Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Horse Whisperer, I am Not

The lead rider assigned me to Cappy...when I heard the name, the first image that came to mind was of a toothless rogue pirate. Turns out I wasn't too far off...The instructor thought I would be able to "handle" him since I was the only one in the group with "riding experience". Little did she know that my "experience" consisted of a few lessons taken 13+ years ago. Cappy appeared innocent enough, a smaller framed black horse with a little white marking on his nose. This beautiful black steed would be my companion for the day.

Before I continue, let me express my romantic visions of how I thought the day would go. My horse and I would greet each other, he: nuzzling his soft nose into my hands; me: whispering softly to him as i gracefully mounted the saddle; we: riding together through the woods, leaning forward to stroke his neck, breathing the fresh air, moving in sync, both enjoying the beauty surrounding us. Beautiful. Peaceful Serene.

"So you're going to have to hold the reigns short...Cappy likes to eat grass while he should be following the other horses. And keep him at a safe distance from the horse in front of you. He likes to take bites. Just make sure he knows who's boss" Okay, short reigns, rump biter, I'm the boss. I think I had it. All this while fiddling with a headset (to listen to the ranger's guided tour). Not even five minutes into our walk, Cappy spooks, starts prancing around and heads the opposite direction as all the other horses. This was definitely not what I envisioned. And I was definitely NOT the horse whisperer.

Cappy was passive aggressive, an envelope pusher if you will. While everyone else was walking in a straight line, Cappy zig-zagged. While all the other horses were content, ears perked up, Cappy expressed his irritation by keeping his ears back 90% of the time. While the others kept a safe distance from the edge of the hills we walked up, Cappy sauntered dangerously close to the edge as if to say "I know you think you're the boss but hey, your life is in my hands". He did humor me a few times by perking his ears up after i cajoled him with "you're a good boy, good boy, good boy". Though I might have just dreamed that part up.

This was not the harmonious connection I had envisioned, but rather a power play between me, holding the reigns, and Cappy, holding my weight. Our relationship got me to thinking about power dynamics with animals, and more generally, with nature. Maybe if Cappy didn't feel like I was trying to control him the entire time, his ears would have perked up. Cappy let me know from the beginning that this trail ride, it just wasn't his thing today. I'm thinking I should have listened.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Green Jobs!

A few weeks back, Green for All put on a National Day of Action to elicit community involvement and get the attention of policymakers. Van Jones, author of The Green Collar Economy, was invited to address the crowd.

Green for All is rallying for jobs in environmental industries to be available to residents who have been negatively affected by harmful land uses near their residential neighborhoods. This is an interesting solution and should be given more clout given our current financial situation. Encouraging the growth of renewable energy industries is beneficial to our job market (especially since outsourcing wouldn't be an issue) and because we are creating a sustainable future. Here are some pictures from the event:

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day: Homeless Muslims

As part of blog action day, I'd like briefly highlight the work of an amazing community organization -- Muslimat Al-Nisaa -- tackling both poverty AND homelessness within the Baltimore-DC area Muslim community. Lest you think that this is just a small, isolated problem, the Washington Post recently ran an article on homelessness among Muslim women. Some estimate that there are several hundred homeless Muslim women in the DC area. Driven out of their homes after losing their jobs or by abusive spouses, these women have few places to turn to for help. The services that Muslimat al-Nisaa provide are part of our communal obligation to support those in need and essential to building a healthy community. Donating our money or time is the least we can do to help them.

The organization, run by Sister Asma Hanif, recently opened the first Muslim Women’s Center (MWC) that has space for 15-25 women and provides training, counseling and medical services to homeless women and their children. “It is not just a place for them to sleep comfortably. Our goal is to get them prepared to stand up on their own feet,” said Sister Asma Hanif, in a recent interview with the Muslim Link. I had a chance to talk to Sister Asma at ISNA this year. She mentioned that they need about $5000 per month for BASIC shelter operations (with some additional food and donations), so even your $10-20 per month can make a big difference insha'Allah.

