Netika: Hawah, thank you so much for you time; really, really excited to have you here. As part of kind of an opening into all the conversation let's start by touching upon your travels. Very early on you said your travels inspired and informed your thought processes on peace, on common unity amongst different people. I'm wondering if you could share travel stories through your personal and actual journey; when you were traveling in India or West Africa? Could you share some of those stories with us?
Hawah: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. I'm really honored to be on this call. I feel so much gratitude for this space that Awakin has been creating, and continues to maintain for these important conversations and dialogues. It's really so inspiring. Thank you for having me today to share some of my story.
Traveling, it's been by far the one piece of my life that has allowed me to continue to reassess, to reevaluate, and to gain new perspective of my place in the world. The things we've been talking about in terms of compassion, and sustainability, and the global health of the planet; I think so much of that is made possible through us recognizing our interconnectedness, and inter-dependency.
From a young age I was really blessed to have been given a lot of opportunity to travel outside of the United States. I was born in the U.S., but from a young age, before I could even walk, I was on a plane to go and spend time in India. Mumbai, in particular, where I have some extended family that lives. As a child, growing up, every 2 or 3 years my family was pretty intent on having myself and my sister make these trips over to India where we would have a chance to really see the diversity of culture, and the landscape of the different economic and situational environments that people live in. Traveling backing and forth between those 2 areas, from New Jersey, a suburban town in New Jersey that was middle-class, sort of, middle-class home, to going to Mumbai where I'd spend 2 or 3 months.
This was in the early 80's when my grandparents didn't even have any running water for more than 2 hours a day. There wasn't electricity. There's no refrigerator. There was no different types of juices in the refrigerator. I remember taking these trips back and forth and always being just so confused and perplexed as to how people one plane ride away could be living such different lives. It never made sense to me too, the economic inequality, the amount of difference in terms of what people experience in these 2 different part of the world -- being there in Mumbai.
On a previous trip we took, as a gift, to some of my cousins, we gave them a bottle of Hershey's chocolate syrup. You know the kind of chocolate syrup that you put on that vanilla ice cream, or you throw into your milk for chocolate milk. We'd brought that bottle of Hershey's chocolate syrup there about 2 years, or 3 years earlier. That was maybe in second grade when we had taken it there. I had gotten back there about 2 or 3 years later. There are 2 rooms, they're basically like 2 bedrooms the size of 10 or 12x12. There's about 12 people, 13 people that live in these 2 bedrooms. When I would go there I would sleep on the floor, concrete floor, next to my other cousins and uncles.
One of the first evenings I'd gotten there, I was surprised, they took out this bottle of Hershey's syrup. Without even thinking, I see the Hershey's syrup and my eyes light up. I take the Hershey's syrup, thinking, "Wow, great I love Hershey's syrup." It was a fresh cup of cows milk from probably around the corner; where you go and you pick up the cows milk, and you bring it back in a plastic bag. I had a cup of milk. I started pouring the Hershey's syrup into the cup. I squeezed the bottle with my fingers, and the chocolate syrup's dropping into the cup. I look up, and I see everybody's eyes get really big. Everybody's eyes are turning really huge. I'm like, "What's going on? Why is everybody looking at me funny?" I'm just sitting there pouring the chocolate syrup into the cup.
My mom grabs my hand and she's like, "Stop!" She pulls the syrup out of my hand. My memory's a little obscure at this point, but I just remember them saying, "Wow that's a lot of chocolate syrup you just put into that cup." All I was thinking was ... I didn't recognize or know that that was the same bottle of chocolate syrup that I had brought with me as gift 2 or 3 years earlier. I was just under the impression that it was some different bottle of chocolate syrup. They take the chocolate syrup and everybody else gets literally a drop of Hershey's chocolate syrup in each of their glasses. I kind of watch that, and then they kind of pour some of the milk out of my cup. They kind of distribute it again through these other 6 glasses. I'm like, "Wow. Wow." They've been stretching this bottle of chocolate syrup for now almost 3 years. Taking a drop of 2 into their glasses; just to enjoy a little flavor from a far away land that we had brought as a gift. We are conditioned to just do what we to. You take some chocolate syrup and you throw it in your glass, and you mix it up, and you drink it. That was so eye-opening to me.
Seeing my grandfather eating out of his plate the Thali with the edges on the side to have the cup one inch lipped to them so you can have the dal in there. You can mix it in with the rice without it spilling off the plate. To watch him eat; he's eating and eating and then with his fingers get every last grain of rice off of that Thali, every grain of rice. He'd pour water into the Thali, into the plate, and he'd mix that water around with his fingers and hands, and then he'd drink the water; then the plate was clean. That was the dish washing technique.
