Currently taking a break from blogging as I dive into a series of books to read. Read, think, regurgitate, write, blog… it’s all coming as it comes.
Currently taking a break from blogging as I dive into a series of books to read. Read, think, regurgitate, write, blog… it’s all coming as it comes.
Today I started my gratitude journal. Weekly, it’ll get opened and its pages a whiff of fresh air. More importantly though, I’ll get a better view of my world. Just a thought though, I have no expectations.
While reading this month’s issue of Experience Life magazine, I became hypnotized by Yogi Kathryn Budig’s mantras, routines, and words. This article written on her gives you a taste of raw empowerment and at the same time rips away all the negativity stemming from your ego or from external, uncontrollable happenings. It’s a must quick, must-read that will introduce to the writing below – called True Joy: Kathryn Budig by Kaelyn Riley.
And if Budig can’t get you buzzing on higher level—feeling like you’re on top of the world—then this next lady surely can.
When did we start allowing ourselves to commit fraud to our own individuality? So much is to be gained from learning more about who we are. No one says it better though, or teaches it better than this astonishing human being: Caroline McHugh. Take a look for yourself. I promise her words will ring in the back of your mind as you adventure through life. Don’t miss out.
This life’s so good attitude doesn’t come from the parking ticket I recently paid off, the horrifying feeling in my stomach when we found out that a student at Malaika’s School for Girls passed away, or even the inevitable darkness that takes us all into captivity at some points in time. The horrid experiences we all embody, sometimes even create ourselves, are (unfortunately) here to stay. Yet, as Budig mentioned our attitude is our antidote. We are not here to enjoy an ice-cream sundae on a beach and to whisk through this thing called life. As McHugh explains, we’re here to learn more about who we are and radiate only that. And (sometimes) when learning more about yourself comes in a package wrapped in negative circumstance, then it is the universe’s gift to us all. Probably telling us that by digging deeper to find meaning, we will inevitably benefit ourselves.
This life’s so good vibe is actually a treasure laying in all of us just waiting to be uncovered—whether you stumble upon it or actively look for it. It is, in fact, so precious because it has no relation to the feelings and emotions that come and go; the temporary that may come in the form of negativity. Positivity—individuality through and through—is permanent. Our intangible “self” arrived long before our physical body came along and is here to stay long after we go. (At least I would like to think so.) It is a treasure to be magnified upon the world and better yet, it’s all yours. Probably the only thing we each truly have the copyrights to.
My Nani (mom’s mom) once explained to me that we all have to experience pain (this can be replaced with any other emotion) and when it comes, we should welcome it with open arms because it is a sensation that we only feel when we’re alive and able to feel. Every sense of “pain” has its own tune it dances to and therefore hits a different nerve in your body or resonates with a different lesson learned. This process all starts the minute we decide to be more aware about our own perception of our selves. I’m not attempting to teach as much as I’m instead learning to listen to the work of our real sages—Mahatma Gandhi and Caroline McHugh alike—and reflect their thoughts through sewing it through my individuality. It’s my tribute.
I’m going to move on to doing something I believe none of us do as often as we should—sharing our ideas, plans, and thought-stream. Why not? No one can tell you that what your saying is not deserving of an A-grade or that it is sub-par to the “right” way. It’s such a liberating feeling to think that our thoughts are the microscope into our true selves and a most frightening one to know that this thought-stream will eventually come to an end. So New Year’s resolution #1: share my ideas more often. Here it goes…
My next six months constitute of a two week trip to Mumbai, India (I leave in 4 days), my second semester as a Sophomore at Hofstra University, a two week trip to the DRC, where I’ll return to our girls at Malaika (still in planning), and a five week trip to A Coruña, Spain, where I’m stationed to participate in the Atlantis Project Fellowship’s pre-medical MCAT and shadow program. Still reading? Here’s a few more details.
Trespassing in India
How could I be an intruder in my own culture’s home territory? Well, I don’t know how to speak Hindi fluently and I definitely cannot tell you how beautiful the land is; it’s a sight that must be personally experienced. I am going on a visit for two weeks while I’m on winter break from school. Originally this trip was designed just to cross the pond and see how things are doing since my last visit (when I was sixteen). It wasn’t too long before my excitement got to me and I started buzzing. During the first week the plan is to hang out in Mumbai – my companion (Dad) and I are planning on doing some sight-seeing and spending some long-overdue time with family. When the second week rolls around my mind will get a real taste of what its been craving: I will get to shadow physicians inside the Indian healthcare system. The thought-process is to not just get a chance to learn from surgeons and clinicians, but also to speak and interact with them. Maybe they can help me on my mission of finding a way to get stable healthcare planted and growing in a remote village in Africa? Maybe they will point me to the third-world villages inside India itself and say “hey, you could learn from this successful system”. Maybe they will show me a method in practicing medicine that had never crossed my mind. Just thoughts.
