About East Point Peace Academy
Founded in 2013, East Point is more than just a nonprofit organization. We are a community of practice and exploration, training and education, healing and resistance.
Our Principles Around Money & Giving
Founded in 2013, East Point is more than just a nonprofit organization. We are a community of practice and exploration, training and education, healing and resistance.
"The Shadow is not what we know about ourselves and don’t like
(or like but keep hidden)
but rather what we don’t know about ourselves
and, if accused of it,
would adamantly and sincerely deny."
― Bill Plotkins, Wild Mind
“What do you mean “Sorry, man”?! I’m tired of hearing “Sorry man”!! You’re wealthy and you don’t care about people like me. There’s money for the war but not the poor!”
These words whip Boston Chinatown’s warm and humid air in the street behind me - and I volte-face towards the Black male-presenting person in their forties who just spoke. My answer to their “Hey girl, you have a couple of bucks for me?” clearly awoke in them a fierce anger that is now scintillating in their eyes.
Standing face to face, our gazes are locked. Both our feet are firmly planted on the concrete pavement, shoulders apart. There is something intense about our confrontation. Another female-presenting walker stops nearby to listen, her mouth slightly open. As usual with anger, I feel something in my chest freeze. But something else, also, is awake and alert - listening.
“I have nothing, and you don’t care. Wealthy people like you don’t give a shit about people like me. There’s money for the war not the poor,” my interlocutor repeats, making large half-circles with their hands. A flicker fires out in my inner world. I keep listening without moving.
“They’re right,” a thought finally stands out among fifteen others in my brain. My attention lands for a second on the bag of Chinese stir-fry and Taiwanese dessert in my left hand. “I just spent $25 on this meal. I could easily have given at least half of it to a charity - or them.”
My chest tenses up, as a second part of me backlashes - “You just spent $25 because this is your birthday meal before you head up north!! You look like you don’t care, but you actually really do - your life revolves around social and climate justice! This person is guilt-tripping you to get what they need.” A back and forth ensues at the speed of light inside of me. My feet don’t move, however.
“Okay,” I say after a dozen more seconds of listening, letting my plastic bag fall on the top of a trashcan next to me. My two hands reach for my purse. "You have $20?" the person asks, guessing what I am about to do. “I’m a student,” I reply, my eyes and fingers searching inside of my wallet. “$10?” they ask. “I have $5” I say, finally looking up while handing them a bill. I cannot help but add “I care, you know. I’m an activist.” They nod and walk away, without a word. The other pedestrian who has been staring at us this whole time does, too. I’m left alone at a crossroad.
Unsure of what I’m feeling, apart from a vague sense of guilt and relief, I head back to my youth hostel, walking quickly between the tall, red-bricked buildings that are now bathing in smoggy, yellow sunset light. In my hostel’s common area, I find an isolated corner next to a window and hungrily start chewing on my food, which I pick with chopsticks from the to-go boxes.
Secretly, as thoughts keep bouncing around in my brain through the window, I wonder if the gooeyness of the sweet mango soaking in coconut milk will wash away, at least for now, the question of how whether what just happened is about to impulse a new momentum to my spending habits.
“Clearly, I could have felt validated in my self-perception to be “a person who cares” because I stopped, listened, and handed them $5 - even if I am not wealthy,” I catch myself thinking the following day while staring at endless forests through the train’s window that’s whizzing up to Maine. I am about to spend two weeks at the Possibility Alliance farm where Ethan, Sarah, and their two daughters, Etta and Isla, live without electricity, running water, and the internet. As I type these words on my computer, I cannot not think about what happened the day before.
“This person was right,” I reflect. “In that one moment, I was caring more about my birthday meal than the poor. I tried to help with that $5 bill. But I could also have validated their anger with a “I get that you’re angry, you have so many reasons to” - instead of justifying myself as an “activist.” Being an activist says nothing about how much I care about other people. Lots of activists are in it for egoistic reasons, and lots of non-activists care a LOT.” I pause. “Mmm. There must be something I need to learn about my life beyond this one incident,” I conclude.