Going back to the U.S., and literally the first week back in the U.S. I'm back into the first week of school and I'm in the cafeteria. Here we are at lunch and I'm watching friends throw plates of food into the trash. French fries and all this food, it's not half-eaten food, being put into the trash. I'm like, "What? How is this even possible?" Why is it that in one part of the world, a 20 hour plane ride away, is such a difference in relation to food and resources, and how we use things and waste things. From a young age my mind was blown by that experience.
You're talking about traveling, and I think about some of my cousins here in the U.S. that were born a little bit later than I was and that did not have that opportunity like I did. My parents were really adamant that I had those experiences, for whatever reason. Some people that I know now that didn't have that experience of travelling, I've noticed may not be as grateful for what they do experience here in the U.S. A lot of that gratitude I think comes through the opportunity of seeing the wide range of perspectives and circumstances that people around the world have.
Traveling for me has always become a means to greater understanding, to greater compassion, to relating to others, being open to changing myself, and really looking at my own life in a hard way. Why am I doing the things I do? How's what I'm doing affecting these other people in the world? I think that just created a really strong sense of also responsibility in my life; really feeling that my time here ... I'm so privileged to have been born in the U.S. where a lot people around the world would do anything for that opportunity.
Netika: What a wonderful story to share. Thank you so much. I'm curious, you so beautifully brought out how that sparked a sense of responsibility in your heart of doing something to address this kind of disparity. The disparity not only between countries, but even within countries is so marked. Here, I understand in the U.S., we have 62 people who have more wealth than the bottom 3.5 billion people. Statistics like that just gets down to me. We have a greater disparity, especially in the community that you work with. I'm curious to find out and for you to share, if you could, any specific, not just stories, but workshops and ideas where you've used art, music, yoga, dialogue, as a way to bridge this gap within these local communities?
Hawah: That's a really great string of conversation to be had around that idea. There's a few things that I've found really important in the processing of the different ways all of us move in the world and how people from different economic backgrounds, and racial backgrounds, and religious backgrounds, and backgrounds of sexual identity can still come together and once again see, recognize, and be one with our humanity. Right? I think in terms of using art and having workshop space, having intentional time to dig beneath the surface of the stereotypes, is one of the most important pieces of this work that we need to do.
What we'd mentioned really early when we were starting this call was how in Silicon Valley the focus on STEM education is so great. I think equally, there needs to be an importance placed on the cultivation of our ability to see one another's humanity again; to move past the images and to move past the surface and really dive into the deep stories that uniquely make all of us who we are today. Finding compassion for someone requires taking the time to listen and to hear their story, and really being open to knowing that everyone on this planet does have a really unique story that has, for whatever reason, brought them to where they are today. I think the work of unraveling, and dissecting, and then understanding one of those stories; it does require a lot of intentional time.
I've been really fortunate to have been able to bring groups of people together from different backgrounds to be together and share stores, and to sing together, or make a group poem with each other, or a group painting; ways to connect with each other to see that ultimately a lot of the emotions, and the behaviors, and the feelings that we have are all arising from the same sort of cloth of human existence. We all have fears, and we all have desires and wants. We all have hopes and aspirations. When we can start connecting with each other in those really intentional spaces of trusting, conversation, and dialogue; the boundaries begin to dissolve. As the boundaries dissolve we really can begin to have compassion for each other, but also to work really vigorously to help assure that everybody is able to enjoy being on this planet.
In India, for example, 2 friends and I organized an inter-faith, peace-building, tour through the arts. We toured about 13 cities through India, Pakistan, and Kashmir, bringing Muslims and Hindus together from across various neighborhood lines, and community lines. We brought people together at cultural art centers and universities. We were touring with other musicians, and putting on concerts. They were promoting peace between Muslims and Hindus, and really reconciliation and just deep dialogue around all of the various historical narratives that sort of underpin the current conflicts. Conflicts today are often really associated to the past. Once we can start letting go of the baggage of the past we can start moving into the now, and seeing now as being a really fertile place for friendship and harmony, and what does that look like. That can only happen when people are willing to come together to dialogue and talk.
That was an example of really using our efforts through the arts, in particular. Music -- it's a language that all people can speak. You don't even have to know how to speak French to hear modern day French hip-hop and really connect to it. Even if you can't speak French you can feel it; especially when it's positive and conscious. You can feel that running through you. I think it's really important that we're creating those spaces at every place that we can to bridge the gap with art and music; to help us once again see our humanity.
Netika: I love how you call upon art and music as a bridge. Especially when you talk about dissolving boundaries; as soon as we focus on what's common as a shared humanity. That's so true. Even through our DNA we are almost common through our DNA; the .1% of DNA that is different. Once the boundaries start to dissolve, we really start seeing each other as people. I really like that. I also want to call upon your work through the documentary film called, Fly By Light, which follows the experience of a select group of youth who have participated in the program facilitated by your organization, One Common Unity. If you could talk a little bit about that capture of the journey of those young people, and the possibilities that they can envision as a different future for themselves, and not repeat the cycle of poverty and violence that they've seen, but to really experientially understand the different future and design for themselves a different future of peace, of love, of harmony.
