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Declarations of independence

'Misfits, Malcontents, and Mystics’ to benefit HEART of Taos

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‘The people of Taos are generous when it comes to helping each other,” says Taos resident Ama Khan, a former economist and co-founder of HEART of Taos women’s shelter. “There is a warehouse near the Plaza that is full of donated furniture – enough to start several households – and families have stepped up to house women in transition by providing a place in their homes.”

This task of taking on an endemic nationwide homeless problem aligns with the mission of “Misfits, Malcontents, and Mystics,” a collaborative reading event and fundraiser for the shelter Thursday (Aug. 3), 7-9 p.m., at Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. Tickets are $10 at the box office.

Local yoga instructor, motorcycle enthusiast, activist and founder Clinton Murphy says the name for his writing forum describes the community here. “We are the misfits, malcontents and mystics, the charitable good cause-loving people of Taos.”

The idea to start his own writing forum to raise money came to him after he said he was invited to read some of his work at “LitUp Writers,” the brainchild of the late former Taos resident and Wurlitzer Foundation fellow Carolyn Martone. Her event used a live storytelling format that blended comedy and literature.

After a couple of shows, Murphy said he decided to branch out with a group that focused only on stories relating specifically to Taos, limiting the presenters to eight and requiring readers to submit their writings in advance for consideration. Murphy and Martone agreed that the mission of a Taos-centric writers forum, “Misfits, Malcontents, and Mystics,” was different enough to warrant a separate showcase. Murphy secures the venue for the event by directly involving the nonprofit organization that will benefit from the show. “They pay a deposit for the event, and the monies are then distributed directly to the organization for immediate use without a middleman.” Murphy’s group has raised close to $10,000 for Taos organizations in need.

Headlining the all-female lineup of local writers is author, teacher and grief counselor Mirabai Starr. She speaks all over the world on “the teachings of the mystics and contemplative practice and the transformational power of grief and loss.” She plans to read from “Caravan of No Despair: A Memoir of Loss and Transformation.”

The book is about her experiences growing up in Taos during the first wave of hippies and the back-to-the-land movement. HEART of Taos’ mission to help women in transition “holistically rebuild their lives” speaks to Starr. “I do talks all over the world on the connection between spiritual practice and social action and cultivating the fruits of the inner life to the world, responding to the cries of the marginalized, starting with our community. Homelessness has its own psychosocial issues surrounding loss. Spiritual philosophies that encourage us to bypass the pain of the world are not effective; we must engage directly with the pain of the world.”

During her teen years, Starr lived at the Lama Foundation, an intentional spiritual community north of Taos that was founded to honor all the world’s faith traditions since its inception in 1967. This ecumenical experience became formative in the universal quality that has infused Starr’s work ever since. Starr went on to become an adjunct professor of philosophy and world religions at the University of New Mexico-Taos, where she taught for 20 years.

Starr’s teachings encompass making connections “between the perennial teachings found at the heart of all the world’s spiritual paths to promote peace and justice.” Starr has authored the six-volume “Sounds True” series, “Contemplations, Prayers, and Living Wisdom”; a poetry collection titled “Mother of God Similar to Fire,” a collaboration with iconographer William Hart McNichols; and “God of Love: A Guide to the Heart of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.” Also, she has won numerous awards for her writing, including the New Mexico/Arizona Book Award for religion, Best Spiritual Books of 2012 by the website Spirituality & Practice, as well as the 2014 Nautilus Gold Award for religion and spirituality in the Western traditions.

In addition to Starr, writers who plan to read during the event include Estelle Laure, Sally Greywolf, Mari Kanes, Stephanie Owens, Claire Lisbeth Haye and Susan McQuade.

HEART founder Khan is a mother of six who has experienced homelessness herself. “The economic realities of our times have changed the face of homelessness to an economically precipitated perfect storm,” she said.

She and her husband lost the farm they owned in Boulder, Colorado. “It happened very gradually.” She said she believes in using community resources to run the shelter and put together a plan with the homeless women to help them find work and restabilize. If the woman has pets, they are allowed in the facilities and are part of the rehoming plan. “It takes courage to walk through our doors and ask for help, and we treat each woman with respect and dignity.”

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