Photo of the Week
India
Photo Title


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    [post_content] => Here's something I wrote a few months ago…

Heart Rituals

Ladakh is in the Himalayan region of Jammu and Kashmir in India. The province abuts the Chinese border and the military presence, large guns, scared the shit out of a mostly liberal, young Massachusetts woman. Yet, the even greater power beyond the barracks was the mountains themselves. The mountains range from burnt orange to grey-blue and are more gradient to the summit than some of the peaks of the White Mountains. The only mountains I had ever known were far below the 15 000 feet I’d trek in the next week. On walks just outside the town of Leh, sea buckthorn grew near the rivers and roses and stinging nettles punctuated the valleys.

Ladakh was the brief month long break from the chase of perpetual summer I felt for the following two months. The cold came quick in Ladakh. Even in the change from mid to late September you could see the preparation for winter with the end of the apricot and caper harvest and the need for a down jacket at night.

I began the trip with intentions that I furiously wrote in my journal in the early days of on one of the rooftop decks of the Silk Route just outside of the town of Leh. I still wonder what brought an ocean girl to Ladakh, the land of mountains and high passes. What was the appeal of the mountains? I had only known the serenity of ducking under a full moon August wave: surrender to a force greater. Why did I even come here?

I fell in love with Ladakh in a way I never expected. All of the love I had experienced before was from friends, family and for my hometown. But this was a different kind—the sort that caught you off guard if you stared for too long. Ladakh was a meditation, a confrontation with the person I had ignored for years—myself.

Each morning I would wake wanting to envelop myself with the familiar, swaddled in flannels and blankets looking into an October bonfire. I’d wanted to get away from the excess of my currently lifestyle and spend a semester with twelve strangers relearning how to be a human.

I spent most of my life prior to my time in Ladakh in a state of depression about the past or anxiety for the future. I felt throughout high school I was an imposter, a freak accident that I had so much privilege to lean into the fear and resentment I felt towards myself. Much of my life in Massachusetts now and before revolved around conversations about who knew so and so, an artificial social hierarchy I still buy into. I was afraid of making real conversation about the anger I felt inside, the loss I still in some ways hold onto. I could not put my metaphorical shield down.

My nervous scribbles were interrupted by the sound of one of the instructors calling the group together. We began in a circle then began our own paths around the patio on the second floor. I weaved around the patio only semi present. The mountains were a few miles away but I felt as though I could reach out and touch them. Something had brought us all here, together.

I felt the elevation in my lungs like the residue of a persistent cough. Put. One. Foot. In. Front. Of. The. Other. One of the instructors told us to keep weaving. One. Foot. In. Front. Each footstep became a fluid movement. Then stop. Find the person closest to you and stand in front of them. You can relax. You have two minutes to look into another person’s eyes. You are going to do this three times.

I told myself this is going to be easy. I’m going to be good at this. It can’t be as hard as the past four years of high school and feeling unseen. All you have to do is stare into another person’s eyes without looking away. Breathe in and out. Julia and I looked into each other’s eyes but within a matter of two seconds I felt the need to look away—afraid of the vulnerability that comes with confrontation. It is hard to see what someone else is trying to tell you through their eyes. I walked round the patio again and found another partner, Gabe. I looked into his eyes and then became distracted by the mountains behind. An ache began to crawl back into my lower abdomen—the loss and disillusion I’d called home for the past four years. Then we each came to the last person we would share our souls with. I was paired with the instructor Sarah who I later gave the epithet was the one with the kind and knowing eyes. For the first time in my life I felt it was okay to look back to see whom I was in that moment in time.

Tears raced down my cheeks as I saw the reflection of the sad young woman I was underneath the dupatta I wore tactfully around my neck. I also saw a glimmer of the woman I could be. The woman I had always wanted to be: someone who felt that they weren’t wearing a metaphorical corset to suck in all of her imperfections, someone who was strong.

Until that moment on the outlook of the Silk Route paying guest house there were only a few people who I trusted: a best friend from back home and my mom and dad. But I began trusting myself, trusting the process of what I was doing with my life. My appearances did not matter as much as all of my actions did and who I was in my heart and what I did with that heart was important. Was I going to care for others with a sense of emptiness and only for self return or care for myself and in turn care for others?

