Karuna School Finds Inspiration at the Newark Peace Education Summit

May 13 – 15, 2011

In 1997, Prajna and Ted attended a conference in San Francisco called Peacemaking: The Power of Non-Violence, where many of the seeds for The Karuna School were planted. In May 2011 a thrillingly large group from The Karuna School attended the Newark Peace Education Summit in Newark, New Jersey. Our group included our new Head of School, Adrienne I. Miller, and staff members Kim Triveni Lishansky and Lucinda Burk. We were delighted to be joined by our student advisor, Sandy Wood, down from Vassar and soon off to Arunachal Pradesh in India to work for the summer at Jhamtse Gatsal, the school started by Lobsang Phuntsok who serves as a member of our Board of Advisors. We had also invited and were accompanied by Dr. Sharon Maxwell, clinical psychologist, and presenter of the Karuna School’s spring workshops, “Talking to Kids About Sex, the Internet, Stress and Drugs;” and friends of Karuna School, Ken and Kailia Manning from Sudbury, MA. Among the presenters at the Summit were Professor Robert Thurman and educational visionary, Linda Lantieri, also on our Karuna School Board of Advisors.

We all felt in our hearts that this was a landmark moment for the Karuna School. We were here, only two years from opening, already strongly underway.

Summit Reflections

From Adrienne I. Miller, Founding Head of School

“World peace must develop from inner peace. Peace is not the absence of violence. Peace is the manifestation of human compassion.”

- His Holiness the Dalai Lama

“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied together into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality . . . Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on Earth until we recognize the basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.”

- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

To attend the Newark Peace Education Summit with members of the Karuna School community this past May felt deeply auspicious and momentous. It was at the Peace Education Conference convened in 1997 by Tibet House in San Francisco that the seeds of the dream of the Karuna School were first planted. Present at that conference was His Holiness the Dalai Lama and other Nobel Laureates, world leaders, scholars, and activists, each of whom sanctioned the tangible hope of what became the Karuna School. Those present began in earnest to envision how best to teach peace and non-violence in schools using the tools of mindfulness as taught through an emotional curriculum. Thus this first peace conference holds a central place in the formative thinking of what Karuna School’s mission truly is.

The Newark 2011 Peace Education Summit reminded us that the journey toward peace in our schools, local communities, and the world is a process that is simultaneously individual and collective, local and global. That journey manifests itself as a result of the interplay of conditions from within and without. The conference’s three overlapping foci highlighted this dynamic in terms of local and global endeavors: peace within and peace at home; improving schools and communities; a wider view of peace among nations and how our relationship with nature can also promote peace among humanity.

As we enter the second decade of a new century, the conference provided a powerful opportunity to reflect upon the fact that the twentieth century was the most technologically advanced and also the most violent in recorded human history. Within our reflections, it was encumbered upon us to ask ourselves what path we would choose in the twenty-first. At this moment, many paths are open to our humanity, but we have only one shared destiny. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. observed that in the twentieth century, our scientific development had outrun our ethical development. During many conference sessions, the importance and relevance of education in promoting the universal ethics of non-violence and compassion as a way to manifest our abilities to realize our potential to live peacefully and productively were at the heart of the discussions.

So how do we realize this potential and how do we choose and actively cultivate peace? During the three-day conference, two voices consistently came to the fore in response to these daunting questions—those of Nobel Laureates Dr. Shirin Ebadi of Iran and His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet. The Dalai Lama admonished his audience several times to be realistic as we approached the question of how to promote peace. Supremely practical, he emphasized that only with clear insight into the reality of our global crisis of chronic violence and war would we be able to discern effective solutions to end conflict. In addition, he commented, as had Martin Luther King Jr., that there was an over-emphasis of the material and technological in modern society at the expense of the moral and the ethical. The Dalai Lama suggested that it was essential that educational systems promote universal secular ethics more consistently so that individuals, especially youth, learned the ways of peace and compassion.

