Creativity and social change

Human thought and action have the ability to permeate from individuals or small groups into larger social groups, society and even into the human race.  If there is any truth in this statement, I have great hopes and optimism that the Romanian youth of today, with their altruism and positive energy, will change the country for the better when they will have the opportunity to do so.  I experienced that fresh altruism, energy and passion for making a difference during a summer weekend in June, in a small city north of Bucharest.  A good friend of mine, Corina, has conceived, obtained necessary funding and is currently leading a social project in Târgovişte, Romania.  This is the project I witnessed in June; this is the project that gave me the optimism and hope that today’s creative young people will one day change the social environment in Romania, an environment that has been in need of change for a long time.

The project – “The Creativity Map of Dâmboviţa County” – with guidance form educators, mentors and creative minds is designed to engage high-school age students and enable them to understand and experience their own creative spirit and to acquire a skill-set that will assist them to map the creative landscape in the area they live.

Several generations gathered in Târgovişte City Square on a beautiful summer evening to celebrate the joy of creativity, inspired by a group of enthusiastic high-school students and their mentors. ©EarthRelated

The project website is located here, it is still work in progress and  the content is in Romanian only.  For the English-speaking audience here is a quick summary:

The project was initiated and is being led by the  “Friendship Ambasadors” a non-profit organization from Târgovişte.  The principal goals are to teach highschool-age students  the antreprenorial spirit in the field of creative industries, and to map the creative landscape of a small comunity, which does not have the ability and internal resources to plan its own creative industry. The project benefits from the help of the Association of Creative Industry from Iaşi, from the support of the  “I. Heliade Rădulescu”  library and the Dâmbovita County Cultural Center.  The success of the project is ensured by several charismatic and competent mentors  who work with a group of about 20 students.  The students, with training and guidance from their mentors, will map the principal creative industries in the County  and will present the results of their work to a large audience in Târgovişte and in Bucharest.  In this practical manner the designers of the project encourage the creation of cultural, intellectual, moral and material values, and their intelligent consumption at the level of an entire community, while also emphasizing the relationship between education, culture and the achievement of  success and meaning in ones life.

Improvisational theatre taught by Dalina Costin, at the June workshop. The students are given the opportunity to experience, learn and practice a variety of creative skills, which will not only help the success of this project, but will unravel their authentic creative spirit. ©EarthRelated

Students are being taught creative skills during a June workshop in Târgovişte. ©EarthRelated

Dalina Costin, actor, drama teacher and casting director, teaching creativity through improvisational theatre and other techniques. ©EarthRelated

The creative spirit is a fundamental characteristic of humans – we all have it, but our ability and knowledge of how to express it varies depending on the environment we lived in and our life experiences.  Creativity is a deliberate act, is a courageous act that leads not only to personal expression but also has the capacity to effect fundamental social change.  This is what was so inspiring about witnessing a small part of this project.

The participating students are making a deliberate choice to engage in something that will lead to change – change in themselves, which will certainly lead to change in their environment and community.  They spent a weekend, and will spend many more, engaging their hearts and minds in something with a potential to alter the status quo in a positive way.  And there was so much joy in what they were doing…  It was the joy of learning something new, the joy of being out of their comfort zone and to feel the creative growth associated with that experience, the joy of being with peers who have similar passions, the joy of learning from educators who believe in what they do.

Corina Leca, the initiator and leader of the project. ©EarthRelated

Corina is the heart and mind of this project.  I know her since University, when we both learned about rocks, geology and time that is measured in millions of years, not only in “human-years”.  After graduations we took different paths, I am still practicing geoscience, while Corina is heavily involved in work that leads to social change.  She is and will continue to be an inspiration to me: grass-roots action, social engagement and civic education are not easy endeavors in a young democracy like Romania’s, or in any young democracy across Eastern Europe or anywhere around the world.

People like Corina are trail-blazers who get their energy from core values transcending the individual and operating in a sphere where the greater purpose is the ultimate and only goal.

During a weekend in June I experienced greatness in Târgovişte.  That feeling will stay with me for a long time and the experience became an inspiration to get involved and give back.

Mauna Kea and the path to knowledge

Mauna Kea view from Mauna Loa Observatory

Mauna Kea has many dimensions: for the native Hawaiian is a sacred place filled with tradition and spirituality, for the geologist is a volcano in a post-shield stage, for the astronomer is the window to the Universe, for the biologist is a biotic ecosystem with the greatest diversity anywhere in the Hawaiian archipelago, for the tourist is a car ride or a long hike away from the highest peak in the state of Hawai’i, for the Guinness Book of World Record’s enthusiast is the tallest mountain on the planet (when measured from the sea-floor).  What does it take to understand, to know, to get to the essence of such a place?  For me it is to grasp the deep meaning and interconnection of all of these dimensions, and in the process of doing so, to grasp other dimensions that are not immediately apparent.

