A Scholar's SentimentsWednesday, February 25, 2015
It has been almost three weeks and yet I still see the slightest traces of mendhi on my palm. I kept on waiting for every Whatsapp message. I kept all hoardable stuff on my bedside to keep my Caux Spirit tangibly alive. It is difficult to find words that would do justice to my Caux Scholars Program-Asia Plateau experience. If missing AP is a serious sickness, then I take this conscious effort to never recover!
Few months ago, I prayed fervently for and wrestled thoroughly with the thought of applying for a 3-week Program on Peace Building and Conflict Resolution that happened to be 5000-km away from Manila, in an Indian town that I have never heard of before. How do you leave your job for this? Why do you want to go? Why must you go? I found enough whys to the what as I had drawn so much inspiration from my former Professor back in College, gathered a little of my guts and a whole lot of God’s grace to explore something new and took a leap of faith to pursue joining the program. I must say that it had been one of the best decisions I had ever made! Allow me to share with you bits and pieces of my adventure!
Learning to 'Be the Change'
The Caux Scholars Program is just one of the many projects of Initiatives of Change (IofC), where 17 scholars from 12 different corners of the globe were chosen to undertake an intensive course focusing on the themes of conflict resolution and transformation. For twenty-one splendid days, I lived with the IofC community situated on top of a Hill Station in Panchgani called Asia Plateau. In that 68-acre paradise, I met a lot of amazing people coming from diverse backgrounds who share a common goal: the commitment to change and transform society by starting at one’s own life.
We normally had our early morning Quiet Time, spent through personal reflection, prayers or inner listening that could either be in the gardens or a very cozy multi-faith prayer room. From 9:00 in the morning, we would have intensive and intimate sessions that went around lectures, discussions, workshops and presentations of the conflict where we come from. These sessions were facilitated by four beautiful souls (Sri, Patrick, Ashok & Florina) who knew exactly how to ingrain life-long lessons into us, who taught our minds and at the same time, touched our hearts. When the class started to get plain, our Power Couple would burst into songs and poems. Both Sri and Patrick always had insights and stories that cut through the heart, teaching us from their very own experiences. We would take short breaks for tea time and meals where it was always the best opportunity to share a table with the wisest folks over fresh chapatti and delicious vegan dishes. I only wish each table could talk and spill all conversations that had ever happened over it. After, we shared the task of washing up or dining service with our Family groups. We would have evening activities like cultural nights, games, story telling, Zentangles, etc. and spend the rest of the night by walks and talks under the starry skies. If we get enough time and rest, we would get up very early, brave the cold and hike to the Table Land for the beautiful sunrise! On weekends, a local organization called Grampari took us to villages so that we learn firsthand from the locals and understand how theories operate practically.
In three weeks’ time, we had built a strong bond: respecting and embracing each other’s differences, trusting & learning from one another, and sharing and enjoying whatever the experience entails – uniqueness of culture, music, dance, resources, food, stories, secrets, faith, dreams, ideals, laughter and tears.
To me, living there for three weeks was a microcosm of a life that I aspire, a life where you take a conscious decision to seize such limited time by learning, doing, discovering and loving. I flipped and wrote every page carefully -- share the best piece of yourself to others, seize every moment, serve relentlessly, learn whatever lessons that come your way, give your best in everything and just enjoy!
Going Down the Mountain
"You are meant to be not together physically, but together in Spirit, in ideas, in your cause."
Just before it got too hard to say goodbye, Ashok reminded us, "You are meant to be not together physically, but together in Spirit, in ideas, in your cause." Shortly after arriving in the Philippines, the country mourned for the 60+ mighty men who lost their lives in the Mamasapano encounter in Mindanao. Out there, we cringed towards the death of the Jordanian Pilot and the Coptic Christians in the hands of ISIS, the Chapel Hill shooting, etc... it’s endless. These had been the very things that we tackled in the program, the very things I learned firsthand from my 16 co-scholars, whose realities were quite unfathomable. I learned that these issues are not as far-fetched for an average person like you and me, as I thought they were; and we all could be stewards and messengers of Peace in our own simple ways.
I realized I could not sit around and look at the world through my biases, to succumb to emotions and consider others as enemies, to condone injustice and hatred, to applaud war and violence in the name of revenge, to judge others by their appearances or beliefs. Practically, it is easier to sit and feed on whatever mainstream media tells the world, easier to feel entitled to throw our opinions, sometimes uninformed, on social media; to criticise and complain even when we do not do anything about it.
I am glad I have to learn things the hard way, perhaps the Peace Builder’s way: to donate selflessness through our empathy more than our intellect, our acceptance of diversity more than superiority, our open-mindedness more than our judgment, our reason more than our rants, our belief in pure intentions more than public opinion, our hopes more than our apathy, our love more than our hate, our actions more than our words.
Now, even when the mendhi completely fades, or whatsapp messages stop coming (which I hope not!), whether I see them ever again, or not… After all, it comforts me that this has been and will always be the togetherness that keeps our Caux Spirit burning alive.
While every end is just the beginning, we went down the mountain...no longer a spectator, no longer an audience of a world that calls us to play our part, fill our role and fight the battles of this world, battles that only someone like you (and I) can win...
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