Come from a place of presence that is awareness. Practice mindfulness. Take at least 10 minutes a day to silence the mind, and feel the love from within. You are the love that your community needs.
Aspart of our series about 5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ivonne Hanks.
Ivonne Hanks is passionate about the ability that lies in every individual to live a purpose driven life of significance. She believes that everyone can find their way to a more balanced existence by embracing their true loving and conscious nature from a place of presence. She has had a lengthy career in public service within the health and human services field. She holds advanced degrees in the fields of political science and public health. She is President of Health is You!, LLC an integrative transformative health and wellness strategist practice which coaches and helps individuals and families find balance in a heart-centered, purpose-driven life. Ivonne is also the President of Worldwide Culture-Link, LLC, an innovative and strategic communications consulting firm in social marketing, cultural intelligence, multiculturalism, and mindful leadership. Today, Ivonne offers a wide range of transformative and mindful leadership strategies and interventions from individual and group coaching to seminars, and guest speaking appearances.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I have a few in mind that I would love to share, but, this one in particular best conveys the initiation of my life journey awakening to enlightenment, and to a life of community service…
In the late 90s, I was wandering the streets of New York City aimlessly, until I came across a sign that caught my attention. It read, “Sixteen miles of books inside. The Strand bookstore.” With my love for books, I was lured immediately. Of course, I had to go see this for myself! I perused around the store looking at all the new, old, and rare books. I was fascinated by the variety selection and prices! As I ventured to the back of the store, my eyes landed in an orange book all the way in the top row close to the high ceiling. Out of curiosity, I asked the attendant, why the orange book was among all the brown and dark color books?
He responded: ”Actually that book should not be there, it doesn’t belong in this section. These are old rare books. That bookbinding is not antique. I will go get the ladder, and get it for you.”
He grabbed the book, and I asked him what kind of book it was and he told me the name of the book was “Teaching of Buddha” by Bukkyó Dendo Kyokai and it was six dollars. He brought the book to me and I could see that the book was new. I opened the first few pages and quickly read a few lines. I felt an instant connection to the rhythm of the language in the book as if it was speaking to me.
The book was written in the Japanese language on the right side with the English version on the left page. It was written in very simple English. I bought the book. I would say it has been one of the greatest six-dollar investments of my life, to say the least! I devoured reading this book. I read it over, and over. Every word resonating as clear as a ringing bell! It became my “go to” for spiritual solace and expansion.
Unbeknownst to me, this book was initiating me into the beginning of my awakening to consciousness, and to discern life’s synchronicities. It was written with such simplicity and clarity that it resonated with my Spirit. The guidance that I received from the wisdom in this book has propelled me into leading a life of cultivating consciousness everyday, living intentionally with childlike wonder, joy and awe.
If I’m not fully aware of the defilements that taint human nature, I will be robbed of precious time in the present moment. Learning to cultivate the gift of discernment, everyday aligning and attuning myself to be congruent with the spirit, allows me to be guided by my Intuition, which is, not other than my divine guidance speaking to me. Co-creating with me living the purpose driven life of significance, and of service to humanity that the spirit yearns for.
I found very close similarities between the “Teaching of Buddha” and the Christian dogma scriptures, among many other religions around the world. Its familiarity resonated to many of the similar cultural values that were instilled in me early on. I learned that only when we are truly conscious can we honor the Spirit, in the present moment, as life is unfolding. The rest is just our life story narrative that we are the writer, producer, director, and protagonist of our one-woman/man show. Pretty great, if you ask me now, that I AM awake.
To accept with equanimity that life in the present moment, all is well as it is in divine time. I learned to be mindful of my thoughts, of the right actions, and to be impeccable with my words. Alone for the mere fact, that what we think, we are, we become, and what we say, we create. If it is imagined, it will come to pass. As simple as it sounds, that’s exactly how it is. No greater mystery has ever been so hidden under the nose of mankind. Like twiddling your thumb waiting for a eureka moment, unaware, that you are the eureka moment.
