GRATITUDE FOR GOOD
A Blog by Gratitude Alliance
By Amy Paulson
Like so many I know, I have been having panic attacks lately. Making breakfast. At the gym. In my bed. Some are mild. Others are not... Suddenly, my heart is racing, ears pounding, chest tightens, stomach doubled over in pain, and I can't breathe... I'm grateful for the knowledge of what is happening when it's happening. So, I do all the things I am supposed to: Stand against a wall. Breathe deeply. Notice the sights and smells around me. Pat my arms and legs. Allow myself to cry if I need to. And remind myself of where I am - that I am not being chased by a tiger in this moment (literally, if not politically or existentially). And after several minutes, when my nervous system has calmed down, I write down what I was thinking about before it came, so I can talk about it with someone later - my therapist, Andy, a friend (thank you Rachel!).
This last time it happened, a voice whispered in my head over and over, until I was saying the words to myself out loud:
Protect your tender and ferocious heart.
Protect your tender and ferocious heart.
Protect your tender and ferocious heart.
I'm learning to embrace my inner wisdom without questioning it. And here's what it's telling me in this moment.
1. Name the response.
Overwhelming anxiety is a normal response to the extraordinary times we are in as individuals and as a collective. Shame, silence, and stigma about trauma, toxic stress, and anxiety are metabolized into the body and can lead to long-term health issues, chronic pain, and disease. I will NOT feed that. Rather than hiding it, naming it aloud helps.
2. Express it.
I was socialized to be a "good girl" - the kind who doesn't express anger. Oh, I feel it alright. But it used to stay frozen inside me until I numbed it (in a variety of ways). Lately, I've been practicing expressing that anger. Screaming. Shaking. Wailing. Beating my pillow. (Whatever feels safe in the moment - sometimes that is silent screaming.) And when I do it fully and completely, a cathartic relief washes over me like cool water over a fire. My whole body feels differently afterwards. And can be open to a new possibility.
3. Lean into community.
I am an introvert (doing an extrovert's job). I need plenty of alone time. And... I also need community. This is not the time to retreat into the depths of my private echo chamber where my head continues to ruminate with obsessive thoughts, anger, and fear. It is time to connect, share, love, nurture, be vulnerable about how I am feeling, and strengthen my community... which in turn strengthens me. Because that is what builds resilience. And collective power. And holy shit, do we need that.
4. Protect the heart.
My heart is fucking broken. And I want to lash out (and at times, I have been). But underneath my fury is deep sadness. I must tend to that grief with care. Because doing anything else will simply be acting from that place of fear and hate that got us here in the first place. That cycle of trauma and harm that will persist until I, we, disrupt it with love and healing. So that I, we, can cultivate the hope that is so desperately needed to imagine and create a world different from this reality.
For me, that means all the self care / self love stuff: eating (mostly) healthy, body work, resistance training (helps with the anger!), sleep, petting animals, enjoying nature, practicing gratitude, and making it a point to reading about and watch positive things to help rewire my negativity bias.
And, I will continue to say this prayer / mantra / blessing to myself. Over and over. As many times as I need to until my heart rate slows down, I can breathe again, and remember my purpose for being here on this planet: to give and receive love and connection.
If it feels right, I invite you to say it with me. To feel the meaning of the words as they seep into your cells. And to give yourself the love and care to heal your heart too.
This is a repost of a piece written by Amy for Rachel Grant Coaching published here on
December 19, 2017 and is a follow on to 5 Ways to Heal Your Abandonment Wound
By Amy Paulson
A couple years ago, I had a conversation with a wise woman who used the term recovering overachiever to describe the ideal qualities of people that her organization likes to hire. A jolt of energy ran through my body as I heard those words. Yes! That’s me!
Many people like me who suffer from abandonment wounds or other kinds of childhood trauma can link their obsessive perfectionism to that childhood pain of guilt and shame from feeling unworthy and unlovable.
My mom tells me stories of being a worrier, even at 3 years old. She’d give me a crayon and paper and show me how to write a-m-y. I’d stand there next to the end table in the living room, crayon in hand, for over an hour - worried about making those a-m-y letters perfect. Uh-oh, she thought, this one is going to be a real worry wart. Yes. I was.
Not surprisingly, as a dancer for nearly 20 years, my obsession with perfection led to bulimia. Sadly, there is indeed a high correlation between obsessive perfectionism and eating disorders. And, I sure as hell wasn’t going to fail at bulimia - I was obsessed with doing even that perfectly.
The rituals - washing the hands, carefully placing my towel on the floor, then a large tupperware bowl on top, perfecting what foods I could vomit easily, hiding the tupperware in my closet so no one would know, then sneaking into the bathroom to flush it down the toilet after everyone was asleep - all of that I did with a level of perfection that made me feel proud and very much in control, while my emotions and the world around me spun out of control.
