Published (an edited version) in the Santa Fe New Mexican Sunday 11/18/01
Reprinted by permission of Debbie Ellison (c) 2002 - no portion of this publication may be reproduced without, prior written consent. All rights reserved.
SOWING THE SEEDS OF COMPASSION
- Jane Davis has dedicated her life to helping others and making the world a better place
By Debbie Ellison for the Santa Fe New Mexican
A little girl frolics in a field of her imagination, sowing the seeds of compassion that will later carry her on a mission of peace and unconditional love. In this field is a little girl, afraid of feeling what she feels, yet knowing the truth and goodness of it in the recesses of her heart; a child guided by an energy she does not understand or question, but that gently pushes her to treat people with compassion. In this field is a teenager caught in the emotional aftermath of the brutal beating of her beloved grandfather, feeling the impact of her family's pain, while an unsettling empathy for the perpetrator tugs at her heart.
That little girl is Jane Davis, now a 48-year-old woman with a mission, a mission of peace and compassion that has guided her through her life and the founding of HOPE-HOWSE, a non-profit peace and human dignity organization. An acronym for Help Other People Evolve thru Honest, Open, Willing Self-Evaluation, HOPE-HOWSE is dedicated to fostering human dignity, peace, and respect. It encourages people to be fully present in the world with compassion and deep accountability for their actions, and honest and willing in dealing with themselves and others. Its loving mantra is that all people are connected with "One Heart," with no separateness and no division, that all humans are in this life together, unified in their diversity, united in their struggles.
To Davis, the message is simple - "Come out as a human being. I call this speaking the language of the heart. In other words, have the courage and strength to speak your truths. When one meets themselves in every human being that crosses one's path, the experience of life becomes a WE." HOPE-HOWSE teaches that there is no "them and us, only us," that "we are all in this together" and can only get through the hard times with help from each other.
Davis started HOPE-HOWSE in Atlanta, Georgia, and moved to Cerrillos six months ago. She is now living in Santa Fe. She is a Reiki master and licensed clinical social worker. She has worked in the juvenile court system with kids-at-risk and in the original Scared Straight program in 1976 at Rahway State Prison in New Jersey.
Seven years ago while passing through New Mexico on a road trip, she says, "I stumbled upon Madrid driving up the Turquoise Trail and stopped at Java Junction for coffee." She says she instantly fell in love with the area and felt she "was home." Since then, she has spent three to four months a year in the Santa Fe area and has been committed to building HOPE-HOWSE here.
"I've been drawn to New Mexico and to the Santa Fe/Cerrillos/Madrid area where I have the same sense of community that I experienced when I was growing up in Kingston, New York, real community. I feel such a relief being here and an enthusiasm and excitement to be part of this vibrant committed community. I'm so thrilled to be here and grateful to everybody who I've met in this community who have all these years made me feel so much a part of life in New Mexico. For many years, I have been committed to being here, to give and to serve the community and to share with the community and grow with this community." Davis believes HOPE-HOWSE will add to the voice of peace that already exists in Santa Fe and throughout New Mexico.
At the age of 16, Davis was emotionally torn when her grandfather was brutally beaten almost to death in his home by an intruder. She says she wondered about the intruder and felt compassion for him. In her account of this episode published in Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul, she writes, "I found myself wondering about the intruder. I wondered what had motivated him to do such a terrible thing. I thought, How could one human being do this to another? What was wrong with him? Was he sick? He must be in a lot of pain and need help." Because no one else expressed such feelings, she felt guilty and ashamed and never told anyone. This was the painful secret she kept hidden.
In 1993, as a contributing writer to Prison Life Magazine, Davis was asked to be a witness to the electric-chair execution in Georgia of Chris Burger. In 1978, Burger, then 17 years old, was one of two Ft. Stewart (Georgia) soldiers convicted of robbing and drowning a cab driver.
As Davis watched the execution, that child and teenager playing innocently in that field, and the adult that later emerged, met in a painful yet joyous reunion of hope and emotional release, culminating in the birth of HOPE-HOWSE. That life-changing experience triggered a transformation from the pain she stifled and the seeds of compassion she sowed as a child to a life of social action.
"In that moment of Chris' death," she relates, "I really felt, viscerally felt, with every fiber of my being, the connected oneness of all of us. Part of me died with Chris as I watched him being killed, because I didn't feel different. I didn't feel apart from him. I felt one with him, one in our humanness." She says she felt that what was happening to Burger was also happening simultaneously to her. Davis says the emotional pain of this experience was so great, she was ultimately unable to write the article for Prison Life Magazine. Instead, she transformed the powerful energy into the creation of HOPE-HOWSE.
