure intelligence, radiance, zest and whatever is revealed.
  • Investigate who are you beneath your mask, your roles and your attachments.
  • Strive for the earliest memories, what was it was like to be curious, innocent, and fearless?
  • Do you feel a sense of purpose and belonging? If not, what hurt, if healed, would make all the difference in the world?

January 27, 2015 3pm-4:30pm ET/ 2pm – 3:30pm CT/ 1pm – 2:30pm MT/ 12pm-1:30pm PT


 Dialogue 2: What is the relationship between our emotions and our soul?

Another way to ask this question is what is our essence and how do we express that essence? In preparation for this topic it may be useful to ponder:

  • Are emotions a pathway to the soul?
  • What is the relationship between our essence, hearing voices and the divine?

February 24, 2015 3pm-4:30pm ET/ 2pm – 3:30pm CT/ 1pm – 2:30pm MT/ 12pm-1:30pm PT


Dialogue 3: Envisioning and creating the world you want

What is your life’s mission and how are you embodying that day to day? How are you embodying inner peace and creating global peace?

March 24, 2015 3pm-4:30pm ET/ 2pm – 3:30pm CT/ 1pm – 2:30pm PT/ 12pm-1:30pm PT

Call 605-562-0020  Meeting ID: 639-365-821

For future announcements check Lauren’s website or join her email list.

To purchase the book, click here.

Healing From Intergenerational Trauma: Facing the Unfaceable

I spend 15 years slowly preparing for a trip into the unfaceable. One of the most important processes that supported me on this journey was observing and being witness to a US human rights advocate and coalition builder (who has German gentile heritage) do gut wrenching emotional healing work particularly against anti-Semitism and white racism. She inspired me with her intelligence, tenacity and determination to be free from the damaging effects of these forms of oppressions. Some members of her family supported the Nazis. Two years ago I told her I was ready to join her in going to Poland and the eight day Healing from War workshop. Last year and again this year we went and were part of a 75 person international group who spent 16 hours a day for 8 days living together and working closely on our individual and collective healing. This article focuses on the most personally meaningful lesson I learned. There were many other lesson learned that will not be addressed here, such as the personal, social, economic and political impact of US imperialism, how our use of language communicates internalized oppressive patterns, the personal and social impact of growing up in a war zone and living in an occupied country, etc. Because USers are often unawarely conditioned to take over, meaning take up a lot of space or have a tendency to be aggressive, we are limited to a small percentage of workshop participants. Thus, most workshop participants came from other countries and language translation occurred continuously during the entire workshop.

Day One of the workshop includes a four-hour guided tour of Auschwitz I; Day Two is a four-hour guided tour of Auschwitz II (Birkenau) – the largest death camps of WWII and the largest graveyard in the world. Estimates range from 1.9 – 2.1 million Jews were murdered there. Other people were murdered there as well particularly Poles, Russians, people with disabilities, and Roma. There are no graves, rather the ashes of men, women and children were scattered everywhere but particularly in the two small ponds within Auschwitz II and in a nearby river. Last year there were two particular moments of the tour that were most moving for me. First, I will say that while going through Auschwitz we were (as instructed by our workshop leader) inseparable from our companions. I had the same companions both last year and this year – one with German heritage (mentioned previously) and another who I have known for 17 years and who like me – is Jewish and our fathers’ fought in WWII.

Both last year and this year, while visiting these concentration/death camps I felt not numbness but it was hard to feel emotions due to being satiated with information that bombarded all of my senses with the horrors of what we saw and what we learned. I could not take in any more of anything other than putting one foot in front of the other, holding onto my companions and absorbing this atrocity. Last year the first emotional/ spiritual experience I had was on day one while standing in the gas chamber. What came to me was ‘sorrow of the souls’. One hundred and forty men, women and children were crammed into this cement rectangular room. Then poisonous gas containers were released. It took 15 minutes for everyone to die. The ovens were conveniently located in the room next door. These were highly organized death factories. And I could feel the sorrow of the souls. I was grateful that I could feel. I understand how it is that many people go through Auschwitz feeling numb.

On day two the fullness continued as my senses were bombarded with more sights, stories and information until we got to the pond. Suddenly and unexpectedly a spiritual blanket unlike anything I had ever experienced in my life came over me. I don’t know which came first – the words or my tears – but the unmistakable message was “something happened here” meaning right here and it was somehow related to me. I will never forget this; I felt deeply supported by the embrace of my companions.