Until one day, after I shoved my finger down my throat, I looked down at my hand and it was covered in blood. How could this have happened? I had calculated everything so precisely. I thought I was the perfect bulimic. And, the validation from my dance instructors made it all worth it. They complimented me on rapid my weight loss - all that extra jogging I was doing on top of hours of dance practice very day (oh, and the secret vomiting) must be the winning formula to my slimmer dancer body. Yay for me!
Looking at the blood and saliva running down my hand, I felt both panic and utter failure. I didn’t realize then that that moment was the first step towards my recovery.
It would take well over a decade to stop the bulimia altogether, through a combination of medication, individual therapy, and group therapy - and another decade to continue treatment for the depression that goes hand in hand with eating disorders.
But alongside that, I started learning how to embrace the imperfection that is life. Changing my job from one that encourages obsessive perfectionism (as a CPA) to one where I must surrender to chaos (in a nonprofit that works in global trauma recovery) has forced me to let go of over controlling everything and everyone, and to start looking at failure as an opportunity for learning and growth.
And… I’m still in overachiever recovery. Here’s what that looks like for me:
Self-compassion above all
I took Stanford’s 8-week Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) and it changed my life. Learning self-compassion was like learning a new language - it was hard, required baby steps, and opened up doors to connection. I still have to work at it every day (some days are harder than others). But, I can now soften towards myself - and not just towards my wounded child self - but also towards the adult version of myself who I’m good at judging harshly. She also gets to be human, make mistakes, and in doing so, connects more deeply to her own humanity and that of others around her.
Compassion for others
Any judgement or resentment that I may feel towards others is often just a reflection of my own insecurity and need to be perfect in order to be loved. Ever heard that quote: When you point the finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at yourself…? I hate to admit it, but it’s true. CCT and lovingkindness meditations helped me see those around me in a whole new way - as complex humans who inherited trauma, just like me, and who have their own coping mechanisms, just like me.
Notice when I’m fixating
Even if I embrace the chaos, I still find other ways of trying to exert control. Sometimes, it can feel liberating or even helpful - like stopping in the middle of my workday to clean the inside of the microwave or taking a 5-minute brain break to meticulously color mandalas in my adult coloring book.
Other times, it can be counterproductive - like throwing a tantrum at 11pm because someone left a dirty dish in the sink (No wire hangers!), or realizing that I’ve changed the color of a particular cell in Excel 6 different times because I can’t find the perfect shade of green - meanwhile I had a deadline to get that spreadsheet to someone yesterday.
When I try to stay present and notice what’s going on, I can see it and name it: Oh, I’m fixating. This must be about something else. What’s the worst thing that will happen if I let this go and move on?
Practice imperfection with intention
When I started grad school, I reverted back to my 3-year old self trying to write my name perfectly. I spent so many extra hours on assignments, where that extra time had no benefit to my actual learning process. I got a 99.25 out of 100 in my first class and found myself writing an email to my professor to argue for that last 0.75. Luckily, I called myself out (and by I, I mean my husband) before I sent that email.
I’ve now started to intentionally just do what’s necessary to get by. No, not with everything. But with the many things where it doesn’t fucking matter. Like letting the kitchen be messy when I know people are coming over, throwing away those papers that I will never file and don’t need anyway, and leaving those spreadsheets an unsightly black and white when they don’t need color coding!
These may be small things but they are symbolic. They’ve helped me to surrender and built that muscle that helps me cope (most of the time) when the bigger, more important life things happen.
Remember that recovery is a lifelong process
If recovery were school, I’d try so hard to get an A. But it’s not. It’s messy and imperfect (sigh). Oftentimes, my overperfection hurts people, and I need to own up to it, apologize, and practice compassion for myself and others. Mostly, it hurts myself. And, if I can stay in the process, notice, acknowledge, and not fall into shame, then I can build new neural pathways to heal those old wounds.
Luckily, I have a dozen chances to do that every day.
This is a repost of a piece written by Amy for Rachel Grant Coaching published here on December 6, 2017
By Amy Paulson
Confession: I am the original martyr.
It’s true. Just ask my husband. Or my parents. Or my friends. I always have to do it alone. No one ever helps me. In fact, I’m just alone all the time.
After 41 years and decades of psychotherapy, medication, meditation, healing circles, and all the things I am supposed to do to take care of my inner child, it still hurts. But, childhood wounds are deep. And, my healing journey is not linear.
For me, abandonment isn’t a myth. It was a true story. At least, my adoption paperwork said so: Abandoned at a police station in Seoul, Korea. No family history attached. My adopted parents always reassured me that I was loved - otherwise, I wouldn’t have been left at a police station where I could be found and cared for. That made sense in my head. But, I couldn’t reconcile that in my heart. I tried to visualize my birth mother leaving me at the police station and being able to walk away. Did she cry? Did she look back? How could any mother do that?
