Living in Community is Hard, and Thank God for That

By Jaya Priya, Kashi Ashram Cooperation Circle

Living in community is hard. Anyone who tells you differently hasn’t done it. That said, the places of difficulty are also the places of beauty. In each other we see our own reflection and are presented with the frequent opportunity to learn about ourselves. Often, this learning is experienced as judgment of either ourselves or the other. But sometimes, when equipped with the right tools and an open heart, we might experience compassion instead. This is the gift that satsang (spiritual community) offers us every day; an opportunity to build a compassionate relationship with ourselves and others. The opportunity to practice.

If we consider ‘being in relationship’ as a space for our practice, then we also understand that ‘communication’ is what allows us to pass meaning between us in relationships. Living in an intimate community, communication becomes the center of daily life. I find the words of M. Scott Peck to capture this connection accurately: “The words “communicate” and “community”, although verb and noun, come from the same root. The principles of good and bad communication are the basic principles of community building. And because people do not naturally know how to communicate, because humans have not yet learned how to talk with each other, they remain ignorant of the laws or rules of genuine community.”

Taking this a step further, we might also consider the inevitability of conflict as the greatest opportunity for our practice. Recently, I learned that there are a number of communities and schools that have come to terms with this truth and created containers (whether they be physical spaces or practices) that they call “fight rooms”. Like all of our other basic needs, such as sleep or eating for which we build bedrooms and kitchens, conflict too has its space: hence the fight room. Although the name may be misleading, they are not spaces for violence. Instead, these are spaces for the intentional and conscious engagement of conflict that are more likely to result in a restoration of relationship and a deepening of understanding. To achieve this, they are designed around a set of agreements on ‘how we will be together’ which draw from philosophies such as Nonviolent Communication and Restorative Justice.

At Kashi, for the past year and a half we have been employing listening circles as a means to work on our communication skills and build community and connection. This particular form of listening circles comes from the field of Restorative Justice. Based on our experiences with circles, we more recently realized that the tools of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) might be a natural complement to our efforts to build understanding and compassion among our satsang.

As a result, over the weekend of November 11th – 13th, Kashi hosted a three-day workshop on Nonviolent Communication with professor and facilitator, Mikhail Lyubanski. Mikhail’s work is broadly focused on conflict and restorative responses to conflict. Since 2009, he has been facilitating, teaching, and writing about Restorative Circles and Nonviolent Communication. Thanks to Mikhail’s generosity, Kashi was also able to hold trainings for all of our staff, our board members, and our swamis, in addition to the open weekend workshop. I was able to participate in all of the sessions with Mikhail, and feel inspired to share with you a bit about what we learned and how I foresee this work impacting Kashi in the future.

Traditionally, NVC is characterized as a philosophy and practice based on historical principles of nonviolence – the natural state of compassion when no violence is present in the heart. It is both a practice that helps us to see our common humanity and a concrete set of skills, which help us create life-serving relationships and communities. According to Mikhail, Kit Miller’s (director of the Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence) description captures the essence of this practice most acutely. Kit says, “NVC is a spiritual practice masquerading as a communication tool”. Based on my own experiences over this powerful weekend, I would agree.

Over the course of the weekend we explored the personal practice of NVC, but we also looked into its use in our relationships and in our community. To do this, Mikhail focused us on the following: (1) the importance of walking towards conflict (2) how principles of NVC can be used as “inner work” to deepen self-connection (3) strategies for moving from judgment to connection during challenging encounters (4) ways to find a win-win during conflicts and heated interactions (5) the underlying meaning of “hard to hear” messages and (6) how NVC can be used as a tool in group decision-making.

To conclude our event, we explored the meaning of “financial coresponsibility” and what that meant for our relationships in the practical context of economy. One of the tenets of the Nonviolent Communication movement is that we are all responsible for how things go—whether in an interpersonal encounter or at a learning event like this one. With that in mind we designed the community event so that it was accessible to everyone (there were no fees for entry). However, to cover the costs and make future events like this possible, expenses were disclosed and, toward the conclusion of the event, participants were invited to consider the benefits of their learning and decide what they would like to contribute. As a learning community, we collectively pooled our resources and came to agreements about how to distribute those funds. What I came to learn through thisprocess was that it was not only about the financial resources circulating, but about the open space we created for expressions of gratitude and meaning to pass between us. Again, a focus on relationship.

