Role Models Remind Us of What One Person Can Achieve

  • Everything brings me back to compassion.
  • Role models remind us of what one person can achieve. Person who is compassionate draws people like a magnet. People were drawn to the Buddha. Anyone who puts in a regimen of compassion can become such a person (a person that people are drawn to).
  • Compassion is tough. It requires that you put yourself on the backburner. Socrates said that dialogue is about opening your heart and receiving dialogue.
  • Need to make place for another. Need to practice compassion all day and every day. It’s not that you do something and say, “that was my good deed for the day,” and then go back to living lives of spite and compassion.
  • Have to be able to have your own mind changed. Socrates said that at the point that you can say you know nothing, you are wise.
  • We act so omniscient. We say “she does this, because..” But in reality, you have no idea!
  • Mustn’t identify with your opinions, that is your ego speaking. Socrates told us to open our mind and listen to the other person. We need to empty our minds and forget what you think that you know. Go into dialogue willing to be changed. Fight for cause, but be willing to change your mind.
  • There is no good in speaking with spite and anger.
  • A spot of time is something you go back to and drink from. Similar with an unkind word.
  • To become a sage is hard work.

~Karen Armstrong, Toronto Reference Library, Jan 17th 2011

Notes from the Human Rights, Religion and the Law Lecture at U of T (Jan 11th 2012)

In January 2012, the University of Toronto held a lecture called Human Rights, Religion and the Law as part of a series of events with the Ontario Humans Rights Commission (which was updating its policy on creed) and the University of Toronto Religion in the Public Sphere program. Every time I’ve heard Barbara Hall speak I’ve been moved by her warmth and powerful intellect, and that evening was no different. The other two speakers of the evening, Winnifred Sullivan and David Seljak were equally powerful, and scholars who I hope to continue to follow. What was powerful about that night was the widespread acknowledgement that we need to unpack our definitions and understandings of secularism, understand its foundations, and recognise the role of power in constructing what we assume to be natural. Once we do this, it is easier to see that models based on accommodation and tolerance are deeply flawed.

I mostly just listened to the speakers that night, but today I came across my (brief) notes from the lecture, and I’ve included them below.

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Celebrating Four Years as an Aunt

Being an aunt is something that is very close to my heart, and though we’re in different provinces at present, I’m celebrating the birthday of my nephew today. Sharing stories over pancake and berries breakfasts, whispering at 4 am during weekend sleepovers, drawing pictures and reading books together, and just generally witnessing a child develop from an infant into someone with speech, opinions, and a definite personality is a fascinating and blessed process. (At the end of this post is a list I wrote for when my nephew turned one of the lessons I’ve learnt during his first year. The lessons are still true, so I’ve reposted them here)

He isn’t alone on the fantastic child list though. During my trip to Singapore last month, I kept running into wonderful kids who inspired me with their curiosity and intellect. I passed by a travel store one day with a giant globe at its entrance, and two siblings who were probably 9 and 11 years old were quizzing each other of their knowledge of tiny countries, and trying to map out flight routes. They were struggling to find a few countries, and we struck up a conversation. The next day I was on the MRT and a mum and her son of about ten years of age were talking about Google, what a googol is, and how that relates to what the search engine intended to do at the outset of its creation.

It reminded me of other kids I’ve met from time to time who have qualities that I wished schools and cities cultivated within all young people: voracious reading, tremendous curiosity, and an ability to figure out answers to questions that puzzle them.  Imagine what communities would look like if we planned them (and budgeting priorities) with the learning needs and experiences of the youngest members of cities in mind. Then imagine where you live at present. Though some places are better than others, there is still so so much that we need to do.

Life Lessons From A One Year Old 

1) Disappointments are to be experienced intensely, mourned briefly, and then forgotten. Failure should not hinder one from trying and trying again.

2) People are fascinating. Seek them out. Be unafraid to start conversations. To smile. To wave hello to your neighbours. Make a habit of constantly expressing your delight that you are in the company of others, and the recipient of their attention.

