For over a decade, the dazzling futurist Elza Maalouf spearheaded the resurrection of feminine power in the Middle East. She championed women’s rights everywhere and had tremendous accomplishments to her name. Her husband, our featured author Said Elias Dawlabani, worked with her and loved  her with pride and joy. Brilliant and dynamic, this Lebanese-American couple seemed destined for greatness on the world stage―until in 2014 disaster struck.

With excerpts from Elza’s own unpublished memoir, Said tells the story of their backgrounds in Lebanon and their early romance in the States in his book The Light of Ishtar (Waterside Productions.) He chronicles their ascent to prominence in their respective fields as part of their mythic call to adventure. Then, with rare courage, he explores the dark side of the psyche when, at age forty-nine, Elza begins descending into speechless dementia. Ishtar’s journey to the Underworld mirrors them both as Said battles with the dark forces within himself and within the medical community, trying to restore Elza to health. But, unlike the goddess, Elza can’t return to live in the world as she once did.

This Q&A is tempered with both grief and love. It’s humbling, heart wrenching and heartening all at the same time to pick the author’s brain about his deeply personal experiences and his writing process, which helped him to process them. Read our review here.

Q: What made you choose to compare Elza to the goddess Ishtar? Was it an obvious choice from the start, or were there other mythical figures you considered?

A: This was not a difficult choice. Elza has identified with Ishtar even before we met. The myth of the goddess repeats under different names in many world traditions. It’s about transformational experiences that only the bravest people who embody the feminine aspects of the universe can endure. It’s full of triumphs, tragedies, trials and tribulations that test the very nature of what it is to be human. It balances shadow and light to help us become whole as humans or immortal in the realms of the gods. The myth of Ishtar is also found in the Sumerian goddess Inanna and in the Greek goddess Persephone. They all represent the deep archetypal patterns of the feminine aspects of the universe that have shaped the human experience since the beginning of time.   

Q: You included several excerpts from Elza’s journals and unpublished memoir in the book. What did you learn about your wife in adding her words to your book?

A: The experience was a journey to rediscover the extraordinary person Elza was before we set it all aside to work on peace in the Middle East, and other matters. Introducing her own voice in the book was a reminder of her wholeness, her deep spiritual sense and the profound genius she represents. With her illness, much of those acuities became magnified as I began to absorb her writings through an entirely different lens. Passages about how she dealt with great personal loss before we met gave me the strength to transcend my own limitations in understanding my grief, the very mystery of life, of gods and goddesses and of purpose borne of soulful intent. Most of all, it was a reminder of the common destiny of our two souls.    

Q: The Light of Ishtar is certainly more personal than your previous book, MEMEnomics, which applies the Spiral Dynamics lens to macroeconomics. In what ways was your experience writing the two books similar, and in what ways was it different?

A: The similarities end with the mechanics of the writing process. It is an emergent progression that ushers the writer into the “zone” once he or she becomes fully immersed in the subject matter. But as I say in the opening lines of Ishtar: “Not in million years did I think this will be my next book.” MEMEnomics is now a recognized area of specialty in the field of evolutionary economics, and before Elza’s illness, I was working on its sequel, MEMEnomics 2.0 which deals with the application of Spiral Dynamics to climate change. Both MEMEnomics books come from an objective source of knowledge that deals with external change and how to manage it. Ishtar on the other hand, came as a result of a deep inward journey borne out of a consuming fire, the result of which was an internal reckoning like no other. While MEMEnomics deals with societal and institutional change, Ishtar reminds us of the internal struggles we face and how to overcome them. 

Q: Was it healing or enlightening to explore your grief through this book? What advice can you offer those who may also be grieving the “loss of essence of soul and of mind and spirit,” as you phrase it?

A: Most of my grieving was processed as I wrote the book. Others may find different ways to process theirs. There were days that I couldn’t move beyond a certain paragraph, so I would stay till all the emotions and the triggers were processed. I became my own therapist. Writing was my way of overcoming loss and I’m sure it’s different with every person going through a similar experience. The enlightenment part came after the book was finished. It is the reward that comes after the long passage towards healing and acceptance. My journey was not ordinary, nor did I put all my faith in traditional therapy. I delved into Eastern philosophy, world myth, depth psychology and mystic poetry. I tapped into many aspects of who I am that helped me transcend Identity and find my true Self. It is in that unique space that we discover that loss is part of life and begin our long journey to acceptance.

Q: What is one thing that, if nothing else, you hope readers take away from reading this book?

A: Always be in awe of the mystery of life and live as if a higher, more conscious reality exists.

Buy this book!

About Said Elias Dawlabani:

Said Elias Dawlabani is a leading authority on the application of value systems to large-scale change and the author of 2013 book MEMEnomics: The Next Generation Economic System. After a career in the real estate industry, he turned his attention to applying the value-systems framework and its evolutionary consciousness to the dismal field of economics. With his wife, Elza Maalouf, and Dr. Don E. Beck, he is the co-founder of the Center for Human Emergence in the Middle East. He is a public speaker and academic lecturer on transformational leadership. He lives in La Jolla, CA, with Elza and their dog, Lil Buddha.