Looking into the future, I am personally inspired to learn what conflict has to teach me within my own self, as well as within my community. I trust that our work with listening circles has equipped us with enough mutual understanding and practice in deeply hearing one another, that we are prepared to engage the juiciness of conflict with curiosity and compassion. In the words of Dominic Barter (founder of Restorative Circles), “Conflict is the river.”

Cooperation Circles Celebrate International Day of Peace


URI North America Cooperation Circles and Affiliates are ready to celebrate International Day of Peace (IDP) 2016! The theme for IDP this year is “The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Building Blocks for Peace.” Our network is building off of these blocks for peace by creating moments of #TangibleHope that strengthen the ideals of peace, both within and among their diverse communities.

Click through this slideshow to see what they’re up to! You can also check out the URI North America IDP Program Bank to find inspiration for IDP celebrations in your community for years to come. If you have an event to report, click HERE to submit it and qualify for a trip to the United Nations for World Interfaith Harmony Week!


You can also check out events happening all around the world, hosted by URI CCs and others, on this map produced by URI Cooperation Circle UNIFY.

URI Cooperation Circles Call for Solidarity, Action After Killings

“Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness – only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate – only love can do that.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
PPPs in action

In the light of the recent killings both by and of police officers in the United States, several URI Cooperation Circles have issued statements and calls to action.

“All Lives Are Precious and Irreplaceable,” declared the San Francisco Interfaith Council in a statement penned by board chair G.L. Hodge. “Now is the time for us to work together on implicit bias, poverty, education for all our children, income inequality, safety and security for all — on all the issues which keep us from moving ahead as a strong, democratic society with equal rights for all. Violence is not the way….The San Francisco Interfaith Council, its Board and its members implore our sisters and brothers everywhere to shine the light of love and condemn the darkness of hate. We ask faith leaders everywhere to raise their voices against violence, preach messages of peace and redouble efforts on issues that will bring true equality.” (Read the full statement here.)

The Council has also announced that they are working with the Office of Diversity at USF and the San Francisco Human Rights Commission to offer “Implicit Bias Training” to San Francisco’s congregation leaders civil rights activists.

Following the killing of police officers in Dallas, the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County issued a statement of solidarity and sympathy and also called communities to action.

“While nonviolent rage, anger and lament are valid expressions in times like these, we also call on communities around the country to start meeting with their local police departments to discuss how to work together to make our communities safer for all.”

The Marin Interfaith Council expressed grief over all of those who have lost their lives in recent weeks.

“We hold in our thoughts and prayers those who have lost their lives and lost loved ones during the tragic events of the past few weeks. May we rededicate ourselves to build bridges of understanding, promote justice, create safe space for difficult conversations, and practice radically inclusive hospitality for everyone.”

The Arizona Faith Network, based in Phoenix, Arizona, is joining the call of local pastor Warren Stewart Sr. to urge President Obama, U.S. House Speaker Ryan and U.S. Senate President McConnell to convene a 2016 National Summit on Racism in America, which would acknowledge and address systemic racism in the United States. You can read more about this effort here.


SARAH Cooperation Circle Welcomes New Advisory Council Member


Rupsi Burman

“When I wear this pin I remember that I am a woman of my community, dedicated to creating a safe and harmonious environment with my daily actions” 

Earlier this month, Rupsi Burman, founder of Hope in Life Foundation, a Multi-Region Cooperation Circle and chair of the Orange County Task Force – Cities for CEDAW Program, was welcomed onto SARAH’s, the Spiritual and Religious Alliance for Hope Cooperation Circle, Advisory Council.

During the process, she pledged to remember her role as a woman of her community, dedicated to creating a safe and harmonious environment with her daily actions.

SARAH Cooperation Circle
Members of SARAH welcome Rupsi Burman to their Advisory Council

SARAH’s purpose is to “empower the community, learn from each other, and enlighten one another. To create a culture of peace.” They are Southern Calfiornia Based, but their work knows no boundaries. If you are interested in forming a SARAH Circle in your community, click here.

To learn more about their peacebuilding work, click here.

What’s Love Got To Do With Dismantling Islamophobia?