It’s Time for Spain
I applied for the Atlantis Project thinking it is the perfect combination of what I want to do in my future: travel, meet new friends, exchange weird stories, and be in an environment where humans serve at the pleasure of an ever-changing system: the human body. I recently found out I will be spending this 2016 summer in A Coruña, a city located in Spain’s Galicia. Take a quick peak:
You could say I’m a little excited. The Atlantis Project Fellowship “immerses pre-med and pre-health undergraduates in small hospitals in Europe. Successful applicants spend a few intense weeks observing the daily life of doctors in various specialties”.
I am off to experience yet another country’s health care system and am itching with curiosity—surgeons, family practitioners, intensive-care units—how will it all play out? After witnessing the Congo’s in January of 2013, now India in a week or so, June 17th – July 24th spent in Spain will be all-too-telling. Traveling every weekend is the next piece I’m slowly carving out. Berlin, London, Venice, Florence, Rome… (it doesn’t end) – I guess I’ll have to see how many places I actually get to over my 4 weekends of easy-peasy Euro-zone travel.
Micro-Clinic To The Rescue
I never knew what I wanted to do, career-wise, before arriving in the DRC. Through Malaika and it’s mission of empowerment through education, I became awe-stricken with the poverty of health care—its lifeless infrastructure in the places that need it the most. Developed countries’ magnifying glasses take one glance over these lands and are quick to send aid, in the form of shipping containers filled with medical supplies. When I was on the ground we visited a local hospital and I could feel sorrow sting by watching the line of patients grow and wrap around the hospital door. Third world nations suffer from post-war mechanisms and the after-affects of colonization (which includes the lateness in gaining independence). Yet, what I don’t think politicians and leaders understand the importance behind is where these issues lead and infiltrate any attempt at reconciling the political or economic struggle: the society’s poor health. It’s a circular pathway that stops for no periodic package containing medicine—it only stops with sustainable health care and education. I’m proud to know that Malaika is superior in building the next generation of DRC’s thinkers, activists and leaders—but will they be healthy enough to survive the mental metamorphosis? As long as I’m around, Malaika should note that they have some one on a hunt to find the ticket to healthy students.
I’ve stumbled upon this project which is already taking place across the world, called a micro-clinic. It’s where an established organization, wealthy in knowledge about setting up a sustainable (key word) system of health care in a community, brings ‘a healthy life’ into reality through creating partnerships. I’m not too sure exactly how Malaika will one day have a health care system but I full well know it is on its way. Through finalizing my next trip back to the DRC in mid-May, I’m mentally making a checklist. Example of what’s on there: Study the girls to see the extensiveness of their fevers. Where do they localize? Why are their parents not taking them to local hospitals? My goal for the trip, along with all daily operational duties, will be to gather the statistics and data necessary to build a portfolio that displays both the deserving nature and friendly environment found in the village of Kalebuka. This an attempt to secure the exact partnerships mentioned above whose fruits will extend far beyond the initial talk of sustainable healthcare in this one village. Its fruits will also lay in the Malaika-educated girl who grows up healthy and hungry to take on this world in front of her.
When You’re Brother’s Applying to College, You are applying to College
This likely should have been the first event, as it is something I’m currently in the midst of, but the thoughts here I hold most carefully and with utmost respect—so I saved it for last. These past few weeks I’ve been home from campus, enjoying mom’s home cooked meals, and late at night, Rishi’s plea for help. I come storming to him, disgusted that I have to leave my comfy couch where I’m thoroughly in the midst of giving myself a pedicure or binge-watching Friends. Why am I doing this? And every time after I finish up pointing out where sentences may have been too long or a single word overused, I halt. I pause and enjoy these moments because I’ve realized that he could be asking anyone in his brilliant high-school, a scholarly teacher, or even one of his research mentors, but he’s not. He is asking me. Pride enters and disgust leaves.
One of the biggest points I reiterate to him is that what he is trying to communicate (his thoughts) are sometimes put into a sentence that doesn’t make this particular thought of his (which is remarkably intelligent) transparent enough. It could be coated in unnecessary words or maybe it’s too short and starved from a lack words. Whatever the case may be, the thought is blocked. This idea resonates with me because it’s so applicable and common – so much more than we may think. The minute we enter this world we are raised and molded into thinkers; society attempting to create a mind productive enough. What if we were able to live our life, interact socially and internally, yet never let our original thoughts conform to those that are deemed “right” or “upheld” by standards (set by those who are not you). Of course this is close to impossible in the battle we call ‘nature v. nurture’, but is there a possibility that our minds can be trained to actively oppose the external ideas that are conforming in nature and welcome and enhance those which serve to uncover new thought patterns or introduce one to a new idea? It’s hard for me to keep track of this thought-process, in fact (laugh here).
