Below is an overview of the second half of my stay in Asia, from January through April, in India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, and Japan.
I spent most of January through March in southern India engaged in a lively mix of teaching, traveling, and introspection, teaming up with Clayton Barker, a good friend whom I met in Auroville and who has a passion for teaching about peace and sustainability. Highlights of those months included: savoring sweet stillness during a week-long silent meditation retreat at a Buddhist zendo high in the cool, banana-tree covered mountains of Kodaikanal in south-central India; practicing daily morning-to-night yoga, chanting, and meditation for two weeks at a yoga ashram in Kerela (as well as the illicit fun of sneaking out of the ashram with friends to go swimming in a local lake); offering the Awakening the Dreamer Symposium and the first Symposium Facilitator Training in India, to audiences with people from Brazil, South Africa, Australia, Switzerland, the US, and India; and becoming friends with Naveen and Manasi, two young and passionate nonviolent activists, and having wonderfully alive conversations with them about consciousness, community building, and social change.
In the midst of my time in India, I also made a two-week visit to the neighboring island nation of Sri Lanka, which has suffered from 25 years of deadly civil war, to offer nonviolence trainings and support to students and organizations there. My brief visit stirred a deeper longing in me to find more substantial ways to support healing in Sri Lanka and other regions of the world where people are experiencing war and ongoing physical violence. I was saddened by the huge loss of human life I heard about, and at the same time, I was deeply inspired by the courage and dedication of women and men I met who are working day after day to bring peace and universal human rights to the country. In the future I intend to write about various ways in which we in more prosperous and peaceful (in some ways) parts of the world might contribute to well-being in these other regions.
I had initially dreamed of leaving Asia by a form of transportation other than an airplane, both for the adventure of a sea or over-land return to the West, and to take a more ambitious step toward personal sustainability and low-impact living. What more, my fellow traveler Clayton had a lifelong dream to travel the world by sailboat. However, after a month of extensive research (mainly done by Clayton) and searches which took us as far as staying on a friend’s boat in the harbor in Singapore, in the end it turned out that the main sailing season was still a long way off and land routes to the west were pretty problematic with the war in Afghanistan. I made uneasy peace with my ecological footprint and decided to buy airplane tickets to make a final stop in Asia and then fly to Europe.
I have dreamed of visiting Japan ever since I was about 14 years old and my father showed me Akira Kurasawa’s film, Seven Samurai. Drawn by the transcendent calm of Zen Buddhism and the elegant simplicity of Japanese design, I began studying Japanese martial arts in my teens, beginning with Karate and Judo, and then years of practice of Aikido and Zen meditation in my late 20’s and now 30’s. So, I was excited to complete my eight months in Asia with a three-week pilgrimage to Japan in April. Staying with friends in Tokyo and the ancient capital of Kyoto, I enjoyed so many wonders of Japan: delighting in every meal, from salmon sushi to soba noodles with fried tofu; picnicking under explosions of delicate pink flowering trees during the height of cherry blossom season; training in aikido at the world headquarters dojo in Tokyo, on a mat packed with martial artists from around the world; climbing mountains of trails and steps to visit dozens of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines with my friends Thor and Toshi; and enjoying the simple yet amazing pleasure of soaking in onsen (natural hot springs). I also had a chance to reflect a lot on both the benefits and challenges of a culture based, at least historically, so strongly on tradition and collective values rather than Western individualism, but I will leave that discussion for another time.
One of my next posts will tell about May-July 2009, including a Buddhist meditation retreat at Thich Nhat Hanh's Plum Village community in France, visits to two ecovillages in Germany, and my return to the Findhorn Community in Scotland for the Fall semester to co-lead the Living Routes program there.
Many thanks to you, friends and family, who despite many miles and sometimes years of separation, continue to send love and support, in many ways. You are with me wherever I travel, and I am deeply grateful.