The 2023 Spirit of Humanity Forum was held from 31 May to 3 June in Reykjavik and Hveragerði, Iceland. One hundred and twenty leaders from 27 countries and diverse fields came together to explore the theme “Healing a World in Crisis – Leading with Authenticity and Love.”
After ten years of existence, this sixth edition of the forum moved away from the usual panel discussions to embrace a retreat format, offering us all a unique and transformative experience that had a lasting impact on our lives. The commitment, confidence, and courage of the group to embark on a profound journey surpassed the expectations of the organizers and made their dream a reality.
The opening reception was hosted by the City of Reykjavik at City Hall, and an atmosphere of authentic sharing was established, fostering unity among participants from all corners of the world. Over the next three days, the retreat provided an opportunity to set aside roles and titles and engage at a purely human level. We delved deep into the exploration of authenticity, love, and healing. We cultivated trust, exploring authentic dialogue, the art of listening, and moments of silence, creating an atmosphere conducive to personal growth and collective transformation.
One of the highlights was an online interview with the Prime Minister of Iceland, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, who spoke on spirituality, self-reflection, and the importance of care in governance, and her words resonated with the participants, highlighting the significance of personal experiences in leadership.
The emphasis on love and compassion as essential elements for a better world was prominent throughout. Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson, the President of Iceland, stressed the importance of genuine care for one another in restoring peace globally. His message catalyzed many to share their experiences and perspectives, reinforcing the notion of a shared humanity and the hope for a brighter future.
The forum concluded with “The Language of Peace,” a public event organized in the Fríkirkjan church in Reykjavík, where some of the participants shared their reflections.
As we approach the International Day of Peace on September 21, we invite you to listen to some of these touching voices from different continents, cultures, languages, and professional backgrounds. Each voice speaks of peace in their own way, through a poem, an experience, an encounter, an action, a life situation, or a reflection. But they all carry the same hope in their hearts: that a more peaceful world will come.
A typical crisis situation reveals a disconnect at all levels. What do I mean by this? Political disconnect (we can see that all over the world), economic disconnect, social disconnect, cultural disconnect, and sadly, spiritual disconnect.
The big question is, how do we encourage the language of peace in our current situation? How do we co-create a regenerative future for all? How do we enable a peaceful coexistence on Earth for all Earth’s citizens? How do we create a global atmosphere where all cultures are respected in their diversity?
In my own little way, I encourage the language of peace by tapping from within; tapping into my inner values, tapping into my inner home. What about you? What are the differing levels of contributions to this Earth? How do you intend to make a gesture for others to follow? If you’re unsure about how to go about it, I invite you to join me on the One Home Journey, a course that intends to connect cultures, to build a regenerative future for all. We need a new framework for the future, to save the future, save citizens, and shape the future of our children, our children’s children. The time to act is now.
This is the first time I am speaking in a church. Coming from an Islamic background, it’s really an honor, and I can’t describe in words how proud I feel of being here with you today in this Forum.
I would like to share a quote from a book I read at the beginning of the year, The Secrets of Divine Love. It is written by a Muslim lady, A. Helwa, who tried to redefine Islamic teachings in a very unique way. I’ll share a quote about love, as love is what we’ve been talking about for the last few days.
“We polish our heart to unveil the interconnectedness of creation, to embrace the places within us where love lives and compassion flourishes. And to see that beneath all outward defenses we all originate from a single seed of divine vibration. When we fully face Allah [and Allah, by the way, is how we call God in Arabic], we become like a holy mirror that contains the entire world within our love. After all, our journey here is not to just connect with the Divine in worship. But once we do this, to return to that creation as a sign of Allah’s unending love on Earth. You are not just a pottery fashioned from dust and water. You were sent to be Allah’s eyes on Earth. You were sent as a reflection of love and compassion for all those with hurting hearts. You were sent to reflect Allah’s mercy upon the entire universe.
“As the 9th century Persian mystic, Iman Junayd said, ‘A Muslim is like Earth. Even if impurities are thrown on it, it will blossom into a green pasture.’ We are called to be like a date tree so rooted in the love of Allah that when people throw stones at you, you reply with food that tastes sweet.”