We can only find homes within ourselves. If we invest too much in creating homes in the hearts of other people then we will only be unhappy. To see another person, to truly see another person, to look them in the eyes and say yes, you, your opinions are valid. This is one of the most primal gifts you can give to another human: your patience and attention.

I never knew what a joy it would be to meet myself again, to woo myself. Before I knew it I realized I was establishing self love in the longest running relationship I would ever have. Even though I ultimately discarded many of the intentions I’d written in my notebook on the first day, I’d uncovered my true intention—to be attentive to my heart.

 

 

 

 
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Thank you

Brynn Sibley,India

Description

Here’s something I wrote a few months ago… Heart Rituals Ladakh is in the Himalayan region of Jammu and Kashmir in India. The province abuts the Chinese border and the military presence, large guns, scared the shit out of a mostly liberal, young Massachusetts woman. Yet, the even greater power beyond the barracks was the […]

Posted On

12/21/15

Author

Brynn Sibley

Category

India

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    [post_content] => 
What is the privilege of my being? What a question. And what a funny moment of déjà vu, as I think back to the first time it was posed to me. Cumlati-ji has just finished making our lunch. She wanders out onto the wide second floor balcony, where the food is lined up on trestle tables against the kitchen window. Outside, the sun hits with a harsh but familiar intensity. We are sitting on reed mats and plastic lawn chairs in a patch of shade where the roof juts out over our heads. Cumlati comes over to us and encouragingly gestures at the food – maybe brings over some roti and presses it on us, or else just chats with one of us as she rubs another’s shoulders. From where we sit, we can look out over the neighborhood of Assi Ghat. Directly in front of us is a run-down little park where women talk and children play. Beyond it, spread over the whole horizon, are sprawling houses connected by dangling electrical wires and a patchwork of unfinished roofs. The colors are stunning – the rich brown of dirt and the dusty gray of concrete mix with the pastels that cover the walls of buildings.  Above it all, the orange of temple rooftops is everywhere. And green – I see green throughout the city, in surprising rooftop gardens both tame and wild, in patches of trees, and in still pools full of algae. This is a city of life. Was it Michael or Cate who asked the question first? It’s hard to remember. Maybe I was loading up my plate when they introduced it (with only the most basic and digestible foods, since my stomach was in the process of recovering from a bacterial apocalypse). I do remember very clearly the way the food looked. It was always in low, broad metal pots. If there was bread – roti or toast or chapatti or paratha – it was in a pot lined with old newspapers, and always the pots with vegetables or dal in them would be covered with lids to keep off the flies. I remember many different moments that centered around this line of pots. We congregated around them in the morning after yoga, and in the afternoon after Hindi lessons. At the beginning of the line was a big wire basket that held the plates. They were metal, Sarah explained, because metal is durable and will not break like clay when it is driven over rough Indian roads on its way to the market. Also, metal is given as a gift on Dewali if one cannot afford silver or jewels. It is a symbol of wealth. We had to wash these plates very carefully, first in soapy water, then in clean water, then in bleach. There were three buckets for this purpose. We learned by trial, and diarrhea, that neither the soapy water nor the clean water was at all clean. Really, bleach was the only thing that could sanitize our plates after they had been contaminated by our attempts at washing them. I mention the plates, the food, the sun, and the sense of community, not by way of distraction, but because they are the answer. When I ask myself what the privilege of my being is, I find the answer in everything. The fact that I can now sit at a kitchen table and find in my experience such a clear and fully realized world is a privilege. The fact that I could go out into that world in the first place is a privilege! Breath, the in and out of air in my lungs, is a blessing. What this question is really asking is: can you feel gratitude? And if so, how far can you extend that gratitude? Towards who, and what, and when? There is an infinity of things to be grateful for. But it starts with a gust of cool air in a hot climate, with the sound of morning prayers, with a kite dancing towards the sunset. It starts now. [post_title] => What is the Privilege of my Being? 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What is the Privilege of my Being?

