It doesn’t last long, this little life of ours. Time and the world pass in dance, or is it a trance, and it doesn’t matter how well off we are, how cultured or intelligent, once it goes it’s gone. Memory can recall but not replace the ones we love. Truth has no past. It has no future. It is found only in the present moment, which is forever. But how many of us feel comfortable enough in the present moment to enjoy it? Would we not prefer to be distracted by another person, place, or project possibility even if they’re not real but only fragments from dreams or figments of an overheated digital imagination?
Here is a story called The Rain of Serpents. It was created by two young women I met on the Garden Path in a workshop at the Vivekanada Technical College in Puthukudiyiruppu. Thuvaka told the first part of the story and her friend and Parimala finished it for her.
I’m from the village of Kodaikuar. I awoke one morning, opened my eyes and remembered it was my turn to light the pooja lamp, unlock the front door and sweep the yard. When I opened the door a snake fell from the roof and slipped inside. It looked like a small viper so I woke my parents and tell them what was happening.
My parents asked what kind of snake it was. I told them it was small one but with a big triangular head, or maybe even two heads. It happened so fast I wasn’t sure what I saw. We called our next-door neighbors to help us search the house but we found nothing. My father suggested we lay down poison to stun the snake then behead it and throw it on the fire. But my mother thought this was a brutal suggestion, and sacrilegious as well, so we decided not to do that.
Instead we called in a specialist, a pombati (snake charmer) from the village temple who summoned the snake with his flute. Two snakes in fact appeared from under the doorstep; small fellows, one with rainbow bands and the other with two hissing heads.
For a few days we were the talk of the village. Everyone wanted to come by to see the snakes but the snakes didn’t want to see them. The pombati said these kinds or snakes were quite shy of people and very holy. They had the protection of gods. He then withdrew and sat down under a flowering lime tree to meditate.
As dusk fell he began to play an enchanting melody on his flute. The snakes slipped out from under the doorstep and sat together in a knot looped at his feet. He seemed to be giving them instructions with his flute. They swayed to the music. When he got up to leave they followed him home to his temple.
I have diverted you momentarily to make a point. Stories, as well as other forms of art such as music, drama, painting and dance are diversions to be sure, but they also open us up and bring us to a place of repose in the impossibly beautiful but transient world we share. We find a point of balance between our inner and outer worlds while creating or participating deeply in artistic expression. This is what we teach kids we meet on the Garden Path and we’ve been doing that for over forty years now.
In Batticaloa, Sri Lanka, where people were besieged by war for thirty years then inundated with a tsunami we offered children a place of refuge at the Butterfly Peace Garden. We explored the gap between inner and outer worlds with them, confident that the spirit dwells in the gaps, in the rubble and ruin of their lives and the empty and desolate places they inhabit or have been forced to flee, just as surely as sacred serpents slumber under the doorstep in Thuvaka and Parimala’s story.
We explored this reality for years with these children before discovering a way to transmit their wisdom to others through the Out-of-the-Box Curriculum. This curriculum is made up of their toys but they are also toys equally suitable for the capricious gods who rule our world as well as ordinary mortals who have been bought and sold one too many times in their lives and who could use a new story.
17.1 The Reign of Spirit
The last entry I made on this website was in June 2016, almost a year ago. I apologize for neglecting you, my dear friends. Let me assure you, I have been far from idle. For the most part, from August 2015 I have been in Batticaloa at the Monkey’s Tale Centre for Contemplative Art working on fabrication and assembly of our Garden Path Out-of-the Box Curriculum with Master E. Kularaj and his assistant K. Thevekanthan.
I posted sixteen times on the website from April 2015 through June 2016 reporting on the progress of our work and subsequent field tests of toys along the way. I invite you to follow this chronicle step by step on this website when you have time. About midyear 2016 things got a bit busier than usual. I kept journals but never reported again online, until today. I’m here to bring you up to date on what’s been happening and where we hope to go with it in the future. Once again I thank you for your interest in this project and your generous support.
In July 2016 the Monkey’s Tale Center accepted an assignment with the World University Services of Canada (WUSC) which allowed us to bring our curriculum of toys to the field and test them in poor communities, all of them war-affected, some hard hit by the tsunami, drought and other natural disasters. The results gave us pause. It became patently clear that the world is moving too fast for these young people. They have gone from tranquil rural traditions to warp speed technology within the short span of their lives. They need something like this curriculum to give them pause and perspective. Why? Because it teaches them that the real source of happiness is within.