Hawah: Yeah. Definitely. This new documentary film is really the culmination of the past 4 years of positive youth development work in DC that we've been doing through a flagship program that we call, Fly By Light. It's a youth development program that focuses on arts empowerment, compassionate communication, non-violent social justice, and environmental stewardship.
Though this youth program inner-city teenagers get the opportunity to spend a year with us and travel, literally travel, internally travel and externally travel out of the city. We take them into national parks where they get to spend time in nature, unplugged from their cell phones, unplugged from technology. Most importantly, getting them out of these neighborhoods that often we don't get out of. Back to the earlier conversation -- how important traveling is. So many of the young people that we work with, they've never even left and gone further than 30 miles outside of Washington DC. Their lives are sort of pigeonholed within the same 20 block radius for their entire teenage lives. You begin to get really stuck into patterns.
Those of us that meditate, we understand how important it is that we can break patterns. To break the condition of the mind often requires taking ourselves to deeper new places. That can be through traveling. That could also just be through sitting, and really sitting sometimes through what would be pain or what would be discomfort; really sitting and being in new situations. That's hard for people, to go through something that's different than what they're used to. The idea of being in comfort is, I think, what is a natural human craving. It's almost against natural instinct to make ourselves uncomfortable. It' also an essential part of our conscious evolution as individuals and personalities that are growing in the world.
The young people that we work with, in particular, they have the opportunity, through our program, to do a really deep dive into our own sense of purpose. Why are you here on this planet? How are you connected to the current state of the planet, and the destiny of the planet? How do you relate to the racism that you see taking place; everything from police brutality, to environmental racism, to homelessness, to poverty, to domestic violence? Our youth, they through a series of workshops they're conversing, they're dialoguing, they're learning about the issues in the world that are most adversely affecting their lives. They're taking the opportunity to critically think about solutions and how they can be leaders to create real tangible change in their communities. That of course always begins by beginning to change their own behavior, and cultivating their own compassion for themselves and for their immediate friends and family.
The Fly By Light program is what the movie was named after. The documentary film was done by a dear friend of mine. Her name is Ellie Walton; she's the director of the film. I'd asked her about 4 years ago if she'd be willing to document this pilot program that we were launching though One Common Unity, which is a non-profit organization that I co-founded about 15 years ago. She agreed and she spend the next 3 years following myself and some of the young people in our program to see really what kind of change happens when you're pushed to such extremes.
We push our kids hard. We work our kids hard. We challenge them and we love them, which is often hard for people. If you've never been loved your whole life, and now all of a sudden you're surrounded by these upbeat adults that are unconditionally caring for you and loving you, that's hard too. It might sound counter-intuitive, but if you've never experienced love, then you know what I'm saying. To be loved his hard. To have these facilitators embrace you in the light, and embrace you unconditionally, and support your growth, and wanting nothing but for you to succeed; that's transformational in and of itself.
A lot of people ask me, "What's the best part of your curriculum? What's the the thing that you do that's different and unique?" I think we do fill a really important niche between bridging the gap between art and emotional literacy and social justice and non-violence. To me the most revolutionary thing we do is the most simple thing we do -- caring and kindness. It's the first rule, that trumps everything we do. That's the most important thing we can provide to a young person, is that unconditional love and the trust. When somebody believes in you; when somebody believes that you can do something, you all of a sudden begin to believe in yourself.
That's what happens to a lot of the youth in our programs. Yeah, our curriculum dynamic, it's innovative, it's very different than what you find in a traditional academic setting. It addresses the heart. It addresses rites of passages. It really comes down to making someone feel like they have purpose. Actually, more than making someone feel like they have purpose, helping someone realize that they have purpose. Realizing that your life is meaningful, that your life is valuable; that is really powerful.
Netika: Hawah, you're also known as a spoken word poet -- evolutionary. I'm kind of putting you on the spot here, but would love it if you could share some of your spoken word?
Hawah: You did put me on the spot. I like that. Okay, let's see. I'll just do a few verses of a poem ...
The clouds cannot hold us. Descending clear and translucent as rain we pour. Music as blood from our veins beats drop as wild flamingo crane. The Amazon, Euphrates, Ganges, and Lee these river flow through our arteries, they are the pulse of our dreams. And as our egos recede the forest will regrow to once again interlace the dragon terrace, rice fields, and water buffalo. For in their time, we are sown. Our bones are the coral reefs. Our lungs are the rain forest. Our lives are the message.
Know this, we are ascending. The dirt cannot keep up in ground. The soil will not prevent us from breaking the speak of sound. Even within gravity we cannot be bound while we are descended. Sun rays and moonbeams which cut through the night. We are born of stardust and turtle eggs hatching when the season is right. We are the source. The roots of the tree digging deep. Calloused hands, holding axes, could not chop down the mightiest of our ancient peaks. Let us climb them. Cast the pearls back into the ocean so to know our mother again. No longer needing to strangle beauty around our necks. The future is in our hands. And if it's not okay it's not the end. If it's not okay it's not the end. Because no matter how far away it may seem, or how lost we may be; the light will always reach us and love will always find us. Love will find us. Love will find us.
