As we prepare to bring home our troops from Iraq, I'm thinking about the condition of the country we're leaving behind. We're drawing down troops in Afghanistan and I'm wondering: Is either country better off now? And how do we measure better? Some would say definitely yes, that Iraq is better off because Saddam Hussein is dead and for Afghanistan, the Taliban is not in power. But in both the countries, things like infrastructure have been severely damaged and will take years, decades to rebuild. How long does it take to rebuild a feeling of safety and security among the people? We've spent time and money rebuilding the national security forces of these countries. Will it be enough?
Amandine Roche and Cameron Alborzian have created the Sola Yoga Program in Kabul to promote peace and non-violence through meditation and yoga. Their premise is simple -- inner peace leads to a peaceful community. Teaching the Afghan people meditation and yoga gives them tools to find and create that peace. They've reached out to the U.S. military as well to work with soldiers.
Maybe your reaction to this is similar to what Dion Nissinbaum reported in the Wall Street Journal. He recently wrote about Sola Yoga and had this to say, "The former model's message of peace may seem kooky." Alborzian is a native of Iran and a former super model. He left that behind to pursue a spiritual path.
Roche worked for the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping and helped organize the first presidential election in Afghanistan. Prior to that she had been detained by the Taliban, saw a colleague kidnapped and was threatened, but she felt compelled to return to Afghanistan. She traveled to India to heal from the trauma she'd witnessed. There she worked with the Dalai Lama and members of the Gandhi family to learn about non-violence and meditation. In her French accent, she's straightforward and enthusiastic about the program she and Cameron have started and how it came about.
"I worked for 10 years with United Nations Dept of Peacekeeping without knowing what peace, real peace is. So I say, who am I to bring peace if I am not peaceful? So I did 10 days intensive meditation retreat... And I say, why I never learned that before? The program is inside, not outside... But how do I detach and be observant? So I was jumping on my cushion and saying, "This is what I want for Afghanistan." I came back to Afghanistan and I said, "That's it. A peace education and nonviolence foundation."
She named the foundation Amanuddin, a variation of her name. In Farsi, it means "Happy Protector of Peace." In their work, Amandine administrates the program and connects with the community and Cameron teaches the practice. And while he's had requests for interviews from international news sources as a result of the piece in the Wall Street Journal, Sola Yoga is a new program. I asked him how receptive people are to the program.
Outwardly, I think people see the value of it. Inwardly, I think people have their doubts because anything you start which is just out there and seems to be so far away from what people's lives are like -- I think this makes people say, how could this be? It's different for me. I live this everyday. My life is based in yogic teachings. I teach as part of the yogic teachings. You know, I didn't come up with meditation. I didn't come up with the path; I just follow it. I know the shift that takes place in yoga can be instant once you get the mind out of the way. It's not part of everybody's reality, but it can be. We could say the possibilities are endless. The probabilities are probably a lot less because we're not supposed to touch everything and have everything. But this is one thing that's just possible for everyone. We're not there to try to change anyone. We're just there to give a peaceful tool for them to use and experience and then share it amongst themselves as they will.
What interested me about Sola Yoga and teaching meditation in Afghanistan is that it is a tool, a simple practice that a sovereign people can use. There are many studies that record the concrete benefits of meditation. Still, it may seem like a stretch or a very tall order to think that the act of closing one's eyes and breathing could bring peace to a country that's known war for the past 25 years. Then again, Afghanistan has known war for the past 25 years and in spite of the sacrifice and commitment of international troops, the military solutions haven't proven particularly effective in bringing about long-lasting peace.
Check out the Sola Yoga website for more information about the program, Amandine and Cameron.