Adjusting back to the “WEST”

Sunday, August 17th, 2014

Men cleaning their feet for evening prayer at the Jama Masjid Mosque in Delhi India.

I have to admit, I have struggled a little with coming back.  I came back to multiple projects at work, a death of a close friend, and the news media filled with riots, rapes, murders, corruption, and all sorts of other bad news I had not seen since I hadn’t been reading the news while I was away.  I even came back to the death of Robbin Williams.  For a gay man, he was an inspiration, an activist, and someone who took our pain and turned it into laughter.  For me, he will be deeply missed.

I also lost my friend, Elizabeth Earls.  Liz was my friend and colleague at the Rhode Island Council of Community Mental Health Organizations where I served as the assistant training director and the community organizer.  I started as a mere office assistant and it was Liz and the staff there who recognized I could be more.  They supported me and gave me opportunities that have put me where I am today.  I owe Liz, Sue and Sharon a great deal of gratitude for helping me achieve the place I am today.

Along with being a business colleague, Liz was also a dear friend.  Liz offered in jest, I thought, to host my wedding in her back yard.  She was not kidding.  She and 2 of my other beloved friends, Sharon Kelly and Sue Earley planned and pulled off my wedding.  They brought dining room tables from the homes of friends and plopped them into Liz’s backyard.  They covered them in white linens and crystal glassware.  We had a wedding.  Liz will be greatly missed.

One thing I have been thinking over the past week or so since coming back to the US from India is this is a religious country and not a spiritual country. Lots of obsession with dogma and adherence to a faith and yet little spirituality of actually putting the dogma into practice. Here people are very critical of people adhering to dogma. Any dogma not like yours is heresy or militant evil. Everyone who believes, does, or lives differently is the enemy. We may be polite about it and we still think those who are different than us are going to hell. We claim to be a Christian Nation, yet look at what is happening in Ferguson. Look at what is happening on Wall Street. I hear the dogma and I don’t see the principles of Christianity lived out in the Christian nation. The same could be said about other regions here in the US. Lots of rules, and lists of those “destroying” the nations, and few people living out the principles of faith.

I definitely saw something different in India. There were dozens of religions yet people seem to live on the principles of those religions rather than the dogma of those faiths. People didn’t seem to respect particular religions. They seem to respect how well you lived the faith you professed to believe. What was respected is that you displayed the traits of a Hindu, a muslim, a Buddhist, or a Christian. Karma is king. Can you walk your talk? I don’t see that here in this “christian nation” where the recent news is filled with injustice, killing, and moral judgement of others. People seem more interested in posted a monument to the ten commandments but not interested in living those commandments. The same politicians who want to build monuments to the ten commandments also support the second amendment despite the 6th commandment that clearly says, with no holds barred, thou shall not kill.

On the one of days we spent shopping at the Kahn Market in New Delhi, we happen to get caught in the downpour of monsoon.  A shop keeper saw that the paper shopping bag I was carrying was falling apart due to the wet weather.  Even though I did not purchase anything from him at his store, he still sent his worker to give me a plastic bag to protect my purchases.  I was moved enough by this action, that weeks later I am still writing about it.  What I remember most is his smile.  He found such great joy at contributing to my well being in that moment.  I found great joy is his actions.


Carvings in the Jain Temple in Delhi, India.

India may be dirty, polluted, and smell funny and it also has a sense of spirituality everywhere I went. There were shrines, reminders, and smiling faces who responded to greetings from others (or at least from those who are western). The west has much to learn from the east about religious dogma versus spirituality. What does it mean to walk the talk?

-Joe Brummer

Karma, Guns, & Money

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

IMG_0973On Wednesday, we jumped back on our bus that says, “tourist” across the front of it and headed back into Delhi. I was a little tired of talking and interacting with people, so I put on my headphones and put the iPod on shuffle. As we drove past the rivers, canals, and streets filled with trash. As I saw the people sleeping on the side of the roads, the people living in shacks, tents, or just under tarps to protect them from the monsoons, Michael Jackson’s song, Man in the Mirror came on the shuffle.   As I listen to the words, I couldn’t help hearing the message of self-change to change the world. Such a consistent message to Gandhi and so profound I would hear it while driving through India.