These young people long for a deeper connection with one another beyond race, beyond religion, beyond ethnicity and culture, but nothing they know fully satisfies this hunger – not their schools, not their menial jobs, not their smart phones (yes, some have them ) not even their parents, politicians and priests. They are casualties of what sociologist Zygmunt Baumann calls “liquid modernity”, a way of life in which change is so rapid that no social institutions have time to solidify.
We conducted a series of workshops for WUSC trainees in Reconciling Otherness through Art from July-October 2016. These sessions took pace in four different locations: Monkey’s Tale Center in Batticaloa town; Bodhi Rajah Institute at Damana in Ampara District; Vivekanada Technical College at Puthukudiyiruppu in Batticaloa District, and St. John’s Vocational Training Centre at Urani, in Batticaloa District. On October 21st we unveiled our new Out-of-the-Box Curriculum at Monkey’s Tale. In his invitation to the launch Father Paul Satkunanayagam spoke of a new mandate and a new era of engagement with community in the spirit of reconciliation and renewal.
Over the last year-and-a-half The Monkey’s Tale Centre for Contemplative Art has been renewed itself from the inside out. We have reorganized the studio facilities, upgraded the reference library of visual arts, and are now in the process of creating a Garden Path archive of historical photos and texts.
In tandem with internal recalibration in mission and mandate we have refurbished and redecorated the buildings and grounds to allow provision for future possibilities as an art gallery, community education resource centre and parliamentary space for the Butterfly People’s Paapam Parliament.
Dedicating ourselves to the encouragement of youthful imagination coupled with artistic discipline and community service, we renew our steadfast commitment to the cultivation of peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka through education in creative process among young people and their teachers as a vital component of community wellbeing.
Fr. Paul Satkunanayagam S.J
The year rounded out with a series of ten ‘shramadana’ sessions in November and December where our old animators from the Butterfly Peace Garden returned to help clean out the studios and storage areas of the Monkey’s Tale, repainting and restoring the buildings, replanting the gardens and generally preparing for reconfiguration of Monkey’s Tale as a center of training for adults working with youth following the new Out-of-the-Box Curriculum.
About the same time, two of my oldest friends in Sri Lanka, artists Chaminda Pushpakumara and Nalaka Pradeep Kumara, created the first two public Peace Puzzles with twenty trainees in graphic design and computer technology at WUSC programs in Matara and Tissamaharama. These Peace Puzzles along with related Mystery Paintings took six months to complete. They were installed in an exhibition opened by the Her Excellency the Canadian High Commissioner, Shelley Whiting, at Colombo’s JDA Perera Gallery in April this year. Many people connect through the creation of images and stories that this kind of work evokes. Here are two such stories.
I had a chicken when I was a kid and I played with it all the time. One day it up and died. I was broken hearted and cried so much my mom said she’d find another egg. The people next door went away and while they were gone their hen wandered into our yard and laid an egg. We put both chicken and egg into a cage and waited expectantly.
A human child was born from this egg. It so astounded my mother she was, for once, speechless. The neighbours returned late one night. Mother got up and without turning on any lights released the chicken. It wandered happily home but we kept the chicken boy and never breathed a word of his miraculous birth.
I was not particularly athletic or even vaguely interested in sports when out of the blue I became a star. After I sat for O-levels, one of my teachers convinced me to try out for the girls’ rugby team as a goalie. I didn’t have the foggiest notion what a goalie was supposed to do but I agreed. The coach told me you just stand outside the net and people will try to kick the ball past you. But you mustn’t let them do that. You must stop the ball from going in the net and kick it back as hard as you can. The whistle blew. The game began. Within a matter of seconds a ball came sailing straight for the net.
My head was spinning as I watched that ball streaking toward me. I thought I might faint and fall flat on my face but that didn’t happen. The ball landed nearby. Instinctively I rushed in and kicked it as hard as I could. It sailed all the way down the field straight into the other team’s net. After that the game went back and forth with both sides scoring evenly one goal after another. Too boring, I though,t so I decided to end it.
I kicked that ball so hard it soared out of the stadium and never came back. A shadow passed over the crowd at that moment and the moon quaked. When scientists later reported on the late night news that a rugby ball had been discovered on the moon I took immense pleasure in knowing just who put it there.
Chaminda and Nalaka’s achievement in introducing the Peace Puzzle process to the field of post-conflict healing and reconciliation in their country is unparalleled. I celebrate their success as artist/teachers. It is their dream to collaborate with Kularaj and Thevakanthan at Monkey’s Tale to create a series of inter-ethic Peace Puzzles with Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim students throughout Sri Lanka. This is a noble goal and I will help them to realize their dream anyway I can.
