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Carry The Vision Interview: Azim Khamisa

By Worldchanging SF local editor, Matt Waxman:

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The fifth Carry The Vision Community Nonviolence Conference and Youth Leadership Summit was held Saturday, April 21st at Evergreen Valley College in San Jose.

I had the honor to speak with keynote speaker Azim Khamisa, whose personal tragedy has given him a life path of teaching forgiveness, altruism, and spiritual peace to create a nonviolent, healthy world.

As Azim Khamisa shared during his speech, his only son Tariq was murdered in a gang-related incident while delivering a pizza in San Diego on January 21st, 1995. Tariq was twenty years-old and had been a student at San Diego State University. Khamisa's life changed with the incident. Formerly an investment banker, Khamisa faced the reality that his son had been take away forever. Why do children join gangs? Why do children act with violence? His son's killer, a fourteen year-old boy named Tony Hicks, was ordered to shoot to prove himself to elder gang members. After Tony Hicks was sentenced to an adult prison, Khamisa approached Ples Felix, grandfather and guardian of the fourteen year-old, not with anger but with forgiveness. Khamisa described:

"I saw with this tragedy victims on both sides of the gun. I saw Tariq a victim of a fourteen year-old gang member and I saw a fourteen year old gang member a victim of society -- our society... My first intention is to say you killed my one and only son, I want to hang you from the highest pole. But how do you improve society by doing that? If you fix the societal forces that forced a young man into a gang, do you not transform society, do you not improve society? ...So as an American, I feel I must take my share of the responsibility for the bullet that took my son's life, and quite frankly, so should every caring American because Tony is an American child."

As he explained with chilling statistics, we are a violent society: Daily in the United States, seventy-five kids aged twelve to eighteen are shot and twelve die. Daily 237 kids are arrested for violent acts. The amount of yearly violent deaths in the United States is about equal to the cumulative total violent deaths occurring yearly in every other developed nation. Something isn't right with our system if this is the case. But we –- ourselves, our communities, institutions, culture -- can change, and peace is possible.

Together Azim Khamisa and Ples Felix founded the Tariq Khamisa Foundation (TKF) in memory of Tariq and with a mission to transform society toward peace, forgiveness, and nonviolence. They hold two programs, one during school for kids, and another after-school for parents. Over the last twelve years they have spoken live to over half a million kids nationally, and another twenty million via broadcasts, and have received over fifty thousand letters from kids impacted by their programs. And recently, based on the work of the foundation, San Diego State proposed the creation of a TKF endowed professorship of peace and nonviolence in the College of Arts and Letters.

In our exchange, Khamisa shared advice and reflections on creating peace, the importance of spiritual connectedness in decision-making, calm in a busy world, contributing to humanity, and the meaning of Earth Day.

. . .

Matthew Waxman: What advice do you have for young people to help them find peace in the world and bridge gaps between creating environmental sustainability – including an awareness of global warming, for example -- with an appreciation for the still very current need to create a non-violent society?

Azim Khamisa: I think that from my personal perspective in terms of my own tragedy, the way I was able to find peace was not through my degrees in finance and math. Now I'm an investment banker and I've been educated at some pretty good schools in England but in my deepest crisis, what bailed me out, was a strong spiritual foundation. I started meditating when I was twenty years old. Probably around your age. And while I couldn't sleep or eat, because it is very complicated to loose a child, I could meditate, and that's why I'm in front of you.

So now, I talk about how in the Western system you can go through kindergarten through a PhD or kindergarten through a double PhD and all you've done is basically improve the intellect. But in life you get problems that your intellects cannot solve. In life you get problems that your hearts cannot heal. And then where are you? What I have learned in my journey is that there are no problems that you get in life that your soul cannot solve or heal.

So all the things we're talking about, whether global warming or its violence, whether it's the tragedy that happened at Virginia Tech, these are issues of the intellect and not of the soul. I think what's lacking in the Western model is that soul, because we all have that center. It's what I call our core, some call it God, some call it higher power, or inner strength; there are many words for it. But when you are at your core, and if you are connected to your core, a) you cannot be violent because our nature is compassion, and b) you won't pollute the environment because that's against your core. Where we have to bring our culture to is creating spirituality at a very young age.

I was lucky. I met a friend of my mother who got me to meditation. I was too busy, I was in investment banking, I finished school early. I finished high school at fifteen. I had my first degree at eighteen, at twenty-one I had a company with a hundred people, I was too busy. But [my mother's friend] was able to capture me because he said, "just because you are busy, you really need to draw in to that inner strength, because then you can do ten-times more."

I used to do meditation an hour a day, now I do two hours a day. But good decisions don't come from here [points to head] or here [points to heart] -- think about it in your life, right? I have a friend who said that a mind is a dangerous place to go by yourself, because you can justify anything. And in your heart, how many times have you been carried away by your emotions? It happens to all of us.

So now, what I teach. There's nothing wrong with a good mind, and nothing wrong with a feeling heart, but as a faculty they are limited. Good decisions come in when head, heart, and soul are aligned. So from the head comes thought, from the heart comes feeling, and from the soul comes inspiration. If you want to make a decision, check with your head -- does it make sense? Check with your heart -- does it feel good? But then you don't stop there, you drop down into your soul -- is it inspiring? And if it checks well there, then it's a good decision. It's not that complex if you can connect with the soul.

