Originally Published June 23 at 5:05 PM
I’m working up to some big shares about my professional work. But before I do, it’s gonna get pretty personal first, so that you can fully appreciate the applications and implications of my work.
I’ve been aware for some years that my spiritual growth is inextricably related to my service as a designer of spaces and catalyst for sustainable community, so before I share about what I am in service to right now, I think we should catch up on what I’ve been doing to get to this point. The background story is pretty good, if you ask me, but I’m biased.
I grew up in what you might call a loveless home, steeped in anger and isolation. Those videos about plants being bullied vs appreciated give a nice visual representation of how different I felt from my childhood peers. Nowadays, I sometimes forget I am an adult and go back to feeling like a sad, brown, wilted leaf. On those days it’s hard to imagine anyone wants to hear what I have to say because I’m not green or lovely enough. There is a huge personal practice that I have created around remembering I have roots of my own and there are things to nourish my leaves all around. Most importantly, though, I also had to teach myself that I was worthy of good things; love, prosperity, and health used to be foreigners in the land of my being. Many people struggle in this same way but with a tiny family and no elders to guide me, I had a strong disability in the area of happiness.
I received an outstanding education in the best public schools in the United States. In these institutions I could count on one hand the number of Asian, Latin@, or African American students/teachers I knew from ages 5-17. I often joke about how my beat-up purple mini van looked next to the shiny BMWs in the high school parking lot. I got my first job the year I turned 15 and became financially independent. But, not enough to avoid being welcomed into adulthood a few years later with a staggering $113,000 in student debt.
Really, this was a childhood of neglect and abuse that I would wish on no one because I experienced none of the innocence, support, and joy a young human needs in order to flourish. However, I WAS given so many BEAUTIFUL opportunities and options to grow that I cannot and will not complain. I grew strong. Relentless. Bad ass. Fearless. And now that I have learned to give myself those elements I missed in my childhood, I AM free. But, it has been a long journey. 🙄
I remember my first conscious breath. It was in 2008, the year I graduated high school. I had been studying the writing of Thich Nhat Hanh and when my attempts to reconcile a relationship with my alcoholic father were refuted (again) I took a walk instead of returning his anger, and instead, I discovered the inner peace that lives inside me. As I moved across the threshold from my parent’s houses into a world I could call my own, I went on to return again and again to build a home for myself in that still place which dwells only in the present moment. When I touched peace inside myself, I found safety and security for the first time in my life. I also found communities of highly sensitive people who taught me to see beauty in clouds, to eat a clementine, to smile, and to let my smile rest with a dandelion when I couldn’t. I learned to be an artist of happiness as an act of rebellion against those who raised me to suffer.
During the last part of 2016 I did reach a breaking point though. That November, I lost my job, my home, and my significant other in a divine hell-fire of grief and emptiness. It was a LOT. But, I was ready. By that point I had been studying Buddhism and yoga for almost a decade, and my self-care game was at its peak. No small shout out could really do honor to the angels and goddesses who were present with me at this time. I had found purpose, love, and passion in Philly over those 8 years. Architecture school and my work in geodesign were enough to keep me rooted in a community where I was learning to build a sense of belonging with friends, festivals, and sanghas. The life I had built was beautiful, but, it turned out to be hollow.
For a long time, too, I had been wondering at how I was complicit in supporting a group of primarily old, rich white men 🏛️ who dedicated themselves to raking in corrupt money to throw at corrupt causes, terrorizing foreign countries, robbing children of quality education and their futures, ignoring the health of underprivileged communities, and systematically destroying lives based on ignorant and antiquated (i.e. racist) policies. All this to say that when Donnie took the presidential office, and on top of all that I lost my country, too, I was already seriously planning my escape. The year ended in uncertainty, grief, and tender hope for something better and different. And lots of magick. In the midst of despair I remember so much faith and light and a deep knowing that things were outside of my control and falling into perfect alignment.
I promised myself that by the winter of 2017, I would have a real home. I would live in a country whose government was less violent, respected nature, had a sense of community, and whose people shared a reverence for life. It wasn’t hard, either, to imagine myself moving on. I had the deep inner knowing that I wasn’t destined to stay and a felt sense that I was dying in Philadelphia. I could taste the capitalism in the food, my skin was crawling with the repressed emotion of the nameless people around me, my bones were aching with sorrow for the land which had been forgotten, raped, and whose children had been murdered, then forgotten. Literally, I couldn’t stop feeling these things.
I knew I was going to be running away from the people and place that needed me the most. But, I was in no position to help anyone as my highly sensitive being was slowly crumbling under the oppression of a broken political/socioeconomic system, massive debt, and very little chance to express my gifts.