After completing the workshop and returning to the U.S. I spent many hours over many months doing emotional release work related to this deeply moving and mysterious spiritual/emotional “something happened here” encounter. I wanted to know what happened and how it was connected to me. Were the ashes of my ancestors there? Possibly. I knew I had to return to the pond and so I went back to Auschwitz and the workshop and I believe I found what I was looking for but I didn’t know I was looking for it until I found it. And I didn’t know I found it until someone pointed it out. Let me explain.

Last month I was back at the pond with my companions and I sat on the grass and felt the sun’s powerful white light and warmth while I shook and cried and asked “What happened here? How is it related to me?” I soaked in the fullness of the radiating white light that seemed to communicate “go forward into the light”. And there was a giant red dragonfly that kept flying – right – left – right – left for a long time – between me and the pond. I laughed at the dragon fly and asked “What are you doing here?” It felt like she was an eye-catching reminder of the beauty and simplicity of life and nature. I didn’t have any grand answers to my questions but I felt satisfied. I had returned, I felt a deep presence of powerfully, warm light that flowed through my body – I knew I had more healing work to do and this moment would help carry me forward.

I am skipping some of the less important details but I will say that one thing that many Jews share and that I became more acutely aware of that at this years workshop is that many of us don’t know this ancestral history. So many Jews had so many family members murdered in WWII that our history is lost and it is or was too painful for many of our family members to talk about. Six million Jews were murdered in WWII – 90% of the Jews of Europe. One workshop participant this year shared that a relative of hers had sent her an email – one page – listing a several relatives who had been killed in the holocaust. Right before the workshop she decided to print the page and that is when she saw that the email was actually 10 pages. She had not scrolled down to see that 264 of her family members were killed in the Holocaust.

Two days after visiting the pond I was in a 6-person ‘sharing our stories’ support groups. I had shared lots of stories over the past year and several stories at this years workshop mostly about my ancestors on my mother’s side who escaped/immigrated from Russia and how my father died when I was 14 and he was an only child and my mother thought his ancestors were from Hungary and last year at Auschwitz I saw the names of hundreds and hundreds of Spiro’s who were murdered in Auschwitz. This time I told the story as I had never done before. I said “I don’t have a story. On my father’s side of the family – there was my father and his parents. I don’t know any other relatives. If any of them had survived Auschwitz I think I would have known about them. So there is no story. It makes sense that some of those Spiro’s were most likely my relatives but I don’t know. There is no story”. I don’t recall what else I said but the support group leader said. “You found them” and I immediately felt her words in the core of my body with a sudden pressure on my chest and then tears came. Oh my God – I found them. That was the message in the white light. That was what happened at the pond. That was the answer I didn’t know I was looking for. That was why I had to return to the pond. It made sense. I have never had such a powerful spiritual pull to be somewhere and to work on this specific experience. It was fate. I found my family at the pond. It was meant to be. I am left feeling more deeply connected to my people – my family and the thousands of years of oppression of my people. And that also connects me to all humans because we live on a planet where no one escapes the damage of war, the ultimate betrayal of humanity. This great trauma and the deep betrayal that accompanies it is an unfaceable anguish. The pain is a bond amongst all who live whether we are aware of it or not. I feel more deeply connected to my place in history and everyone who walks or has walked through life.

I know more deeply than ever in my body and in my soul that we are all much more deeply connected then we are aware of. I want more than anything I have ever wanted – to end war. I am getting clearer and clearer on how this can be done. I honor that knowing how it is done and actually doing it are two very different things. What work could possibly be harder than this?

My life’s focus since last year’s workshop has been to heal from the damaging effect that war has had on my mind – both the inner war and the outer war – and the damage that impacts our ways of thinking that get passed on from generation to generation.

If I can end the war in my mind by healing these old traumas then peace will emerge. I now know that that is why I was lead back to the pond. That was the message in the white light. My soul is healing and finding peace. I am not there yet. I appreciate the process.

Embodying Peace in Times of War

No culture or community or individual escapes the damage caused by war. War is the ultimate betrayal of humanity. It occurs when we have so completely lost our way and we cling desperately to concepts such as possessiveness, power and separation. Yet, psychiatry has declared war on big emotions; those very human experiences that help us find our way in times of difficulty. Big emotions are the heart’s way of calling out for support when we need someone’s good attention and thoughtfulness to help us get back to ourselves- to find our equilibrium.