I grew up feeling a profound sense of loss, an overriding fear of being alone, and the deep shame of feeling unlovable.
But, abandonment issues aren’t just for adopted kids. Anyone who has experienced loss, neglect, abuse, or lack of attunement (physical and/or emotional responsiveness) from a parent, caregiver, or loved one - especially during childhood - may suffer from abandonment wounds, even later in life.
As a child, my wound looked like trying to win the love of my adoptive parents by being perfect - straight A’s, dancer, musician, volunteer, and all the school clubs - then as a young adult, lashing out by engaging in risky behaviors (sex, drugs, and alcohol).
On the outside, I looked like little miss overachiever. On the inside, I felt alone, miserable, and unloved, suffering from depression, bulimia, and self-hatred.
As an adult, my abandonment wound looks like (still) trying to be perfect - then beating myself up when I’m not. Stressing over the small stuff. People-pleasing. Taking personally other people’s shit. Feeling like a martyr - or even putting myself into situations where I can be the martyr (then complaining about it later).
The good news is that it can get better. At least, it did for me.
The first step: acknowledge the abandonment wound
While I’m not one for labels (that’s a lie actually, I have a deep love for my electronic label maker), naming my abandonment wound made me feel like it was valid - and that my resulting emotions and behaviors were justifiable. As someone who has always felt crazy, the impact of acknowledging my wound helped me feel normal.
Notice, with curiosity how it shows up… then honor the wounded child
For me, this started with a list of the ways in which my childhood wound has affected my life. Though I love making lists, this one was painful, eye-opening, and like the naming exercise above, liberating. I listed out all the emotions, the people-pleasing and self-sabotaging behaviors, the fear-based career moves, and even the ex-friends and ex-boyfriends who meandered into my life, and who left, painfully and dramatically.
Sure, maybe not everything can be wholly traced back to my abandonment wound (there were certainly other wounds too), but noticing patterns - and trying my damndest to do it without judgment - has been super fascinating and highly educational. I now get to see myself with a whole new level of self-compassion for the wounded child that I once was. And, I get to notice, with much more awareness, when that wounded child shows up at my doorstep and wants to be acknowledged and loved.
Resource, resource, resource
In the world of healing, resourcing is doing something that feels good, regulates the nervous system, and reminds the brain that I am not in danger in the present moment, so calm the fuck down and reeeeeeelax. So, when my wounded child shows up, and that familiar feeling of panic, scarcity, and fear of being unloved rises up in my chest, I do something resourcing.
For me, that looks like breathing, meditation, music, dancing, yoga, hiking, cuddling my cat, getting a massage, taking a bath, or watching movies that help me release my sadness.
Once the chatter in my brain and the pain in my heart subsides, I can, from a more regulated, state of mind, body, and heart, think about what might have triggered my abandonment wound. Then, I can move to the next step...
Own what’s mine. Dump what’s not
With abandonment trauma (and most other traumas, for that matter), one of the most painful feelings is the lack of agency. I had no choice in being abandoned. Someone did it to me. And it fucked me up for years.
But, with healing, I get to reclaim my sense of power. When I find myself building a narrative about how I always have to do it alone, or how I’m always failing at being perfect, I get to (from a resourced state) acknowledge that my wounded child was triggered, own my own feelings, and then release anything that doesn’t belong to me (like someone else’s guilt, usually the result of their own wounded child).
Resource, resource, resource
And, then I come back to my resources. Again, and again, and, again. Because healing, for me, is a lifelong, never-ending process of my wounds showing up, acknowledging and honoring them, owning my own shit, releasing what is not mine, and taking care of myself with self-love and self-compassion every step of the way.
When I pay attention, I get the opportunity to heal even the tiniest part of my old abandonment wound. And when I don’t pay attention, without fail, it’ll come back to teach me a bigger lesson next time around.
Ironically, when I finally did look my trauma in the face years ago when I reconnected with my Korean birth mother, I learned that I was never, in fact, abandoned. At least, not in the way that my paperwork said I was.
Learning the truth of my story hasn’t lessened the pain from my abandonment wound. But, it has helped me reframe my abandonment trauma into intergenerational trauma. Tracing back the legacy of trauma in both my biological family and my adoptive one, and seeing how those cycles impact me today, has been, in many ways, resourcing. It’s a poignant reminder that, it’s not all about me and my wound. It’s about healing generations of wounds - for my ancestors, and for my future children. And, that, is a gift.
Photo by Feggy Art via Flickr (Creative Commons)
By Amy Paulson
May is one of my favorite months of the year. Spring is in full bloom (hello, allergies) as bright pink, orange, and purple flowers flaunt their beauty, brightening up my garden and my day.
