This morning I woke up nervous. My heart was beating fast and I felt a little shaky; uneasy in anticipation of my upcoming workshops. Perhaps it was because I had hired my friend AK to come a film the experience. Perhaps because I was scheduled to do two workshops in one day with 100 students per session. Perhaps I was just feeling shy, unprepared, and empty bellied hungry.
It was not a foreign feeling. Definitely a place of familiarity, not necessarily of comfort, but more of a feeling of nervous excitement and my mode of doing double-check mental preparations being expressed in the body as a hollow, scared emptiness.
Perhaps I will always experience this feeling, on some level, whenever I am preparing to step into the unknown, open my heart and share myself and this Peace Pals, or any project I started, for that matter, with a new group of participants.
Once in the car and in motion, I was almost immediately out of my own way and in route to pick up AK, get some minutes for my phone, and off to the school, ahead of schedule and on-time. We were on our way to St. Henry’s Primary school, the second private Catholic school of the week, and also the second school introduced to me by my new friend Laura Frederick of Global EChange. www.globalechange.com
We arrived at the school, met the Head Master, a nice man named Peter Okoth, who graciously received us and showed us around. We settled into a room in a building under construction at the top of their property to set up for doing workshops with the P4, P5, P6 and P7 classes.
These students were brilliant. Our plans to have two groups of 100 (P4 & P5’s and P6 &P7’s) was a bit ambitious given the size of the room, so we opted to work with one class at about 50 per session.
We started with the P5 kids who were very well behaved and dropped in quickly. They were warm and attentive, quiet, calm, and courteous. Their receptivity to the project was great and we moved easily along into a discussion about what “peace” meant to them
Here are some of their replies.
A sharp young boy of 12 said: “Peace is being humble.”
A lovely young girl of 10 said: “Peace is a warm light in your heart.”
Another smart young girl shared that: “Peace is sharing food or something to drink with someone who has nothing.:
And a quiet boy in his teens, said: “Peace is having love in your heart.”
I was already moved and we hadn’t yet begun to make art.
When I showed the group the postcards from the students in the U.S. I talked with them about the various slogans: think peace, walk peace, and talk peace. At one point I asked the group, what does it mean to walk peace?
One boy raised his hand and said, “to walk with love in your heart.” I was “wow’d” I asked him if he would demonstrate that. He agreed. I smiled. Shuffling from his bench, he began to walk down the center of the room, head held high, moving slowly, deliberately down the middle space in the room. Some of the others began to laugh and I quickly asked them to be quite and observe. I asked the young boy, perhaps 12 years old, to close his eyes and really demonstrate what i meant to “walk with love in his heart” and he did. This boy was amazing. He closed his eyes and with a slight smile, walked slowly down the center of the room. I was moved. Chills running throughout my body. As he approached me I invited him to turn around and continue back towards his desk table. He was a remarkable example for the room and there was a quiet and calmness in everyone as they observed.
Then I showed them the Om card. And I explained to them that this was the sound of peace. We practiced together. I find that when you get a room of 50 or 100 Ugandan students to Om together, it’s quite a powerful and beautiful thing.
And so we did just that. I had them close their eyes again. I demonstrated the sound of Om, and then we practiced a bit of call and response, before collectively Om’ing together three times. This was super fun and they found it both amusing and enjoyable.
And then the second group came in and we got right into it. We breathed together in silence. Eyes closed and introspective for about 5 minutes. (I try to extend this experience as long as I feel the energy in the room calming, watching for eyes opening or signs of restlessness, and really allowing the students to drop in.)
I tell them things like this. Eyes closed. Going inside. You are safe. Everyone here is friends. There is nothing to worry about. Feel at peace. Feel your heart. (some students put their hands on their chest) Relax. Notice your breath. Breathe easy. Relax your body. Be calm. This is the practice of being peaceful. All the while chiming my Tibetan hand cymbals three times.
And then we open our eyes and carry that energy into the writing and art making for peace. As I instruct them to consider what peace looks like and feels like, sharing their thoughts and feelings with that anonymous person in India a little something personal about themselves and their lives on the postcard.