Sam Blair,Picture of the Week, India

Description

What is the privilege of my being? What a question. And what a funny moment of déjà vu, as I think back to the first time it was posed to me. Cumlati-ji has just finished making our lunch. She wanders out onto the wide second floor balcony, where the food is lined up on trestle […]

Posted On

05/13/15

Author

Sam Blair

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    [post_content] => I haven’t been able to write for ten days. I’ve flipped back and forth between the three journals filled with, “and then this happened…”’s and “I could stay like this forever”s, wondering whether any of the past three months were real. Did we really trek through mountains, see the Taj Mahal, become the happiest versions of ourselves that were always there?

I’m not sad and I’m not nostalgic. I’m so joyful. So joyful that my hands have felt too swollen to write for ten days; so joyful that there is no space in my body for words. For ten days, I have unpacked stories and anecdotes from the suitcases of my inner being. For ten days, I’ve worried that if I wrote, my hands would tremble, and the moments would become words and that didn’t seem fair. It’s stopped seeming fair that the Taj Mahal became a picture, and that Varanasi is just a place we spent our time in. Vaatika is just that pizzeria with amazing apple pie; Calcutta is just the place with the silly looking taxis and a lane system on their streets.

I haven’t written, because at some point, I’d have to say, ‘I’m here and not there’, and I’m not ready for that. I’m not ready to see my friends hug their parents for the first time in three months, for the silly goodbyes in airports, and the gratitude that flew from our mouths in Delhi hotels, nesting in each other’s hearts. For ten days I’ve been playing it in reverse. Kerry is unhugging her parents, they are drifting back through the door. We are on a train going backwards to Sonapani, where we are backwards singing everything that has happened in our semester. Callouses are disappearing from Sam’s fingertips, and the queasy feeling is leaving our stomachs as we backwards drive through the mountains to the train station. We are moving backwards through our lives in Varanasi, unlearning the quickest routes to the program house, unrealizing Brynn’s true smile, and Jackson’s undeniable talent. We are unremembering, not forgetting, proper Hindi conjugations. Fireworks from Diwali are receding back into their poppers, and we are packing our things from our dressers back into our backpacks, the way we would be two months in the future. We are walking backwards over mountains; pearls of sweat inking back into our foreheads in the streets of Delhi. We are unmeeting, unembracing our parents for the last time for a while in Newark. And then we are unknowing, each other and what is to come.

I hate that we have to call it a semester, when it felt like a life, something sustainable and cultivated, tended and growing, but I loved it, and I still do.
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Best Notes From The Field, India

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I Haven’t Been Able To Write

Mallory Richards,Best Notes From The Field, India

Description

I haven’t been able to write for ten days. I’ve flipped back and forth between the three journals filled with, “and then this happened…”’s and “I could stay like this forever”s, wondering whether any of the past three months were real. Did we really trek through mountains, see the Taj Mahal, become the happiest versions […]

Posted On

12/19/14

Author

Mallory Richards

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    [post_content] => I hope I remember the self compassion I learned here

I hope I remember that every moment of life is beautiful

I hope I remember that my thoughts are not me

and that you are in control of your happiness

I hope I remember the feeling of my foot meeting the ghats

I hope I remember the way the Ganga water falls from a lota in the early morning

I hope I remember the labyrinth of Gadolia that always leads back to the river

I hope I remember the way the sunrise makes the whole city gold

and that orange full moon

I hope I remember the invitations for chai

I hope I remember the passion for God

the color and light used to channel it

I hope I remember the eyes of the beggars

I hope I remember those beautiful children living in trash and making it their playground

I hope I remember that man and the love he felt for his only companion, a monkey named Julie

and the man whose job it was to burn dead bodies, day after day, generation after generation

I hope I remember the morning I convinced myself I was seeing the world for the first time, and everything was suddenly so vibrant.