For the past eight years, she has devoted her life to teaching unconditional love, forgiveness, peace, and the connected oneness of all human beings. "What that means," she explains, "is that we all as human beings share similar challenges in life, regardless of race, religion, or gender. We're all challenged by sexuality, greed, prayer, God, ethics. We have diverse labels and ways of dealing with these challenges. And I'm aware of my own fallibilities, my inclinations to hurt other people and my inclinations to be good. We all as human beings share that, each to different degrees. We are talking about the connection of all human beings before all the labels. On that level, we can meet in the connected oneness of all of us, one in our diversity."
One night, a month after witnessing Burger's execution, Davis was literally jolted out of her sleep by an energy and a vision. "Frankly," she explains, "I wanted to go back to sleep. I struggled with myself and this inner voice that was pushing me to get up and go write down what 'it' was. It was saying, 'THIS is your work. It is called HOPE-HOWSE - Help Other People Evolve thru Honest, Open, Willing Self-Evaluation.' It seemed so simple and clear. Obviously, I woke up - on many levels. And I just started walking it."
She says the vision showed her the logo - an eye, a heart, and a hand - and told her those were the elements of this spiritual action called HOPE-HOWSE. The eye represents brutal, rigorous honesty with oneself. The heart represents unconditional love, courage, and faith. The hand represents action and service to others. "In order to go on such a deep inner journey of self-honesty," Davis explains, "it's important for one to be connected to something beyond one's ego or one's self and to feel a connection to one's conception of a higher power. And that becomes a daily practice of honesty, faith, and action that doesn't take the place of any religion or any other spiritual path. It can enhance any path that someone's on. It's a practice and it's a process. In order to be honest, people have to be willing to take risks and have courage and faith."
The secret Davis carried with her as a child manifested through HOPE-HOWSE as encouragement for people to share their deepest secrets, fears, and experiences to allow healing and unity with others. Through her gatherings and workshops, teaching meditation, writing, sexuality, and other aspects of living fully as a human being, Davis promotes sharing and listening with compassion and without judgment. She speaks to prisoners, kids-at-risk, high schools, churches, any group or individual who wishes to listen.
"What makes HOPE-HOWSE different than many spiritual groups," Davis explains, "is that it is not just about feeling good and finding an inner connection." In addition to those things, she says, it is about sharing inner secrets and dredging up the pain. HOPE-HOWSE teaches forgiveness of others and one's self, while at the same time, encouraging a deep accountability for one's acts.
A video, "HOPE-HOWSE in Action," shows an actual workshop Davis conducted at the Bernalillo County Detention Center in Albuquerque. Davis helps the inmates share their fears and feelings about their childhoods and their crimes through talking, listening, writing, and group exercises. At one point, she encourages them to form a circle. As the men move around the circle, facing each individual they pass, they are asked to embrace and say "I love you" to one another. The viewer can sense their discomfort, but also their willingness to continue in spite of it. By learning to embrace each other, they are encouraged to embrace their pain and their oneness. The men who wish to share do so. Most of their stories are the same - childhood abuse, emotional neglect, and self-hatred. There is laughter, there are tears, there is a sense of closeness.
One of the inmates in the video wrote in a letter to Davis, "You touched me. You told me that I am a beautiful man, full of love, and that "WE" had a lot of work to do. Thank you for those words."
Davis believes in the ability of people to change and in the goodness of every human being, seeing beyond their acts and behaviors to the light inside. She encourages seeing others, not as labels, but as human beings.
"Many groups say they include everybody, but exclude many, those who don't believe as they do, those they judge as being different. But when we say all, we mean all. We do not exclude anyone." She practices what she preaches, working with people from all walks of life. She teaches by example. Part of Davis' work has been traveling around the country to death rows and prisons, doing workshops and just "being present and listening in a compassionate, non-judgmental way." She has walked many men to their deaths and conducted many workshops with prisoners. Gordon Bernell, who retired in August as program director for the Bernalillo County Detention Center, coordinated Davis' visits and workshops there.
"The message from HOPE-HOWSE to the prisoner," says Bernell, "is that someone really cares and is willing to help. Jane's ability to immediately convince the prisoners that she empathizes rather than sympathizes with them gives her instant credibility. She improves their lives by convincing them that they are not evil people, but rather good people who made a mistake, and that they have within themselves the power to change. If they do believe that, others can and will help them."