When I was invited to speak about the language of peace, the first thing I thought about was food because when there is no peace one of the starkest consequences of war is hunger. Today we have 350 million people who are acutely hungry. Despite Covid, despite climate change, the biggest driver of hunger is still war. And hunger is what you get when everything goes belly up with international cooperation. In the end, it’s always the same people going hungry.
I also want to speak about food because it’s the most essential, human, and connecting thing I can think of. We are in a Christian church, and breaking bread is the most Christian gesture there is. In every single religious tradition food has a special meaning, because food is not a given, it’s a gift we share. If we are conscious about it, it’s actually a way out of many crises.
For example, food connects to climate change in a very direct way. Every year we are losing three times the size of Switzerland to land degradation. If we work together to restore the barren land for agricultural use, we will improve food security, we will bring communities together, we will bring herders and farmers together, we will bring Christians and Muslims together. It is around food that we can do that.
The most beautiful thing is actually what makes plants grow. The biggest miracle for me is carbon dioxide. Plants take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and use a process called photosynthesis that has been working for 3.5 billion years to bind CO2 and at the same time produce food.
So I want to conclude with hope. I’ve been involved with the climate crisis since 2007 when I framed the notion of climate justice. Equitable and fair food production can lead to climate justice. If we get it right, the climate crisis is our common enemy and nothing unites us more than a common enemy. It’s not one human tribe against another human tribe. It’s the human race against an existential threat, and that is my hope.
I greet you all in the language of peace and love. I am immensely blessed to be here in this community where I have felt welcomed and experienced love. I would like to share a prayer from my faith tradition in my mother tongue, Xhosa, a language spoken by the majority in the southern part of Southern Africa, the tip of our continent. The language of peace is love, and that’s the language we speak here.
As I say these words, and offer you this prayer, it’s a reminder to myself that we stand on holy ground. It is all holy ground, you are holy ground; you are made of the Earth yourselves. We will all go out into the world to feed the hungry spirits and be the love that our world needs. The language of peace is love. If we get the love right, we’ll get the peacemaking right.
Hello everyone. I have been asked many times over the past three days, “Who are you?” I’m Lisa, an international civil servant. I’ve been on a journey of inspiration and humility. I so wish I could take you all on this journey and see the incredible moments I’ve lived while traveling and serving in different conflicts across continents, talking to presidents, ministers, political opposition leaders, community elders, women, and young people. I feel deeply privileged for this opportunity. I’ve chosen two examples – one at the very onset of my career, twenty years ago, and a more recent example.
Shortly after the independence of Timor-Leste, I traveled there to see what it would be like to build a country, to work with the people. I was invited to a meeting with the President of this newly born country. You imagine presidents living in big palaces, but he did not; he was working from a palace of ashes, a burnt down building. He worked from there for years. He would sleep with the people in the park. He was the President. He was a former fighter for the country’s independence. He wanted to be close to his people. What a humbling experience.
Now I’m working in Afghanistan, and I’ve been there for a number of years. I talk to the Taliban and it’s hard. I think the place has really taken me to my limits. I feel at times frustrated, and sometimes angry, but who am I to be angry? I have spoken with some amazing women, and one of these brave young women told me, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” Over the years, these and many other experiences, day-to-day, have humbled me, have made me believe in our common humanity.
As I have continued my journey, I have often asked myself, “Who am I to judge?” I keep in mind what a beloved poet, very well known in Afghanistan, said centuries ago, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field. I will meet you there.” Thank you.
An Invitation to Mirror/Mirrors
we are both portals and mirrors
windows to where we could go
reflections of where we are
smooth, honest, jagged, shattered
the truth of this mirror
on our hearts
to mirror asks us to live in our heart
in the nia that abides in each one
residing in the makeen, expansive and gracious
recognizing all as empty and full
the paradox of this complex life
can we hold this?
can we come as we are and reflect from
a place of pure love?
can we dance with the shards?
united in deep devotion for creation
let us be both one and many
loosening our grip on the distinctions
they may dissolve
we may flourish
our beings rest in bhakti
our mirroring is devotion
of the world we long to see
of the beings we long to be