Perhaps it is fitting then that May is Mental Health Awareness month (who wants to celebrate mental health during gray January?) - a time to raise awareness about living with mental illness, so we can break the silence and promote mental health and healing.
But, I’m gonna be honest: I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated that national conversations about mental health in America tend to only happen when they are linked to an episode of gun violence.
I’m frustrated that the Netflix show, “13 Reasons Why” had so many opportunities to highlight the urgency of caring for our youth’s mental and emotional health - and they totally missed the mark by focusing on revenge and romanticizing suicide.
I’m frustrated that with umpteen million social media platforms promoting sharing and human connection, we are still stuck in a cycle of silence about mental health and well-being.
And, frankly, I’m frustrated that we are still even calling it mental health and well-being.
Because really, isn’t it human health and well-being?
Thanks to science, we know that mental health affects not only our cognitive brain, but also our physical health, emotional health, and our connection to self, family, community, and the world.
But when we reduce trauma, for example, to just a mental health issue, its causes and treatment get de-prioritized and de-funded like many other mental health issues in our schools, in the workplace, and in our health system. When really, it should be treated like the community crisis that it is.
Trauma is a symptom of family, of origin issues, violence, bullying, abuse, and systemic oppression and injustice. Its causes and effects are deeply relational, impacting families, schools, workplaces, and communities. Yet it can also lead to lack of focus in school, loss of economic productivity, and breakdown of civil society. Left untreated, its effects are inherited by future generations.
But, before we can even start to tackle the problem of trauma or any other holistic human issue - we have to start talking about the hard stuff. We have to be willing to share not just our selfie vacation porn, but also our real human-ness - our sadness, despair, fear, vulnerability, imperfections, and all the complex, emotional, messy shit as well. And, it doesn’t have to be online. It could even be, dare I say, in a real, live human conversation.
And, likewise, we have to respond to others with compassion and kindness and stop trying fix their problems or tritely say, “Don’t worry, it’ll get better...” - because when was the last time you actually felt better when someone said that to you? Sometimes just having another person acknowledge our pain is all we need.
So, next time someone reaches out to you in a time of need, try something like this: “Thank you for sharing with me. I’m so sorry you are feeling shitty. I can really feel your pain and sadness. I care about you, and I’m here for you if you need a hug, a shoulder, or someone to just listen. You don’t have to go through this alone.”
Bottom line: let’s be more vulnerable, and in doing so, create positive human connection and health. Like any good facilitator, I will model it first. Here I go:
My husband’s grandpa recently died. During the funeral, while I was crying, I realized that my tears were awash with guilt and sadness over not spending enough time with my own grandparents when they were alive. I didn’t ask them stories about their childhoods. I didn’t ask my grandpa how hard the Depression was, or my grandma what it was like to be told she couldn’t go to college. Instead, I was a self-absorbed teenager who cared more about whether my friends liked me than about spending time with my sassy grandma before the Alzheimer’s really took over. Then, I felt bad that I was crying over my own stuff instead of supporting my husband through his grief.
So, that’s me. Now, you go...
By Amy Paulson
I'm sleepless. Thoughts and emotions have been swarming and swirling, as I spend days and nights voraciously reading, absorbing, reflecting, connecting, planning… and, indeed, worrying about what the future holds .
In this post-election era, so few things feel certain. Yet in this moment, there is one thing that I know to be true:
The cry for global healing is louder than ever.
We need to heal the wounds of intergenerational and institutional trauma from racism, oppression, injustice, conflict, violence, and extreme poverty.
We need to break victim-perpetrator cycles of exploitation and abuse that are destroying our communities and our planet.
We need to democratize access to healing – from a system that benefits a privileged few, to one where everyone at the community level has access to healing resources.
As an organization, Global Gratitude Alliance is making the commitment to focus support for trauma healing, resilience, and transformation for people of color, immigrants and refugees, Muslims, LGBTQ, survivors of sexual and gender based violence, and oppressed and marginalized communities - in the US and abroad.
As an individual, I am making the commitment to be a vessel for peace, love, empathy, and compassion. To
stand in solidarity with those who are the most vulnerable and in need of support. And, to listen to those whose views may feel distant from my own, yet who, like me, have stories of struggle and disappointment.
There is much to do - as individuals, and as a collective.
And, when the anxiety rises in my chest as I start to feel the enormity of it all, I remind myself to close my eyes. To be still. To breathe in and out, put one foot in front of the other, and find comfort in the words of those who have been here before:
“Struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation.”
~ Coretta Scott King
“For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new… it's the only light we've got in all this darkness.”