The release or expression of strong emotions is part of the coming home or healing process. There is a great chasm between living our lives genuinely from our heart and deepest values versus living in conformity with an oppressive culture driven by exploitation, greed and productivity. How can we remain genuine in an irrational world?

What do we mean by peace? What does it look like? How might you live your life differently if you were creating peace every moment? How might your relationships change? What can we do to end war? Mad in America is taking a bold step by hosting a film festival celebrating the courageous battle for liberation and how to stay grounded in our humanity while social, economic and political forces continuously pull us towards war. .

The invitation is to find inner peace so that we may co-create global peace. I don’t have anything better to do with my life. Do you? Having a clear intention and purpose to my life helps me to stay focused on moving towards peace knowing that in any given moment the micro and macro steps will shift with windows of opportunity.

What gets in the way of embodying peace-making? I am finding that I need to let go of everything I ever thought was mine – objects, projects, relationships. I find I also need to let go of everything I was taught to me as my identity. From as far back as I can remember I was told ‘who’ I was – separate from others, female, white, nice, pretty, don’t cause trouble or make waves (middle class oppression), homeowner, manager, psychiatric survivor, artist, student, friend, daughter, cousin, teacher, student, etc. Many of these identities come with beautiful attributes as well as a lot of internalized oppression. My mental health liberation journey (with the gold star chronic schizophrenia diagnosis) has taught me that there was never anything wrong with me or my brain. It taught me that the experts too quickly jumped to the pathology conclusion never considering or possibly imagining that the “madness” was a portal to deeper understanding of my mind and of my self. The experience was an opportunity to gain greater insight into the purpose and meaning of my life. Long ago I realized, with a little help from my smart friends, that the ‘experts’ were very wrong.

The grip of the psycho-pharmaceutical industry, the beautification industry, the war machine the U.S. has become and so many other oppressive forces make it hard to stay true to the heart. I try to keep my lens as clean as possible by recognizing the impact of living in a shallow, exploitive, mind-numbing, TV-tranquilized, micro-wave, high speed technicolor, gimmicked-to-death magic pill culture that leaves little room to be human.

I peal off layers of misinformation and lies. It is a painstaking process but it is where I need to go to find peace and appreciate why peace is so hard to embody. So I let my heart break and then break some more. The betrayal of humanity runs deep. I remember feeling it as a child. Where had they (caretakers) gone? No one was holding me helping me adjust to this new world I was part of. No one was really there and present to keep me safe in a scary new environment. I was terrified and anxious and became hard and tough in order to protect myself against the daily assaults of disconnection, abandonment, powerlessness and isolation. These daily micro and macro assaults taught me how to defend myself and were the birth of my inner war. Our culture seems to be made up of a constant string of attacks on our genuineness, our innate capacity for love, connection, cooperation and compassion. And I have hurt others unintentionally, unawarely and I try to stop acting out on the war that rages in my head. I think I need to let go of so much that I will truly become unrecognizable to myself. I am not there yet, it’s a process. I am heading towards a paradigm where there are no judgments, leaving my mind as open as possible. If my mind is truly open, my heart will follow. Or is it the other way around? If my heart is open, my mind will follow.


Embodying peace seems mostly about alliance building, reaching for others respectfully so that we may forgive and create understanding and peace.

To explore more thoroughly this issue of ending war and creating peace I am returning next month to Auschwitz, the largest Nazi death camp (during WWII). Doing this work with others has changing my life. Going into the darkness (the deep emotional abyss) with others by my side, and releasing the emotions, allows more space for me to begin to find peace. The more I release pent up emotions, which are the result of the inner war, the more I am able to think flexibly and creatively. It follows that when there is less pressure to keep my emotions under control and thus less pressure on my brain then my intelligence is freer to operate more spaciously. And when my mind is freer I think more clearly and am more adept at finding elegant solutions to challenges or opportunities. Every challenge is an opportunity. Alliance building on an individual level may be as simple and as exquisitely difficult as two people (who have been torn apart for any number of social, political, historical reasons) reaching for one another.

Key alliance building questions are:

  1. What do you respect about this (other) person
  2. What gets in the way of respecting them? In other words, what have they (or their people) done to you (or your people) that has made it hard for her/him to be a close and trusted ally.
  3. What specific steps will you take to build an alliance with this person.

