Back in Yangon (Rangoon) last night, we heard a recital by young music students, part of a school started 10 years ago with only their voices as instruments, we listened to beautiful classical guitar played by a boy from a refugee camp who learned to play from YouTube; a girls’ flute trio, a violin duet, and the school chorus. When cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar in 2008, the government refused international aid, there was no help allowed – hundreds of thousands of people died, a million became homeless. A group of music school students risked their lives driving truckloads of rice to starving families in the delta region. When stopped by military police threatening to shoot them, they said, You’ll have to kill us to stop us from delivering this food. Their bravery triumphed; the soldiers let them go ahead.
This is the kind of courage and compassion we are witnessing at every step of our pilgrimage in Burma. We received teachings from a nun who created a shelter for homeless, abused or mentally ill women and teaches them to meditate and live together as retreatants; we traveled with the woman who had a vision of creating homes for children with HIV, for new babies and their homeless mothers with HIV; visited the nun who made a school for village children who had none, and now educates hundreds of kids through 5th grade…we’ve had the privilege of meeting political activists of immense heroism whose lives were saved by meditation during decades of solitary confinement and torture – this is the Burma of resilience, of the struggle for democracy and freedom from fear. This is the Burma of big hearts, of people who know full well they can be imprisoned again at any time – and still work tirelessly on non-violent strategies for change and for their brilliant visions of what may be possible someday in their nation.
When I was leaving the nunnery shelter, an elderly resident took my hand, looked into my eyes and from her toothless smile half whispered just three English words, “Peace of mind”, her eyes shone. “Peace of mind.”
Wherever you are today, whenever you are present, aware, intending to be kind, you also on your pilgrimage. And just where we are, by practicing mindfulness and lovingkindness, we can access the same resilience and freedom from fear. Peace of mind can become our refuge, our home. Whether in difficulties or in joyful times, our big hearts and inner peace can encourage and brighten our lives and our world.
Image Credit: T. Goodman