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The Hero’s Journey

2016 truly had the highest mountains, deepest waters, strongest winds with the most unpredictable twists and turns for me, so far. This year, everything I was clinging because of the fear of change, crumbled to pieces, everything that I let to define who I am and my place in society.

They say great stories happen to those who can tell them. As a filmmaker, while I was seeking that great story, I found myself in the journey of the very hero, I wanted to bring to life. This was my journey, and I was the hero.

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I don’t know where you are in your story, but there comes a time for everyone, that you lose your sense of identity, things, people, dreams that you hold closest to your heart. There comes a time you know if you take another hit, you won’t survive.

But you do.

You do survive people, events, tragedies that you fear the most. Because, there’s no other way to tap into the power you never knew you had. When you have nowhere else to look but inside, only then you’ll meet the hero. At the time though, the pain, the loss, the circumstances seem unbearable and you just want to quit. People will tell you, one day this will all make sense, and there’s a bigger plan that you just can’t see yet and so on. With the sharp pain in your guts, only two words will make it out of the fog “I know.”

Do you really? Do you know? If you do, what’s that pain about. Why do you feel lost? In fact, you’re so lost you want people, anyone to tell you what to do. You beg the almighty silence “Please show me the way. Please send me a sign.”

Nothing happens. No one answers. Silence echoes your pleading. Tired of hearing your own thoughts, licking your own wounds, you just…quit…

At that very moment, having exhausted all the alternative paths and tried all the possible ways you could think of, when you finally stop seeking to know what is next exactly, and let the journey take over, something truly magical happens. A moment of peace, a moment of light. A purifying emotional release. This awareness liberates you. When you realize, you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be, the presence unveils an infinite potential. Suddenly all these feelings lose their names, their meanings, their weight. As you throw your arms in the air and wave the white flag in complete surrender, the pain, fear, loss, failure change appearance. As you get closer to them step by step, they get smaller and smaller and eventually they all become a dot. A point of reference, a meeting point with the infinite potential. A marker that marks the end of the hero’s journey. Breathe, you’ve arrived. You’re home.

The hero’s journey only takes place from outside-in. It’s a path that takes you to yourself. Everything happens outside are synchronized to guide you to the nearest exit to the liberation you’ve been asking for. Yes, you’ve been asking for freedom, a new life, a new relationship, a deeper meaning, a purpose, your calling, your masterpiece -either you were conscious of it or not. But you didn’t know how to get there, maybe you did, but it was too risky, too challenging, out of your comfort zone. But you’ve been unhappy, unsatisfied, disconnected for so long, you desperately needed the change you’ve been resisting. A change that creates the path to the hero’s journey. A journey where there are dragons to slay, villains to fight, mountains to climb, rivers to pass, bridges to cross.

Once the gates open and your journey starts, you’ll want to go back, you’ll lose your ground, you’ll hate yourself, you’ll blame yourself. The pain, the sorrow, the fear will be too real, too much to bear. At times it’ll be very lonely and everything you believe will shatter, everything you relied on will disappear. It’ll hurt because you’ll lose things that you were taught to earn to be happy. You’ll unlearn and shed all these one by one through your journey, and will only have one thing left in your sac to go on. Faith.

You’ll need ridiculous amount of faith, to go on. That faith will only speak to you once you get rid of all the expectations and be one with life’s cycle. Not the faith for a separate divinity, but the faith that closes the gap between your humanity and divinity. You have to flow like water, act with your instincts and never look back. Faith will pick you up every time you realize you’re always exactly where you’re supposed to be. Life will naturally flow through you when you stop resisting the ease of being present.

At the end of this journey, you’ll come to the understanding that none of those battles, dragons, bridges, defeats, triumphs were actually real. And none of that suffering was needed to be where you are right now. But ironically, the only way to this realization is to go through the illusionary journey and slay the illusionary dragons. You’ll find the magic, the holy grail, the power that have been there within you throughout your quest, from beginning to end. You’ll return home as a master and transform everything you touch.

I don’t know where you are at your journey at this very moment and if any of this makes sense to you. Either you’ve arrived or just have taken your first step, you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.  Let 2017 be your signature, your mark, your year of revolution.

Freedom Isn’t Free

Now that she had nothing to lose, she was free.

Paulo Coelho, Eleven Minutes

If freedom was just about having choices, shouldn’t we all feel free? After all we all have choices to make at almost any given situation. If that’s what freedom is, do you feel free?