Imagine a Jew and a Nazi doing this work. Imagine any two people who have been torn apart – facing each other, standing in their truth, not blaming self or others but taking responsibility for their feelings, thoughts and actions – and reaching for one another.

Another approach – the Open Dialogue process – also provides a pathway to peace. Open Dialogue, as practiced in Tornio, Finland, has demonstrated not only the most impressive outcomes in the world for people with first episodes of psychosis, it has transformed the community surrounding Tornio from having the highest rate of schizophrenia diagnosis in the world to, 25 years later, the lowest – all but eliminating new diagnoses of schizophrenia. They have created a mental health service delivery system that models building peace, understanding and compassion throughout the entire community, and points the way toward how we can do the same with our communities.

This approach is also reflected in other approaches that grapple with the effects of trauma and strife on people, by seeking to collectively rewrite the stories that we share as we move forward. The Truth and Reconciliation process in South Africa is an example of a collective opening to each others’ truths, and the creation of a new reality. Not forgetting the past but by learning to let go of our individual world views as being central, and replacing them with a collectivized experience of the world as being an essential part of human life, the possibility of new relationships – to each other as well as to ourselves – emerges.

The open dialogue approach refers to speaking in our authentic voice, suspending preconceived notions about others – and ourselves – so we can deeply hear what the other is communicating, respecting and learning from the other person using curious inquiry to embrace differences in thought or behavior, equally valuing everyone’s contributions and experiences, speaking from the heart and eliminating power differences such as those based on social status or position (Emotional CPR workbook, 2014)

Co-creating peace is a possible outcome of open dialogue.

When our hearts and minds fuse there is a deepening pulsating awareness of the light of our consciousness which evolves us forward. The grace lifts us to transcend our cultural conditioning and co-create the future together. Buddha said, “All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world”.

When we embody the practice of dialogue as a way of being we may become aware of the following processes.

– The extent to which we get emotionally hooked on what someone is expressing reflects the extent to which we are not free – that our thinking is stuck on a particular belief or ideology that we have not thoroughly examined and let go. It may indicate that more reflection may deepen our awareness or self-knowledge.

– If we reach this ‘ideal’ very open dialogue we transcend our social conditioning. We see other ways of thinking and being in the world as valid and good – and that means that more possibilities and relationships open up. Our heart and mind expand, our perceptual barriers dissolve.

– When we transcend our social conditioning we become more open to co-creating a new paradigm. In this fertile ground of openness, we think more clearly and therefore can more effectively co-create the communities we want. When the war in our mind ends, peace emerges.

What approaches do you find most helpful? What are you doing to bring peace to your family, your community or to the world? I welcome more dialogue on this here, at the Mad in America Film Festival … or anywhere.

To read more about the authors journey towards peace, see her memoir at


22 July, 2014 22:31

Healing from an Addiction to Patterned Ways of Thinking

Lauren Spiro

July 22, 2014

I had a soul-redemptive heart-to-heart reunion with a woman I had known from a distance but whom now (after our hours long coeur-a-coeur/heart-to-heart) I consider a close friend. I shared with her some very exciting and some challenging circumstances I have been experiencing of late, which I will get back to in a moment. After I shared and shed a few tears she told me a story from her life that also poses, like my story, an invitation for profound change in our lives.

Her story was that on her first day of college her father unexpectedly found her and her boyfriend at her parent’s home “together” (if you catch the drift which I did in our conversation). Her father, upon finding them beat up the boyfriend very badly. He also told her that if she ever saw him again he would kill him. She was too terrified to see him again. She did not doubt that her father would kill him. They had been long-time high school sweethearts and she said she certainly thought she was going to marry him till this happened.

She suppressed so much terror and emotion, and went on with life. She married, had children, divorced, had a very successful career. And one night while out of town on business for a week she found time to search her high school web page. She found that he (her former sweetheart) had been writing her and trying to find her for the past 3 years. Upon reading 3 years of emails from him, she said the lid blew off the manhole cover. She had an emotionally explosive meltdown – re-finding her love after 30 years. All the emotion she had suppressed came back full force and she could not stop crying for the whole week. She was finally releasing so much of what she had held in.

She told me she weighted 220 pounds when this happened and that from that day forward her addiction to emotional eating stopped. That patterned way of suppressing emotion was no longer needed and the extra 100 pounds she was carrying around dissolved. It has been four years since they found each other again and have had a long distance relationship. Now she is making concrete plans to re-locate to live with him and this, too, brings up some emotional questions about maintaining healthy boundaries and taking exquisite care of herself. That eventful day of 30 years ago had profoundly changed him. It left him feeling unworthy of her love and unworthy in general. He thought she had forgotten about him. He has lived with this wound and himself held in a lot of emotion which he is still healing from.