It is refreshing to think that being in service to someone never really impacts them as much as it does to oneself—a sort of service to oneself. Not to say that service to others should be practiced out of selfishness but shouldn’t there always be an internal part of oneself seeking to better their moral compass or to grow the vast territory of matter upon which we think from daily? I’m not too sure if I’m right—but turns out I don’t have to be because I’m just thinking, out loud.
The Gap trespassed on my “normal” life, stealing my senior year. It then planted roses in every corner of my vision field, so that I now see potential in every object, idea and person entering my sight.
My grand scheme (detailed in four sub-headers above) is just a compilation of the few plans I’ve set up to structure this crazy thing we call life. The challenge I didn’t know would come with it, is not being sure how to describe this feeling of gratitude I’ve found. I guess one way to put it is that I feel as fearless as I’ve ever been, more powerful than ever before, and simply more reflective of the self that I am.
As Caroline McHugh explains, there is never a comparison. No one is more and no person is less magical, astonishing, or brilliant than you. We are all, in fact, on a journey to self-discovery no matter how we choose to define it, be it: career-wise, socially, spiritually, politically, medically, religiously, etc. (This list is unending). Our options are endless on the road to fearlessness. So, let’s share what we’re inspired by, speak out against what we will not tolerate, and if there’s one thing outlining my “Grand Scheme” has taught me: your future is in the hands of the attitude with which you approach your present.
Watch out 2016 – I’m coming for you; my happiness and I have packed our suitcases. #Mumbai #NewYork #Congo #Spain #Euro-Narnia #InLoveWithLife’sOfferings
I remember packing away my malaria pills before the big trip. But if you had asked me back then what this disease looked like, I couldn’t tell you. That’s because it doesn’t really exist where I’m from: the United States of America. So why is it that when I am traveling to a third-world nation, I am required to ingest these infection-resilient tablets? Likely because in the DRC, it spreads as if it is incurable.
“Sub-Saharan Africa continues to carry a disproportionately high share of the global malaria burden. In 2015, the region was home to 89% of malaria cases and 91% of malaria deaths.” – According to the World Health Organization.
So is it medical? Economic? The issue is rooted in the problems global health will and already face.
Take out 15 minutes – learn something new today. Watch journalist, Sonia Shah, shed light on the disparity in infectious diseases between regions of our world.
Why you should listen “Aided by economics, culture, its own resilience and that of the insect that carries it (the mosquito), the malaria parasite has determined for thousands of years the health and course not only of human lives, but also of whole civilizations. In her book The Fever, author Sonia Shah outlines the epic and devastating history of malaria and shows how it still infects 500 million people every year, and kills half a million, in a context where economic inequality collides with science and biology.”
We’ve known how to cure malaria since the 1600s, so why does the disease still kill hundreds of thousands every year? It’s more than just a problem of medicine, says journalist Sonia Shah. A look into the history of malaria reveals three big-picture challenges to eradicating it.
Most of us recently enjoyed a Thanksgiving filled with enormous amounts of food, family, love, and warmed hearts. The girls at the Malaika School in the DRC were likely learning how to type on their new laptops, reading as far as they can before the sun sets, or eating a hearty meal in the cafeteria.
Their education is their key to the world and as much as we enjoyed receiving our aunt’s big hug and steaming food on silver platters – I promise you giving to these young girls will have your tummy in a whole new sort of heaven.
What is Mission: Restore?
An organization building an environment that incubates learning, growth and development, specifically through supplying the life-saving surgeries needed in developing regions. Through surgical training missions, surgical training grants, and telemedicine – there is no stopping MR from pushing today’s youth and those in the healthcare sector towards this common goal: stop mortality due to the lack of education in and access to surgical procedures.
There’s so much more to say and learn about what Malaika’s raw impact is in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but these videos capture the foundation if someone squished it into a couple of minutes. Learn, grow, and help us make this change everlasting. Take Action.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela
Typically in the mornings, as the beep of the microwave rings loud and black tea steams from my mug, I ponder over not-existence. One might ask: Why revolve around the lack of existence instead of the current state of being inside it? In response, I would strive to convey the satisfaction and gratification that I weave into the background of every situation I encounter, simply through feeling the reality of not-existence. Not-existence is the purposeful dwelling on the lack of being, so that one can fully come to terms with the type of being that they truly encompass. A self, stripped of all decorations, is what we are left to tangibly poke and prod at. Though I have nicknamed it “not-existence”, this concept is not original and has thrived in the elements of an identity that grew powerful from embracing their whole self and promoting others to do so.