What’s Love Got To Do With Dismantling Islamophobia?


Islamophobia in the United States is not new. However, studies compiling FBI data, such as the one conducted by Georgetown’s Bridge Initiative, state that, today, U.S Muslims are five times more likely to be the victim of a hate crime than they were before 9/11 – a startling statistic, to say the least. For Rev. Will McGarvey and the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County (ICCCC), a United Religions Cooperation Circle, the antidote to this fear and hate based sentiment is simultaneously simple and complex: love.

 In a conversation with Rev. Will McGarvey, he reminded me that more than half of Americans who say they hate Muslims have never actually met a Muslim. The Reverend and his colleagues have set out to change this statistic, by implementing a“Love Your Muslim Neighbors” program in California’s San Francisco Bay Area, where “loving” your Muslim neighbor is not passive, but rather an active commitment.

Over the course of nine “Love Your Muslim Neighbor” events held at a variety of different Christian congregations, the ICCCC has initiated and facilitated crucial discussions on some of the major misconceptions regarding Muslims, with up to 200 participants. The interreligious exchanges vary from panel discussions hosted by American Muslims of different ethnicities, religious sects, gender identities, and so on, to more intimate and informal conversations where non-Muslim community members voice curiosities they have always had but have never known how or whom to ask.

Changing the hearts and minds of people is no easy feat – but it can be done. At one of the events, a community member shared that she feared all American Muslims wanted to implement Sharia Law. However, upon engaging with her Muslim neighbors at one of these events, she realized her information sources had completely misled her.

“It took meeting a real Muslim, or a few of them, to understand that there’s an Islamophobia industry in our culture that perpetuates these lies about Muslims,” said Rev. Will McGarvey.

The “Love Your Muslim Neighbor” events are just one of the many ways URI Cooperation Circles and other interfaith peacebuilders across Canada and the United States are creatively and impactfully invoking the type of change that is most difficult to sustain: change within hearts and minds.

The list of solidarity events is heartwarmingly long and includes programming, such as the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council‘s “Hands Around the Mosque” gathering, which brought over 250 community members together to demonstrate solidarity with their Muslim neighbors, the Interfaith Center at the Presidio‘s panel discussion: Political and Religious Extremism: Creating an Effective Response, the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative‘s recent partnership with “Standing Alongside America’s Muslims” and the Sun Devils are Better Together‘s continuous “Meet a [Insert Faith Tradition]” campaign promoting interreligious relationships, among many others.

Sun Devils Are Better Together
© Sun Devils Are Better Together

Moving forward, Rev. Will McGarvey hopes to partner with other places of worship, particularly Masjids (mosques), so that relationships among community members can deepen and the program’s reach can expand.

If you are interested in hosting, collaborating with, or learning more about “Love Your Muslim Neighbor,” contact Rev. Will McGarvey with the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County by emailing eye4cee[at] For more information on the program, click here and to watch a “Love Your Muslim Neighbor” panel discussion, click here.

Written by Anissa Abdel-Jelil, URI North America’s Communications and Outreach Coordinator.

Earth Day Celebrations Across North America

Earth Day Celebrations Across North America

This year URI North America Cooperation Circles and Affiliates are living into our purpose of creating “cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings” on and around Earth Day, April 22nd, 2016 by putting on a variety of events. Read on for inspiration on how to celebrate Earth Day and let us know if your events is not listed below.


Arizona Faith Network Cooperation Circle

  • April 15th – Film screening and post-viewing discussion on the film “Just Eat It – A Food Waste Story” from 6-9pm. Film Synonpsis: Filmmakers and food lovers Jen and Grant dive into the issue of food waste from farm, through retail, all the way to the back of their own fridge. After catching a glimpse of the billions of dollars of good food that is tossed each year in North America, they pledge to quit grocery shopping and survive only on discared food. What they find is truly shocking.”
  • May 31st – <Earth Care Event featuring Laura Richter. Details to come. 


