Posts in: GS210

Shumei International Institute

The Shumei International Institute is a spiritual center founded on the philosophy of Mokichi Okada that people are world citizens able to act for the common good. Although simplified, the way I understood the institute is a celebration of beauty to make the world a better place.

The architecture is amazing. Clean, simple lines enhance the natural beauty of the San Luis Valley. The buildings have large glass windows allowing a flow of natural light. The building materials are all natural. The colors are neutral and blend with the surrounding tones of the mountains.

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We were able to participate in one of their spiritual events. Before entering the building, we rinsed our mouths with water from the spring fountain outside. We then removed our shoes and entered the main room of the building. Here, we participated in a call and answer chant. After this, we were invited to participate in Jyorei. Jyorei is a healing art that uses light to heal. One at a time, we sat across from a Shumei member. They led us through the practice of healing and purification. After, I felt a sense of tranquility. Some people saw lights, but I did not.

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After the spiritual ceremony, we toured the farm. Natural farming is a major component of Shumei. Natural farming is more than just a horticultural technique. It is a connection to the land. It is an understanding that there is a relationship between the elements involved in the consumption of food.  Those who practice natural faming see that agriculture is guided by nature, and do not try to control it. Weeds are allowed to grow and nutrients are not added to the soil.

I was amazed at the sophistication of the farm. The greenhouse was immense. I felt like they could grow food for the entire town, not just the institute. The greenhouse was also beautiful. It was just as much art as it was a practical growing facility. The clean lines and the upkeep of the land demonstrated the philosophy of beauty. The institute is located on the side of the mountains overlooking the entire San Luis Valley.

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The institute was amazing and it was such a privilege to be able to visit. I highly recommend a visit.

A Bad Word

There is not a problem with the idea of nonviolence; there is a problem with the word “nonviolence.” The definition is flat and does not encompass what nonviolence truly is.  Let’s break down the word. The prefix “non” means “no” or “not doing.” The word “violence” is defined by Webster dictionary as “behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something.” Therefore, nonviolence is not being violent. Hmm, well not quite. The Webster dictionary defines nonviolence as “use of peaceful means, not force, to bring about political or social change.” Certainly, that’s part of it, but this course has shown there is so much more to this unassuming word.

I think the prefix “non” has a power to discredit whatever word follows it. Noncommittal. Nonbeliever. Nonabsorbent. These words describe an inability. Nonviolence is not an inability to be violent. It is a conscientious choice to not use violence.

There is a large difference between pacifism and passivism. Sure, reading this, the difference is clear. However, say the words aloud or try mixing them up in casual conversation. They become interchangeable. The first is a belief that any violence is unjustifiable. The second is allowing things to happen without trying to change anything. There could not be a larger difference, and yet these words are often mistaken for synonyms.

Nonviolence does not use force, but that does not mean it is not strong. There is the idea that nonviolence is not doing anything, but that is far from the truth. Nonviolent social and political movements are not the easy way out. In fact, they often take more creativity. Nonviolence also is a type of warfare. It takes organizing, planning, commitment, and execution. The difference is the means to obtain an end. Nonviolent warfare uses boycotts rather than bullets; protests rather than paratroopers.

Three weeks into the course, I cannot offer an alternative word, but only highlight a deficiency in language in the word nonviolence.

Peter’s Bike Clinic

We cram into cars and head to Peter’s Bicycle Clinic. The directions head down Cascade. Turn right. Turn right again. Little did I know we were heading to another world.

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Walking into Peter’s bike shop, the first thing I notice are the walls of positivity. Handmade signs remind me to smile. The décor of optimism is transformative.

I am intrigued. How is a bicycle clinic a living example of non-violence? I sit in awe as Peter humbly explains his mission.

He opened his bike shop to fill a void in the community. Colorado Springs is an expansive city with poor public transportation. He provides bikes to people with a need for transportation who would otherwise not be able to attain a bike.

He does not pay rent for his bike shop. Instead, Criterium Bicycles pays the rent for Peter’s shop. I cannot help but smile. A bike shop that sells $7,000 bikes pays for a bike shop pays it forward by supporting a community that does not have means to purchase a bike. This simple gesture is incredibly humbling. Not all businesses are hungry for maximized profit.

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We then ask Peter if why he doesn’t he require people to work off their bike instead of providing free bikes. For example why doesn’t he require people work at the soup kitchen in exchange for a bike? His answer is beautifully simple. Providing bikes is the way he lifts spirits. A person who receives a bike is in a better position to help the community. He states that people who pick up glass of trails or those who dumpster dive for parts are just as essential to the success of the bike shop. He puts good into the word knowing that those who receive it will do good in exchange.

Peter sees the world in a way in which I have never thought to look. He states that he may never know the fruits of his labor in his lifetime. I hope I can take this experience with Peter and see progress instead of results.

