TODAY 11-13-16 5pm ET Free Virtual Listening Circle – Just For Women

Dear Sisters,

Join us for a Free Virtual Listening Circle – Just For Women

Date: Sunday, November 13, 2016 at:

2:00 pm – 3:30 pm Pacific

3:00 pm – 4:30 pm Mountain

4:00 pm – 5:30 pm Central

5:00 pm – 6:30 pm Eastern

Connection Information:

Join from computer: https://zoom.us/j/9076209232

Or Telephone: Dial: +1 408 638 0968 (US Toll) or +1 646 558 8656 (US Toll)

Meeting ID: 907 620 9232

Brief Description: Our society is undergoing a major shift and part of that is evidenced by the result of the 2016 presidential election. As we move towards uncertain times it is useful for us as women to come together virtually in a safe, supportive, non-judgmental and respectful space to share our feelings and our thinking. Everyone will have an opportunity to speak from the heart and be heard. Our intention is to feel re-connected and hopeful and that our time together serves as part of a healing process and a knowing that we are not alone. Co-hosted by Rita Cronise & Lauren Spiro

Purpose and Guidelines for our Virtual Listening Circle: Our virtual listening circle is a sacred space to support you to feel safe and trust that you can share deeply. What would support you to feel safe?

Our Virtual Listening Circle is a way of being together and thinking together in a safe, non-judgmental space. It is an invitation to:

* Be aware of our feelings and reveal our deepest truth.

* Honor the thoughts, feelings and experiences of other people while keeping our heart and mind open.

* Respect as an active (not passive) process of understanding that we are surrounded by teachers, meaning we can learn from others.

* Understand that everyone’s perspective is equally valued and honored; there is no right and wrong.

* Co-create a heart-to-heart connection built on respect and trust

* Explore equality. Outside the circle we may experience people having different levels of power (based on social status or position) but in our circle everyone is equal and has something to offer.

I Will Not Abandon You

My tipping point came last week after learning about the killing of 3 police officers in New Orleans, which had followed very shortly after the murder of five police officers in Dallas. Now we are killing the people that society has set up to keep us ‘safe’! I felt a deep and ancient fear and anxiety rumbling within. I wondered if others felt this tremblement de terre – this inner earthquake.

My heart aches from the pain inflicted on others, as well as experienced by the individuals who acted out their fear in a murderous rampage. In some ways I should not be surprised by the desperate​ calls for help by those who are lost, confused and outraged. And our culture, sadly, through the media, technology and the greed for profits and an illusionary moment of recognition, validation or ‘fame’ makes access to weapons they can tote around irrationally easy. We are all responsible to be the change we want to see.

“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

My inner earthquake was part of a shift in my own consciousness and a shift that I believe is part of our collective human consciousness. In my grieving for the loss of humanity in my communities and in our world I am being called to do more.

I can and must do better to reach out and be part of re-building the village.

I called a co-conspirator, Iden Campbell McCollum, with whom I have worked before on community building projects. We announced and have been carrying out free Listening To Orlando gatherings via teleconference. These have been a powerful source of connection, strength and inspiration for everyone on the calls. I feel closer to Iden then ever. We have created two safe, virtual spaces (one for the LGBTQI constituency and another for allies to LGBTQI) where we can get un-numb from the tragedies du jour and especially from the glaringly targeted murder of 49 mostly Latino LGBTQI. Does it matter to me that I live 2.5 hours from Orlando? Maybe. More importantly, my close connections with Iden and an array of oppressed constituencies – including some of my own identities, has inspired me. Feel globally, think rationally, act locally.

The other action I jut took as a privileged white woman was to go to my first NAACP (National Association of the Advancement of Colored People) community meeting. It started off well with prayers for unity in a standing room only space of over 300 people. Then a gentleman 15 feet from me had what appeared to be a heart attack. All the attention in the room shifted to him. He was unconscious and not breathing. It seemed like a long time until he was revived by police officers, followed by the EMTs. He was wheeled away on a stretcher with gratitude and applause. There was a palpable regaining of our breath in the room and a reminder of the life and death nature of this meeting. The bottom line was that the predominantly African-American community where the meeting took place was understandably outraged at their mistreatment by law enforcement officers, policies and procedures. And I witnessed a good white woman who happens to be the chief of police acting out her racism. And I will not be silent. I will not collude with her racism and with the institutionalized mistreatment of human beings. For me mental health advocacy encompasses ending all forms of oppression, of people hurting people. Any act to end any form of oppression is an act to end all forms of oppression and it is an essential part of the struggle to transform society.

I will not abandon the chief.

I have learned from my mistakes because people had the integrity and the courage to correct me – to point out my oppressive attitude, comments or actions. I have had some experience, as well, of correcting the oppressive attitudes and actions of others. Now it is time for me to step out of my comfort zone in a bigger way. It is more important then ever to not abandon each other, but rather to lift each other. I will not abandon the chief of police. I will offer to be her ally – and respectfully support her to see how her actions and words created a barrier to community building. First, I will take the time to be clear in my thinking and my analysis of the dynamics that transpired. This way I will be able to genuine, and relaxedly reach for her humanity.