In her quest for peace, Davis has brought many peace workers to HOPE-HOWSE gatherings, such as Yehuda Stolov, Director of the Israel Interfaith Organization, and Hagit Ra'anan, two Israeli Jews who have formed peace coalitions in Israel to bring Jews, Muslims, and Christians together. Last year, HOPE-HOWSE hosted a visit from Sufi Sheikh Abu Saleh el Refai, a Sufi Muslim and spiritual leader of Muslims in Ramallah on the West Bank. The Sheikh opened his mosque to Jews and participated in the United Nations as part of the Millennium Peace Conference of Religious and Spiritual leaders.
In 1997, Davis traveled solo 13,000 miles in six months around the United States speaking about spiritual peace and human dignity. In 1998, she was one of six people sent to the Philippines to spread the message of peace and compassion, sponsored in part by Amnesty International. Abraham Bonowitz, who was then on the board of Amnesty International USA and director of Citizens United for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, coordinated this program. "HOPE-HOWSE," he says, "opens doors to alternative ways of thinking by forcing people to confront that which may be in conflict with them, be it an individual's spiritual demons, or some piece of global conflict. Those who encounter HOPE-HOWSE get a taste of something different, but always good, and always positive."
The principle of action and service to others, represented by the hand in the HOPE-HOWSE logo, is a driving force in a philosophy that, as Davis puts it, "not only talks the talk, but walks the walk." Davis not only believes in helping kids-at-risk, she has brought several into her home. "The community raises the child" is not just a slogan with her.
Jillayne Tatum was one of those kids. Tatum says she met Davis when Davis did a program at a juvenile detention home where she was living at the time. Later, when she found herself homeless, with no emotional or financial support, she turned to Davis, who immediately offered her home. Tatum says she lived with Davis for five-and-a-half months and received the love and support that helped her get on her feet. Now, she says, she is working in the Job Corps, is in school learning word processing, and has attained her GED. In a testimonial she wrote about HOPE-HOWSE, she spells out the acronym and its meaning to her. "Hope to all those who need love, On the verge of a breakdown? We'll help you move on! People from all walks of life holding hands. Everyone will be all right in the end. Hearts united into a world of our very own. Ongoing through the trials and tribulations. We all stand together through the good, the bad and the outright ugly. Singing as one voice in the Everlasting love through and through, and yes.we love you too."
The work of HOPE-HOWSE has touched many people in the Santa Fe area. One of those people is Brother Andre Lemieux, Guestmaster of the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in Abiquiu. At one point during her 13,000-mile road trip, while traveling through the Santa Fe area, Davis heard about the monastery. Because she was weary from traveling and yearned for a peaceful place to rest, she explains, she took temporary refuge there. She met Brother Andre, who says he has gotten to know Davis well and has supported HOPE-HOWSE ever since that meeting.
"HOPE-HOWSE touches me in different ways," Brother Andre says. "Jane is a wonderful person, generous, and good all around. I admire the work she is doing. We are all responsible for our brothers and sisters. Jane tries to help everybody help themselves and come to a fullness of themselves with love and compassion. We need more people like Jane." Because the monks are cloistered, he says they do not go out into the world. "But," he continues, "we are still part of the world. We pray and live for the world. We can't do things physically, but we can pray so Jane can do things physically. I can support her through my life here and through my prayers."
Sheila Goggin-Pacelli, founder of the Sanctuary in Madrid and a HOPE-HOWSE supporter for many years, says the Sanctuary has been home to many HOPE-HOWSE gatherings and will continue to be until HOPE-HOWSE acquires land of its own. She says, "HOPE-HOWSE gives people the courage to express who they are. HOPE-HOWSE and the Sanctuary both have been created as places where people can gather and practice simple values like being respectful of themselves and others and nature, where they can show compassion to others and gratitude for all life."
Karl Sommer, a Santa Fe attorney, has also been touched by HOPE-HOWSE. "Personally," Sommer says, "I am a believer in compassion for all people. That compassion requires action to help people, people who need helping, and sometimes those people have problems, serious problems. HOPE-HOWSE is doing that work." He says he is moved by the forgiveness and spiritual support HOPE-HOWSE provides. "Professionally," he continues, "I work with unpopular causes and people all the time. I am drawn to the work of helping people no one else will take on because they are entitled to legal assistance like any one else. I am not here to judge them as people, but to assist them. HOPE-HOWSE is consistent with that message."
HOPE-HOWSE, while it has a strong organizational structure as a [501c3] non-profit organization, remains grassroots and totally supported by donations and volunteer help. No one, including Davis, draws a salary for working with HOPE-HOWSE. Davis, while also doing the work of HOPE-HOWSE, has supported herself over the years through Davis Marketing Group, an advertising business, and Howse of Healing, a spiritual healing practice. Davis says the organization's operating budget is small and she keeps costs to a bare minimum. While the volunteer base fluctuates, it includes professionals who give their time to HOPE-HOWSE because they believe in its principles and work. "That is part of the teaching," Davis says, "to serve, to give, to share."