To donate, please send a check to the address below or visit the website to set-up a recurring donation.

Muslimat Al Nisaa
5115 Liberty Heights Ave, Baltimore, MD 21207
phone (410) 466-8686
fax (410) 466-5949

And if you want further proof that your small donation can make a difference: with your help, DC Green Muslims ranked in the TOP FIVE organizations in the Capital Area Food Bank's "Skip a Lunch, Feed a Bunch" program. THANK YOU to all who contributed!

Friday, October 10, 2008

kayaking montage 10/5/08

our route

starting point: key bridge
starting time: 9:30am

we stopped at fletcher's cove to eat; we paddled about 2.5 miles upriver to get there.

believe it or not, this is a group shot- see them way in the distance?
thank you to everyone who came out to spend a day exploring a little bit of the potomac!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

GM goes Kayaking

Mind quiet and still, I sat in my boat, leaning forward with my knees touching opposite sides of the kayak to keep balance. I rowed from left to right, my paddle slicing the water to propel me forward.

The stillness of the world around me was piercing. I wanted the river, the soft breeze, the trees, and the presence of God to speak wisdom to me. I, like many of us, get caught up in the drudgery of life. It can be hard to listen to the external world when our internal world is constantly being inundated with the cacophony of useless idle thoughts. Often times, we think we have control of our surroundings or we try to methodically plan out that which is not meant to be planned.

Being in my little vessel, slowly inching forward to my destination, I couldn't help but think about the beautiful metaphor God was showing me. The current of the river was pushing me where it willed, just as life seems to move us in directions that seem to be beyond our comprehension. The gentle wind was blowing in the direction it saw fit. I was just along for the ride. If I let the current of the river and the wind take me completely and not paddle, I probably would end up going in circles. I realized God was reminding me, it's all about balance.

As I used the paddle to move me, I realized the synergy that existed between the external world and me. I had to project my own individual identity, my rhythm of paddling, to let myself move in the direction I wished. I had to be careful about not shifting my weight on either side of the kayak too rapidly because I would have tipped over. Again, Balance. Even though I had an idea of which direction I wished for the vessel to go, I was also able to flow with where the water willed. I wasn't fighting it. I flowed but with my own direction, purpose and conviction.

So as much as I may try to plan, calculate and prepare for my future (ironically, this is my profession as an urban planner), I was reminded by the river that life will flow however it wills. You can float for the ride and exert some idea of where you'd like to go, but ultimately, God will move the wind and water as He wills. And I am His vessel.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Ecology of the Heart & Mind

I was born on the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, where I grew up playing on the western shore of the Persian Gulf. My father, a Syrian civil engineer, would take me to a resort town he was building on the western coast of the Peninsula, on the eastern shore of the Red Sea.

When I was eight, my family and I moved to America. There, on the East Coast, I played on the edges of eastern forests and grew entangled in an ecology that wove existing memories of a dry land and warm waters into seamless, intricate webs in my middle-childhood mind.

There is no gulf between the ecology and culture of East and West for a child whose heart and mind encompasses both.

They say smell is the most powerful trigger of memory. The first time I smelled diesel exhaust on the streets of Washington, DC – the City of Trees – it transported me to my mother’s native Damascus. In that city inhabited for over 4,000 years, the waft from diesel-powered engines that first entered my lungs and imprinted itself upon my memory unfortunately still fills the urban air.

Somewhere between DC and Damascus I learned that there need not be a gulf between the ecology and culture of city and nature for someone whose heart and mind could encompass both.

As an undergraduate student in biology and religion in Washington, DC, my mind started to lay the first intellectual strands of an ecology of science and spirituality that was already reflected in my heart. All this came together for me as a Student Conservation Associate in Tucson Arizona’s Saguaro National Park.

There was something about the Sonoran Desert, so foreign yet so familiar, that spoke to me deeply. Perhaps it was the American West’s reflection of the dry Middle Eastern landscape that I carried within.

