The Bay Area Spirituality Examiner had the pleasure this week of speaking by telephone with author and personal growth expert Shajen Joy Aziz, M.Ed., and learned more about the spirituality behind the book that Shajen co-authored with her Hollywood filmmaker brother, Demian Lichtenstein, as well as her plans for her upcoming appearances at two area bookstore events:
- Book Passage (Monday, July 11th), and
- The Community Church of Sebastopol (Tuesday, July 12th).
Over the next several installments, this Examiner will present the key points of her conversation with Shajen Aziz, and will also report on the feature-length documentary version of the film made by Demian Lichtenstein that has been released in tandem with this book.
For more about these upcoming DISCOVER THE GIFT events, read this Examiner’s earlier event announcement, or visit the Discover the Gift Project’s web site: www.discoverthegift.com.
So many folks have been having a hard time of late. (Home foreclosures, genuinely gifted, but unemployed men and women worn down by interviewers not respecting their time or talents, workers who are still employed but hanging on to jobs that are sucking the life out of them….)
Discover the Gift might be helpful for a number of Examiner readers right now. I’m thinking about the words of the Scottish essayist and historian, Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), which you used to open your chapter on adversity and transformation: “Adversity is the diamond dust Heaven polishes its jewels with.”
Can you speak more about the adversity so many are experiencing today, and how Discover the Gift can help them not just survive, but thrive in difficult times?
Even though this Question and Answer session with author Shajen Aziz was conducted via telephone, this Examiner could sense Aziz nod her head in sympathy with readers here in the Bay Area and across the country as she responded that society today often feels “fear based” – and is too often a world “in which we’re afraid of everything.” As she talked about the feelings of loss, pain, rejection, and angst impacting so many at this moment, Aziz encouraged Bay Area residents to take to heart the famous quote by Ram Dass, which is also included in the Discover the Gift chapter on dealing with adversity:
“Everything in your life is there as a vehicle for transformation. Use it!”
Advising residents of the Bay Area and beyond that we can choose to cower and fade away in challenging times, or grab the bull by the horns and use the hardships we encounter to “enhance our own personal discovery and transformation,” Aziz explained how and where she and her brother had found their inspiration for their book and film:
“Most of our greatest gifts have come out of our deepest tragedies and hardest times,” said Aziz as she briefly recapped the opening of their book. “Our mother dying was the worst thing that could have happened,” and yet, she observed, “It gave us the most profound relationship with our father – if not for her passing, that wouldn’t have happened.”
Drawing a comparison between the feelings of fear and sorrow that she and her brother had experienced as young children (when the home in which they resided was destroyed by fire and her mother was subsequently killed just a short time later in a tragic car accident) and the anxiety and feelings of loss assailing many in today’s world, Aziz asked those reading this column to take time to focus not on the specific problems that they are having at this moment, but to think in depth about what good could possibly come out of the adversity they are undergoing. “Start focusing on your gifts through your process of self-discovery. What are your strengths, talents, gifts?”
With her response to this question, Shajen Aziz also gave readers a message of hope. Describing how her husband (Cherif) and brother (Demian Lichtenstein), supported her throughout her own process of discovery, Aziz revealed that she “gave up the highest paying job – in this most awful time,” doing so even though that job was secure because she wasn’t living a life that was spiritually rewarding.
“That is when the entire universe started opening up in ways I could never have imagined.”
So, when you and Demian write, “… we never, ever should feel the need to invalidate where we have been, because it has brought us here to this moment”, you’re saying that adversity can be a useful tool if we analyze it properly?
“That’s a really important quote,” said Aziz with a “verbal fist bump” over the phone, explaining that she and her brother believe that every experience – good or bad – is actually good for us.
Recalling the words of Barbara De Angelis, Ph.D., the bestselling personal growth writer and another of the respected spiritual counselors quoted in this book (“We’re here to learn. There’s a curriculum. We each have certain courses. You can actually figure out your courses if you look at the experiences in your life…”), Aziz went on to explain (and does so at greater length in her book) that, as painful as the traumatic events that she and her brother experienced were, they produced growth. Those events, internalized at the deepest levels, ultimately led to constructive transformation for both Shajen and Demian.
“It literally created the essence within us,” mused Aziz. In a nutshell, the wrenching of two hearts led to those hearts blossoming and opening to the possibilities of greater love and fulfillment.
De Angelis clearly agrees with this notion of viewing change as a positive rather than negative as evidenced by another of her quotes included in this book by Aziz and Lichtenstein:
“Change is the wonderful ride we are all on, and if we can partner with it instead of feeling it’s ruined our plans or trying to control it, we can be in tune with the law of the universe expanding us to more and more majesty, and mystery, and bliss.”
Or as Shajen Aziz explained, each one of our life experiences – good or bad – are “Aha!” moments – “stepping stones – rich good and deep experiences” that help us to be “present enough” and “prepared for our next stepping stone.”
And speaking of stepping stones … stay tuned for part two of this Examiner’s interview with Shajen Joy Aziz in which she’ll speak directly to the importance of employing conscious leadership in our workplaces and communities.
To meet members of the Discover the Gift Project in person, view a sneak preview of their film, and have your questions about transforming adversity into triumph personally analyzed and answered, catch Shajen and Cherif Aziz (the Equilibrium Entertainment executive who produced the documentary) at one of their upcoming Bay Area events at Book Passage or The Community Church of Sebastopol:
51 Tamal Vista Boulevard
Corte Madera, CA 94925
The Community Church of Sebastopol
1000 Gravenstein Highway North
Sebastopol, CA 95473
Sponsor: Copperfield’s Books:
Discover the Gift