“So, how are you finding your time at Asia Plateau?”, came the question from across the breakfast table. Though the question came from a dear friend of mine, I couldn’t help but be slightly annoyed. I smiled at him over my toast and jam, letting the question wash over me as I took in the clamor of the dining hall. I had arrived in Panchgani only three days prior and was struggling to balance the jet-lag, work deadlines at home, and the work related to the program, Lead for Change, of which I had made the trip to India for.
When I looked into his cheerful, yet patient, face I quickly forgot my annoyance at being asked this question for the tenth time in three days. “Honestly,” I said, washing my breakfast down with some sweet coffee, “I’m already wondering how I take Asia Plateau home with me when I leave.” He looked at me, eyes twinkling, aware that this was my second visit to the Initiatives of Change/MRA (IofC) Center in India. He knew that it was love at first sight when I first arrived in India, in January of this year, for another program hosted by the Center. “I love this place,” I said to him “and I love being here – I recognize that it’s special in its own way. Yet, I know from experience that part of the good energy here is from the people, it’s from the learning and sharing that happens here, and I wonder how many participants will associate the “special” with the physical place, and nothing more.”
“Well, that’s an interesting thought. What will you take back?” he mused, smiling, knowing that breakfast was certainly not enough time for us to dive into a discussion on this topic. Our conversation took a different turn and it wasn’t long before I was scrambling to clean up my breakfast dishes, while making promises to continue the conversation later, before running off to the next session. That brief exchange stuck with me for most of the day though; I knew the words had come out of my mouth for a reason. I spoke a truth that opened a door to a whole room full of thoughts. Moments like this are, in my opinion, when the Divine speaks through us, and its purpose is usually to get a point across.
When I was leaving India in January I felt as though I was walking from the sunshine into the rain; the cold rain of a very different environment back in the US. So when asked if I would return, I knew when I opened my mouth to say I would be back, I was speaking with a voice that was not my own. “Well, where God guides, God provides,” was the reply I got from an elder member, with a smile. And though I was, and still am, skeptical of that sentiment, I ended up back at Asia Plateau four months to the day after that conversation. I was certainly charmed by the peaceful ‘bubble’ that seems to encompass Asia Plateau as a place; that was the feeling that I carried back with me. Asia Plateau was responsible for magical things.
Now, in my time with IofC I’ve learned, or at least re-affirmed my belief, that there is a still, small voice inside us all who guides. IofC encourages program participants and members to pause in silence and listen to that inner voice. It is a key part of how people are transformed into advocates and changemakers. When I was at Asia Plateau in January, running here and there as a member of the International Communications team, I barely had time to pause and reflect. I was an active observer – not really a participant. I listened to stories from IofC members who came from all across the globe and who all shared such deep and transformative moments that took place for them at the Center. When I left after that week I felt that the campus was an Indian Disneyland.
This time was different, though. These participants were all Indian and were all new to the IofC movement, as it’s often called, and so they did not carry with them the stories of “turning points” or of “change in action” like participants of the last program I attended. Also, they did not carry with them the organizational baggage I had experienced before, as the previous program was a hybrid program/strategic planning session. The Lead for Change group was diverse and fresh, but to my Western eyes and ears, very similar in terms of culture and concerns. They were all burning with a need to be more, to do more, and to bring their change into their lives.
I was pleased have the chance to immerse myself in this program and really “dig into” the concept of “being the change” and “start with myself“. After all, I was in this safe and buoyant place. I was free to think and feel without having to report to anyone. I was finally getting the chance to get to deeply reflect on where I am in my life. Yet, this little truth that had escaped my mouth continued to resurface again and again. “Shut up you, I’m trying to listen for my inner voice! Can’t you see that I’m BUSY?!” I would think to myself, mentally shooing aside the earlier conversation. My brain would wander off into this panic that I was going to “fail” at experiencing the “magic”. I was worried about not being present enough, not being able to fit in, and not being able to enjoy this place that was so magical to so many people that I had met through IofC. I was so bothered that I would not be able to really “experience” Asia Plateau that it took a guided mediation session for me to break free of my own expectations.
My chattering mind could barely focus on the facilitator who was guiding the session. I was resistant to this concept of being told what to do with my mind. Yet, I wanted to try and be open minded; literally and figuratively. We all laid out on the floor with a cushion to relax as the we were given gentle instruction to explore our feelings. After a period of time lying in the floor of the foyer, clutching a cushion to my chest, I heard a voice speak: “It’s the space, not the place.”
I was startled.
Now, fast forward to two hours later while I was staring out over the landscape of Asia Plateau. I was deep in thought and trying to process what I had experienced during this mediation session, when I heard the voice again: “It’s the space, not the place.”
“Look here, ‘inner voice’, what the hell are you trying to tell me? It’s the space? What space? I’M IN A FRIGGIN’ SPACE….oh, wait….” I thought for a minute. Suddenly, everything was very clear to me. We often time root our experiences, and our feelings, in a physical space. Think again of the Disneyland concept: Disneyland is “the happiest place on earth”. Disneyland is a place where “magic” happens, but that magic is a result of the intangible. Disneyland is a place of imagination, of stories, of serendipity and none of those things are objects you can hold. However, because these feelings/experiences do occur in a place that we can touch, feel, see…our limited human minds directly correlate the experiences with the places. Asia Plateau is special in that it is an environment in which open conversations happen, inspiration occurs, and people are allowed the freedom to embrace silence without the fear of admonishment.
The environment, the space, is something I can take with me. The space is totally dependent on me and how I “show up” in my life at home. Am I allowing the time to reflect and look within? Am I taking the lessons learned in Lead for Change and putting them into practice? Am I demonstrating how purity, honesty, unselfishness, and love are at the core of my actions? I am responsible for creating space, sacred space, in my life. I can’t keep thinking that it is the place that creates the transformation within. I need to stop relying on the external, stop placing the blame on the outside world, and be selfish in a different sense of the word.
THAT is how I can, and have, taken Asia Plateau back with me. Of course, it’s easier said than done – this walking the talk aspect of making a change. When I stopped to really listen (instead of argue) I was aware of what needed to happen and I was able to make a change. That was a powerful moment that allowed me to take action because I listened. It was curated and encouraged, it was allowed to grow and flourish inside me. I am so grateful to IofC and its members for creating and maintaining this incredible environment! Those whom I’ve met as a part of the program and as a part of IofC are the most integral part of creating space because they have walked this path before. They invite you to a place, and protect that environment, in order to allow you to discover that space within. Namaste, friends.
The lesson here? Think about how many of us hear and don’t listen. We whine about the most trivial barriers to our development – making a mountain out of a molehill that we can change. This is something that is hard for my generation, as I see it, to come to terms with. There is a huge distrust in the spiritual and the intangible; we’ve been placed in the confines of religion without an understanding of faith. We see and we hear what is done in the name of religion and we want no part of that. We’ve been trapped by believing only what we see, not knowing how to trust what we don’t, and the result has been a disconnect from within. This, I believe, is a root cause of a lot of what we see externally. So what have I taken from this experience? What can I share about what I’ve learned and what would I want to speak about going forward with IofC?
“It’s the space, not the place.”
Writer, Wannabe Artist, Overthinker, List-Maker, Photographer, Chronic Under-Salter