Part 2 of 4 – Community Activism with Youth

Linda Maxwell and José Quintanar

In part 2, Linda and José elaborate upon the four pillars of appreciative inquiry and operationalize them. My paraphrased interpretation includes:

*Our lives are precious – love for self is essential.
*We must recognize the impermanence of life – value every moment.
*Every thought, word, and deed has a consequence – plant positively.
*(Re)discovering our humanity by connecting with others’ suffering – take compassionate action.

They also discuss the following components as being essential to engaging youth:
*The power of relationships
*No judgment
*Letting go of ego

Thank you for your continued enthusiasm in learning about their important work. Parts 3 and 4 will be combined in one blog and added to the interview page.

Thank you! Much love,



Peace, love, and understanding: The real deal in action (Part 1 of 4)

December 3, 2017

Yesterday I had the enormous honor to engage in a second conversation with long-time community activists, Linda Maxwell and José Quintanar. We spoke for over an hour about ways in which to embody and enact lovingness, peaceful action, and compassionate understanding with youth in educational settings.

What I love about these discussions are Linda’s and José’s commitment and passion for living authentically; that is, being conscious of being in alignment with who they are, what they say, and what they do. I am also appreciative of their long-term dedication to social justice and discovering meaning in every interaction they have with historically minoritized and marginalized youth.

Thank you for taking the time to listen to Linda and José’s lived experiences. 




Lately, I have been very involved with my academic writing and it has been challenging for me to sit down and write for EduSpirit because, to be frank, my left-brain is pretty tapped. Writing poetry, however, is a completely different process. It is organic and free-flowing. It elicits the voice of my heart through images and scenes evoked through contemplation and reflection.

Tonight I wanted to capture the paradox of a river – stillness and movement occurring simultaneously. I was inspired by Steven D. Farmer’s “Earth Magic” cards which, I believe, were created to tap into our visceral, primal responses that reside within our right-brain.

As I have demonstrated through video blogs I have posted, I use cards to balance my left and right brain hemispheres. In my academic career I am engaged so heavily in analytical thinking that I sometimes feel that my creativity begins to atrophy. I need to find a way to bring my “selves” into harmonious balance and one way to accomplish this is by drawing, painting, and writing poetry.

I am at a point of my journey in which I fully realize and appreciate Maslow’s conceptualization of human self-actualization and the way in which we need to integrate and embrace mind, body, and spirit to live authentically and to be in greater harmony with our essence.

With much love as we enter into December,




Your voice,

the force of a river – collides.

The speed, your movement  – you knocked the wind,

air leaves my body.


Your voice,

pierces thick fog.

I wince at the realization –

Have I been asleep this long?


Your voice,

makes my blood run fast,

like the Mississippi Delta – every capillary fills,

swollen and untamed.

Lungs expand,

BREATHE, Breathe, breathe.

I can’t catch my breath.


“I am here,” you say.

Eyes, ears, fingers … they search for you.

but the fog is heavy, the light dim.

Sleep threatens as night approaches,

Will I lose you again?

Fear engulfs me.


My love?

Are you still here?


I am alone.

Moonlight reflects in the flowing river.

It is as still as glass.



ripples lapping against the embankment,

the symphony of crickets behind the trees,

the smell of the earth supporting my body,

the flash of shooting stars,

the taste of sweet grass,

you speak to me.

My senses receive your stories.


I pass over into dreams,

the Earth, a sturdy cradle – rocking,  nudging.

She whispers, “Look.”

There you are.

A force of illuminated brilliance, meandering toward me.


You are the river,

free and unfettered.

I cannot contain you –

this thought – so frightening before,

now fills me with joy.

I take you in –

all of me, ALIVE.


You are the river.

The voice of my heart.



By: Cristina Santamaría Graff


I measure this moment by breath and blood,

the pause between inhale and exhale

the diastolic heartbeat.


My vitals pulse, squeeze, relax.

A guard dog, senses acute

my hacking up.


A door opens,

consciousness pricking,

momentum guides me through.


Who are you?

What are you?

Why are you?


Beings of light,

colors of the spectrum –

a new identification.


Energy is the language,

Love the vibration,

Empathy the understanding.


No more guessing.

I carry a thousand stars on my back,

their histories, my library.


I am the dream.

No more illusions,

I leave the door open.


Connecting With Our Higher Selves

Toddler walking

I haven’t written in awhile because, frankly, I have been questioning whether or not it is worth it to put forth so much of my own personal, spiritual energy into a public space. I am working on several manuscripts at the moment to document and disseminate my research and have let EduSpirit fall to the wayside because I haven’t wanted to invest much of my heart into a space in which I feel so vulnerable and raw.

Originally, when I created EduSpirit I understood it as a platform for ALL of us, particularly educators who wanted to share their heart-centered practices with other educators. I wanted to begin the dialogue and allow it to grow and blossom into whatever manifestation we deemed possible. But, as I plugged along with my videos, interviews, and blogging, I began to doubt what I was doing. I started to question whether or not my voice was heard and whether my efforts were futile.