An ecology of the heart and mind, my own, was starting to reveal itself.

Beyond that first impression, I busied myself with acquiring the skills in botanical field research that our project (PDF) entailed. I was awash in statistics and scientific data collection, the object of which was the saguaro cactus. But to the Tohono O’odham, the native peoples of that part of the Sonoran Desert, the saguaros are no mere object. They are ancestors.

One late afternoon, as the shadows grew long, another intern and I were walking ahead on the trail when we saw something that forced us stop. We were in the shadow of a giant saguaro. Much larger, much older and much grander than us, we stood in awe of this Tohono O’odham elder.

It was no different than many of the other saguaros we measured, plotted and photographed that day, yet no number, no picture and no words could capture what we saw. So we stood there in silence, enchanted and humbled by the elder’s presence.

How can there be a gulf between science and the spiritual for people whose hearts and minds encompass both?

Mosaic Landscape

I was born and raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles County, 40 minutes from the mountains and 40 minutes from the beach. It was a wonderful place to explore and reflect on nature.

On the other hand, I felt the sprawling nature of Southern California negatively impact my inner landscape. Los Angeles County is compartmentalized, just as my psyche was fragmented and disjointed. Entertainment hubs, friends, work, and home are miles apart, taking hours in traffic to get from one place to another, both in public transit or auto. The lack of unity and harmony felt within me reflected the disharmony in my surroundings.

Less happens in a day when you are spending hours on end sitting in a parking lot, more commonly known as the 405 freeway. It is hard to feel collected and stable when your daily activities are so heavily determined by externalities like commute time and distance from work to home, etc. The daunting thought of getting from one place to another usually meant I stayed home on my couch. This took a toll on my sense of community and place. I felt little ownership for my surroundings/inner-self and frankly, was not equipped with the right tools to fix my predicament.

Seeing as how I was so clearly affected by my built environment, I decided I wanted to learn the tools. I wanted to understand the spatial composition of cities. Who decides where buildings go?… Who decides where the roadway network is constructed?… Who doesn't have a voice in these types of discussions?… How do we create a sense of community?… How can we lessen the burden the environment experiences because of us?… How can we make public transit a viable transportation option by lessening door-to-door transit time?…

As I try to equip myself with the right tools to help influence the external world, my internal world is on its way to becoming more centered and rooted in a framework of thought that encourages reflection, growth and acceptance of change---paying special attention to how externalities/built environment affect(s) me.

Sometimes our past issues/mistakes can seem as immovable as a 10-story skyscraper, casting its shadow over our future pursuits.I am starting to realize now that we have the ability, the strength from within, to create buildings we deem worthy and raze structures that impede our processes of growth on our respective journeys.

I finally recognize the harmony of my inner landscape comes from an alignment/unification of my soul, mind, and heart----making every part of me ready to hear God's presence in my life.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Inner Landscapes

The verses of the Qur'an are called ayaat, literally signs. As some of the ayaat in the Qur'an state, signs (or ayaat) can also be found on earth, in the horizons and within our selves.

"And in the earth, there are signs for those who (seek truth to) believe, and in your own selves! So, you do not perceive? And in the heavens, there is your sustenance and all that you have been promised." (51:20-22, see also 41:53)

Through these verses, we understand that there are signs in the world both within and without – an outer and inner landscape – that are means for us to reflect on our own creation and remember our Creator.

This concept of an "inner landscape," coupled with frequent references from a few of our proud Southern members to the landscape of where they're from (Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee...), got us thinking...

How do these outer, physical landscapes speak to us? What do they say? How are they connected to our inner landscapes? In other words, how do the hills and valleys of a land feed the spirit of someone who's grown up there?

A few of us decided to answer these questions in the form of blog posts. They're all labeled "Inner Landscapes." Enjoy them! ...and tell us where you're from! What's the landscape there like? What does it say about your inner landscape?