When Alan Watts describes the taboo in knowing who we are, he begins his argument with indulging in wonder itself. He states, “Wonder, and its expression in poetry and the arts, are among the most important things which seem to distinguish men from other animals and intelligent and sensitive people from morons” (2). Yet in society, the arts are disregarded as the “less” successful, the “less” professional and mostly as the “less” meaningful. This is a pure example of the micro-layers we contain in ourselves—the surface being a mirror of what we want people to see while the truth remains hidden in a dark dungeon, never to see daylight—except play this out on a larger scale called human civilization. We push our brothers, sisters, daughters and sons to suit their interests to a particular, already-created subject, when the real issue is whether or not society even has the capability, or “subjects” as we have labeled them, to withstand the potential every new human possesses. By explaining the importance of wonder, Watts pushes his reader to examine their own sense of wonder, secretly pushing the readers into a state of not-existence. The introspective nature of peeling back our layers of conformity is in essence what happens in the first few seconds of wondering about one’s true self. Yet Watts does not stop here—explaining the infinite characteristics of a single person’s life is the key to where not-existence truly manifests. Watts states, “This feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe is in flat contradiction to everything known about man (and all other living organisms) in the sciences. We do not “come into” this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree” (2). Upon realizing that not only are we creatures born to wonder and constantly ask “Why?” but that we are also trapped in a single and unified flow of energy, one is compelled to isolate their self. Not-existence starts with cutting out all of the extremities surrounding our deep-most desires, feelings, beliefs and thought-processes—everything we are before we follow society’s rules and, as they say, “be polite”. It then directs the thinker to break the mold even further by contrasting a life without these core principles that we call the “self”, among the tangible existence of the current life—a task hard to do without stepping outside the “life” and looking down as a bird would over a forest. For example, imagine that one feels they are at the core passionate about music but pursuing an education in business to appease the qualms associated with the “Arts.” This being would then go onto realize their true self by focusing on what life would consist of if their principle of “passion for music” was suddenly ripped from existence as a potential pass-time activity—how would you respond? This pattern of contrasting the in-existence of reality with our current state, where we push ourselves into that locked dark dungeon, is what creates an importance, responsibility and most importantly an awareness to follow our inner-most self. Through reading Watt’s is how I have found my method of not-existence most clearly explained. Creating souls able to walk our planet in their own two shoes, not the ones society tries to force on our souls (pun intended).
Though Watts uses a book containing taboo information as a vehicle in which to deliver such thoughts to his reader, not-existence similarly lies at the base of Buddhist monk, Matthieu Ricard’s enforcement of the power and necessity of altruism. When a self practices meditating on the lack of having certain parts of themselves—even as far as material objects go (ie. Being a part of a loving family)—that self inevitably plunges into protecting the deepest and most true pieces of their identity. My own self—which not-existence has helped to find yet still lies under piles of conformed statements and beliefs stolen from popular thought—has internalized new concepts that stem directly from the awareness not-existence provides.
Vedic secrets and ancient South Asian Upanishad’s underlying revelation about the duality of the self are a few of the many ancestral teachings I have been curious to look into, furthering my pursuit of not-existence and its effects. My actions can no more be impulsive; thought and “the self” are two variables placed into every calculation of whether or not to act or be still.
As a writer, I am in a constant drought of inspiration. The thirst is excruciatingly painful—not until I come across the right source of wonder am I able to fluidly write. If I do not actively hunt for the emotions and thoughts that constrict the back of my throat and swell my eye beds, then I am usually left staring, blankly, at a empty word document for hours, if not days. Yet the “not-existence formed self” is the one that comes out to bat when writing occurs for me in this way. If I am impulsively writing, where my intentions lay somewhere other than exfoliating the raw nature of my beliefs, aspirations, thoughts and desires—then it no longer becomes my own writing but instead one tarnished by society’s residue.
It is not until we feel what existence would be like without our self, or even parts of our self, that we can truly understand the gift we are as human souls. Not-existence is no feat or secret ingredient to help one achieve massive wealth. It is rather a stumbled upon term for characterizing the way in which my own identity cleanses itself. Reverberations of this idea are already shaking the world; no one recipe exists to rip off that part of you that’s not actually you… but I sure do hope everyone can find it sooner than later.
 Watts explains the taboo behind knowing who you are in the form of a book he wishes to hand down to his own children. “What, then, would be The Book which fathers might slip to their sons and mothers to their daughters without ever admitting it openly?”
 Matthieu Ricard’s concept of altruism is best explained in his TED Talk titled, “The habits of happiness”. He has advocated human’s need to simply be a more altruistic society—before we grow too economically greedy and power corrupts even the most sensibly run governments.
Watts, Alan. “Chapter 1: Inside Information.” The Book on the Taboo of Knowing Who You Are. 1-2. Print.