~ James Baldwin
“If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Every 4 years, February 29th pops up in our calendars. It signifies that our human calendar needs an extra day to keep the calendar year synchronized with the astronomical year. And, if it’s a Leap Year, it’s also an Olympic year and the US Presidential Election year. We’re used to it. It’s of passing interest. Then March 1st rolls around and our lives continue in the usual way.
But what if we see this extra 24 hours as something special, as a gift of extra time to reflect and realign? That’s the purpose of #24More. Global Gratitude Alliance has partnered with the creators of 24 More, Amani Institute and iLeap in celebration of and in gratitude for this day.
Our co-founder Amy Paulson will be slowing down to cultivate openness and curiosity. Other social changemakers will be centering themselves, remembering what's really important to them in their own unique ways.
So take a few moments to be mindful of the opportunity offered by whole extra day. 86,400 seconds. What will you do with an extra 24 hours, to align your purpose and your values?
Join us! Post your own message or video on social media, and use the hashtag #24More. Whatever you do, do it with purpose, intention, and gratitude. The gift of another day is truly something to be grateful for.
We are immensely proud of and grateful for SETH Level 2 healing activists. They are stepping out into the world with confidence, courage and purpose, standing up as activists on behalf of trauma survivors and raising funds for global trauma healing projects.
Last January, Level 2 trainee, Sarah Taylor, and filmmaker, Jess Lowe Chaverri, held a fundraiser to bring trauma healing and counseling skills to grassroots women leaders throughout rural Nepal.
Sarah reflected on the experience of stepping forward and activating her local community:
"Last night was great. Incredible. I felt so much love, it was one of those experiences where I paused several times throughout the night and thought 'wow, I am so lucky, we are so lucky.' This experience filled me with so much gratitude, so much hope, and so much love for the people in my life who I realize I often take for granted... I felt whole and I felt blessed and I felt hopeful."
She also gave a speech during the event, which beautifully explained her motivation and the purpose of SETH:
"When I first become involved with the GGA/Seth Program Amy, the founder of the GGA, would ask me: What is your medicine? Meaning, what drives you forward, what propels you in this work?"
"Initially I brushed it off. But since then, I've dug a bit. I've learned a lot about my family, my own lineage of intergenerational trauma, and it does fuel me forward. It's a valuable question and I encourage you to ask yourselves, as well. But, when it truly comes down to it, this is my medicine... It's connectedness, it's recognizing our shared humanity, and it's standing together for such a meaningful, real, and raw purpose."
"Trauma is something we hear about all the time, whether it being in casual conversation or in the news, and it's something that is universal. We all suffer from trauma, small or large. It's part of being alive and it's something that unites us all. What doesn't get as much attention however is the healing from trauma, and this is even less addressed in marginalized, vulnerable, and underdeveloped communities."
"…there was little to no attention being directed to addressing the effects of traumatic experience, most crucial in communities with high rates of HIV/AIDS, sexual violence, or children being raised in orphan care. These experiences inevitably create countless roadblocks to physical and emotional health, academic achievement, ability to feel safe in the world, ability to sustain a job, ability to parent."
"Amy and Elayne have created this training program, which we all support tonight and which Jess and I will help to put in action in Nepal this summer. Safe Embrace Trauma Healing is a program that educates and empowers, it can be replicated across communities, regardless of religion, cultural norms, or education level. The funds we raise tonight will support current and future programming, they'll fuse pain and suffering with joy and healing, so THANK YOU."
Thank you so much to Sarah and Jess. We look forward to you joining us in June 2016 to work with 30 women leaders in Nepal, whose impact expands to over 40,000 other women in their communities.
On 25th April 2015, a huge earthquake devastated Nepal. At 7.8 magnitude, followed by aftershocks, over 8,800 people lost their lives, villages were flattened and thousands of homes damaged or destroyed.
We were deeply shocked and saddened by the news. Just two months earlier, we had participated in a number of programs designed to empower healing, dignity, joy, and transformation for the students and teachers at Bright Horizon Children’s Home (BHCH), a school and safe haven for nearly 300 orphans and vulnerable children from the poorest, most remote areas of Nepal. We were relieved to hear that all the children, teachers, and staff at our partner organization were alive and safe, with minor structural damage to the school. And we were also moved and heartened by the many messages of support received from our community of everyday activists asking how they could help, where best to donate, wanting to do something to alleviate the suffering seen in the media in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.
So the Nepal Solidarity Fund was started, our approach: 'to be patient and thoughtful about how to distribute the funds in an ethical, equitable, and sustainable way'. To support locally led groups providing relief and rebuilding at a grassroots level, because we believe that local change-makers know best. Our decision to partner with the Tibetan Buddhist monks at the Porong Gompa monastery in Kathmandu to help remote communities recover and rebuild was inspired by Porong Gompa's commitment to a quick response, deep, local connections, desire to serve those remote villages who may have been forgotten, and compassionate approach, regardless of religion, ethnicity, or caste.