From this book, I learned that in the human condition we operate from two states of being: a conscious state or an unconscious state. That we either live in a state of suffering, or, free of suffering, depending on which emotion we focus on, at any given moment, and choose how to respond. In order to experience this state of being, we must allow it to flow through us, as life is unfolding with a calm, abiding presence. Being part of it, but detached at the same time. Not allowing it to affect your present state of being.
From these states we choose how we receive and react to all life experiences. All life’s pain and suffering originates from the unconscious state of being driven by longing, desires, a yearning, and a wish that has not been fulfilled. This causes us to engage in self-centric thinking. This type of thinking generates thoughts driven by the four defilements of human nature — ignorance, jealousy, anger and greed — which erodes the spirit in the human condition. The only conscious state is love. It is the only state of being, and the most powerful emotion that can overcome all of the defilements of the human condition. This emotion allows life to unfold with calm, abiding happiness and bliss.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
That would be the following: “Wherever you are, be there wholeheartedly. Be presence itself!”
To me, this expression embodies the meaning of the essence of life, which is to honor the spirit within one in the present moment, free of bias, prejudices and suffering, in a conscious state of connection to all there is. Being a spirit in the raw. It is the only way of being to experience your heart’s desire, wish fulfilled purpose driven life of significance in joy, bliss and happiness.
The greatest gift of all is that the universal consciousness has bestowed on me, is the gift of discernment. To bring presence to every moment I happen to be at. With absolute “knowing” that, as the image & liking of the divine, I AM created; I must honor the spirit by walking in grace. I must be fully present like the spirit in the raw, that we, all are in the human condition. I want to allow myself to be guided by the divinity in me. To be conscious and aware of my surroundings when, I am civically engaged as a servant leader in the community. This is my mission to lead by example to help raise the level of consciousness of the collective one heart at a time in honoring the divine in them.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
For me leadership is the ability to influence and lead others to want to follow your lead to a common purpose or mission. Leadership has to be from a place of mindfulness. It is a conscious state of being cognizant, aware, and fully present free of bias and prejudices. It is in a state of connection. It is having the ability to connect with others in the present moment as it is unfolding. It is to be aware, sentient in feeling the energy of the people around you. Being able to relate to others, to feel like what is to walk in their shoes.
Mindful leadership is an acquired skill set that is essential when managing the human capital in organizations and any group; especially, groups that are diverse in cultural/ethnic identity demographics. Mindful leadership strategy approaches require one to be cognizant and culturally intelligent when addressing conflict resolution, mediation, and promoting collective expected behavioral standards. That promotes mindfulness, respect, consideration, kindness, compassion, tolerance, etc. for the common good of the organization and/or the community.
In life we come across many people, some who inspire us, some who change us and some who make us better people. Is there a person or people who have helped you get to where you are today? Can you share a story?
As a young single parent and a non-traditional college student in my late teens and early 20s, I was working part-time, and attending college, while raising my children. Since I was working part-time, I qualified for various government-assisted programs, like subsidized childcare. A requirement of eligibility was that every Friday, I was to drop off at the local county Department of Social Services (DSS), the pay stub of my earnings. This way, they will calculate how much I will qualify for assistance, and I will cover the rest of the childcare cost.
It was during these business interactions at the local DSS, that I was very fortunate to be noticed by a security guard named Jeffrey Gardner, who saw the young Spirit of altruism and advocacy in me, and encouraged me, sort of ‘“herded me,” to go apply for a position in Catholic Charities, as a Community Case Manager. At the time, I was not too keen about it, since I was very young, and I had no idea what a case manager was. However, nevertheless, I heeded my intuition…
I was hired, and so my career as a community advocate began. It was under the guidance and mentorship of the nuns, Executive Director Sister Maria Anne Tranelli, Sister Maria Nolan, Sisters of St. Joseph of Carandolet at Catholic Charities of the Albany Dioceses, and Father Peter J. Young, under Bishop Howard Hubbard.
