There has been a slow glow coming to my heart and mind after being in the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Farm for a week so far. I wrote the following in the application for the siva work study study program at the ashram a couple of days ago and was accepted into the program. I am slowing down and enjoying the country air and clean spirits of people. I have a lot of learning to do regarding the yogic path, but this place has brought a lot of peace already to my mind so far. I met with my graduate advisers for the first time in seven years at Berkeley on Friday. Making peace, and starting a new chapter of working on healing relationships that have fallen by the side of the road during the craziness of the past few years.
This could have been me with the grace of God and my friends and family these past few years. Homeless in Berkeley:
Here’s what I wrote for the application:
I am very dedicated to education of all ages. I love working with people, and find that I learn something new best by helping others learn it too. I find great joy in helping people realize that good science supports spirituality and a love of nature. I started to write poetry a couple of years ago as a way of starting to explore how art can help people understand complex science topics like evolution and computer science. I have worked with traumatized youth and adult populations over the past couple of years including refugees, African-Americans, and Native Americans. Through the study of my own inner responses to places that had been subjected to violence, be they political, ecological, or spiritual I slowly discovered different aspects of what people have for centuries called yoga. I have a love of the body, and have found that by running, biking, climbing, and weight lifting that my mind operates best when my body is cared for. I am good at helping people learn exercise methods. Regarding personal care for people, I have also discovered from my own experiences the need for a careful control of diet. I have over the past few years lost a significant amount of weight that I gained during a dark period after graduate school. From this experience, I feel I can help others with their diets to lead better healthier lives. Regarding chemistry and science, I feel that science needs to be accessible to people. Science as complex as quantum mechanics can be amazingly wonderful and exciting if people realize that the green leaves of trees are quantum mechanical fluids that take light from the sun and store energy like batteries in food. I just finished doing a couple lessons about this with youth at a Native American reservation. I brought a cheap solar light to these kids (age 7-11) and told them it was an artificial leaf. I had seen people doing research to make artificial leaves during my time at Berkeley, and reasoned that people would be more likely to support this kind of research if they could relate to it first hand. In other words, perhaps my greatest skill is as a teacher. I can take complex topics and break them down into simple language and experience for people of all ages. When people know that we are all connected to earth, then manual physical work like doing dishes and gardening become fun. I love seeing people smile, and find joy in simple work that reaches the soul. A smile can be thought of an auto-catalytic neural feedback loop. Positive neurotransmitters in one person’s brain caused the muscles in the face to smile, and the light reflected from this face reaches the eye of another and causes positive neurotransmitters in another person’s brain to be generated. More smiles, means more peace and happiness. I hope to learn yoga skills to help bring these smiles to people who are subjected to hard life conditions. Even in a war zone, a simple smile can create peace and harmony.
How will I learn yoga:
I would like to listen to my teacher as much as possible, and look inward. I am most in need of help with breathing technique. I hope to learn the subtle mental techniques associated with serious, sustained yoga practice and teaching. It is my hope that I can work each day to get a little better with patience.
