In order to feel at home here and to understand what this Tea House is all about, please see my very first post at

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

on vulnerability


**Tea** for this post: pineapple and papaya herbal tea from Tealuxe. This is my first time visiting Tealuxe thanks to a good friend of mine (and a **tea mate**) who got me a gift card from there for my 21st birthday. Some of you may already know that I do not drink alcohol, so, for those of you who come from cultures in which 21 is a big deal (it honestly doesn't mean much to me), you may be wondering what did I do to celebrate? Don't be silly, I did NOT binge on **tea** at a tea house/bar/cafe (seriously, your guesses need to be a bit more creative than that!)...

...but I did binge on chocolate on the day of my birthday and on ice cream and home-made desserts 9 days later! :-P

Clubbing isn't really my thing though I used to go to a lot of parties in my Freshman and Sophomore years just to socialize. My new off-campus apartment is a bit small to have a decent dance party or at least it is small to me...I mean I prefer to have ample space when I dance which is one reason why I don't like clubs! I also don't like the idea of anyone getting drunk at my place especially if they're not familiar with the area. My birthday was on a weekday anyway, who would've come?

For these reasons, we had quite a cooking spree during the weekend that passed (or rather my mom, who's visiting us from Dubai, did...) and we had more sweets than actual food...shame on you for missing it all! Not receiving an invitation is no excuse, you could've just walked in! Ugh...why do we need to be so formal and uptight??!!

Alright, I'll stop with this nonsense now and serve you all **tea**, so choose your **tea** or I will not be happy! >,<

Anyway...below are some updates and thoughts with a slightly more serious tone compared to the absurdity above...

From Gregory Colbert's Ashes & Snow

Aside from finally (I mean FINALLY) getting an off-campus apartment (i.e. no more nomadic living for me), I have recently started my second internship which involves two unpaid positions (unfortunately for psychology majors, it is difficult to find a paid internship). One of these positions is a women's residential substance abuse rehab center that follows the therapeutic community (TC) model of intervention. This is in great contrast to my first internship which was in a research setting.

It is a very stressful job to the extent that there are times when I worry of burning out especially as my other job involves dealing with families of hospitalized children plus I am still currently volunteering at a rape crisis center hotline. On top of all that, I'm looking up graduate schools as my university doesn't offer degrees in clinical psychology, preparing for my GRE which I'll be taking at the end of September, and working on my undergraduate research study (I've honestly been slacking on this one the most, so I'm not sure if I'm even qualified to say that I'm actually "working" on it lol). 

Despite whatever complaints I may have, my internship at the rehab center has still proven to be extremely rewarding from day one. The stress itself becomes part of the reward as I contemplate upon my experiences there combined with those at the other internship and the hotline and their implications for my professional, spiritual, and mental growth. I'm also careful about practicing self-care by going out often even if just to relax in the sun and grass, hanging out with my family and friends, watching movies, reading, knitting, writing, avoiding things that I know will trigger me...and, of course, sipping **tea** ;-)

*Sigh* I need to be having **tea time** a bit more often with you all :-(

Anyway...the work at the rehab center is challenging and many times I'm left with little to no guidance. Though it can get unnerving, it is understandable in an understaffed non-profit residential setting where staff need to constantly be on their feet and where conflict among both staff and clients commonly ensues. should all see me when conflict occurs there (I mean *conflict*)...I just stare silently, dumbfounded, as everyone is tearing each other's heads with their yelling...! From day one I had to sit through a heated clinical meeting among the counselors and staff. I find it miraculous how both the director of the center and a senior counselor, who typically moderate the clinical meetings, can remain so calm (almost zen like) and be able to ground the staff back to objectives of the meeting rather than getting too caught up in the arguments.

Then again, despite whatever fight that happens, whether between staff, clients, or clients and staff, what amazes me most is how eventually, whether during the fight itself or at the end of the day, they seek to explore the roots of the other person's outbursts rather than continue reacting to the outburst itself. They also try to support and validate one another's experiences, while acknowledging that though their actions may not have necessarily been the "right thing to do" but that was simply where they were at in that state.

This may not always go so smoothly, but the fact that an attempt is made makes a difference in enhancing self-knowledge and reflection and in striving to develop understanding, trust, and openness among the staff and residents of the house. These are especially needed in a therapeutic community (TC) approach where everyone is involved in the other's treatment (I hope you already reviewed the link about TC that I shared earlier to see what it's all about) and with clients of substance abuse treatment in general who tend to have issues with trusting others and lack a healthy way to channel their negative emotions.

I wish that society was more like that--I wish that we can find in every interaction, whether it be in a fight, a normal conversation, or while keeping each other company in silence, an opportunity to explore and understand ourselves and each other at a deep level. In this way we live more deeply by expanding ourselves and going beyond our ego that wants to bother with petty things like showing off "who's boss".  I wish that people could more openly and honestly express themselves without allowing what is expressed to be the only thing that defines and controls them.  I wish that this self-expression will encourage self-reflection and encourage deeper listening to other beings rather than emphasizing self-importance and ignoring others'.

