Archive for April, 2011
On Monday April 11th we arrived with excitement and joy in preparation for our first Peace Exchange workshop with the Class 6 students at the Tibetan Children’s Village upper campus, Dharamsala (Upper TCV). The group was awaiting us in the upper hall where we were warmly greeted. Prayer flags for Peace, previously created, hanging above the student’s heads were a pleasant surprise and lovely artistic addition to our morning. The Peace Exchange workshop involves several activities and takes about two hours to complete. After introducing this cross-cultural exchange of art and messages of peace, we ask the students to share their thoughts on peace and what peace means to them. By encouraging the students to share their ideas, we hope to inspire communal learning, rather than simply informing via the teacher to student dissemination. Several of the students stood and confidently shared what peace meant to them. We heard things like: “Peace is happiness.” “Peace is the most important aspect of life.” “Peace is kindness.” Adding to the children’s ideas, I took the opportunity to expand the thoughts and discuss the importance of compassion, forgiveness and acceptance as it pertains to our relationship to all beings. I also added to thoughts of “Peace begins in our heart,” and “peace is love” the idea that peace does begin with the individual and from their spreads out into the world. The students all confirmed their understanding and agreement. It is from this concept that peace begins with the individual and from their spreads out into the world that the Peace Exchange project was born. This project gives students the opportunity to do just that; create art from their heart and send it to an anonymous student abroad. Following a short discussion and conversation on peace, we took a moment of silence to connect to our hearts and energetically send that love and hope out into the world. A short, guided meditation allowed the group to calm and relax, consider what peace looks and feels like, and prepare them for making art. This was a beautiful experience in each of our workshops and we very much enjoyed feeling and seeing the students in prayer. While in silence, I asked the students to consider what peace looked like and what kind message they were going to share on their personal peace card. Following our peace meditation, we distributed peace cards and began the process of making art. The children were enthusiastic and easily grasped what they were going to do and quickly went to it. I always love seeing the wide eyes of the imagination take aim at the blank 6 x 8 inch postcard we share with them. For 40 minutes the students explored what peace looked like with images and color and shared messages of peace on the backs of their cards. Many students reflected the Tibetan Flag in their artwork while commenting on the ever-present desire for peace between China and Tibet. Heartfelt messages and cries for peace were conveyed in many ways by this group of 10 – 13 year olds. Here are a few of the messages of peace written by these students that were inspiring: “Peace will prevail on Earth only when there is peace in the heart of mankind.” “Try to get peace within oneself. Peace is the key of happiness.” “I believe in peace so talk about peace, think about peace, create peace. Peace is to love each other. May peace prevail on earth.” The creativity among this group of Class Six students was very high. I was very impressed with their ability to express themselves clearly and beautifully with color, form, and image conveying what peace looked like to them. On Tuesday we retuned to Upper TCV and worked with two groups. The first group of Class 4 and 5 was the largest Peace Exchange group ever to simultaneously do peace cards. We had 300 students in this first group. Following which 220 students from Class 2 and 3 joined us. This was a beautiful day. Hearts opening, amazing art work and powerful messages being shared, and an inspiring and beautiful group of Tibetan Children to work with. A very special moment was when one of the resident Monks joined me in the front of the room during the first group and led a morning prayer. This was an enriching and charged experience to both share and witness the students chanting a Buddhist prayer for peace. Tuesday’s workshops were equally as wonderful as on Monday. The students enthusiastically shared their ideas on peace, spoke clearly and confidently about what peace meant to them and why peace was important and we very much enjoyed our interactions with all of them. Our team of four was eager to hear, listen, and see what the students thought, felt and were creating as an expression of peace. Many similar ideas returned in the art work and messages, but this is only a testament to the beauty of the many themes being taught and conveyed around TCV. I very much appreciate the mottos of “Others before Self” and “Come to Learn, Go to Serve” that the school is constantly reminding the students. This wisdom and the richness of the Buddhist culture and tradition were clearly expressed in the artwork and messages of peace by all the students. On Thursday and Friday of the same week we visited the Lower TCV campus where we worked with the Classes 5 – 10. Three workshops in two days, more than 500 students, and an amazing time, sharing the Peace Exchange with the staff and students of the lower campus. Some of the most touching and blessed memories from both schools was the support, and help of the teachers and administration who escorted us around and assisted us in translation, helped distributing supplies, lovingly sharing wisdom and knowledge with us about the school, the situation in Tibet, and making our experience a most happy one. The workshops at Lower TCV were even more active than the Upper School. Perhaps because they were older students, but there was a certain confidence and comfort that these three groups demonstrated that I hadn’t felt prior. Many students were eager to have conversation and interact with our group. They were excited and inviting of photos and at the end of the workshop enthusiastically requested autographs: which was an honor and warming experience for me. The art work and messages of peace continued to reflect the strong education and intelligence of the students and the beauty and nurturing environment of this school. Images of Tibet, of the Tibetan and Chinese flag joining, images of the 7 Lucky Tibetan symbols, and many more up lifting and positive messages of peace being conveyed in their art work. It is clear that the students of Lower TCV have a strong creative spirit and an enriched artistic life in this school. I was very pleased to learn of the art contests that happen throughout the year and to see the students art work hanging in the dining room where we art our lunch. I was very impressed with both schools on all accounts. I was very moved and touched by each group of students, their joy and happiness, love and light shining from their eyes. I am so grateful and honored beyond words by the kindness and connection of the students and the staff who joined us each day. I feel deeply blessed to have shared this project with your school and look forward to staying in touch for continued collaboration in the future.