Netika: Damn. That was beautiful. I got goose-bumps listening to this. That was awesome, awesome. I'm so curious, you have this huge creativity side, and then you're also executive director of your organization. You deal with administrative stuff. You deal with budgets. You deal with grants. Tell me, what's challenging in balancing all of this?
Hawah: I'm laughing because I don't do anything really great. That's something that I'm really trying to come to terms with in my own life. I do do a lot of things; however, all of those things are being compromised because I'm doing too many things. I don't get to play music like I love to. I would love to just play my flute and play my drums, and write songs, and tour, and make music full time. I would love that to just be what I do. That's not what I just do which means I'm not as crafted and skilled of a musician and artist as I'd love to be. I don't write poetry and do spoken word like I used to. If we were talking 7 or 8 years ago, I could have ripped 10 poems off the top of my head without even thinking. I'm not performing as a spoken word artist, like I used to 7 or 8 years ago. I only have so much time.
I'm also not the best executive director as I could be. I'm not an organizational development specialist. I'm doing my best as an executive director, but I'm also trying to rewrite what it means to be an executive director as well. As we grow as a non-profit, my job is to surround myself with people that are so much more talented and smarter than I am, which I've been doing. I'm so lucky to have a team around me that's phenomenal; that I refer to do and defer to for a lot of everything. It's almost like at this point, I fee like a lot of my role is to surround myself with just great people; to help make this work move forward so we can create greater impact in our community, in the world at large.
In a lot of ways you're speaking to something that I've been struggling with personally for a number of years. I wish I could just write books, and paint, and make music as an artist, because I am a creative soul. What I've been doing to fill that gap is, over the past 3 years especially, I've been doing a really deep dive with building this organization and building the infrastructure for the organization; which has caused me to sacrifice my time as an artist, and even as a teacher. I used to teach regularly. I used to run and teach in a lot of our own youth programs. I consciously a few years ago, I had to make the decision to be like, "Okay, I'm no longer going to be teaching at these 3 schools because I need to use my time to really build this non-profit organization so that we can create wider impact." Now instead of working directly with youth I'm actually training our trainers, I'm training our facilitators so that they can succeed in working with schools. I can't be at all 10 or 12 schools that we're in.
Part of my spirit really misses it. I miss teaching as regularly as I used to. I miss being able to make art as much a I used to. The way that I kind of fill that gap is, I'm just using this as my latest creative project. Right now it's a game to me as well, partly, going in ... If you ever have to manage a team of 12 or 14 people you know what I mean. There's an art to that. There's a creativity to that -- to connection, and relationship, and helping to bring out the best in people around you. I'm just king of using this as my new creative outlet. I do hope sometime soon I can really get back to just making more music and drumming.
I love making films. That's why this new move is really, it's been one of the joys of the past few years of my work has been in creating this film with amazing other people that have been helping in production and editing, and just all the work, and story boarding. This has been such a nice, creative project in my life. We just finished the movie. We just finished it and released it about 6 months ago. I'm making ends meet, but back to what I said originally, I'm not really great at anything I do. I think I just do ... They've got a saying that, "A jack of all trades is a master of none." I think that suits me pretty well right now. I do have a love though for the fact that I'm able to have fun doing what I do.
Netika: That's wonderful.
Hawah: I love what I do, and that's the most important thing.
Netika: I think the passion and purpose comes through so clearly in your work. It's so wonderful to hear you reframe your challenges as a co-creation process and finding creativity in doing that work and really being part of a team. I really like that reframe. For those listening in, we've explored so many aspects of what Hawah's done. An additional aspect is that he is a yoga practitioner, a teacher, and also Vipassana meditator. Curious how all of these contemplative practices help you stay grounded, help you stay focus, help you balance all of these aspects of who you are and bring in your life?
Hawah: Back in '98, '99, 2000, all the way up to about 2002, I was a real fierce activist. Right around the time of Iraq War I was living here in Washington DC. I was helping to organize a lot of the massive protests against the IMF and The World Bank. I was arrested on multiple occasions for my work as an activist. Back in 2001 we were protesting the prison industrial complex and the inherent racism within the prison industrial complex here in the U.S. A lot of my time through my last couple years of college to my first few years out of college were spent as an organizer and activist. I guess I still consider myself an activist. An activist in the way that I'm speaking of back then, was somebody that took to the streets. I took to the streets a lot in protest. What I observed a lot, and what I witnessed a lot was a lot of animosity and a lot of hatred; almost responding to violence with, and maybe it wasn't violence necessarily physical violence, but still responding to it from a sense of anger. That never really sat completely with my spirit.
