You can't see others until you see yourself. You can't love another until you love yourself. And so there's a really important part that this plays in our facilitators having to do the work.
In this episode, Juan Carlos Areán of Futures Without Violence speaks with Jojopahmaria Nsoroma, owner and steward of Higher Expectations Consulting Collaborative, and James Encinas, the Spanish program facilitator and trainer at the Family Peace Initiative, about the importance of self-reflection in facilitating abusive partner intervention programs. The group explores the ways in which engaging in ongoing self-reflection is an essential part of a facilitator's work in order to create a model of accountability for facilitators and participants alike.
The following is a transcript of the podcast:
JUAN CARLOS ARÉAN: Greetings. My name is Juan Carlos Areán, and I'm a Program Director in the Children and Youth team at Futures Without Violence. We partner with the Center for Court Innovation on the Abusive Partner Accountability and Engagement Project, an initiative funded by the Office on Violence Against Women. We provide training and technical assistance to communities across the country to help them enhance abusive partner intervention and engagement strategies. We have been producing a podcast series focusing on innovations and trends in abusive partner intervention programming, also known as battering intervention programs.
Today, we're going to talk about the importance of self-reflection when working with people who cause harm through intimate partner violence. I have the great pleasure to be joined today by Jojopahmaria Nsoroma, the owner and steward of Higher Expectations Consulting Collaborative, and the creator of The Wisdom Walk to Self-Mastery, and James Encinas, the Spanish program facilitator and trainer at the Family Peace Initiative. They are both amazing human beings, teachers, healers, authors. Thank you both so much for joining us today. And I would like to start with Jojopah by asking you to give us a brief overview of your work and your organization, please.
JOJOPAHMARIA NSOROMA: I want to start with just honoring my name and what it means, which is the fiery essence that came out of the water to be a vessel for the divine. And my work in general is to help people become the best version of themselves, and in doing that, I have to be working on being the best version of myself. So I really consider my work an extension of my lifestyle and my belief systems for how it is that we can learn to heal, to grow, and evolve. And that has brought me to do a variety of things to understand the current system from many different angles, grassroots, all the way up to national organization, and then led me to understanding that there was a need for change and growth.
So I had to innovate myself and part of my innovation was to take on becoming a keeper of ancient wisdom from Africa that I had to integrate into abusive partner intervention program, known as the Alma Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And out of that work, I've been able to really not only demonstrate program development, but also organizational development and really cultural development within an organization to be able to support this kind of work. It really is about healing trauma. It really is about growing into purpose, evolving the way in which we are living, doing, being, having as human beings so that we can have what I call our happy endings in life.
And so I share my gifts, my talent, my genius in a variety of ways. As you mentioned, I am a published author. The book is A Wisdom Walk. I also do a YouTube channel. I'm in the process of developing an online platform for community and consulting with whoever will have me to keep sharing what it is that I believe is essential to our ability to move forward as human beings and to really become the best versions of ourselves.
ARÉAN: Beautiful. Thank you so much, Jojopah.
What about you, James, tell us about yourself and your work.
JAMES ENCINAS: Lovely to be with you here, Juan. I think I've been growing into that best version of myself over the last number of years. I've been a seeker and looking for a deeper relationship, I'm going to call it God, you can call it whatever it means to you, but it was something greater than myself and lately that has really informed me from the perspective that I think it's about presencing, it's about being present with each other.
And what are the things that limit us from being able to do that? I was born in Bolivia, South America. I came here when I was eight years old. That was a trauma, being torn from my native country.
And I also witnessed a lot of abuse and violence in my childhood and early adulthood. Those experiences, the environment we grow in impact how you engage in the world. Working with the Family Peace Initiative and taking people through what Steve and Dorothy called the river of cruelty, this idea that before you were ever cruel, someone was cruel to you. And so that cruelty creates adverse feelings and those adverse feelings create defense mechanisms and those defense mechanisms have unintended consequences. And so for me, growing up in that world with violence and developing a certain set of skills that were really survival-based, I not only hurt myself and I hurt others.
So that was a big part of my journey, engaging in ways that were hurtful to me and were hurtful to others. Alcohol, promiscuity, just that sense of lack of self-worth, which again, I feel that as I live into that best version of myself, the sense of self-esteem, the sense of presence, which is a big part of this work, I think, is how do we help people be present with each other?
