Here is a sharing of the strongest learning message that has come to me again and again during my time in India. It was emphasized, re-stressed upon and highlighted in different ways and formats that cannot be ignored.
I was sharing a tuktuk ride with this amazing woman who I spent a week with among other equally amazing people in Udaipur and a couple of questions came to my mind “How do you hold a community together? What underlies community learning, self-organization and cohesiveness?” Together, as a group of learners and education enthusiasts, we gathered for a week in Udaipur, India, we discussed and engaged with conversations and activities on learning, unlearning, hacking the education system and reclaiming our lives. The woman I shared the tuktuk ride with at the end of the week journey, Urmila was her name, holds a huge network of parents, children, educators and just people who are experimenting with alternative ways to living and learning. Urmila has been doing this for years and years now in her local community, Pune. I looked at her and just asked, “Urmila, what is your secret for holding this community together for all these years in a way that allows the community to connect and live inter-dependently? It also must be very exhausting to do so and deal with all of these people for that number of years? – so, what is your secret?” Urmila thought for a while and she had no answer except: “I think I really do love them, so I give them true love and I care about each and everyone of them”.
That other day, I finished my yoga class, it was the end of the day and the yoga studio was nearly empty. It was a very average day of my life, less maybe than average, silent and boring. I went into the dressing room to change and opened the door to go out. As I opened the door and took one step out of the dressing room into the lobby of the yoga academy, I saw one of the most powerful and inspiring moments of my life. I saw my yoga teacher, standing silently and courteously looking up, chin high, staring into an LCD screen. As I looked at the screen, I found it showed a a video of his Guru performing yoga asanas (positions) in a extremely graceful way that was almost like dancing in harmony with the universe. This is the Guru that also started the yoga academy and which his way we are following as students. My teacher stood there in all the serenity, peacefulness, and respect that I ever saw a person exhibiting. As I looked into his eyes, I found them full of tears, full of love that over-flowed in the space. The energy and the bond was so strong that it made me well up too. My teacher has spoken to me about his Guru many times, their journey together and the love they share as a learner and a teacher but this moment was much more powerful and evident than all of our conversations and all my teacher’s descriptions. A teacher who truly loves their students would want their students to be themselves rather than replicas of them as teachers.
From across the world, a previous work supervisor and a current mentor and best friend just happened to come to Bangalore, India from the US. I happened to know and be able to catch up with her after 2 years of distance. We had a fabulous conversation around many things in life but most importantly about what she sees her role in life as putting her “love into action”, her love for people, for the planet, for the world. She is the director of learning and development at Ashoka and she integrates her love into every learning experience she curates for the talent development of Ashoka people around the world. She wants to start spaces that are embedded in love and that aims at co-creation of projects.
Recently, I attended a conference on “inter-faith dialogue” with representatives from so many religious communities from different parts of the world. There were discussions on every possible aspect you can think of. Discussions were revolving around how we can create a world that is more harmonized and that embrace different faiths from angles of education, community, family, government, civil society ..etc. In the middle of all the discussions and the planning for potential projects that directly address the issue, a Buddhist monk from the Tibet talked and uncovered the point that we do not need to do anything to address embarking inter-faith relationships directly, we rather have to ask ourselves what are the underlying conditions that lead people to harm and not accept one another? And through a dialogue, the monk led us to the place where we realized that it is all about the lack of love. If you love someone, you will accept them as who they are and you will never think of harming them. Isn’t this the very deep, universal core message of all religions? Suddenly, the questions of the group became “how can we spread more love that is deep and real and create loving environments with long lasting connections?” rather than the original questions.
A few days ago, I was riding a cab with a group of 3 friends in Bangalore after attending a TEDx event. During a reflecting on the talks and the ideas discussed, I just found myself asking my friends “what is love?” People said acceptance, sacrifice, giving, and generosity. Love still remains mysterious though.
However, for now, and maybe for the purpose of coming to a closure of this piece, as a person who came to India to learn about “learning” and education innovations asking questions like: what are environments that are conducive for learning? How can we create a better future for the world and our children through education? As I went to explore answers in impact assessments of social businesses, key performance metrics, lesson plans and excel sheets with speculations of children desired learning outcomes, I just came to know that learning happens first and foremost through “love”.
Figure 3 On a classroom wall, in a school of Hippocampus, a company operating a network of rural learning spaces and schools and where I work in India.
I don’t know if we can design learning experiences where people experience love and connect more with their loving selves but I know that it is the only pre-requisite for someone, like me, seeking to create something within the field of “learning” and “education”. Get in touch if you have ideas of learning experiences that we can design to prepare a new generation of “teachers” and “facilitators” who love their children, their students and their learners.
I have seen many, many people act towards social change in the world through my previous jobs and interactions. Their acts emanated from different places deep inside them. Some act from deep anger and vengefulness towards a society that never gave them their rights, some act from ego and a fame seeking place, some act from pity and sympathy, some act out of humility, sense of justice and a desire to give back. But far, far away from all, I’ve seen people who act towards social change from a deep place of “love” within them. They connect with this place inside them, go out to the world and the rest is magical. It is a far, far better act than there could ever be. It is a far, far harder thing than can ever be done. It is a far, far, worthier journey to explore and a far, far more enjoyable road to go down.