We are pleased to report that, together with funds from other global supporters, your generous donations are bringing shelter to residents of Sisneri, a remote village 4 hours from Kathmandu, Nepal, whose mud and thatched rooftops crumbled during the earthquakes. After surveying the need, Porong Gompa returned to distribute strong metal sheets to rebuild rooftops and give clothing to the 85 families in the village.
Our heartfelt gratitude to Porong Gompa for helping to support and sustain the villagers of Sisneri. And to our community who gave so generously to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Nepal. Thank you!
It’s time to shift the paradigm.
We are being called to evolve together. To make way for something that brings us to a deeper level of awareness, connection, and purpose - for ourselves and for the world.
It starts from within - with the simple act of noticing.
Some call this mindfulness - being aware, in the moment, with intention, and without judgment.
There’s mounting evidence supporting the benefits of mindfulness to our health and well-being - at work, in school, and in our relationships. So, we asked ourselves, can the practice of “being present” help us shift how we give?
Pioneers like International Development Exchange (IDEX) have been taking a mindful approach to philanthropy for decades. One that is rooted in presence, mutuality, and collaboration. One that remembers that all the great movements for social change start at the grassroots level. And, one that values authentic connection - which starts from a process of profound self-examination - of noticing what’s going on inside us and how that informs what goes on around us.
Learning from IDEX and other mindful changemakers at the IDEX Academy this year, we were inspired to join the movement. To push beyond our comfort zones and embody something that is innovative, yet rooted in indigenous wisdom. Something that seeks to transform others, yet is grounded in transforming ourselves first.
In truth, we are outgrowing our forefathers - those centuries-old founders of charitable giving - and the paradigms that informed them. We bow to them and the groundwork they laid, such that we can now see what is needed to meet the injustices of our modern world.
We are aware that traditional top-down, outsider-led aid has been ineffective at radically transforming the lives of those it intended to serve. We see this in the abysmal health, education, and social service infrastructures in the poorest recipient countries of aid. We see this in the continued spread of preventable diseases, in the unjust differences in maternal mortality rates per country, and in the unnecessary increase in the number of orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV/AIDS.
And, we see this in the eyes of the 2 billion people in the world still living on less than $2 a day.
Yet there are also negative effects that we cannot see. Cloaked in images of starving children with distended bellies, paternalistic, outsider-led models have little to do with human dignity and community self-determination. Rather, they are based on the misconception that outside experts can ‘fix the problem’ - a problem that traditional aid, colonization, and globalization may have created in the first place.
What’s more, such models perpetuate the age-old victim paradigm and harmful stereotypes of helpless, destitute communities saved by ‘whites in shining armor’ - a dangerous hero narrative that further absolves the everyday person from taking action.
Many of the more recent impact and grant-making models still leave room for improvement. They ignore complex interdependencies, value short-term outcomes over long-term impact, and use ‘carrot and stick’ approaches that maintain imbalanced power dynamics between those who give and those who receive.
We are ready for something different. And, most of us who are called to help shift the paradigm want a new way to be engaged - one that asks us to come into a deeper, more relational world together, to forge the kind of sacred connections that our ancestors held as the key to a thriving planet.
In the spirit of a movement that values not just the impact to the communities we serve, but the impact to human dignity that occurs when we transform heart, purpose, and action into meaningful connections with others, we’ve established a new set of guiding principles and a theory of change which lay the foundation for an approach that we call mindful philanthropy.
What does this really mean? Here are some of the highlights:
Presence. It all starts here. We must examine the shadows formed by our experience, culture, ego, trauma, and relationship to power and privilege - all of which can get in the way of a truly authentic practice of giving. By releasing attachment to these shadows, we can serve with curiosity, compassion, humility, and gratitude - and more fully engage with the world.
This presence changes the dynamic profoundly, for it creates the space for us to be with each other wherever we are in our lives and in the world. And from there, we can contemplate how to co-create a better world.
Justice. We are aware that in many places where we work, we represent ‘the other’ - those who may have exploited and oppressed communities of color through colonialism, globalization, and traditional aid. We strive to repair and create new connections to ‘the other’ by advocating for the rights of the communities we serve, including the right to identify their own needs and serve as their own agents of change.
Transformation. We seek transformative change to break intergenerational cycles of trauma, poverty, abuse, and vulnerability. A 9-year old girl whose parents died of HIV/AIDS cannot be given education as the only means to breaking the cycle if she carries trauma in her mind, body, and spirit. We take a holistic yet trauma-informed approach that considers the emotional needs of each person as a means to transforming self and community.
Collaboration. We dismiss the notion that we’re competing with other organizations for resources which leads to scarcity-mindset, silo-building, and duplicated efforts. We strive to replace the old transactional model with an open-hearted relational model that builds meaningful connections with a spirit of solidarity, respect, and partnership.