Jackson sings, “ I starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways. No message could have been any clearer, if you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make the change.”

We were set up to see three more schools. We got to see an all boys’ school, and all girls’ school, and a co-ed school.   At each of these schools the kids greeted us like rock stars presenting us with gifts, the traditional dot between on our eyebrows which symbolizes presence and awareness, and a show that included poetry, dancing, and of course a theme of nonviolence and peace.

Each of these schools was in some of the poorest neighborhoods. As we went from school to school, armed guards escorted us to protect us from beggars, pickpockets, or aggressive salesman. Even still, I felt safer walking around Old Delhi armed with my Nikon D60 than I would if I had been walking around New Haven, CT. That says so much about the differences between these two Countries.

Here in India, dozens of different religions co-exist. It is not without conflicts and yet those are small when you see it in contrast of the sheer amount of people living here in such a small space. Each of those religions, which include Islam, Jain, Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, and the dozens of sects associated with those religions. All of these religions hold nonviolence to be a major tenant of their faith.

Unlike America, people here practice nonviolence to extents we could only wish to see in the States. Some Jains wear coverings over their mouth as to prevent accidently inhaling or ingesting living organisms in the air.   Some even gently sweep the floor as to be sure no insects are in their path as they walk.

Here people worry about Karma. Karma meaning that each action you do either adds to Karma or takes it away. The more Karma you have, the more lives you need to live before you reach heaven.   Each action is carefully weighed out to its effect on Karma. This is drastically different than the consciousness I am used to in America where violence is celebrated rather than prevented by facemasks.

Americans are addicted to violence. They would rather fight to keep their guns then fight to make peace. We spend enormous amounts of time teaching about wars in our schools and little time on nonviolence or peace.  It is so polar opposite to what I am seeing here in the one of the poorest countries on the planet where they have dozens more reasons to be violent yet they embrace peace.  At home all I hear is God, Guns, Money, here all you hear is Karma,

Trip to the Gandhi Museum and Gandhi’s Cremation Site

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

When I started this journey into learning about nonviolence, I started with Gandhi. I read his essential writings, his autobiography, and watched many of the video clips on what was then google video, of Gandhi giving lectures.   I also watched the movie made about his life. Needless to say, he has been a huge influence on my thinking about others and my thinking about conflict, politics, religion, and of course, nonviolence as more than just a theory. It is a way of life. DSC_5986

To visit the spot on the planet where he was cremated was an honor. There is a flame there that never goes out in honor of the Mahatma. The square shaped space where the funeral pyre was set is now a marble monument laid out with flowers. Pilgrims to the site walk to the space, take pictures, pray for peace, and talk to their children about Gandhi’s legacy. To see so many people paying homage to a man who has impacted the world in such powerful ways was simply moving and inspiring.

We then went across the street to the National Gandhi Museum. I was saddened to see it needed many repairs and maybe a little TLC. For such a national treasure, I didn’t see the Indian Government taking as much care as I thought they would. From the outside, one of the first things I saw is the words “Truth is God” written on the side of the building. I then saw a this amazing cubism sculpture of the Dandi March (Salt March towering over me. As I walked around the path, I came to this beautiful statue made of brass depicting the Mahatma himself, staring at me.

As you enter the building, the first thing I saw were the words “Violence is Suicide” written on the wall of the gift shop. The gift shop is small and is mostly made of books about Gandhi.   As I passed into the lobby, I was greeted by a dozen paintings of Gandhi. It creates this almost spiritual presence of him just being in the space.

