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Day 7 – Children Just Like Me

Day 7 - Children Just Like Me

Children in mind, children in kind. Without education, life is dark. We need education to lead a successful life. $5 can buy us a coffee or it can help a girl in Nepal attend school for one month. This means that she is reading, writing, learning with her friends and stretching her imagination for all those days spent in a classroom. When 10% more girls go to school, a country’s GDP increases an average of 3%. If a Nepali girl is not in school, she is three times more likely to be married under the age of 18, and she is twice as likely to die in childbirth than, if she completed primary school.

We had an opportunity to immerse ourselves for a couple of hours in the classrooms of up to 300 Nepali school students today. They were 4-17 year olds ready and waiting for us, starting the day with hopes of learning. Assembly was starting and was delivered only in English. They all stood in orderly rows and performed a set routine of calisthenics style exercises, led by a senior student on the microphone. This was followed by a prayer and the National anthem. They even marched off to the beating of the drum!

We were asked to introduce ourselves in assembly and give our words of wisdom to the children.

Liz spoke to them about how important it is to try your best and have fun but to listen to their parents, family members and teacher in order to learn, so they can becomes the best person they can be. She advised them to eat the fruits and vegetables provided to get all the goodness from food they need for energy to grow up big and strong. She encouraged them to try new things and learn different skills whenever they get the opportunity. She was passionate in telling them they should do activities that interest them and follow their dreams. “Dream of big things and work hard towards that, even from a young age”. The essence of her message was for each child to know they are special and unique. This was to be the theme for the activities she had planned for our classroom sessions. She had children drawing and colouring the outline of their hand on calico bunting that was to be hung in their classroom to ensure every child had a sense of belonging, in their learning space. They were asked to draw or write why they were special and what values are important to them. The teaching rationale was about having a sense of identity, a sense of wellbeing, and to contribute to the world.

So, when it was my turn to address the assembly, I took on the aspects of wellbeing and the contribution to peace in the world. I used the example that we know exercise is important for a fit, active and healthy body. But I added the element of wishing the best for others and for our self to keep a calm and peaceful mind. I talked about finding love in the heart for the special unique person they are, and then expanded into the concept of sharing compassion. I asked them to wish for others to be safe and protected, to wish for others to be happy and healthy, to wish for others to live with peace of mind. And to then wish this for themselves. My classroom activity was a replica of the one I did with 130 Wangaratta primary school children prior to my departure. It involved a short meditation session to calm the mind, then some mindful colouring of the mandala of compassion, followed by drawing the handprint and core values. I brought books of these colourings from Australia to give to the Nepali classrooms and will take theirs back home to share with other students. I was with the older students and they nodded with enthusiasm as I spoke. They sat so peacefully in the meditation, and got themselves very involved in the colouring activity. It was comforting that the girls were in equal numbers in the classroom and were not displaying reticence or shyness with learning. Let us hope this good education for these girls allows them to grow wings and fly with independence in their adult lives.

Looking down at these children we reflected on the similarities to our children back home in the western world: uniforms, pigtail, study subjects, respect for their teachers. The differences to our children back home was the amenities and resources available to the Nepali students. They did not have coloured pencils for the colouring activity. Whilst we had gone to the local little shop and bought out the last packets of crayons, pencils and textas to donate, we simply did not have enough to go round. There was only 2-3 pencils to share between 4-5 children. If only we’d had more! But the children never complained. They probably did not notice as ‘going without’ is what they are used to. Their classrooms were crowded and stuffy and very bare. The toilet block was smelly. They go to school 6 days a week here. The surrounds of the school was the local slum and massive rubbish dump in and along the river banks behind the school. This was filthy and very disgusting and thankfully not a sight we would see back home.

The final activity was recess in the playground with Liz and a 6-metre colourful parachute which over a hundred children held and jiggled and fluttered and ran in and out under. Liz threw a toy koala onto it and soon the children were squealing as the parachute was hurling the koala into the air bouncing all over the place (it should have been a kangaroo- a koala has never moved so much!) It was so much fun. We were exhilarated watching the joy, delight, happiness, and fun at being involved with these happy little (and big) students. Even the principal was running in and out gleefully under the parachute. The beautiful thing about learning is that no-one can take it away from you.


Day 6 – Giving and Gratitude

Day 6 - Giving and Gratitude

There are some people in this world who are born to give. Let me share the stories of two inspirational people we are spending every day with here in Kathmandu.