Have you ever felt your own electrically excitable cells being introduced to one another? A thousand tiny neurons are suddenly able to communicate with a part of your brain that used to be silent, dull, and most importantly, useless. New circuits and pathways are found, resulting in the permutation and combination of new ideas. This is what living and learning, insight and reflection look like. Our existence as humans relies on our getting the most out of our firing neurons, which digest information and navigate new thought waves. The decision is inbred: either we fight to keep our neurons interactive or we succumb to the inevitable—the death of thinking.
Many individuals that modern society holds to great prestige embody the most diverse collection of understandings. Praised for their unique contributions, their core mission was first to learn the trade of humanity and then their profession. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Benjamin Franklin and Noam Chomsky are masterminds whose understanding of leadership, the sciences, politics and other subjects have infused their critical thinking and problem solving with an advanced level of creativity. This cream of the “successful humans” crop is made up of those who dwell within the multi-faceted realm of scholarship. The question becomes: do we accept that those who achieve are born geniuses and simply wait for the next one to pop up or do we consider that some great teacher instilled a curiosity and a will to learn which allowed them to transcend their momentary disequilibrium and experience the information-digesting, synapse-building, neuron-firing type of learning?
Trace the circular pattern: from writing stems linguistics; the origins of speech are rooted in psychology, which is the gateway to the physiology of human thought. From the study of the brain comes the entire sphere of subjective social and political happenings that are being processed inside our internal sensory machines. Our human species does not have the ability to separate ourselves into impermeable substances. As Walt Whitman drummed in the opening lines of “Song of Myself,” “I celebrate myself, and sing myself / And what I assume you shall assume, / for every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you” (1). In other words, every subject we encounter, break down, digest and re-combine into new orders is another addition to a singular and unified field attempting to uncover the “why” behind everything. As in all highly functional “thinking caps,” one is able to better make sense of a specific subject through having an advanced understanding of another and the opportunity to look through multiple lenses.
However, an intense amount of work to achieve a more porous knowledge-absorbing membrane may push the frightened masses to skip the hard work of multi-faceted learning and specialize. Indeed, this is the vigorous yet unfortunate phenomenon that has gripped our generation. The solution to this problem, which is located at the intersection of poor learning habits and a lack of will, comes only after the doubts and “easy-way-outs” have been destroyed. The setback many encounter with having the curiosity and will to learn, in this broad sense, is that they have not fully learned how to learn. Are we apprenticed to the “banking concept” method (Freire, 1), which prompts a student to lose perspective and mechanically program a single subject into their hardwire, useful for regurgitation only, or are we creating a methodology that helps us ignite learning via our own passions for the subject matter? With the latter, the focus lies not in memorization but rather in internalizing the subject—learning something in a way that tattoos concepts onto the membrane of our unconscious.
Many insist that this method produces a jack-of-all-trades graduate who knows a little about a lot and is therefore ill fit for our specialized and technocratic society. Such a point of view contributes to the paradoxical structure that today underlies post-secondary education in the United States. Our system consists of choosing a major, taking courses specific to that major, and then ruthlessly searching for a job for which only the major (one you had been rushed into choosing) can qualify, thus foregoing “a broad general education that cultivates respect for the diversity of different disciplinary approaches to the same questions” (Smetanka, 4). The academic dean of Saint Vincent College, Smetanka notes, “What’s your major? has become one of the most common ice-breaker questions during [college] orientation and beyond” (5). It’s a primary example of how schools mold some of the brightest 18-year-olds into limited and peripherally challenged smarty-pants. The solution to this spaghetti-maker system, churning out the same shaped students, lies outside standardized learning. Those who contend our current system already caters to the diverse nature of human consciousness do not acknowledge that the conformity students experience from grade school is the same force that crowds out the growth and development of individual capabilities.
Leonardo Da Vinci, master of a range of skills, wrote, “Everything connects to everything else.” The more diverse our understanding, the deeper our problem solving becomes. So if the educational system is the primary method for fostering learning, why is our system limited to the classroom? A few answers are already taking place: expanding curriculum to include the arts, advocating for broader undergraduate “majors” and restricting specialized courses to junior and senior years. However, time spent outside the university—either traveling through a new country or volunteering for a local enterprise—could be the proportionate mixture of application and understanding that students need. This idea of “learning outside the classroom” has taken root in the high school-university-occupation model through building non-traditional and oddly shaped paths of learning.
Inside The Gap
The so-called gap-year has been growing its stock over the past few decades, inviting those who dare to invest into a realm of exploration and experience. “A gap-year is a structured period of time when students take a break from formal education to increase self-awareness, learn from different cultures, and experiment with possible careers” (American Gap Association Data & Benefits, 1). Unlike the university system, the gap-year provides students a dual-sided front: it faces the super-specialized mind by dragging it into real-life scenarios while it simultaneously enhances the student’s thought process—similar to a petri dish filled with a culture of multiplying and interacting cells.