I will thank her for the strengths she brought to the meeting. She started her presentation to the audience speaking from her heart. She shared her family lineage as a 4th generation police officer and why she became a cop. Her visits to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and the civil rights museum in Tennessee where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated helped fuel her commitment to human and civil rights and to be an agent of change in the new era of ‘community policing.’ Beautiful.

I plan to ask her if she noticed a point when the energy in the room shifted. I saw it and wonder what she observed. I saw the audience grow increasingly impatient, humiliated and insulted. Community members were not asked about their ideas for solutions. They were told how they should come to two different monthly law enforcement focused meetings and make improvements to police policies and procedures. They were encouraged to submit an application to become a police officer – how wonderful it is to police your neighborhood where you have established relationships.

Oh my!! White privilege and power reared its ugly head.

In my humble opinion the audience was not treated with dignity and respect and was not asked to be an equal partner in exploring solutions. This is not rocket science. Community building which includes changing attitudes is the hardest work I have ever done. To be done well I think it takes such a profound desire for change and learning that one needs to be willing to be unrecognizable to ones self. The process is rich with personal complexities, curious inquiry and forgiveness of self and others. I put a lot of my time and resource into being honest with who I am, my motivations, my blind side, and being in a space of genuine compassion so I can sensitively, respectfully engage in dialogue with people who look and/or act different from myself.

It is important both for me as a person interrupting oppression, and for the person acting in oppressive ways, to be allowed to share our thinking and feelings and understand that we will all make mistakes in this process and that we will get better at it.

Please share your insights and lessons learned from community building so we can all be lifted higher.

* * * * *

LISTENING TO ORLANDO: SIX FREE TELE-GATHERINGS

The purpose of these tele-gatherings are to get un-numb by giving people a space to have a voice, speak from their heart, be heard, validated and respected. The gatherings also provide a safe and compassionate space which serves as a contradiction to the hardness of the world we live in.

“Orlando reminded me just how vulnerable we remain as a community. With all of our recent accomplishments, we are still openly vulnerable to those who want to do us harm. May we stay strong, united, and vigilant.” — Iden ​Campbell McCollum

“Forty-nine individuals were celebrating the beauty of their lives when they were brutally murdered. Their deaths are a call for truth, reconciliation, forgiveness, peace, and the development of inclusive next steps that advance the safety and respect for everyone that are so desperately needed in our communities today.” — Lauren Spiro

Call (Toll #) 712-432-0375, PIN 1029243#

LISTENING TO ORLANDO CALLS FOR LGBTQI

August 2 & 9, 2016 (Tuesdays) from 10:30am – 12pm ET

Join as many times as you would like.

Co-facilitators: Iden ​Campbell McCollum and Lauren Spiro

LISTENING TO ORLANDO: CALLS FOR ALLIES OF LGBTQI

July 30, 2016 (Saturday) from 10:30am – 12pm ET

August 11, 2016 (Thursday) from 8:00pm – 9:30pm ET

Co-facilitators: Lauren Spiro and Rita Cronise

“The person you love has a lot of suffering and has not had a chance to be listened to.”
Thich Nhat Hanh


​Principled and Loving Support: The Greatest Gift We Can Give

ByLAUREN SPIRO

Though this story is true and still unfolding the name of my friend, “Dakota,” or “D,” is fictitious.

D called a few days ago and said “I am calling you because I sent you a letter and a package. I wanted to talk to you before you got them because by the time you get them I will be dead.” This was said in a calm but hesitatingly thoughtful voice. A voice that is certain of what needs to be said but is not easily spoken. I have known D for many years. And separate from that I am familiar with this tone and the emotion behind it. I hope everyone is familiar with that tone — that ask for help.

I asked what was going on. D had attempted suicide a few days ago and remained in the hospital due to medical complications from the suicide attempt. I listened. I told D how much I cared and was ready to come and get D if that was what D wanted and D could live in my guest bedroom for as long as D wanted. D would think about it.

It’s been a few days since I made that offer to D – an offer I have never before made to anyone. I have clarified for myself the intent of my offer. I will soon share my intent with D, and writing this now is my effort to clarify my intentions:

I am not so interested in putting a band-aid on your wound, although I do believe a band-aid can help you get to tomorrow — and maybe the week after or the month after. I have seen too much suffering in my life — Your suffering and the suffering of countless others. I am learning that suffering is a cycle that only ends when you decide to end it. Just to be crystal clear, I speak of ending suffering, not of ending your life.

I decided that I want to do what I can to end your suffering because I intend to live my life without regrets. That means I want to show you how much I care and love you, and want to know that you have the big life you want and deserve – and you need to fight or struggle a little bit more to “know” that you already have it. I want to help you see it.

