Fantastic News: The Karuna School has a new life!

Dear Friends,

It is with great excitement that we write to tell you of the Karuna School’s decision to enter into a pilot two-year partnership with the Cambridge School of Weston (CSW). At the invitation of CSW’s Head of School, Jane Moulding, Karuna School will be a “school within a school” at CSW. What does this mean? It means that the Karuna School will be housed at CSW and that our co-founder Lisa Prajna Hallstrom will develop and offer Karuna School courses to CSW students, courses that will help provide CSW graduates with the skills they will need to lead a balanced, compassionate life while making their unique contribution to a better world.

This spring Prajna will offer a course called .b [dot-be, as in Stop, Breathe and Be], an innovative, research-based course that teaches mindfulness as a life-skill for students to use both in and out of the classroom. Mindfulness involves learning to direct attention to experience as it unfolds moment by moment, with open-minded curiosity and acceptance. Research is now showing that practicing mindfulness can contribute to an increase in young adults’ self-esteem, focus, and emotion regulation.

Next fall when our partnership officially begins, Prajna will teach .b more broadly as well as co-teach a course on social ethics and a course on the history of non-violent movements. But this is only the beginning! Over the next two years, CSW and Karuna will work together to create more classes in peace and equity studies, a local to global service program, and life skills trainings such as mediation, non-violent communication, and compassion training.

If things develop as we hope, the Karuna School/CSW partnership will evolve to include global service trips to India and South Africa, courses in Mindful Parenting, faculty trainings, and the development of a certificate granted to students who choose to fulfill a more rigorous Karuna School course requirement. So, students passionate about peace and equity studies, social emotional learning and service work could graduate with both a CSW degree and a certificate from the Karuna School!

We were always very clear that an idea like a high school for peace could never die. We knew that the Karuna School would live on like a seed in each of us and blossom in myriad ways that we could never have imagined. But when we let go of the idea of building a five-year high school from the ground up, we never imagined that the Karuna School would have a new life as part of an already existing independent school, nor one as compatible as CSW. As Prajna said in the press release that was just issued by CSW, “The Karuna School Board of Directors and I could not be more excited about this partnership. CSW is the perfect school to embrace our inner and outer peace curriculum. It already has a standing commitment to helping its students develop their emotional intelligence, their leadership skills, and their vision of what an equitable world could and should look like. We feel we can seamlessly share our curricular resources with an already outstanding school.”

Our vision of young people educated by the Karuna School leaving for college as self-aware, confident, and compassionate individuals, ready to share their gifts with the world, is to be realized! We thank you again for all of your love and support. We are certain that your faith in the vision of an education that is devoted to both the mind and the heart has helped open this new door.

We hope you will enjoy our newly updated website,
With love and gratitude,

Prajna and Ted Hallstrom

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

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

Letters From Well Wishers

I am writing to let you know that I am thinking of you and holding you in prayers. It is very sad to hear about Kuruna School, but I don’t want to feel sad because I am sure your effort will never go waste. The seeds of Karuna you have sown to people’s hearts will flower when condition is right and ready to blossom. I just wanted to let you know that your enthusiasm and effort you invested to build a high school for peace has been inspiration to me. I and the staff of Jhamtse Gatsal Children Community here in India will do our best to nurture the seeds of Kuruna you have placed in our hearts through your love, compassionate support and care for this community.

You are in our prayers and thoughts.

With much love,


This weekend I carved out a couple hours to catch up on a backlog of household chores and made my way thru a pile of mail. In there was your letter announcing the closing of the Karuna School. My heart dropped. Partly because I can imagine how upsetting this must have been to you and Ted and all those involved over the past years, and partly for the students who will miss out on such an extraordinary vision.

— H.M.

So sorry to hear the news and also trusting that it’s right the way it is.
…Maybe the soil isn’t quite fertile at this point or maybe some other more important things and projects will grow out of the energy that was built up for Karuna.