After about a week spent reflecting and frankly still not feeling too good about what happened, I end up reaching the uncomfortable truth that - indeed - this person in Boston saw the part of me that cares more about spending money for my own pleasure than directing this money to help improve others’ well-being. It’s not the whole story of me, of course, as Internal Family System shows (highly recommended!) - but it is a pretty real one.
Beyond the fear, my love for personal transformation in service of social change was alive on that train as I sat with myself. And this love looked at me straight in the eyes - and asked me to change. Truth unveiled calls for change. That’s often the scariest part of it. Perhaps a reason why searching for truths about oneself is less popular than posting touched-up selfies on Instagram. (Okay yeah, that was a little snarky, I know. I’m human, too.)
Samir Patel once said that one of Gandhi’s strengths on his nonviolent path was his ability to change his behavior immediately once he figured out something to be true. Even if Gandhi can be a controversial, paradoxical bundle of contradictions and had clear privileges in the society he inhabited - and as such, more wiggle room to manifest his free will - Samir’s words have kept running through my mind up to this day.
So, did the claim that I don’t care for the poor - even if it sounded ‘not true’ - change me… and/or change my behavior per se? Yes, it did - and to a large extent, quite to my own surprise. Sitting with my reflections and emotions; staying with the subtle waves of resistance that arose; looking for the ‘kernel of truth’ in the statement I received (see David Burns’ Five Secrets); giving it space; talking with other people about it; reflecting on ways that I could integrate it in my life - and finally grappling with the truth of it all was enough for me to understand that I could not not change...
Read more about how this experience changed me here!
At first, donating to Black and Indigenous-led projects any money saved from not going out to eat nor buying carbon and slavery-hungry treats felt like mission impossible. Seriously. That is what I started doing, however, after Ethan from the Possibility Alliance suggested it a week after my encounter in Boston (see this post for context). “Do it out of love for Nature and Life,” he said. “Not out of guilt.” His words struck me, and the same night he and I talked, I dedicated one full page of my diary to the tracking of my Life-honoring donations to initiatives that I believe in.
A week later, in the train that took me down from the Possibility Alliance (picture above) to Vine & Fig on Manahoac Territory, VA, I stared into my wallet and wondered - how am I going to do this? My whole life needed to change. And that was both exciting and INCREDIBLY scary.
Being called out in Boston’s streets had not only cracked my heart opened to the truth that parts of me clearly didn’t care about the poor… spending two weeks on a self-sustaining farm with four goats, a garden, and twenty chickens that existed beautifully without electricity, internet, and running water had also shown me why.
A distinct spark of soulful hope scintillated in my large brown eyes reflected on the bus window, surrounded by Maine’s silver lakes. As I looked closer to my own face, I saw in my own gaze a quiet determination to curve my addiction to systemic oppression. The things I knew I was going to have to work with were day-to-day luxuries - avocadoes and chocolate; added sugars; computers and smartphones; social media; convenient to-go food; and all sorts of behaviors aimed to “be nice to myself and others” - and belong - survive even - in a culture that is ever-more reliant on carbon and exploitation for perennity.
Whizzing towards Boston, passing through small countryside towns, I was feeling my emotional heart open and close inside of me - a subtle movement of longing ascending and disappearing with the magnetism of my thoughts and the charge of my emotions.
Holding the subtle tension of my heart’s open doors was delicate work, I was conscious of that. This trembling, this back and forth had me wonder how much I would actually be able to reduce my participation in mainstream systems once away from the Possibility Alliance.
Cities are not made for humans - they are made for consumers. Mainstream culture’s priority is not human feelings - it’s financial flow. And consumption in cities requires at least a certain degree of disconnection, which is toxic to the soul. I wondered if I would be able to somewhat extract myself from this system. And if I did... how long would it last?