And at some point in my journey, I left the classroom. I was asked to be an Aspen fellow, Aspen teacher leadership fellow. I read, first of all, I was informed by that experience. I never considered myself an intellectual. And I think that's one of the cruelties I experienced from my father who, who called me stupid more times than I can remember. And then also just in the classroom, where you're growing up in that world and you're not paying attention to the lessons and therefore you're not measuring up in the eyes of teachers and they're calling you stupid. So at some point you just start giving up and looking for things that will make you feel better that are not necessarily beneficial to you.
And so Aspen, being with 20 intellectuals and academics, and then wondering what I'm doing there, but bringing in my heart and then falling in love with that part of me, and then holding me through the experience made me realize that knowledge is power. Knowledge is important in shaping of the world, in trying to create a good society. And so after that experience, I read a piece by science fiction writer, Ursula Le Guin, called Walking Away From Omelas and about this perfect world and everybody's happy, but there's the secret. And the secret is that there's a child, but it's in the basement and it's suffering and malnourished and abused. And that really had a tremendous impact on my thinking and how I was feeling. And I realized I needed to do what I could do to help that child.
And that led to becoming voracious about neuroscience and parenting. And I started working with men in groups, men and women. I wasn't following the Duluth model or the other models that were out there. I was doing things like having men meditate. And I was doing arts because I was an actor at one point. I was doing theater. I was doing yoga. I was doing self-regulation exercises. And I found that had a tremendous impact on how they engaged and those are experiences that I had had that actually helped me to learn how to self-regulate and be more present.
I look at trauma and the meaning of trauma as a wound or a source of suffering, and I believe that whenever we have experienced wounding or suffering, we're unable to connect with that light within us. We are not able or do not have the capacity to habitually abide in the infinite love that is constant, that surrounds us.
At 26, I put a knife to my father's throat, and then at 56, I went to care for him at the end of his life. And to realize that when I held him by the throat and said over and over, why couldn't you love me? And then at 56, realizing he didn't know how to do that because that wasn't done for him. And so at what point, as we're having this conversation, of the separation we've made between service providers and those people we serve, do we get to see the humanity in each of us, which is really my work beyond the intervention and in working with men, I'm bringing faith into a conversation amongst education leaders. I'm going to different places to address that journey, which I think the river of cruelty I know it doesn't suffice, right? For me, it's a river of grace, where you get to a place where you can hold the suffering and the pain and the joy and exist in that liminal space where you are held.
And so at this point in my life, I experience suffering like anyone else, but I'm able to hold it and I'm able to be with it and I'm able to learn from it. Somebody shared a quote from Juan Gabriel Marcel: “You know you have loved someone when you have glimpsed in them that which is too beautiful to die.” What would the world be like if we love in that way? Love another and see the face of God. So that's kind of where I'm at and that's where the work has taken me.
ARÉAN: Thank you for your rich and deep sharing. We are up for a treat here. The training and technical assistance project created recently a new principle based on self-reflection. And it states that facilitating a healing, growth, and accountability process for others is only possible as an extension of the facilitator's exploration of those factors in their own lives. What does that mean for you, James?
ENCINAS: I'm reading The Four Pivots by Sean Ginwright, African American educator and teacher and social justice leader. And he talks about the importance of awareness, about looking at the mirror, and not the lens. We don't spend time looking at the mirror, which doesn't lie, right? We look at the world through the lens and in that, especially as providers, we don't really take time to understand how our experiences in our environment had impacted how we engage in the world. He talks about a youth worker working with young men and telling them they need to have a better relationship with their father. Meanwhile, they don't have a good relationship with their own father.
And I think in answer to that question, it's about witnessing, you can't see others until you see yourself. You can't love another until you love yourself.
And so there's a really important part that this plays in our facilitators having to do the work. And I think it was through Steve and Dorothy's work where I was doing the art of facilitation before I became a trainer with them. In that room it was facilitators. And what I got to see was that they were no different, they had no less suffering, they had no less struggles than the people that they were facilitating for. That was an awakening moment for me and that informs how we engage in the world.
ARÉAN: Thank you. And what about you, Jojopah? Why do you think self-reflection is important in this work?
NSOROMA: From my experience, I had the wonderful opportunity to replicate Michael Carrera's programs that he successfully did out of Harlem for teenage pregnancy prevention. It wasn't just the standard show him contraception and tell them not to have any sex. It was about giving them viable alternatives in life. And he created a process that engaged young people and exposed them to opportunities and things that they normally wouldn't get access to. And most importantly, he included the parents in the process. So I got this opportunity to go out to Toledo, Ohio, and imitate this incredible process. These parents were amazing. And they said to us, “You know this is really hard work.” And I was very successful in engaging with these families. But right away I get confronted with sexual abuse, incest happening for some children. And they were able to come out to me about that. And at the time, what I didn't know was that I myself was a survivor of incest.