Thank you again for inviting us to be a part of the beautiful vision, and our apologies for not showing up in time to help make this happen. We are about to leave for India and then Australia – our winter migration pattern. We keep you both in our hearts and look forward to seeing you again down the road.

With love and blessings from Miten and I,


The following words are from Jnaneshwar’s commentary on the Bhagavad Gita (1290 AD):

“Perform all your actions with an attentive mind, O Arjuna, steadfast in yoga and renouncing attachment to the fruit of action. Do not rejoice unduly if by good fortune you successfully accomplish something. And if for any reason you are prevented from completing an action, you should not be disappointed. If it meets with success, well and good. If it cannot be completed, even so regard it as good. Such even-mindedness in action whether right or wrong is the state of yoga, which is highly esteemed by the best of people.”

— R.A.

I just read the email… My heart is also broken. Although I was never actively involved my heart was cheering often from the sidelines. Though this dream didn’t manifest as you envisioned, as you rightly say, the seeds and energy do not die. Karma ensures that. And the seeds will ripen in the future in other ways, yet unknown. I hope you are both well. I imagine there has been a great deal of soul-searching in order to come to this difficult decision. Love and Light!

— W.C.

I can only imagine how difficult it was to decide to lay the Karuna School to rest! What a fabulous concept it was (one that I mentioned in a talk at Skidmore last week, eliciting much admiration). Let’s hope that here, as elsewhere, rebirth is a fact, albeit in perhaps unrecognizable form!

— T.C.

It is very sad news indeed! It is always a true heartbreaker when a wonderful idea that fills a huge need tiptoes right up to the edge of possibility. I hope that all your work and commitment have lit some sparks that will catch fire in the coming days and years. In fact, it seems clear that they will. I send you all a heart full of love and admiration for all that you have dreamed and have done. I know that some day we will all look back and locate this work on The Karuna School as the real beginning of a movement.

— B.B.

Wow. I’m heartbroken.

I’ve been putting off responding to your email all week, because I don’t know how to put it into words. I’m so sad for you guys, and Adrienne, and the rest of the team, who have all put so, so, so, so much love and effort and hard work into this project. And I’m so sad I’m not going to be able to see and learn from it. And I’m so sad that it’s not going to exist (right now, in this form!) in the world, since (as you so aptly described in the closing of your newsletter) there are a lot of people who could be so, so well served by a community of this sort.

But you’re right, that it doesn’t end here!!! The ripples of what you’ve started (and continued, drawing on ripples before you) will keep coming to fruition in unexpected ways all throughout forever. In all the stages of your process, you’ve been inspiring all kinds of people. Who knows what rays of peace have already been blooming and flourishing in various corners of the world, spurred by your movement. I definitely saw a lot of those interactions happen when I was so lucky to get to accompany you guys at the peace conference! And, personally speaking, I’ve been so inspired and touched and energized and re-energized by your vision, and the faith and dedication with which you’ve pursued it.

And, from a totally self-relevant side, I feel so, so, so, so indescribably lucky to have been able to be included in this process, and witness and work with and learn from you guys. Thank you so much for all you’ve shared with me throughout this journey. I feel absolutely so humbled and fortunate and deeply grateful. If there’s anything generous or inspiring about me, it’s only a reflection of the generosity and inspiration you and everyone have radiated onto and imbued into me.

I know I for one will do my best to live up to and carry on this work. :)

Thanks again for everything.
I love you a lot,


Sandy Wood
Vassar College student on a service learning semester in Chile

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


—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.

The Karuna School Welcomes Founding Head of School,

Adrienne I. Miller

Dear Friends of Karuna,

We are thrilled to announce that, after much anticipation, Adrienne I. Miller has begun her tenure as the Founding Head of the Karuna School! Before you read her introductory letter, we would like to tell you a little bit about Adrienne and about the process that brought her to us.