Regarding mental illness:
I suffered from a dark period after graduate school associated with not being able to “live up to the bar of top level academic chemistry.” My time at Berkeley and the way I was raised by a stern Turkish father with an MIT Ph.D. put into my head as a young man the idea that the only way to be successful in life was to make a lot of money, gain a high amount of status (in academia measured in publications), and have a materially comfortable life. Two events were extremely traumatic to me that led me the question each one of these three principles. First, my father lost millions of dollars in the financial collapse of 2008, I saw him turn from a loving warm man full of life, light, and vigor into a dark, sullen man filled with hate. I was destroyed in an inner sense by this change. The trauma was so deep because my father had divorced my mother to purse his material and business pursuits. I feel divorce is a very violent event for a young person, and through years of inner work with myself and in therapy that causes a chain of suffering that can ripple through adult life. I felt guilty for the event, and for many years did not realize it. This guilt turned into self hate and anger at myself. Through the several years of study of scripture and service, I have come to realize that this is not something that is isolated to myself. I saw in the Native American, African-American, and refugee youth that I worked with the residues of family violence, and the deep trauma that it causes. It is no coincidence that the suicide rate in Native American youth is four times the national average. Having spent time suffering from the stigma associated with mental illness that is caused by suffering and violence, I can see how it can be a vicious negative cycle. Second, the suicide of a close friend on 9/9/2009 while I was at MIT in a period of extremely high stress (going through a high stress postdoctoral fellowship and a divorce) caused a break in my consciousness. I associated the suicide with 9/11, and felt somehow responsible as a Middle Eastern-American. I felt guilty for all of the sins of both sides of my past, and fell into darkness. Through the past seven years, I have come to realize that we are all human. It is not okay if bad things happen, but we can heal only from them if we learn to really be compassionately detached. This is a very hard thing for me to do emotionally. In treatment I was taught yoga and meditation. I decided to work through much of the learning about yoga and meditation on my own while trying to hold down high stress full time jobs. I eventually came to a point that it is important for myself and everyone that I take time out of my work life to focus on learning yoga and meditation with full time focus. I had spend too many years working with trauma. Though I had the compassion for the people in these situations due to my own wounds, I realized that it is only possible to help others if you are at true inner peace. In the spiritual walk I have had from 2009 to now, I feel I have gradually evolved into a more whole and light filled being. The old values I was raised with have dissolved away. I have realized that love, service, health, humility, and prayer are the only things I really need. Firstly, it is important to love myself. I am a whole person as I am and do not need to be anything other than that. In this walk, I feel if more people could realize this, the world would be a better place.
How did I find out about the ashram:
Berkeley friend Richard Yu
I wrote a poem for the kids at Standing Rock Reservation the past week after seeing extreme violence from militarized police on women, men, and children trying to stop a pipeline for oil being built across the Missouri River. I was so inspired by the movie about the yogi who flew across the Berlin wall and the Suez Canal. I pray one day that I can see other people do such things to make peace in the Middle East and in America. I dream of bringing the Middle East and America together in love and peace. I am so tired of seeing war there, it is something that needs yoga for peace. Maybe one day I might hike from Israel to Gaza and back on a peace walk? I see caring for earth a key to lasting peace. I am working on this theme in the poem book that I am writing about Standing Rock of which this is the first poem:
Light in a Black Hole
“It’s horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.”
Tears unleashed with the rape of my mother Gaia,
Soul cry to my friends and loved ones,
Don’t stare into the sun,
Sit in a black hole and channel the abyss,
Give light to the darkness,
A singularity revolving around a water swirl,
Sacred stone factory,
Come back and make cannon balls again,
It’s easy to get angry and pick up arms to defend the helpless,
Women, elderly, and children,
Load the cannons with sacred round stones,
Sculpted by the Missouri and Cannon Ball River vortex,
Load the spirit cannons with round stones from the river,
Don’t fight with matter, fight war with spirit and prayer,
With sights of Gaza’s horror coming home,
Built by G4S and Blackwater, Mossad and the CIA,
Palestine a model system for the destitutes’ response to gas and dogs,
Don’t become one of them!
They may cry havoc and let loose the dogs of water war!
Become a nonviolent yogi and let Shiva, Allah, and Kali destroy them…
I feel education is the key to destroying the violence, and the institutions that propagate and profit from it. We do not do anything wrong with life if we can bring the light of love and wisdom to people in education. If people can find ways to work within the system and are empowered with knowledge and wisdom that help them live good lives they will be more likely to be at peace. In this way, I see education being the key to world peace. I do not mean Western education as I was educated. I mean a combination of spiritual wisdom and love and modern Western education. The world’s spiritual traditions and the best of what is modern can come together and be at harmony with a good strong yoga practice.
On Karma Yoga:
I understand that selfless service is a key way of working off bad karma. I love doing all kinds of simple work as it helps others and it helps me to remain in the moment and connected with earth and other people. I have always dreamed of working with my body and spirit first, that informed with my mind, can help a small spiritual community. I have been working in the kitchen the past couple of days. One student said he had never seen the pans so clean. I worked for three months in a Greek grocery store between service trips to the Lakota reservation and gained a great appreciation for working with food. There is something very meditative about cleaning dishes, serving and preparing food, and sharing a smile while giving someone something like food.
I William Kaya Erbil agree to be in a yoga immersion program of the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Farm.
In the yoga farm I can finally think clearly again and read books. My life is coming back…