Our number one Nepali man of the moment is Padam. He is 34 years old and is one of the most caring and compassionate men ever born. I call him Vishnu after the main Hindu god, meaning the protector. He is everywhere and anywhere, looking after us. He is checking on us as we slide our way through the muddied streets of Thamel that are under construction. He guides us through the chaotic mayhem of trucks, buses and over-zealous motorbikes when we cross the roads. Together we dodge the motor bikes, battered Suzuki Swift taxis, pedal rickshaws and bicycles. He tells us every day that he is here for us 24/7. He shakes our hands and hugs us goodnight every day! He is our protector.

And he is lovable. He is always smiling and talking very fast! His use of past and present tense when talking about “our” becomes “your” so we often get confused easily. But there is much teasing and joking in our day. Even when we are walking the streets we are talking. Daily we just kept on learning more; on any topic we need to know about, including the earthquake, the education system, the status of disease, women’s health, cultural taboos for women, sex trafficking, Hinduism and more. But whilst we are walking and talking, he is greeting everyone in the streets of Kathmandu with a grin and a handshake. We have usually had to stop 8-10 times in the first ten minutes of leaving the hotel as he is everybody’s friend. He loves people and people love him!

Padam has two passions in life; volleyball and the Seven Women organisation. He has been part of Seven Women since its inception. Padam is the Superman behind the growth and development of the inspiring vision this centre has for empowering marginalised women with training and education. He can lend his hand to anything and is always willing to do whatever is required, right on time. He can negotiate hard and fair and will always stand up for women’s rights. He has studied a Bachelor of Sociology at university and is also a master Mo-Mo maker (Nepali dumpling!) in his brother’s restaurant. When given a chance to talk, he speaks with enormous admiration for Steph Woollard, the founder. He and his co-worker Anita are dynamic duo: a powerhouse of energy, compassion and teamwork. His eyes are intense with feeling as he expresses his gratitude for the opportunity he’s had in developing and working with this organisation to make a difference. He has been a national volleyball player since a young age. He plays two hours every day. He voluntarily organises the National Volleyball Festival every year and fundraises everything for it himself. He liaises with the government to make this national sporting event actually happen. This is what makes him a celebrity in his own town!​

He is here to make his mark on the world. And he will move heaven and earth in the name of justice, and compassion. As an example, yesterday we were taken to a viewing site of the Himalayas a couple of hours from Kathmandu. And whilst he tried, he couldn’t shift the clouds to give us our view of the snow-capped mountains we long to see again! But he tried. We have seen those wondrous mountains before so we accepted now was not our time.

What is striking about Padam is he constantly tells us how lucky he is and how happy he is!

He talks about the earthquake and describing his personal experience of being on his motorbike and trying to keep it upright, watching the buildings falling into the road toward him. He claimed he said, “oh my god, I am alive”, when the first shaking stopped. What followed was frequent after-shocks for another fortnight before the second earthquake struck them again. And the aftershocks were still happening months afterwards. There must have been so much fear in living with that. Yet he keeps saying how lucky they all are. The luck was in the fact that the earthquake happened on a Saturday which is their weekly holiday. If it had been a working day, thousands more would have died, including children in schools and traders in their stores. Even if it had happened at night, more people would have been in their houses asleep and unable to escape the collapsing buildings. And still he continues to claim how lucky they were. Luck? But this is his natural way of finding gratitude for everything. He is grateful that more lives weren’t lost and he is grateful he is alive. He is grateful he has a daily opportunity to help others and make difference. He lives this quote.

“Practice sharing the fullness of your being, your best self, your enthusiasm, your vitality, your spirit, your trust, your openness, above all, your presence. Share it with yourself, with your family, with the world.”​


Day 5 – Women In Mind

Day 5 - Women In Kind

Women in Mind, Women in Kind – there are women on the streets of Kathmandu “just like me”. Everyone is driven by an inner desire to avoid suffering and find a measure of peace. Compassion finds that sameness between humans and acknowledges that people from all walks of life are “Just like me”. So, as we’ve walked the exotic, chaotic streets and alleyways of Kathmandu we’ve found ourselves looking very closely at the Nepali women on the streets and wondering about each of them as a unique person. We’ve sat and watched so many women doing so many things, usually in the role of nurturing others or in the name of basic survival - caring, sweeping, cleaning, selling, cooking, sharing, talking, laughing.