Now back to my own experience which I shared with my friend. The addiction I am learning to break is a patterned way of thinking that keeps my life smaller than I want it to be. Sometimes I don’t realize there is a glass ceiling or floor until I bump into it, and then I know it’s time to look at it, feel it and release the un-discharged emotion that created it. The releasing process allows deeper freedom of mind, meaning the ability to think more clearly and to be more present in the moment.

Like bumping into the glass wall, I also sometimes don’t realize how not-present I am until my mind can quiet down enough to experience a deeper level of presence − of being. This new sense of liberation and strength is, I believe, due to discharging terror and rage that is bubbling up. The current events are linked to ancient dynamics not only from my own lifestream but, I believe, from inter-generational trauma and violence. A new sense of empowerment and clarity of thought and action arises as I live more genuinely from my heart and co-create deeper, more meaningful relationships. In this way I am becoming more aligned with the way I want to be in the world and with the way I want the world to be.

Crisis is opportunity and I have just burned off something that has changed me. Perhaps the poem I wrote while in the midst of crisis, below, captures the intensity of my ‘burning off’ experience. And by the way, I awoke to that beautiful sunrise.

My arms are tied and bound, latched on a truck that is

Dragging my body across a heavily graveled road.

Skin torn and ripped off my cartilage

Blood covering me

I scream out in agony

Like a wild beast stabbed in the gut




Out of control

The pain and torment is unbearable

Where are you my love

I scream and howl for you in the night

But you are far far away

And I don’t know how to touch you and feel you and know that you – the one I love with all my heart and all my soul – are there

The pain of an eternity bound in an incomprehensible abandonement of humanity

Twisted minds brainwashed into the killing fields of Cambodia, the electrified barbed wire of Auschwitz

Eternity speaks and I listen and embody the sorrow of the souls

And all I can do is untie my self from that truck that has stopped dragging me

And stand with mother earth holding me

And saying

Life brings great pain that only deepens the love and gratitude for any crumbs we may find

And any days of life that we can breath

And again see a sunrise whose magnificent beauty blows our mind away

Hold me until the nightmare ends


Living for Two: Compelling Memoir Exposes Challenges of Dysfunctional Mental Health System; Chronicling Author ’s Journey to Forgiveness and Peace.

Written by Lauren Spiro, based on her tumultuous life, ‘Living for Two’ fuses the author’s poignant story of tragedy and triumph with a series of bold life lessons. After being committed to a mental institution after her father was murdered, Spiro was forced to endure the brunt of the nation’s broken mental health policy. However, through a transformative journey that will inspire all, Spiro turned herself from victim to victor. She is now taking that story public for the first time to prove that healing of the mind and heart is always possible.

Today, in an unlikely yet remarkable twist of fate, Spiro prospers as an educator, mental health provider and co-founder of Emotional CPR, a public health education project. ‘Living for Two’ takes readers into Spiro’s tragedy, trauma and eventual triumph; empowering all to break their silence and recognize hope’s omnipresence.

To date, the book has garnered impressive reviews. Family Physician, Mark Foster, comments, “In vivid prose and poetry, Lauren Spiro has painted for us a picture of her spiritual journey, a journey that took her from unbearable emotional pain, down into psychosis, through the depths of our dysfunctional mental health system, and finally to a place of transcendent healing and peace. This is a story of hope and love, the story of how a daughter, so devastated by her father’s senseless murder, was rescued by his cherished spirit awakening in her adult life. The message is clear: healing of the mind and heart is always possible, love needs to be the guiding star in recovery, and we are all connected, much more deeply than we understand.”

Author Robert Whitaker was equally as impressed, adding, “In this moving, beautifully written memoir, Lauren Spiro tells of unfathomable loss, the madness of a psychiatric system that would diagnose her with ‘chronic schizophrenia’ at age 16, and her ultimate recovery from both of those childhood traumas. In her poetry and prose, we see, too, that words—the language that can bring us understanding and compassion—can have a healing power of their own.”

‘Living for Two: A Daughter’s Journey From Grief and Madness to Forgiveness and Peace’ is available on amazon.com and other e-retailers. For more information, visit the author’s official website: http://laurenspiro.com.