Fellow Nobel Laureate Dr. Shirin Ebadi powerfully iterated the reality of why we are unable to actualize peace. A human rights activist and lawyer who works tirelessly to defend the rights of children and women in Iran, and who has risked her life to publically denounce injustice and discrimination, Dr. Ebadi compellingly pointed out that the failure to address injustice would always render the goal of authentic peace elusive. Through her lessons from contemporary Iran, we were directed to consider that when a person’s humanity is compromised, problems of violence ensue. There is, then, no chance for the cultivation of higher ethical values. After clearly reminding us of the hierarchy of human needs of food, shelter, and security, Dr. Ebadi reminded us that when these needs are denied through violence, poverty, injustice and discrimination, peace is undermined at its core. With regard to education, Ebadi placed the value of education above legislation in terms of social change because “…it is not possible to legislate minds,” and ultimately lasting and meaningful change occurs through the informed action of individuals.

As I listened intently to Dr. Ebadi’s insights, I was reminded of the civil disobedience of the Egyptians that culminated in what is lauded as a non-violent revolution. In contrast with the ideologies and collective identities characteristic of the social movements in twentieth century, the revolutionary message of Tahrir Square now resounds in public service announcements appearing throughout that country focused on personal rights and freedoms and the individual responsibility attendant to those rights. After a recent visit to Cairo, reporter Robert F. Worth wrote in his May 27 article in the New York Times Magazine about seeing bumper stickers and hearing public service announcements with slogans such as “As of today, I won’t run traffic lights,” “I will change,” and “I was part of the regime — I used to take bribes… but Egypt is changing, and I am changing.”

Social justice and equity had always been the banner of those who champion peace, from Henry David Thoreau to M. K. Gandhi to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. Inspired by the past champions of peace, those of us in educational settings teach and learn with our students that it is unrealistic not to strive for peace and that our individual actions can have profound significance in obtaining it; we are all inextricably interconnected and no one is truly free until all are free.

There is no doubt that the compelling experience of the Newark Peace Education Summit was yet again an opportunity to water the seeds of peace and strengthen our resolve to build the Karuna School. Education may perhaps be the single most important means to realizing real and lasting peace in our communities and planet. In the fall of 2013 through the opening of the Karuna School, we hope to further cultivate the seeds of peace in our school community and the world.

From Ted Hallstrom, Co-Founder

On Sunday, the last day of the Newark Peace Education Summit, I listened to speakers on a panel titled Peace in the World in the beautiful main hall of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Threaded through this panel discussion were the themes of women speaking strongly for peace and taking the lead in acting on behalf of peace.

As compelling as this discussion was, I was especially moved by the personal stories told by two panelists from Africa. One was Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier from Sierra Leone and the author of the memoir A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. The other was Leymah Roberta Gbowee from Liberia who led the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, which was instrumental in persuading Charles Taylor, then the president of Liberia, to attend peace talks in Ghana that led to the end of the Second Liberian Civil War.

Each story was dramatic. Beah and Gbowee told of civil wars that pulled apart their countries. But as riveting as these stories of Sierra Leone and Liberia were, what caught and held my interest was how both Ishmael Beah and Gbowee stopped in the midst of sharing these stories of conflict and suffering to describe how they grew up in caring, supportive communities before terrible conflict tore at the fabric of their countries.

Gbowee told this story. “From sunrise to sunset, all of us children played everywhere in our village. And we were watched over and cared for and, if necessary, disciplined by all the mothers and fathers of our village. And at dinnertime at the end of the day, we stopped playing wherever we were and went into the nearest home – not back to our home – where a mother – not our mother, – would wash us and give us dinner. Only after dinner, did we go back to our own home to sleep.”

As I listened, I thought about the Karuna School as I always do at events like this. I thought about how we will build a school community small enough for each of us to know each other well, where we think of all of our students as our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, and where we care for them as if they were. A community where knowing and caring for each person leads to an understanding of our interdependence, and where our students might discover the resilience that Beah and Gbowee found in their villages, a resilience that so clearly served them in harder times.