It isn’t really work, exactly. There is work involved, but all of that so-called work: planning, preparations, fundraising, travel, organizing, budgeting, etc etc, all comes with such high reward when at the end of a 2hr workshop with 175 students, you are left with a feeling of such joy and contentment that none of all that effort is really so significant. Today’s Peace Exchange workshop at the Ladakh Public School was really quite special. Ladakh Public school is situated on the main road in Leh and is perched on a nice plot of land with pristine views to all sides. Mountain-scapes fill the eyes from almost every spot in the school yard and the peaceful and pristine atmosphere of this Leh town is reflected perfectly in the students of this “private” school. To quote the Founder and School Director “In India ‘public’ means ‘private’ not like in your country.” We arrived at the school around 1040am and we’re escorted to the meditation hall to ensure the arrangement of the tables and chairs were to our liking. Two rows of tables on either end of the room left ample floor space for the remainder to sit on the astro-turf floor cover where they were all too familiar with sitting. Students filled in single file as we organized and separated art supplies. Older kids entered first and quickly took to the chairs and tables. The remainder of the class 8, 9, and 10’s filtered into the space on the floor. Without an introduction we were off. There was a steady and continuous murmur throughout the workshop. I took it as a sign of interest, understanding, and curiosity. I had no trouble gaining their attention to explain the project. The concept is simple and this group of highly intelligent and adept young people got it with ease. A few of them shared some thoughts on peace, but once they got started on the peace cards, the wisdom and messages of peace that were shared are some of the most beautiful and moving to date. In a school where is seems not a visual art class exists, the art work created by this group of students was phenomenal.
We’ve all heard the importance of being present; being in the moment, aware of your self and your surroundings, present and attentive to this now, this place, without thought of the past, nor need to predict the future. But no matter how many times we here this simple philosophy, the practice takes focus, discipline, and attention to execute. Have you ever thought on: why is it so important to simply BE, (not do, all the time)? I’ll leave that question for you to consider. Consider: Simply being here. Being present is not an easy thing to do. The practice takes mind power: an inner strength and discipline. In other words, mind control: a.k.a. mindfulness. A quality taught by the Buddha and sought by millions of practitioners around the world, every day. Questions are: Who taught us this hurry up life style? Who told us that we needed to participate in this race for wealth and fame? How did we end up in this place where the pace of life is not conducive to the health of our heart, body, mind? This is the paradox of our times. Who introduced this w ay of life in which you’re not allow to feel ok if you slow down to simply relax into the moment and simply do nothing? But can you simply: Be with that. Doing nothing. Seriously, how often do you give yourself permission to simply “do no thing?” Breathe into it. Right now. Breathe into this moment. Engage the eyes. Open the ears. Feel into yourself and your surroundings. Look and listen and be attentive to this present moment. Experience your self here. Now. Right now. How does that feel? And so I do. Sitting here in Leh. Feeling that deep so-called Western mindset of ‘I should be doing something. What am I going to do, accomplish, achieve today.’ It’s quite an intimidating voice that I, and if I may speak for you, WE, often face. This morning, while sitting at the breakfast table, looking out across the Himalayan range stretching before my eyes, I am reminded of this beautiful practice. Sipping tea, I am going to simply be. Here. Now. In this magical moment and give thanks for the opportunity to share this with you. Majestic snow covered range in the distance. Crystal clear blue skies expand eyes as the glorious sun warms my body. Dry and dusty fields awaiting a spring planting in the foreground. Paths lined with rocks weave in and around. As a few souls walk beneath barren poplar trees on their way to and from home. I am being with the rocks, the mountains, the ever-changing stationary now sounds of the permanent fixtures of this place. Too often the moment escapes us. In some way, the moment is even escaping me as I write this. I am here, typing, thinking about the words I shall use to convey this present moment experience to you: some unknown recipient of my musings, somewhere off in the future…that I know. But being present to this fact, brings me back and I smile knowing these words are just about finished and I can save this file and return to my tea, the view, the glorious sun shining down, and simply breathe into this moment, knowing there is nothing I must do on this beautiful Sunday in Leh except BE, with me. (control S = Save)