And what exactly is feeling free, when so much feels like out of our control? When you choose to diet and exercise, is it because you really enjoy doing it or because your health and maybe some insecurities about your image demand it?  Or maybe that’s the only solution dictated by your environment. If you lived in nature and grew your food, would you be thinking about going to gym or fighting with yourself not to eat that donut? How can we talk about freedom, when we make our choices from the ones that are available to us due to our circumstances? The family we are born to, the country we grew up in, the environment, the genes that make us who we are, our physical appearance, our gender and so on create a reality in which we find ourselves without choice. So whatever our choice is in life, will always be a product of what shapes us, if only we identify with any of them.

Freedom in the most raw sense, only is possible NOT when you have a choice but don’t have to make one. This premise might seem to be a conflict, but in fact it’s the only way to being free. I’m not talking about small choices of our every day life, like choosing a red sweater over a black one, or using an alternative route to go to work that day. I’m more interested in the choices that largely impact our lives. The ones that we make not because we’re free but we’re forced to make because of all our attachments, insecurities, and associations.

Dictionaries tell us freedom is “the power or right to do as one wants.”  Do you see any choice here? Because if what I want is my guide, then how can I ever choose something else over that? Assuming that we always know what we want at a particular moment, then there’s no choice, and realizing this, is ironically the only choice one will ever make.

When all the learning, data, doctrines, definitions, norms dictate our thinking, our choices are also made by them. Freedom is a state of mind that’s fluid, organic, where nothing is predefined, predetermined. In the state of true freedom, there’s nothing but “now.” Not our past experiences or fear of future can impact what is in every given moment. So what about the values that stop us from harming each other, if true freedom has no room for dogma? When our actions aren’t bound by others’ perceptions of us, a false sense of identity, they come from a pure state where there’s clarity and peace. Where we don’t try to be worthy of the success and happiness that were defined and formulated by the common view. In the state of freedom, all these labels and perceptions neither bother nor motivate us. We’re only moved with what we want in deep down.

This state doesn’t promise rewards or punishments in the most common definitions of them. No, freedom comes with responsibility to own it all.

You see, state of freedom itself might be fluid and simple but not the journey to it. We have to shed all our fears, conceptions, perceptions, beliefs and opinions. We have to give up chasing after the cheese and escape the maze. Now, that is the price tag of freedom, if you will. It’s an unknown territory, not tested, not guaranteed, not regulated. We go there at our own risk, with the responsibility that we can’t hold on to what used to motivate us before.

Freedom isn’t free. You give up so much to attain it. You might need to dispose one by one; your comfort zone, your status, your popularity, your sense of security and sometimes your most intimate, most rooted beliefs. And it doesn’t promise a big finale with fireworks and standing ovation at the end. But, no innovation, genius idea, entrepreneurship, invention, cultural shift came to existence without this state of mind. Besides all the greatness that might or might not come in this state, a life that dares to define itself is worth the responsibility that comes with it.

Unboxed

The only minority I see in this world consists those who stand up for what they believe, not for what their associations dictate.

I’m an immigrant, a woman who’s from a muslim majority country. A Turkish native and a Utah transplant for  14 years now. And I voted too on Tuesday, as well as millions of American born citizens.

Donald Trump’s victory was something that stood very little chance and not taken seriously by many Americans until he became the President elect on Tuesday night. So many of us were in shock, maybe even in denial, as well as the rest of the world that was watching America.

It seems like this is the new “cool” in today’s world leaders to be more aggressive, dominant and show this level of comfort with offensive and divisive statements in the expense of  dismissing the concerns of those who don’t agree with them. And it’s scary.

But why does it work? I believe, majority of the people in the world feel ignored, left behind and they’re fed up with false promises. We created a world that individual voices are powerless and people are forced to be a part of something bigger than themselves to be heard. And that comes with its consequences, a code of conduct. When you are in a team, you think like the team, act like the team, and internalize all personal conflicts that don’t fit the team’s agenda. And as the fear and money continue to rule the world, many people are convinced that victory is only won with an aggressive approach that will deprive the opponent of their self esteem and identity. It’s this team mentality that invalidates the individual’s ethical dilemma.

We all know what Donald Trump said about immigrants, women and other minorities. He wasn’t discrete about what he thinks of us. And yet millions of Americans ended up voting for him. As this fact might be sobering, eye opening and hard to contemplate for most of my sincerely concerned, good hearted American born friends, as an immigrant I wasn’t too surprised. Because discrimination does exist, but it can be so subtle, so tenuous that it might not recognize itself. Those of us who are categorized as minorities see this every day in one way or another. It’s the kind that can’t be protected by law, but at the mercy of every individual’s conscience. And that’s why it’s hard to believe for so many Americans that so many other Americans support the man who said what he said, although the quiet elephant was in the room for so long.