I hope I remember the sound of the sarangi and how it filled my heart with so much beauty my eyes were filled with tears

I hope I remember the blind beggar I bumped into who frantically grasped at the human contact

I hope I remember the hijra with cuts up her arm

and the doby wallas who's house was destroyed in the name of a 'cleaner India'

I hope I remember all of the little girls who wouldn't dare make a sound but spoke poetry with their eyes

I hope I remember the integrity, the heart, the strength of India

and I hope I remember all of you
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I hope I remember

Julia Nachemson,India

Description

I hope I remember the self compassion I learned here I hope I remember that every moment of life is beautiful I hope I remember that my thoughts are not me and that you are in control of your happiness I hope I remember the feeling of my foot meeting the ghats I hope I remember […]

Posted On

12/7/14

Author

Julia Nachemson

Category

India

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    [post_content] => Hello Everyone!

I just wanted to echo Reed-- the students are are safely in the air!
We miss you all immensely already. Thank you for a beautiful semester.

Keep those stars close-- we'll be with you.

Much love,
SM + CB
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Our last Group Shot

Cate Brown,India

Description

Hello Everyone! I just wanted to echo Reed– the students are are safely in the air! We miss you all immensely already. Thank you for a beautiful semester. Keep those stars close– we’ll be with you. Much love, SM + CB

Posted On

12/6/14

Author

Cate Brown

Category

India

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    [post_content] => This past week at transference, every student wrote a This I Believe... statement, based on the famed NPR segment that cataloged the core beliefs of select listeners. Their statements were beautiful, and a tribute to the deep questioning and the profound reflection we have all enjoyed this semester. Our last day in Delhi was hectic and internet free, but our group promised to share their pieces upon returning home. I've finally showered and I'm just starting to adjust to my new life as an empty-nester, so I thought I'd kick us off...

For the parents reading from home, thank you for sharing your children with us. It was a profound honor to spend the past few months with this group. I cannot thank you enough for taking the risk to support our journey -- through moments of homesickness, fear,  joy, elation -- I hope that we can continue to express our gratitude to you over the coming weeks. It is going to be a powerful transition.

This I Believe... 

I believe in the grace of humanity. I believe that we live each day to the fullest, and that every day has its place-- the light, the dark and the tender gray. I believe in the vulnerability of twilight and the hopefulness of dawn. There is a reason the sun comes up in a perfect circle, and a reason that the moon waxes and wanes. They teach us patience-- that you cannot hurry a day-- and they teach us trust-- we are here for you. There will be warmth and moonlight regardless.

I believe we are here to hold each other. You all have reminded me of that. I believe in loving fearlessly. Give yourself up, over and over again. I believe the heart is stronger than the mind. I want to believe I can give this much and know that I will still be whole when you are gone. That distance is not a measure of our dedication. There will be music despite everything. 

I believe in cold winter mornings and the father that always goes out to wipe off the windshield first.

I believe we all love our mothers-- that somewhere in the womb we give up that choice. That birth is terrifying-- it gives a reason to believe in love at first sight.

I believe every child should build forts. Blanket forts, tree forts, lego forts-- that the process of imagining our world begins within. I believe in the power of play.

I believe in gratitude. I believe in saying I love you first. I believe in bagging your own groceries and in the little boys who help shovel the driveway next door without getting paid.

I believe in the power of listening. We heal when we feel heard.

I believe in running-- wild and barefoot through the woods. In the fragility of dappled sunlight, in the resilience of pinecones, in the purity of alpine streams. I believe in in taking cues from blackberries. Plant yourself in a thicket and share your fruit with the bears.

I believe in taking risks. I believe in writing letters. I believe in making art. In coloring outside the lines. In playing charades with your relatives. In making your Christmas presents and leaving little traces of yourself in the imperfections.

I no longer believe that love exists between two people. You all have taught me that. I believe I have become a stronger person because of you. That I've learned to love more than I ever thought I could. I came here stripped bare-- in a country I don't know, with a group of people I've never met, speaking a language I don't speak. I quickly realized that all I had to offer you was that which is most essentially mine-- my love, my care and the promise that I was all in, regardless. What other choice did I have? Off the edge, into the unknown, heart involuntarily open-- you took me in.