The original intention of a university was to create well-rounded members of an educated population. Not until the university system became the university industry did this praiseworthy ideal shift to the highly competitive, bankrupt-producing machine we find today. When the industrial revolution hit our nation, we allowed the era’s capitalistic personality to infiltrate the way in which we educate (Springer Link, 2). The vital loss of classical curriculum and the rapid rise of mass schooling directly contributed to the overall sense of rush implanted in our high schools. We are told to finish our schooling as soon as possible and get into the workforce! Yet within this confining ideology that we have sewn into the American educational system are fibers flexible enough to reflect the growing needs of present society. Today’s generation is inherently going to be the collective group to bring the gap-year from its knees to its feet. Through spending time in an entirely new setting, young minds have no choice but to re-evaluate what it is they truly care about, the principles that they stand for and the mark they wish to leave on the planet.
When one feels trapped, confined to the thoughts and ways of others, it is not only a problem for that specific person, but it creates much more of a problem for society as a whole. We may all possess a “wild tongue” (Anzaldua, 1) but many who have been raised to be good students may not have simultaneously grown the courage to voice it, especially if it criticizes the status quo. Fortunately, the pursuance of any sort of gap-year or modification to the traditional high school to university transition is itself a step outside of the standardized box that society has labeled as the only way. The fear to speak and the pressure to stay silently stuck in the box is the monster I have met on the “art of learning” battlefield. It’s the same monster actively pushing all of us students away from our diverse interests, and in the process, stealing the fire in our bellies (and brains) to learn.
As a junior in high school, when faced with the opportunity to graduate a year early and take a gap-year, my keen sense of curiosity was met with precedence. I walked into the principal’s office, made my request and braced myself when she responded that taking time off of school could limit and even deter me from college admission. I would have to remain in high school for one more year even though I had completed all required courses—in essence, stuck in the system. Though nervous and scared, I could not stomach the thought that I simply could not because it is not what everyone else does; little did I know that standardized thinking was leveraging the people who had taught me how to know myself. Right in front of me, many of times overlooked, were my parents—both of Indian heritages yet one raised in Mumbai, India, and the other in Cincinnati, Ohio. Their complementary methods of molding me were like a pair of magnets; sometimes I learned that there were two extremes to a way of thinking while at other times I saw the magic of congruent communication. My mom, coming from a life of maids and the conservative mentality in the Indian subcontinent, pushed me from the beginning: Books over boys; no getting up until there is no more food left on the plate; school, snack time, homework, then play… if time. My dad, knowing the “American way,” pushed my brother and me in a different way: Sports are a requirement; experiment with them all but inactivity is not a choice; ‘What did you do at school today?’ is not a rhetorical question; the more thorough you are, the more points you score; never act out of two things, greed and/or fear. It’s these concepts, engrained in me from the time I wore diapers, which has led me to believe in everyone’s ability to make a choice, and that if there is a will, there will be a way. Out of this North Star that I carry in my pocket at all times came the firepower to break from conformity.
Mom and Dad had pushed me out of my comfort zone in childhood, and so now I, with all the courage I could manifest, pushed them in the same way. Why should I spend an entire other year in high school when I could spend a year doing something unimaginable? They agreed! I felt the butterflies, the tingles in my fingertips and a heartbeat unlike any other when I walked the halls of my high school in rural Ohio knowing that I was leaving a year early. Indeed, I would have sweaty palms, a lump in the back of my throat and several cases of panic knowing that I was moving to New York with my parents and brother in order to keep the four of us under one roof—for that was the reason I had decided to graduate a year early. What kept me most on edge was that by the time we heard of my dad’s new job on the east coast, college application deadlines had passed. One year spent outside the American education system—would I ever get into college? Would I be a vagabond in search of what everyone else had magically received in their senior year? Even more worrisome, would I be eaten by a monster? I was far from confident that this was the right move. The doubts ran in hysterical circles, and it was not until I landed in Lubumbashi, the capital of the copper-rich province in the Congo, in December of 2013, that I found the reason, initially hidden in my gut, why I was meant to graduate early: service to others in providing educational opportunity. I spent the year working for a not-for-profit organization called Malaika, which operates a School for Girls and Football for Hope center in the village of Kalebuka, about a half hour drive from the town of Lubumbashi. The year took me to many places: to the home of Malaika’s founder, Noella Coursaris Musunka, in the Costwolds of England; to Oxford and London; then to Paris, France, and to Geneva, Switzerland. After the glamour of the adventure settled in, the real work began.
