by Lori Markowitz
What a wonderful way to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Youth Ambassador program born during the seeds of Compassion conference April, 2008. Meeting his Holiness the Dalai Lama in India at his residence in exile was an honour and privilege I will certainly cherish for the rest of my life. To be able to travel with two of the very first Youth Ambassador students made the experience that much more memorable and powerful.
The messages his Holiness shared with us will remain close to our hearts. Habib and Olivia (remarkable Youth Ambassadors who I’ve had the privilege of working with for many years) will indeed continue to be ambassadors of hope, kindness and love.
Essentially the message from the Dalia Lama was focused on moral and "Secular Ethics" which he refers to as "Emotional Hygiene”.
The Dalai Lama believes compassion and love need to be emphasised daily and included in the school curriculum. The idea is, if children are intentionally taught to be generous and joyful and to nurture empathy and mutual understanding (not in a religious manner) they will have a happier, healthier life. We saw many Tibetan wind horse flags representing goodwill, inner strength and positivity, " Others Before Self" -- the kind and giving spirit was palpable. The Youth Ambassador program is dedicated to cultivating compassion, providing unique learning experiences, building strong school communities, and investing students in a broader movement for positive change.
Giving his Holiness the Denny International Middle School "we all belong" sweatshirt as a gift was truly an honor! Currently, the Youth Ambassador program is embedding a civics and compassion curriculum allowing students to become more engaged citizens involved in making their own neighbourhoods better areas to live and thrive in, a vital component of a thriving democratic society.
We believe every youth is a compassionate ambassador who creates positive change in their world.
Thank you Your Holiness for your blessings and wisdom; Habib, Olivia and I have been deeply touched and will never be the same.
excepts from Habib and Olivia's trip blog:
To meet His Holiness, The Dalai Lama, once is an opportunity of a lifetime. To meet him twice—well, that’s indescribable. In 2008, I had the privilege of meeting His Holiness at the Seeds of Compassion Event in Seattle, WA. In short, Seeds was a five day event centered around the Dalai Lama’s lectures on how we as individuals and as a society can become more compassionate. His Holiness is a firm believe in the importance of keeping children and youth engaged in learning the art of compassion. In fact, an entire day of the 5 day event was dedicated just to children; this is was where I met His Holiness. I was part of a group called The Youth Ambassadors (YA)—we were a collection of kids from all over Seattle, recruited to participate at the Children’s Day Event. As a group, we had put together a skit on what compassion meant to us and were given the opportunity to perform it on stage in front of His Holiness. As if that was not a once in a lifetime opportunity of its own, I was given the opportunity to introduce His Holiness before he officially started speaking that day. Furthermore, I was given great freedom in that I had the chance to create my own little speech on what compassion meant to me.
To this day, I do not know what it was that moved my high school English teacher, Alicia Balle, to recommend me to join the YA. Secondly, I still cannot understand what Lori Markowitz, the founder of the YA, saw within me to choose me for such an honor as to introduce his Holiness infrton of thousands of viewers, watching word-wide. I have spent the past ten years reflecting on this series of events. Regardless of the answer, the decisions they made changed the course of my life.
At the time of Seeds, I was 17 years old and had much—and still do have much—to learn about myself and the way the world works. Through much dedication made by Lori, the YA cause outlived the five day Seeds event. The YA organization eventually became part of the curriculum of select schools throughout the Seattle area. I had the pleasure of co-teaching such a class at Denny International Middle School. I had the pleasure of co-teaching with Olivia Smith, who was also a former Youth Ambassador and wanted to give back to the YA cause. Olivia and I were given the freedom to write our own curriculum, which of course focused around social emotional learning and secular ethics.
There is one term that His Holiness used that I came to absolutely adore and that was “emotional hygiene.” Much like how children are taught in school about the importance of personal hygiene when it comes to bodily health, His Holiness explained that importance of teaching emotional hygiene to not only young children, but to all individuals in efforts to maintain an overall emotionally healthy society. So what does emotional hygiene really mean? From what I gathered, it is the ability for one to address his/her feelings in a rational way and to be mindful of their emotional state. I'm sure we know that in today's fast paced society, it is difficult to stop and assess one's emotional state. If people are taught skills that will allow them to process their emotions in a healthy way, the overall mental health of our societies would dramatically improve, which is something we are drastically in need of.
In so many words, this extensive commentary was meant to provide you the reasoning for why inclusivity and compassion can eradicate feelings of marginalization and ultimately, the violence associated with it. In the end, it is up to the efforts made by individuals to help unite human beings, regardless of the discrepancies between their respective governments.
I some how miraculously opened my mouth as I shook his hand and said something along the lines of “Your Holiness, I just wanted to thank you for changing the course of my life.” I then presented his gift. He looked at me, smiled and thanked me for the gift. As we posed for a group photo, I remember being deep in thought, trying to process all the events that had transgressed within the last few minutes. I have no idea why the universe saw me fit to meet His Holiness a second time, but this event acted as a second renaissance within me, further propelling me towards that spiritual door that His Holiness had shown me so many years ago.
This is not the first time I have been in the presence of someone living, surviving, and thriving in exile. I was remind of Tia, a Black Revolutionary women in exile I shared many intimate moments with in Cuba. While in India, I was reminded of the time I went to Tia’s home for the first time and she was flying the red, black and green Republic of New Afrika flag. She said she was flying it so I would be able to find her. She said she was flying because she still believes that that there will one day be a Republic of New Afrika, even if it doesn’t happen in her lifetime. She has no regrets for the actions she took that now require her to live in Cuba or else a US prison. As I listened to the Tibetan President, my emotions were ever present as I thought about the Black struggle for Liberation. I was thinking about our language, our religion, our traditions — our culture. I was thinking of the birthplace of my ancestors…somewhere in Africa. I was thinking about Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X. I was thinking about how I want to preserve us too! These thoughts were met with the reminded of how much has been stolen from Black folks.