Ms. Berrios is a writer and performing artist who lives in Berkeley, California. She is a graduate of the California Institute of Integral Studies and serves as an Advocacy and Training Manager at the Contra Costa Family Justice Center.
Ms. Berrios is a faculty member for the New York Open Center’s Holistic Psychology Certificate Program.
Interview conducted and condensed by Damaris Lasa
DL: You’re a writer, a facilitator and a performing artist. You teach and advocate for peace and you have a background in law. Can you tell us a little bit about your career journey and how these skills inform your work in the world?
AB: I am learning that attuning to cycles & rythms supports my intention of interacting with the world in a grounded & life affirming way. Writing and the performing arts are pieces of my reflective cycle. My legal background, not so much in terms of content but as a perspective, informs my action-oriented cycle. I don’t practice law anymore, though. Group facilitation feels like a hybrid of the two, since it involves curiosity & experiential exercises with commitments for action. The interplay between the cycles feels to me like the dance between the sun and the moon. At least it makes me happy to hold it that way!
I don’t see myself as a teacher for peace or an advocate for peace. I resonate with the definition of conflict posited by Dominic Barter, founder of Restorative Circles: Conflict is feedback over the state of our relationships. From that perspective, I aspire to grow in my capacity to receive conflict as a teacher, one that identifies the attitudes that source generative action towards the results I want, and those that have the opposite effect.
DL: Can you briefly explain what Terrapsychology is?
AB: Terrapsychology is a term coined by Dr. Craig Chalquist in recognition of the history of psychological exile from the sense of indigenous rootedness and belonging, as well as the rich cultural ancestry of the animistic tradition. It refers to methods of inquiry that aim to consciously connect human beings with the indwelling spirit of places.
It presupposes that places have a living spirit and body, as well as an outward interiority that they reveal through symbols and overall physicality.
You can read more about it in Dr. Chalqust’s book.
DL: How does your interest in Terrapsychology and Holistic Psychology inform your work at the Contra Costa Family Justice Center?
AB: I work mostly out of the West Contra Costa office, which is located in Richmond, California. The Family Justice Center is a social body, a collective impact initiative aiming to reduce interpersonal violence – abuse in relationships – and increase individual and community resiliency. Interpersonal violence – Elder abuse, child abuse, human trafficking, sexual abuse, domestic violence – does not happen in a vacuum. The individual stories of those who come to the Center, whether as clients, partners or staff, are inextricably intertwined to the stories of our social context and our context as human beings in a living planet.
By engaging Richmond in conversation, over time, I am becoming aware of Richmond’s indwelling personality and its impact on me. You can read the blog post about my first conversation with Richmond.
DL: You’ve said a place’s personality impacts a human being and vice versa. You live in California but work in Berkeley and NYC. How might the different personalities of these places affect people psychologically?
AB: If I were to choose two symbols that represent each place, one a city and another a state, I would choose the Statute of Liberty and the image on the California state seal: Minerva, the Roman counterpart to Athena. This would open an archetypal inquiry.
One might argue that the Statute of Liberty bears a physical resemblance to the goddess Fortuna, who, like Minerva, has a Roman name. She was known as Tyche to the Greeks, which means “luck”. New York City is a city of immigrants, 700,000 in the last decade alone, where some make it big and some get lost in its gigantic underbelly. Why is that? What might be some of the historical, cultural and/or structural inequities that might contribute to such a large variance? Interestingly, Manhatta, the indigenous name for Manhattan, means “Land of Many Hills.” How might those hills speak to the highs and lows experienced by its inhabitants and visitors?
Athena, in turn, is the goddess of wisdom, skill in the arts, particularly weaving, & strategic warfare. There is much I could say here, so I will focus to some of the elements one might experience living in Berkeley, as I do. The city hosts the University of California and many learning institutions, some of them theological in nature, such as those located in the area nicknamed “Holy Hill.” The University in turn hosts a Greek Theater, which offers concerts and performances for an audience of 8,500. Berkeley is home to a variety of performing artists and social activists. Robert Oppenheimer, remembered by many as the “Father of the Atomic Bomb,” was a Physics Professor at UC Berkeley. How might this historical and cultural environment unconsciously influence the everyday experience of city inhabitants, and how they view themselves? How might this potentially feed any blind spots?
DL: Your work involves helping those affected by family violence and you’re an advocate for communities that are restorative than punitive. Can you talk a little bit about that?
AB: I stand for community networks as protective factors against interpersonal violence.
DL: We’re facing several critical issues in the West – environmental issues, immigration issues, racial issues, the proliferation of incarceration. Do you see these as related? Can prosperity and strength cause a community to become more aggressive and punitive?
AB: Yes. I resonate with the way Otto Sharmer of the Presencing Institute speaks about it. The link is the split between self & Self, self & other, and self & nature.
DL: What is restorative justice?
AB: Please refer to my blog post on the subject.
DL: How does nature play a part in restoration and healing?
AB: It reminds me I am a living organism that is part of a larger living ecosystem.
DL: It’s been said that today’s children have a nature deficit disorder. What problems do children face when they don’t get enough time or feel a connection to nature?
AB: An expert on that subject is Richard Louv, co-founder of the Children & Nature network.
DL: What do you do to stay connected?
AB: I visit my non-human relatives, especially early morning, while the human noise level is low. I talk to the trees and streams like they can hear me and I practice listening. I play music.
DL: What are you reading right now?
AB: The Smell of Rain on Dust: Grief & Praise by Martin Prechtel.
DL: Tell us about your work at The Metta Center for Nonviolence.
AB: I write blog posts as part of a community of heartfelt writers.
DL: When did you start teaching at the Open Center and why?
AB: When I lived in Manhattan, I often visited the New York Open Center, where I always felt at home. It was there that I first learned about the California Institute for Integral Studies, where years later I sought a graduate degree.
I started teaching at the Open Center last year, when the certificate was first launched. It was a great opportunity to teach terrapsychology in an applied fashion, and to incorporate an embodied modality of social body mindfulness such as Social Presencing Theater. It was also a terrific opportunity to link cycles of reflection and action.
A former New Yorker, I deeply love New York. Luckily, California is not jealous and approves of the bi-coastal dialogue!
DL: What can students of the Holistic Psychology program expect to take away from this program?
AB: I think that is proportional to how much people invest themselves in it. They can expect instructors who are passionate, caring and inviting active student engagement.
DL: Is there anything else you want to say?
AB: Thank you for your thoughtful questions.