I had moved from Brazil to Australia and I was feeling quite lost when I sat in front of my computer with the intention to find something that could help me to soften the void I was feeling inside me. I didn’t have much clarity of what I was looking for, so randomly I surfed on the internet and a website of a Tibetan Buddhism nunnery caught my attention. This nunnery was founded by the admirable Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo but at that moment I had no clue who she was. Nevertheless, I kept scrutinizing her website and at some point I spotted the name of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists organization. These 2 words, “engaged” and “Buddhists” together hooked me immediately. From here it was easy to find the Awakening Leadership Training website. While reading the content of the course a wave of excitement arose in me, however it didn’t last long as I soon discovered that the 2017 program was almost finishing.
Without being put down by the initial frustration of having missed almost the entire course, in January 2018 I arrived in Thailand to attend the last module of the program. The course setting was well beyond my expectations. When I saw myself surrounded by coconut trees, in the middle of a peaceful (tourist free!) beach, listening the whisper of the wind and enchanted by the infinity of the sea, I thought: Wooww!! Despite my wonder about the location, I was about to perceive another ambience, an intriguing one. As I gradually got to know the participants of the course, I notice that the long term students had a different “vibe”. I couldn’t really grasp what was going on but they seemed to be radiant, strong, and I felt a very consistent bond between them, a sense of complicity. With curiosity and a bit of jealousy I kept observing them for a while. But before I knew it my attention was completely immersed in my own journey.
During the 2 weeks of the TOT (Training of Trainers) program I experienced training as I never had before. Immersed in nature and in a such multicultural group, everything was an inspiration for learning. The days began with a body practice like QI Gon followed by a delicious breakfast at the beach, then all the participants meditated together in a big circle. This alone was enough to offer a big shift in our cognitive process as all our senses were being invigorated and not just our rational mind. This condition played a vital role in supporting us throughout the richness and intensity of the program. The classes were very stimulating, the topics were always about something meaningful to us. Everything was co-created, it validated our collective intelligence. Our classroom had no walls and the presence of the wind, the sea and the occasional pets was constantly reminding us that we are one with nature. There were no power-point presentations, only us creative beings exploring our abilities for playing, drawing, writing, improvising and summarizing. The course was entirely participatory and during this time I was challenged and invited to step out from my comfort zone to facilitate group processes. I gained strength being vulnerable learning how to deal with conflicts with an open heart instead of the old reactive way. It was inspiring witnessing my colleagues blooming, all in a very safe and supportive environment. When the course finished I had only one thing in mind, to come back for an extended period of time at the end of the year.
Back in Australia, I felt very sad thinking about our predominant education system that focuses almost exclusively on our rational mind, teaching us a piecemeal way of thinking based on distinction, separation, competition and individualism. An education system that devalues what makes us human: our creativity, intuition, spontaneity and ability to love and empathize. As consequence, we are now literally facing the collapse of our civilization and we can see how unresponsive we are against this scenario, a clear sign of a deep rupture inside us.
The months passed, I was finally back in Thailand, thirsty for meaningful experiences. This time the location was different, an ashram situated only two hours from Bangkok surrounded by lush greenery and eco-buildings. There we spent almost a month and during this time we embarked on a profound healing journey. Together we dived inside us to face what we normally hide: our sadness, pain, our sense of incompleteness… I was so glad the course opened space for that, after all, if we don’t acknowledge our shadows how can we shine our light? If we don’t heal our inner wounds, how can we fix the mess around us? The tools for our inner healing? Nature, mindfulness, arts, love and care. Now I could understand the strength and the connection I sensed among the old students when I arrived to attend the TOT nearly 9 months before.
The content of the course continued surprising me. I was delighted to learn about the slow economy, practice Ikebana, Tea Ceremonies and learn Haiku in the same module. Like this we understood empirically how consumerism is tightly related to a sense of self dissatisfaction. What a wonderful way to understand how our mindset of “fast and big” is related to the pace of our economy system which is destroying us and our world. How effective it was to cultivate inner peace and contentment by practicing Zen arts.
The list of incredible experiences is too long to describe here. Travelling around the most beautiful places in the North, Central and South of Thailand we learnt, shared and co-created unforgettable experiences with indigenous people, local communities and skilled facilitators. During this time so much personal and collective growth happened, I felt my heart opening tremendously. The more contact I had with nature, the more self-aware I became. The more I knew myself, the more I could understand the other. The more I could understand the other, the more integrated I felt.
I believe that holistic education alone has the power to help us to reconnect with ourselves, with each other and with nature, unleashing the creativity and healing energy we so badly need to overcome the challenge we have in front of us.