Honor Father’s Day: Interview of Lauren Spiro

In Honor of Father’s Day Madness Radio Releases Interview of Lauren Spiro

On father’s day (6-15-14) Madness Radio released it’s interview of Lauren Spiro.

How do we recover from childhood violence? When Lauren Spiro was 14, her father was murdered. Eighteen months later, she began to have unusual spiritual experiences and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Today she works today to promote peace and healing in communities, fulfilling the vision she had in her extreme state. Lauren is co-director of Emotional CPR, associate director of the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery, and her new memoir is Living For Two: A Daughter’s Journey from Grief and Madness to Forgiveness and Peace.

https://laurenspiro.com/ www.ncmhr.org/ www.emotional-cpr.org


The Relationship Between Systems Change and Being Present with Others

June 3, 2014

If you’ve come here to help me, you’re wasting your time. But if you’ve come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

— Lilla Watson

Man cannot be one thing in one area of his life and another thing in another area of his life.

— Mahatma Gandhi

Despite the hiring of peers, the mental health system still has not implemented the recovery and trauma-informed values advocated by both SAMHSA and by people with the lived experience of mental health recovery. The New Freedom Commission (2003), Olmstead Decision (1999), and IOM Report Crossing the Quality Chasm (2006), have all called for a transformation of the mental health system from a focus on maintenance to a vision of recovery of a life in the community but the old system chugs along increasingly out of touch with common sense approaches that inspire hope, self-determination, empowerment and so much of what every human being longs for.

Person-centered planning requires a system-wide shift in communication, as well as adaptation of recovery-oriented, trauma-informed values. Tomorrow, Dan Fisher, W. Reid Smithdeal and I are offering a free webinar that will provide administrators, managers, providers of mental health services and others with some essential communication tools needed to transform their systems to being recovery-based, trauma-informed and empowerment focused. A system-wide shift in communication is needed and we must move away from the hierarchical, one-size-fits-all way of thinking to instead practicing mindfulness and presence with every one… We are changing the conversation and re-defining mental health service and support delivery systems. And for that matter- we are moving beyond systems to community building. However, for the purpose of this webinar we will focus on transforming mental health and behavioral health systems.

The webinar will use Emotional eCPR (eCPR), a primary prevention public health education program that teaches anyone to support another person through an emotional crisis as a foundation for how to bring about a fundamental shift in our culture – be it organizational culture, or family or community culture. The principles and dynamics are transferable anywhere. eCPR is a powerful tool for enhancing interpersonal communication and cultural empathy. It teaches everyone how to implement the values of recovery on a one-to-one basis. What is instilled on the individual level has ripple effects on the group level and on the system level. Speakers will discuss how some of the components of eCPR are being taught in community mental health centers enabling providers to embody the values of recovery such

as the importance of every voice, of respecting the whole person, of being nonjudgmental, and of sharing one’s humanity with persons in distress.

We need to bring compassionate listening into our conversations and open up the dialogue, welcoming different perceptions because that is how we build alliances and heal and grow as a community, as an organization, and as a human being.

We will address the chasm between “staff” and “persons served.”

We will wrap our minds around the concept of the wounded healer, of leveling the field and respecting that we are all teachers, we are all students, and we learn together.


Daniel B. Fisher, MD, PhD: who co-founded the federally funded National Empowerment Center and serves as its executive director. He was a commissioner on the President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, 2002-2003.

W. Reid Smithdeal, MSW, LCSW : the Recovery Services Manager for Meridian Behavioral Health Services where he coordinates clinical services.

Lauren Spiro, MA: . A schizophrenia survivor, associate director of National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery and author of Living for Two: A Daughter’s Journey From Grief and Madness to Forgiveness and Peace.

Click here for instructions for joining the webinar, June 4, 2014, 1:30pm – 3:00pm EDT, (12:30 CDT, 11:30 MDT, 10:30 PDT)

29 April, 2014 10:53

a post publication learning
​I took a step forward to show my nakedness. In opening this space where my heart and my mind join, I felt for a while that I was exposing a raw vulnerability. And I finally realize that I am standing on firm ground. There is nothing more solid to stand on then one’s intelligent body, that vessel that ally that is always closer than close on the journey with us. So we stand body and mind, in raw awareness of self – where there is nothing to hold onto and nothing to lose and nothing to fear- and realize that vulnerability is an illusion.