When I first read the book The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff, I fell in love with the simplicity used through the Winnie the Pooh characters to describe the simplicity that is Taoism.
Taoism is an ancient tradition of philosophy and religious belief that is deeply rooted in Chinese customs and worldview.
Taoist ideas have become popular throughout the world through Tai Chi Chuan, Qigong, and various martial arts. (BBC)
Although I could see the personalities of these characters in my relationships and in the people who freckled my life, I became fascinated by the character of Eeyore. Eeyore’s personality and outlook on life, the obstacles he continually faced, and how he, more often than not, viewed life in a negative way, was the most accurate embodiment of the ego, especially mine.
What is the ego? This has been a point of discussion by many spiritual leaders and authors including Eckhart Tolle, Louise Hay, Dr. Wayne Dyer, and Deepak Chopra. Once you begin to define the ego in your own life a shift occurs, and freedom of the mind becomes more attainable. The ego is a false identity of the mind that is separate from the “Spiritual Self.”
This identity is created by our many experiences, patterns, and programming that we have been exposed to since birth. These thoughts fill our “Self” with doubt, uncertainty, fear, and the often believable notion that we are only the sum of our experiences and “our story.”
For example, “I have Epilepsy, so, I am Epileptic,” but I am not my Epilepsy even though my ego self would often try to use this as an identity that defines me. The “I” in this statement is the ego. When you begin to recognize this mind noise as separate from your spiritual self, you begin to make better decisions, feel more fulfilled, and become free from the shackles of this narrow definition of yourself.
My relationship with my ego is one that takes patience, because it can be sneaky in how it weasels its way back into my emotions; feeding me fear and self-doubt. Lack of confidence, love, and abundance in my life, is my ego’s sickness.
As a person who suffers from depression this too can be challenging. It’s as if you come face-to-face with your ego as it conquers your body and your inability to fight back. You are aware of what is happening but it becomes so difficult to fight back because in the end, as Dr. Wayne Dyer always likes to say, “We are spiritual beings having a human experience,” and unfortunately clinical depression, just like any other illness, is a human experience that your spiritual being often struggles to conquer because it has physically manifested itself and feels, “real”.
Just when I think myself and my ego-self have come to a harmonious existence its soft whisper of agnosticism takes hold, and for a moment the ego wins. It often disguises itself with thoughts like, “I could never achieve that,” or “I don’t deserve success” or even “I am fat.”
How do we learn to accept the journey of our spiritual self, having a human experience and all the physical, emotional and mental adversities that play a part in our growth? What happens when we choose to not listen, and instead, take a leap of faith in the possibilities that live beyond fear?
I have seen what can happen when I overcome fear. One example always plays in my mind and it was the moment I had the idea for my photography exhibition, “Familiar Strangers.”
I was sitting in my university auditorium listening to a lecture, and I couldn’t get the concept out of my mind of capturing how, although so many of us are strangers, we are all connected. What would happen if we walked over the invisible line that separates us from knowing each other and become friends? I would see the same people in my daily routine; we would smile or not, acknowledge each other, or not. I always wondered what their stories were, where they came from, what their life was like. I thought to myself, “How amazing it would be to create an installation photography exhibit capturing these familiar strangers.”
There it was, a simple thought. The only problem was, I was extremely shy and unconfident with my talent. My inner Eeyore spoke loud and clear, “You couldn’t make that happen. You don’t know how!” So I let it go.
The thing was, the idea wouldn’t let me go. I thought about it for nine years. I sketched it in my books, and designed the layout a hundred different ways. Then finally, in 2006 I made it happen. I took photos of the Familiar Strangers in my town and sandwiched the images between two pieces of plexi-glass that hung from the ceiling by three different lengths of chain. When people entered the exhibition, and as they moved throughout the pieces, they would come face to face with strangers, not only in the images but within the exhibition itself.
I won my first artist grant to produce that exhibition, and from it spun two different documentaries about two of the people in the series. One was my first short documentary called, “Roadrunner,” the story of Jeff Murray a young advocate for persons with disabilities who suffers from Cerebral Palsy, and the short documentary, “Familiar Stranger,” the inspiring story of Ottillia Chareka, who overcame incredible odds as a poor girl living in rural Zimbabwe and went on to be a professor of education at one of the highest ranked universities in Canada.
Jeff’s documentary became a tool for him to travel the province with his friend Joey, to speak to students about persons with disabilities and their inclusion. Jeff cannot communicate verbally so this was a huge opportunity for him to get his message out to the world.
In March, 2011, our community was faced with the tragic murder of Ottilia Chareka at the hands of her husband. It forever left an impact on all the people she touched with her light, and her passion for education and social advocacy. Her story touched people across the globe, and although I was in a state of shock and mourning something incredible happened that truly made an impact on me as an artist, and a youth advocate.
One day I got an email from a friend of Ottilia’s in New Brunswick, Canada. There was a link to some work that was being done by a teacher and group of children in Alberta called, The Familiar Stranger Initiative (thefamiliarstrangerintiative.com) I clicked on the site and saw this description on their history page:
The Familiar Stranger Initiative is a work in progress. The term Familiar Stranger is defined as an individual who is recognized from regular activities, but with whom one does not interact. The work of photographer and documentary film maker Cara Jones featured a great educator, Ottilia Chareka. The world lost Ottilia far too early and this initiative was formed in an effort to spread the words she shared in the documentary. The clip is available on the blog for those to watch who are interested.
This Initiative is just starting to take off. My hope is that within the next year the simple ideas of The Familiar Stranger Initiative will be in many schools throughout the country. This will be a slow process but one that I am more than excited to see come to fruition. Thank you for taking the time to look over what we have started.
As I read these words I cried, and as the tears fell from my face, I experienced the strangest moment. Like in the movies when you see time rewound in a sequence of shots reversed, I was brought back to the moment I sat in the auditorium of my university with the idea of Familiar Strangers (along with the negative voice that tried to tell me it couldn’t be done). Yet, there it was: the proof. Children were shaking hands on a playground on the other side of the country, turning strangers into friends and trying to eradicate bullying. The power of this realization was intense.
What would have happened if I had given up? What would have happened if I had choosen not to believe in myself and gave in to my inner Eeyore?
All I know is that I did chose to go forward and the results were life changing; not only for myself, but for the children affected by this simple act of kindness.
Words cannot express how amazed I feel right now! Alan Sears wrote to tell me about your Familiar Strangers Initiative. I would have never thought that my first grant-winning exhibition, and one that I worked so hard for as a single mother adjusting to life in my small town, who reached out to include others in art and by doing so met amazing people like Ottilia Chareka, would see an initiative inspired by the concept on the other side of the country. Ottilia was only one of the Familiar Strangers in my exhibition but we bonded like sisters and created the documentary Familiar Stranger, that I hope to someday finish to tell the whole story. It was what we both wanted.
Thank you so much for creating the site: it is a total reminder of how powerful art and education can be. We walk by people every day who we see standing in the coffee shop, in the grocery line, the bus stop, or the school cafeteria. What would happen if you spoke to them? Introduce yourself? How could your personally affect their lives, and how could their experience affect yours? I know firsthand how amazing and truly altering this small act can be. My friendship with Ottilia Chaerka proves this. Thank you again!
What can we achieve if we overcome our greatest fears? What happens when we take a leap of faith and silence the nay-sayer within? Whose lives will be affected? What change can we make? I hope that you learn to take the leap and believe in the possibility of your own creative self. Extend your hand within your mind and greet your negative self with love and acceptance. Maybe you will become friends and in the end create the balance you would like to see in your world.