Over the last week I have actively engaged in volatile dialogue with the Universe about the purpose of EduSpirit. My rantings (in the car ALONE, thank goodness) have gone like this:

Why did You edge me onto this path? Why I am DOING this? What is the purpose of this whole platform? Is there any impact of this work? Is anyone interested or listening? Should I even care? Why do You push me to do things that make me so uncomfortable and, better yet, why do I continue listening to You? And so on and so on …

The answers I have received are illuminating.

One answer given to me was through my husband and the dream he shared with me. His sharing went something like this (paraphrased):

“I was walking and saw a river. The river was muddy and deep. It elicited a feeling of fear in me as I approached it. Coming close to it, I felt compelled to reach down and feel into it with my hands. The water was dank, cold, and murky and, suddenly, beneath the surface, a hand jutted out of the water. It was pale, waterlogged, but strong. I instinctively knew what to do. I reached down and grabbed a hold of its forearm. As I pulled, a person emerged. It wasn’t just any person. It was me, but not me. It was my higher Self. On land, he stood before me. He was stalwart, formidable and full of peace. His intense strength juxtaposed against his gentle demeanor. I looked into his face. It was me, a mirror image. But it was also him, a better version of who I am on this Earth. He said he was working for me and putting energy into all the things I hope for and want in my life.”

This recounting reminded me of a morning daydream I had recently. This daydream unfolded in this manner:

I saw a toddler just beginning to walk. She was unsure of her balance and would sway and topple as she navigated the trail on which she and her parents were walking. The parents would grab a hold of her body and redirect her gait so that she would regain confidence in her next steps. The toddler would smile at her parents and grip their hands every time she felt unsteady. The parents would then tell her, “Good job, sweetheart. You’re doing great.” The toddler knew she could walk the trail and make it home with her parents by her side.

Over time, as the toddler grew into a young five year-old. At five, she found herself on the trail again. This time her parents were ten feet behind her. Now, as a kindergartner, her feet were steady, her gait was straight, and her stride full of confidence. As she danced and sang on the trail, she looked behind her. To her surprise, she was all alone. Her parents were gone. Suddenly fear overtook her. She panicked as her eyes moistened. Where did they go?

She stood on the trail bewildered and then realized she knew the way home. She knew her parents would be waiting for her and that they had not left her in danger. Instead, she was completely safe and was being given her first opportunity of full independence. She took a moment. There was pride in her heart. She had come a long way from the time when she was two and shaky in her own feet.

Yet, she longed to hold her parents’ hands. Even though she no longer needed their support to walk, she still wanted to feel their grip and to hear their voices tell her, “Good job, sweetheart. You are doing great!” And, for the first time, she was angry. Why weren’t they there with her? Why didn’t they stick around to hold her hand and tell her how great she was doing?

Then, it dawned on her, the only way she was going to know she had the ability to walk home alone from the trail that connected her house to the market up the street was to do so with no help, no scaffolds, no validation, and no support. She had to trust in her own Self and rely on her inner capacity to navigate the world around her.


Both narratives provide me with interconnected messages.

In both, there was a moment in which a leap of faith and trust was necessary for inner growth. To (re)discover or uncover his Higher Self, my husband had to reach beyond his own fear – reflected in the murkiness of the water – and literally pull out the purest essence of his own being. In the daydream sequence, the little girl had to sever old patterns that would keep her tethered to dependence. For her, coming into her independence and full essence meant she had to walk the path alone to reach the next step of her journey even if it meant not having her parents physically visible or present.


EduSpirit is a leap of faith for me. I am both the man who reaches into the muddy, mysterious depths and the young girl who wants desperately to know she’s on the right path, but who must trust her heart as she takes tentative steps forward. I wrote in one of my first blogs that I would allow EduSpirit to evolve in the way that it is supposed to. Now, I must hold true to and claim this proclamation. For me it is about surrendering to my Higher Self and knowing that she is somewhere on the sidelines cheering me on with, “Good job, sweetheart. You’re doing great!”

Always with love,


If it were the falling leaves alone

If it were the falling leaves alone

By: Cristina Santamaría Graff

October 21, 2017


If it were the falling leaves alone

I would surrender to the Earth’s changing hues and landscape,


I would indulge completely.

Heaps of oranges, yellows, and reds,

a shuffleboard of color underneath my girls’ curious feet –

swish, swish, whoosh!

I would delight in their laughter,

bellies, arms, and legs spreading and closing like crabs

scurrying along the shoreline.


But Fall is melancholia,

personified in brilliance and demise.


It is the opening of a door,

like the sun’s evening rays spilling in between tree branches,

joyful and full of promise:

Upside down at four at Nibley park,


The evening sun tickling my closed eyes with a prickling yellow glow.

