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Dec 142011

Shilpa JainStanding in my power has been a journey of unlearning, listening, and embracing.  It’s taken me around the world and into relationship with so many different kinds of people and places.  It’s been about celebrating my gifts, acknowledging my limitations and rooting myself in spirit and communities.  And, as I reflect, I realize how many blessings I’ve received to really live and practice love – which is ultimately where my power derives from, I believe.

I am the daughter of “brain-drain” immigrants from Rajasthan, India.  My mother, a doctor, and my father, an engineer, were among that minority of people who were let into the United States in the 1970s.  They came to study, but ended up staying on, thinking they would create a better life for me and my brother.  So, I was born in Chicago and grew up in its suburbs in an incredibly multi-cultural community of folks from the Philippines, Haiti, China, Taiwan, Korea, Pakistan, Thailand, Syria…  I had no idea at the time what a privilege it was to grow up with that kind of diversity; I just thought it was ‘normal’.

At the same time, I had the blessing of a strong Rajasthani community — my parents’ friends who lived throughout the Chicago metro area — who we would meet every weekend, to speak Hindustani and Marwari (my mother’s mother tongue), celebrate festivals, share food, and just be together.  Multiple trips to India in my childhood cemented the connection.  So, I felt myself simultaneously rooted in a community and comfortably building bridges across difference with others.  That’s one strong source of power for me.

The second is from nature, spirit and my faith.  I was raised Jain, which is a small minority faith in India.  I won’t get into all the details, but there are three core principles of the faith that really shaped and strengthen me. The first is anekantavaad, which means “there are many paths to truth”. It’s essentially a call for respecting diversity and for recognizing that everyone has a part of the answer – it’s their truth.  By withholding judgement, and instead listening and learning from each person, this value echoed a feeling in my gut: that everyone is sacred and I need to make space for each person, in order to reach a deeper truth (satya).

The second is ahimsa, which focuses on creating a culture of love, compassion and understanding. It’s about doing as little harm or violence as possible.  For me, this shows up powerfully not only with people, but with how I feel toward the trees, the birds, the small insects… that sense that we are all connected, and it is part of my being alive to care for and be sensitive towards all.  And the third principle isaparigraha, which is living with a sense of enough.  That is to say, I am enough, we are enough, we have enough, and that there is enough time, enough money, enough love, enough of everything we need to build a meaningful and contributive life.  It’s a sense of sufficiency – which really challenges the near-constant messaging of scarcity and lack.  It focuses on sharing and completeness, as a means to restore balance and achieve justice and fairness.

I have been working with all of these principles in my journey of activism – from awareness, to charity/service, to advocacy, to teaching, to development policy, to co-creating learning communities, to today, aiming for alignment within myself and nurturing a consistent lived practice of the world I dream of every day.  This journey has taken me from Chicago to the East Coast, to India (where I lived for 10 years with a peoples’ movement on radically rethinking education and development, Shikshantar), to Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia, Thailand, Bolivia, Mexico, and back to the United States, where I now live in Berkeley, California, with my beloved husband, Austin.  In all of this work, in all of these opportunities to deeply connect with communities, I’ve realized another crucial source of power:  collective wisdom and the love of family, friends and co-travelers on a path towards healing, wholeness, and balance.

Unlearning has been a crucial part of this unfolding. There have been so many aha!-clicks and humbling moments along the way, but one was especially vital. It happened about twelve years ago.  Up until that point, my activism had been centered around trying to ‘fix’ what I thought was a broken system.  I had gone through many phases of ‘fixing’ (charity, service, advocacy, organizing, protest, resistance, etc.) and found myself frustrated and disheartened by each one.  I remember going to a conference on Gandhian education in New Delhi. There, I met a Tibetan monk, Samdhong Rimpoche, who later became the prime minister of the Tibetan government- in-exile.  At the height of my frustrations with the world, I asked him, “Don’t you think we need to just destroy this system?  It’s so violent, oppressive, destructive.  Maybe we just need to break it all down.”  He said to me, “Shilpa, instead of thinking about destruction, think about renunciation. If you let go of the system, if you organize around freedom and possibility and build the world we want, the system will lose its power and you will regain yours.” And that really clicked for me.  It connected so beautifully with another understanding that my community of practitioners had arrived at: that the system wasn’t broken; it was operating perfectly well. It was set up to extract, alienate, divide and conquer, disconnect, and dehumanize—and it was doing a great job at it.  So, rather than dedicate my energy to fixing or resisting, I needed to work on renouncing it, at all levels of myself, and co-creating better possibilities.

Today, I feel privileged to direct an organization, YES!, that fosters my commitment to connection and enables me to collaborate with caring and creative individuals, families, groups and movements around the world. In that same vein, I am thrilled to be a part of the Standing in Our Power network. I feel that through our conversations, imaginations, love and friendships, we will collectively generate the modes of leadership and co-creation we need for our times.

