Since we are in a month of gratitude with Thanksgiving (in the United States) and the holiday spirit soon upon on us, I wanted to build on this important theme. I know I am not alone when it comes to facing adversity and looking for ways to overcome obstacles, but I do think there there is a lot to be thankful for, especially those of us who do find positive coping strategies. I would like to put this in perspective so readers can make positive changes and derive their own benefits.
“Helping professionals,” namely teachers, doctors, nurses, coaches, educators, therapists, religious leaders etc. have all played a critical role in my life and ongoing recovery. Through their kind words and deeds, I was able to receive the care I needed at the right time and place. As I’ve alluded to in an earlier blog post, we are all on journeys through time and space which only we as individuals experience to fully comprehend our life on earth. Sometimes, our individual and collective journeys can lead to painful emotions, sometimes it can lead to dullness and sometimes it can lead to awakenings, among other ways of being.
2013 Gift from Khelshala Service Trip Photo credit: T. Mohammed, 2019.
I have come to learn through experience gained over the last decade, that if one practices gratitude with a positive attitude this can lead to happiness. Practicing gratitude is a habit that can be formed through both small and big acts of kindness. These are usually learned at home from family and friends and then through socialization at clubs, schools, universities, faith-based organizations, businesses or even at times, government agencies. A retired educator once noted that there are no limits as to how many times you can say thank you. To operationalize this concept, I would add that if one exercises the “gratitude muscle” through random acts of kindness with a positive attitude this will result in greater happiness. Thank you and may you find happiness!
As mentioned in earlier blog posts, I’m big fan of music of many different varieties. One recipe for mental wellness is combining music and human movement. This can be done in the name of economic or social development to give potential mental wellness seekers greater impetus to take action. As such, my musical adventures of attending and listening to street performances, concerts, and festivals was self-documented from early 2017 to 2019 in the Youtube video below.
What I learned from this personal mini-experiment was (a) music enables healing (b) music is a convener of people of diverse backgrounds and (c) music is a vehicle for social change. These lessons might not be new for some folks, but they were brought home to me when I listened to a live performance of the Me2 Orchestra in Boston, Massachusetts.
In the words of Me2 Orchestra’s newsletter it is “the only classical music organization in the world created by and for people living with mental illness and those who support them. The orchestra’s mission is to erase the stigmatization of people living with mental illness through the creation of beautiful music, community, compassion and understanding… one concert at a time. Most important, it is changing the lives of the musicians and audiences in powerful and surprising ways.”
The events highlighted in my video above were both “pay to play” such as Cold Play, UB40 and Karsh Kale to name a few as well as several free concerts such as the 2019 Cambridge Jazz Festival, the 2019 Boston Art & Music Soul Festival and the Shake Away the Blues Winter Festival. Sport was not an explicit theme in any of these events, but there was an economic and social development perspective for each event given the individual artists’ backgrounds, influences and interests. Activism and social justice dialogue were interspaced with the music for audiences to reflect upon and take action.
During this week, I attended my third The Child is Innocent (TCII) fundraiser in Boston courtesy of one its co-founders – Kevin Schwartz, MD of Massachusetts General Hospital. I was introduced to this non-governmental organization by Stefano Rossi of the Centro per la Cooperazione Internazionale in Trento, Italy and have found it a good way to stay connected to the people and well-wishers of Uganda. Kevin and his team at TCII are planning to build a new school campus called Hope Academy in Gulu, Northern Uganda in three phases. The detailed architectural plans were on display at the event to encourage others to donate and get involved.
Hope Academy: Vision and Master Plan, The Child is Innocent Photo credit: T. Mohammed, 2019.
What impressed me about this organization was its core group of volunteers and dedicated supporters. They are committed to the TCII mission and travel frequently to Northern Uganda to meet with local staff to be proactive with decision-making and fundraising. Perhaps one area they could improve upon relative to other NGOs I have worked with is on the concept of “radical transparency.” Attending a fundraiser in Boston with little knowledge of the issues on the ground in Northern Uganda, I can understand how some observers might feel skeptical as to how funding might be mismanaged. This is not a criticism of TCII but of many charities around the world. Therefore making budgets, financial statements and fundraising transparent and available to everyone via the Internet might garner even more support and goodwill for TCII and other similar charities.
