September-October Newsletter, Volume 3

[Contemplation] is virtually indispensible if wisdom is to become fully transformative… for, especially, liberal arts, institutions [it] is not a question of adding a desirable frill to their vast smorgasbord of offerings. It is a matter of their effectively fulfilling their duty to provide a liberal, i.e., a liberating and empowering, education.

-Robert A. Thurman
Jey Tsong Kappa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Studies
Columbia University

In August the Karuna School was pleased to host a group of teens from Iraq, Europe, the U.S. and Turkey for a conversation about peace and education. It is difficult to do justice to the profound insight of youth into the soul of peace; harder still to accurately represent their uncanny ability to speak the names of peace, but Prajna Hallstrom’s article on the visit comes close to allowing readers to experience the feeling and profundity of that afternoon.

Also in August, the Karuna School participated in the Omega Institute conference on Mindfulness and Education. This was a deeply inspiring event that allowed us to reaffirm our mission to provide an integrated emotional curriculum for our students that includes training in mindfulness and other contemplative practices.

Over 300 educators attended the conference and we were so proud to be among them. Our experience there was yet another confirmation that we are riding the crest of a wave that will truly transform education. Linda Lantieri, Karuna School Board of Advisors member, trailblazer in the field of social and emotional learning, and author of Building Emotional Intelligence, delivered a talk that was one of the highlights of the conference. Dr. Dan Siegel of the Mindsight Institute at UCLA and author of The Mindful Brain and Mindsight, also offered a compelling lecture about how the field of neuroscience and psychology are revolutionizing the world of child psychology and education, as well as how contemplative practices such as mindfulness and reflection are the missing ‘r’ in education.

Please refer to the links in this newsletter to the Omega conference webpage and also to see Lantieri’s Inner Resilience Program, Dr. Dan Siegel’s talk on the fourth ‘r’ of education, and other important sites related to social and emotional learning and the role and value of contemplative practices such as mindfulness in education.

Thanks for reading.

In peace,

Adrienne I. Miller
Founding Head of School

A Visit from Iraqi Teens

At 12:30 pm on Wednesday, August 10, 2011, ten teens from Iraq, along with three teens from San Diego and their trip guides arrived by yellow school bus to the Karuna School office. The Iraqi teens were in the first week of a three-week leadership tour of the Eastern United States sponsored by the Iraqi Youth Leaders Exchange Program, Global Youth Leadership Institute, World Learning, and the US State Department.

We had heard from our friends who were hosting the teen group in Boston that things in the group had been somewhat challenging during the first few days. Most of the Iraqi teens, who were meeting each other for the first time, had had little contact with members of other ethnicities, religions or Islamic sects outside of their own. Some students were having trouble listening to others, some were feeling too shy to speak, and overall their differences seemed more apparent than their commonalities. We hoped that the activity that we had planned, a council circle, a process integral to communication at the Karuna School, might help bring the group into more harmony and give everyone a chance to speak and be heard.

When the teens arrived at the Karuna School office at Lincoln Station we welcomed them with a lunch of sandwiches, drinks, and a plate of brownies that had been donated by our local lunch place. Before entering the office, the entire group removed their shoes automatically; something that one would do in Iraq before entering a home. We had set up a circle of twenty back jacks (supports for sitting on the floor) and all the kids seemed to feel very comfortable joining us with lunches in hand. After they finished their lunches, Adrienne Miller, our Founding Head of School, welcomed them in Arabic, and from the smiles on their faces we could see that it was much appreciated. She spoke of how honored we were to have them join us and told them a little bit about the Karuna School and its mission to educate the minds and the hearts of high school students and facilitate them becoming agents of peace in the world. She emphasized that we were so looking forward to learning from each of them about what peace means to them and what a high school for peace would look like to them.

Prajna introduced the activity of the day, a council circle about peace. She explained that the council circle is a tool that comes to us from the Native American tradition. The idea is that everyone’s voice in the circle, everyone’s perspective, is important and communicates a critical facet of the diamond of Truth. Every person agreed to the guidelines of the circle: we all speak from the heart; only the person holding the stone speaks while the rest of the circle listens deeply and respectfully; and when you are passed the stone, you can choose to speak at that moment or may pass the stone on and it will come back to you later.

The question for the first round of the circle was, “Please introduce yourself by telling us your name and where you come from. Then briefly tell us why you are here. Finally, tell us about your hopes for the future.” As the stone was passed, students told us where they were from and we recognized the names of cities that we have heard about every day since the war in Iraq began—Baghdad, Basrah, Sulaimaniya, Najaf. Each student spoke movingly about why they were here and what their hopes for the future were—to be leaders for peaceful change in Iraq, to study to be a doctor, to bring back to Iraq memories of their trip to America and a better understanding of American culture.