So it wasn't until I was 40 that I had my recall. And when I had my recall, then it made sense to me why I was able to be of service to those children. But I can still remember the pain, the pain that hit right into the center of my chest when I realized that was me. I was saving myself.
And this opened me up to why self-reflection is essential. And I call it self-mastery. John Kehoe wrote this book about the future of the mind. He's been doing what we call brain training, came upon this technique to help people learn how to be more self-reflective and be able to make different choices rather than feeling victim to life. And he talks about us having four parts to ourselves and usually people know mind, body, spirit, right? Which he calls the spirit soul. But the fourth part he talks about is a subconscious. Why do you want to honor, respect, and work with the subconscious. It’s because it's the stuff you don't know. It's driving the bus. He gave these mythic names to mind, body, soul, and unconscious, the engine of your success. What does that mean because we think of the subconscious as a shadow, right? All the shadow work is holding the treasure in your trauma, in your core wound, in your generational trauma. This is where the juice is, and that's why it can be the engine to your success. And the only way you get access to that part of yourself is that you have to be ready and open to learning about what you don't know you don't know you don't know.
Alls I knew is I had this information. I had this experience and I wanted to use it. I get a call from a friend and she says, I was just talking about you, Jojopah. I'm with the executive director of the Alma Center. She's looking for a healer. I go in and meet with Terry within five minutes I'm in tears because spirit lets me know, this is where you're supposed to be. So she's a gender specific organization. It's only men. Here I'm coming in to be this healer. Majority black men, right? And if I hadn't been committed to self-mastery, to my ability to want to see myself in relationship to men, to want to really now use the gift I had in the healing I did with my father. It was an uncle who was my abuser.
And so I've got all this stuff inside of me that had I not been doing my work. There's no way I could have sat in circle with those men as they start to talk about, well, she did this and she did that. Or to read the reports about the bruises and the broken bones and the threats and things. And so it was self-reflection that enabled me to be able to sit down in a circle with these men and love on them because I saw my uncle, I saw my father. I saw all the men in my life who had done some kind of harm to somebody or something, but I could love them because I knew that they were operating out of what their pain that was driving their bus. And they maybe didn't have the kind of intervention that spirit had brought to me to be able to really learn how to go into forgiveness and how to rise above the pain and want to experience life in a very different way.
So I'm getting the worst of the crop, but they were the best of the crop because as soon as they realized that I was one of them, I've come through trauma too. And I know that if I came through what I came through, you can come through what you came through and we're going to do this together. We're going to go on this journey and you're going to learn how to tame that dragon inside of you, like I had to tame mine.
And from there it's a whole different experience in terms of what can happen in helping people learn how to become the best version of themselves. It's no longer about me trying to be in control of somebody's success or behavior. It's about me holding space for them to connect with what's inside of them, that's eternal and to give them permission to connect with that. Because I truly believe that the only way anybody survives a childhood of that kind of pain and abuse, is that you're connected.
Let me turn up the volume on it a little bit. And so my job is to give you some language so that you know that what is going on is real and true. Even though you've done these horrible things, you're still a divine being. So we've got to evolve it and really honor people's ability to grow, to heal, and evolve, that I don't need to hold them in a place based on behavior. I need to honor them for the spirits that they are. And you can't do that if you're not doing your work.
ARÉAN: Thank you for that. Wow. So deep and so interesting. I remember being in a meeting of kindred spirits doing this work.
I came to the realization that everybody in that group, there might be differences on how they approach their work, but everybody was committed to their own self-reflection and growth. What our friend, Ulester Douglas, they call it in Men's Stopping Violence, we are the work. It starts with us. And that inspired us actually, to develop this principle. So back to you, James, my question would be, how do you help programs in the abusive partner intervention field, to create spaces and institutionalized practices and policies so that people can practice this kind of self-reflection and personal growth?