California Interfaith Power & Light Cooperation Circle

  • April 15th – 24thFaith Climate Action Week (Formerly known as the “Preach-In”). Interfaith Power & Light’s campaign for climate healing and action is now a whole week of activities celebrated around Earth Day. Now in its seventh year, the Faith Climate Action Week has reached close to 2-million people with more than 5,000 climate and Earth stewardship sermons and talks nationwide. REGISTER for FREE DOWNLOADABLE KIT with Organizer’s Instructions/DIY Postcards to Senators/Letter Writing Talking Points/Action Petition/Handouts -AND- Take a look at their SAMPLE SERMONS AND TALKS(organized by faith tradition). Looking for more Interfaith Power & Light events in your area? Click here.
  • April 22nd – The Earth Day Climate Prayer is bringing together 100,000 people of all faiths to pray for climate healing. At 12pm your time, pause and take a moment to feel the power of prayer and to recommit to caring for the Earth. Sign up here to join the prayer.  

Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County Cooperation Circle

  • April 23rd “Linking Our Faith to Accelerated Action.” From 1-4pm at Walnut Creek United Methodist Church, 1543 Sunnyvale Ave, Walnut Creek. Panel discussions will address: Faith Against Fracking / Decarbonizing for Healthy Communities / Pricing Carbon.


The United Nations

  • April 22nd – The U.N signs the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

Charter for Compassion Cooperation Circle 

  • April 16th – 22nd Earth Day Speaker Series, Presentations and Screenings. Charter for Compassion’s list of events make it clear that “compassion isn’t soft or ‘touchy feely.’ It is ACTION DRIVEN.” All of these virtual events are accesible all over the world – Don’t forget to register!
  1. Saturday, April 16, 9 am PDT: Screening of “How Do Humans Heal a World?” with Barbara Kaufmann, Walking Moon Studios, and Sommer Albertsen, Compassion Games International. Register here.
  2. Sunday, April 17, 9am PDT: Climate, Compassion and Community Building: Sustainability with Justice with Paloma Pavel and Carl Anthony. Register here.
  3. Monday, April 18, 9am PDT: Love this Place, Serve the Earth: Collaboration is Necessary for the Earth with Jon Ramer and Joey Crotty. Register here.
  4. Tuesday, April 19, 9am PDT: Practicing Green Compassion: Can We Re-Green the World in OneGeneration? with Marc Barasch. Register here.
  5. Wednesday, April 20, 9am PDT: “The Science of Climate Change” with Dr. David Poister. Register here.
  6. Thursday, April 21, 9am PDT: Shifts in the Culture around Climate with Sarah van Gelder of Yes! Magazine and George Price of the University of Montana. Register here.
  7. EARTH DAY: Friday, April 22, 9am PDT: Ignite Engagement for Earth Stewardship Across Generations with Jane Goodall, URI Global Council Trustee Chief Phil Lane, Jr., Rex Weyler and Xiuhtezcatl. Register here.

Canadian Cooperation Circle Organizes Conference on “Navigating Peace Through Faith.”

Peace Making and Peace Building Through Faith

By Acharya S.P.Dwivedi

Peace Making and Peace Building Through Faith

The United Nation’s General Assembly has made several  important resolutions against discrimination based on race, gender, color and ethnic orientation; injustice, violence and terrorism to  create and peaceful environment on earth. The October, 2010 resolution set a new trend in promoting interfaith peace building by declaring the first week of the year to be celebrated as a World Interfaith Harmony Week. This provides a platform to all interfaith  and faith organizations, institutions and groups   to enhance  dialogue, cooperation and interaction among themselves towards creating  respect, understanding, love and harmony to each other faiths; and  even people of without faith. Since then during the first week of February all around the world conferences, prayers,  peace- walk, art-musical fair and celebrations are organized to develop harmony and sustainable world peace.

The Global Clergy Association of Canada (GCAOC), a URI Cooperation Circle, provided the leadership in Metro Vancouver  in organizing the interfaith conferences since 2011. This year the conference was jointly arranged by GCAOC (GCAOC) and North Wood United Church  of Surrey on February 6, Multifaith Action Society also supported the event. The theme of the conference was-“Navigating Peace Through Faith.” Representatives  of ten faiths  presented their faith perspective on the theme.