The museum is set up with a chronological photo-story display of Gandhi’s life. It walks through his early years, his years in South Africa, and his work to liberate India from British rule. Along with the thousands of photos, meaningful artifacts are displayed like Gandhi’s walking stick used in his most famous direct action, the Salt March. There are also several pairs of his famous round spectacles.

At the end of the tour, I saw the cloth Gandhi was laid out on, along with the bullets that took his life.   The small sign that reads “the bullets that took Bapu from us.” It is a very moving experience.

Later on this trip, we will be visiting another museum dedicated to Gandhi. I will write more about it after is happens!




Trip to Old Delhi

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

One week in…
So, I have officially been here in India for a week.  I have spent lots of that time here in the classroom studying Ahimsa (nonviolence) and Himsa (violence).  We have discussed Gandhi, Jainism, Buddhism, and Hinduism.  That I guess doesn’t sound that surprising when you think, wow, I am in India.

Yesterday, I had the chance to take a trip on a tuk-tuk which is like motorcycle which is like a van.  We had 10 people jammed into this little thing and went riding off to the metro station.  The way people drive here in India follows several “rules”.

1) the lines on the road are just a suggestion.  Often the idea of driving on the right side or left side of the road switching in the moment.  Your driver can be on the right side at one minute and switch to the left in a blink of an eye.  It is like playing chicken with every car coming the other way.  Somehow, we managed not to have a head on crash despite this issue. It also means a two lane road could be more like 6 lanes and if there is even a smidgen of space into between cars, drivers will attempt to scoot in even if that means coming dangerously close to other cars.

2) Fit as many people into the car as you can.  If you don’t have a person on every other person’s lap, there is room for more.  Of course, I remind you it is 90+ degrees out with 85% humidity.
IMG_0013When we finally made it to the metro, I was surprised how clean and well cared for it was.   It is required men and women go through separate security lines for a carelessly done pat down and a metal detector that goes off for everyone that passes though it.  Of course, it going off means nothing as everyone just keeps moving and the guards (who carry AR-15s) just wave you through.When we got to Old Delhi to shop, I was blown away.  Remember, this is my first time out of the Country.  To come to a third world country like India and see the poverty, filth, pollution, and inequality of human life is just gut wrenching. As we walked from street to street and alley to alley it is important to watch where you walk so you don’t step in anything.  From there, it is important to watch your valuables.  After that, people are amazing friendly and they think Americans are rock stars.  They want to take pics with you, talk to you, and even touch you.  I find it really freaky!IMG_0987We went to find spices.  Of course, India is known for its spices, so this makes perfect sense.   The stores filled with spices smelled amazing.  The colors were also amazing.  Basket after basket of color and spice.  many of which were sold at minimum amounts.  You couldn’t buy just a pinch, you had to buy at least a 1/2 pound.

The poverty is just everywhere.  I have seen mothers putting there kids to sleep for the night right on the sidewalk.  I have seen other mothers holding infants while begging for change to buy food.  I have seen kids (like 6 years of age) begging for money while holding a younger sibling.  The caste system still has groupings of “untouchables” who struggle to live or who live in shacks, tents, or even under tarps on the streets.  It is hard to see and even harder to not give them money or food to help them. As a tourist, giving them anything is just not a safe thing to do.  If you give to one of them, all of them will start to follow you and they can be extremely aggressive in their attempts to get money from you.   Often times, young kids begging for money are not even doing it for themselves.  They have been kidnapped, made to look disabled, and put in the streets to get money for someone else.

The sights and sounds here in India are also just as varied.  The smells of incense near temples and holy places is delightful and somehow manages to help cover up the smells of urine, trash, sewage.

Shopping is an experience as well since I have not been to a country where negotiating and haggling with vendors is customary.  After watching a few of my friends do it and using the negotiation skills I learned as a mediator, I have gotten some great deals.  In fact, I am wearing a great summer scarf common for men to wear to keep the sun off your neck.  I got the vendor down from 950 rupees to 600 rupees.  (roughly $10).  At home this scarf would have definitely been 50 bucks!  I also got a few other nicer scarfs for gifts which are cotton and silk blends I also got for really cheap by haggling.