I took a little sojourn to India back in 2002. I went there for about a year and a half. That's when I really dove deep into my yoga training. I lived in ashrams throughout India. I was studying to be a Brahmachari. I was actually considering taking vows and taking the life of a monk. I was really in this deep space of soul searching. That's where I was introduced to Vipassana for the first time. Up in Dharamsala, there's a center up there past McLeod Ganj, near where the Dalai Lama has his own home. I did my first course up there back in 2000, I think it was 2003. It was a long time ago. It was transformational. It anchored me with what I knew in my heart was my own purpose in being, which is compassion.
After becoming a yoga teacher, and after really embracing the teaching I really recognized that as important as that work as an activist was, that wasn't my way, that wasn't the way I wanted to express myself in the world. I wanted to express myself though proactive solutions instead of reactive. I didn't want to react to things. I didn't want to react. I felt like protesting was a lot of reacting. I wanted the work I did to be proactive. To me, the most proactive thing I could think of at that time was to work with children and work with teaching the next generation; because who knows how many lives those youth are going to touch and who knows what kind of jobs they're going to be in. That became my form of activism.
The meditation and the yoga has always served, for me it served as my own way to remain anchored, strong, healthy; because I'm no good to the world if I'm not healthy. I'm no good to the world if I'm not balanced; if I don't have myself together. My own personal practice is what I always, always, always, defer to. I practice everyday. I don't let a day go by without practicing. If that means it's 10 minutes, it's 10 minutes. I practice everyday. It's the most sacred thing that I have in my life is my practice.
Going back to even what I spoke earlier about, it might seem that I'm good a lot of different things, but I really don't think I'm great at any of them. As a yoga teacher too, I used to teach yoga a lot more. I used to teach regular weekly classes, and workshops, and retreats. My work has really become, really become overwhelmed in a lot of ways by the work of One Common Unity. I'm not teaching yoga even as much as I used to. I think I've kind of, I've lost some of that magic that I used to have. When you're teaching more regularly, you really have that opportunity to really just keep getting better at that one thing, and I'm not doing that as much right now. In terms of my own personal life, that's one thing I will never let go of, is my personal practice.
I do teach weekly meditation classes in Washington DC. I am working on a series of podcasts right now that are meditation mixed with Dharma talk and really connecting with service and Seva, to the work of building healthy communities, to meditation. I'm working on some ways to keep trying to advocate for meditation and yoga as a was to create real transformation within people. For me, it's how I connect all the dots. It's how I balance and juggle everything, I think, is my practice.
Audrey: We have comment from Sarah in Indiana: "Have you heard of the Bahithat's work with junior youth groups all over the world on giving service to their communities while transforming themselves for the better?" I think, in addition to the Bahithat's work, I think, it sounds like for you, you've kind of seen a lot of different traditions. I'm curious, what have you noticed in working with so many different groups, in terms of the relationship between service and community transformation with personal, inner transformation?
Hawah: I think, and I've definitely heard of the the Bahá'í Faith, I'm not really familiar with the youth outreach work that they're doing. I'm very excited to hear about it right now. I'll probably look it up after the call's over to try to verse myself a little bit more on what is happening. I think that's beautiful.
I think we're seeing a trend, and hopefully an elevation of consciousness right now, that's really helping us connect the dots around our own survival. When I say survival I mean individual survival and collective survival, survival of the species. I think there's a misnomer that really needs to be taken off it's pedestal and that's that survival mentality, the idea that competition is this force that drives species survival. We think sometimes of ourselves individually as islands that there is some more application to that idea. I think collectively when we think of the state of ourselves as humans, and also of other life forms on the planet that are equally important and that have as much value and purpose as any human life, I think it's important that we really understand that cooperation is really the pinnacle of our conscious evolution.
When we can really start beginning to embrace cooperation as the means for species survival, and not just human species but all species are equally entitled to be here on this planet, then there's going to be as seismic shift in how we move trough this world. Hopefully there will be a seismic shift on how how design our social, political, and economic systems which are all inherently flawed and broken because they operate under the premise of competition. As long as these systems are embracing competition as a framework for organizing, it's inherently just flawed and going to leave us in a place of deficit as a species.
For me, I see there's a trend, of course. A lot of that is expedited through the rise of technology and faster means of communication. There's more and more of us that really interested in seeing these new systems created. I'm hoping that those that are a part of leadership and building these movements are really thinking hard about dismantling and recreating what does exist, because what does exist is not sustainable. Everything that we're hearing is not enough. We've got to be thinking a lot more deeper about these issues than we are. I think in general it takes a big leap of faith and courage right now, on our part, to usher in a world that really is going to be able to exist into the long future.
Audrey: Thank you. Rita sends in the next question: "When you invite people in with art as a medium to possibly difficult discussions, do you find that the art shifts people's mental space? Are they willing to engage differently because of it? Can you talk about that and give an example?"