As you may know, we searched in earnest for the right person to fulfill the exacting role Founding Head of School for over two years. As part of the search process each member of the Karuna School Board of Directors drafted a description of the ideal Head of School. Some of the qualities we all agreed were essential in the Head of the Karuna School were the following: the ability to convey to young people a deep respect and caring within the context of high expectations and a strong structure, the ability to articulate a set of moral values on behalf of the school community that characterize the culture of the school while conscientiously seeking to embody those values, and the ability to approach young people as whole human beings faced with the same issues of moral agency and meaning as adults.

In the spring of 2010 mutual friends told us about an extraordinary young woman who had been a faculty member at the Groton School for the past six years teaching history, sponsoring the Hindu/Buddhist sangha, and directing Groton’s global education initiative. They encouraged us to meet this friend, Adrienne Miller, simply to share mutual interests. The first time that Ted and I sat down with Adrienne around our kitchen table, we were all electrified by the points of connection between us and our conversation went on for several hours. We immediately felt, “This is the person we have been waiting for!” None of us could hide our enthusiasm about the possibility of our working together to create a new kind of school whose pillars would be mindfulness, sustainability, and compassion.

Over that summer Adrienne took some Groton students to East Africa for a service learning experience. We anxiously awaited her return, hoping that we could soon introduce her to our Board. Last fall we embarked on a series of interviews and meetings with Adrienne. As part of the process, Ted and I sat in on one of Adrienne’s classes at Groton, a sacred text course with 9th graders. It brought us to tears to watch Adrienne skillfully and lovingly inspire her students to probe the depths of the Bhagavad Gita and its timeless lessons. In November at our Board meeting, a member of our Board expressed a sentiment shared by all, “Remember the writing exercise we did last winter? Adrienne fulfills all our expectations and more!” By December we had completed the process and made an official offer to Adrienne to become our Founding Head of School.

So, we are proud to introduce you to Adrienne I. Miller and hope that you will have a chance to meet her in person very soon. We are now confident that, with your support, the Karuna School will open its doors in September, 2013!

Love and blessings,
Prajna and Ted

Peace Summit:

Notes on the Newark Peace Education Summit, May 2011

We have written about how the seeds of the Karuna School were sown at the conference, Peacemaking: The Power of Non-Violence, that took place 1997 in San Francisco with His Holiness the Dalai Lama presiding. It was being in the company of the powerful group of presenters and participants at that conference that inspired my husband, Ted, and myself to ask, “How can we do better by our kids at the high school level? How can we help kids believe that they can make a difference and give them the tools to do so?” A year later the horror of the Columbine massacre galvanized us to create a school that addressed kids emotional and spiritual needs as well as their intellectual needs. Fifteen years later in May, 2011, with the Karuna School initiative in its fourth year and with our new Head of School, Adrienne Miller, on board, we attended the second conference with His Holiness, the Newark Peace Education Summit.

The Newark Peace Summit was similar in many ways. The plenary panels went from the first panel on personal peace to a panel on peace in the family, to one on peace in schools, one on peace in the community, and finally to a panel on global peace. Yet for me there were two huge differences between the conference in 1997 and this year’s conference. First, this conference was held in the heart of inner city Newark and well over half of the attendees were people of color. The panelists were dynamic, inspired leaders of the Newark community as well as visionaries of various national initiatives, also mostly people of color. There was a palpable sense of the dedicated, on-the-ground work of both panelists and participants as they grapple with the complexities and challenges of our society. I felt so much hope witnessing the commitment and determination of all the people at the conference.

Secondly, we could all see that in providing a truly evolutionary education grounded in mindfulness, self-awareness and compassion we are riding a huge wave that is already in motion. As Dr. Pedro Noguera, a professor of education from NYU, put it elegantly in his address, “Our main job is to help our students become more human.” It is clear that many educators are coming to the same conclusion: teenagers are hungry for a sense of purpose, for the tools that will help them deeply know themselves as they answer the call for peace and social justice. High school can no longer be simply a means to the end of getting into college. Instead, it must be a sincere effort to help young global citizens to develop their unique gifts so that they can go on to fulfill their life’s purpose.

