Saturday, December 12, 2009

December 12

The final day of the workshop was mostly a review of what we had done and reflections and appreciations. I think everyone was invigorated and alert, and attendance was excellent. In the morning, Ivy asked the group to contribute “what was missing?” and that brought a rather disjointed series of reflections that I found quite interesting. About half the conversation revolved around forests, their importance for Bhutan and for education, with examples from the US and Japan, where children made relationships with trees and communicated with them. The examples were beautiful and moving, and many Bhutanese responded to this, speaking of the ancient tradition of villages having their own forest to guard and protect. Khenpo spoke of three kinds of trees in Bhutan: the tsokshing, or life-force tree; the ta-shing, or sacred tree; and the lu-shing, or the naga-tree, associated with the power of water. I immediately thought of our precious Sycamore trees on the Lincoln campus, and how they serve as protectors and life-force for Naropa. The whole discussion was very moving.

Richard spoke of the potential of online education as a way to reach the remote regions of Bhutan for principal and teacher training—a very important point that I’m so glad he introduced. I expressed my dismay that the source materials and comments so far seemed to refer only to western university education, or its imports to Asia, rather than referring back to the noble Indian universities, like Nalanda, Vikramashila, and Odantapuri. I added that it is very important for Bhutan to recognize the ancient power of its own traditions, tracing back to India, rather than always thinking that the good things in education are always imported.

Of course, many reinforced the main points they wanted the Ministry of Education to remember, and a few of the reflections were tiresome, but it was fascinating to see how people responded to the “what’s missing” request.

The Secretary of Education outlined the ambitious implementation plan that she has developed, and it made us all gasp. She is on fire, and plans to take the recommendations so far and distill them into a plan that can become a blueprint for change in Bhutan. It is amazingly satisfying to see at least a plan that has come directly from our conversations. Here they are:

1. Facilitators’ training January

2. Workshops for principals January

3. Follow-up rec. for principals to choose from July

4. Workshop for non-formal education 2010

5. Training for all 6500 teachers 2011-2012

6. Website for Educating4GNH, to continue discussions among workshop participants

7. Form Taskforce to create action plan, work with all agencies

8. AEC meeting with 200 educators to share outcomes of this meeting

9. Non-formal and informal education initiatives)

(Numbers 6-7 began during the day today!)

In a “council-style” set of appreciations to close the conference in the afternoon, there were many in tears and with voices breaking, indicating the powerful connection we have all developed with each other over the course of the workshop. It’s true, by the end, a very international group of brilliant, accomplished, and passionate people—quite disjointed—came together in such a beautiful way!

This evening was the “closing ceremony,” designed to mirror the opening one that began this blog. We all dressed up and there was the kind of palpable excitement that was there before—but this time, shared more naturally with the group as a whole. There was not the intense protocol, bowing with white silk shawls, etc., that we had at the beginning, but the Prime Minister, Education Minister, cabinet members, and members of the Parliament were there. I was wearing my newly made national costume of khira and jacket and blouse (I’m misspelling everything, I’m sorry), selected during a lunch break yesterday. I asked a housekeeping lady to help me wrap it, and she strapped the waist so tight I could hardly breathe—but this is the most comfortable South Asian national dress I’ve ever worn—easier than a sari, selwa and chemise, or chuba. It was fun to wear it.

Before the evening program, I was asked to make a few remarks at the ceremony, and I had a little time to prepare something, but viewed the entire thing rather casually. So I was shocked, utterly shocked, when immediately I was formally introduced with a full introduction, and it became clear that I was to make a speech! This was especially intimidating, because of the beauty of the speeches given by the Bhutanese leadership so far, and it turned out that I was asked to speak on behalf of the entire group of participants and observers! My heart was pounding—but I also felt thrilled to be able to articulate the auspiciousness of the moment.

I spoke about the happiness found within the mind, and that it was precious, but not enough—with the dark age, the forces of materialism, warfare, and environmental degradation, more concerted effort to create conditions for happiness was required. I spoke about the sacredness of Bhutan that had been able to promote happiness because of its reverence for the dralas, it connection with life-force, and its resulting lungta, or windhorse. We have found this all the more compelling because of our own loss of life-force, and our discovery that service to others, reconnecting with sacredness, and collaborating in the solving of life issues was a way back to this sacredness. I praised the leadership, expressed my confidence in their ability to accomplish this task, and then spoke of three things I thought were needed in order to ensure the success of this endeavor: mindfulness meditation in the classroom, to promote confidence in inner happiness; critical thinking as a method to discriminate what to accept and what to reject; and the continuity of compassionate leadership—including the power of having a Dharmaraja king who really cared for his people—to ensure that the will for GNP could continue. (I’m summarizing this while I remember it, as it was definitely not a written speech!) It was gratifying to be able to speak in this way, and my remarks were received warmly by the participants and observers.

The PM spoke too, and I’m amazed at how each speech I’ve heard from him is insightful, warmly human, and thought-provoking. He spoke appreciatively about the workshop, but spoke of being “embarrassed, frustrated, and discontent.” That woke us up! He was embarrassed that he had to have such renowned world experts cut off after 4-5 minutes during the workshop; frustrated that he could not effectively use everything we each had to offer; and discontent, but I can’t remember the reason. What a powerful way to end our time together! The last thing he said was that we could all sleep well tonight, knowing that we have actually, literally, helped Bhutan. He is one of the most amazing speakers and individuals I’ve ever met.

We had a lovely dinner afterwards, preceded by a reception in the hotel lobby, much like the evening of national dances several days ago. It was friendly and warm, and the professional dancers were doing the same basic dances as before—when suddenly the Prime Minister and the Bhutanese educational leadership motioned to us all, and we all were dancing in two or three concentric circles, round and round, rhythmically raising and lowering our hands, trying to imitate the beautiful and natural mudras. Everyone joined—Bhutanese, all the international visitors, including Sulak Sivaraksa, the young students. So moving and touching, while the Bhutanese sang the songs heartfully. The songs had that kind of “sad-joy” feeling that the Tibetan songs have, and it was a great way to express our connection with each other.

It’s getting late, and I have to pack, as we are leaving tomorrow morning. I’m sad my blog may be ending—but I do expect to write a few more entries before we leave Bhutan in the middle of next week….Thanks for joining me!


  1. What a blessed and profound journey Judith. Would love to be part of any follow-up gathering you might host once home in Boulder.
    I am involved in many projects around the US measuring health and well being writ large - and would appreciate having your learnings here more fully reflected in these initiatives. They help shape and focus many foundation and governement grants and investments. That which is most important is not easily measured, so is oft overlooked.
    Blessings, Tyler Norris

  2. Wow. I just ran across your blog, Judith, while searching for reports on this workshop. Thank you for your personal and heartfelt story of your time there, and your descriptions of how this was all received by the Bhutanese.