Triveni Lishansky, the Karuna School business manager, introduced the second round of the circle and the question, “What does peace mean to you?” Words cannot express how profound it was to have these young men and women from a place that has not known peace for most of their young lives articulate what peace meant to them. Even students whom we had been told spoke very little English and were too shy to speak took the stone in their hands and shared—“peace is being able to speak your Truth, peace is getting past our differences, peace is being able to listen to others, no matter what their religion or nationality.” One of our favorite definitions came from a serious, soft-spoken young man: “Peace is perfection. It is an ideal, a process, that we have to strive for.” Everyone took their time, yet few had any hesitation about expressing what peace meant to them.

Finally, we introduced the third question, “What should a high school for peace be like?” What was so stunning was that not one of the teens seemed to wonder what a high school for peace might be. They simply got it and were completely ready to contribute to the mandala that emerged of the ideal high school for peace. It was also obvious that they were thrilled to have been asked for their input. Here were some of their ideas:

  • Zero tolerance for bullying
  • Building people up instead of tearing them down
  • Learning to walk in someone else’s shoes
  • People listening to each other
  • Students learning to forgive others
  • Growing many plants and flowers
  • Service-learning that ties words and ideas to actions
  • To feel connected to events all over the world
  • All applicants would be drawn to the school because they are committed to peace
  • Ask the students how they feel and what their definition of a peaceful school is
  • Begin with trust
  • Celebrate differences
  • Let students mix with students from other cultures and know how they are suffering
  • Go abroad and live with other cultures
  • Learn how to resolve conflicts
  • Have a strong bond between teachers and students
  • Make sure teachers respect students and that students can talk to them about anything
  • When people come up with stereotypes, break them down
  • Get to know each other before labeling
  • Study yourself first, then your society

The extraordinary thing about this circle is that we found out later in speaking to them that these students have rarely experienced the kind of education they were describing. They told us that schools in Iraq are very strict, the divide between teachers and students is wide, and students have little opportunity to connect with others from different religious or cultural backgrounds. Yet, these young people knew in their hearts what it would take to make a high school a place of peace that inspires its students to bring this way of being to the world.

After the third round of the council circle, we thanked these extraordinary teens for their trust in us and in the process, and for the profound input we had received. We presented them with Karuna School t-shirts, which they immediately put on. Then they asked to have their pictures taken, arm in arm with each of us. They thanked us over and over for the time together and asked us to please remain in touch.

As the last few students were going out the door, one of the boys said, “When I build a high school for peace in Baghdad, will you come?” We all answered in unison,
“Yes, we will!”

A few days later we were invited to a forum at Tufts University that would be the closing event of the group’s Boston stay, to be followed by Iftar, the evening meal that breaks the daily fast during Ramadan. On the way to the event we received a call asking us to stop on the way to buy dates, the symbolic first food at Iftar, which we felt so honored to do.

At the forum, students were asked to talk about their time in Boston and what they had learned. Several students said that their visit to the Karuna School had been a high point of their time here. They said that they absolutely loved Adrienne and would go to any school of which she was the Head. Two students agreed, “She just radiates peace!” They also spoke about how much they appreciated our listening to their ideas. It was very obvious to us that the council circle for peace had confirmed what we already knew, that this form for sharing from the heart that is integral to the Karuna School vision really works.

The most moving moment in the forum came towards the end. In answer to the question, “What is the most important thing that you have learned here in Boston?” one young man stood up and said, “When I go back to Iraq and people say to me, ‘Sunnis are bad or Christians are bad or Jews are bad”, I am going to say back to them, ‘No, you are wrong. I have friends who are Sunnis, I have friends who are Christians, I have friends who are Jews!’”

It was clear that, even before their final week in Washington, DC, the trip was already a success.
As-salāmu `alaykum. Peace be upon you.

Prajna Hallstrom
Co-Founder


Wisdom from Rumi

Jalaluddin Rumi was a 13th century Sufi mystic and poet. His words resonate deeply even to this day.

Two Kinds of Intelligence

There are two kinds of intelligence: one acquired,
as a child in school memorizes facts and concepts
from books and from what the teacher says,
collecting information from the traditional sciences
as well as from the new sciences.

With such intelligence you rise in the world.
You get ranked ahead or behind others
in regard to your competence in retaining
information. You stroll with this intelligence
in and out of fields of knowledge, getting always more
marks on your preserving tablets.

There is another kind of tablet, one
already completed and preserved inside you.
A spring overflowing its springbox. A freshness
in the center of the chest. This other intelligence
does not turn yellow or stagnate. It’s fluid,
and it doesn’t move from outside to inside
through conduits of plumbing-learning.

This second knowing is a fountainhead
from within you, moving out.

-Jalaluddin Rumi

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