Now, I am sure you are wondering what I want with a summer scarf. I personally always wondered why you saw people in hot climates wearing scarves. Now that I am in a super hot and humid climate, I totally get it.  One, men wearing scarves in the hot weather gives them a sweat rag that looks a little better than some bunched a bandanna.  It also acts as a cover from the sun.  Right as I type this, the sun is beating down on the back of my neck.  I have adjusted my scarf to protect my neck from the sun.  The scarf also keeps bugs off my neck.  Most important, this is India where raw sewage runs in the rivers and standing smelly water is everywhere.  Personal hygiene is also an issue.  Scarves act as a way of covering your mouth and nose so you can breath without smelling the nasty smells lurking around.  I got myself a cotton scarf for this trip for about $10 (600 rupees).  While my group tells me I look cool in it, I am more appreciating the practical uses for wearing a scarf in India for men.

Ultimately, I am having a great time here in Delhi.  Everyone in the Teaching for Peace program have left me feeling so accepted and warm.  I am enjoying the sense of connection and friendship this group has cultivated.  This is positive when you realize I still have 2 and a half weeks to spend with these folks.


Two posts in one! Plus pics

Saturday, July 19th, 2014

Internet here has been hard and we have had rolling blackouts.  It has made it hard to keep posting.   So here is two posts in one!


DSC_5724I have been here in India for 5 days and wow, for my first time leaving the US and coming to a third world country, I am not as culture shocked or uncomfortable as I believed I would be. For the most part, I am totally enjoying this place. I am staying and the International School for Jain Studies. We are surrounded by amazingly beautiful temples, green grassy grounds, and wild peacocks that sound a bit like cats in a blender.

Our week has been a mixture of lectures and presentation all based on Ahimsa (nonviolence). It has really been a lot of time spent diving into Gandhi’s teachings on nonviolence and his code of conduct for those living in his Ashram.   We have covered much of Jainism and Ahimsa, as well as some other religions. I know there are plans to dig deeper into religious views on Ahimsa.

The food here has been varied. Some of it has been amazing and really different for me and other stuff has been just not my style. I did travel into the city of New Delhi and the Kahn Market place where I had the best pizza I have ever had. Who knew you had to come to India to get great pizza.

I also purchased on traditional pajyma pants and a Kurta which is a formal shirt. All linen and really comfortable. The price was also amazing. I bought three pairs of pants and 3 shirts for basically $60.

In this process of shopping, we also got caught in the monsoon rain.  WOW.  I had no idea it could rain like that. I would liken it to a sheet of water falling from the sky with awesome lightening and thunder.  Totally worth getting caught in if you can do it just once in your life.

I had a chance to walk the grounds here at the Jain School and meet some of the youth that live here on the compound and attend school here.   I was really surprised how excited they were to meet us. Later we will be going to their school. Rumor has it they have planned a big performance for us with dancing and a play. I am excited to see what education looks like here in India and how conflict management/classroom discipline is handled.

June 18th

DSC_5775Today, we went to the Jain School here on the complex. It is a 1-8 school. They threw us the welcome of the century. We were greeted by school children wearing uniforms who gave each of us a necklace made of marigolds and a small red dot on in-between our eyebrows.   We then were seated in a special place for the “honored guests” where each of us was given a piece of framed painting done by one of the students. All of the paintings were incredible and mine was of a old Indian man hold a glass of red wine. How fitting is that?

We then were treated to students reading poems about nonviolence, reading the news to us like a live radio cast, and some music.   The principal of the school gave a wonderful speech and a few of the US teachers also gave speeches, one even singing an original song played on her Ukulele.

What happen next blew my mind. The children put on a play about ahimsa. It was incredible.   Several times, it just brought me to tears. They told the story of the Mahavira, the Buddha, the Mahatma Gandhi, and others. The students wore awesome custumes, danced, and lip synced to a voice track that told the stories. It was awesome. They followed this with a dance number dressed in elaborate costumes doing amazing gymnastics. I will be posting a video of it shortly.