In our next newsletter we will share reflections on the Peace Conference by members of the Karuna School community who attended with us. Stay tuned.

In peace,

Prajna and Ted

The Vision of The Karuna School, A High School for Peace

Since 2007, we have been gathering momentum to build an innovative high school that addresses the current issues of our times and enhances the traditional learning experience by awakening the heart as well as educating the mind. In sustaining this balance, we will challenge our students personally as well as academically, providing a five-year emotional and peace-building curriculum in addition to our other course offerings.

The Karuna School will be an independent day school in the western suburbs committed to exploring the potential for peace in ourselves and in the world. By offering opportunities such as global travel, service learning, and environmental sustainability studies we will encourage students to realize their strengths, their authentic selves, as well as the ability to create change.

It is our vision that by cultivating the seeds of wisdom and compassion in our students, they will lead loving, thoughtful lives and be a dynamic presence for peace in the world.

The Case for The Karuna School: A High School for Peace

Prajna and Ted Hallstrom

Why do we need another independent high school in the Boston area when parents and students have a plethora of excellent schools, both public and private, to choose from?

We live in challenging times. As a society, we face complex challenges: global warming, a global economic system that is near collapse, civil wars, threats of terrorism, and persistent poverty and lack of educational opportunities. How can we best educate the leaders of tomorrow? How can we teach students to turn challenge into opportunity?

We at The Karuna School: A High School for Peace are committed to creating an educational experience that will meet the challenges of the future, not one that is in lockstep with the past. We believe we are witnessing the end of an old paradigm. The cult of individualism and consumerism that has lead to many forms of domination over human beings and the natural world seems to be in its death throes. Although the “developing” world has joined us in consuming without a thought to the future resulting in devastating changes to the world’s environment and economy, there is a global awakening to the critical need for economic justice and ecological literacy. At the same time, as our interdependence is becoming more and more obvious, people around the globe are calling for a return to the universal human values of compassion, generosity, and forgiveness, leaving behind the culture of competition, greed, and retribution.

The failure of the American educational system to respond to the challenges of an increasingly interconnected yet alienating world has been dramatically driven home in the recently released documentary, “Race to Nowhere.” This powerful movie documents the lives of teenagers around the country for whom high school has become “simply a college application” in a culture obsessed with competition and the pressure to perform. It features the heartbreaking stories of young people who have become disengaged, who suffer from stress-related illnesses, depression and burnout, and who often arrive at college without the problem solving skills and independent, critical thinking faculties necessary for success in college or in life. It points to the growing number of American students who have lost confidence in an education that seems to be irrelevant. We leave the movie asking, “Can’t we do better by our children?”

We believe the leaders of the future need to be resilient, creative thinkers who know how to tackle the problems of our world collaboratively, informed by a deep understanding of our interdependence and its corollary, compassion. They will have a highly developed “prospective mind,” a mind that is not fixed on the status quo, but is comfortable with constant change and able to anticipate a variety of futures. They will seek to join with others to create unique solutions to the ever-changing challenges of the 21st century. These new leaders will promote “power with” instead of “power over,” co-creating communities of compassion and change that will replace the existing enclaves of extreme individualism. They will model personal and community sustainability, the antidote to rampant consumerism and its accompanying isolation. Through their collaborative leadership, as Paul Hawken says, we will move “from a world created by privilege to a world created by community.”

