India 2016: Day 8

When we meet someone for the first time in America, we often ask, “What do you do?”  The posture of this question is such that our profession defines our identity.  Please be assured that I am not here to comment whether or not this is right or wrong or just simply is, but rather to explore the potential that this question negates space for us to learn without having a set plan or agenda.

As I prepared for this trip to India, I was often asked, “What will you do?”  While I would explain we would be doing some coaching, I generally struggled to admit that a majority of the trip afforded time to listen and learn.  Living in a culture that tends to define our selfhood by action, there seemed to be limited ways to explain the value of taking time away from work and school to go and just be.  And, in all honesty as an achievement-oriented individual, I was challenged by the reality that I did not know what to expect or how I would spend my time.  Particularly, this was one of the first times (in a very long time) that I was a participant rather than an organizer or executor—which meant, I would have opportunity to make choices about how time would be spent.

If you have read the earlier blogposts written by my colleagues, you will have learned about the beautiful and challenging experiences we shared.  Every day, we each had a choice about how we would spend our time and what we would “do.”  And in between, there was chai (which for me was a must whenever I could get it!).  While we sipped, we had space together to pause, to reflect, to process.  Jimmy Carter once shared that the most important thing we can do is to be truly present with those who are right in front of us.  The trip for me was not defined by what we did, but rather by the times “in between,” the times without a plan.  There was space to live into the rhythm of the people around us.  There was opportunity to break from the constant urge to “do” more and instead to be present.

On our final day, we had “in between” time with the IBS students before we celebrated graduation.  As we shared stories and talked about life, it was evident that despite all the distinctions of culture and varied life experience, we were far more similar than we were different.  Together we dreamed of lives full of meaning in both work and relationship.  We struggled with questions of identity and purpose.  We expressed longing to make a positive impact on our communities.

After the graduation celebrations concluded, we made final preparations for the almost 24-hour trek from Hyderabad to Seattle.  Throughout the journey home, I reflected on the trip—the moments that surprised me, the times that frustrated me, the beauty that emerged.  What I realized was that the most impactful moments were not those in which we had a plan or agenda.  Rather, the experiences that have shaped my identity most are those that emerged when I gave space to listen and learn.  My challenge as I return home is to create enough space to live with a posture of possibility.

(Photo Credit: Megan Kirchgasler)


-Blog by Kristen Voetmann, Ph.D. Student


Leave a Reply