A sad day with silver lining

Baghdad, Iraq.

Yesterday I changed my flight. I am leaving Iraq a bit sooner than expected due to the intense security measurements. Traveling has become impossible. This means that participants can’t come to the second workshop and that the friends I made are unable to reach me. Life has become pretty boring and costly too. Unfortunately I couldn’t fly today because of rumors that the airspace will be closed. I guess I will have to do my time.

Paradoxically enough I feel some fear around moving from Iraq to the next destination. Every time it is a plunge, not knowing where I will arrive and what people will think of me. From now on the countries that I will visit will not be that controversial. I will go to Istanbul for a week and then there will be 2 months of India on the program. I look forward to go to Ladakh and hike. Apart from a 2 hour walk in the desert in the Palestinian Authority and a walk on the beach in Lebanon I haven’t seen any nature.

A reader had send me an email praising me for my courage to go intense places and to confront what ever needed to be confronted and to write about it from a vulnerable place. The only thing he didn’t get was why I didn’t jump on a plane if the woman I loved broke up with me. Was I afraid to deal with the emotions was what he was wondering.

Although I had made the decision to respect her need for space earlier I changed my mind. Because my flight will take me to Istanbul I will be closer to Amsterdam than I have been since I left. I decided to send her a message that I would either come to Amsterdam or buy her a ticket to Istanbul. I was scared shitless but I could also see a path of glorious chivalry. In my mind I wanted to abduct her, take her with me and live happily ever after. This search for the 21st century warrior would transform into a romantic love story.

It was a disaster.

She made clear the decision was final. I was devastated. But this time I received an honest and heartfelt explanation and I understand and respect her perspective. Although my day was terrible and I grieved a lot I don’t’ want to make this into another sad post. So I’ll share an interesting and funny side effect of a terrible day:

I made a real friend here. He was one of my participants last week, actually he was the most skeptical one and with the most resistance. He broke through and made a huge step in his development. So now we are friends. He called me from the hospital, telling me that at his first day of seeing patients after the workshop he saw them for the first time with an open heart. His experience of his work and patients was completely transformed. Beautiful news of course.

When I told him about my morning and when he heard how sad I was he was genuinely concerned and kind. But the beauty was that I could feel that this was a completely new situation for him; men don’t express sadness and couples don’t break up. When I told him that I had now heard how she feels and that it was tough to swallow but at least I was able to understand he was even more shocked. In Iraqi tradition you don’t tell your partner how you feel unless it is good news. Both partners have the obligation towards the tradition to make the marriage work and breaking up is just not an option. That she shared such hurtful information with me was not good. When I told him this was my third serious relationship so also the third time I broke my heart he said that I must be very traumatized from all this.

My friend told me he loved me. That even though he knew me little time he considered me as an important friend because of the process we went through together. He told me: “you are great man, very spiritual man. Atalwin, maybe your tradition, your Western tradition, is not good for you. Your heart is too big and too open. It is not good to be broken. Maybe you find wife in Iraq, or Turkey, or India. She does not leave you”. He meant it from the bottom of his heart.

He shared another beautiful thing, insightful for me. He told me how important he feels a woman is. In Islamic tradition the genders are very separated. So as a man your wife is the only source of feminine energy and vice versa. I realized the same thing during the workshop. After a sharing exercise that gives people a strong experience of connection another participant asked me in disbelief “are we equal?” and I asked him “what does your heart tell you?” He checked in with himself and said, “yes, we are equal” It was an extremely powerful moment because the answer came out of the mouth of a devote Muslim whose tradition learned him that women are inferior. In that moment I myself saw how extremely important equality is for me. I don’t like my woman to be equal; I need her to be equal to balance me. Today my Iraqi friend agreed with me.

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  1. says


    I am saddened to hear that you met with even more pain, yet encouraged that at least this pain bought you some truth. The pain will eventually diminish, but the truth will expand. May what is real and deeply rooted in your heart grow, as it surely will, and blossom into a relationship so solid and real that it will shine beyond anything you can imagine.

    Thank you for sharing from your heart. It is an honor to share your path, even in this minimal way.

  2. David Vogel says

    Try to learn a little more about Islam before you leave for India and you might find that there is no reason why a devout Muslim would think a woman ‘inferior’. Women take a different place in Islam than in the West, and in many countries there is strong gender inequality but that is not an intrinsic part of Islam.


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