To top this off, a very small Indian boy walked up to me and took my hand. He led me and the rest of the group to the stage where we tool a pledge of nonviolence.   It was very moving.

We then were led to a reception where we ate some amazing desserts and got to meet and talk with some of the kids. Even got to have some Nimbooz, which is made by 7UP. It is really lemonade and was very tasty.

DSC_5869I then got to spend about 30 minutes observing and interacting with a 6th grade social studies class who was working on economics.   They were discussion unemployment, health, education, and the types of economies. It was amazing .

Definitely the highlight of this trip so far!

The downsides so far have been slow wifi and internet and the heat.  I wanted to share this experience with you and it takes a long time to even upload one photo.  I am hoping as we travel it may get better.  The heat here is just unreal and we have had it easy.  It has been staying below 100 degrees most of the time.  It is the humidity that is insane.  Sweat just pours off me while I am here and my clothes are usually soaked.  I am getting use to it and I seem to cool down faster now that I have been here a few days.

The other big downside has been adjusting to the 9 1/2 hour ahead time change.   I seem to wake up around 4am and can’t get back to sleep.  After 5 days, I am really dragging.  Hoping my body resets soon!  Of course, I will need to do it all over again when I get home.

I am here

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

I am finally here in India and yes, this is a bit of culture shock.   I took a 14 hour direct flight from Newark, NJ to New Delhi.  The flight was actually pretty good and they fed us well.  I watched a few fairly new movies and slept on and off.  Which is of course why I couldn’t sleep that well last night which is really yesterday afternoon when you consider the time difference.

The drive from the airport to the International School for Jaine Studies was another culture shock. Apparantly lane markers are just a suggestion and no one really follows them.  The lanes could imply three lanes and having 6 doesn’t seem uncommon.   There were dozens of near misses.  Amazed I made it here alive.

DSC_5625When we did pull up to the Jaine School and the Jaine Temple all lit up, I was speechless.  It is beautiful.  Hoping to get some time to walk around today and photograph more of the grounds.  I tried earlier today since I woke up a 3am, went back to sleep util 4am and then thought, eh might as well get up and get a shower.  The shower was luke warm and only had one stream in the “spray” actually working AND it felt nice.   Took awhile to rinse off and I didn’t mind.

Really trying to get a motto while I am here. “Be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”  This is taking me so far from the comfort zone I am use to that I decided the best way to deal with the discomforts is to try and enjoy them.  Be present to them and don’t focus on what is wrong with them, focus on what works.

After my shower, I realized coffee is another luxury I won’t be getting here.  It is instant packets and instant creamer.   Not sure I can handle that, so I may just live on tea while I am here.

The people I have met so far from this teaching program have left me feeling happy and warm as most of us have clicked right away.  Of course, how can you not click with a group of people in a nonviolence in education program in India?

I have more pics to load when I get a little more time and have all my cords handy.  Wifi here isn’t the best and of course my phone doesn’t work here (or at least I wasn’t willing to pay the bucks to make it work).  I will post my and my thoughts from the day a little later!

Peace from New Delhi, India.


Morning filled with mystery and magic

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

So excited for this journey….everything has led me up to this moment…and it is quite amazing to realize that just four years ago I was sitting across from Norma interviewing for my position at Breakthrough and now I am going to India with her!!!! And then there is Joe…I can still envision standing on the sidewalk in front of Trinity right after Trinity’s closet and I shared with Joe my program itinerary for this trip and it was so surreal because in the next moment when I looked at Joe I realized he was coming too!!!! Mystery and magic continue to fill my life…I am blessed!!! First stop Montreal!!!