What this means to me – and this is a negotiation, I am not dictating, I am clarifying as best I can what I think makes sense at this point in time — I want you to get your things in order so that you can move into my home for as long as you need. Our work will take – my guess – at least 2 months, maybe more.

I want us to practice meditation daily – the power of which is something we are both familiar with. Perhaps, more important than meditation is learning to see beyond the illusion that we are taught to think of as the life we are living. We are taught, from our earliest age, so many hard lessons. We are not the sum of the hurtful, oppressive lessons sprinkled with a little fun and some successes. We are, as an international women’s liberation leader once told a group of us at a workshop, “basket cases with some strengths.” So you, the reader, don’t misunderstand I will translate that by saying – We (every human being) are deeply wounded but have tremendous capacity.

My inside work for the past 26 years has been to get underneath what I was taught and to see who I was born to be. My birthright is still being revealed to me and discovered by me. It’s an unfolding process. I was reminded of this process and what it means to me right now while walking on the beach this morning – just a couple hours ago. I was thinking of D and the work that lay before us if D agrees to come and live with me. I became aware that something else, deeper, was transpiring within my life. I listened more closely to my heart. I have learned that when I stop the chatter in my head (sometimes referred to as thinking) a deeper message is typically revealed.

My mind turned to today’s date: 7-3-16. The numbers added together equal 26. As silly as it may sound I have found that often when I have a deeper message trying to be realized and I look at the date – it is related to something profound from my past. I instantly knew what the 26th meant. The only regret I have in my almost 60 years of living is what I said to my father. On May 26,1971 I told my father who was in the deepest stage of a coma what the neurosurgeons said was the best we could hope for if he survived. I was 14 and had not yet learned the grace of holding hope for another. Two days later my father passed and the world as I knew it ended.

I don’t want any more regrets in my life and I don’t want D to continue suffering. And I don’t want to feel like I didn’t do enough, like I didn’t show my love and respect of D enough. The offer to D is to work equally with me and this work is not easy. It is, however, the most important work I have ever done. To explore and do emotional release work around these intentions:

1. To reconnect with our birthright – however we uniquely define it. Who were you born to be?

2. To understand and heal from the impact of the hurt, trauma and oppressive messages we were taught about ourselves and about our place in the world. What happened to you and how did you internalize those messages? How do those messages (or lessons learned) impact your relationships and your life today? How do you want your life to look? How can you get there? What practices support your healing, your liberation?

3. To find liberation – freedom from ego and from the dramatizing of unhealed hurts that pervade the dense dimension of life on this planet (e.g., the violence, destruction of the environment, war, suffering, etc). What would your liberation look like? What would your liberation feel like? If you could be anyone you wanted and do anything you wanted – what would that be?

4. To embody inner peace and co-create global peace. I know that is important work for you and it is for me. How sweet the journey is. Know that you are never alone and that separation is an illusion. We are all deeply connected whether we know it or not. What affects one affects all no matter how subtle.

The instant I sat down at my desk after my walk on the beach – and one minute before beginning to write this piece I decided to text D. I pushed 3 letters on my cell phone when a text from D arrived, “Good Morning” and a few other medical pleasantries. While I wrote the piece, above, we exchanged some texts which with D’s permission I have copied below.

LS: I started texting you when your text popped up. I’ve been thinking a lot about you.
Please do not attempt to end your life until you’ve given life a complete chance to blossom.
I understand dark. I’ve been through plenty of them but I assure you the light at the end of the tunnel is more extraordinary than you imagine.

So let’s talk when you feel ready. No urgency, no hurry. Life unfolds perfectly.
There is a deep reason why I invited you to come and live with me. And at the right time we will talk about that.
Namaste
D: the last three nights have been hard. making it through the dark night alone. I am thankful you have remained in my life even when I have run away.
LS: I am always here for you. Please let that into your bones
D: I have, it’s just hard to accept and feel worthy.
LS: I believe a major part – Perhaps the most important lesson – you need to learn is that you matter, you are and always have been worthy. And you don’t have to do anything in particular in your life to be worthy and to matter.

You can drive a bus for the rest of your life and be just as worthy and matter just as much to me.

When I needed to clean toilets at the women’s homeless shelter which I ran it helped me to learn this lesson.

We have much work to do – you and I together and we have all the time we need to do it
D: Thank you.

I am preparing for discharge. Going home with a catheter.
LS: The instant your text came through the sky opened up. It is pouring!!!!

Happy Discharge

D: it thundered and lightening last night here!

LS: I love thunder, lightening. Such enormous power being shared, demonstrated

D loved the blog. I told D I had one more point to add and that I would send it to D before sending the blog to be posted.

The point I want to add is: Please let us know who the main support people are at this crisis point in time.