These nuns and priests mentored and ignited the spirit in me to be a voice for the disenfranchised, the marginalized, and the ostracized in the community. They taught me the meaning of being of service to others, and while doing so, the skills of advocacy to speak for the voiceless from a place of compassion and how to convey that, to help others to focus their energy in empathy to address at least the basic needs of those less fortunate.
This advocacy led me to all the health and human services agencies that provided government assisted programs. Catholic Charities was always called to provide interpretation and translation services, working with all the service providers. In the early 90s, the language and cultural intelligence approaches were non-existent. Government agencies depended on the non-government agencies to assist them with the influx of non-English speaking newcomers to the area that were in need of services. As local and state funding receiver, Catholic Charities provided the services the Health & Human Services agencies lacked. There were no cultural ethnic or Spanish-speaking personnel working in the agencies. So, Catholic Charities and Hispanic Outreach Services were in high demand.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a series of unprecedented crises. So many of us see the news and ask how we can help. We’d love to talk about the steps that each of us can take to help heal our county, in our own way. Which particular crisis would you like to discuss with us today? Why does that resonate with you so much?
Each one of us has a moral, spiritual and civic responsibility to take care of oneself first. This is done in order for one to be able to be a conscious and fully engaged person in their life, and, in return, to their community as well.
First step: Honor thy spirit, and practice self-love. To love yourself enough, that you believe, and feel with absolute certainty, that the spirit of the divine is in you. And you can realize the life your heart desires.
Second step: Mind your mind! Cultivate the daily habit of summoning your spirit; say, via prayers, intentions, meditations, to be fully present, free of thoughts neither of yesterday, nor for tomorrow. Be here now!
Third Step: Free yourself of all the pain and suffering caused by bias and prejudices. Suffering is all that is generated from ignorance, greed, anger, and envy.
This is likely a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
The crisis of the social unrest that we are experiencing in the nation today, in the Black Lives Matter movement was triggered by the death of George Floyd, a man of color, in the hands of the police, during an encounter with law enforcement. This situation is a public outcry of a collective sentiment and frustration that has festered and has gradually evolved over time exacerbating the chaos and violence due to the social inequality and injustices.
The riots and social protests that we are seeing today is because all of the atrocities and injustices caused by a systemic discrimination that has been part of the history of our nation from the time of expansion and exploration, driven by Caucasian greed.
The African American community has been subjected to a xenophobic, cruel and unjust system due to the color of their skin. It has been over 155 years since slavery was abolished in our nation, yet, the racist and bigotry mindset of the stakeholders of the powers may have permeated through the generations to today.
Although laws were enacted after the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s to bring about the change and protections for our fellow African Americans, and, all other ethnic minorities, the government has not been as proactively progressive as it should in promoting cultural intelligent strategies that will move and shift the collective mindset to equality and eradicate racism.
Their lack of active mindful engagement in promoting cultural intelligence and equality created an attitude of complacency turning a blind eye to systemic abuse. Even though there are agencies in government that are charged to ensure that these laws and their rules and regulations are being observed, the attitude towards these regulations is more of a “window dressing for political posture.”
Rather than promoting, use of the system provided by law, the system was used mostly to sabotage and discourage the aggrieved to not pursue any complaint filing. Therefore, this was victimizing the aggrieved, subjecting them to more stress and terrors out of fear to lose their jobs and retaliation.
The challenge with most governmental entities is that they are headed by the political appointees who respond to the current administration orders. If the administration exhibits a disinterest in any public issues or affairs, that mood will trickle down to all its authority posts. And, the posts will respond to the orders of the chief in command. The same dynamics occurs in every change of government administration.
This is why it is so important to be mindfully civically engaged. Being mindfully civically engaged means to be involved in the process from registering to vote, voting to elect your representative, and, then continue to monitor your representative public record. This will give you a glimpse of how the representatives you elected are voting for you on the floor, in the issues that matter to you as a community of interests.