Learning and Innovation. In the for-profit sector, taking risks and being willing to fail is called “innovation.” Yet nonprofits are given little leeway to take even calculated risks and are afforded zero tolerance for failure. We embrace leaders who have the curiosity, grit, and gumption to try something new, viewing failures as lessons that become wisdom shared with others.
These are just some of the ways in which we are joining a movement that honors what philanthropy is really all about - a word which literally means love for humanity. Our approach is three-fold: encouraging donors to experience the power of mindful giving, training activists and volunteers about mindful service, and collaborating with other changemakers to explore how to collectively shift towards a practice of mindful social change.
Cultivating a movement sounds scary. But, it’s not about us. It’s about the collective. Many other mindful trailblazers have paved the way for us to humbly embrace our shared responsibility not just for a better world, but for a better way of getting there.
Will you join us?
Sometimes images grab you by the throat and you have to know more. What are the people in the photo thinking and feeling? What drew the photographer to capture that person in that moment? Humans of New York is such a project. In a picture and a couple of sentences we get a snapshot of life from the streets of NYC that is both unique to the individual and resonates with everyone. We all experience love, work, joy and sadness.
The most recent series of photos and stories from Pakistan and currently Iran go further. Many of the stories and situations are familiar but come from countries that are often vilified in the media. Of course there are big issues around freedom and equality in these countries. But this project goes beyond the headlines and politics to people living their lives day to day away from the news spotlight, as most of us do. We are united by many of our experiences, of gratitude for the love of our partners and children and our need to give and receive kindness. And perhaps to take this a step further and make the world a bit better.
In his Humans of Pakistan series Brandon Stanton turns the spotlight onto modern day slavery in Pakistan's brick kilns but also features local activists fighting this horrific practice and bringing change and hope. The outpouring of support on the HONY Facebook page was uplifting.
Images tell stories and we hope that the pictures we share via our Facebook page in our #PhotoFromtheField series provide a small insight into daily life at our projects. Beyond headlines about earthquakes, massacres and killer viruses into shared games, meals, work, classes and chores. Because that's daily life for most of us. Our shared human experience.
We are thrilled to share the recent achievements in South Africa from our local partner, Ikasi Youth Every Day Heroes.
The Ikasi Youth Everyday Heroes project aims to inspire, connect and equip adolescent boys and young men from the Imizamo Yethu township with leadership, life skills, and academic support, to empower them to lead the way out of poverty and become changemakers in their community.
Thanks to the leadership of Jeremy Smith, the new Academic Program Head, funded with support from the Global Gratitude Alliance community, and the dedication of staff, parents, and community partners, vast improvements to curriculum structure and accessibility to educational resources has resulted in a remarkable improvement of attendance and academic progress among the 22 boys and young men currently committed to the program.
Funding from GGA also helped Ikasi Youth to purchase much needed equipment and supplies, such as a laptop and internet connection, books, white board, flip chart, and digital projector, which has improved the heroes' daily learning experience and creates a more efficient and collaborative learning environment where both students and staff use the club house as a hub for study, administration, and community gatherings.
We are so proud to witness the continued academic growth and personal achievements of the Ikasi Youth and are deeply grateful for the talented and motivated staff whose work and vision for providing educational resources, leadership and life skills are empowering, elevating, and positively changing the lives of South African boys and young men.
We are thrilled to announce the recent launch of the life skills and leadership class for high school students at Bright Horizon Children's Home (BHCH). With the healing skills learned through the Safe Embrace Trauma Healing (SETH) training program in January 2015, local teachers are now equipped with skills to address symptoms of trauma, empower students to develop self-confidence and emotional intelligence, and promote healing, leadership, and personal transformation.
We are incredibly grateful for BHCH teachers' efforts in spreading grassroots healing skills to communities in Nepal.
Check out our latest video, a celebration of the Bright Horizon Children's Home (BHCH) in Nepal, which has its 15th Anniversary this year.
The song was written by musician, Bam Vox, together with BHCH alumni, Navraj and Sangam. Bam joined our healing convoy in Nepal last January, sharing his love for music as a form of healing, play, and joy.
Thank you to Bam and to all the BHCH students, teachers, and staff. We are deeply moved by the shared experience of co-creating a space of healing and joy!
Our grassroots partners know firsthand that computer literacy can unlock unlimited possibilities - for learning, creating, sharing, exploring, and connecting individuals, communities, and economies to the digital world.
And when computer literacy classes are paired with a psychosocial activity like creative arts therapy, the result is a well-rounded psycho-educational program that develops a broad range of skills while also invoking emotional healing and creative expression.
It's a holistic approach that we often refer to as head, hands, and heart - or, education, skills-building, and healing. An approach that understands that complex problems are not solved via single-issue interventions but rather by comprehensive solutions... and that psychosocial support is foundational to sustainable transformation.
