Tori and rinpoche
I’ve had a series of fascinating conversations for Empowered Living Radio this past month. Each has been on a different topic with wildly different guests: the reincarnated spiritual leader of the Red Hat Lamas of Tibet, an advocate and activist for the Indigenous people of Turtle Island (North America), a Colonel in the United States Army stationed in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as an adviser, and a professor and author of middle-grade fiction. And yet, there seems to be a common thread that weaves between all of these conversations—connection and interdependence.

When I spoke with Shamar Rinpoche, the 14th reincarnated Shamarpa Red Hat Lama of Tibet about Non-Sectarian Buddhist Practices (link goes live 4/7, 7pm EST), part of that conversation centered on compassion and emptiness. He spoke of the ability to help those in need and take on their pain, without actually suffering that pain, ourselves. In order to do that successfully, we would need an understanding that our experience of life is an illusion. He compared this to Alice in Wonderland, where she slept only for minutes but felt that she lived experiences that lasted for hours. We also have this experience when we dream, right? Our dreams aren’t limited by the time we actually spend asleep, but can span hours and jump years. In speaking of this dreaming phenomena, he said, “So if we look for the reality, then neither is real.  It’s illusion. All the experience of sentient beings are illusion. There is nothing to cling on, nothing to attach to.”This understanding of illusion is at the heart of the Buddhist concept of emptiness, which basically means that phenomena has no inherent nature—nothing is existent in and of itself. Our reality, and our experience of that reality, is dependent upon perception, relationships, and interdependence. Shamar Rinpoche explained how emptiness—this concept of interdependence—is at the heart of true compassion.

Then I had the pleasure of recording a conversation with Tiokasin Ghosthorse about the Language of Mother Earth.  (link goes live 4/28, 7pm EST).During that thought provoking conversation, he described the importance of language and how it can either unite us with each other and the living beings on our planet, or it can separate us from everything and everyone. He pointed out the tendency for Westernized languages, including English, to stress distinction and possession. Whereas Indigenous languages, like his own Lakota (Sioux) language, foster connectivity and relationship. For example, his language does not have a word for nature, since they experience it as integral to all living beingsThe Lakota speak in terms of everything, including so called inanimate objects, as having a spirit and living energy. They use verbiage that honors our relationship to these beings without claiming ownership over them. Of course, this makes their conversation slower and more poetic, but they’re not in hurry. To them, our more concise English language distances us from our connection and interdependence with Mother Earth.

As I write this blog, I am listening to my conversation with COL Mark Solomons on Finding Common Ground (click link to listen).

This is a conversation that I recorded early in the month with a Punahou classmate who is currently stationed in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as an advisor. COL Mark Solomons has served 4 combat tours, 3 rotations, and numerous Peace Keeping and Peace Enforcing missions. Needless to say, he has a unique perspective of the Middle East and great skill in relationship building. At one point, he described shifting from peace and trust to fighting for survival, then back to peaceful discussions over chai.  With the same people. On the same day!  I had to admire his fluidity.What I mean by fluidity, is that his perception is not fixed. He has an intuitive appreciation for the commonality of humans. He credits his formative years in the cultural melting pot of Hawaii for this sense of connection. He also credits his military education and broad military experience. That might surprise many people, but COL Solomons understands the need for finding common ground and holding fast to the priority of attaining and keeping peace. When speaking of the importance of relationship building, he said, “When people ask me, what are we doing in the Middle East, I like to say that we’re making friends!” And he really means that. This United States army colonel truly understands humanity’s connection and interdependence.

I also enjoyed a stimulating conversation with author, researcher, and college professor Sam Staley on the topic of School Violence (click link to listen). What made it so interesting was the direction that our conversation took. Sam mentioned that by the time parents become aware of potentially violent trouble with their children, the situation had already deteriorated out of control. That got me thinking about non-judgmental communication.If we want to decrease physical and emotional violence in our school, we as parents need to create a safe environment for open dialogue within our home. I’m not just talking about helping our children cope with the hurtful actions of others, I’m talking about guiding our children to appropriate ways of coping with their own anger and desire to hurt!

Unfortunately, even the most open among us, inadvertently sabotage that dialogue with our choice of words. When we focus on defining and labeling people instead of discussing their behavior—ie. calling people bullies, rather than talking about their bullying actions—we condemn the person, rather than the behavior. Unfortunately, good people sometimes do bad things. And this includes our own children. But if they’ve heard us condemning people for their actions, they can be fearful of admitting their own angry feelings and hurtful actions. After all, they wouldn’t want us (their parents) to feel that way about them. And if they can’t share those things with us, how are we suppose to help and guide them? Open communication between parent and child is not possible without an understanding that we are all subject to the same afflicting emotions and potential for mis-behavior. We have to remember that we are all human.

So what reoccurring theme did I find in my conversations with Sam Staley, COL Mark Solomons, Tiokasin Ghosthorse, and Shamar Rinpoche? Connection. We are all interrelated and dependent upon each other. When we keep this in mind, we not only feel more empowered, but we feel more in touch with everyone and everything. Perhaps if we foster this kind of connectivity, we can live, as Tiokasin Ghosthorse says—with, rather than on the Mother Earth.

Tori Eldridge
Tori Eldridge is a Honolulu-born writer, a 5th degree black belt ninja, and a former actress, dancer, singer on Broadway, television, and film. She writes action-packed, culturally-rich thrillers and mystically intriguing suspense, empowering non-fiction, and has taught ninjutsu and empowerment across the country.
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