“We’ll take it day by day,” I started reasoning as the hours passed by and my body sunk heavier and heavier in the bus’s worn-out seat. “And see what happens.” A game plan slowly emerged as my fingers sent dozens of voice messages to my WhatsApp contacts, aided by Megabus’ unreliable Wi-Fi. These messages were telling my loved ones many tales and wonders about my stay at the Possibility Alliance - and letting them know that I was deleting WhatsApp.
My relationship to WhatsApp had always been a struggle. Owned by Facebook, a known funder of addictive technology, WhatsApp distracted me and fed the neurons in my brain that hated feeling pain - the world’s pain, my pain - a pain that was just too hard to feel without a grounded mind-body. I told my loved ones I would contact them in other ways - Signal, Skype, texting, letters - and asked for their mailing address and birthdate to send them cards. WhatsApp was out.
My only chance to sustain this massive heart-opening is to concentrate,
I realized. Concentrate. Concentrate.
To concentrate on each moment so that I can stay in touch with my intention and values.
To concentrate on what is happening in front of me to feel and process.
To slow down my mind and body enough to interrupt my lifelong automatisms.
To make space for the emotions that will arise as a result of this interruption.
To end up making different decisions than usual in each isolated moment.
To concentrate so that I can lean into today’s decisions today - and feel into tomorrow’s choices tomorrow.”
So, WhatsApp was - indeed - out.
"Love is most easily nurtured when we slow down
and remove everything that can get in the way of two human beings
or a human being and Nature
― Ethan Hughes - Back to Life: Returning from the Virtual to the Real
The thought of concentration as my safety buoy comforted me. I remembered how this intention to concentrate helped me during past multiple-day meditation retreats. Focusing my attention on each very moment directed my attention away from the whisper in my head which repeated that a million other similarly hard moments spent in silence were waiting ahead of me.
That thought, when I gave it attention instead of concentrating on what was in front of me, would usually provoke a cascade of anxiety and panic, which would then open my body’s doors to dysregulation, despair, and frustration - and the desire to give up. It was a rabbit hole that I respected but did not need to feed on this path. I wanted this rabbit hole to only remind me how unpleasant panic felt when it knocked at the door of my skin.
“I know how to do this. I’ve practiced this,” I thought. “And if I stray away, well, I’ve practiced falling away from my meditation practice, too, and coming back to it for almost six years now. I know that Love is the action of coming back again and again, regardless of how many times I stray away. I got this.” From this inner dialogue, I realized that upholding my love for Life through concrete actions was going to be like… well, like being on retreat all the time. And it was exciting, too.
Sitting under a tree in Boston, waiting for my next train, I continued pondering while handing to a squirrel a piece of organic, local carrot from Belfast’s coop. “At some point, all the isolated moments will make a string of moments. And then the strings of moments will make weeks - and years. I love this world too much; I cannot go back to my old ways. My eyes and heart are opened now. Closing them would be a crime. Ignorance that is unaware of itself can be a good excuse - but intentionally repressed awareness never can.”
“We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference,
ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time,
add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.”
― Marian Wright Edelman
So, day by day, over the past three weeks, I have been grappling with fear, excitement, pride, grief, joy, disgust, frustration, love - and everything in between - while trying to feed myself and simply exist in a culture captive of its own dependency on carbon and exploitation.
One of the first things I did after arriving at Vine & Fig (see photo) on Manahoac Territory in Harrisonburg, VA, was locate the city’s Coop and buy a soap and shampoo bar made with tea grown within the confines of the state. Not buying chocolate has been the most challenging aspect of my resolution so far. Chocolate is often produced through human exploitation in so-called developing countries and shipped internationally with great costs for one’s carbon and slavery footprint balance.