All in all, I wish that being vulnerable to one another was more valued rather than submitting to our ego to cover up our insecurities by hurting and deceiving one another. We'll eventually hurt and deceive ourselves by submitting to only a part of us rather than being a whole observer of the phenomena of our inner world. Though this applies to everyone in our materialistic societies, I especially feel bad for men who are socialized to believe that masculinity is only about "being tough" and who devalue the worth of other men for being vulnerable.

To me, vulnerability is an act of courage and humility before the Divine that I and many people lack. I may be very sensitive, and I think that is a negative characteristic in making me easily bothered by every little thing but also a positive one in making me notice and learn from simple things that some people may not notice. However, I do not think that that means that I am vulnerable enough; I find that many times my ego does get defensive and wants to show the other person "who's boss" in conflicts and, in ordinary conversations, trying to present myself in a certain image to impress others. I find that the latter prevents me from serving others with all my heart by only having me submit to a part of me or an image of me rather than my wholeness.

 I have only begun to explore these wishes of mine, and I wish that I can practice them more myself. I feel like now a days I've been more quick tempered, but perhaps this internship is the Divine's way to help me tone that down. I'm sure this is a lifelong process and with each time I learn and relearn I hope that I gain a fresh perspective and experience. In the end, it's the journey that matters, not the destination.

Some days the clients in the counseling groups I shadow express hopelessness and, to ground myself, I reflect upon the importance of vulnerability, see their strength in opening up and processing with each other and the counselor how they can respond to the uncontrollable, and try to see what I can learn about them and myself as a fellow human being.  Each client and staff in this center seems to have gone through so much and have stories to tell and wisdom to share. I am honored to have them as my teachers no matter my complaints.

From your Tea Mate,
Reema B. :-)

Monday, August 8, 2011

thoughts with an empty tummy

Arabic calligraphy that reads "Ramadan Kareem" shaped into a woman in supplication. Image from the gallery of Khaleelullah Chemnad


**Tea** I'm sipping now: Chai from Twinings with Rainbow Evaporated Milk. So far, I couldn't find this milk in the States, so I had my family, who were visiting me this summer, get me some ;-)

What **tea** would you like to be served?

As some of you may know, the holy month of Ramadan started in the first of August this year and, as practicing Muslims, me and some of my family members are fasting from sunrise to sunset until the end of this month. To my Muslim **tea mates** and **tea guests**, I'd like to wish you all a "Ramadan Mubarak" (I don't think it's ever too late to say that :-P).

**The Hostess serves everyone tea and dates** Enjoy :-) For those of you who are not so familiar with Ramadan, please consider taking a look at these and these to get an idea about the diverse cultural manifestations of observing this month though we Muslims share the same faith.

Although Boston currently lacks this "Ramadan feeling", especially with the absence of family members (aside from my brother and my mother who is visiting) and traditional meals to break my fast, I find that fasting here is more rewarding than it is in Dubai. I say this because I can actually feel the challenge of fasting in contrast to my spoiled life back home. The summer days of Boston are much longer plus I tend to walk outdoors more often here as I go through my daily routine (afterall, it is known as the"walking city" among many names). Those of you who've been to the Emirates or anywhere in the Gulf must know that this is all in stark contrast to being smothered by ACs 24/7 and to the shorter work and school days that are meant to accommodate for the fasting during this month.

With a busy schedule and the process of moving into an off-campus apartment with my brother (which I'm almost settled in), I would feel extremely fatigued and starved throughout the day. By the time I break my fast at sun down, all I want to do is SLEEP...

However, there are moments when I remind myself that there's a point to all this fasting and that feeling the drain of energy and the hunger are part of the process. Firstly, I feel like fasting helps me to practice mindfulness over my states and experiences. The hard part, however, is to practice being an observer rather than attaching to these states and experiences.

Aside from practicing such mindfulness and freeing up time to meditate upon oneself and the Divine by abstaining from food and drink, I believe that fasting also helps to show how privilege blinds us from other's experiences. If I feel like my mind has shut down this month because of fasting from sun rise to sun set while running many errands, how is it like for those who are suffering from the recent famine in the Horn of Africa and are traveling great distances to find food? Speaking of which, please consider reviewing this and this for easy ways to help out or to at least spread the word about them. We cannot be sipping **tea** while denying basic necessities from others through our apathy!

 As I think of this famine, I can't help but go back to an a past blog post of mine to ground myself rather than drowning myself in hopelessness and powerlessness because of not being able to help in a major way.

To end this post, I'm wondering if those of you who fast or used to fast can share your experiences with us here. I'm sure that each of us will benefit from immense spiritual treasures through this sharing :-)

From your Tea Mate,
Reema B.