3) Relish solitude. You need time every day to wander, to think, to explore and simply figure things out. To try new things. Protest fiercely when others encroach on this time.

4) Make amends quickly. When you keep others up at night or leave them exhausted during the day, make sure you make up for it with a contrite smile and a heart softening cuddle.  Have a sunshiny disposition that makes it impossible to remain irritated with you.

5) The world is your playground, discover it actively. In every situation, there are things to be explored and learnt, touched and tasted. Have a healthy sense of curiosity about your surroundings. Be a scientist in the world. Experiment, challenge, test, test again, revise your assumptions, store that knowledge away, and repeat this process continuously.

6) Be heard.  If you have an opinion, share it. If you aren’t understood at first, persist until you’ve conveyed your point of view. Learn new languages to speak to ever widening circles of people.

7) Seek support and comfort from those around you. When you fall and stumble, touch base to feel better, and then return to your adventure-seeking, knowledge-desiring, happy state.

8 Embrace your inner artist. Express yourself, and don’t let limitations of ability and skill deter you from enjoying colours and textures and different art forms.

9) Savour tastes and smells and textures.  Enjoy each morsel. Chew slowly. Explore new foods. Try what others are having. Chase after new experiences.

10) Wake up completely thrilled about the day ahead. Stand up, laugh, and become excited and energised about the big adventures that await you. Nap when needed.

11) Touch the world, and be in touch with nature.  Splash in water. Watch birds. Stop and say hello to puppies. Jump on grass. Stare at trees. Be conscious of the fact that the world is awesome, and spend some time every day marveling at its wonders. Don’t let a day go by without some time outdoors.

12) Don’t hold grudges. When someone trips over you, or makes a mistake, have a good cry, but don’t let bad experiences or moments impact your trust of others as a whole.

13) Laugh heartily. Laugh often.

14) Seek new goals constantly. Be hungry to learn and grow and develop. Be persistent. Spend lots of time with others who are more skilled than you-it creates an environment where you are naturally constantly trying to stretch and increase your abilities.

15) Assert your independence. Don’t let others do things for you too often. Push people away who prevent you from learning.

16) When you make a mess, clean it up.

17) Dance when music plays. In fact, make time for movement every day.  After spending any length of time being stationary, or eating large amounts of food, race around, climb things, and revel in your ability to move and reach and run and stand.

And lastly…be confident.  Babies have personalities. They come into the world with their own idiosyncrasies and habits and little quirks, and when you hear mothers talk about their children, they speak about the things that he/she likes and doesn’t like, prefers and doesn’t prefer, and what their habits tend to be. And yet, a year earlier, the little person didn’t exist. Obviously I’m not the first writer to reflect on the miracle of birth, but it is something to keep in mind as we strive for things and get discouraged and get disappointed at times: that perhaps the simple fact we exist, that we come into the world with such a definite sense of self, means that one must chase and seek and find meaning. We are too astonishing to not seize the day, to not make what we can of our lives and experiences, and to not reach out to others and create social change.

The Myth of Independence

I met a dear friend unexpectedly today, and we had the kind of conversation you can only have with old friends, where you pour out the contents of your heart and you know the other person will help you make sense of it all because they’ve known you for so long. And afterwards I had dinner with another beautiful soul, and it made me think about how strange (and inaccurate) it is to attribute anything you accomplish to yourself. My research project studying mosques was due this week, and handing it felt like the conclusion of months (if not longer) of thought about what I wanted to research. I was battling between different ideas even before I came to Toronto, and so handing it in felt like a significant milestone.