When you (anyone) survive a suicide attempt and you tell me (or anyone) – “This is confidential” please share at least one or two key names of those who know about the current crisis situation. This is vitally important, thoughtful and caring for those of us ‘in the trenches’ with you so we are able to share our experiences and put our best thinking together in order to both get support for ourselves and to optimize our thoughtfulness about how we might be a support to the suicide attempt survivor or to a person in crisis.

The following has nothing to do with D. It has to do with supporting the supporters by sharing the names (formally or informally) of the key support people around you at the time of crisis – before if possible – and allowing support to happen by trusting those supporters to think well of you and to do the right thing. The right thing, in all instances is to include the person in distress to the full extent possible in all decision making. The intent is to optimize the ability of the person in distress to make the best decision at the time and to know he or she is fully supported, heard, seen and loved and that together we will get through this.

Next I share lessons learned with the help of support people and refer to the person in crisis as Nancy. Knowing the main supporters in Nancy’s life at the time of her crisis helped me and others survive Nancy’s altered state, which was an extremely stressful time for many of us. We supporters formed an informal network primarily for ourselves. It also allowed us to think well about how we could offer Nancy support during the infrequent occasions that she actually communicated with one of us. The details of how this unfolded were nothing less than extraordinary and I fear that conveying the lessons learned very briefly and not giving much detail will diminish the point I am trying to make and understate the profound impact it had on me and others. Nevertheless – here is the short scoop.

At first there was no support network but as the events of Nancy’s suddenly tumultuous life unfolded we learned about each other and needed assistance to get through the nightmare. I had many 1-2 hour late night phone calls with one supporter in particular whom I was not close to when the crisis began. Today I consider her one of my closest friends – because of what we shared on those late night calls and what we went through supporting someone we loved as best as we possible could.

The bottom line was that about 10 of us formed an informal support network including a few of Nancy’s family members. The family members had very different opinions of what was needed and what the problem was compared to the mental health advocates who made up slightly more than half of the support network. We all connected on an individual basis and as the crisis endured we connected as a group via email and eventually via teleconferences. We did a lot of listening to each other and supporting each other. The advocates shared our different – holistic and self-determination — perspectives, always in a respectful manner even when family members were not able to hear our point. I and at least one other supporter had private conversations individually with most of the family members. After listening to them vent their fears and frustrations and thoughts about what needed to be done in the name of “treatment” (forced) and validating their concerns, I shared with them lessons I have learned from my experience being in altered states. They had never heard such information and found it quite thought provoking. It contradicted everything they had ever heard and understood about “mental illness.” It seemed that the family members became more patient and understanding as they learned more about the peer/advocate perspective. And all — or almost all — of the advocates in the support network were persons the family members had heard about previously from Nancy.

The perfect ending occurred. As Nancy came out of the altered state and out of crisis she joined the emails and the teleconferences. Nancy expressed deep appreciation for the strong network that was formed around her. She delighted in having been the reason it was formed. I believe that without this network there was a very good chance that Nancy would not be alive today. I am proud of the love we cultivated and the enduring deep, healing connections that were made during that time, and that continue today.

Healing Voices Movie: Let’s Change the Conversation

Healing Voices, a feature-length documentary to be released globally on April 29, 2016, explores the experiences commonly labeled as psychosis through the real life stories of three people working to overcome extreme mental states and integrate these experiences into their lives in a meaningful way. The film includes commentary from experts in the field, including award-winning journalist Robert Whitaker; psychologist and social critic Dr. Bruce Levine; internationally known mental health consultant Will Hall, who has lived experience of a mental health condition; Dr. Marius Romme, a founder of the Hearing Voices movement; and others.

Healing Voices takes a giant step forward in the effort to transform mental health care across the U.S. This process of transformation can be traced back to 1969, when the seeds of a civil and human rights movement by and for individuals diagnosed with mental health conditions were planted in the U.S. by people with the lived experience of mental health recovery. Those seeds have taken root and are flourishing worldwide.

For 40 years I have worked full time along with thousands of other people to bring about a shift in community thinking about mental health liberation.

Decades ago, as a teenager, I suddenly found myself one evening in conversation with God. At the time I did not believe in God so this was a startling event. I found myself catapulted into an altered state of consciousness. My senses became overloaded with information and I had a vision: I needed to get to the President of the United States and be part of creating safe and healthy communities.

The next day I was put in a mental institution and labeled with chronic schizophrenia. My family and I were told that there was no hope for recovery, for a meaningful life in the community; I would always be on psychiatric drugs and in and out of mental institutions.

The experts were wrong. It took me many years and a lot of soul searching, grieving, forgiving and coming to understand the impact of trauma and oppression to learn that there was never anything wrong with me. Instead of a diagnosis, I needed compassion and supporters who believed that my mind had not gone anywhere and that I simply needed assistance to move from monologue (where I was stuck in my own thoughts) to dialogue. Had the intervention been different I would never have needed to be imprisoned and forcibly drugged for 15 months.

