Mindful Development

I have often wondered at what we call sustainable development. It is difficult enough to think about all of this injustice, inequality, and suffering in the world, let alone work to solve these problems in a ‘sustainable’ way. I have now come to see though that any kind of development work can, and only is, sustainable if it first begins with our own inner work. Otherwise it is like giving a cancer patient a band aid. When greed, hatred, delusion and all those negative habits that cause our society’s problems are rooted in our minds, how can we in any way do sustainable development? How can we truly work to alleviate the world from discrimination, slavery, exploitation, or violence when we find them within ourselves? We say we want a more loving, a more forgiving, a more compassionate world, but how often do we ourselves actually experience those things? To do any kind of development or humanitarian work in a sustainable way is hopeless if we let ourselves be consumed by the very same ignorance that perpetuates the suffering we are outwardly working to change. Sustainable development must begin with a turn inwards, and that turn I believe must be towards mindfulness.

Watch your breath. All things operate on the same pattern as the breath. When we begin to be aware of our breath, we begin to see thoughts, feelings, and other sensations arise; in doing so, those very same thoughts slow down, we are better able to recognize when negativity arises, and more capable at transforming ourselves in a positive light.

“Knowledge is what which liberates,” is the philosophy here at APV. What kind of knowledge is liberating, what are we seeking? It is the knowing of each and every successive sensation or phenomena experienced by each of the senses, in every moment successively. Being aware, here and now. Only that kind of knowledge will give us the ability to see our bodies and minds as they are, to build non-attachment, and to begin liberating ourselves from the negativity that enslaves and holds us back. Take a few moments and observe your breath again. Its rhythm is not song-like; it will not entrance you by any means. But it is tranquil, and yet our minds will wander, and desire something more entertaining

Preeti, a 6th grade student, in meditation.
Preeti, a 6th grade student, in meditation.

. We often speak of developing a peaceful, sustainable world, but in our experience, at least in mine, our minds seem to be conditioned in a way as to not like peace. Peace and sustainability in our work can only come when we have peace in our minds and hearts, and such being can only be developed through meditation.

My passions for education, rural livelihood, and meditation come from my experiences working in Kenya and Thailand. My time with the Maasai American Organization in Losho, Kenya, inspired me to dedicate myself to service and to work for educational opportunities in poor, marginalized communities. This commitment led me to Thailand on a Fulbright fellowship, where I taught English at a small government school in Chiang Mai province and worked with refugee and migrant women from Myanmar. I hope to use these past experiences this year to learn more about myself, holistic education in rural communities, and self-sufficient development. I come to AIF honored and excited for the chance to immerse myself in Garhwali culture, practice mindfulness and yoga, and make friendships with the people and community of Ashram Paryavaran Vidyalaya.

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6 thoughts on “Mindful Development

  1. “We say we want a more loving, a more forgiving, a more compassionate world, but how often do we ourselves actually experience those things?” – Inspiring post Matt and could not have been less truly stated. Keep them coming.

  2. Great post. I am reminded of a quote from a rather peculiar monk in Thailand that said, “I congratulate those that have adopted vegetarianism, but would like to remind them to also stop biting people.” The point being, even if you take measures to act with more empathy in your work, diet, or any other specific area of your life, you should adopt a holistic approach to empathy in other aspects of life.

  3. Matt
    You are keeping up the tradition of inspirational posts from APV Fellows. Thanks so much. In a way you are saying you cannot be what you have not experienced at the core of yourself. In the end each one of us has to be true to that inner self and apply consistent values to every aspect of our lives. Cannot screw the world and your fellow human beings Monday to Saturday and go to church on Sunday.

  4. Thank you all for your comments. I am reminded of a story I was told by a visiting friend here at APV:

    A man who was riding on a train suddenly began to feel sick. His final destination was not for another couple of hours, so he decided it would be best to get off at the next stop. But when he went to the train conductor to tell him his wish, the conductor said the train was not schedule to stop at the next station. The sick man pleaded, but the train conductor said he could not do anything or else he would lose his job. But he promised to slow down the train as it neared the platform, in order for the man to jump off. As the man was about to jump, he was grabbed and held back by another passenger. The man asked the passenger why he did that, and the passenger replied he was saving him from falling out of the train.
    That passenger worked for an NGO.

    I gained two things from that story. Although our intentions may, on occasion, but genuinely altruistic and compassionate, that does not in and of itself guarantee that the fruits of our actions will be of help to any one, including ourselves. And before we begin to concern ourselves with the welfare of others, or even think we know what is in their best interests, we must first be dedicated to our own inner liberation.

  5. Matthew, I always knew you to be a special, kind, loving person. I believe you are correct when you say that all comes from within. I forget this sometimes and strangely I read your blog today, a time when my positive courage and strength is lacking. I have it inside and thanks to you I am reminded of this.
    “Big Jude”

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