Rev. William Thomas Sparks  being the host offered the opening prayer  and Dr. J. Das, president of GCAOC welcomed the guests. Acharya S.P.Dwivedi acted as MC and moderator of the conference. He invited  the  faith panelist alphabetically. Liv Anita Dahl  (Baha’i) emphasized on friendship, respect and exploring each other faith;  Lama Tse Wang ( Buddhism) said that  traditions are different but goal is the same and that we should share experiences of faith; Rev. Scott Reynold (Christianity) focused on love for neighbor and teaching and healing; G.S.Singhai (Jainism) thought that non-violence is the only way to attain peace , and harmony; Rabbi David Mivasair (Judaism) felt that we should try to learn from others stories and experiences; Acharya Dwivedi (Hindu Bodhidharma)  advocated for equality, oneness of all and practice of spirituality  in establishing peace.

Dr. J. Das said , “We should ignore external labels and strengthen our inner consciousness to promote peace while Rev. Susan Kerr (Scientology) suggested, “Tolerance and respect  needed for open faith dialogue.” Sukh Johal (Sikh faith) told, “Peaceful  interfaith cooperation is only possible  through  respect, openness and love for others” and Firdosh Mehta ( Zoroastrian) found that peace can be attained through- Right action, and meditation.

Rev. Sparks was honored with  an Indian tradition – Pitaambar(Shawl) by  Dr. Das and Acharya Dwivedi.

Rev. Will T. Sparks offered the closing peace prayer in which everyone joined him. The guests were entertained, at the end, with refreshment.

“Let’s Talk About the Middle East” Episode 11

Let’s Talk About the Middle East: Episode 11

Let's Talk About the Middle East: Episode 11

We are excited to share the most recent episodes of “Let’s Talk About the Middle East”!

Episode 11: Lessons from the Support Palestine Protest in D.C.

Let’s Talk About the Middle East co-host Juliana Musheyev talks about her experience protesting AIPAC and supporting Palestine in Washington D.C. She plays clips of interviews she took during the protest. Andy and Juliana discuss several interesting topics that came up during the protest including: Zionism vs. Judaism, AIPACs impact, the one state solution, and the experience of living in Palestine.

We encourage our listeners to leave a comment with your thoughts. To access all of our podcasts links at any time, visit our YouTube Channel.

We welcome and encourage suggestions for topics and interviewees. If you know someone who has expertise or experience with the region please email us at or send us a message on Facebook!

Our next show will be on April 23rd at 10am EST. If you are local to Sarasota, tune into WSLR 96.5 to listen to the show. Otherwise you can listen live online here.

VIDEO: North America Trustee Candidates Share Vision and Qualifications

VIDEO: North America Trustee Candidates Share Vision and Qualifications

VIDEO: North America Trustee Candidates Share Vision and Qualifications

The North America candidates for the United Religions Initiative Global Council met for a virtual “meet and greet” to share about their vision and qualifications for the position.

This video is an opportunity for Cooperation Circle members to get to know the eight North America Global Council Trustee Candidates ahead of casting your votes.  The call begins with candidate introductions before moving into a question and answer time. After that they each (briefly) answered two questions:

The 2016 North America candidates for Global Council are:

  • Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell
  • Fred Fielding
  • Stephanie Humphrey
  • Reed Price
  • Jaya Priya Reinhalter
  • Ardisanne Turner
  • Ellen Vaillancourt
  • Rev. Carol Wilkins

For more information on the candidates and voting process, click here.

It is almost time for URI Cooperation Circles to vote three new Trustees to the United Religions Initiative Global Council. To help inform your decision, you and members of your Cooperation Circle are invited to a virtual “meet and greet” with the eight North America Nominees for Global Council. This call is an opportunity for you to get to know this year’s North America Global Council Trustee Nominees and to share your visions and goals for URI’s Global Council.

Muncie Interfaith Fellowship Annual Interfaith Dinner

Muncie Interfaith Fellowship Annual Interfaith Dinner

Muncie Interfaith Fellowship Annual Interfaith Dinner

The Muncie Interfaith Fellowship Cooperation Circle had over 90 people attend our annual Community Interfaith Carry-in Dinner. The topic for the evening was “Justice.” We began with opening prayers from the Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions. Then after everyone enjoyed dinner, individuals representing the Hindu, Jewish, Roman Catholic, Quaker, Muslim and Baha’i traditions presented their sect’s views on “justice.” George Wolfe, who is the chair of the Muncie Interfaith Fellowship, introduced the topic as it relates to Peace Education, and served at the “MC” for the evening event.