There were many ideas on the table for the last week of March. We had invitations to Tami Nadu in the south where we were considering visiting schools in Chennai and Auroville. Connections were warm, but confirmations were posing a challenge. I also knew it was going to be hotter than hot. An recent email from an organization in Nepal, prompted new curiosity, as the program coordination was requesting our presence in Kathmandu. And with influence of friends and family on Facebook, I was weighing the possibility of heading north to Leh, in Ladakh. I had heard many great things about this high altitude desert, and so a decision was made, let’s go! The weather looked to be warm enough during the days to make something happen. I began investigating schools and NGO’s based there. Many emails were sent and requests made from Delhi, to no avail. And so Heather and I would head out for an 8 day adventure with no confirmations and simply attempt to manifest our way into a few schools. I was prepared to work with 1,000 students during the 8 days we planned, and packed the necessary supplies and peace cards to do so. The flight in was spectacular. Flying out of the low land smog surrounding Delhi, you fly across the foothills of the Himalaya before a sudden shift to towering peaks and snow-covered range encapsulates all sides. The mountains and snow left me feeling a bit intimidated and thoughts of “where the hell are we going?” began to fill my mind. For as far as the eye can see was white snow covered range…..there had to be a reason there was a plane full of people flying to Leh. An hour flight culminated at a clearing in the mountains and there we saw Leh; a dry and arid desert situated between the peaks of the Himalaya at 11,500ft. My eyes widened and the excitement grew at the plane took a wide u-turn in that gap of the range and made its way onto the ground in Ladakh. Advice from multiple people indicated that a day of rest was required of travelers arriving at this high-altitude landscape. We followed the advice. Friday I awoke ready to roll. My goal was to visit several schools and schedule the following week with workshops. I did a small meditation prayer in the morning asking for grace and ease, permission and simplicity in manifesting what I was seeking. And so out we walked. Having met a young girl and her mother on the plane, we headed towards Ladakh Public School. The school was beautiful: a large open yard where groups of students were preparing a dance routine for an up-coming school-wide contest. We were escorted to the principals office where we met the founder and director of the school. Noney Wangchuk, a kind and gentle man, with a sweetness and softness of expression I have rarely seen. He greeted us with warmth and receptivity. Within about 5 minutes of explaining the project to him, grabbed the calendar and asked when we wanted to come. We confirmed two workshops in about 10 minutes for the following Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. We would work with the 8,9, and 10 classes on Tuesday and the 5, 7, and 7th Classes on Wednesday. He walked us to the meditation hall and kindly inquired if the space was suitable and how we would like to have the 10-15 tables arranged. Everything was happening so smoothly and we thanked him for his willingness to welcome us to his school and were on our way. After a brief stop back at the guest house, Heather decided to take rest as the altitude was catching up with her. I was on a mission and had no capacity to stop. I got some directions to the largest school in Leh, Lamdon Senior Secondary School. Lamdon was situated much further up the road on the mountain side and the students had written LAMDON in large letters on the mountain side, large enough to see from miles away and easily seen from the sky. I knew this was a big school and was curious to see what I could create there. When I arrived the Principal was not in. After a brief wait, he arrived and even though he was in a bit of a hurry, he took time to sit with me for five minutes and hear what I had to offer. Again, I was greeted with receptivity and willingness to host us. I feel so blessed by this capacity to quickly convey what I am up to and gain immediate approval from a school’s principal. We confirmed two workshops for Thursday and off I went. Ershay was apologetic for not offering me tea and taking more time, but that was fine, mission accomplished, and off I went, 2 for 2, with an approximate of 800 students and four workshops confirmed. Back down into town I stopped at two other schools where the principals were not in and I was asked to come back tomorrow and try again. Feeling grand, like I had accomplished something significant, having only been in Leh 30 hrs, confirming two schools and four Peace Exchange workshops, I headed back to the Nobel Guest House where we were staying for some tea. Here is a link to photos from our Thursday workshop on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/fbx/?set=a.10150176152388485.313958.641273484