My fuel to sustain the momentum has sometimes been the warm feelings that my body gets while awe arises to the sight of leaves moving in the wind; sometimes the determination that every fiber of my being can master to hold onto; and sometimes the grief fed by moments like when Harrisonburg’s whole sky filled with smoke from the California fires mid-September.
Ethan’s words also continue to live with me “Do things out of love. Not out of guilt.” Guilt is a powerful, habitual fuel for me. Unsurprisingly, it sometimes arises big time when I stare at chocolate in the store. “Don’t buy this. You shouldn’t do this,” I hear Guilt whisper. Guilt’s footprint in my body is acidic, it constricts my chest and makes me look away from the shelf too quickly.
I am starting to recognize Guilt more and more. When Guilt is here, I direct my attention to the part of my body that is screaming and let this scream-feeling permeate my whole body. Guilt is Energy, it’s Power. “I choose the Power of Love today, over the Power of Guilt,” I tell myself. Slowly, I let Guilt move on and shape-shift. I start walking more slowly. I shake my limbs or breathe a little faster to dissipate the physical tension. I search inside of myself for this part of me that so wildly loves Nature and Justice. I remember the fallen trees in Suomi Finland, I remember the lush green redwood trees on Pomo Land, Mendocino. And I leave the store without chocolate.
“I could not have done this without you,” I said to Ethan later on. “There is nothing that we can truly do alone,” he replied.
Since the day of my 26th birthday on August 14th in Boston, $18 has already gone from my wallet to Soul Fire Farm, “an Afro-Indigenous centered community farm committed to uprooting racism and seeding sovereignty in the food system.” I feel more connected with my life purpose these days - and it’s been fun to have friends over instead of going out. Early September, two friends brought home-made food and home-grown veggies, and we had the sweetest time eating together while watching the sunset above Vine and Fig’s Garden.
The work that I am called into, I realize, is to let my love for the world transform my indirect dependence on systems of oppression into direct interdependence with other living and non-living beings.
" Love is most easily nurtured when we slow down
and remove everything that can get in the way
of two human beings or a human being and Nature
― Ethan Hughes - Back to Life: Returning from the Virtual to the Real
Today, August 9th, marks the 76th year since the atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. This was of course just three days after the bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima. Estimates say that somewhere in the range of 200,000 lives were lost, not to mention the physical, emotional and spiritual toll on countless more lives.
The scale of a tragedy like this is hard to comprehend. And yet, the memories of what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki always reminds me of a wild paradox - of the incredible beauty that can emerge from such deep tragedy. As we reflect on the lives lost in these two cities 76 years ago today, I want to share a couple stories of the beauty that I have witnessed that grew out of these tragedies.
The first story is from when I was young, and my mother took me to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum built to honor the legacy of this tragedy. While I was young - long before my commitment to nonviolence or peace-building work - I still remember the experience vividly. I was stunned. Speechless. Tears were welling up in my eyes as I took my time, slowly making my way through the entire museum.
As a young boy, it was the first time I walked slowly through any museum or exhibit. As a young boy, it was the first time in my life where I felt the depth of pain, suffering and violence that human beings have caused one another. And as a young boy, it was the first times where I felt that deep paradox.
I remember reading the story of Sasaki Sadako for the first time. Sadako was just two-years old when the bomb was dropped on her hometown of Hiroshima. About ten-years later, she fell ill to leukemia and was admitted to the hospital. During her stay, she heard about the Japanese legend of a thousand paper cranes.
As the legend is told, cranes are able to live for 1,000 years. And if one is able to fold an origami crane representing each one of those 1,000 years, they are granted a wish. So Sadako got to folding, with a wish for her to be cured from her disease. Despite her having met her goal of 1,000 paper cranes, her disease did not go away. So she kept folding. And as she kept folding, her wish slowly started to expand to include the health and happiness of others around her.
At just twelve-years old, after having folded over 1,300 cranes, Sadako passed away. After her death, her schoolmates raised funds to have a statue built to honor her and all of the children who passed away from the two bombs. The plaque below is reads, "This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace in the world."