Eve of the Trip: Packing & Panic

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

IMG_0811Of course every trip has the moment of “did I forget something?” or “will I be prepared for?” and this trip is no different.  I am doing my best to travel light which means giving up vanity for practicality. I want clothes and products that makes sense versus making me look good.  Although I admit, I tried on a hat today from NorthFace that Rick told me looked okay, and I just couldn’t bring myself to buy.   Hope I can find a hat when I am in Delhi.

As I sit here typing this, hearing the waves crashing from Long Island reacting to the Super moon, I can’t help thinking about how comfy my world is and how out of my comfort zone I am going and WILLINGLY!  I am excited to step out of my norm and allow something different to happen around me.  Still, this is out of the zone for me.  I have a pile of clothes, all of which don’t look “great” on me and they are practical for this trip.  I think I am finally learning that taking care of me is more than looking fabulous or saving face.  Sometimes, being comfortable, cared for, and spiritual about self-care make more sense.

IMG_0807I am prepping for the 14-hour flight with trail mix, headphones, a Harry Potter marathon prepared on my iPad.  I also have good meds to knock me out on the plane.  We take off at 8:30pm EST and get into Delhi the following day at 8:15pm.  Odd to say the least…..

I think I have all the right stuff, the right clothes, the right snacks for a 14 hour flight!  We will see what I learn on the trip.

I also spent a part of the day preparing by having down time at the beach and Date Night with Rick.  I spent the afternoon on the beach reading a book and even saw the Red Sox Blimp go right by our beach.  Later, we went to see the new Planet of the Apes flick and dinner at Panera.   I enjoyed spending time with the person I love and the person I will miss the most while I am in India.

The Journey Continues

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

I have been writing a blog about my journey into Nonviolence since late 2006.  It has taken me though the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence’s Training of Trainers program in Kingian Nonviolence.  It has led me to study, practice and even sharing of Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication.  It influenced me being trained in mediation and even changing my career from mental health training and community organizing  to working the field of mediation, peace building, and conflict resolution.  Now, it is leading me to continue my quest to live a nonviolent life by taking me to India to take part in the Teaching for Peace Program.



I am excited to be going to India for a number of reasons and one is the chance to visit sites that were linked to the life of Gandhi.  As one of the larger influences in my own understanding of Nonviolence, it will be a life changing to see and be in the spaces relevant to his life.   I am also excited to see the Buddhist Ajanta caves and the Taj.

As part of this program, participants are asked to reframe from meat, diary, alcohol, drugs, etc…while they are in the three week program.  To prep for this, I started eating a vegetarian diet on June 1st and with a few exceptions like a nice dinner with friends this week, I am staying away from alcohol.  Really thinking this trip will be taking me slightly out of my comfort zone and that I wanted to prepare for that ahead of time rather than be thrown into eating different at the same time.

I am also hoping to make this trip traveling as light as possible.  I want minimal stuff to come with me and I don’t mind wearing the same clothes over and over if it means I can trace light.   Feel free to comment and give me tips on making that happen!

The program is focused on nonviolence in educational settings and even takes us into a few schools in India to see how they do it.  I am excited to be getting this inside look at Ahimsa in schools.   We will be looking at how Ahimsa (nonviolence) carries into schools and educational settings.  How do you do classroom management using the principles and fundamental basics of Ahimsa?  I am guessing I will learn as I am there.

I must admit preparing for this trip has been stressful.  It is all about rethinking your comfort zone.  What makes you deal well with the surroundings you are in?   The food?  The accommodations?  The water?  Bathrooms?  Sometimes the stuff you think nothing about is the stuff that makes a trip to India life changing.  What changes your life?

Keep checking back, as I plan to post some updates!   I also plan to updates and build up the site “” which isn’t up to speed yet and I hope it to be a place where I can blog this trip and let others with me blog too!   Keep watching….  I also plan to invite the key players in bringing Nonviolent Communication, Compassion, Restorative Justice, and education reform to this blog.  Check out for posts about my trip to india, my thoughts on India and Nonviolence, and to hear from others who share my vision about bringing nonviolence education to CT and beyond.