ENCINAS: There's a hunger for real restorative healing spaces. Having said that, I think the model that I experience from Dorothy and Steve, the facilitator training model, is a good start in terms of people have to go through their river in order to get to a place where they identify this other road, this other message. Alice Miller calls it the enlightened witness, the person who saw you. And so that's having places where we get to let down our guard, where we get to express our vulnerability, where we get to share our shame, right? It's a collective experience that is transformative. It's not about you don't transform people if you judge them or if you punish them. How do people know your authenticity of presence if you haven't gone through that journey of transformation yourself? How can you transform others if you haven't been transformed? Right? And so a lot of my suffering, as you were sharing your experience with incest and abuse, Jojopah, I think it informs us on a deep level. It makes us more empathetic and compassionate once we're able to share that empathy and compassion with ourselves. And so that's another important thing that happens in this collective process is we start seeing that we're no different than anyone in that room.
And we stop otherizing and we begin to open the door to let love in, a love that is ever present. You know this infinite presence of God, that's my word for it. It's pouring itself out constantly. And when you are living in survival mode, you can't experience that. I've been really conscious of my story, I used to share it a lot. And I think the new narrative is about creating a space where people can come together and understand that we are interconnected.
And from there, start to figure out, well, what are the practices around that? But going back to your initial question there's a need and a desire for space where we actually develop awareness where we actually shine the mirror on each other. When my wife left me, and she actually told me a year before she was going to leave that once she got herself financially together to get a place for herself and my daughter, Emma, she would leave. I never expected her to leave, but a year later she left. And I was devastated. And a couple years, I think after that, when we worked together and had done enough work to be able to co-parent, I sat with Nora and I said, why did you leave me? And it still pains me, she said, "I had to wake up every morning to figure out how you were doing in order to know how my day was going to go."
I wasn't conscious. I wasn't aware. I knew how to survive, and survival was about me. It was about my own well-being, my own happiness. I couldn't see anyone else. And so to get us to this point, and I love this definition of love by M. Scott Peck, which is love is the will to give of yourself, to enhance your own or another's spiritual growth. It's not about you. It's an active thing. It's about the other, but through the other, you are healed. Through the other you are seen. I've really been exploring how do you create those spaces? What does it take to bring people together to be that vulnerable, to be willing to suffer because it's in the suffering that we are transformed, and to find their truth. And I don't think we have many of those spaces at this point.
ARÉAN: Thank you, James. What do you think, Jojopah? As a consultant, how do you come about creating that space?
NSOROMA: You're up against the function of an organization and the paradigm of how a human service organization is supposed to function.
So the first thing that I did was that I was able to come into the Alma Center and say, okay, it's not just about me coming to deliver this program. For these men to be really supported, all the facilitators, even the secretary has to understand what I'm doing and why I'm doing it.
And this means that their organizational culture has to grow. Well, what if our organization models that? As people who are committed to this goal of what the Alma Center stands for, how do we help men become the best version of themselves? Can we come together and open ourselves up to learning, learning more about what that means and how to do it. It takes leaders who have vision, who realize that the old paradigms aren't working enough, that there is a need for something more.
We went on a retreat and I took the staff through a fire ritual, and there was a staff person there who was like, I'm uncomfortable with this. No problem. You're not required to do anything. It's good, just we'll go through the contemplative questions. I give that example because it is about a change process. And so you can't expect that everyone's going to go along with this new way, but you can find a way to introduce it.
So one of the things on a practical level that I did with the organization was at staff meetings, we would start off with a check in, and that has not only become part of the culture that continues to this day, but they also use it in the classrooms. So the men check in, because that's the first thing you do in the wisdom walk. You come through this door, you leave all that other stuff behind. And then the first thing is that they would spend time checking in, what are you feeling? What are you thinking? What are you believing? What's going on for you? So we're honoring right away our humanity.
And I say, if every abusive partners intervention program facilitators can find a way in their organizations to come together, and you don't even have to do it officially, you can just start among yourselves and take time on a weekly basis to check in with each other. That gets a ball rolling. It could be anything that is really going to have people put their heads below their heart and open up to learning something more about themselves.
ARÉAN: I love that. And I do believe that self-reflection should permeate everything. I'd like to ask you both about another of our new principles, which has to do with racial justice. We felt that it was really important to put it at the forefront, anti-oppression, racial justice. How do you think this self-reflection and the racial justice principle connect with each other?
ENCINAS: As we get into this conversation about race, King said that the moral arc of the universe is long. We need to start having some patience. We are talking about systems change. We are talking about culture change.
And we need to be patient with people and patient with ourselves and how we go about doing this.
So I think the question is complex and it goes back to everything we're talking about, because I think we're exploring new ground. I think we are really at a point where we're trying to figure out how do you create a space where no one is otherized, where everybody belongs. I think that's our task at hand, as we lean into the racial issues, as we lean into this huge void between the haves and the have nots, the issues of access and inequality, as we lean into these political fractions that have developed where truth no longer is important.