What kind of high school can prepare these new leaders? The Karuna School: A High School for Peace will offer a cutting-edge five-year course of study that combines training in self-awareness, communication and leadership, creative problem solving, conflict resolution, and systems thinking into a dynamic, interdisciplinary college preparatory curriculum. Karuna is a Sanskrit word for compassion, a quality to be cultivated in our school community through education of both the mind and the heart. We believe that by grounding ourselves in the wisdom of our interconnectedness, we can develop a compassion that will transform first ourselves and then the world around us. The Karuna School will offer an evolutionary, transformational education that will reflect the growing need for engaged, creative thinkers grounded in a deep respect for the Web of Life. The Karuna School will be committed to education that is relevant, innovative and reflective. Our curriculum will be based in real life experience and informed by an in-depth emotional curriculum that includes the practice of mindfulness. We believe that this kind of education will offer a real alternative to students seeking both to know themselves and to make a difference in the world.

Karuna School students will be part of a learning community that includes teachers and parents, all of whom are committed to a process of self-discovery and growth that encourages them to ask big questions: Why am I here? What is my purpose in life? How can we co-create solutions to the world’s problems? Karuna School teachers will value learning over teaching, inviting students to join them in a place of unknowing, collaborating in the adventure of working together to solve complex problems. As a result, Karuna School students will have an investment in supporting what they have helped to create. As students realize that their teachers are more interested in their capacities than their deficiencies, they will feel empowered to take their seat in the community of learners.

What will be the elements of a Karuna School education?

The Karuna School will be committed to An Expanded Notion of Time. Our current, over-busy life style has all of us, from six year-olds booked with activities every day after school to high school students getting five hours sleep each night because of unrealistic work loads, experiencing disabling stress. Instead of spending four years in high school thinking almost exclusively about getting into college and then taking a gap year to experience “real life”, our students will incorporate expeditionary learning, apprenticeships and service work into a five-year program. For the first three years of their Karuna School education, students will be primarily on campus participating in our interdisciplinary curriculum while studying global cultures, enriched by frequent expeditions to study the ecology and history of the New England area as well as local service projects. In the fourth year at Karuna, students will begin to focus on the history, culture and language of their host country and then travel there for the spring term. The fifth year at Karuna will be a year of integration, finishing course work and applying to college. This sequence will enable students to enjoy and learn from a high school experience that is not “just a college application,” but rather an end in itself. On a daily basis, the schedule will include time for contemplation and reflection in addition to times of activity. In all of our actions, we will be guided by the principles of mindfulness. Thus, the common thread of our time together will be the search for deep connection—to self, to the school community, to the natural world, and to our global community.

The Karuna School curriculum will set as its goal the acquisition of many skill sets and many different kinds of literacy. Global Literacy will be acquired through the study of the cultures and religions of the world as it is reflected in history, the arts, social studies, anthropology, and psychology. There will be no one culture or religion privileged, but as part of our commitment to educate citizens of the world, we will learn about each culture and religion and approach them with respect. Students will learn that the Western academic model is not the only model of learning and knowledge. They will study other “ways of knowing,” including the ways of knowing in indigenous cultures. Students will study at least a second language, particularly the language of the host culture of their Global Service Travel Year (students’ fourth year at Karuna). During the fall semester of their Global Service Travel Year, students will participate in service internships, language classes to prepare to communicate in their service learning country, and a seminar on global service learning that includes ways of knowing, global and cultural literacy, and study of the history and culture of the host country. During the spring semester of the Global Service Travel Year, students will travel as a cohort with Karuna School faculty to the selected country for three months of service learning, returning in May for a month of integration.

The Karuna School will also value Emotional Literacy. We will be a learning community devoted to respecting each individual, to encouraging each student to develop their gifts and honor their inner wisdom. In a school of 150 students, each student will feel seen, heard and known. Our self-discovery curriculum, Passages, will be taught in small, ongoing groups that will provide a safe container within which students can express their hopes and fears, their joys as well as their vulnerabilities. Unlike students in most high schools, our students will navigate their quest for identity without feeling that they have to posture themselves or mask the fullness of who they really are. We believe that if we can give our students opportunities to be their authentic selves, to explore the meaning of their life while receiving the support of their peers and caring adults, they will have a firm foundation for a life of happiness and fulfillment. Empowered, confident students are active, involved learners. Our students’ ability to be comfortable in their own skins, to articulate their feelings and needs, will put them in a strong place to make the most of their dynamic high school experience.