 

 

Meeting With a Killer

An amazing class cannot always be lighthearted, and today it took a turn. It was not a bad turn, but one that challenged us mentally and emotionally. Yesterday, we read about restorative justice, a series of additive or alternative strategies to the current judicial system. It involved looking into the hurt that was felt rather than on what laws were broken, and on the victim rather than the state. One of the many possible restorative justice techniques involves the offender and victim or victims meeting. In response to last night’s readings, today our professor showed us a documentary titled Meeting With a Killer. The movie centered around a daughter and grandmother whose mother/daughter had been raped and murdered by two fifteen year old boys, fifteen years before the documentary was filmed. The grandmother had begun to work as a teacher in prisons and eventually decided to seek out a restorative justice program. A mediator began writing to the grandmother and doctor as well as the offender, and then met with them both. When she understood that all three wanted to and were ready to meet, she arranged it. The offender had been sexually abused as a child and had never had a real family. When the crime was committed he and his friend had been heavily intoxicated. The family had a civil and understanding discussion with him and in the end took a picture with him. What must be understood is that this ending is not something that always happens, nor is it necessary. Every victim has their own needs. What struck me, was the fact that they were all victims. Gary, the offender had been abused as a child, and in turn became an abuser. The abused do often become the abusers, and so I was left to wonder how a legal system can be effective when it is allowing this cycle to happen. It is fighting people, when it should in fact be fighting an idea. By the end of the class, many people were almost in tears. We felt stressed together, but in a good sense. For the first time we are understanding that nonviolence is not easy. It is hard, but it may in fact be the best way of going through life.

Art and Peace

One of the many exciting classes offered by Colorado College is called the Foundations of Nonviolence, taught by Evan Weissman as well as many extraordinary speakers. It began as a gentle introduction, an explanation to what violence and nonviolence both were, and their effects. By the end of the first day Evan had almost the whole class at an understanding of the importance of the information. The readings provide us with a plethora of support for ideas that we as students may have already had but could not articulate as well as deepening our understanding of the issues. It is also provided in a more academic format with statistics and studies than we as students may not have seen elsewhere.

Classes are primarily discussion based, centered around the various speakers, movies, and books that we read for class. Assignments, are also very open. There is only one a week in the form of a reflection that can be done through art or through a short essay. It is an absolutely freeing experience, letting students approach it in any way that they would like. So far the two speakers that we have had are Dr. Vincent Harding and Jamie Laurie from the Flobots. Dr. Vincent Harding was a friend of Martin Luther King as well as the writer of Martin Luther King’s infamous Vietnam Speech. While it is a speech that is well accepted today, at the time it spiraled MLK into controversy.

The most influential thing about the presentation by Dr. Vincent Harding, was that there was no lecture. The presentation was in the form of modeling his interactions with us and his responses to our questions and comments. He began with little introduction, but instead asked who we were, and then proceeded to give statements which he wished us to respond to. Dr. Vincent Harding had such great composure and answered all questions with a great touch of humor. I left the class feeling such a great sense of peace.

In today’s class, we opened with a discussion and then moved to a presentation by our assistant teacher, Mary. She sang songs and taught us how music could be used in activism. She used parodies as an easy way to attract other people to the songs. Halfway through the class, rapper and activist, Jamie Laurie came in to talk to us. He is from the band Flobots, most know for their hit “Handlebars.” His presentation contrasted to the others, in his explanation of his own path to nonviolence. He used questions, to make us think, and shared some of his raps. He is and has been an activist since college and believes that music is important for effective protest. It is unifying, calming and creates a sense of greater purpose.

Next week we are going to Baca. It will be a spiritual journey, and I can’t wait!

Dr. Vincent Harding

In Foundations of Nonviolence, we are studying the Civil Rights Movement and taking a more in depth look into Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We listened to his speech Independence of the Vietnam War. I get chills listening to this speech, as his poetic voice undulates throughout the church. Like most, I am captivated by his calm Southern draw and powerful words. Although he spoke these words over fifty years ago, I feel as if I am sitting in a pew in Riverside Church in New York in 1967 rather than a classroom in Colorado Springs in 2013.

In this speech, Dr. King declares the war in Vietnam to be morally wrong. This outraged many as it undermined President Johnson who had been in support of the Civil Rights movement. The New York Times condemned Dr. King for the speech and black leaders of the Civil Rights movement viewed Dr. King as a traitor. Many credit this speech to the assassination of Dr. King.

When our professor announces the author of this speech will attend class we are all star-struck. First, I had no idea that Dr. King did not write this speech. I am entranced that someone so powerful whose words impacted so many will attend our class. His words transcended through Dr. King to touch thousands and alter history.

The next morning when Dr. Vincent Harding enters the classroom, the mood changes immediately. A veil of silent respect transcends a usually chatty classroom. All of us can sense the powerful energy of the man who has just entered. History sits before us.

He takes his time to settle in. He straightens his tie, removes his watch, and sips water in no rush to begin. I realize I have been holding my breath in nervous excitement, watching in eager anticipation what he will do next.

Unexpectedly, he begins by asking us questions. Through the juxtaposition of student questions and his answers, I notice the difference of cadence. We hurriedly blurt out questions inserting like and um at will. In response, he takes a slow and methodical moment before replying with words that seemed to be rehearsed, even though unscripted.

In my opinion, Dr. Harding coming to our class is one of the coolest things to ever happen. Rather than go on drooling about every detail, here are his words that stuck with me the most:

-                     “Whenever we are in dialogue we are most human.”

-                     “Do not give up on goodness.”

-                     “The benefit of living to age 82 is seeing the number of impossible things become       possible things.”

-                     “Do not do what I did but find out what you must do.”

-                     If you do not know something talk to Colorado College about that but more importantly talk to yourself about that.”