Hope Academy Architecture, The Child is Innocent Fundraiser, Photo credit: T.Mohammed, 2019.
In the spirit of transparency and collaboration, the front cover of both the printed and online version of this blog are of a group of African HIV orphans who I had the privilege of coaching and refereeing more than fifteen years ago in a suburb of Kampala, Uganda. Though not part of my official United Nations Volunteerterms of reference (TOR), it was a very signifiant experience in my personal growth and development. Hence, I would like to acknowledge Stefano Rossi of the Centro per la Cooperazione Internazionale in Trento, Italy, who along with several Italian and Irish volunteers in Uganda invited me to the orphanage in Uganda on a weekly basis. This coaching experience became one of my many inspirations in the field of sport for development and peace.
My introduction to racquet sports as a kid in Abu Dhabi, UAE was thanks to my father so it was fitting that both of us visited the International Tennis Hall of Fame together in Rhode Island. Unlike my solo journey to Ancient Olympia in Greece, this was not just another pilgrimage or site visit but a special summer escape for father and son to represent extended family members in India and the United States who are amateur tennis players and supporters of the sport in their respective countries. We are not considered racquet sports royalty or celebrities of any sort but we do hold tennis in high regard and want to see others in the sport succeed.
Visit to the International Tennis Hall of Fame, USA, 2019. (Photo credit: P. Mohammed)
Pervez Mohammed, my father was an amateur tennis player who grew up playing the sport in Assam, India and played through his mid-life in Saudi Arabia while working at Unilever. On my Kerala side of the family, there are other amateur tennis players such as Michael Kallivayalil, my 94-year old grandfather who has won several amateur veteran tennis tournaments and Geetha Varghese, my aunt who has enjoyed many league matches and tennis round-robins in the United States. Also Jacob Kallivayalil, my mother’s cousin, is a former President of the Kerala Tennis Association. Therefore our visit to the tennis shrine was a family affair.
Rolex Clock at International Tennis Hall of Fame, 2019 (Photo credit: T. Mohammed)
Whether you find yourself on a tennis or squash court, timing is important just as in life. Both tennis and squash have been enjoyable pastimes for our family as lifelong fans. There can be ups and downs and wins and losses, but I think Rolex has got it right in their commercials of “perpetual excellence” from outstanding sport professionals. While watching from home with my father, the incredible and historic 2019 Men’s Singles Wimbledon Championships bared a strong resemblance of our visit to the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Thank you Papa for introducing me to tennis as well as being part of my journey in sport and life.
As part of my rehabilitation and ongoing recovery I have strived to practice greater self-care to ensure my own health and wellbeing. While every individual is unique and may have their own limitations (medical or not) the importance of health and wellness takes on a greater role as we age if we seek longevity. Healthcare providers, employers, caregivers and well-wishers all play a role in managing recovery (as depicted in the graphic below). The reason why I am sharing this illustration is to provide guidance for others to learn from and develop coping strategies.
Recovery Enhancing Environment, 2015 (Source: Boston University Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation).
One of my coping strategies has been to travel which I have shared with various Youtube videos on this blog. I have been traveling internationally since I was an infant and find that it is still something I enjoy. Traveling internationally can become expensive overtime so staycations are also another good option especially if on a budget or have time constraints. While there are many memorable travel moments, the video below captures some of the highlights of my staycations in the New England area of the United States.
In the video one can notice images of the Sun and Moon at various stages. Native Americans believe the Sun and Moon represent life for all. We know that the Sun is an essential element for human existence and the Moon for dreams, high spirits and the assurance of a long and prosperous life. What is not visible in this video, but is another important coping strategy is managing Sleep, Time management, Relaxation, Exercises, Smiles and Self-Talk (STRESS). Through self-regulation, planning and implementation I continue to strive for a balanced, healthy life and long life while cherishing one’s freedom. Happy Independence Day to all Americans!