And yet, it is a milestone (like the entire graduate experience) that is not mine alone. When you move to a new place, you realize that no matter how strong and independent you think you are, you require other people to make that experience a positive one. You need kind people to help you move and carry heavy things, to help you find good company, to invite you to their home on holidays when you don’t know anyone, to send you food when you’re homesick, to check up on you when you’re sick, to hear your rants about school, to encourage you when you’re unsure about your decisions, to give you advice, and to send you a note sometimes and let you know that you’re in their prayers. It requires tremendous effort on the part of other people to make the small(in comparison) task of studying possible. And without kind souls to generously welcome you into their family and friend circle, life simply would not be as beautiful. When you’re an introverted person (as I am) it’s easy to stay on your own and forget to seek out company, but Toronto has taught me that community is necessary.  I’m thankful that Toronto has been a place full of kind hearted souls who have made me feel so comfortable here.

And so this is a resolution for the weeks, months and years to come. I’d like to strive to be as kind and gentle as the people I’ve met, to be the sort of person and social planner who people feel comfortable around, and to have a home where people who are new and finding their way feel welcome, and leave nourished and revitalized in more ways than one. I’m curious as Anne would say, what the ‘bend in the road’ will bring forth, but am making intentions that this next chapter is an enriching one.

Love is a Steaming Cup of Chai

It’s been nearly three months since my last blog post. I took a bit of a break to work on my research project, and then the gap grew larger as I started to think about the process of blogging itself and ask myself: Does it make sense to share one’s thoughts and reflections with a wider audience?  I was pondering the question while taking a class about improving the quality and state of one’s heart, and in that context, it felt like chattering about one’s feelings and reflections was indulging in a thinking process that could have just as well gone in a journal. Today though, I opened an almost empty notebook and found an unfinished blog post about falling in love with Toronto that was dated from this past summer. The short entry led me back to the blog, and reading the small number of posts here was a beautiful reminder of moments in Toronto that touched my heart, and people I’ve met here that have left an indelible imprint on my heart and mind. It made me wish I had blogged more often, as it is a qualitatively different type of reflection than the (also important) experience that occurs when I pick up a Moleskine to jot down thoughts.

And since I leave Toronto in about a month for the post graduation chapter of my life, I’ve included it below as a reminder to keep the same joy and peace in my heart as I soak up this last bit of time I have in this beloved city, to have trust that the next chapter will hopefully bring forth goodness and adventures in equal measure, and to remember to blog along the way.

My love for Toronto is a steaming cup of chai with the Roommate, sweet mangoes for breakfast, a late night guitar jam session on the beach, finding the way home using the CN tower, a smile from a stranger on the elevator, new challenges at work, walking the tree-shaded streets of U of T, hearing birds outside my office window, sitting and watching the lake sparkle at the Harbourfront and seeing the Ford Centre full of people excited about the ballet during a evening stroll. It’s  watching trains go by from my apartment window with my nephew and stretching our imaginations to create stories about where people are going.  Even after so many months, my love and happiness with this city still feels like an unexpected gift.

Sometimes the thought of whether something is right or whether you’re doing what you’re meant to be doing is so strong that the attention can be intensely uncomfortable. It is difficult to be completely relaxed and open when you’re analyzing your experiences and emotions constantly. But from first term when I frequently thought about what Toronto meant, without realizing it was even happening, a natural, easy contentment with Toronto has slipped into my life. ~ May 28th 2011.

The Argument Against Modernity’s Dominant Formulation

Sometimes you read articles that make your heart sing with their intelligence and insight and overall wonderfulness, and as you read, you find yourself whispering intentions and prayers to yourself to go at your work with a bit more determination and focus. Today that happened as I read a lovely article by Massey, and wanted to share bits of it here as inspiration when my enthusiasm stores run a bit low. =) The article as a whole is about different ways of disrupting and problematizing popular academic and general conceptions of globalization,why such disruptions need to occur, and why we need to construct ‘space-time’ understandings of the  process of globalization.  The chapter was assigned as one of this week’s readings in a class I’m taking this term titled Global Urbanism and Cities of the Global South. In the 2 years of my program, I think this is the first course offered about ‘other’ parts of the world, so I’m excited to soak up as much as I can. (Because as interesting as Canada is, my heart and brain is craving to learn about urbanism in other contexts).