MW: Reflecting on this, I'm thinking about community, how community forms, and how people need to interact with one another to create community. Many people are spending an increasing amount of time within mediated experience, for example with MySpace and other social networking technologies. And then, consider even the journey I took to get to this college campus; I was amazed by how much new, suburban development I had to drive through. …if these are places where people are living… how might we connect a checking of our souls with the planning and design of actual places where people can live -- places of community for now and in the future? Do you have any advice for people who create such places?

AK: Yes, I think that we live in a very busy world, as you just pointed out. Most people that you meet are very busy. And often they are running around like a chicken with its head cut off, and they can't get enough done. Our culture is also very materialistic and so we're very much worried about collecting. We love toys. And I quote the Dali Lama. People took him to Wal-Mart, a Super Wal-Mart, and he was blown-away. And he said, "I've never been in a place that has so many things, so many items, and nothing I need." See what I'm saying?

So we need to find time to spend in meditation with our souls, and not listen to music while we do that, because meditation is about silence, and there is erection in silence. Silence is about listening, so if you're able to meditate and listen, there is a voice in you. Maybe it is God's voice, maybe it is your higher power, maybe it is somebody else who will guide you. And you must listen to that voice, and while it is important to be out there creating community and social networking, there needs to be a balance.

Now, as I said, I do two hours a day on meditation. I do half an hour before I go to bed, I get up between three and five and do an hour, and get up again in the morning. At night I process my day. In the morning I manifest my day. I'm a busy guy as you are. And I want to be out there making a difference. I want to manifest healing, because there's a lot of grief out there. And I want to manifest transformation, and that's what I'm hopefully going to do this afternoon when I do the keynote.

In the middle of the night I don't process, I don't manifest -- I listen. And I get my bigger half of meditation in the middle of the night, when I listen. So I think that is so important to do, and we all have that voice within us. And it is where all wisdom lies; it is where all strength lies. And that is therefore asking, when you connect with your core, there is nothing you cannot accomplish. Because it is all there -- the strength you need, the wisdom you need.

A lot of people like to meditate but they like to listen to music; that is relaxation, that is not meditation. Meditation is about listening, and it takes a little practice, but if you start it, you get very good at it.

MW: Given that tomorrow is Earth Day, what does Earth Day mean to you?

AK: Well, I think again, it means to be connected. It means to be connected to your source. So think about it. Everything pre-dates the soul. So when there was a creation, there was a soul. The soul existed even before planets did, or even stars did, or solar systems did, or planets did, right? Now all the distinctions we make -- young, old -- black, white -- rich, poor -- Christian, Jew, Muslim, all the different faiths -- these are all man-made distinctions, they came after the soul. The soul is one. Earth Day is about that. Made with the same source as you and I are, no matter how old or young you are, whether you are white or dark, or Christian or Jew or Muslim or Hindu, it doesn't matter. We are all connected with that one source. And when you meditate, you go back to that source. You are in unity -- or in union -- with every sentient being in the world. And that's a very powerful place to be.

MW: That's really interesting. Once I was talking to a friend of mine, and he said, "well you know, everybody, everything, every living creature on the Earth is breathing, right now, at the exact same time." And it's so true, amazing!

AK: That's right. And so I think it's good to be in that presence, because our consciousness is in it… well, I look at you, you are maybe six-foot tall, thin, good looking guy, charismatic, and you think that's you, but you're much more than that, right? The soul is both local and non-local, it lives within you and it lives outside. Where? Well, it's up to your imagination! Your consciousness is limitless! It's bigger than San Jose, it's bigger than California, it's bigger than the US, it's bigger than the planet, it is bigger than the universe. How big do you want to make it?

See, we're all vessels, remember that. Vessels of the soul, of the divine spirit. Now, Christ was a huge vessel, right? He carried, he did a lot of good. He was a huge vessel. You and I are also vessels. And as you increase the capacity of your vessel, you can contain more of the divine spirit, and if you contain more of the divine spirit, you can do more good in the world. Because why are you here? What is your purpose?

I was an investment banker, and now I'm a social worker, working with kids. So my purpose was not to be an investment banker -- my purpose as a human being was to serve humanity. And now I'm serving kids, it's my passion. And people ask me, "now, how do I find my purpose?" And I say, "only you would know that." You get clues, everyday, trust me. There is stuff that works in your life and stuff that doesn't work in your life. Because God gets your attention whether you like it or not. If your life is not working, then he's going to get your attention, and you're not on your purpose. And I can tell you one thing, you can find your purpose by serving humanity.

Now, where you serve humanity, I have no clue. But look there, and then by serving humanity and by doing good deeds, you're creating spiritual currency and that will also expand your vessel and so you can do more good. Because service is joy, and that is what we haven't learned yet.

MW: Thank you!

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Midnight meditation is powerful. But it is important to know that there are spiritual or non material beings who work through humans. You can be a vessel for the wrong kind of beings. Inspiration can come from sources otherthan God, the One and Only One God apart from whom there is no being worthy of worship. So when you are meditating be sure to focus on the Creator of all creation!

Posted by: midnight on 30 Apr 07



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