Been with Center for Transformative Change (CXC) since January 2007
– What compels you to live, work, and practice here at CXC?
Frankly, I do the work of grounding my work for social change in inner transformation because I have harmed people, harmed myself and harmed the work for social change, because I had no relationship with my inner life. I regret all the pain I have caused and the time I have wasted, mine and other people’s time. And it is precisely that pain, harm, and waste that so motivate me to not only practice, but practice hard. Like it matters.
I have experienced what happens when I lived like what motivated me internally did not matter and instead convinced myself that what mattered the most was what I did, what actions I took, how much I got done, and how strong I appeared. What happened when I lived disconnected from my inner self was I hated everyone and everything. I felt superior to everyone. I felt desperate about the world and how we all live. And I had no patience with anything that felt like a half measure. I felt frustrated and exhausted all the time. I wanted to quit the work and hated myself for it. Of course, this all led to me feeling desperately separate from everyone and everything. I lived in the paradox of saying and acting as if I wanted to help change the world, while at the same time hating myself and even existence itself.
I come to this work now in some fundamental way with my tail between my legs, broken. And believe it or not, that’s a good thing. It wasn’t always like that. When I first started meditating and doing yoga, more than 2 1/2 years ago, even though I had just come from literally destroying the work of the organization I co-founded in Palestine because of my lack of relationship to self, I still clung to every belief, behavior, pattern, idea, that had created the angry, lonely, desperate, violent person I was when I walked through the door of the Center for Transformative Change. It took me a real long time, hours of practice, and sheer pain, before I recognized how broken I was and would let it break me open instead of breaking me down.
When I say practice I am referring not only to meditation, yoga and martial arts, but also the practice of being aware of my behavior patterns, their impacts and a commitment to letting them go. As time passed I surrendered, bit by excruciating bit, to the feedback I got – “Prema, you’re aggressive. You have to know when to just stop. Just stop.” “Prema, you’re killing yourself with how you eat.” “Prema, you have to drink water.” “Prema, you can’t push people when they are triggered.” I couldn’t escape seeing the consequences of my conditioned behaviors, on others and myself, because I was living in a community of practitioners devoted to inner transformation. Now, I try to live as if everything matters and to treat each moment with that respect — to realize, for example, that how I close the door, how I stack dishes, how I organize my life, how every single thing I do is a reflection of how I live my whole life, how I treat my loved ones, how I impact the world. It’s a million miles away from the person who used to believe that as long as I was “helping” others, how I looked, how I treated others and myself, how I kept my room, how I treated my body and the earth and just how I lived in general was some kind of stupid, secondary, indulgent, waste of time.
I come to this work not out of a feeling of choice. I come to this as the only option left to me after a lifetime of trying other ways that only led me to more suffering. I chose to devote my life to service at the age of fourteen. But all the years that came after that I felt I had not served others well. My “choice” was to continue to live a life that served no one well or to transform myself — see all the things that stood in the way of serving and with exacting precision, cut them away. It hurts like hell. But not more than the life I was living 3 years ago. So it’s not really a choice. It’s this or waste my life.
I still harm people. I still cling to ideas. I still resist life, just as it is. But I have a practice, teachers, a community and most of all a commitment to inner transformation in the service of all things. And that’s all I need for this life to be perfect.
– What is it like to be a core resident practitioner in this
intentional practice community?
I have answered the question of what it’s like to live, work and practice at Center for Transformative Change in many different ways, always searching for the words to express and connect people with the experience as much as possible. I always fail. Words simply cannot contain transformative experience. However, I’ve found that this analogy works the best. Living, working and practicing at CXC is like living with the toughest, most experienced coach, who has herself won many gold medals, while you are training for something way beyond a game, or even the Olympics. Instead you are training for your life, literally. You are training, working, for your freedom in service to everyone’s freedom. Because you live, work and practice with the same people you don’t get to go home at night and escape from your coach or your training; you don’t get to go to work and be a different person, put on your mask, and then go train and be a different person. At CXC it’s called the Practice of No Escape. You are supported in not having any escape from yourself – all the things about yourself that you’d like to hide from, the things that you don’t want everyone to see – the things that hold you back from making your life an offering to all things. The practice at CXC leaves no stone unturned. As one result, you get to see so clearly how the way you show up or don’t show up for your life is reflected in all areas of life. You experience that the way you relate to your home life can be seen in how you work with others and in how you practice.
Another gift, though it often doesn’t feel like that, is the feedback. You and your fellow trainees get to know each other very, very well. They know your patterns, lies, self-delusions and they reflect them back to you. “Oh yeah, that’s you doing that thing again. That’s your hiding thing,” they’ll say. They’re like your personal bullshit meters keepin’ you honest. How many people in our lives will actually tell us the truth and how often? This support is immeasurable. And the coach gives the best feedback. The coach sees you as you keep making the same mistakes and in various ways keeps pointing out the hole you keep tripping on. The coach sees your potential and reminds you of what you’re sacrificing when you don’t train hard.
We laugh, play, dance, drink, sing, cry. We work hard. We train hard. We live hard. It’s beautiful. And terrifying, to be living so close to the edge. To live on the edge of your freedom, tasting it so close. And then to sometimes turn your back on the training, which is to turn your back on yourself, on the opportunity to truly live. What’s the training? It’s building presence: “the moment-to-moment practice of being in relationship to one’s life as it unfolds.” That’s it. And it’s everything.
I have failed in explaining it. My head is saying: It’s like climbing Mt. Everest. It’s like diving the deepest ocean. It’s not like any of that. It’s simply facing yourself, as you are. Facing life itself, as it is. And saying yes to you and life, as they are. There’s nothing harder to do that I am aware of. And nothing else worth doing if you want to live, to really be alive. And it’s only hard because we’re committed to our suffering, I am told. And if I look inside I see that, yes, I am still committed to suffering. I don’t actually want to be fully alive yet. Maybe never. But I have a choice. And living at CXC has shown me that I have a choice and that I am making that choice every day, every moment of my life. Choose life or choose to suffer.
Deep bow and deep gratitude to angel Kyodo williams and our precious community.
– What do you want folks to know about CXC?
CXC has the potential to be a powerful catalyst for change on a broad scale, both in social justice movements and for society as a whole. At a surface level CXC offers the chance for people to be more effective in their work and lives. But more than an organization, it holds a vision for deep change, cultivating, developing and spreading the good word: there is no outer transformation without inner transformation. CXC wants much more than change. CXC wants transformation that can’t be voted out or argued away. CXC wants transformation that is so thoroughgoing that the thought of going back is simply unthinkable. A CXC chant that expresses the goal well: May I live, love, and lead from the heart. May I lead the life of a warrior.”