Years later, I would visit the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. I had a very similar experience, walking slowly through the entire "museum" fighting back tears, in awe of the suffering and the resilience of another young girl. Towards the end of the exhibit, there was something written on the wall. It spoke of how the Anne Frank house sometimes receives criticism about how much it focuses on the story of just one person, while so many millions of Jewish people suffered.
Their response to that criticism was simple, tragic, beautiful and true. They said that the scale of suffering related to the Holocaust is so severe, so extreme, so appalling that it is not possible for any of us to truly grasp and comprehend. Therefore, they try to understand the story of one person, the life and suffering of just one person, to try to connect to the pain and grief of millions.
Years later, I remain amazed. Amazed at the strength and resilience of these two young women from across the globe, both of whom lost countless friends and family members and ultimately lost their lives to the same war. Amazed at how much their story has inspired so many to work for peace. Amazed at the beauty that has emerged from their suffering.
The second memory I have is from the early days of my own activism. I was involved with the local chapter of the American Friends Service Committee, and we had organized a speaking tour bringing together Hibakusha (survivors of the atomic bombings) and activists from Vieques (an Island in Puerto Rico that the US Navy was using for target practice) and other Pacific Island nations dominated by the presence of the US military.
Phyllis Rodin, an elder activist from the US, was so distraught by the bombings that she flew to Hiroshima and spent years trying to be of service there. When she came back, she came back with the most beautiful art that was gifted to her from the local people. "Kiri-e" translates roughly to "cut drawings," or artwork made out of small pieces of cloth and paper.
There was a school teacher in Hiroshima who knew that they had to try to make beauty, even in the immediate aftermath while their city was still in flames. So they went around and collected materials that they would later use to make artwork with their students.
I remember being in awe at the beauty of this artwork, knowing the tragedy that they grew out of.
These stories that emerged from the bombings remind me of the resiliency of our species, of the courage of survivors of violence, and of our undying commitment to creating beauty and moving towards life.
On this day, I not only want to remember the horrors of what happened, but of the beauty that is possible on the other side.
This post is inspired by Grieve, Play, Love from Jem Bendell and Extinction Rebellion - available here.
My father’s steps resound on the ground, as his feet hit the pavement in rhythm with mine. Above our heads, the sunlight is running with us along the Baltic sea, piercing through the leafy cracks of birchs’ foliage. Carried by the wind, I run easily for the first time in years, listening to Amber Lily sing the Water Song with her acoustic guitar.
« I feel the magic
Living in my bones
And I have eyes to see
That I am whole again. »
Amber Lily - Water Song
How is it possible that I am feeling whole again, I wonder, running here on my ancestor's land in Suomi (Finland) amidst obvious signs of climate collapse ? How did I become whole again in the past 3 years on Ohlone Land, witnessing the increasingly aggressive seasonal fires turn cities and forests into ashes? How can I feel whole right now, as floods are destroying my grandmother's historical lands in Belgium and temperature rises killing Tahiti's coral reef, where I grew up?
« After we accept the full tragedy of climate change, what do we have left ? »
Jem Bendell - Grieve, Play, Love
What do I have left as I contemplate my 26th birthday coming up in two weeks?, I wonder.
Since I arrived in Suomi two weeks ago, I’ve walked amidst burned blueberry bushes and fallen pines, woken up to drastic temperature fluctuations, and swam in an unusually freezing sea. « This is not normal, I’ve never seen this before, » my Finnish mom keeps repeating, shaking her head over a land she has cared for since the earliest years of her existence.
A protective numbness grows colder in my chest as I clear the fallen trees’ acidic thorns away from the emerald moss on the forest floor. My mother and I work diligently amidst the trees next to our extended family’s house, wearing autumn clothes on an early day of August.