I have no regrets. Fast forward 35 years and I found myself at the White House engaged in mental health policy development. People with lived experience of mental health recovery, like myself, had formed the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery (NCMHR) and I was their first director. The mission of the NCMHR is to ensure that individuals with lived experience of a mental health condition “have a major voice in the development and implementation of health care, mental health, and social policies at the state and national levels, empowering people to recover and lead a full life in the community.” My job included educating Congress and senior administration officials about changes needed in our mental health system to make this community inclusion a reality.

Those changes are happening. The grass roots are blossoming and this film is a watershed example of that. The invitation is to open our hearts and our minds and look at the possibilities. Was my “schizophrenia” madness or was it a vision?

The Healing Voices movie is a one-of-a-kind social action event. It will bring together a virtual global community of individuals, groups, and organizations dedicated to promoting awareness and creating action around the critical social issue of emotional wellness and mental health.

Healing Voices invites us to rethink our cultural understanding of mental health problems. It is a catalyst to reframe what we have learned about "mental health problems." It gives us a broader understanding of the depth of human experience.

People can and do recover from even the most severe mental health challenges. Their lives aren’t broken. Alternative approaches to supporting people through emotional crisis have proven to be highly effective. Social action films such as this one have made a significant impact on social consciousness and preceded social action. This is our intention – and you can be part of it.

Together, let’s change the conversation.

TAKE ACTION!

Healing Voices is more than a film; it is the manifestation of a movement. Each of us plays a role in creating inclusive, compassionate, healthy communities. By taking social action, we can all become the healing voice.

The goal of the film is to move viewers into specific actions by providing them with ideas, opportunities, and resources for follow-up discussion. These could be personal actions, community action, financial action, or political action.

Many people who see the film may be hearing new information that can be a lot to take in. Dialogue following the movie is an opportunity to process what we’ve learned and to discuss the questions raised by the film. The movie event will be a safe space where differing points of view may be shared in a healthy, nonjudgmental, compassionate way.

It is an honor to have lived long enough to contribute to the shift in consciousness that is part of this transformation. There is much work still to be done to create safe, strength-based, healthy communities where everyone is respected and included in the fabric of society.

"Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed" – Cesar Chavez, American civil rights activist

Join us for the Healing Voices Documentary – April 29, 2016 in Southwest Florida

7pm at Unity of Sarasota Sanctuary; For more information contact 941-955-3301.

11am at Venice Holistic Community Center; For more information contact 703-862-6512

Both movie showings are followed by facilitated dialogue.

Movie Trailer http://healingvoicesmovie.com/healing-voices-4-29-16/

Correcting Dan Rather

"We cannot eliminate a mental illness, but we can diminish it to deter mass gun violence”, said Dan Rather.

Dan Rather said other horrendous things that were printed in the paper as well. They were quotes from a talk he gave recently.

Below is my letter to the editor of the paper that published the 1/2 page Dan Rather article. It appears that the paper is not going to publish my submission – so I will. Please feel free to use all or some of it in your work, disseminate it; let’s spread truth far and wide.

To the editor:

“Rather Talks Mental Health, Homelessness” (12/26/15) makes numerous excellent points about practical resources and supports – such as housing and jobs – that allow people with mental health conditions to live successfully in the community.

Unfortunately, Dan Rather made erroneous comments about a presumed connection between mass gun violence and mental illness; and the Gondolier published this false information, which further propagates the myth.

For the facts, read an article by Congressman Paul Tonko (NY-20), “Why Equating Mental Illness With Violence Harms Us All,” in which he correctly states that “study after study has shown that there is no connection between those with mental illness and violence.” Similarly, an extensive new study published in the American Journal of Public Health by two Vanderbilt University researchers “challenges common assumptions about gun violence and mental illness that often emerge in the aftermath of mass shootings.”

Blaming an already marginalized group of people unjustly reinforces the widespread prejudice and discrimination faced by people with mental health diagnoses. This uninformed, fear-based, knee-jerk reaction to tragedies that can be traced directly to the lack of sensible gun control legislation. Such false preconceptions contribute to community exclusion and create barriers for people trying to work toward recovery.

As you plan future community dialogues, I strongly urge that people with lived experience of mental health conditions be on the panel. There are many of us, locally and nationally, who would be pleased to deepen the conversation.

Submitted by:

Lauren Spiro

Former Director, National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery

20 August, 2015 19:21

Ignite – My Story in 5 Minutes with 20 Background Slides

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ypSVaftSTos

​ (The numbers below, correspond to the slides being projected; the beauty of the slides does not come through in the video. Let me know if you would a copy of the PPT slides.)​

1.My name is Lauren Spiro and I am happy to share with you a bit about myjourney of transformation.

2-3. First, I want to take a moment to appreciate the larger cultural context of my life & say that when I look at the distribution of wealth & the exploitation of resources on this planet I am humbled. I was born into privilege, in a working class/middle class family where

everything looked so pleasant on the outside but on the inside I felt like I was living in a war zone.