From Sandy Wood, Student Representative

I was so grateful to have been invited to attend the Newark conference with the members of the Karuna School as the Karuna School student representative. Currently a Vassar College student, I began my relationship with the Karuna School four years ago when Ted and Prajna interviewed me about my high school experience and my gap year abroad.

At the conference heard dozens of inspiring, active individuals sharing their thoughts on what peace is. But considering the word ‘peace,’ a word I’ve long associated with calm and unity, I left each panel feeling pretty conflicted.

Here are some of the questions that came up for me: Once we do resolve to take action: where and how and what action? Is it policy, where the change needs to happen? Grand operations that tear down grand,oppressive systems? Or is it on a community level that peace-building occurs? Do we need work in schools? Is it in family? Interpersonal interaction? Intrapersonal contemplation?

Everyone seemed to have a different answer to these questions. Here is the doorstep of realization on which I found myself plopped down when I came out the other side of the weekend: it’s not one priority pitted against the other. It’s not inner peace vs. political action. It’s not community-building vs. international demilitarization.

Not only did the conference inspire by gathering so many people pouring their hearts and souls into work for the good of a greater whole, but it inspired me by showing me the so, so, so, so, so many different ways that happens.

For instance, one panelist called himself Earl, the Street Doctor, Best. He’s a bright, exuberant, reverberating character. He has a trademark van, in which he drives around Newark, fixing whatever problems he runs into. He told us about feeding the hungry and stopping shootings he happens upon—from what I gather, with the mere power of his determination and rhetoric. Whatever symptoms need treatment, he is the Doctor. He wore an all-white suit, and spoke with such gusto and energy the entire auditorium was jolted with his immediate, hands-on credo.

Then there was the petite, soft-spoken, 93-year old yogini, Tao Porchon-Lynch. She spoke humbly from her own experience saying that she practices yoga in order to feel a connection with every living thing, to learn and remember and understand and feel how much we are all part of the same one. Her comments were pure and touching in their beautiful, straightforward simplicity. She cast a calm over the room. The energy she exuded didn’t electrify the crowd in the same way that the Street Doctor’s did, but she transformed our collective consciousness.

Although qualitatively different, the intensity of spirit of the Street Doctor and Tao were equally compelling. These are only two of many inspired and inspiring individuals speaking purposefully on behalf of work and missions in which they deeply believe. Witnessing these varied ways to promote peace made me realize that there’s no single superior method to create it. The world needs both the Street Doctor and the yogini.

Another stunning and thought-provoking juxtaposition of approaches to peace came when watching the Dalai Lama, the epitome of inner peace and tranquility, interact with Jody Williams, another fellow Nobel Peace Laureate present at the Summit. Williams in her bare feet and anti-landmine campaign T-shirt admitted to being open-minded but spoke of struggling with meditation and stillness. She frankly owned that her commitment to peace was powered by fiery anger at injustice and all about concrete action, and big-scale change. So don’t put her in a robe on the Tibetan plateau, that’s not where her strengths are. And don’t put the Dalai Lama in an office and ask him to coordinate an international anti-landmine campaign. Each of their skill sets is unique.

Ultimately I came to the conclusion that it’s not about figuring out which work is more important, but finding the work that I’m cut out to do. The world needs people to paint visions of the future, it needs people to work towards peace in their schools and communities, it needs people to defend those abused by individuals still deluded by hatred and self-importance, it needs people to prod others to examine their habits, it needs people to build systems of equity, it needs people to teach peace in all levels of existence, and it needs people to embody peace in every aspect of their existence. Each of these needs is too big for any one of us to do all of them, and not one can be successful without all the others.

In a flurry of excitement and bewilderment with the cogs in my brain spinning faster than I could write down words to chase after them, I proceeded with the only clear course of action: I called my mom.