The colors under my eyelids, dancing.

The pungent grass and oak cross-pollinating the air.

Mom is smiling, hugging her sweater, cheeks pink against the sun.

Her eyes bright.


Fall is this.

But more. 


The permanent closing sign of a beloved café,

where you met your lover in secret and scratched your initials surreptitiously

on the far, back table.

Your Grandfather calling you, “Peanut,” and handing you buttered toast as the

October light filled the breakfast room.

The heartbreak of a child realizing

a happy moment of life

has just passed,

never to repeat itself again.


I embrace Fall like the prodigal son,

the return, each year,

both painful and hopeful.

Never knowing, always guessing

what’s around the corner.



Trust the Unfolding

peace 1

My mom woke up from a dream one morning and heard the words, “Trust the unfolding.” These words were particularly poignant to her and, consequently, to the rest of my nuclear and immediate family, because they provided hope during a year in which there has been great flux and uncertainty.

For me these words have been like dangling tree vines that I grab onto desperately as I feel the ground leave me. Sometimes there is so much uncertainty in the space I find myself that it feels as if my body is in between inertia and falling. Many times this year I have been unclear about my path. I have questioned whether I am finding my soul’s purpose in the work I do. I have had second thoughts about where I live. And I have wondered if the choices I have made that keep me so far away from my family in California are truly in the best interests and for the higher good of my family, particularly my girls.

As tightly as I have clutched onto these words, I have still found myself not trusting. This year in particular I have realized how painful it is to trust, especially as I consciously attempt to lead by my heart in academia. My heart, not my head, brought me to higher education. My heart drives my work with families of children with dis/abilities and sustains my vibrancy as I engage with others about community-centered work. However, it is very challenging to share my heart in academic spaces where mutual trust is rare.

So, I am learning to navigate trust by recognizing when people open their hearts or close them. In academia I have discovered that sharing one’s heart – regardless of the passion behind one’s work – is often avoided or cloaked in theoretical frameworks. There are many conditions, it seems, to when, where, why, and with whom we are able to open our hearts to one another freely and without judgment. I have begun to notice how people respond to me when I consciously open my heart. Some are immediately attracted to this energy, others are repelled, and many are perplexed, uncomfortable, or curious – but uncertain.

I believe that many equate leading from the heart first rather than from the head as academic suicide. In academia, one of the first pieces of advice I received from one of my mentors on my dissertation committee was to “put aside what you really want to do until you get tenure.” What I believe he meant was not to engage in the work I wanted to do that integrated healing modalities with children with dis/abilities which, in essence, was heart-centered work. Rather, he was advising me to set my heart aside for a bit and dive into the “head work” of publishing studies in reputable peer-reviewed journals. He knew, as well as I do now, that many peer-reviewed journals in my field would find my work “fringy” and outside-the-box.

Possibly, to his and other mentors’ chagrin, I have followed a somewhat unconventional trajectory in academia by making choices based in my heart. Some may argue that my choices have not been strategic or “smart” enough, but for me most of all my decisions have been heart-centered and have been made with the following question in mind, “Is this choice aligned with my soul’s purpose?”

Trusting the unfolding in academia feels impossible sometimes. There are so many expectations and pressures associated with “being successful” not only as a scholar, but also as a teacher, researcher, and service agent. I have experienced sensations of both inertia and falling throughout my career. These have been especially poignant when what I am doing seems completely out-of-sync with what my soul yearns for. My heart, as the doorway to my soul’s purpose, is also a barometer that is in constant calibration. It tells me if what I am experiencing is in line with my passions and deepest longings.


When I write about trusting and listening to my heart, I am expressing the need to be in non-stop communication with the messages it is providing. When I open my heart to others and receive a sinking feeling or coldness from their response it is my heart (linked to intuition) that discerns for me their unwillingness to meet me in the open space I have offered. In attuning myself to these messages, instead of allowing my head to dismiss the warnings, I can remain intact – the essence of who I am untouched. Perhaps for many, the ability not to feel the heart’s communication has provided them with the armor needed not to internalize another’s distance and closed-ness. For me, a person who is empathic, I have had to learn the heart’s language to understand when it is safe for me to open myself to others.

The challenge is that in academic spaces when my colleagues and I are engaged in serious conversations about working with historically minoritized and marginalized peoples or exploring what anti-racist practices are in our courses and everyday interactions, I cannot separate my heart from my work. I want to create a safe, sacred space for all of us to be protected as we critically unpack our individual experiences from collective ones. I want to support in authentic ways each person as they explore their own emotionality within the intellectual and academic environments of which we have co-created and, to certain degrees, are forced into.

Trusting the unfolding means to be myself and to allow others to engage with me (or not) in the healing and transformative processes that are available to us as colleagues in academia.

I will continue to trust, and hope that the unfolding will manifest mutual understanding, respect, and love.


Keep trusting, never give up.