4. I experienced such a profound lack of safety that it led to my clinging to anyone who offered a safe harbor or anything that could numb the pain.

5 By the age of 16 the irrationality of my life and of the world led to my experiencing a spiritual emergency. In an heroic act of integrity my mind desperately reached for the authentic Lauren in an attempt to find meaning and purpose in my life.

6 -7 I needed help to move from monologue to dialogue but instead I gotlocked up in a mental institution, put on psych drugs and labeled with chronic schizophrenia. As you might imagine this made my life a little more confusing.

8. Now I want to share the 5 most important lessons I learned that helped me transform my own consciousness.

8 Lesson 1. Someone whom I deeply respected told me there was never anything wrong with me. It took me a long time to wrap my mind around that concept. It meant understanding the larger social context of my spiritual emergency which required that I understand the impact of trauma and the dynamics of oppression.

9 -10 Lesson 2. Another person whom I deeply respected told me “I believe in you”.

No one had ever told that before and it felt really good to hear those words and believe them. I realized, however, that I needed to believe in me. What would your life look like if you believed completely in yourself?

11-13 Lesson 3. Letting go & becoming unrecognizable to myself

What happened was – a completely unexpected spiritual blanket came over me while I stood by the pond at Auschwitz and said “something happened here”; meaning right here and somehow it was related to me. Before I returned to that pond 1 year later I did a lot of emotional release work – opening up as wide as I could and letting go of rage and fear. I did a lot of grieving for my people and all people killed by oppression and war.

14-18 Lesson 4. The wisdom of the heart

Last year when I returned to the pond and the Healing From War workshop my support group leader said to me “You found them”. I immediately felt some pressure next to my heart and a few seconds later my mind realized what my heart (and body) already knew – that I had found my family buried in that pond. This lesson left me feeling profoundly connected to my people, to all people who ever lived, are living and will live.

19-20 Lesson 5. Listening to my heart lead me home to my soul.

What I know to be true is my experience. The process of transforming my consciousness came through my heart and my body (not my thinking brain). Listening deeply taught me that my heart knows what is true before the mind does. When I engage in inner war, struggle or suffering I don’t know where home is. When I embody inner peace, I know that home everywhere I go.

In summary – my spiritual emergency was in fact my minds attempt to re-connect with my soul . Thank you for listening.​

11 July, 2015 14:35

Dialogues as a Way of Transforming Consciousness: Results from Three Teleconference Dialogues of Discovery held in 2015

Introduction: Why facilitate dialogues?

Dialogues are an effective process in bridging an illusionary divide. Any group anywhere can follow a dialogue format and propose questions for inquiry and reflection. Dialogues are relatively easy to convene and they typically result in participants establishing deep connections with one another, having new insights and enhancing one’s knowledge and skills about how to be or work in partnership with others.

I have been convening dialogues with people who have been labeled with a mental health condition as well as with those who have not in a way that invites transforming consciousness. Convening people of different perspectives or cultures to explore our thinking and our wisdom creates sparks of insight that ignite new thinking and moves us beyond our cultural conditioning.

In this safe and open space we discover how to move beyond cultural constraints and understand how we are more deeply connected than we may have realized. We evolve forward as we begin to see new synergies for creating elegant solution to the opportunities we face. The opportunities themselves become invitations to expand our minds and tap into a new fertile ground of unlimited possibilities.

My journey of recovery and liberation has led me to deeply embody inner peace and find that I am drawn to create peace in relationships and in community and, in turn, to create global peace. My intention is to support others on their journeys to inner peace, harmony, joy and being creative stewards of humanity. I am finding that the more my heart is aligned with my highest vision the more I am able to transform wisdom into action.

Although the series of dialogues summarized here was primarily but not exclusively comprised of “mental health” service recipients subsequent dialogues have been mostly with broad community participation and “mental health” services users were in the minority. Everyone is impacted by the forces to conform to how our society defines “normal”, whether we are aware of it or not. The impact is typically a suppression of emotions, a reluctance to getting close with people particularly people of a cultural background different from ourselves and a sense of being confined by conventional thinking. In addition, our culture thrives on the illusion of separation and competition. How safe are we to be our authentic self? How safe are we to reach out to others from our heart?

The overall outcome of the dialogues – as participants stated – was a sense of connectedness around the human and spiritual qualities we share. Many spoke about the desire for deeper connections, for support and for a sense of belonging in community.

Summary Findings

What participants said about the Dialogues of Discovery:

¨ We change each other easier than we think. Being on this call and hearing other peoples’ heart-felt exploration is changing and expanding me in ways I never expected! I really appreciate it.

¨ I see the truth of who we are and we are not our diagnoses. There is not a disorder in me but a gift… to use as blessings for the world. I appreciate the opportunity for all of us to come together and share our authentic self.

¨ I loved the variety of voices from all over the country!

