I had the privilege to speak on behalf of my fellow education fellows about my experiences thus far during the AIF Leadership Conference where we had the opportunity to meet AIF Board Members and Senior Leadership. In writing my speech, I was given the chance to reflect on my experience thus far as a fellow at APV School.
Below is the transcript of a lifetime’s worth of experiences squeezed into 5 months:
Yesterday I was clever, that is why I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, that is why I want to change myself.
– Sri Chinmoy
I came to India because of my thirst for knowledge. I wanted to be immersed in a history of over 6000 years of seekers of truth and champions of seva. And I wanted to reignite these timeless ancient teachings and meld them with the world as we know it today – isolation, fear, competition, violence against our sisters & brothers, mothers & children, and worst of all, violence against ourselves. There is an epidemic rampant in all societies that goes far deeper than material poverty to poverty of the spirit. We as individuals are all looking for our place, a sense of belonging in a society which fragments people according to every possible characteristic – caste, creed, SES, gender, race. After working in the field of child trauma I time after time came to the question of why I had to compromise and sacrifice these children to a society that was ultimately concerned with acquisition of power and superficial bandages to heal root level lacerations.
I did not want to be a band-aid applier anymore. I wanted to be a creator of a new society where children stepped out of fear and survival into their own infinite potentials. This was the opportunity granted to me by this fellowship, to have the privilege to do my seva at APV school in the Garhwali Himalayas under the guidance of a true innovator, Anand Dwivedi. My experience there has revealed that seva is about the process and not the outcomes. That true seva is about courage and conviction in the face of a society that often dampens innovation and progressive thinking despite the innate need for catalytic change.
In the rural Himalayas there is the epidemic of migration and the destruction of family structures, the fight between traditionalist livelihoods and the rapid influx of modern ideas and technology. When we approach education from this setting, what we see is a lack of quality and empathy on a government level where increased teachers’ salaries have had inverse results. We find apathy and absenteeism from teachers and a lack of engagement and creativity in children. School becomes a prison to house children, to beat and to mold them until they comply with and digest societal expectations and demands, where ultimately there is no place for them. I ask you, is this a free society?
There are few people who are willing to ask the question of what sort of society we want to perpetuate for future generations. APV was born 8 years ago out of this question and the authentic search for what it means to know ourselves. We as adults do not have the experience of a compassionate, loving and cooperative society. What APV does is create an experience of this society for children, to give them another option. When APV first started, for the first 6 months all teachers did was listen and observe children. They got out of children’s way. As adults we have a lot of assumptions as far as how children should learn by imposing our adult brains on their child brains. Therein lies the disconnect. Children at APV are studying themselves through meditation, through music, through drama. APV philosophy attempts to eliminate all factors that take you away from the present moment, and that starts by not being solely reliant on the rational brain.
By resurrecting ancient approaches in transmitting knowledge and melding them with new frontiers in scientific inquiry, the hidden and deeper potentials of the brain are unfolded. The same is relevant for the teachers at APV. They come from local villages and are not trained in an academic sense. Teachers begin by admitting they do not know, that they are not the authorities, children are. We live in a community together where mindfulness and meditation supports an environment of present-mindedness. When we live with all our senses alive moment by moment it gives a great deal of energy which creates healthy linkages between surface and deeper layers of the brain, known as neuroplasticity. Anandji says the first community that needs to be created is within the disconnects of our own brain. These disconnects are fused through creativity, the core of APV philosophy, known as the Link Syllabus. Making linkages between the rational brain and the creative brain in both teachers and students allows a bond of deep friendship and spontaneity to erupt between them where there is no room for insecurity, fear and competition. Instead, a society is created in the school where every child and every teacher is a member of your family, and children themselves feel a responsibility to take care of the school as they would their own homes.
I once asked Anandji, is the APV model replicable on a larger scale as that is a societal obsession in terms of measuring impact. He replied, APV is replicable anywhere there is a human brain.
My fellowship experience has been about understanding this truth for myself, and what it is to be a creator in every moment. When we think about inspiring a tidal wave of social change, I am reminded of a quote Anandji shared with me of Lao Tzu’s. He says a leader should not be like the mountain peaks, seen from afar, yet dry and barren, but like the valley that is hidden by the peaks, but which holds all within it. I have had the fortune to know many such valleys amidst my education fellows. We have Emily at RIVER in Rishi Valley who has reignited her love for education by creating meaningful training models and curriculum. And Manleen, a budding scholar in her own right, at Guru Nanak Dev University who has shared her passion for preserving and teaching young adults through the Sikh oral tradition. There is Marina at Digital Equalizer who has taught herself from the field up how to create impact evaluations. Asif, who at Pudiyador in Chennai, works to create education communities that support children post 5th grade. And Arunima at CHIP in Darjeeling who has found a way to meld health education within the school setting to enhance not only physical, but social and emotional health.
To me, all this work is about creating healthy linkages. About not being focused on being the peak, but holding the space for creative and progressive change from the valley upwards. I would like to end with a prayer, translated from Hindi into English, that is sung by the children of APV during morning assembly, written by Anand Dwivedi:
Where do you seek, oh friend?
Where do you wander?
The real treasure is within yourself.
Some run after money
Some seek honour, power, glory
Some are crazy after bookish knowledge
Some are immersed in sensual pleasure.
Hope makes false promises,
deceives like a mirage.
God knows how long you have been running
desperate with thirst!
Stop for a while and look within.
You may go on running all your life but you won’t get it anywhere.
And death is close by.
The real treasure is within you.
Open the door to your house
Observe carefully, explore attentively
See what is good, what is not good.
What is true, what is false.
He will definitely find who strives with complete devotion.
One who is caught up in the muck of the world will forever go on making excuses.
The real treasure is within you.
To read more of Khushi’s writings on mindfulness and adventures in India, visit: www.khushyoga.wordpress.org