I came to this country for an internship which turned to a job offer after 18 months. I ended up starting a family and make this country my new home. I became your friend, your neighbor, your kids’s playdate’s mother, your family, your patient, your customer and at some point I’ve become your problem. You had to defend my rights, speak up for me, tolerate my accent, started non profits, or you simply ignored my very existence. And I’m grateful to those who did stand up for non-discrimination. But racism, sexism and all separating beliefs are rooted so deeply in most of us, that it won’t reach to our awareness until someone points it out. No amount of regulations can change the subconscious tendencies that many of us are not even aware of. The surfacing fear and unease about the minorities, has never been so much about how one looks, how one sounds but more about the groups, one was placed in. As the world was trying to fit me in a box either to protect or to weed me out, I was putting my life’s work to get out of the box and defy all the conventions and beliefs that I grew up and live with. But my stereotype was too big to fail.

You see, I might not sound or look like a typical American, but not all the Turks have dark hair and dark eyes or support my views about religion and social issues neither. As a matter of fact, I’m of an ethnic and religious minority in Turkey too. I’ve been frustrated with the government’s actions and policies, but I love my homeland. I long having a cup of Turkish coffee by the Bosphorus with my friends and family. I crave long conversations around Sunday breakfasts, my favorite little soup place, the sound of saz.

I’m able to love where I come from and where I made home and its people without feeling obligated to defend their political agendas. I don’t sign my name under everything related to Turkish people, religion or women. I don’t let my family, country or society to choose for me. I don’t buy into empty, inflated concepts of patriotism, religious doctrines that are so rigid that one more inch to either side of the line can make you a trader or a patriot, a saint or a sinner.

I don’t represent east or west. I’m a secular who supports religious freedom. I love the depth of relationships, the food, the people back in my homeland as I love the personal freedoms, non invasive relationships, individuality over here. I don’t eat pork, but I don’t hate the bacon lovers. I come from a predominantly Muslim country, but my kids went to a Jewish school and we celebrate Christmases, Thanksgivings, Bayrams, New Years at our house. I’m against wars, invasions, exploiting 3rd world countries, bullying foreign policies as well as I’m fed up with the leaders of those 3rd world countries exploiting their own people, lacking principle and integrity, violating human rights. I’d rather pay more taxes than seeing lives slipping through the cracks before they reach to their potential. But I appreciate the opportunities for entrepreneurship and being able to chase what makes you happy whether it is a big paycheck or volunteering for the cause you believe in.

There’s no one group of people or social definition that I completely fit in as an immigrant, a woman or a Turkish American. My empathy is not only for people who look like me, who sound like me and who think like me.

You might be hating me for something you think I represent. And you might not be aware that it’s you who put me in that group and as you continue to push me there, soon enough I might as well believe that I do belong to that group. The habitual and blind devotion or hate to a group and what it stands for is the real root of the problem here. It’s the labels that are convenient and the desperate need for belonging in this otherwise lonely world. Throughout the history and especially now, minorities are not necessarily set by sex, origin, sexual orientation, ethnicity or religion but character. If you look closely, you will see that most of us in this world don’t want wars, poverty, are driven by the pursuit of a decent life and fueled by injustice, deep inside. You might find yourself more on the same side with someone who’s not from your faith, your culture, your intellectual pursuit than someone who is. But fear makes us internalize our dilemmas about the status quo and ignore our curiosity for the unconventional. We stop talking about politics when we have so much to say. We find it safer to play for the home team, to accept our place where society sees fit. But, a white male can be more passionate about woman’s rights than an African American woman. A straight woman from a Muslim country might have been more involved in legalization of same sex marriage than a lesbian, gay, bisexual or a transgender person.

It’s not who we are but where we stand in the face of adversity and injustice as well as in our every day rituals that separates or unites us. Think about it. How much do you really welcome differences in your own life, at your workplace, in your daily life. How many foreigners are you friends with, how many immigrants you’ve hired? How many foreign movies or movies telling the stories of foreigners and social issues, you actually watched or funded. Where do you get your daily dose of news and entertainment from? Do you notice the stereotypes in media, every day?

In the aftermath of the historic 2016 elections, the only minority I see in this world consists those who stand up for what they believe, not for what their associations dictate. In that sense, we will always be a minority if more and more people wouldn’t speak up their truth.

So, it’s up to you to live a life that is utterly authentic and inclusive, regardless of who’s elected. It’s up to you to make those every day choices at work, in family and friend circles, in the crowds, when you notice prejudice within you or around you. It’s up to you to support a world where it’s not required for some to suffer for the happiness of others. Change always starts within.