¨ I learned so much about not only listening, but hearing…The comments were enlightening.

¨ The dialogue enabled me to look deeper into myself to see who I am and who I can be.

¨ I found deeper connections related to relationships. Appreciated the many different ways of looking at emotions, spirit, soul – and seeing the common thread that runs throughout all the different perspectives.

The series of three free dialogues was advertized via email. All dialogues were open to anyone who wanted to join. The process for each of the three ninety minute teleconference dialogues was the same. After brief introductions of all participants, the dialogue approach was explained, and then we had a participatory process to establish a safe space. People expressed what would help them feel comfortable sharing, many people spoke about what they needed to feel safe and not judged so people could speak honestly and an agreement was made to maintain confidentiality. Since we could not see each other, we used a telephone “talking stick” meaning one person at a time had an opportunity to share their thinking regarding the topic of the dialogue. The teleconference dialogues were held one month apart in January, February and March of 2015. The topics were, respectively:

1. Who were you born to be?

2. Exploring the relationship between emotions and the soul.

3. What is your life’s purpose and how are you embodying that day-to-day?

One hundred and ten people registered for the dialogues and approximately 45 people participated in at least one dialogue. Approximately 30% of the participants of each dialogue responded to an anonymous evaluation. The following is an aggregate summary of the three dialogues as reported by participants.

The vast majority of participants reported that the dialogues were valuable and that as a result of the dialogue, something changed for them or they will do something differently. For example responses included:

¨ I will speak with more love and positiveness.

¨ I will look beyond what I am not and focus on who I can be as a man and as an active, contributing member of society.

¨ I will be real and authentic with others and more open to giving and receiving love.

¨ Other people’s words helped me find focus and vocabulary for ideas that I had floating around in my head.

¨ Increase my belief and value of healing happening in relationship versus alone.

The vast majority of participants reported that they felt safe on the dialogue.

Ninety-five percent of respondents reported an interest in participating in future virtual learning opportunities. They shared ideas for topics of interest.

¨ Peer Support and how it is different than friendship.

¨ Life changes – how to handle them; discovering yourself

¨ Strengths of recovery. Learning language to communicate with providers

¨ What brings you joy? What does freedom mean to you?

¨ Time management; how to shore self up doing peer work; burnout; needing peer support myself, yet being seen as someone who only provides it… dealing with difficult emotions and self sabotage

¨ Balance and Harmony in one’s life

¨ What is peace?

¨ Confidence

¨ Competence

¨ Ways to achieve better harmony, balance, and health in the communities in which I live.

¨ Peer interaction for individuals who have, are or are considering getting off psych meds. A place to discuss experiences and hope.

¨ What really helps me change or succeed?

¨ What guides us in our lives and why… What ways have we found to connect with ourselves and others on a deeper level

Most respondents were interested in being part of an ongoing virtual community. They shared what they would want from it:

¨ Emotional support

¨ Learn from others by exploration and discussion on relevant topics

¨ Having access to support where I could speak honestly

¨ Rich sharing, inspiration, deeper integration of new answers to these vital life questions

The dialogue format created a space for participants to have an inner dialogue (intrapersonal) more than an external (interpersonal) dialogue. The process encouraged participants to get in touch with their inner wisdom by observing the interaction of their own mind and their emotions and to focus more on listening and not be distracted by feeling a need to respond to what was said or to question what someone shared. The sense of safety may have been enhanced by understanding that whatever someone said would not be questioned by others in the virtual circle. Many of us discovered that when we open our hearts and listen deeply we change each other easily.

For more information email laurenspiro1 or visit https://laurenspiro.wordpress.com/calendar/ for dialogue-like offerings

17 February, 2015 14:10

Simple Steps to Transforming Consciousness and Moving Beyond Cultural Constraints

Since stepping down as the director of the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery in mid-2014 I find myself being called to bridge an illusionary divide. I am bringing together people who have been labeled with a mental health condition and those who have not in a way that invites transforming consciousness. Convening people of different perspectives to explore our thinking and our wisdom creates sparks of insight that ignite new thinking and moves us beyond our cultural constraints.

In this safe and open space we discover that we are more deeply connected than we may have realized. We evolve forward as we begin to see new possibilities and synergies for creating solutions to the challenges we face. The challenges themselves become invitations to expand our minds and tap into a new fertile ground of unlimited possibilities.

My journey of recovery and liberation – a deeply transforming experience – has led me to embody inner peace and find that I am drawn to create peace in relationships and in community and, in turn, to create global peace. My intention is to support others on their journeys to inner peace, harmony, joy and being creative stewards of humanity. I am finding that the more my heart is aligned with my highest vision the more I am able to transform wisdom into action.

