Today is summer solstice, International Day of Possibility (www.dayofpossibility.com) and having treked across Bangkok this morning to attend an Iyengar yoga class I'm feeling very reflective. Beware long post coming up!
Wendie brought me a birthday gift when she came to Thailand last week.
Actually she brought me two - one was from my sister and it was a Superhero (http://www.superherodesigns.com/) necklace by the wonderful Andrea. I chose it myself and chose for myself "Joy" which is exactly what I'm filled with these days as I emerge fully from the challenges of my winter and into the light of summer. The necklace is a colourful and joyful as you would expect and it looks deliciously summery against my Thailand tan!
The second gift was from Wendie herself and was a book of the sayings and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi on "Peace". I used to have a teeny book of Gandhai's teachings by my desk at work everyday when I was working at the Human Rights Commission. On days when I felt myself beginning to tense up or boil over with frustration I would let it fall open and take a little of Gandhi's medicine.
This book has a beautiful introduction by the Bishop Desmond Tutu in which he talks about "ubuntu" which is a characteristic of goodness, the essence of what it is to be human. In his culture, he says, the highest compliment you can be paid is to have someon say "Yu, u nobuntu", you have ubuntu. I love this concept, which has two parts. The first part is about beihng friendly, hospitable, generous, gentle, caring and compassionate. It is about being someon who will use their strengths on behalf of others - the weak and the poor and the ill - and not take advantage of anyone. The second part is about being large-hearted and open, about sharing your worth in every sense.
People with ubuntu understand that if I diminsh you, I diminish myself.
Amongst the many thought-provoking teachings of Gandhi (did you ever notice how staunchly feminist some of his teaching are?) I came across an old favorite and it stopped me in my tracks.
"You must be the change you want to see in the world"
Simple as that, I'd read it a hundred times before, I'd even quoted it to others, believing it and valueing it's wisdom. But this week I found myself coming back to the question that sits behind this teaching: what is the change I want to see in the world?
When I was younger I might simply have responded that I wanted the world to be more just. But I've grown to understand that justice without compassion can be harsh, and that justice done by the book, without intention, can be fruitless and unsustainable. So what really is the change that I want to see in the world?
There are so many answers to that question and I think I will keep exploring them in weeks to come, but some things are clear.
I want the world to be a place where those who are stong and powerful use that strength and power on behalf of others, especially of the weak, the ill and the poor. But more than that I want the world to be a place where little by little the powerful can let go, the strong can let go, where gentleness and compassion are the leading forces rather then control and dominance.
I want this world to be a place where those who need a little help can get it, where those who have a little more can share it. Where the accumulation of massive wealth doesn't make any sense so people stop bothering to do it.
I want the world to move at a pace which keeps in harmony with the rythyms of the planet, where we all remember the feel of being in tune with the moon's cycles and the taste of eating the fresh produce that grows in this season. I want the world to need less things. I want the oceans and rivers to be clean and full of life, I want the sky to be clear and the air clean.
I want the world to be filled with ubuntu, with an understanding that we are all connected to each other and therefore when I harm you I am harming myself. I want the world to be free from violence, I want us to all find non-violent ways to confront and resolve our differences.
I want the world to change, and I'm happy to be reminded by Gandhi that the best and only way to be sure to be doing my part it that is to keep "being the change".
About 12 years ago I arrived back in New Zealand after a ten month journey around Africa, the Middle East, Turkey and Eastern Europe. What I had seen in the Occupied Palestinian Territories was about to change the direction of my career and my whole life. I travelled with the grandfather of a Palestinian friend of mine from Jerusalem, via the West Bank up to Tiberias. We had crossed several check points of the Israeli army. I witnessed violence that was routinised: humiliating and degrading violence against women, children and the elderly. I saw that this violence was being perpetrated by young people from a land of hope and promise, young men and women who were no more "bad" than you or I, but who were caught up in a military culture of fear, violence and oppression.
I decided that the world needed to change, I decided that my first step would be to make my own commitment to non-violence and I had the sanskrit "Ahimsa" tatooed onto my lower back. In the years that followed, when I myself was living in the Gaza Strip witnessing violent conflict everyday and being myself subjected to humiliation by the Israeli army for my sin of living and working in the Palestinian territories, I had to recall this commitment many times. It was a commitment not only to avoid physical violence, but also to avoid mental violence. I had commited to myself that hatred was not an option. I had commited myself to the path of trying to know and understand the person who hurts you and those you care for.
I kept my connections with family and friends in Israel, despite the incredible psychological, emotional and social struggle this often involved. I chose not to slip into simple impressions of "good" and "bad" and I tried always to see the soldiers as whole, precious people - despite the terrible things I sometimes saw them doing.
This was hard work for me at the time, I often felt fragmented, I sometimes longed to put my feet both down on one or other side of that divide between Israel and Palestine and stay there. Almost everyone around me had chosen their side and stayed there, protected by the company of others. I was always moving across those lines, both literally and figuratively. To get from my apartment in Gaza to my friend's apartment in West Jerusalem I crossed Erez checkpoint and took a Palestinian share taxi to Ramallah, then I took another taxi to East Jerusalem, stopping at the checkpoint to change into a car with Israeli plates. This taxi would take me to East Jerusalem from where I would usually have to walk a little bit to the area from which Jewish Israeli cabs were available and willing to take me to Oded's neighbourhood.
I crossed back and forth, trying to keep my mind and heart open, often feeling like a traitor, often feeling like an imposter. I answered the same impossible questions over and over again at both ends of this journey as I acted like a strange kind of ambassador "from the other side". With Palestinians I was always challenging stereotypes about Israeli, with Israeli's the reverse. I never got to be "on the right side" of the discussion.
But I tried, I tried to live with 'ahimsa' in that violent, conflicted place. I failed on many occassions, but I learned that wherever I go and whatever I do with my life the most important choice I will make everyday will be the choice to live well, to live with gentleness, with generosity, with open-heartedness and and open mind. In the Gaza Strip I learned that the only guaranteed shot I had at changing the world was to change myself.