From The Foot Of Mt. Fuji!
Posted by Birju Pandya on Jun 1, 2013
Last year, ServiceSpace love warrior Yuka Saionji invited me to visit Japan and share in the spirit of peace through the Symphony of Peace Prayers (SOPP). I recently just returned after 10 days split between Tokyo and Fuji, an amazing experience of connection to heart family on the other side of earth! I was part of a ‘youth delegation’ (yay for still being called youth!) that included ServiceSpace volunteers/friends Leah, Barbara, and Anne-Marie. Additionally, we were joined by Fremma, who is a peace activist working in Congo and surrounding refugee camps (yes, that is as intense as it sounds); and by Kazu, who is a leader in the field of promoting nonviolence in the lineage of MLK jr. (Kingean Nonviolence).
In previous years, ServiceSpace was represented in the country by dear brothers Nipun and Madhu, and they created fertile ground for us! We spent the first several days at the Fuji Sanctuary, nestled in the beautiful Fuji wilderness, to prepare for and take part in the annual SOPP gathering, which routinely pulls ~10K visitors. Imagine a massive field where thousands of people brave whatever the weather of the day to pray for peace – not for themselves, but for others, mostly people they don’t know. Spoken in the language of each country that is prayed for. This goes on for many hours. Amazing (and was streamed online for the first time this year!)
Back in Tokyo, our group took part in several dialogues (with Japanese youth leaders in social innovation and religious leaders), and also took part in a day-long symposium to share our own experiences in the world of peace-building in our respective fields. This was called the GIFT symposium, and was also attended by hundreds of folks. It was stunning to see the pull that the SOPP movement has gotten, people whose actions are driven by wanting to pray for others and set deeper intentions for their own capacity to serve.
Along the way, as we all know, the stories are what really made the journey :) Fremma explained his path of coming out of the Congo, where members of his own family were killed in rebel wars, donning the robes of a Buddhist monk and learning meditation, and coming back to share the journey with his people. He’s now talking about incorporating Smile Cards into the advocacy work in Uganda and Congo! Kazu shared the story of walking across half of the USA as a teenager on a mission of peace – he’s since deepened his approach through taking on a gift-economy lifestyle. Leah shared the process of developing creative content (Dharma Comics!) from a state driven by inner shift as the first step. Anne-Marie recounted stories of teaching young children in the ICU to meditate and transform their relationship to their pain. Barbara spent last year launching a series of conferences in Mexico around the idea of the Divine Feminine and shared her journey and lessons. I talked about the story of Smile Cards and their value in seeding a transformational shift within and without. Additionally, we met with numerous Japanese youth addressing a variety of social issues from food waste to music activism :)
In the middle of this, we spent some time with the matriarch of the Saionji family, Yuka’s mother. Her work has been over a lifetime and has resulted in thought shifts for countless thousands. She reminded me of the energy of someone like Nisargadatta Maharaj. Lots of energy, clarity, calculated kindness, and an understanding that there is little time to waste! She looked at everyone enough to notice our individuality then spoke to the group – the importance of cultivating our own transformation and going deeper could not be understated. Her view is that our generation is in a unique place to shift collective consciousness and small things matter. Was powerful to be in her presence!
Behind all of these powerful actions was the backdrop of inner transformation. As we toured the facilities of the Fuji Sanctuary we came across a project called 721 – for every country in the world, volunteers wrote a message of peace (along with seeding an intention of peace). They repeated this again and again on the canvas provided, which was 7 meters by 21 meters, until the canvas was full. The practical reaction to this is in wondering how exactly any of this matters – wouldn’t there be better uses of time to help others if one really wished to serve? Certainly there seems to be a place for all action from a heart of service, but it does bear asking: How does writing about peace for others 70,000 times change a person’s thoughts over time? How does that cascade into the totality of life?
Like this, there were numerous activities we were seeing that intentionally created conditions for inner shift. Mandala’s, written by hand, repeating phrases of love again and again; intentional uses of language to follow up comments that had negative context with ones that had positive contexts (eg, saying something hurtful and then reminding oneself about practicing infinite love in life); the practice of setting context (eg, ‘check-ins’, discussing intentions) in nearly every conversation, slowing things down in the short-run but creating a wholly different nature of connection over the long run; repeating 1 simple universal prayer – ‘May Peace Prevail on Earth’.
Time and again I met folks who were acquainted with the work of ServiceSpace and felt the value of what we are all collectively feeling into. Tatsura, who runs the Goi Peace Foundation, shared how he is looking to spread gift economy in his organization. Taka is helping run Karma Kitchen in Tokyo. Mark teaches world studies at a university near Fuji and wants to prepare his students the new story, one that acknowledges how interconnected we are and what that means for our thought, speech, and action :)
I came back into the office this week with a spinning head thinking about how to share what I had seen. On that first day I had a meeting with Martin Ping, an amazing visionary in manifesting Steiner’s vision, and immediately saw his resonance to SOPP. Small shares, small shifts, nothing forced. Grateful to have a community that teaches me every day to sow the seeds and trust!