Thirdly, the Karuna School will insure that each student increases their Ecological Literacy, a literacy that requires a fundamental understanding of our interdependence. It involves understanding the systems of the natural world, the relationships and interactions between the living and non-living environments, and the ability to deal creatively with problems that involve scientific evidence, uncertainty, and economic, aesthetic, and ethical considerations. Students will approach environmental and sustainability issues from many perspectives—scientific, relational, and intrapersonal.

As a community, we will speak about our interdependence in multiple ways—for example, from the perspective of Ubuntu, the South African word for interdependence meaning “I am because you are,” from the perspective of living systems theory and of deep ecology, and from the perspective of interdependent arising that is at the heart of the Buddhist tradition. In all subject areas, teachers and students will ask, “How can I live in a more sustainable way and how can we create a more sustainable world?”

Last but not least, the Karuna School will be committed to the Equity and Diversity Literacy of each of its community members. Everyone in the community, from the Board down to the students will participate in ongoing trainings on privilege and equity, working through conditioned responses to “difference,” specifically in relation to race, class, gender, and sexual orientation, committing ourselves to deconstructing privilege and striving for equity. As part of our commitment to equity and safety, each community member will practice non-violent communication and learn mediation skills for conflict resolution. We will study the lives of the great champions of equity, the environmental activists, and peacemakers of the world and aspire to live by their example.

In closing, we believe that the Karuna School will provide a combination of engaging academics, training in emotional, ecological, and diversity literacy, and local-to-global service work that will be unlike anything offered in other New England schools or even other schools across the country. We will operate as a global village with the ethics of compassion and respect as a standard for all that we do, including the natural world in both its animate and inanimate forms as part of our circle of caring and concern. Students of diverse backgrounds, encouraged to discover and develop their unique gifts as well as their calling to serve, will thrive and grow in an understanding of themselves and of the world. Graduates of the Karuna School will be recognized by their confidence, their ability to think independently and creatively, and by their commitment to collaborative work that will truly make a difference. We believe that the Karuna School will become an inspiring model of evolutionary education that can be replicated around the world.

The Karuna School at the October 2009 Bioneers by the Bay Conference

Kristin Wellan

From October 23-25, the streets of downtown New Bedford, MA, pulsed with an energy of excitement, knowledge, and action. People gathered at movie theaters playing mind-enriching documentaries on world and environmental issues, shopped at farmers markets selling fresh local produce, and attended workshops on composting toilets, eating raw macrobiotic diets, and making vermiculture (worm) composting bins. Artists performed, calling out to people to wake up to the need for action in a world where humans are walking too heavily on the planet that gives them life. Alixa and Naima of Climbing poeTree spoke poetry that made the soul both fall silent into contemplation and also rise up with a deep desire to create change.

Leaders on the cutting edge of the environmental awareness movement gave sobering and inspiring lectures. These lecturers included: Will Allen, Paul Hawken, Winona LaDuke, Khepe-ra Maat-Het-Heru, Nipun Mehta, Juan Pacheco, Dr. Vandana Shiva, Woody Tasch, and many others. All of their lectures can be downloaded for a minimal fee off of the Bioneers by the Bay website.

A wonderful member of our community donated to The Karuna School an exhibitor table as well as passes to all the lectures and events at the conference. We had the opportunity to speak with numbers of people who believed in our mission and who were working on their own projects and organizations that are complimentary to ours. It was an energizing experience taking up the streets of New Bedford with farmers markets, green street vendors, and large tents filled with tables of exhibitors all trying to make the world a better place one idea at a time. What a strong presence we all made in the streets of this city! Those of us who attended with The Karuna School all came home ready to continue our work towards our school’s opening day with even more enthusiasm and sense of purpose.

Ventolin And Xerostomia