Letter from Alie Bollaidlaw
I believe that the first day I walked into the Shinnyo-en Foundation to begin my nine week fellowship is very telling of the way the rest of my summer experience turned out, although I had no idea of this at the time. I tentatively walked into the office not knowing quite what I was getting myself into but right away we were welcomed and put to work. To my surprise our (my and Becca) first task was to go with Abby downstairs and bring up the flowers that you had just brought for the days guest. Then more than that we were supposed to assist Abby in the flower arranging. Less than 30 minutes of stepping into the office I was already through into flower arranging wondering if this was something normal. Ironically my summer came full circle when during my last week I was also in charge of flower arranging, but this time I understood its importance and had a (slight) idea of how to do it properly.
The flower arranging was my first introduction into the Shinnyo-en Foundations teaching of how important intent is in. Arranging the flowers in a way was a little path to peace, showing respect for the guests and capturing nature in a way that brought beauty to the room. Then the intent and precision that went with it showed an added care and appreciation. The idea of putting intent in everything you do is a huge lesson I learned from this summer. In a way that is what I came to believe to be one of the most important aspects of the Shinnyo-en Foundations Six Billion Paths to Peace initiative. Service has been around forever, smiling at people and holding doors are traditions that are commonly practiced, however the Six Billion Paths to Peace initiative changed my thinking in how those acts effect those around me. Although those little acts may seem like trivial things, if they are done with the right intent they can be moments of peace, moments of compassion. These moments then when they compile are what peace is. This idea I have been grappling with throughout the summer has helped me bring tangible practices to an abstract seemingly impossible feat; bringing peace to the world.
At the beginning of this summer I did not know what to expect, I wanted to do something that contributed some good to the world and through this process helped me figure out “who I am.” I also had never had an office internship experience and thought that doing so was the next so called step on the way to real jobs after college. It is hard for me to pin point moments when my growth and transformation happened this summer and it is hard to define what that was, as I feel it is only a starting point for further growth. At all of the events I have helped plan and have attended this summer you always describe what the word Shinnyo-en actually means, borderless garden. At the end of my summer I feel that I now better understand the true importance of that idea and name. Through little moments of the summer I really opened myself up to the ideas and practices of the foundation such as “six billion paths to peace” and “roots and fruits” and “mind, body, heart alignment.” Rather than keeping them at a surface level I eventually took them deeper and have started to use them as tools to help me answer the question of “who am I.” In a way the foundation planted a seed in me and now it is my choice to foster the growth of that seed and in turn foster growth within myself.
This brings me to one of the key facets of the summer for me, personal reflection. Before this summer I always seemed too busy or too tired to ever take the time to stop and reflect on what I am doing, how I am living my life, and what are the values that are leading me. This summer has shown me the importance of finding peace with in yourself as a way of starting service and creating peace in the world around you. One of the main ways to this is through reflection.
Now I am going to take a little tangent and tell you one of the ways I have started to embrace reflection and show another way this summer has come “full circle.” On the first day you and the rest of the foundation took Becca and I to lunch and while we were there asked us to stand up and present our hopes for the summer and why we chose the fellowship. Needless to say I was nervous and felt like I had no idea what to say. Abby then informed us that this talking on the spot was a common practice of the foundation, I now understand why. When you know you might be called on at any time to speak about your experience it forces you to think about your experiences and reflect and vocalize what you are going through, what you think, and how it fits in your “path to peace.” This summer I have discovered the importance of this and it has helped me stay present and grounded in what I am doing. Since working with the foundation I have been asked to present a number of occasions and as a result I have learned how to have confidence in myself and speak more from the heart. I have discovered how vocalizing (or at least attempting to) what you think helps in the reflection process and in its own way shines a light on how you really feel and what you are really thinking.
This summer changed me in ways I am still processing and I am grateful for this opportunity of change and reflection and understanding. I have come to discover how truly unique and inspirational the Shinnyo-en Foundation is in all it does. More importantly I am eternally grateful for the connections and relationships I have made as a result of this summer. The people I have met and the ways in which they have helped me grow and have inspired me, whether its through giving me advice on a project I am working on or probing me to go deeper into my reflection I have formed relationships that I will cherish. While the internship taught me a lot of concrete knowledge about foundations, how to work in an office, grant processes, planning events, etc. those are minute in comparison to the personal knowledge I have gained and the connections I have built. I would like to give my sincerest “arigato” for allowing me this opportunity and I hope to continue my relationship with the Shinnyo-en Foundation and one day have my own project incorporating Six Billion Paths to Peace.