Our partner organization, Lola Children's Home, provides comprehensive support for nearly 30 orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV/AIDS in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. With your support, kids now have access to weekly computer literacy and music classes.
Lola's executive director, Abebe, recently updated us on the progress of this new curriculum which, so far, has been successful in teaching kids tangible skills. Under the tutelage of a mentor who teaches both computer skills and music, they kids now know how to:
A big thank you to our generous community for supporting this program! Your contributions are building confidence, technical and social skills, and healing opportunities that will have a lasting impact on these children and their community!
I was born in Nepal fighting for breath, for my life and my mother’s life. I learned how to fight to protect before I learned to walk. Thankfully, my mom stopped using heroin when she was four months pregnant, though seven and a half months in, the placenta severed, after she fell down the stairs during an earthquake. When I was born, I was four pounds, and told it took months for my arms and fists to relax and unfurl away from my body. At the hospital, they placed me in a proxy incubator, a cardboard box, in a room away from my mom. The first people to take care of me were Nepali nurses.
Mom left Nepal when I was still a baby, and took me back to the states. Four years later, she left her boyfriend, after he hit me and then her. She was like Wonder Woman. She was tough. She was from Jersey. But later she stayed when her next live-in boyfriend, George, hit her. He was emotionally, physically and sexually abusive to both of us. I vowed I’d never be in a relationship that was abusive.
After Mom broke up with George, her free spirit again had air to breathe, and when I was 16 we went back to Nepal.
I met Marilyn. She was a family friend who took over our restaurant in Nepal when my mom left. Marilyn gave up her American citizenship and become a Nepali citizen. She was an 80lb wisp of a woman. From the minute Marilyn got off her motorbike wearing red high-water corduroy pants, and purple tennis shoe, she delighted me.
Marilyn led jungle tours and worked at a shelter for battered women and children. With fierce brilliance, she edited books about women’s rights. When she spoke about the mistreatment of women, her voice grew louder, full of sharply annunciated consonants that I imagined built safe houses. She was strength and comfort personified.
When it was time to return to California, I begged my mom to leave me in Nepal. I wanted to stay and work with Marilyn. I wanted more of what she had, whatever it was. Marilyn saw me and appreciated my gift: the part of me that knew how to fight for, protect and nurture others.
“What if I refuse to get on the plane? You can’t force me.” But, things were finally good between us. I boarded the plane to go back, but left a part of myself there, with a promise I’d go back.
On January 15th this year, I fulfilled my dream.
I am finally in Nepal, at the Bright Horizon’s Children’s Home. There is a view of the Himalayas from the guesthouse we are staying in. I look out at the white-capped mountains surrounded by clouds of pink. Water pours from my eyes. This is my heart opening.
The teachers give me an incredible gift. They bring me back to basics. I speak in broken English and overly expressive gestures. We hold them in a field of agape, unconditional love, and introduce a hugging culture.
I am deeply touched by how enthusiastically the Nepali teachers receive us. The intimacy we create with the teachers progressively breaks down gender taboos. Male teachers test the waters first by hugging us, then each other and the female teachers. Then this spreads to the children.
One of the experiences that moves me the most, is witnessing how collective healing in community is embodied in their culture. By day three of our training, during a tea break, spontaneous singing and dancing breaks out. Instead of going back to class we recognize this as a way they inherently know how to resource after the hard conversations about the symptoms and the causes of trauma. We keep dancing.
I am overwhelmed by the expansive feeling in my heart, and cry from gratitude every day. Layers of old stories that belonged to my family, about being alone, having to fight and work hard to be loved, are shed. Here I am, stepping into a new story of extended family and unconditional love. One that says “being” is more than enough. I leave with my heart full of family, (nane and me) godsons and goddaughters, brothers and sisters.
I healed my own trauma over the past 25 years, so I could be of service in a sustainable way. I am here now. To stand for the end to the abuse of children and violence towards women everywhere, because no woman and child should stand alone. To stand for the reclaiming of our bodies as our own so that all women and children can access safety, comfort and joy. To stand for love and safe physical contact, because it’s what is twisted, misused and withheld in abusive cycles.
This January, with the support of the SETH program, I came full circle, back to my sixteen-year-old intention. I began the work Marilyn inspired me to do. I stayed with her in Swayambhu and took care of her during part of my visit. When I reported how well our training at the school was going, she looked up at me. That familiar toothy grin rose like the moon above the table and shone on me,“That’s great”.
As an incredible epilogue to this journey, Marilyn died shortly after my visit with her, and passed the torch to me. I will carry on the legacy that she left behind, but will include myself in the circle of care. Her joyful presence will always be remembered.
What legacy are you inspired to create?