So, I chose myself. I ran away. Maybe because of the selective nature of our Facebook relationship you thought it was capricious or romantic that I moved to Costa Rica and put down roots. My dearest and beloved ones know that this was an act of survival and service.
Actually, I was answering a long-heard call. This land called to me when I was still just an undergraduate, when I was in architecture school arriving at the conclusions that:
Good architecture must be somehow bigger than a well-designed building and must be worthy of the resources it consumes
I was insanely privileged to have access to my education and couldn’t just sit in an air conditioned office doing wall sections, I needed to give back
The unsustainable patterns of urbanization in developing- Latin America were my opportunity to offer global solutions to sustainability and resiliency of the human species
But I didn’t yet recognize the call of the land or understand what I would describe today as a return to right relationship with this land. I was disconnected from my spirit, which is the part of every human being that links us to the interconnected systems of this planet. So, I ignored the pull to the south and after I had my first professional degree, I moved to Spain instead.
I had to learn to hear my own inner voice before I could recognize the voice of the Earth. And that’s what I did on the countless solitary nights and afternoons in a foreign land where I stayed on my yoga mat in my sanctuary because I was afraid to go outside and open my mouth and speak, too fearful that I would make a mistake.🤐 All I had learned in architecture school, it seemed, was that I would always be criticized by my peers for following my inner guidance. In some ways, I was less prepared to contribute to the world than ever.
I got quiet. Really quiet. In meditation I went farther inside myself than I’d ever been, and I found alchemical gold. I watched the moon move across the sky and understood the meaning of true love. 🌛 I let my feet carry me up the side of a mountain and tested this internal guidance system I never knew I had. ⛰️ It worked. I followed it to healers, gathered power to myself, made friends with myself for the first time, and met angelic beings who showed me to myself.
When someone suggested I get a master’s degree, something inside told me it was the right time. My inner guidance was strong, it urged me to be the change in the world I wished to see, to get busy applying those three big realizations. I was tired of debates over sustainability theory and wanted to see these obviously better ways of being, designing, and building put into practice. I wanted to work with whole communities to rescue what they knew to be best for their land, uplifting humanity by reminding people of their connection to nature. People shouting facts about climate change and despairing about the fates of future generations only reminded me that it would be within my lifetime that these gruesome fates would come to pass, and that I was one of the many whose lives depend on us doing something about our unsustainable patterns of living.
As I moved back to Philly, studied geodesign and entered the corporate world, I was challenged to continue to follow that inner guidance. I struggled to maintain my integrity while striking a balance between suits/makeup and love/intuition. Only my passion for learning and purpose for being kept me sane.
The corporate machine offered me the choice to compromise my authenticity and achieve external power. I quickly learned it wouldn’t be possible to have both in that setting. My inner guidance was too strong to ignore now, I had become aware of a powerful force around me pushing me forward. I knew what work I was supposed to be doing, I just needed to find the right place to do it.
I found those who believed in me and indulged my revolutionary passion, and that’s what kept me in Philadelphia. But I couldn’t ignore my awareness that the whole world depends on the United States’ ability to change for the good. My inner voice kept urging me to move on, gather experience with ways of right living, and bring it back to this country which is starved for connection, health, and indigenous wisdom. I felt the insatiable need to hold the whole world in my loving arms; my practices of learning to love myself had opened me up to so much more.
In my battle against anxiety and depression (fully the result of living in the circumstances described above, not an imbalance that is “something wrong with me”) I learned how to feel compassion for the whole world, and then, for myself. As I learned that I could viscerally feel the suffering of the whole planet through simple meditations, I began to be able feel my own. Eventually, I began to heal. I realized that if I could hold my own suffering and still create happiness while honoring both, I could definitely use those same skills at the global scale to create true and much-needed change. These circumstances I’ve described as my story have led me down an internal path, and an external one. These intertwined journeys through despair, lack, isolation, sickness, hatred, injustice and empowerment have been my experience of sustainable personal development, a scalable process which I saw through my work at the United Nations and travel to dozens of countries, does translate to a global scale. We all have just one voice to use, one life to give, and it is our inner guidance which leads us to the technology, tools, and insights we need in order to do that.
I know how to end poverty, pollution, and war, all I needed was to find someone who would listen.
Five days after arriving in Costa Rica, I found someone. It’s what happened after that which I am most excited to share with you next, very soon.
💖💖💖 I welcome and receive your responses to this story and I invite you to share any hopeful, uplifting, supportive, inspired feelings it brought you. This message is for everyone. I embrace the darkness within and release it into the light. And so it is. 💖💖💖