The time has come for a call to action for We The People to really live up to the tenements of the United States Constitutions that afford us the liberty and freedoms for us to govern ourselves as the government of the people to live a life in peace in the pursuit of happiness.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience either working on this cause or your experience being impacted by it? Can you share a story with us?
As a rookie health and human services professional in public service in the early 1990s, I experienced abusive conduct like bullying and belittling remarks for advocating for immigrants and ethnic minorities. I was a young girl from Puerto Rico with limited experience living in the mainland USA, who was just barely getting to understand many of the culture and language nuances that one can only know if you have been raised or exposed to it at an early age.
My daily work as an advocate in the local agencies was faced with the ugly faces of ignorance and anger. The staff felt entitled and, with the right to judge, would verbally abuse the clients because they were applying for “handouts.” They felt that their taxes were paying for ‘these people’s’ support. The collective mindset of the staff was more of ‘hell and inhumane services’, rather than to be health and human services as its name suggested.
This mindset was the cultural norm of the agencies. Many times, I would approach the counter, or speak to the guard about the abuse that I witnessed. It was a game of cat and mouse. If they caught you complaining, they will retaliate by holding off the eligible benefits of the clients. They will go to the length of making your work an inconvenience. So, I had to learn very quickly and adapt to manage the negative energy. I found that being present and engaged in the moment helps to break through the animosity and to establish a rapport with the caseworker.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
- Come from a place of presence that is awareness. Practice mindfulness. Take at least 10 minutes a day to silence the mind, and feel the love from within. You are the love that your community needs.
- Free your mind of all pain and suffering, past and future concerns. Practice self-love and compassion towards yourself in order for you to love, and be fully present for others. When we free our minds of pain, bias and prejudices, we are able to humanely relate to others from the heart, and will naturally feel empathy, and lean towards the similarities and solutions.
- Contact, write and e-mail your elected representatives and communicate the issues and concerns of your community; do not listen to political propaganda riddled with fear mongering. Hold elected representatives accountable. Ask what they are currently doing to address and resolve the issues and concerns in the community. Ask them to hold community meetings.
- Get actively involved in your community events; and be aware about the state of affairs in your community. Reach out to your nonpolitical community leaders. Reach out to others in your community that you feel they are feeling disenfranchised. Demonstrate compassion and feel what is like to work in someone else’s shoes.
- Meditate. Pray. Set intentions to raise vibrations to radiate light and love. Cultivate positive thinking and mind your thoughts. Ultimately, imagine peace.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but what can we do to make these ideas a reality? What specific steps can you suggest to make these ideas actually happen? Are there things that the community can do to help you promote these ideas?
Reach out to all the stakeholders, government agencies, community leaders, business owners, and elected representatives with law enforcement officials to create a synergy of collaboration. These public assemblies are to bring the community together to talk about the solutions. The purpose of the assemblies should be to restore civility and the public trust in law and order as well as discussing the best practices moving forward.
How can the practice of mindfulness and civic engagement be introduced? The approach to mindfulness can be introduced as a cultural and lifestyle concept, to appeal for their personal vested interests and altruistic nature for the desired behavioral outcome.
The stakeholders need to engage in innovative and creative ways to minimize the stress and tensions given to the social unrest experienced. They can engage in community health education promotion and public service announcement campaigns that will address the post traumatic crisis with services/activities such as live talks, speakers, educators presentations, yoga, mindfulness, meditation, prayers, trauma PTSD Counselors, life coaches and music that are designed to be welcoming and relaxing in nature.
Mindfulness and civic engagement are crucial in the healing and wellbeing of the whole community. Mindfulness creates the awareness that all lives matter, that we are more alike than we are not, and, most important, that the sustainability, and health of the community depends on the health and wellbeing of its population.
The intent is to bring focus to the present moment at hand. This will ease the participation of the members of the community. This is done as an effort to have an open discussion as a community of interests where everyone will be heard in discussing the solutions.
