Loafs and Fishes or Couch

Image: video still, buddhist monk churning yak butter tea during a festival. Hamis, Ladakh, India

Providing nurishment for people in the form of food and drink is one way to bring people together and build community. For me such unconditional actions of compassion melt any armour I may carry imagined or real (tense muscles, fear, closed mind/heart). I have been fortunate to witness various 'soup' kitchens in action such as the ones at:

1. The Compassion Centre in Wellington, New Zealand operated by the Sisters of Compassion with the help of volunteers and donations from the community, this soup kitchen is more that 100 years old. They serve breakfast and dinner 6 days a week, for more than 100 people per day.
2. The Golden Temple, Amritsar, Punjab, India, where an impressive 10,000 pilgrims are fed daily with tea or dalh and chapati's, as far as I know all run by volunteers.
3. The festival in Hamis, Ladakh, India (see image above) where tea and rice are provided for hundreds if not throusands attendees of the festival.

I could barely drink the salty yak butter tea as it makes me gag, but just hanging out in the tea room and witnessing the whole event was as heart warming as the steaming hot tea in this ancient and cold himalayan monastery. The festival was attended by the locals as well as hunderds of tourists who were there trophey hunting with their fancy camera's, literally fighting over the best vantage points. Very few dared to wander away from the spectacular and colourful dance preformances by the monks in the courtyard of the gompa(monastary). Most tourists missed out on the free gift of compassion in the form of yak butter tea. It was not necessary for me to taste the tea in order to taste the gift. I was brave and had a sip, and put up with the reflexes of my body, a small sacrifice for the privaledge of taking communion.

We are not all cut out to feed random strangers/travelers/homeless people/pilgrims in small or large numbers, or are we... what is stopping us from exersizing this practice that is promoted by so many cultures and religions? Too scary...? Well here is an enjoyable way to make a difference in your life and in the world, not for the sake of rescueing people but for the sake of building community, promoting compassion and kindness through authentic practice. What comes around goes around, just like a merry-go-round, remember those when you were a kid?.

I have joined Couchsurfing.com an online community where travelers and hosts can find eachother so they can enjoy receiving and giving hospitality (a couch, bed, meal, coffee at home or in town) as a gift, as a guesture of acceptance, of peace. Why, because the most expensive, luxurious hotel cannot offer the authentic gift of hospitality and sense of connection.

Discrimination is founded in fear for the unknown and fear of the (perceived) differences as observed in others as expressed though their cultures. Maybe we fear that we will lose 'ourselves' when surrounded by those who we believe to be different.

Couchsurfing/hosting is one way to discover close up and in a very personal way that we are fundamentally all the same, that it is quite OK to be different, that difference is not a threat to one's existence, and that any fears we may have of difference is unfounded.

At this 'grass root' level we can begin to experience friendships and peace, bring balance to a world living in fear, begin talking positively about others and other cultures. Many leaders in the world make us believe that being different equals evil, only others are evil, we possibly can't be. This perceived evil is the excuse used by so many nations to justify destructive wars and acts of terrorism.

We all have the power and ability to contribute to world peace, one by one we can make a difference, one couch, bed, floor space, meal, coffee at a time. Once or maybe more than once a year or even once a month. One day we may be able to elect the leaders we deserve. Leaders are born out of communities. What kind of community and leadership do we want? Who, or whose permission for action do we wait for?

Legacy of a French Stowaway

Suzanne Aubert, photo courtesey of the Sisters of Compassion.

Suzanne Aubert, born in 1835 in France, died 1926 in New Zealand. Left France against the will of parents and clergy, but with an iron will of her own. When she died, her funeral was the biggest ever seen ‘Down Under’! Why?

She was quite a remarkable woman who was a pioneer with a Great Spirit and strong faith. She started the catholic order of the Sisters of Compassion, who still exist today. In Wellington they established the Compassion Centre, which houses the well known, more than a century old 'Soup Kitchen'. For the past 5 years it also housed the Studio-Gallery of Art Compass, a charitable trust I established to support talented artists with intellectual disabilities. Today was my last day at the centre.

Suzanne Aubert chose and created a different life for herself without the permission, support or encouragement from her family or community. She moved as a single woman to a foreign country in an era where such a choice would be frowned upon. I am an immigrant myself but a male who moved to New Zealand under very favourable circumstances compared to hers. I had a vision that became Art Compass, but I would never have succeeded had it not been for the support from the Sisters of Compassion who are continuing the legacy of Suzanne Aubert.

Where does one begin to express the gratitude for the various forms of your generous support that Art Compass and myself received from the sisters? It has been such a privilege to be part of the Compassion Centre, it’s community and it’s mission. Little did I know about the work and philosophies of Suzanne Aubert. I could not have wished for a better and more wonderful and appropriate place to work on my vision.

Suzanne Aubert had a disability herself. Her philosophy about how to provide and support people with disabilities echoed mine; only she was 100 years ahead of me. Her legacy has touched my life, my work, and through the work of Art Compass so many more.

It is time for me to move on and I am looking forward to opportunities and challenges that lie ahead, but I leave Art Compass and the Compassion Centre with great sadness.

The faith, dedication, openness, kindness, inclusiveness and compassion of the sisters are inspirational to say the least, and will be an encouragement for the rest of my life to remain mindful and aspire to integrate such qualities in my life.

Reels of Life Past

Image: discarded 8mm family films

Reels of life past
Watching the dead
Alive again
Yet mute
No heartbeat
Just a rattling reel

Struggling then
Knowing now
The unknown future
From the past

Had I known
I needed no fear
I would not

Brain Works

Image: self portrait July 06

With a strong right hemispheric dominance and strong visual preference, I am very likely to fit into most people's stereotype of an artist. I tend to perceive the whole, respond to patterns, overlook differences and seek diversity. I deal with material randomly and intuitively, and I tend to find symbolism everywhere.
For me categories are temporary, created and re-created as events unfold. Thus learning can be unlearned more rapidly when needed. This implies that I continuously adapt to new situations and find differences in situations that others may not notice. My learning style is naturally dynamic and flexible yet not totally chaotic.

Organisation may not be my forte and I am likely to perceive it at times as constricting while recognising the benefits that come from structure. While capable of being logical, I respond to my own inner directed-ness(intuition) which is often not explainable, not even to myself, since it requires sophisticated left-brain translation. I have a tendency to become more involved with the abstract (symbolism) in seeking out relationships and arriving at answers. More than most other people, I am self-directed and skilled at moving easily from project to project.

My visual preference implies that I am active and continuously seeking or processing. I tend not to categorise experiences, but rather simply have them and react to them, integrating it into the whole of my experiences. My best learning style is to see materials and relationships as with charts and graphs and retain them easily. However, if asked questions, I find my access blocked since the input mode is auditory and runs counter to my strengths. I can help myself my drawing pictures while I take notes, to use my visual talents.

Overall I will do well in endeavors emphasising the visual such as arts, fashion, or architecture said the website where I found out about how my brian works. I trained as an architect and artist! Reading this was such an eye opener and assisted me in understanding why I do things differently from so many others.