Different cultures demand certain roles and behaviours from women, with varied expectations that may perhaps limit or expand her potential as an individual. Looking into the eyes of the Nepali women we wandered past today gave us an opportunity to reflect briefly on what may be “the life behind the woman”.

Just like me - when we considered what life may be like for these women we wondered if she may have children she loves and cares for, a job she works hard at to be productive, family members who depend on her, a home she takes care of, dreams of better things for herself and her family, or worries about her health, wealth and safety. Any or all of these would be make her a woman “just like me.” These women look different in their brightly coloured saris, adorned hair and worship dots. Yet like most women I know, we are the same, in that many women take special pride in their appearance. On the sub-continent here there is a marked difference in their worship practices. As I sat in Bhaktapur Durbar square very early this morning I watched up to a hundred of women walk purposefully across the cobblestones, carrying trays of flowers and food to deliver to the Hindu shrines in their morning worship rituals. So, like other women in mind and in different cultures we as women have beliefs in higher spiritual beings, intuition or religions.

An hour later in the market square we could now see that the women had commandeered a corner of the square to lay out orderly and colourful clusters of their fresh fruit and vegies to sell. They were industrious, hoping to get good prices and sell their wares in order to buy food for the family with their profits. From different walks of life, we can aim for the same thing, working hard to be purposeful and productive. Yet, amongst the mayhem of the market and the workplace, there are always women laughing with each, or sitting deep in conversation on the ground, or standing and gossiping next to the shrine. And just like other young women in countries near and far, there were teenage girls slumped on plastic chairs with phone in hand, completely absorbed in the world of cyberspace. Women all over the world are wonderful communicators. We love to share our stories and feel empathy for others.

Women have times of hardship. We saw youthful women with shovels in their hands working on construction sites repairing earthquake damaged buildings. There were other elderly women doing the menial tasks of sweeping the streets with small brushes or collecting the rubbish in baskets hung from their heads. Women can be uncomplaining, accepting of their lot, and may not always give themselves the self-compassion to dream that they are worthy of more.

Many women were carrying babies and toddlers, kissing and singing to them. This is the same the world over. Woman bear and raise children, and they are instinctive in their protection and care of their young. This is because women in particular are genetically wired to nurture- we are women in kind. It may be that the woman chooses to give only to others and at times may ignore the most important person to nurture first: herself.​

So, how does this connect with compassion? Firstly, remind yourself that you deserve happiness and ease—no more and no less than anyone else—and that the same goes for your child, your family, your friends, your neighbours, and everyone else in the world.​

“May all of us be happy. May all of us be healthy. May all of us feel safe. May we all live our lives with ease.” This is the mantra of the Mandala of compassion designed by a Dalai Lama.​

Self-compassion fosters an ability to treat ourselves with understanding and concern and encourages us to be open to giving and receiving.

For Liz and myself, our eyes are now wider and our hearts have grown bigger as we’ve consciously looked for the sameness in the women from this part of the world. As we searched in their faces, we found the likeness and we felt and shared the compassion. Our best way was to share smiles with the mouth and eyes, and say Namaste (I bow to the divine in you)

And in the next few days we will profile each of the Seven Women workers and find out their challenges and dreams, difficulties and joys. By sharing the unique story of the maker of the white scarf with its wearer, we open the awareness that all people are essentially the same. The wearer of the white scarf of compassion with know that in other parts of the world, there are women “just like me”.​


Day 4 – Simple Things We Take For Granted

Day 4 - Simple Things We Take For Granted

Essentially as humans we all desire to be safe and protected, happy and healthy and to live with ease and peace in our lives. Today we have been introduced to three inspiring organisations with remarkable people working hard to have a positive impact on the lives of so many. We spent the day visiting the Maiti Nepal Anti-Sex trafficking organisation, the Fred Hollows Eye Hospital in Kathmandu, and the World Vision Head Office and Innovation Lab. We said “Wow, that’s amazing!” and “that is so inspiring!” countless times today. We were totally engaged in the wonderful work of others.

As the day wore on we became acutely aware of how easy it is for us to take the simple things in life for granted: being safe, getting an education, being able to choose marriage or not. The sex trafficking and child marriage issues in Nepal are a world apart from social issues in the western world. MAITI Nepal was born out of a crusade to protect Nepali girls and women from crimes like domestic violence, trafficking for flesh trade, child prostitution, child labour and various forms of exploitation and torture. We visited the centre which is safe haven, a rehabilitation centre and a medical clinic for damaged, degraded and destitute women and children. It has beautiful gardens and pleasant building surrounds to provide an atmosphere of ‘family’ nurture. We visited the on-site school for all the children of victims. We were welcomed into the class room of simply adorable 5-year old girls with tunic uniforms and yellow-ribboned pigtails and little boys with ties. Such a lovely bright classroom filled with the teachings on the wall highlighting respect, dignity and compassion for others.