In January, 2015 I facilitated a series of three in-person Dialogues of Discovery, held one week apart. The dialogues were open to any woman who wanted to join any one or more of them. I decided to hold the first series with women only to increase the chance of creating a safe space to share their authentic voice. Each dialogue had a question. Dialogue 1: Who are you? Who were you born to be? We explored who we are beneath our social mask, roles, ego & attachments. Dialogue 2: What is the relationship between our emotions and our soul? What is your essence and how do you express it? The group agreed that our emotions are a pathway to the soul. Dialogue 3: Envisioning and creating the world you want. What is your life’s mission and how are you embodying that day to day? Some of us shared our personal mission statement and all of us shared the steps we are taking to create the world or the life we want.

To begin each dialogue I shared some brief thoughts and then opened the circle for personal reflection, investigation and sharing. To open the 3rd dialogue I read from the poet Kabir: “Do I experience myself as a light in this world? Do I operate from this premise? When I set sail in the morning for a day at sea, is this the wind that propels me?”

Ann Potter gave permission to share her personal mission statement which she prepared for Dialogue #3, To be awake to my life during the good, the bad and the ugly. And to not harden in my awakeness but to soften into it continually. Each dialogue was filled with sharing of emotion, thoughts and spiritual beliefs.

All dialogue participants wanted to continue our investigation, deepen our connections and include younger women so we may broaden the sharing of diverse perspectives and build bridges. All dialogue participants agreed to our next step which is a half-day retreat in February 2015 titled “Expressing Your Essence: Sharing our Collective Wisdom” and it will include women across a broad age span.

The same three in-person Dialogue of Discovery topics discussed above are currently being held in a teleconference format. The first one (Who were you born to be?) was held Jan 27, 2015 and here is what people said about it.

We change each other easier than we think. Being on this call and hearing other peoples’ heart-felt exploration is changing and expanding me in ways I never expected! I really appreciate it. – Margaret, New York

I see the truth of who we are and we are not our diagnoses. There is not a disorder in me but a gift… to use as blessings for the world. I appreciate the opportunity for all of us to come together and share our authentic self. – Julia Robles Scott, California

Tele-dialogue #1 began with brief introductions of all participants, then the features of dialogue were explained, after which we had a participatory process to establish a safe space. People expressed what would make them feel comfortable sharing, many people spoke about what they needed to feel safe and not judged so people could speak honestly and an agreement was made to maintain confidentiality. Then everyone had an opportunity to share their thinking regarding the question Who were you born to be? Since we couldn’t see each other one person at a time spoke as we went around the virtual circle.

Twenty-four people from across the U.S. participated. Eleven people responded to an anonymous survey emailed out immediately after the dialogue and some samples of their responses are below. A large majority answered all questions positively and also expressed an interest in more tele-dialogues.

In response to the question Was the dialogue valuable? If yes, how?

  • An exercise in listening deeply. Exposure to others’ paths. Witness to a process of bringing "strangers" together in a framework of safety and support to share at whatever level they desire.
  • I always enjoy learning from others people perspectives, and experiencing connection with people on their unique journeys.

In response to the question As a result of the dialogue, will you do something differently?

  • Increase my belief and value of healing happening in relationship versus alone.
  • I will try to be more open to giving and receiving love like some people mentioned.

In response to the question Areyouinterested in more teleconferencedialogues? If yes, what topics would you like to explore, individual comments included:

  • What brings you joy? What does freedom mean to you?
  • Time management; how to shore self up doing peer work; burnout; needing peer support myself, yet being seen as someone who only provides it… dealing with difficult emotions and self sabotage…
  • Balance and Harmony in ones life
  • Confidence
  • Competence

In response to the question Are you interested in being part of an ongoing virtual community that addresses topics like this dialogue? If yes, what would want from it, individual comments included:

  • Having access to support where I could open up and talk about things
  • Learn from others
  • Ways to achieve better harmony, balance, and health in the communities in which I live
  • Peer interaction for individuals who have, are or are considering getting off psych meds. A place to discuss experiences and hope.

The teleconference Dialoguesof Discovery to Share Our Collective Wisdom: Think, Listen and

Share are free* and open to everyone. I am learning that indeed small and simple steps may lead to transforming consciousness and moving beyond cultural constraints

REGISTER FOR DIALOGUE #2
What is the Relationship Between Our Emotions and Our Soul?

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/dialogues-of-discovery-2-what-is-the-relationship-between-our-emotions-and-our-soul-registration-14891711510

Tuesday, February 24, 2015 from 3:00 PM to 4:30 PM (EST)

REGISTER FOR DIALOGUE #3
Envisioning and Creating the World You Want

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/dialogues-of-discovery-3-envisioning-and-creating-the-world-you-want-registration-14891732573
Tuesday, March 24, 2015 from 3:00 PM to 4:30 PM (EDT)

*To join the Dialogues, click the links above, which will register you for each session and provide a conference number and access code in the confirmation email. This is not a toll-free number.If you do not have free long-distance service, a nominal charge may apply. Check with your phone service provider for applicable rates to the 605 area code.


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.