I have an “ND” in nothing

By February 13, 2020 4 Comments

I have become an expert. Finally. After 47 years. My expertise is post-doctoral level [ND?] in knowledge: of self and the fact that I know nothing at all. This became evident for me when I stood before a group of young —women— leaders to celebrate the International Day for Women in Science. They brought me there as a “role model.” They did not realize they got their models mixed up. 

Knowing nothing is a special skill requiring a long array of prerequisites, followed by a longer list of requirements and practical hours. It pretty much involves thousands of hours of reading, deep thinking, and observation. The practicum is a humbling experience of putting one’s self in the wilderness, exposed, vulnerable —and armed with self-knowledge. Sadly, most “experts” I meet have not developed any particular skill in the art of knowing nothing. On the contrary, they seem to know everything all the time from headlines, fancy book covers, and 15-second Instagram stories and inspirational quotes. They make sure everyone knows they do. They display their knowledge in boardrooms —and Facebook rooms. They especially flaunt their knowledge in sermons to the less advantaged. They preach, and then they return home to their own communities and speak of heartaches, sympathy, and service. Almost always, money is collected from friends and family, followed by clothing and food drives. I know those “experts” very well. I am [was] one of them. My heart ached all the time. I was saddened by human suffering. [I still am.] The lens through which I saw any community outside my little bubble was one conditioned by an entitled narrative of “me” versus “them.” I could always help —if only they listened to me. A couple of hours of “service” warranted a self-reward of years-long break. My heart always ached. And I held my children a little tighter when I remembered.

I am happy to report that this lens has disappeared. The process has been anything but happy. What has happened to me can only be described as profound but thankfully graceful. As I was preaching from my iPhone pulpit and comfortable sofa, I was also going through a rigorous process of getting to know myself.

I thought I was just exercising.

When I was not serving and reporting my service on social media, I would be breathing, running, practising yoga, meditating, reading, and writing —fuelled by 6 servings of leafy greens stuffed in gallons of sour smoothies that even my dog won’t go near despite her preferences for soiled diapers. I learned recently in my final class of “knowing nothing” that this was called “spiritual suffering,” the missing link in our humanity. As the days passed, layers and layers of preacher-hood began to shed along with sweat and the free radicals in my system. Yesterday was my grand reveal. I wish I was prepared. I would have dressed up.

When I got the invitation to visit Zaatari Refugee Camp as part of the celebration of the International Day for Women in Science, I was very excited. Zaatari Refugee Camp is the crown jewel of service. I cannot tell you how many celebrities and world leaders have walked its barren grounds. It has been on my radar since it was first constructed to house Syrian refugees in Jordan in 2012. Before that, I had never even heard of Zaatari village, a small town in the Jordanian desert whose every inhabitant was living very far behind the poverty line. I already had the refugee stories I would publish written in my heart: the misery, the destitution, the barefoot children, the trauma. I had been preparing for 8 years.

The barefoot boys I saw were dancing in the street. The girls I met were immaculately dressed, out-spoken, curious, and robotics champions. Some of the women trainers in the Innovation Lab I visited were refugees themselves from the camp, working and finishing their university degrees, with children of their own waiting at home to be fed and bathed. Many of the girls I spoke with were filming me on their smart phones.

The air was light. The minds were open. I could almost touch grit with my hands.

I am not glorifying the camp. Nor the refugees and their plight. I am sharing my deepest thoughts —and scariest revelation. The camp has not changed since 2012. The refugees have not changed. The destruction of their homes has not changed. Misery thrives today —and yesterday and tomorrow— in many corners of the world, including Zaatari. 

But I have changed.

The new lens through which I am seeing the world gives me what I believe an honest but harsh view of reality. And this reality is that the camps we construct, the innovation labs we donate, the hospitals and schools, the clothes, the books, the celebrities, the consultants, the international volunteers who come in for a day or two to entertain the children —everything we do or condone to “alleviate” their suffering is a form of bypassing I call humanitarian-washing to deflect us from facing the reality of our own complicity in the suffering we see in the world.

Yes, I am responsible for the plight of refugees. I am complicit in hunger, poverty, and every facet of human pain. So are you. Instead of sitting with this bitter truth, we collect winter jackets to warm them while we turn our gaze from the thief who has taken their home. We speak of our heartache and sadness, robbing those suffering from the dignity of suffering itself. We manage the problem(s) and disregard the underlying cause, much like we do with any chronic disease. And just like Big Pharma and its billions from management drugs, countries explode at the seams with riches from a war industry that ravages our region, followed closely behind by a reconstruction empire with a golden broom and dustpan. They numb themselves and us with loose change that falls out of the money bags, dress them up in humanitarian robes, and parade them for the world to fete.

The role models are those in the arena, “spiritually suffering” every minute of the day knowing it is not exercise. The role models are those young women grabbing every opportunity they can get to study and fight every injustice heaved upon them for daring to be born. The role models are the students I met who welcomed me despite my privilege, who honoured me with their time and attention, who humoured my sermons and consoled my heartache.


Yoga as a spiritual practice demands that we hold ourselves accountable for every way in which we are in service to the whole and every way in which we contribute to a fractured world. —Seane Corn


I know I am complicit. And I know I know nothing. ND.


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