I believe in the grace of humanity.
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View post

This I Believe…

Cate Brown,Best Notes From The Field, India

Description

This past week at transference, every student wrote a This I Believe… statement, based on the famed NPR segment that cataloged the core beliefs of select listeners. Their statements were beautiful, and a tribute to the deep questioning and the profound reflection we have all enjoyed this semester. Our last day in Delhi was hectic […]

Posted On

12/6/14

Author

Cate Brown

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Students are in the air!!! They will soon be home!

Regard,

VOI I-Team
    [post_title] => In the Air!!
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India

View post

In the Air!!

I-Team,India

Description

Family and Friends, Students are in the air!!! They will soon be home! Regard, VOI I-Team

Posted On

12/5/14

Author

I-Team

Category

India

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    [post_content] => Hello Family and Friends!

It's officially Day 93 of the Visions of India semester, and we are safely back in Delhi-- showered, packed and (almost) tucked into bed after a long day of travel back from our transference site in Kumaon.

For those of you following along on our adventure, you may have already heard a bit about transference. The idea of transference is that we take time to prepare for our re-entry process to America. This week, that meant we spent a lot of time admiring the Himalaya (picture below), drinking chai, hiking around the hills of Kumaon and sharing stories from the past 3 months. A lot of the stories came out informally --- memories of our first impressions at the Newark Airport; of the endless games during Orientation; of the wintry nights taco'd up in sleeping bags on trek; of the Kashmiri feast; of the other-worldly comforters at SECMOL; the Ganesha festival in Delhi; the crowds in Agra; the transition to Banaras, and the nine-days of Navratri...

Slowly, slowly we began sifting through our memories and trying to summarize and synthesize all that we have learned over the past few months. Last night, that culminated in a musical "course narrative," as Sam Blair plucked at the strings of his guitar and we howled under the stars. This group has soul.

We've had an incredible few months together, and we can't wait to share snapshots of it with you when we arrive home. We're doing our best to process the transition now so that we're ready to share when we arrive home, but please be patient with us. We will likely arrive home tired, nostalgic and craving a big dinner.

I've tried to upload a few pictures from the past few days, but it seems like our internet connection is too slow to manage. Two days and your children should have reels of pictures for you... Thank you for sticking with us through this adventure. We hope you are well, and the whole group will be in touch for a final post tomorrow.

Much love,

VOI Fall 2014
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India

View post

DAY 93 – Back in Delhi

Cate Brown,India

Description

Hello Family and Friends! It’s officially Day 93 of the Visions of India semester, and we are safely back in Delhi– showered, packed and (almost) tucked into bed after a long day of travel back from our transference site in Kumaon. For those of you following along on our adventure, you may have already heard […]

Posted On

12/4/14

Author

Cate Brown

Category

India

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    [post_content] => Dear India semester families,

It is hard to believe that 3 months have passed since embarking on this incredible adventure in India! It won’t be long and students will be boarding their plane back home. Below is a reminder of the return group flight information for eagerly awaiting families:

Returning Flight:
December 6th, 2014
Jet Airways #230
Depart: Delhi (DEL) 3:00am
Arrive: Brussels (BRU) 7:50am

December 6th, 2014
Jet Airways #228
Depart: Brussels (BRU) 10:15am
Arrive: Newark (EWR) 12:55pm

If you have any questions or concerns about the return – and you’re calling outside of our normal office hours – please leave a message at 800-982-9203 x 130.  Should you need to reach our staff during students’ return travel days (outside of normal office hours), please call our Admin cell phone for assistance: 303-921-6078.

Many thanks,

Dragons Administration

 
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India

View post

Return Group Flight Reminder

Dragons Administration,India

Description

Dear India semester families, It is hard to believe that 3 months have passed since embarking on this incredible adventure in India! It won’t be long and students will be boarding their plane back home. Below is a reminder of the return group flight information for eagerly awaiting families: Returning Flight: December 6th, 2014 Jet […]

Posted On

12/1/14

Author

Dragons Administration

Category

India

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    [post_content] => Prompts on Hinduism, development, gender/caste and Islam.

 

Hinduism

what is something that has shaped your identity?