As I wish goodbye to the cut branches, my fingers gently caress their bark, and my soul prays that as long as I breath, I'll rise to the challenges of climate change. The consciousness that these trees and I share lives forever - and yet suffering must be soothed. My loving grief over Nature's out-breathing body - and my own body's readiness to feel and act are two of the things I have left to face the collapse.
« Talk of poems and prayers and promises and things that we believe in
How sweet it is to love someone, how right it is to care. »
John Denver - Poems, Prayers, and Promises
My own body sometimes fails to act, though. Then, all I have left to do is to feel. Some mornings, I wake up with a debilitating emptiness in my body, which I know all too well - a signal that some life energy is stuck inside of me, unable to express itself, constricted by routines and tasks that feel urgent in the shadow of the climate collapse.
Energy stuck in my body… where I used to ignore its calls only to fall into depression later on, I now listen to this silent cry's echo and escape into the Wild. That is why I am whole again. Walking - often running - amidst the tall pines and birch, I survive my own human condition amidst chaos by grieving, playing, loving, and raging in the safety of the forest's heart.
Another thing I have left is the more-than-human world as a lover, sibling, parent, friend, and confidant - all of these, yes. As wounded as the forest's arms can be, they never fail to be wide and open to me, welcoming my songs, my dancing, my tears and most importantly, my anger - every bit of my being.
Within the forest's heart, I am myself and release my sense of self, too. Feeling protected, I melt into the trees’ branches waving in the wind. As if cradled in the Pacific Ocean's waves, my body relaxes and cries and smiles and listens deeply to the Suomi forest’s ageless heartbeat that faithfully perseveres - just like mine does.
In the wild, I let my inner music shape my limbs as they wish; I let my vocal chords transform this music and other sounds into vibrations dissipating in the cool air; I remove my clothes and let the wind caress my hungry skin; I untie my shoes and let the ground wet my dancing feet ; and I unleash my rage by confronting the palm of my hands and the dry bark of dead sticks with the hard surface of bald rocks. The energy that was stuck inside of me moves through.
« Before grief, there was love. After grief, love.
Our essence is never in danger.
When all else falls away,
Our essence can shine. »
Interestingly, in the past months, the forest has started mirroring back to me that rage is one of the wildest parts of my feminine essence and the most debilitating energy to keep stuck inside of my body. The rage that is owned protects, gives clarity, and enlivens - but the rage that is possessive can deeply hurt... which is why I hated anger for so long. I used to be terrified of rage - mine and others’. So, a victim of my genuine yet inexperienced dedication to nonviolence and Buddhist meditation, I repressed anger. Actually, I did it so well that I was convinced it did not exist. I even told a friend last year « I don’t really feel anger, you know. »
That was incorrect. Like everyone else, I had and still have a lot of anger - my wildest inner soul was just waiting for a safe haven to release the disavowed energy that was corroding my soma. This is the forest's greatest gift to my young body - the unconditional love necessary for me to be born again to my own rage.
Interestingly, befriending anger in the arms of the forest stimulated my love for the anger of other bodies who were assigned female at birth. Disavowing my own rage, I used to fear and resent theirs. Now, I feel a wave of pleasure rise up in me when the familiar spark of anger lights up in another body assigned female at birth. I feel their vitality and rejoice innerly that Nature is talking to their spirit and soul. Perhaps, Rage is Nature's call for Freedom.
So, in the face of the climate collapse, what do I have left? An awareness of how to feel more alive as I contemplate death, for sure. The offering of this aliveness to the work of soothing Nature's suffering, too. Clearly, as I grieve and play and love in the face of catastrophe, I must rage in the forest, too - to keep moving and feeling - and let the song of my soul freely sing that I am and belong with Nature now and forever - beyond the collapse.
« I hear the music
Playing in my soul
And we will sing until
We come home again.»
Amber Lily - Water Song
[Art Credit: Rabbia, by Alessandro Rinaldi]