On the following day, Thursday, Heather and I packed it up and boarded a car. We grabbed Rama, our filmmaker pal and, to our surprise, her brother, who would take us to their father’s village, to lead a workshop at Rama’s childhood school, on our way to Jodhpur. About an hour out of Udaipur town, we turned off the highway road onto a side road towards Rama’s village. Stone walls lined either side of the road. If felt as if you were driving down a long driveway to an estate, or some resort….albeit in the desert. Beautiful rolling landscape stretched out to either side. Soon small market centers began to appear and we rounded a corner to a huge camel and it’s master chilling on the road’s side. Over the hill, the valley revealed itself with a wide river and expanse of green field. This was a most beautiful detour and one I am very pleased we were being escorted into. We arrived into town, stopping first at the school to confirm our plans. The students were sparsely lingering about, the school appeared desolate on a Thursday afternoon. The head teacher met us on the street, lots of children and young men gathered around the car. There is always a moment of nervousness when lots of eyes and bodies gather quickly and closely to see “who the ‘tall white people’ are?” and “what are they doing here?” The head teacher attempted to decline what seemed like a previously agreed upon arrangement. Maybe he wasn’t in fact the principal, and was attempting to make a decision, but whatever the circumstances, Rama wasn’t taking anything but a firm YES, seeing as she had brought us here and wasn’t going to be denied another opportunity to show off her new friends, share this project with these kids, and film another workshop…all of which added up to an eventual agreement by this elder Male in charge. I smiled when she got the ‘yes’, and then told us to get in the car, that we were going to visit her father and would come back in an hour or so to do the workshop. Awesome. Our detour for tea included parking the car, hesitantly leaving all our belongings with a driver we could exactly communicate with, walking down valley, across river, back the other side to where Rama’s father was building his humble abode on the opposite side of the river. We got the tour, saw the oxen powered water wheel drawing water from the river, up onto the plateau into the irrigation canal where it fed the wheat and other fields. We had tea and ate Rama’s home prepared chapatti and subgee: Indian vegetable dish. After a nice pause and a bit of show and tell, meeting the numerous workers working on Rama’s fathers house, including building the U-Turn walk way from the flat up and around the rock encrusted hillside where the house was situated, we headed back to the school. This time, we did as the locals do and rolled up our pant legs and carried our shoes as we walked through the river, rather than atop the rocks. As we drove the 3 minutes back to the school, we rustled up man students on the streets, as Rama excitedly encouraged them to return to their school for something exciting. Boys ran hard next to the car as we moved up hill. We were hearding our participants and it worked, about 125 kids showed up to a school where I would guess there were only three teachers present, if any teaching anything on that day.
The driver said the road was impassable. He said he could not drive any further. So, on the second day of our two-a-day school visits, we found ourselves at a place where we were going to have to walk to get to our next workshop. And so, with a bit of reluctance, considering we didn’t exactly know how far we had to go, Shailendra said about a mile, and we were hoping to get home before dark, we got out of the car, assembled our gear; my two bags, Heather’s camera gear, Rama and her things, and started trudging up the hot and dry dirt road towards…..only god knows where. It seemed that that road ended fairly quickly over that first hill. We were on a small crest, with fields and farms before us. The school was in sight, on a hill top in the distance and so on we walked beneath that hot Rajastani sun. With Ravi and Shailendra leading, each holding a strap of the heavy red art supply bag, we followed along on a dirt path into the farm lands before us. We walked near homes and across plow sites, asked directions from the locals, and smiled at the curious stares. Strolling along narrow pathways between wheat fields and out into the open where orange colored flowers sparsely covered spindly trees across hillsides into the distance. Mountain ranges expanding to all sides, you could barely differentiate property lines as small homes and farms seemed to blend into each other for as far as the eye could see. We arrived at a shady spot atop a hill where we stopped to rest. Heather pulled out the Indian take-out from last night and we shared a bit of food to give us some strength and nourishment for the rest of our hike and up-coming Peace Exchange session. After about 40 mintues of walking, we arrived at the school. A warm welcome and without much time to think, we were into our next workshop. This time about 125 students, ages 10 – 16 gathered on the shady platform in front of three classrooms facing East. A warm welcome from smiling eyes and faces of intrigue, this was a happy group, a forward and confident, playful group. A deep group, with powerful and focused meditation. I felt a deep feeling of peace with this group and very much enjoyed their company for the 2hrs we were together. They created beautiful postcards. They shared loving messages and they were polite and super easy to work with. This group was one of my favorites of the 5 schools we worked with in Udaipur. Watching these students explore themselves with art supplies they had probably never handled was fun. Seeing what they created as an expression of peace, even more moving. When we finished, they were polite and calm, warm and friendly and I very much enjoyed giving these students their cards from kids in the US as part of this day’s Peace Exchange.