The quote below talks about how we need to recognise the particularities of the modernity story. It predicates an extensive discussion about why popular conceptions of globalization (one for example being that globalization is about free unbounded movement) need to be deconstructed, and outlines four reasons that the author is uncomfortable with unquestioned usages of the term. One particularly interesting part of the piece is the way she demonstrates how different powerful geographic imaginations are utilized to construct a particular understanding of economic globalization and the implications of this knowledge production. The international movement of capital is valorized and celebrated, whereas the international movement of labour is discussed in the context of protecting local people and controlling immigration.  It is a fascinating piece that warrants a read in its entirety.

“The standard version of the story of modernity – as a narrative of progress emanating from Europe – represents a discursive victory of time over space.  That is to say that differences which are truly spatial are interpreted in being differences in temporal development – differences in the stage of progress reached. Thus Western Europe is understood as being ‘advanced’, other parts of the world as ‘some way behind’ and yet others as ‘backward’. Euphemistically to re-label ‘backward’ as ‘developing’ does nothing to alter this process of thinking of spatial variation in terms of a temporal series. (..) It is this act which deprives these spatial differences of their ‘real import’, deprives them of  ‘the full measure of the real differences which are at issue.’
Ironically then, not only is this temporal structuring of the geography of modernity a repression of the spatial, it is also the repression of the possibility of the temporalities (other, that is than the stately progress towards modernity/modernization/development on the Euro-Western model. Indeed it is in these terms – that is, about the existence of other temporalities and stories – that the argument against modernity’s dominant formulation is usually posed. In other words, for different temporalities to co-exist there must be space.

Massey D (1999). Imagining globalization: Power geometries of time-space. In A. Brah and M. Hickman, M. Mac An Ghaill (eds). Global Futures – Migration, Environment and Globalization (pp.27-44). New York: St Martin’s Press.

Planes are the Place I Think Best

I’ve been back in Toronto for a couple of hours now, and unpacking my suitcase, I’ve already realized that I’ve forgotten my indoor sandals, the base of my Krups kettle, and my USB key (at which point I abandoned unpacking and gave myself a proper scolding about being a more careful person). Now that that scolding is out of the way, today’s podcast episode is about my reflections from the flight from Vancouver to Toronto. Specifically, I’m talking about the difficulties of detaching from things,the importance of recognizing the blessings you have (and using them properly) and what landing a plane indicates about goal-setting. You can hear it here.

p.s-I had to stop the recording at one point, and the sound changed afterwards. Please excuse the audio quality!

What Will You Do With The Things You Notice? (the beginnings of Idea Steep)

Near my bedside table are Thoreau’s Walden, and a book of essays and lectures by Emerson. Both are books that I can only read a few pages at time, and something different speaks to me with each reading. Today upon opening Emerson I came across the following passages:

What help from thought? Life is not dialectics.We, I think in these times, have had lessons enough of the futility of criticism. Our young people have thought and written much on labour and reform, and for all that they have written, neither the world nor themselves have gotten on a step. Intellectual tasting of life will not supersede muscular activity. If a man should consider, the nicety of the passage of a piece of bread down his throat, he would starve. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson, Experience.

I am thankful for small mercies. I compared notes with one of my friends who expects everything of the universe and is disappointed when anything is less than the best, and I found that I begin at the other extreme, expecting nothing, and am always full of thanks for moderate goods. (..) If we take the good we find, asking no questions, we shall have heaping measures. The great gifts are not got by analysis. ~Experience, Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Emerson’s words remind me of conversations with a mentor of mine last term, where I would be upset about something going on in international, national, or local news, or something that happened to me personally, or a program or policy that I thought could be designed better, or about the exhausted feeling I would get sometimes answering a question about the hijab/my ethnic background/Muslim women that I’d answered a million times before. Really whatever the matter would be, the question I would always get after I had finished my rant was what are you going to do about the things that you notice? Are you simply critiquing and making conversation, or do you have the ethical commitment to initiate change? And what will that change look like? What is the purpose of your professional and personal life Shagufta?