17.2 Thus Has the Lapwing Heard
One of Sri Lanka’s favorite birds, the Red Wattled Lapwing, constantly cries out, “Did-he-do-it?” “Did-he-do-it?” Now we can answer him loud and clear: “Yes, we did it! Yes, we did it!” We created four prototypes for the Out-of-the Box Curriculum and field-tested them in extensive programs throughout the country. Where are they now? Well, that’s another story we’ll save for another time. Suffice it to say that the Toys for the Gods are all where they belong poised for action. There is one set in Batticaloa at Monkey’s Tale, one set in Colombo at Step-by-Step Studio and two sets are in the safe-keeping of my good friend and patron, David Walsh, at his office on St. Joseph Street in Toronto, awaiting further instructions from the Lapwing field command.
According to linguistic ornithologists what the lapwing is asking now is: “what happens next?” What happens next is fundraising. And this is where you can really help. Our goal in this first phase is to raise CDN $20,000 by November 1, 2017. We kicked off our fundraiser at the launch of the Out-of-the-Box Curriculum at Carrot Common in Toronto on May 15. Our strategic objectives were presented to fifty friends and supporters who attended the launch. Contributions have already begun to roll in but we need ten times more than we now have in hand.
THE GARDEN PATH CURRICULUM
Sewing Seeds of Sanity and Mirth in a Mad World
After two years of development, fabrication and field-testing in Sri Lanka we launched the Garden Path Out-of-the-Box Curriculum in Canada on May 14th at Toronto’s Carrot Common. Friends of the Garden Path joined hands with Community Counts Foundation in a coalition that offers tax credit for donors and logistical support for programs in creative process for youth in Canada, Sri Lanka and further afield.
This new curriculum is intended to counter fear and encourage understanding in uncertain times, especially among young people. We may not be able to change the world with this curriculum but we can change the way we look at it providing hope for the future.
Coordinating with a network of experienced artists, storytellers, teachers, environmentalists, health care providers and community workers in Canada and abroad, the Garden Path curriculum offers training that awakens understanding and appreciation of creative process in young people encouraging them to become catalysts for positive change in their communities.
Inspired by lessons learned during forty years of experience working with communities affected by war, natural disaster or disability in Canada, Sri Lanka and Cambodia, the Garden Path curriculum transforms dissociation and despair among young people into empathy and engagement with community renewal through practice and cultivation of the arts.
- To establish the Garden Path / Community Counts Coalition in Toronto with not-for-profit charitable status for fundraising purposes;
- To establish Falling Sky Centre for Contemplative Art in Canada as a partner organization to Step-by-Step Studio and Monkey’s Tale Centre in Sri Lanka.
- Using Mystery Painting and the Peace Puzzle as a point of departure, to inspire and instruct a core group of Canadian artist-animators in how to use the Garden Path Curriculum in their communities;
- To consolidate the Garden Path archive of photos and documents at Falling Sky Centre;
- To seed and support Peace Puzzle projects in Canada and Sri Lanka;
- To support the Sri Lankan peace and reconciliation process through programs at the Butterfly Peace Garden and Monkey’s Tale Centre in Batticaloa and at Step-by-Step-Studio in Colombo;
- To create a team of artist / entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka who fabricate the Out-of-the-Box Curriculum and implement a training-of-trainers program at Monkey’s Tale Centre:
- To create an mobile team of international Peace Puzzle artists based in Sri Lanka at the Monkey’s Tale Centre who will assist youth develop their creative potential in war zones, refugees camps and inner city ghettos.
This is conceived of as a two-and-a half-year pilot program which began April 1, 2017 and will continue on through December 31, 2019. The project will be renewed with an expanded mandate in 2020 for a further five years with emphasis on skills enterprise development in Sri Lanka and training-of trainers in programs in Sri Lanka and Canada in partnership with international donors.
5. Anticipated Results
At a time when it feels like the sky is falling and the world its closing down in self-destructive politics we can continue to cultivate the Garden Path ideals of compassion, creativity and community in today’s young people so that they will shape a just and more understanding society tomorrow. Applying Garden Path principles, which have proven effective in times of war and natural disaster, we will inspire young people to embrace their future with wisdom, spontaneity and joy.
6. Getting Started
We invite you to become an active member of the Garden Path / Community Counts Coalition. Please circulate this posting among friends whom you think may like to contribute to this effort. To learn more about the history of Garden Path activities over the last two years go to: www.thegardenpath.ca. If you live in Canada charitable tax receipts will be provided for all donations over $20.
in the scorching sun
a single flower tries not to wilt
bless the splash of colour
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
June 8, 2017