Simply having good eyesight is something to be eternally grateful for. We had a fascinating and detailed tour of the Fred Hollows Hospital that was started here by this renowned NZ-Australian ophthamologist back in 1993 with the intention to restore vision. Fred got things done. He always pushed for change and, because of that, put in motion a legacy to end avoidable blindness. In his time as a humanitarian and eye surgeon, Fred helped restore eyesight to thousands of people in Australia and overseas. This is a well-designed and beautifully maintained eye hospital, eye bank and lens factory. We were talked through the process of harvesting donor corneas from the deceased awaiting cremation on the banks of the river, at the nearby Hindu temple on the river we visited two days ago. We saw the sophisticated lens-making machines donated by many aid organisations around the world. We felt compassion for the patients lying on beds, queueing for clinics, wandering with patches over their eyes, or having needles and drops gently delivered into their eyeballs.

We should respect the five senses we have, in particular vision. Without vision the world is not what we see.

Through a series of previous connections via Liz and her husband, we had been invited by World Vision Melbourne to deliver a mindfulness session to the aid workers in Kathmandu whilst visiting. This afternoon we called in to introduce ourselves and our Connect with Compassion concept prior to delivering a training session for < 100 Nepalese aid workers next week. We met with Aru, the Lead Manager of the Innovation Lab who showed us their new design process to shred plastic bottles, turning it into plastic wool that can be used to insulate houses, be melted to glue roof tiles and bricks together, and to make plastic medical instruments. Such innovation! On meeting the CEO, Liz, we shared our ideas and explained the vision of Connect with Compassion to embed mindfulness in the lives of individuals and within communities for connection of the human spirit. The project will:​

  • Use a white scarf as a symbol of purity and shared compassion between people
  • Encourage people to be empowered to lead healthier and more balanced lives
  • Create a cycle of giving and receiving: firstly to self and then to those in need
  • Provide financial support to those living in physical hardship
  • Offer mindfulness training to enhance mental health and wellbeing

The World Vision centre in Kathmandu has had an intense response program for the 2015 earthquake. Their workers have been stretched and overworked and stressed as they strive to deliver their humanitarian programs to provide earthquake relief. Our visit was deemed to be very timely as the CEO had just commented with her manager that the workers are just “so tired”. We hope to introduce some meditation skills for finding some stillness and mental rest.

And again, the simple things we take for granted – a roof over our heads. Those living in makeshift shelters will vouch for the importance of shelter to be safe.

In our affluent western lives we should regularly cultivate gratitude for the simple things we often take for granted. Realise that contentment is the greatest of wealth and that no money or things can buy it.


Day 3 – Connecting With Compassion

Day 3 - Connecting With Compassion

Being a human being is not so easy. We are all vulnerable in the face of constant change. Being in Nepal is a lesson in the difficulties in life, particularly for a woman. We headed to this part of the world to source the “white scarf of compassion” from a fair-trade organisation, so that women could wear the scarf as a symbolic support to self-nurture. We all need to manage mental health as well as physical well-being,

Today we have been able to connect with the compassion that has been cultivated within the wonderful team of women whose lives have been changed and supported by the amazing Seven Women ( organisation. When we first met the two key Nepalese operators of the organisation, Anita and Padam, we instantly felt connected by their friendliness and purpose. As we talked, we could feel the shared passion of humans wanting to help humans. Soon we were all sharing our own unique stories and our values that have brought us here. We were filled with enthusiasm and positive energy as we formulated our ideas, and shared our future dreams for cultivating compassion in the world, all in our own individual way.​

When we shared our vision for the white scarf to they were immediately smiling, nodding and in complete support of the concept. Anita expressed her excitement at how impactful this could be. What we discovered was a shared appreciation of the value of meditation for mental fitness. She had personally experienced such trauma and suffering whilst providing aid and assistance during the tragic earthquake and was very candid in now recognising the need to nurture her mental well-being to maintain resilience. Having heard Anita’s story the day before it is apparent how the hardship she suffered early in life has now shaped her vision for the future of women in Nepal. There is a strong warm loving glow that oozes from her, in her eyes, her smile and her laughter. She is strong, committed, driven and always looking for another opportunity to do more, in the name of empowering women. She is a change-maker in the lives of many, many marginalised Nepalese women. She was born with purpose.