Hawah: I do. I do. I think sometimes we spend so much time in our heads. We're almost trained that way. School and traditional academic settings are all about just the brain and the head and teaching to the head. Art is really powerful because it really originates from this deep space in the heart. The heart becomes this sort of channel and this means to creatively express deep with even in the subconscious. Those that meditate, you understand a deep part of the work we do is diving and connecting the conscious with the subconscious.
I think when we are moving people through art therapy and music therapy, they are accessing really deep traumas. They're accessing really deep seeded emotions and fears that we can't get to when we're just moving and trying to address only the head. If it's too academic it's almost preventative of accessing those really deep spaces of subconscious awareness. Those spaces of subconscious awareness are really ultimately responsible for a lot of our behavior. Until we can bridge those gaps we're going to be constantly wondering why we're not succeeding. Art to me, does provide that.
I've seen it happen over and over again in workshops. Instead of going right into dialogue, and you know we do a lot of work in circles, before even trying to dive into asking questions about how you're feeling, or what's been going on in your life, or what are some challenges you're trying to overcome; we just spend 10 or 15 minutes in a sound circle making organic sounds, and music, and rhythm together. That helps to just loosen the body. It helps to loosen the mind. It helps to prepare one to come to a place of sharing because sometimes we just try to go straight to it. Sometimes we spend 20 or 30 minutes creating space for group painting or sand mandalas. After that the conversation is much more rich. The dialogue is much more intentional. It's much more free too. I think that one actually, the art often when it proceeds the heady work, it makes the heady work, it makes the academic work that much more rich. It makes it that much more impactful and tangible.
Netika: Absolutely. I couldn't agree more on that one. I participated in a community singing exercise and workshop in a group setting where a lot of the group members had reached a point in the dialogue process where it was getting a bit heated, and so we took a break. We got someone in who does community singing. Just through sound, through community singing he walked us through that whole ... I can't even call it an exercise. It was just a creative process. Intellectually in our heads, each of us had very conflicting positions, but through the whole community singing process we actually created something that was harmonious. That kind of dramatically opened up so many doors for us. Then when we went back to the whole dialogue process, it was a completely different conversation. Big, big, big ups to all creative processes that open up hidden doors that we can talk into.
Audrey: Hawah is there a moment that stands out to you when you've seen that happen?
Hawah: There's so many moments. I think most all of our work is rooted in that kind of pedagogy. There's so many. I think just like what we were saying, the sound circles, that lead into a discussion or dialogue. That's really what makes the magic happen.
Amy: Good morning everybody. I'm Amy, from California. Very happy to be sitting here with everybody. Uncanny parallels between the speaking and myself so I'm just taking pages of notes over here. All your pearls of wisdom, thank you so much for that. I also do outreach with children in developing nations, and I'm also a yoga teacher, and I'm also from Washington DC. Maybe you're my lost cousin. It's really trippy. Just last night, I think at 9pm, I signed up for this conference call. You know how there are no coincidences in the the world. I think this is mean to be, all these parallel and so on. A couple questions, one is a personal question and one is a professional question. Which one do you want first?
Hawah: Let's go personal.
Amy: Okay the personal. How do you support yourself? When we're done, I'm going to look at your website and so on. What is the typical day in your life look like?
Hawah: Great questions. Thanks long-lost cousin. I appreciate that. It's great to meet you here on this call. I've been for years and years I've been supporting myself as a speaker, as an educator. I've done a lot of speaking on national circuits, Congressional Youth Leadership Conferences, People to People International. I'd often go in as a guest presenter, or workshop leader, facilitator. Teaching yoga, weekend workshops, retreats, these have all been a lot of the means for which I've been supporting myself and making ends meet. I also live a very simple life. I try not to acquire too many things. My place is really minimal, and I don't have a lot of huge expenses in my life. It makes all that pretty easy at the moment to just live simply and not require a lot.
More recently, in the past year and a half, I've for the first time ever started to draw a salary from the work as a non-profit leader. Being executive director of One Common Unity, for the past 13 years prior, it's always been just the love of my heart and the work out of passion and purpose. More recently as an organization and as a board, the board actually really has been pushing that this becomes a real position; especially because we're thinking about sustainability and growth that's put into a budget that foundations and funders can support. I've easily put in probably about 50 hours a week on my work at One Common Unity. So I do draw a salary now on which I make everything kind of come together. Which is another reason why I don't do as much teaching anymore. I still can work gigs that I used to go and do and used to earn income from. I'm not doing that as much because right now a lot of my work is on Organizational Development, and building this work through One Common Unity.
And my typical day? Three days out of the week I'm up by 7 in the morning and I go straight to my kung-fu practice. My teacher is from China. He's about 65 years old. I've been practicing with him now for about 7 or 8 years. I study Tai Chi, Liuhebafa, Shaolin, and Baguazhang. Three days out of the week I arrive there by about 7:30 in the morning and I'm there until about 9:30 in the morning. I spend about 2 hours training and practicing kung-fu. From there I go straight to the office, and I'm at the office by about 10.