Shilpa Jain, SiOP Core Committee, is currently rooting herself in Oakland/Berkeley, CA, where she serves as the Executive Director of YES!.  YES! works with social changemakers at the meeting point of internal, interpersonal and systemic change, and aims to co-create a thriving, just and balanced world for all.  Prior to taking on this role, Shilpa spent two years working as the Education and Outreach Coordinator of Other Worlds and ten years as a learning activist with Shikshantar: The Peoples’ Institute for Rethinking Education and Development, based in Udaipur, India. Shilpa has researched, written numerous books and articles, facilitated workshops and hosted gatherings on topics ranging from globalization, creative expressions, ecology, democratic living, innovative learning and unlearning.  She had been the main coordinator of the Swapathgami (Walkouts-Walkons) Network for five years. She is passionate about dance and music, organic and natural farming, upcycling and zero waste living, asking appreciative questions and being in community. All of her work seeks to uncover ways for people to free themselves from dominating, soul-crushing institutions and to live in greater alignment with their hearts and deepest values, their local communities, and with nature.
Dec 082011
I’m 31 years old and still very much in the process of discovering my power. The ways I think about my leadership continue to evolve and take on new meaning in my life and for how I want to contribute to the world. Twelve years ago, working for social justice was in itself an act of healing. The act of organizing, speaking out against injustice, understanding systems of oppression, and being apart of a larger movement for change was exactly what I needed to stop feeling powerless and silenced. Yet by the time I was 24 years old I was burnt out and the work simply wasn’t enough. All the energy I extended out into the world left me feeling depressed and heart broken. Furthermore, I began to understand that the systemic and interpersonal trauma I sustained throughout my life impacted my ability to be fully present and invested in my relationships both personally and professionally.  I had to change the way I thought about my leadership and my contributions to creating another world. I had to change because my life depended on it.


I wrote this poem in 2004 when I began to intentionally walk my healing journey. This journey has led me to an expression of my power that is rooted in a commitment to transformation, imagination, and healing justice for all.
A Commitment to Living
     By Piper Anderson

Let us laugh after crying
or better yet in the midst of tears.
Let us wear our battle scars like tribal tattoos
Wash the feet of a comrade 
Love our weaknesses like they were perfections
Make eye contact with destiny 
without blinking 
or hiding behind what we think 
we know.

Let me kiss each blemish on your soul
and hear the story of its inception. 
Lets give birth to silence in the midst of 
this urgent need for movement
Lets make love to the sound of our
Lets quilt together our political identities
Draw surrealist images of the enemy

Lets be revolution that is whimsical and fantastic.
Lets remember that before we were our ideals
before we defined ourselves 
according to somebody else’s theory of our existence
We were breath, nommo and 
dreams that were so far out of this dimension 
that they could only be dreamt until
somebody spoke them 
and decided that they must be lived
so we did
and it was just that simple.

Because we knew the power of words
and we knew that we descended from shaman
and spirit warriors
we knew the power of light
and the color of sound when it penetrated
erupted and transformed energy
we knew that we were midwives of
tomorrow and each moment was preparation
for delivering her to the present.
But some where along the way
we forgot the power of being human
and settled for just being 
political with the right leftist analysis
But my flesh won’t let me forget
each ache from head down spine
won’t let me forget.
When my throat closes tight
and my hands shake
and I wake at night crying
from dreams that I can’t read
I can’t forget and the revolution
becomes getting out of bed each day
working though layers of barbwire coat my back
and my head whines until thoughts blend
with memories, forgotten “to do list”
and decisions that need to be made
and all I want is to be held close 
rocked in loving hands
but some how none of this makes sense to you
and so I’ve changed the way that I live
made a commitment to honoring moments
I am celebrating a revolution of Spirit.

In this Movement there will be the telling of stories
the laying on of hands
the gathering together of voices to create harmonies
of transformation
Because theory is nothing without practice 
So don’t feed me a lecture that won’t fortify my soul 
I don’t want to read no research I can’t wear
Statistics just bind my hips 
And I’m tired of published findings that restrict my movement 
I can’t dance in your language 
two many abstract words to decipher 
my body only knows tongues
that are shades of reds, yellows, and browns 
speaking in universal rhythms. 
So if you’re about revolution 
you better have the courage to love and understand
listen to self and to each other
honor the wisdom of the Earth
and let our tears heal everything that grows.
Because revolution is having the courage to be human
and together taking responsibility 
for our living.

© Piper Anderson 2004

Piper Anderson, SiOP Core Committee, is a Performance Artist, Writer, Educator, and Life Coach. She is an Adjunct Faculty member at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. From 2006-2008 she embarked on a national tour of her second solo show, IN HER MEMORY, the story of a young woman’s journey to heal the wounds of intimate partner violence. Anderson uses the arts as a tool for social change by designing curriculum and facilitating community arts residencies internationally. A few of the places her work has taken her include Harvard University, UC-Berkeley, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Columbia University, Bard College, Kigali Institute of Education in Rwanda as well conferences such as The Tides Center’s Momentum Conference, Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and Critical Resistance.Her writings have been featured in numerous publications and four books, How To Get Stupid White Men Out Of Office (2004) and Growing Up Girl: Voices from Marginalized Spaces (2006), Conscious Women Rock the Page (2008), and Love, Race, and Liberation (2010). She has trained extensively in the healing arts, completing certifications in Reiki and Empowerment Life Coaching. She holds a Masters of Arts in Applied Theatre from CUNY and a Bachelor of Liberal Arts degree from the New School where she was a Riggio Writing Democracy Fellow. To learn more visit her website.
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