I wanted to hike Mauna Kea ever since I spotted its snowy peak on a sunny morning in December, while running up Kaiwiki road in Hilo.  It was not from the desire to have the hike as part of my “record” (in fact I don’t even have a “record”), it was not because I wanted to “conquer” the highest peak in the state.  As I was standing in the middle of the winding road, literally out of breath because of running uphill, but also figuratively breathless because of the view, I felt a deeper yearning to experience that beauty and mystery by foot, up close and personal, to attempt to understand its many dimensions, to get closer to its essence.

I did the hike in mid-July after some homework and research regarding the logistics.  It was a solo hike and must admit I was a little apprehensive about it because did not know how I would react to that much altitude gain. I have never been above 3,100m of elevation ever in my life, and the summit is 4,205m high.  From the Onizuka Visitor Center to the summit there are almost 1,400 meters of elevation gain.  In normal life I live at sea-level, so it is obvious why I was a little worried.  But knowledge and experience take courage, the courage to often embark alone on a journey, to be fully present, to see where the journey takes you and how it feels.  I departed from the Onizuka Visitor Center (elevation 2,804m) on the Humu’ula trail at 8:30 in the morning, and about half an hour into the hike I left all the vegetation behind – it felt like being on the Moon, and the views were extraordinary.

View from the Humu’ula Trail towards Mauna Loa. No vegetation, basalt and the cinder cones everywhere. The trail is visible in the lower left corner.

Information and/or a collection of facts are not knowledge, although both are often mistaken as being such.  Both information and facts prepare one for understanding, but the path to true knowledge is an arduous one, and goes beyond processing information and way beyond mere intellectual experience.  I am a geologist, and in a place like Mauna Kea I can’t help not to think about volcanoes, different types of basalts, hot spots, wether glaciers existed or not there in the recent past, etc. But the vastness of that place soon makes one realize that the essence of Mauna Kea lies beyond what one can grasp by thinking only from one point of view (geology in my case), or from just using the intellect, or just from putting the facts together.  True knowledge and understanding makes use of our inner consciousness and intuition, and requires experience (“tasting” life) with a humble attitude.  And is not hard at all to be humble in the middle of that landscape.

The hike to the Mauna Kea summit from the Onizuka Visitor Center is approximately six miles, and it took me about five hours.  The six miles back took “a mere” three hours, but the last hour was somewhat taxing on the knees – slopes are steep and I was tired after all the hiking.  There is cell phone coverage only for the first couple of miles from the Visitor Center, after that you are on your own.  Not too far from the summit, at 3,970 m, is Lake Waiau.  For ancient Hawaiians this was a bottomless lake, which went deep into the heart of the mountain and was the portal for spirits to travel to and from the spirit world.  The name comes from Wainau, who in the Hawaiian mythology was one of the four snow-maidens of Mauna Kea.

The four snow-maidens were all queens of beauty, full of wit and wisdom, lovers of adventure, and enemies of Pele. They were the goddesses of the snow-covered mountains. They embodied the mythical ideas of spirits carrying on eternal warfare between heat and cold, fire and frost, burning lava and stony ice. – from Sacred Texts

Lake Waiau, a sacred place for the Hawaiians.

Not far from the lake, the Humu’ula trail ends as it merges with the road leading to the astronomic observatories.  The trail emerges from between two cinder cones and the views open up suddenly.  The expanse of the mountain, the immensity of the  blue sky and the thirteen telescopes perched on the ridge make for a surreal experience.

End of Humu’ula trail and the first view of the telescopes from the Mauna Kea Astronomic Observatory.

Lake Wainau represents for the Hawaiians the portal to the spirit world.  For today’s scientists the Observatory is the portal to the Universe.  For a detached observer like me, not involved in the controversy of erecting a research center on sacred grounds, the proximity of the Lake to the Observatory is almost magical.  With a temporary suspension of disbelief I can imagine myself at the end of my hike as traveling, using the two portals, from the spirit world to the edge of the Universe :).  An allegory I can use for the path to knowledge and the true essence?  The link between my humanity and the extra dimension of understanding.

Other links on Mauna Kea

Morgan Brown’s site – description of the hike and cool photos