Legal and accounting services and web development are provided by professionals who volunteer their time. Sommer is one of those professionals. He says he has offered his legal services to HOPE-HOWSE on a pro bono basis.
Jerry Rosenberg, the HOPE-HOWSE accountant and member of the board of directors, writes in a letter to supporters, "My involvement with the organization has grown over the years. I believe in the work and I believe in Jane. All of us who have watched and listened as Jane has followed her calling, and have remained connected with HOPE-HOWSE, remain connected for a reason."
Davis' future vision for HOPE-HOWSE is to have 20 or 40 acres of land in the Santa Fe area where people can come together and share, something very simple and earth-connected - and New Mexico, she says, is the perfect place for that. Although the land is only a vision now, Davis believes it will become a reality soon. "Nothing has ever come easy for HOPE-HOWSE," she says. "I have faith the land will be donated or acquired through fundraising efforts.
"One of the things that I personally found, especially these last seven years when I had limited income, was that there were so many workshops and so many wonderful teachings happening, but they were all very expensive, so I was unable to participate. I really want to make healing accessible to anyone who wants it." As is the tradition of HOPE-HOWSE, all services and events will be offered on a donation-basis. "I don't want anyone to feel they cannot come and be part of it because they can't afford it, so somebody may bake a cake or a loaf of bread or bring a piece of art, or whatever they can afford.
"The vision," Davis continues, "is that we will have teepees, maybe individual adobe casitas, where people come and spend a little time, whether it's a weekend or a month, and experience some very simple peace and community. And the vision includes having a horse and animal sanctuary. I currently have four animals and I think animals teach us unconditional love. We would have a communal dining room, communal building, library, and a building for art with a kiln, because so much healing takes place through art."
Davis says, "I have contacts with healers, artists, and others here in New Mexico as well as elsewhere, willing to come and share themselves, share their wisdom, and again, the hand, to serve and give. We want to offer services to people, massage therapists and healers who will give back to the community without charging so that people who wouldn't normally be able to get a massage will have these services available to them in a very peaceful and beautiful setting. We want to provide a simple place where we come together, unified in our diversity as human beings. And that's really the vision."
Kayla Rosen and Gail Price are local massage therapists who have volunteered their time and services to HOPE-HOWSE. Several artists have also committed their services. Sheila Goggin-Pacelli, a beader and artist, says she has and will continue to support HOPE-HOWSE. Liz Patterson, a potter, and Barbara Cate, a painter, are also local artists who have offered their services.
Rosen, who lives in Sandia Park says she has gotten to know Jane well since meeting her during one of Davis' trips here five years ago. She has been to a HOPE-HOWSE writing workshop and seen the video made about Davis. "I see how important the work is," she says. "We need more people like Jane. Otherwise, we won't make any progress in this world. She works with people from all levels. She works with people from where they are, no matter where they are. It's utterly amazing what she can do."
Davis is passionate when she talks about HOPE-HOWSE. "It's about a cycle of energy of serving others. That's really what HOPE-HOWSE provides. I have this yearning inside to see it through and I'm focused and committed to it. And I believe that we can all build this little place called HOPE-HOWSE. And then, people can take HOPE-HOWSE and carry it in their hearts and extend it to every person, place, thing that comes in their path. We can build the physical HOPE-HOWSE here in New Mexico and really share with each other, serve each other, and teach each other."
In May 1999, Davis spoke to students at her alma mater, Kingston (New York) High School. At the conclusion of her speech, Davis asked if there were any questions. There was total silence. Surprised, she asked again, "Nobody has any questions?" After a pause, a young boy stood up and said, "Did it ever occur to you that we are speechless?" Davis' message is so shocking, so intense, so soul-wrenching, and yet so humbling, one is left numb in the wake of it.
HOPE-HOWSE ACTIVITIES PLANNED
Jane Davis, founder and director of HOPE-HOWSE, explains that, as the work and energy of HOPE-HOWSE are based on spiritual guidance and a process of evolving, so are events. Specific dates, times, and locations are not planned too far in advance. Like spiritual actions, events are always in progress. There are, however, specific, planned activities, for which dates and locations are still to be determined. Call for confirmation of events.
Friday, September 21 7-8:30 p.m. - Wild Oats Community Room, _[CITY, ADDRESS] Jane Davis speaks on "Are you vibrating at your highest level in all you do? An introduction to HOPE-HOWSE, a spiritual action."
International Peace Firewalk facilitated by Rev. Donna Corcoran In Madrid, week of Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta