My name is Karl Omar Lawrence and I am a social entrepreneur motivated by the belief that people were made to be creative and that everyone deserves an equal chance to realize their highest human potential. However, in America, black people have been mostly robbed of that chance, robbed by racism and the poverty, sickness, and trauma it produces. When all you know is survival, the idea of long distance travel is about as plausible to you as Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse. If you saw the look on my grandmother’s face when I told her I was going to Thailand, you’d understand (“Do they eat dogs there?”).
My trip though was different than the normal tourist fare in that I was a guest at a Buddhist monastery known as Plum Village. Plum Village is a part of an international community of Zen Buddhists focused on helping transform themselves and our society through the practice of mindfulness and compassion. Were I to describe the full range of my feelings about my time spent in those peaceful foothills of Pak Chong, one blog post wouldn’t be enough. What I can say though is this: I have never observed as much peace as I saw written into the faces of those monks. What I witnessed first hand was a community of people who measured one another by the depth of their kindness and not their bank accounts. Each day for a week I, along with other visitors (mostly backpackers and Southeast Asians), meditated, ate, and slept together in an environment unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
Being from the Bronx ,I’m used to having to be prepared for anything to happen at any given moment. You never know how a glance in the wrong direction or a false step on someone’s shoes might escalate into violence. But there at Plum Village I felt like I could relax enough to be my carefree happy go lucky self and for the first time since I was a child I was not afraid to be caught smiling in public. Next time you feel like you need a break from the hustle and bustle of the busy city, take a moment to consider going off the beaten path of your past travels and try something different. Who knows you might just discover a part of yourself you forgot was even there.
Karl Omar Lawrence