How do we navigate that in a way that there is no other, where everybody belongs? We've created generations of individuals that haven't been able to see each other, and have hurt each other and that's passed down generation after generation.
NSOROMA: I love what you're saying, because you're getting at the root cause for bias, the root cause for the hate crimes. Getting at the root of that requires, I believe, the self-reflection to get to self-mastery.
Our world of work has come about from this very mechanized, aspiritual thought process. And so what happens then with racism and all the isms, the abuse against women, the abuse against children, we got people now going into schools and killing babies. It's happening and why is that?
And a big piece is this disconnection from the truth of who we are as human beings. We are not robots. We are not Energizer bunnies.
But you got to know your history, and you got to be willing to open up and look at what is the pain going on inside of me? What's happening inside of me? Because otherwise you will become somebody who believes there are disposable people. So how do we help that movement happen? And that's why I think what you have in those standards for facilitation are so, so important and the self-reflection to me fits right in like a glove in terms of how do we eliminate bias. And not just in terms of race, right? Because it also is in somebody who's been in jail and somebody who hasn't.
So it is, as you said, James, it's complex, but I really believe that self-reflection, which can evolve into self-mastery, which can evolve into, oh, I can make a different choice. I don't have to repeat the past. I don't have to be like what happened to my ancestors. I can do something different here. And what is that difference? Because there's only two choices, right? It's either love or fear. I got it from a mentor of mine named Bill Graustein. And he said, any pain that is not transformed will be transferred.
ENCINAS: For the number of years I've done this work with men and women, it's the fear that drives them. It's the fear that leads them to survival. And then people get hurt in the way, if they get in the path of that. Whatever is not transformed is transmitted is right, and I live that.
And this infinite presence of God, for me, there are these fleeting moments that I now experience in the presence of nature, in the presence of reading to my youngest brother or in the presence of listening to the rain or just these moments where I'm transported into this much bigger space.
NSOROMA: This is why indigenous wisdom is so essential for our humanity because what indigenous people understood is that they were part of nature, that you're connected. We've got to reclaim that. And in the work that I did with the men we use a form of African ritual using the elements, the five elements of this medicine wheel. And the beauty of this medicine wheel is that it believes that every person is born through one of those five elements, which is fire, water, earth, nature, and mineral, right?
And that kind of frames your gifts, your talents, and your genius. And nobody can teach you how to be a water person. Nobody can teach me how to be a fire person. And with that comes with these characteristics of who I am. And the beauty of this is I don't need to compare myself to water because I can never be water. I got to be fire, but me and fire, me and water when we get together, oh yeah, we create the earth. We create something new, something more. And so we need each other, we need each other. So having that kind of an understanding about why people look different, talk different, seem different, understand things differently, even that it's all designed to really help us all to be here in harmony because we need it.
And that's what self-reflection also gives us, enables us to understand that we inside of us possess the power to transform, to become something more than what we were told we were. And James is a great example of that. I'm an example of that.
ARÉAN: There's such beautiful synergy and connection, but at least for today, we have to put a little pause here. So I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart, Jojopah, James, not only for your wisdom, but how you embody what you talk about. We invited you to talk about self-reflection, transformation, self-mastery, because I know that you live it, you don't only talk about it. So I want to really, really thank you for that, for bringing this to our audience and hopefully we'll have other opportunities to continue the conversation.
NSOROMA: Thank you, Juan Carlos, thank you. Thank you, James. Pleasure.
ENCINAS: Yeah, it was such a pleasure.
ARÉAN: Thank you so much to our guests, Jojopahmaria Nsoroma and James Encinas. This is number 12 of our podcast series. Previously we have covered several other topics, including trauma center APIPs, working with native men, victim safety, working with faith communities, and using the science of hope.
To find the rest of our podcast series, you can visit our national clearinghouse on abusive partner intervention programming at courtinnovation.org/abusive/partner/resources. To learn more about our project or request technical assistance, feel free to contact us at dvaccountability, all one word, at courtinnovation.org. You can also learn more about Jojopahmaria's work at wisdomwalktoselfmastery.com, all one word, and her YouTube channel Wisdom Walk to Self-Mastery. And you can check out James' work at willingtohealing.com. Please also visit us at futureswithoutviolence.org and courtinnovation.org. Thank you so much for listening, and so long.