We are being inspired by their open hearts. Their daily intention is to create an environment that benefits others. Anita and Padam are on this earth to serve others.

What became more obvious to me today was the epiphany about who the white scarf target market should be. I have purposefully directed the stress management of meditation and mindfulness education towards busy, over-committed, overwhelmed Westerners struggling to maintain balance in their lives. But today I realised that a “same, same but different” struggle is here in these third-world countries. These people not only suffer the physical hardship of the daily struggle living hand-to-mouth for survival, but in addition they are burdened from the trauma of their culture, and events occurring in their lives. This is most true for women.

The rate of child marriage is very high. Thirteen year olds start having babies and can have 3-4 whilst still being teenagers. Some die in childbirth. It is believed that a daughter will be useful only in marriage, or will be sent away (sold off) to earn an income elsewhere (she can earn the family a princely $15 per month). Sadly many of these scenarios become decoys for sex trafficking. Husbands will abandon their first wife and take another if she cannot produce a son. There is high levels of domestic violence towards women.

So my realisation was poignantly apparent when I spent the morning with 12 of the Seven Women workers in mindfulness activities. They were a selection of women with disabilities, deformities, and abandoned mothers. They come to the Seven Women centre to undergo training in literacy, craft, micro-finance and hospitality skills. This is to allow them to become skilled, educated and gain independence. The centre is a safe haven of peace and calm, connectedness and camaraderie. Women are welcomed, supported, nurtured and accepted. This is a palpable vibe.

So whilst these women had never tried meditation and never heard of tai chi, they willingly had a go. We slowly did a Tai chi warm up session which they participated in with smiles galore. I also taught them some postural stretches to relieve the repetitive strain of sitting at sewing machines.

Then we sat in a circle ready to try some breath and body awareness for 10 minutes. We focused on simple techniques for calming the breath, calming the body, calming the mind. This was all translated in Nepalese. At the end of that session they told me they felt calm and relaxed. One woman noticed her breath coming in cool and leaving warm. Several felt that had been in another place whilst breathing slowly. Anita and I were amazed at their responses. This experience had delivered so much more than we had anticipated. Their faces shone and the smiles came from within. This group of women need self-compassion and a building of self-respect. They are worthy recipients of the compassion that is given to them via Seven Women organisation and all the people, locals and businesses that support them. The plan now is for 10 minutes guided meditation once a day at the centre, which will be translated into a Nepalese recording. They will do twice daily postural stretches and some tai chi movements daily to relieve physical stress. I felt grateful to have been able to share my skills with them.​

I realise that there is nothing to distinguish stress from one person to another. It is real, subjective and ever-present. It is our perception and reaction to the challenges we face.

So, today was an emotive powerful experience of seeing how little things can make big differences.​


Day 2 – Similarities and Differences

Day 2 - Similarities and Differences

The morning started on the hotel rooftop doing some Tai Chi whilst looking over the higgledy-piggledy rooftops of Kathmandu city with the hills in the background and the low clouds. Early morning life was slow to emerge with the crows crowing, the rubbish collectors calling to each other and the sounds of some distant bells. Looking across from one rooftop to the other, whilst doing my ‘waving hands in the clouds’ moves, I realised I was being watched by an elderly woman in a sari doing her morning ablutions and a young mother preparing breakfast for her two daughters. The underlying theme of this Connect with Compassion trip is that other people are essentially “just like me”. And here I was witnessing two women doing the tasks they do every morning in order to start their day- just like me.

Today was a comparison of what we had experienced in the past and what was presented in the here and now. We were eagerly looking for the similarities and the differences in the sights and the way of life in the Kathmandu we remembered of 30 years ago. Looking for similarities and differences was most evident when we walked into Durbar Square, one of the iconic sites in Kathmandu city. Things hadn’t changed in terms of flocks of pigeons filling the market square and the cycle rickshaws lined up in front of the old temple site. Women in saris, postcard sellers, street cleaners- life on the sub-continent. But what had changed was the ancient temples that had sadly not stood the test of time. What had once been a famous five–storey tiered brick and timber Hindu temple was now just a brick platform with an enormous amount of sky above. Durbar Square was an area the earthquake had dramatically brought tumbling down. Our jaws dropped. It was hard to fathom. And the more we wandered this old part of town the more we saw the cracks, the broken tiers, the crumbling plaster facades, the shattered roof tiles. The damage of Mother Nature was most marked in the old building that are now very much damaged This is the historic zone of the original old royal palace and the 9 storey tower. The earthquake is now its’ newest history. There are poles propped against walls on every building, corrugated iron cordoning areas at the base of buildings, scaffolding in place everywhere. In the narrow streets, if rebuilding has occurred they have built new on top of the ancient, in order to keep some sameness of their past- to hold on to some of what they had had.