There is a vested interest for all for life to go back to normal, as they knew it. The Covid-19 Pandemic quarantine, and the adverse impact of stress on people (loss of loved ones, loss of income, loss of shelter, fear, uncertainty, social stimuli deprivation, etc.) created the perfect storm for people’s state of minds and tempers to come undone under these circumstances of extreme frustration and desperation.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
Absolutely! We all can come together from a state of mind that is free of pain, suffering, bias and prejudices. From this space fully mindfully engaged, we can sit and talk about the solutions from a place of understanding, love, hope, and compassion.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
I encourage every young person to engage in the government of the people, by getting mindfully and civically engaged in creating the community, and the future they desire. I also encourage them to participate in their local politics, attending to the issues that matter to them as a community of interests. They need to make their elected representatives to work for them and to work collectively in imagining the community that they all envision. It’s important to focus their energy in talking about the solutions to their issues and concerns and to cultivate a society that is going to work for the benefits of all its members.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
It would be a wish come true to have a sit down chat with former President Barack Obama. That would be just awesome. The reason is, because he is the first president of the nation that we the people elected who represents the genetic fabric mosaic of the country. To me, he is a leader that still has command of the trust of the people as a leader. At this time, I believe that President Obama is the greatest equalizer of consciousness, when it comes, to raising awareness about the racial divide that has soiled the moral social fabric of the nation. He is a great prototype to talk about the diversity of the human genome that exists in the American people genotype and phenotype.
His mixed racial background is a blessing to our nation. It represents the two ends of the spectrum between the two colors in the color wheel. He is the bridge between the Blacks and the Whites, with the Browns in the between.
You see, I feel that the nation still has pending issues to resolve when it comes to bridging the racial divide. Many in the country felt that he was just a Black man, ignoring his genetic ancestry, and cultural ethnic identity to his Irish descent White family. During his presidency, I felt nothing but compassion for President Obama and his family. I felt that our country was riddled with such bigotry and xenophobic tendencies that blind them to be incapable to understand that he was an American of mixed race, just like the vast majority of the rest of Americans.
This prejudice blinded the unconscious mind of a collective that is not able to use reason and logic from a place that is unconscious. Consciousness is to be conscious — cognizant of what is the right and moral thing to do always, no matter the circumstances.
President Obama is the reflection of our America. He is the offspring of a black man, from Kenya, Africa, and a White woman from Irish descent from America. You would think that by the time he was elected President, the collective intelligence of the nation was knowledgeable enough to understand the diversity of the human genome, which was discovered in the early 90s. Scientists and geneticists were able to trace our genetic makeup back to the female mitochondrial, out of Africa. This discovery shows that our closest relatives in the evolution chain are none other than apes.
For me, this is an indication that as a collective mindset, we are due for an educational discussion about biology, genetic makeup, human genome, and cultural and ethnic identity versus race. We need to promote the collective growth and expansion in consciousness and to be more consciously accepting and culturally intelligent for the times. To be culturally intelligent is to have a clear understanding of the intricacies of race, ethnicity and cultural identity, and that race is not the sole factor that determines cultural ethnic identity.
The expansion in knowledge with the help of the many discoveries made in the modern disciplines in all the sciences, including human anthropology, which points to, that as one of the living species, Homosapiens, living on planet Earth, are more alike than are not. And, just like the mammal animal we are, there are a variety of shapes and colors, just like it exists with other mammal species on the planet.
This knowledge is essential to minimize xenophobia, which is fear of the unknown, or to what it looks different to us. The times are now, that we all should make a commitment to ourselves, to community wellbeing, and collectively strive to focus on what brings us together, to discuss the solutions as a community of interests.
Who are we to question the colorful and diverse taste of the universal consciousness and intelligent design?
How can our readers follow you online?
I can be found online via my website: www.health-is-you.com as well as my pages on Facebook: Latino Voice Matters; Worldwide Culture-Link, Health Is You, Health Is You Talks; Mindfulness & Civic Engagement; and social media Instagram and Twitter, as Health Is You!
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!