It’s a blessing to have someone ask you such questions. And that is perhaps one of the greatest blessings of graduate school, (though I hope it continues after school is done): you are surrounded by people who are brighter than you, more accomplished than you, who have more skills, who are more well-read, and who are actively striving to understand more about the world and what their place in it is. In such company, you find yourself marvelling at how different everyone’s research interests are, how inspiring their intellects are, and you grow because the company you’re in demands it.

I grow the most though, when the company I’m in is not just of fellow students who are genuinely interested in the questions they’re pursuing and are actively thinking about how they can make contributions outside themselves, but is of people who are also engrossed in the task of becoming better people. One of the best descriptions I’ve read of this kind of company is Rehab al Buri’s blog. (If you haven’t heard of her, she was an ABC News staffer who passed away on March 6th 2011 from cancer, at age twenty-five. ABC News wrote an article about her here, which is where I first heard her story). Her blog was about her reflections and thoughts about her illness, and in one of her posts, she writes:

“I’m also trying to keep company with those who are committed to leading meaningful lives…who don’t think making du’aa  (supplication) at the end of a get together is cheesy, and who won’t think I’m trying to be a goody-two-shoes for suggesting worship instead of entertainment, and who will call me out when I’m wrong.

Living up to the person I promised Allah I would become is a struggle. But I figure I can set myself up for success by making struggle my new normal.

Like Rehab, I too would like to keep the company of those who are committed to leading meaningful lives. Before moving to Toronto, I helped organize an event called Terry Tales, which was basically a gathering every couple of weeks at the University of British Columbia with tea, cookies, and awesome people. The event was originally supposed to be something similar to The Moth, but when we ran the event we discovered people were more interested in sharing ideas and reflections and gaining inspiration from one another than hearing stories passively, and there were really neat projects that came out of each session (just from engaged people who do wildly different things being in the same place, chatting and deciding they liked each other enough to actually work together). We also almost always blogged about the experience afterwards. Since moving to Toronto, I’ve been wanting to try something similar and call it an Idea Steep, and since my heart still feels so heavy and painful over leaving home, now seems like the right time. I think I’ll be hosting it at home (makes it more doable with school) so it’ll be small and simple, but I will blog about our reflections here. And if we come across a magical space with tea I’ll post the details here too.

Stay tuned (and if you have ideas of potential places, feel free to comment!)

How do You Pick a City?

What characteristics do you value in the city in which you live? My trip to Vancouver is coming to a close, and my heart actually hurts at the thought of leaving. I’ve never taken it so hard before, and I think part of the reason for my sadness is that in the gap since I’ve last been in the city, I’ve forgotten, or at least the memory has become fainter – of what its like to live with others and live in this city of beauty. Toronto has its own charm, and in this episode of the podcast (click here to listen), I’m reflecting on the differences between Vancouver and Toronto, and whether after the loveliness of living with others, living on one’s own is something to be avoided for the health of one’s heart. It’s a question I need to explore over the next semester hopefully.

For yourself though, what qualities do you value in a city?

Libraries, Planning Education, Thesis-ing and Holiday Reading

I was down with a cold recently and sounded too awful to podcast (though ironically, had to do two term project presentations with my sniffly voice) but I’m all mended now, and back to doing these short audio reflections. I’ve been worried about microphone quality and not knowing how to edit, but as a teacher told me tonight, the important thing is to begin and not worry about having the right equipment, and then the skills and other pieces can develop over time. Otherwise what sometimes happens is that you can become so worried about having the right tools that it becomes an excuse for never beginning the project you intended to begin in the first place.

And so with that reminder in mind, I am back, and ready to learn more through trial and error. All tips and feedback welcomed! In today’s episode, I’m reflecting on some of the things that I learnt through my term papers this year, the discipline specific reading I’m looking forward to over the break and asking you about what you recommend reading over the break. Look forward to hearing your comments!