Wandering the Durbar market square, there was not a lot of difference in the market stalls. The trinkets, prayer wheels, silver items, brass bowls and so much more were still the same of 30 years ago. In fact some of them may well have been here when we were last here!

We headed to Pashupatinath, the oldest Hindu temple in the world, where the cremations occur daily on the river banks. The burning pyres, the smoky air, the roaming monkeys, the crazy “holy” men dressed in orange robes, face paint and dredlocks- these things were the same. The culture of burning the body within hours after death continues. The rows of men that sat by to watch the ceremonial burning alongside the pyres still also continues. Similarly women are still not permitted to be alongside the burning of the loved one and there are clusters of sari-clad women huddled together in quiet mourning, separated from the scene. Some changes have occurred in that women are now allowed to actually visit the temple site whilst not being permitted to farewell their loved one on the riverbank. Being witness to the grief and loss and suffering in the faces of the mourning women was so hard to see. Compassion for their loss was felt in our hearts yet there was no way to ease their pain.

Ancient rituals and beliefs are resistant to change. Nature has its own way of creating change.

Again, the impermanence of life. The nature of life is change.​


Day 1 – Our Arrival in Kathmandu

Day 1 - Our Arrival in Kathmandu

Today was one of those days that clarifies what we already know but are often reluctant to accept. …. the wheels of time are turning, things are always changing and nothing stays the same. Actually, the concept that life is impermanent, as the Buddhist philosophy teaches, was to become a real appreciation.

As we flew back into Kathmandu today, 30 years since we last flew out, we were looking eagerly for the Himalayas that had us captivated us so long ago. When we last flew out in 1987 we claimed we would return within 5 years. Not to be! And today only the teeniest sneak view of a majestic mountain was to be spied beneath the thick clouds. That’s ok, the things that don’t change (much) are mountains, whilst the rest of life does. Returning to Kathmandu was to present a challenge to us both. Could we could cope with the changes of time, economics, natural disaster and commercialism in Nepal? The huge filled-in cracks in the road were the first signs of the major suffering that has happened in this country with the earthquake of 2015 that killed 10,000 people in Nepal, and injured 22,000. Such tragedy and change to be endured here in the past 2 years.

And yet, the essence of the place is the same, as for any part of Nepal. Smiles are everywhere and the respectful greeting of Namaste touched our hearts. We’re back….. and we’re saying Namaste left right and centre! This time I truly appreciate the full meaning of the word Namaste; “I bow to the divine in you”, as we are on the search to notice compassion in all people. We were like first time tourists again, as it’s nice to see things with a new sense of curiousity and a beginners’ mind.​

I thought the cycle rickshaws would be a thing of the past, and was excited to see them still around, but now amidst so many more motorbikes and cars, squeezing us out on the narrow streets. There was some mayhem moments at the narrow roundabouts where the small temples still preside, pride of place, but the cars now jostle and screech for priority. The massive thick spider webs of powerlines nearly hang to the cars. Ornate and aged timber panelling hang precariously off some buildings, and the narrow tall building structures are still made with old red clay bricks. The dusty streets and paved alleyway roads were beckoning us to walk amongst the scattered colourful stalls, the street obstacles, the decorated shops and the people.

When wandering the weaving winding streets in Thamel we came to Mandala Street and were delighted to see beautiful and colourful framed versions of the Compassion Mandala everywhere. It was great to now be able to recognise it after conducting the Mindful Mandala colouring activities before we left.