In my failure biography on this blog, I describe my first psychotic experience in 1999 in New York City. Twenty years later after a lot of psychotherapy, medication, vocational and family support I am very lucky to have not ended up on the streets of New York City without food, clothing and shelter. In this blog post, I would like to share some of the amazing work of the Bowdoin alumni I am grateful to know who swiftly saved me during my medical emergency.
Marc Wachtenheim, Founder and CEO of W International based in Washington DC and a member of the Class of 1997 was the first person to call and alert my father in the early morning hours in The Netherlands when I experienced my first psychotic episode in New York City. Marc and I have remained in contact over the years and he has been a mentor to me and gracious host during many of my subsequent visits to Washington DC. The video below is Marc speaking about human rights at the Oslo Freedom Forum.
Eddie Lucaire, Vice President of Brand Partnerships at Copa90 and a member of the Class of 1999 walked me to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan where he assisted in voluntarily admitting me for emergency psychiatric care. At the time I did not know where or why I was going to the hospital but thanks to Eddie’s good guidance I was safely given the treatment I needed. Eddie now lives in Los Angeles working for a start-up in the global soccer business and we have remained in contact over the last 20 years.
Adam Stevens, Principal of PS 4 Duke Ellington School in New York City and member of the Class of 1999 was employed by American Express Corporate Travel Services in New York City. I was about to begin my first day in the same department of American Express with Adam, but did not make it to my first day of work. Adam also reached out to my father and family by sending them a fax in The Netherlands to let them know how things were going. Adam and I are not in frequent contact, but I know he is continuing to serve the common good through education.
While I was in New York city, I had two roommates in Manhattan – Crispin M. Murira and Daniel P. Rhoda – who were working in investment banking for Credit Suisse First Boston. They too noticed the warning signs of my psychosis and helped work as a team with Marc, Eddie and Adam to get me the care that I needed at Bellevue Hospital and later at McLean Hospital in Boston. Sadly, in 2013 Dan passed away due to an unknown reason but I was able to attend his funeral in Houlton, Maine. Today, Crispin is the Co-Founder and CEO of Copia Global which leverages technological solutions for bottom of the pyramid customers in Kenya (see video below).
The reason I share this true story is not only to express my gratitude, but to assist with fundraising for Bowdoin College and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) both of which I contribute to in meaningful ways. I hope readers of this blog post will feel moved to make a contribution to these mission-driven organizations.
My Bowdoin 20th class reunion will be held in May/June 2019 and as such I’ve been reconnecting with staff, students and alumni at my alma mater. Any former government and legal studies majors and the general public may learn from a Distinguished Lecturer in Government Bradely Babson’s course “The Two Koreas and Geopolitics of Northeast Asia,” class podcast held back in May 2018, by current Bowdoin students Tim Ahn ’19 and Sam Jablonski ’18 on the role of sports diplomacy in the Koreas.
The recommendations set forth by researchers from George Mason University Center for Sport Management are based on the assumption that the “intent of sports diplomacy programs is to create meaningful change in local communities.” Though the costs of sports diplomacy can be expensive and time consuming, I tend to agree with the GMU researchers’ recommendations, since in my own small way I have lived as a volunteer, coach and administrator to play a role in fulfilling the intent of sports diplomacy.
Today happens to be the United Nations sponsored International Day of Peace, which prompted me to write this blog post. It relates to the notion of “peace of mind”. Readers of this entire blog, might ponder why the title has the word “explorations.” This is because I have attempted to balance personal and professional lines of thought and action which are outlined by numerous themes. As part of my exploration in physical spaces, I found an exhibit at the MIT Museum on the “Beautiful Brain” which sums up the essence of my exploration in mental health.
At the Santiago Cajal “Beautiful Brain” Exhibit at MIT Museum. Photo credit: Unknown, 2018
The founder of modern neuroscience, Santiago Ramón y Cajal, a Nobel-Prize winning scientist, was also a Madrid-based artist who drew intricate sketches of the brain as part of his study of its structure and function. The beautiful hand drawings (for example, see below) are very detailed and helped pave the way for modern neuroscience to make early discoveries about the brain and cognition.