We would rise at about seven a.m. inside the home Noella has built for her mother and sisters in central Lubumbashi—the walls flaunted matte colors of green and orange, providing a subtle Carpe Diem. We would arrive at the school after a sweaty, bumpy drive in a van, where continuous French was thrown around and my mind tried to pick up all the new words. Inside the school I felt a need to sit down at the back of a classroom and hear the English being taught and numbers being added. After a week of watching the local village come out every day to act as security guards, cooks in the cafeteria and custodians for the bathroom stalls, I soon realized I was not the only one taking in new sights.
One of the teachers, all of whom were trained at the University of Lubumbashi, approached me with a smirk and asked, “Why have you come here all the way from New York at the age of seventeen? Don’t you have school or work or even friends to take part in and enjoy back home?” I stumbled, paused and retreated into my head: Why am I not in an American high school surrounded by kids my age, worried about who my prom date is going to be or which AP credits will best suit my college resume? I had no answer. However, later that same day when I exchanged glances with the five-year-old Congolese school girls, I felt their smiles telling me, “Hey, you’re just like us!” I could not understand where this feeling of pure bliss was coming from. Then I thought back to a prior experience I had at twelve years old while visiting India with my family. Walking the streets of Mumbai, tightly gripping my mom’s hand, a boy my age with a grin on his face, grateful for the two coins in his palm, looked me in the eye. Instead of seeing him as separate from me, I felt as if I were staring into my own reflection. He wore a thin cloth to cover his midsection, and the rest of his limbs—wrapped in shriveled skin the color of hazelnut—were not fully present. One leg bent backwards and the other, chopped off mid-thigh, allowed him to walk on his hands for the few meters of the block he occupied. Distorted in many ways yet perfectly positioned, he was artistically flawless in delivering a unifying message. I saw myself inside his begging body. I realized at this moment that we human beings are fundamentally forbidden to shield ourselves from events outside our comfort zones. This unknown, unnamed boy, born into the lowest caste and purposefully made to warrant sympathy, rests inside all of us—it’s the voice telling us that we are all one in this meshed-out game, so struggle to be your best and I’ll struggle to be mine. Thus, at the intersection of my ancestors’ heritage and the life I had known in rural Ohio, I accepted my identity as a mystery larger than I could ever imagine but enriched through the experience of love and acceptance.
While in Africa I could not begin to understand the after-affects of this “high,” but my version of a reorganized style of learning was something I needed to tell the world about. I was using my education to assist in the development of projects from infrastructure to curriculum. Throughout working with our Malaika team to help map out new community well sites, individually teach English to young French-speaking minds and collaborate with teachers on their lesson plans, I came to learn of a covert and camouflaged enigma in these peoples’ chests. Unrecognizable at the surface, its existence only becomes discernable when interacting with these children and diving into their community. One day I saw this treasure: they wanted to express what they could do even when food remained scarce, light remained limited and families would sell them in order to survive—amidst it all, the girls remained on the hunt for knowledge. Repaying a visit to the same teacher who had approached initially, I asked her how they maintain this treasure-piece. She said, “We ask our girls how they envision fixing the homelessness and starvation they encounter, and our jobs become simpler. We don’t need to motivate them to learn; we simply have to show them the toolbox. The creativity they then bring forth is why I come here everyday, and why I work here.”
The Notecard Ceremony
Due to my own experiences inside the “gap,” I consider the gift that the school provides for the people in the village of Kalebuka, Congo, as my personal reason to hunt for knowledge. I have transformed into an advocate for our human responsibility to our ancient ancestors, to our future, and especially to our current being to find our own unique and irreplaceable reasons to hunt for more. The few months between the gap-year I had spent abroad and the beginning of my freshman year at Hofstra University provided me with the proper combination of time and thinkable matter. Post-trip, I prepared for a fundraiser in my hometown of Mason, Ohio, in which I attempted to do justice to the gratitude I felt for Malaika and the gifts I had brought back from the year. These gifts were mainly the new thoughts I stored. In lieu of this event, while sitting on the plane ride home from London’s Heathrow, I pulled out a stack of notecards—each a snippet of what I wanted to share, yet what I most wanted to convey was not just the words and ideas written down, but the acts of capturing such moments. On the plane, I wanted to jump up and shout to passengers: There is a whole other life out there that we are always missing some part of; we need to be in search of this—the lacking trait or destination. Confidence in goodness means that wherever you are meant to thrive will stumble upon you. To be who you are is sometimes left out of the curriculum in pre-K to 12th grade—never succumb to the fear or greed that others or a system may impose. Our neurons will never forgive us for not having the will and courage to take that extra step!
Well, let’s just say I screamed it in my head for fear of getting kicked off the plane. Nevertheless, the notecards do provide some additional insight.