She listened to my insane rant of pondering and possibility. Then she philosophized right back at me and offered a metaphor. She described the world as a big a cappella group saying, “We can’t all be bases and we’re not all bases, but we need the base. We need all the parts.”

I’ll close with a few excerpts from my journal from the train ride home.

Sunday, May 15th

….Peace.

—a word that’s been used a lot this weekend. And I’m afraid of it being cliché. Or something un-actually-defined. But I think there are a lot of definitions, and that’s why we didn’t define it. There are a lot of different Peaces. There are a lot of different pieces to Peace.

. . .Last night before bed I went and stood by the window. I saw all of Newark. But it was completely silent. I just saw its quiet, blinking, glowing lights.
. . .And out there past my window were all the problems we’ve been talking about. And also all the good things in the world. All the people working to change the bad and build something beautiful.

I think peace isn’t something that we will get all at once, or one day. I think it is happening, constantly, bubbling up in pockets. And it’s all about making those grow in number and catch, contagiously, and spread.

From Kim Triveni Lishansky, Staff

The Newark Peace Conference was a unique opportunity for each of us from Karuna to explore how our high school for peace can be an agent for transformation in our students and the world.

A high point for me was attending a wonderful lecture by Dr. Deepak Chopra, noted healer, lecturer, and author whose work focuses on mind-body health, spirituality and peace. Deepak’s talk, “The Neuroscience of Enlightenment,” was fascinating. Citing the latest findings in the fields of quantum mechanics and neuroscience, he challenged our fundamental assumptions about the nature of reality. I was happy to find that other members of our Karuna group were also at this talk, as there was so much to take in. After the conference we compared our notes and eventually compiled a document that reflects many of the ideas that were presented. I’d like to share some highlights from our notes.

Deepak spoke about how scientists today are using modern technology to confirm what that the yogis and sages of the East have expounded for millennia: the universe is a field of conscious energy. Nothing exists other than consciousness.
This vast ocean of conscious energy is the field in which we find ourselves. Indeed, we ourselves are the field of consciousness.

Historically Western science has been reductionist and materialist, separating matter from spirit. The quest to study the structure of matter has now evolved to a point in which we are working to understand what the relatively new paradigm of quantum physics actually means – that what we call material “things” are made of something non-material, that the essential stuff of the universe is non-stuff. We have known for a very long time that matter is composed of subatomic particles yet sub-atomic particles, scientists are discovering, are not material entities. Subatomic particles are fluctuations of energy and information. Fluctuations of energy and information are the “stuff” of consciousness.

Deepak said that in nature there is no such thing as structure, only process. Another way to think about this is that in physical reality there are no nouns, only verbs. This is true for all matter, including our own bodies. Our bodies, like all other biological organisms, are a system of dynamic processes that are constantly in exchange with the biosphere. We can consider human life, all life even, as an activity of the biosphere.

Speaking metaphorically, Deepak went on to say that we are part of the “symphony of the natural world.” Health and balance manifest as we attune ourselves to this cosmic symphony. When we start thinking of our bodies as dynamic processes, not material objects, we can consider ourselves to be an expression of this amazing symphony. We do not have a separate, independent existence apart from it. This concept underlies our understanding of how we are all interconnected and interdependent. It illustrates how our inclination to feel separate and apart from each other and the world is based in an illusion.

I have contemplated this part of Deepak’s lecture over the weeks since the conference and have found a measure of hope in it. The Karuna School is founded on the belief of the interdependence of all beings, and here was another compelling scientific discussion of one our most deeply held values. The growing realization of human interconnectedness has profound consequences, affecting not only how we relate to other people and the environment, but also how we conceptualize our own individual existence. Compassion and selflessness are the natural ethos in this shared, interdependent world. As people awaken and embrace this new way of looking at the natural order, we can hope that peace will not be a distant dream, but rather the inevitable result of enlightened understanding and action.

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