There exists a four letter combination known only to the most honest, loving, pure and unselfish souls of the world. They keep and cherish it with an equal sense of aspiration and asylum, indifferent to whether they have truly experienced it yet or are still awaiting to be shaken by the sight.
Yet, to tease those who have and to shake the ones who have not yet had the opportunity to encounter with the unspoken place, I will try to provide a taste of what I believe to be one of the most life changing months of my life.
When faced with the impossibility of expressing the multitude of experiences lived through during a course of month, I will simply start by saying that It all began as a skeptic introduction to a Utopian society embodying a castle situated at a small Swiss mountain paradise- Caux.
During my stay, all of my senses were overpowered by what seemed to be extreme deviations from normality, positive extremes provided me with persistent food for thought- commencing by mesmerizing landscapes experienced almost every second day, whether it would be a climb to the nearby 2.5 km peak, hike to the local mountain waterfall or bike rides through the lake-side villages; the external sights were accompanied by breath taking internal sceneries- conversations with Le Figaro key political correspondent, youth opinion-leader behind the Tunisian revolution, policy developer at the ECB and somewhat 40 indescribably interesting, inspiring and irreplaceable interns from the entire world were among few to teach me a lesson or two upon acting and understanding.
A month of my life at Caux granted me with memories archived below “the most beautiful memory(ies) of my life so far”. One can still not explain even a minor fraction of what took place at this magical setting, albeit, possibly that being for the best.
I have tried to divide my memories in two parts, thus providing an insight within both the practical and sentimental prisms of the experience. Therefore, if mildly logical introductions weight superior to you than impressions extracted from stardust and good intentions, I would invite you to explore the second part of this magical compilation of letters.
By taking on the role as an intern one should be aware that his schedule will be divided onto four parts, them being, namely workshops, voluntary work, conferences and free time. In order to provide the most holistic description of the experience I shall try to lay out a material for tasting, describing the key activities, however, one should strictly bare in mind that these are highly subjective impressions.
Workshops. The head organisation “Initiatives of Change” is a construct relying heavily upon its set of four core values, them being absolute purity, absolute honesty, absolute love and absolute unselfishness, being the set of values embodying every religious teaching of the world, thus unifying at the essence. They allow to indirectly answer a question that arises, whilst reading the mantra of the entire organisation – “Be the change you want to see in the world”, the very core of the organisation relies upon the fact that by following these values one can change (I prefer develop, to avoid the highly religious connotation of the term) the world (or merely the fraction of the society that we are exposed to on a daily basis). In practice the workshops, which take approximately 30 hours per week are designed for this particular purpose- to understand yourself so as to develop yourself, to subsequently develop the society. These abstract and vague mission-n-vision type of statements are extremely beautifully and vividly embodied in a set of discussions, exercises and debates, that allow to truly experience the personal meaning behind all of these constructs. Emphatic listening, leadership skills, morality and standards, negotiation, conflict resolution and others were the topics covered within these workshops.
It needs to be taken into account that this was the most internally focused activity of the entire program, therefore the quality of it highly depends upon one’s personal attitude and the extent of skepticism/desire to fully participate and make the best out of the activities. As skeptic I was at the beginning, as regretful I felt about that at the end of the internship. Caux is an extremely safe space to be vulnerable in and actually experiment with this sort of an experience; while describing all of the activities would take more than hundred average attention spans, I shall only mention that the lessons gained with the help of reflection time and discussions, have been the tools redefining my formerly present understanding of the notion of communication as a whole. One of the most interesting thoughts expressed throughout one of the discussions upon listening was that, whilst in a conversation you are not faced with a snapshot of a person, but with his entire development up until that point in time. A lovely reminder when your inner pragmatic and squared economist kicks in to list all of the possible phrases through which it is possible to express the ugliness of that sweater/word/grade/face… whatever.
Voluntary work. A way of practically living the values undermining the organisation is the extensive practice of voluntary work practiced all throughout the castle. All inhabitants of the castle, despite being prominent conference attendants, interns or volunteers, are expected to devote a share of their time to voluntary work. For interns this share was 9 hours per week, therefore every second afternoon I found myself contributing to the creation of vegan delights at the diet kitchen, however one could easily find himself helping with any duties relevant to an institution involved in hospitality.
The magic of the place, and, subsequently, of the practice of volunteering, revealed itself unto me in a fairly ordinary afternoon (as ordinary as it could be in the context of the castle) at the diet kitchen, Liz was introducing me to the wonders of quinoa patties, when we commenced discussing the conferences. After having mentioned some of the interesting debates I’ve had upon the concept of reflection time and all of the sub-variations it could be embodied within, a story slowly unraveled as Liz started talking about the reasons why she finds it useful and how it had helped her and her husband during their time in Papua leading the peace talks and resolving the hostage crisis. Word by word she casually portrayed the civil war and their participation within it; how they, together with her husband, had led the peace talks and helped avoid additional armed conflicts.
And so, shortly before dinner time I was cooking quinoa patties together with the person who prevented the escalation of a civil war and led the diplomatic talks between the indigenous population of West Papua and the Indonesian government.
Conferences. Throughout the summer, the castle turns into a conference center, or more realistically speaking into a thought incubator bringing together opinion leaders, influencers, politicians, activists, peace-builders, bureaucrats, journalists, religious leaders, UN policy makers, Nobel Peace Prize winners and more- generally speaking open-minded people from the entire world to the most neutral and tolerant place on earth, to discuss matters of large importance and increase the well-being of the entire population.
Throughout my stay at the castle I participated in 6 conferences; as an intern your participation happens to be mandatory at some of them and voluntary in the others. The topics of the conferences include alternative economic policies, gender equality, migration issues, children’s rights, radicalization and others. Therefore, when discussing the workshops, one is invited to participate in a highly internal experience, the conferences are the perfect opposites, as they allow you to externalize your point of view to the furthest and remotest corners of the planet.
One of the conferences “Living Peace”, devoted to female peace-builders, significantly expanded my notion of female activism and involvement. Words can hardly describe the power derived from influential female leaders coming together to discuss issues of inequality and oppression. Noble Peace Prize winners, UN leaders, globally recognized activists and opinion leaders gathered for a week to share their stories, debate and encourage.
Observing this conference I finally grasped the logic behind the structure of the internship and why internal development takes almost an equal amount of time as participation in these discussions- one cannot change the world if one has not started with himself.
I thank the Leif Muten Society, for having provided me with the funding necessary for registration for the internship.