The After-Effects of Under-aged Exploration: We’re told to listen to our elders – go to class, listen to your teachers, follow the rules; we’re also told the best way to learn something is to fully immerse ourselves inside it. So I guess the secret to learning is teetering somewhere on the dotted line in between. This is what I learned while not being in school—what you think when you have time to in fact, think. It is not against schools of today; schools are the seed to all community growth and development. It is simply encouragement to learn more about oneself and others at a younger age. A gap combined with classroom learning could be the recipe that everyone needs to try for themselves in order to relish this currently-foreign flavor.
While preparing for my trip to Africa, a close mentor who worked inside Malaika said to me, “There are three experiences that will change your life: death, poverty and having your own child. They create emotions inside of you necessary for full comprehension of what life means.”
I felt an overwhelming gratefulness and appreciation to my ever-supportive parents, who, along with the non-profit foundation, sent me into the depths of rural Africa.
Meeting up with co-workers from past summer internships in Geneva, Switzerland, led me to think of the friendship existing inside a stranger.
I believe in all types of help… but education specifically is a lifeboat you are giving to someone to brace all types of water.
It teaches you confidence in knowing that you have ample opportunities, with a little bit of willpower and the internet, to help change what you have seen.
My mom came to visit me during my stay in Cheltenham. In a candle-lit Thai restaurant, over dumplings and hot-and-sour soup, she said, “Money is there one day and gone the next.” Only later did I dwell on this. Today, we use money as a threshold-marking measurement from which chasing dreams both begins and ends. I am not able to stop thinking about how to reach my dream: the ways, the possibilities, and the methods of doing so, though what I have realized is that I cannot place it inside money’s capsule which remains sealed. I need to place my bets on following this adrenaline-rush, mind-blowing goodness from which spurs flexible, moral, and intangible growth.
While teaching a group of middle-aged Congolese men and women in our community center in Kalebuka, a young man stood up and asked me (again), “You’re seventeen years-old, why do you even care?” A lot of them seemed curious in regards to why I was there. My response was a mixture of two things: I care more now because of what I have seen and I had originally started to care because I saw how much others did not care.
I am storing an upgraded mind map. With the manifestation of a big problem, I have learned to search for the opportunities hidden inside. I would then be drawn to an action I have termed as rethinking, which means giving myself enough time to think through potential solutions, strategize and utilize creativity as a means of solution-creation. Via tunnels of hard-work, the last route on the map points to raw inspiration exuding from the world into me and vise versa.
Gap’s Running for Office
Irony never hides. Who would have thought that being told to not break my stride from high school to college would have been the start of a journey that has me on continuous “look-out” for my next gap? My first time inside this unconventional solution shook my neurons until they fired on a new frequency. All of a sudden, there were zero degrees of separation between me and the coolest girl in school and simultaneously no separation between me and Esther, who returns home in the Congo to a mud hut, no food, and an hour of light left to make out the words in her English book. I say zero degrees because the experiences occurring to one and stemming from one eventually matriculates—as the snowball effect depicts—into the human sphere of experience. This truth is the gap’s subtle yet primary motivation to attract each and every student. Imagine a cyclotron that students could step into, speak to the “gap-year” and step out with every moral cell in their body gushing with stimulus and the will to learn. This is the gap-year’s campaign trail on the verge of a victory, manifesting to us how it can save the human race from moral extermination, which is entrenched in a lack of interest and the infamous single-subject route to an occupation. Learning how to learn can only come after we have the untiring desire to go deeper than the learning that is initially presented to you at the surface. The dots all connect when one personally encounters the metamorphosis on a grand scale.
Imagine your brain as a sheet of paper, white enough to absorb the entire color spectrum yet bounded by four corners which restrict these patterns from coming alive. We find ourselves in this situation all too often—better yet, we condone such behavior from the outside world and more importantly from ourselves. Our brains need to acknowledge and dismantle their corners. When learning is instead well rounded it inevitably asks the brain to learn from outside the geometric boundaries we use to frame our thought processes—projecting our personal kaleidoscope on the world. However, color is most vibrant on a background most untainted, natural, and authentic. We have to find our infinite white space. The gap-year between high school and college, argued as one of many solutions to the system, is just that—only one way. So get up, go, chase after it, find your own version of the gap, whether it means taking an unrelated course that interests you or leaving the walls of a classroom to teach those underprivileged. This theory does not prescript radical decisions. Instead, it proposes the application of learned knowledge in a new, untried way in order to learn, grow, and create an internal environment addicted to the development of one’s self. In the words of Richard Buckminster Fuller, a 20th century inventor, architect, systems theorist, author and designer: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete” (Mindvalley, 3).
Endless gratitude to Kirpal Gordon for his time and thought spent editing this piece.
Visit the Giant Steps Press blog, where this piece is also printed, to find more raw inspiration.
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