I'm working in the office. I'm in meetings pretty much in and out of the day. I'm going to meet with principals. I'm going to do site visits. I'm going to visit our programs and our facilitators, and watching them at work; meetings around fundraising, things like that. By the end of the day it might be 6 or 7, I don't spend the whole day in office. I'm often in and out of the office all day. I might go in for a couple hours and leave again. We've got about 10 or 11 kind of staff right now, in the office. There's a pretty big team there that's constantly working around the clock over there.
Then I come home and some point, and make some food, or just kind of get some down time. By the evening again I'm normally working on some creative project. I love making music so I might get together with some friends and make some music. In the evenings, I've been really trying to preserve my evenings for myself more and more. I've also been finding more and more we've got film screenings everywhere. I teach meditation class on Wednesday nights now. I don't really even have that many more evenings left. I might 3 or 4 evenings a week that are just mine.
Otherwise, I'm typically at an event, doing a dialogue after one of our film screenings, or I'm supporting somebody else, a fundraisers somebody else is holding. Going to help them and just kind of lending my support. I'm out a lot in the community. That's a typical day when I'm in Washington DC. I'm probably travelling out of the city, I'm probably travelling out out DC at least one week, maybe sometimes 10 or 11 day out of the month I'm on the road. The road is again with the work, with film screenings, and performances, and speaking gigs.
Amy: Please come to San Francisco. You're a very busy person and all that productivity is amazing. Congratulations on your success. You deserve a paycheck, absolutely.
Hawah: I also don't own a television. I have not owned a television for 15 years. I love Netflix. I love turning off. A good superhero movie comes out, I'm there at the theater. When it's championship time in the NBA I'm watching with friends, but I don't have a TV. A lot of the time just coming home and sitting on the couch and turning on a TV; I don't really have that time in my life because I don't have cable. I don't have a TV. If I'm going to sit to watch something, it's going to be a movie. That's got to be, "I'm really tired. I've been working for days. I just kind of want to watch something that's going to make me laugh or get me out of my routine." I think that's where I preserve a lot of time too is not owning a television.
Amy: I'll make my second question brief. I do outreach in Southeast Asia, and television is a problem. Everybody has one. In these tiny traditional villages rather than sitting in circles and telling stories like they used to, everyone now has a TV. I find it hard to motivate children because they have a tendency to sit around the tube. I want to ask you about your greatest challenges with art and culture when you're on the road?
Hawah: This is one of the biggest things we're going to be talking more about in the coming years -- the amount of time people are glued to television and video games. It's so unreal and unnatural to me. I'm flabbergasted when I'm talking to some of our students and I know they get out of school at 3:15 they get home at 4, and they're literally playing video games until 10 at night. This is like everyday. That's not just here in the U.S.
I totally agree, anywhere you go in the world now, even remote villages, people are just glued to the television. For better or for worse, I think it poses huge challenges to everything we've been talking about. It's a huge challenge. It's almost an addiction, I think. It's an addiction that we're not talking about as a society, right? People are addicted to television, to movies, to video games. Almost like you start going though withdrawal, don't know how to go out and be in the world, and instead just stay in the home and stay glued to the television.
We're living our lives through other people's stories instead of creating our own stories. I think it's really dangerous to everything that I've been speaking about. It's counter-intuitive and productive towards helping us realize and recognize our humanity in a lot of ways. Given there is a lot of great television programming out there, and I just made a documentary film. I think that it can be used as a tool and a means to foster and unite people across boundaries, and nations, and cultures. I think it can only be done that way when people have awareness and will power. A lot of that will power people are not cultivating because they're sitting on their couch watching television.
It's bit of a chicken and egg thing right now too. It's a major challenge to the work we do, and I don't have an answer for you. I have no idea how to surmount it other than make whatever you do more interesting, and more fun, and visceral than television; so that whoever is there to experience it they're like, "Wow that was the greatest experience ever." You've got to make whatever you do better than television in real life and hope that that's going to get them to come back.
Anne: Hi Hawah, I'm calling from Mill Valley in the Bay Area. Thank you so much for your time and sharing so many personal stories. I had 2 questions I'd love to ask you. One -- what has surprised you in working with youth? What is a beautiful surprise? Secondly, I'd love for you to share and example of a group story when you're working with youth in an intentional circle, what does a group story look like?
Hawah: Those are really good questions, Anne. Boy. I think that after doing youth work for so many years, there's little that surprises me anymore from the work I do with young people. Sometimes what might surprise me is my own reactions to what young people do, and trying to check my own reactions. Sometimes my own reactions surprise me. I think there's so much here. I could talk for hours about this, and unpacking all these different stories I that I have of working with young people but ...