Cajal drawing at MIT Museum, Photo credit: T. Mohammed, 2018.
I could really relate to Cajal’s quote below from the way in which psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has helped in my mental health recovery. It has never been my intention to cause confusion (although it does happen unwittingly from time to time), but to seek greater understanding and balance of the boundaries of my personal and professional reflections. Many people (some known and unknown to me) have helped contribute to my health and wellness for which I am grateful. Many of them have reminded in small but simple ways to “stay happy, stay healthy.”
Cajal quote at MIT Museum, Cambridge, MA. Photo credit: T. Mohammed, 2018.
I recently safely returned to the United States from a vacation in Kerala, and learned that today is the International Day of Charity which is observed by the United Nations member states. During my extended stay in Kerala, the state faced unprecedented floods (yes, climate change is real) that caused immense damage to its people, economy and infrastructure. Fortunately, my maternal family members were not severely affected by the flooding. Several cousins did however, mobilize resources with local organizations to assist with the flood relief by distributing food, clothing and care packages as well as organizing fundraising events for flood victims.
Mother Teresa and my maternal great grandmother of the Kuruvinakunnel family in Kerala, India. Photo Credit: Unknown.
I am proud of my Kerala family tradition of leading in social and philanthropic causes, beginning with my great grandmother from the Kuruvinakunnel family (my maternal grandmother’s mother). Above is a picture which Mary Michael, my maternal grandmother shared with me while we were housebound due to landslides. The photo is of Mother Teresa during one of her visits to Kerala and my maternal great grandmother. During the summer of 2012, I was fortunate to make a 3-day visit to the Mother Teresa Center of Calcutta to assist with social service activities.
The purpose of my trip to Southern India, and Kerala in particular, was to visit my maternal elderly grandparents, Michael Kallivayalil and Mary Michael and other relatives. Upon returning to the United States I created a video slideshow to remember my visits to Peermade, Kerala and Bangalore, Karnataka which were among some of the places I traveled through. Joseph Michael Kallivayalil, (Managing Director of Glenrock Rubber Products Pvt. Ltd), my uncle is an avid golfer so there was a great day spent together on the Peermade Club golf course, despite the calamities caused by the flooding in nearby districts. This visit made me realize there is potential for sport tourism in Indian states like Kerala.
Nonetheless, Kerala faces an uphill task of rebuilding its infrastructure and economy as well as rehabilitating people severely impacted by the flooding. As with many humanitarian disasters the coordination amongst government, business and civil society actors “on the ground” is critical for efficient and effective reconstruction. Building on the momentum of the goodwill shown to Kerala by its diaspora and well-wishers, those ordinary citizens of Kerala who lost everything including their homes, livelihoods and sense of well-being must not be ignored and forgotten by the media, local, state and federal relief agencies and the private sector.
Tariq Mohammed and participants at the 2001 International Youth Leadership Conference in Prague, Czech Republic. Photo credit: W. Webster, 2001.
Our role as facilitators were to create a positive and inclusive environment for cross-cultural learning and dialogue on political and economic crisis simulations. The facilitators also acted as chaperones for the participants on social and cultural excursions. For example, my group (see photo above) visited the Japanese Embassy, toured Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty and ate an authentic Czech meal. The combination of activities fostered a genuine exchange of ideas and modes of cooperation. It was not always easy to find solutions during the crisis simulations given different points of view, however by practicing mutual dialogue, negotiation and advocacy skills participants were better equipped to tackle real political, economic and social issues when they returned to their countries of origin.
Embassy Visit of 2001 International Youth Leadership Conference Participants, Prague Czech Republic Photo credit. W. Webster, 2001.
If you are a parent, educator or coach of a recent college graduate, I recommend that you nominate a young individual to participate in forums such as the International Youth Leadership Conference which currently hosts events in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and of course Eastern Europe. In addition to the skill-building activities, there are opportunities to network with leaders from all walks of life and explore a new part of the world to gain a different perspective on your own beliefs and values. If we are to truly create the world that Nelson Mandela envisioned for the future, then today’s youth might want to consider participating in an International Youth Leadership Conference close to you.