All is busy here but with a pervading sense of calm and slowness. I now realise these eastern traditions have so much to teach us in finding some slowness in busy lives and choosing our way carefully through our moments rather than rushing by and missing things. The simple things I noticed here were the black crows perched on balconies, the potatoes displayed in woven baskets, the fake flowers on the rickshaws, the boy collecting rubbish, the girls in matching saris, the wrinkled faces of the elderly, the policeman hand-directing traffic. Then there was the tea shop with no sign of tea, the beautiful brass singing tibetan bowls in the shops, the prayer wheels built into the main buildings, the red hindu dots on the women faces, the draped saris, and the scarves that are abundant on women and in the small shops. Bring on the scarves!​


Children’s Mindful Colouring and Core Values

Children's Mindful Colouring and Core Values

I recently had the absolute pleasure to collaborate with Grade ¾ classes at a local Catholic primary school to conduct some mindfulness activities with young children. My intention was to share with children the concept that all over the world people are “just like me”. The motivation was to create a connection between two schools situated on either sides of the world and at either ends of the socio-economic spectrum. This was in preparation for the Connect with Compassion visit to Kathmandu in June 2017.

As adults, we have often been exposed to more experiences in life allowing us to have a greater appreciation of the “haves” and “have nots” in the world. But children may not yet have been able to truly understand how big and small our world is. To share this with Australian and Nepalese children, we created a mindfulness colouring page using the design and meditation phrases of the Mandala of Compassion. The purpose of this was to allow participants some mindful moments of flow, calm and relaxation when becoming absorbed in a creative task, using coloured pencils to follow the curves, lines and shapes. The meditation of Loving Kindness was written in both English and Nepalese to wish the recipient to be safe and free from pain and suffering, to be happy and healthy and to live with ease. The script of Nepalese does not use the English alphabet, and in itself was of interest to English-speaking children, to highlight there are other languages at use in our vast world.

So to tune the kids in to this theme first, I facilitated an introductory session with over 120 children from St Bernard’s Primary School in Wangaratta. I wanted to highlight for them that there are school children in other parts of the world who are essentially the same as them, even if their physical conditions may be vastly different.

This group of Australian children regularly practice Christian mediation in class. So I asked them to share with me what they feel when they meditate. Eager hands shot up in the air and little voices told me that they feel “Calm”, “Relaxed”, “Peace” and “Safe”. The latter word was the word that struck the heart chords for me. How affirming that children could find an inner space for themselves that created all those emotions: by simply sitting and being still and repeating a silent Christian mantra.

I showed the children a short video depicting a day in the life of an eleven year old girl, Manishka, in Nepal. The class was instructed in half the group being asked to notice what was the same in her daily routine of life as theirs. The other half were to notice what was different.

Again, the innocence but intuitive noticing of young children became apparent. In sameness, they noticed that the young Nepalese girl, wore a school uniform, played hackey sack and skipping rope in the school-yard , helped with jobs around the house and farm, had pencils and a whiteboard in her classroom. They noticed she did her homework, and dreamed to be a nurse to help people one day when she grew up. In differences, they noticed that she had to boil water for her breakfast over a fire, compared with flicking the switch on a kettle. They noticed that the school room floor was dirt and the tables were narrow and unstable, and they had poor footwear. They noticed that the hackey-sack she played with was actually a pine cone. They noticed how far she had to walk to school and that she took her lunch in a metal container. They noticed that she did not have a Smartboard in her classroom.

Such noticings and comparisons…….. They were giving themselves their own lesson in the “haves” and “have nots” in life. It was incredibly heart-warming to be part of!

A week later, I arrived to supervise the Mindful colouring session with these same children. We started with three minutes of silent meditation to settle them and allow them to focus on compassion for other children. Then a supervised 30 minutes of silent colouring in the Mandala of compassion followed. Little hands purposefully and attentively chose colours and filled in lines, curves, and shapes to create a creative collection of circular colourings. At the bottom of their page was space for each child to outline their own hand print. They were asked to fill in their five core values of how they wish to be as a person, and then colour this hand as they wished. There were many words of Caring, Loving, Friendly, Generous, and so many more. The children were very involved in the task, and told me it was fun. They really liked it, and could they “do it again one day please?”

Because the collection of colourings and values was such a creative, insightful and bright array of children’s work, we have also decided to bind them as class books for the St Bernard’s children to keep in class to reflect on themselves and the values of their class mate’s values in months to come. These colouring sheets will be given to Nepalese children as a gift from Wangaratta school children in recognition that another child is considering their Nepalese counterpart and understanding that essentially he or she is “Just like me”. The Nepalese children will be asked to participate in the same colouring and hand outline task to send back to the Wangaratta children, to create the cycle of giving and receiving. This is about gratitude for the simple things in life.