Anne: I'll share an example and I'm wondering if something just comes to mind for you. I've been working with youths in a beautiful wildlife sanctuary. To see the beautiful healing that happens between humans, and in my experience youths, with wild animals and just this beautiful space where children learn to really relax and be in nature, and heal, and be able to listen to a wild animal to hear their back story, but also to learn to be in the silence with the wild animal. One particular young man who was, I think he came to the sanctuary when he was 12, 11 or 12, now he's 14; he talks about his experience. When he arrived, he was suicidal. After spending time at the sanctuary, it was really a healing catalyst for him, and I asked him, "If you could share something with us as adults, what would it be?" He said, "Listen. Children just want to be listened to." It was so beautiful because it came from such sincerity, knowing him over these 3 years. That was a surprise in the sense of how deeply it touched me.
Hawah: That's a beautiful story. I love it. I think, for me, I have constantly been allowed to grow through the compassion of the young people I work with. I think oftentimes it's easy to think that this work is overwhelming. I think what has surprised me over and over again is that there's people that I work with are able to be just a patient with the process almost at times when you think that there is nothing left, and how long sometimes it takes for realization to take place.
Recently one of the young girls in our program had been really resistant. Not really willing to share, not really willing to be open to the point where wasn't really sure if or when there was ever going to be a breakthrough moment. We do these overnight retreats in the summertime. She came on our overnight retreat. It was like a 6 day retreat. While we're out there in the mountains I was really trying to be present with her as often as I could. Often times I'd be coming and asking how she was. She was really just kind of cold, and not wanting to engage, and turning the other way. That was kind of the experience we had for those entire 6 days. Then when we came back from the mountains and then a few weeks passed in the summer before the school year started. Then the school year started again and we came back into school.
When I see some of the teenagers I work with I give them hugs. It's not potentially considered the protocol, but I hug the kids I see when I see them. That's just kind of how I move with the young people. They seem to really respond to that and appreciate that. This young girl in particular, anytime I would try to hug her, or put my arm around her shoulder, console her, she was always really, really resistant. I was shocked because when we came back from that retreat, a couple weeks had passed and the school year had started. It was the first week of September. I walked into the school and I hadn't seen her. I was no longer teaching at that school so I was coming in to check in on the new facilitator and see how they were bonding with the group, and she saw me from across the room. She jumps up out of her chair. She ran over to me, wrapped her arms around my shoulders and gave me this huge hug.
I was glowing. I was smiling. I was shocked. I was blown away. All I could do was just hug her back. Here I was for months and months just trying to get her to open up. I don't know what shifted in the time from the retreat, to the couple week we had off, to her seeing me again, but she all the sudden had really shifted. Then, of course, what surprised me even more is that a couple months go by and she slowly moved back into her old patterns.
I'm just very intrigued by how we all develop as people and how we all go through our cycles. I guess that's the best way I can speak right now to your question around a time I was surprised or shocked by something happened. Also equally surprised too that a few months later she was kind of back to being cold again. I think this just kind of the ebbs and the flows of this work. It's not always easy. When you see our film, if you watch our Fly By Light movie, we don't sugar coat a painting of success. The Fly By Light movie is hard, and it's not a rosy picture at the end either because this work is really tough and it doesn't always go the way you want it to go. All we can do is plant the seeds and really hope they grow. That's all we can do.
Anne: That's beautiful.
Audrey: Thank you Anne for that great question. This call has gone by so quickly. To kind of finish off our Q&A, we just have one question on behalf of all of us. How can we be of service to you and your work Hawah? How can our ecosystem support you?
Hawah: Thank you. First of all I just really appreciate this opportunity to share and to be a part of this community. It's really such a gift, so thank you for this opportunity. For those that want to contribute and help this work grow, I would say you can go to onecommonunity.org to donate or check out Fly By Light to host a movie screening, or get my newest book, The Poetry of Yoga, which is an amazing anthology of mystical and transcendent poetry from authors people from around the world who speak of love, and compassion, and gratitude, and service. You can also find me on FaceBook or online. I'd love to see all of you in person one day and connect again. If you're ever in DC please look me up.
Netika: Hawah, thank you so much for your presence, for sharing your stories, your personal journey. It's touched and sparked so many conversations and thoughts. Thank you to those who asked questions and many others who shared their presence through listening. Thank you. I'm just going to read a note of gratitude from Cynthia, said, "Just want to express my gratitude to Awakin Team for one more amazing conversation, and my appreciation to you Hawah for your passion and purpose given in service to youth. I really enjoyed taking a look at One Common Unity website, especially the MLK Streets Project, as I used to work in Southeast DC on MLK Jr. Boulevard. I'm looking forward to watching your work evolve." We are very, very happy and grateful for having the opportunity to offer this space, to make the connections, and let the connections get forward magic in whichever ways possible. With the promise of work, and continued peace, and harmony, to our shared common humanity. Thank you all very much.
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