Don’t hate the circumstance, you may miss the blessing. – Marshall Rosenberg
I am running towards something unknown in a never-ending direction, with no lights, and no passers-by. The night is cold, and my sight clouded, long thin shadows run alongside me – I don’t know where to turn. I am utterly lost. In the imaginative realm of the mind, the dissolution of my supposed path is already taking place. I see the next five months of my life becoming increasingly blurry, out of focus, disappearing from my sight. When the known becomes the unknown and the other unknown is taken away from you, as if I am spinning down the vortex of an unpredictable rabbit hole. This is how I felt one warm summer day in mid-July, when my afternoon nap nightmare of losing the grip on my supposed life for the next few months came true. I received a decisive email that in that moment had already started a process of inner transformation – without me even knowing how it might change the course of my life.
My exchange to Al Quds Bard Honors College in Palestine for the fall was canceled, due to the reawakened upheavals in the Gaza Strip and the general instability of the Palestinian state.
What is peace? Is it a mirage, a chemical hallucinogen, or a myth? Whatever it was, in this moment it seemed like the most distant, unfamiliar concept – one I could never truly understand. However, as it usually happens, life had already pulled an ironic joke on me – in two weeks, before I was scheduled to leave for Palestine, I was supposed to go to Imst, a tiny Alpine town in Austria, to work at a UWC short course – titled: “Acting for Peace – The Art of Conflict Transformation.”*
“Acting for Peace” was the core project of my summer – two and a half weeks with 32 high school participants from 19 countries, and the most inspiring organization team made of UWC alumni and local organizers from Imst and Innsbruck. The academic part of the program was designed by the Chairholder of the UNESCO Chair for Peace Studies at the University of Innsbruck, Wolfgang Dietrich. This fascinating peace researcher condensed the entire two-year MA Peace Studies program into two weeks – an intensity which, with all its perks, was exactly what many of us needed. An overload to counteract the deep currents of the restless psyche.
If we talk about balance, homeostasis means dynamic balance – it is not static. Meaning: you cannot have this balance. You are always dancing around it. In the best of all cases – if you dance the dance of life in a smooth way – you get a bit bored of that and you want the other thing. – Wolfgang Dietrich, Chairholder of the UNESCO Chair for Peace Studies
I went to Imst filled with disappointment and fear – of coming back to Berlin, of a new start, a blank slate in the known environment, feeling like opening an old book and not recognizing any of the characters, of balancing my young heart and mature mind, seeing some friends and losing others. It did not take long albeit for a trigger deep in myself to switch back to the enthusiastic and passionate persona I aim to be most of the time. I had some of the most rewarding encounters in Imst: meeting Wolfgang Dietrich and some very motivated young people from around the world were just a few of them. There are such inspiring people in this world, and sometimes you do not even have to look for them – they find you. Usually when you least expect it. My summer experience hence empowered me to (re)adopt many lessons to my lifestyle, a few of which I would like to share in a reflection:
(1) Peace in its grand schematic meaning comes from a micro-peace with the Self. It is only achievable through an inner peace within us, and then can be shared with others. It comes from the balance of our lightest and darkest parts. Observing and accepting the why of our feelings and opinions – well, that’s a good starting point.
(2) If you want something badly enough, the universe will collaborate.
(3) What might seem awfully strange and crazy (i.e. going to nature and sleeping in tents for two nights as a part of a summer school on Peace and Conflict) is sometimes the only way to appropriate the understanding of what is normal. You would be surprised at how much peace starting a fire and shooting a bow can bring.
(4) Although we live in a world of different opinions and we should certainly be equipped with the understanding to respect and critically approach them, there comes a period when spending quality time with like-minded people is just what you need to recharge life’s batteries.
(5) Dance in the streets, talk to the musicians whose music you just danced to, bond with another over a camp fire and watch a predatory cat hunt down a bird. These things bring so much beauty into life – they are experiences that allowed me to appreciate the beauty in the everyday, and not to let time simply slip by. There comes an end to every experience, but not to the change it evokes in you.
With this last thought in mind, I was also very curious to hear about the summer adventures of other Bard College Berlin students. I bring two of them to you – both, interestingly, focused on an experience, a moment, or reflection. Travel, buy that overpriced coffee once in a while and let yourself become a part of the moment – experiences like these are an art, and art is transformative:
This summer I was in NY and went to Coney Island with Oscar and Adea [other Bard College Berlin students – A/N]. For some reason that day the weather was really good – the sky was extra blue and the air was extra crisp – and we spent the entire day doing different rides at the amusement park and eating ice cream and being up to no good. The scariest ride we did was a kind of a modified bungee jump where they pull you up very high in one direction and let you eject yourself into the other direction, and you swing from side to side like a human pendulum. We did the ride at the same time and I was tasked with releasing us into our fall. I felt like I made a huge mistake and that we were all going to die but we didn’t, and in that moment I understood something about life and death, and how both are good ideas and bad mistakes.
– Ken Renaldi (BA 2017, Singapore)
In the morning I head straight to Barcelona Sants station to book my train tickets to Madrid and beyond. I get in line and wait a bit before quickly taking care of business with one of the Renfe agents. I find that I won’t be able to get from Madrid to Bordeaux in a single day on account of timing with the connections, so I opt to go to Marseille after two nights in Madrid. With my tickets booked, I head back towards the hostel to grab some breakfast and then to the Miró museum. I stop for breakfast at an overpriced café, and get a coffee, OJ, and croissant. I then walk back up half of Mont Juïc to the gallery sitting atop the hill. Again, the line here is long, and I clear through a bit of my book while waiting to get inside. The sun was rather hot then, so I sweat all through my shirt while waiting. Like the Picasso museum, this one is spectacular, featuring a poetry/photography exhibit by Roni Horn. She made a series of huge prints of pictures of different waters in rivers, and annotated each image with 40 beautifully written footnotes, all playing into the image and into each other. The Miró work was exceptional, spanning all of his periods, though not with as many really superb sculptures as I had hoped. I stayed in the museum for a while and bought several more postcards before leaving and heading back to the hostel to take care of laundry and repack my things for my trip to Madrid the next day.
– Jesse Weiss (Bard in Berlin, USA)
The summer might be behind us, but its transformative power lingers. I am back in Berlin now, with a newly found inner peace, a new haircut and an internship at an online magazine for German photojournalism. All seems to be falling into place, and I am not afraid it will fall apart. Because – even if it does – there is something better waiting around the corner.
*Read more about “Acting for Peace” and my other academic/personal lessons at: http://actingforpeace.com