 

Something that has shaped my identity is the conscious decision to be more open minded. I have found that there have been so many doors in my life that were presented to me because I had chosen to be optimistic about trying something new. For example when I was home over this last summer I had no intention on taking a semester off college. I was going to continue on at college. It was choosing to be open about chatting with former dragons alumni that began to open the possibility for something like a gap semester to be possible. Because I have been open minded about coming to India I feel I have been able to see an vast amount of new doors open for me here in this foreign land I would have never been able to access if I had not been open minded initially to talk to a past student.

 

Development

What is wilderness?

 

Throughout the course I have been considering the existence of wilderness. When we were in the Himalayas talking inside the dinning tent around a cup of chai I was fairly convinced that the concept of wilderness could not be applied to any of us because we all came from some civilization in the states and we were all in our wool hats, synthetic down coats, hiking boots, being served by a team of pack horses and Sherpa's, cooks, and herdsmen. We may well have been in the a natural landscape but I could not see how we were similar to the wild or how any human was. We have been taught to be taught to wear clothes and use a utensil to eat. Other animals in the kingdom don't have a civilized force making them refine their behaviors. Or so I thought. It was not until I got to Varanasi that I had to ratify my definition of wilderness. Seeing the cows littering the streets, the monkeys rioting throughout town, observing a man ratifying a woman’s dentures in the open sewer filled streets. This place is absolutely wild. From the time I have spent in Banaras I have seen people and moments that would never happen in the safety of America. I have seen a wild side to life that I did not expect to see. So to answer the question I feel wilderness is ones choice to be absolutely intentionally acting and reacting for the sake of their own welfare.

 

What is the privilege of my being?

 

This is a difficult topic to touch upon because each place in the world has a different amount and quality of accommodations for the individual. I would say that for the place what the privilage of a being is different. For the sake of this question I will answer to the lowest common denominator I have seen thus far in my life. I think that every being no matter the situation I have seen or imagined has the ability to control their thoughts and attitudes towards their situation. If you are the winner of 500 million dollars or an untouchable in a small village in India, one always has the choice to react to their situation in any manner they choose. Like wise every being has the birth right to be able to find joy and happiness in any situation. I have read and seen many sad and painful situations that beings are put through still find a positive aspect about their hardship. It is always a choice and no being can have someone or something outside of themselves take that away from them.

 

Gender/Caste

what is the difference between being racist and being biased?

 

I would have to say that to be an exclusivist is to be a racist to be a inclusivist is to be biased. A professor from Naropa coined the terms, stating that to hold your own beliefs above others yet realize the validity of their belief for their own practicality is to be an Inclusivist. To disregard others beliefs as unworthy of merit and insist that your belief is the one true belief is to be an exclusivist.

 

Islam

What does the Muslim culture in Banaras teach you about the representation of this religious group in our community?

 

When I went to the Muslim quarter I found that there was a sizable diversity in the livelihood between the other Hindu sectors that I have been in throughout my time here. I learned that many of the Islamic individuals are manual laborers. Many family I met work in the households as silk and textile manufacturer’s I also learned that during festivals Islam is far less public and grand then that of the Hindu festivals I have been able to witness. It is a total minority that sits contentedly in the shadow of the Hindu community in Banaras

 

Buddhism

How has your experience at root shifted your prior relationship to Buddhism?

 

I feel like before Root I had some what idolized Buddhism similar to the way an adolescent teenage girl does with Justin Beber. I have always admired the religion but in somewhat of an idealist way. The root has made me appreciate my practice of the religion in a much deeper sense. I now have met actual monks and nuns that could explain to me the rational behind there religion. I find it much more honorable now, but it was certainly a reality check.
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India

View post

Reflections from past weeks for regional seminar

Chandler Leachman,India

Description

Prompts on Hinduism, development, gender/caste and Islam.   Hinduism what is something that has shaped your identity?   Something that has shaped my identity is the conscious decision to be more open minded. I have found that there have been so many doors in my life that were presented to me because I had chosen […]

Posted On

12/1/14

Author

Chandler Leachman

Category

India

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