McLeod Ganj has treated us extremely well. Our hotel has an absolutely stunning view of the massive and thriving lower valleys of the Himalayas, vibrating with life. Hidden inside these blissful mountains are chaotic and tightly-wound towns. The roads we move up and down every day barely fit one American truck; however, in this world there is room for two lanes of traffic, as well as the bustling movement of pedestrians, cows, donkeys, and dogs.
Our stay here has been packed with three out of our four interviews, so we have had our game faces on. We had the absolute privilege to visit Rinchen Khando at the beautiful Dolma Ling nunnery on Wednesday, and the next day we had the opportunity to interview His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Dr. Kshama Metre.
Reflecting on our interview with Dr. Metre (affectionately called “Didi” meaning ‘older sister’), I wasn’t completely prepared for what to expect, as I hadn’t previously worked on researching her or the interview questions, and our time with the Dalai Lama took up most of the attention and preparation that day. I am happy to say that she surprised me with a spectacular and inspiring interview. We visited the Chinmaya Organization for Rural Development (CORD) where the interview was conducted, and got a chance to see the amazing establishment she has made possible, providing countless opportunities for the underprivileged.
I felt that our interview with her was one of the most casual I have ever participated in which made us feel relaxed. The first thing she did was ask each of our names and why we were in India, this was pretty unexpected because commonly our interviews are completely focused on the person being interviewed. It felt nice to have a one on one connection with Dr. Metre, and it was wonderful to hear all my classmates share what our trip means to them. Moreover, I feel that really knowing who she was speaking to, and being able to shape her interview in a personal style, must have made it more meaningful for Dr. Metre.
She began by saying that every human has great potential and that there is something great in all of us; I think this inspired us right off the bat. From the start, we were charmed by her. Something important that she brought up was the values that both men and woman embody. Of course, men and women are not the same; both have beautiful values that flourish in each and makes them diverse and distinct. What’s crucial, especially in our society, is that we acknowledge them, recognize them, and respect them. She shared for instance that many women are sacrificing and nourishing, which instantly made me think of my mom; because of her I’ve understood the important, and best values a woman brings to life, and therefore I really resonated with Dr. Metre’s point.
Another thing that I carried away from the interview was her view on the importance of perspective. She said that putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is such a simple and effective way to understand and solve conflicts. She said that changing, or just tilting your perspective, enhances your ability to empathize. She said, “One plus one is not always two, it is eleven!” I found this quote funny and it completely made her point sink in. Perspective allows us to really connect and understand each other.
Our interview with Dr. Kshama Metre was one of the best that I’ve taken part in. She is compassionate, driven, selfless, peaceful, and fiercely intelligent. While many of the people we have spoken with were friendly, there still seemed to exist some sense of formality. I respected Dr. Metre in the same way, but the barrier was significantly reduced from the moment she stepped into the room and we sat like children around her on the carpet.
Dr. Metre felt like a teacher. She answered questions selflessly, without any desire to talk about herself, boast of her accomplishments, or even to impart some message. Instead, she paused after each question, waited patiently for the answer to come to her, then answered it as succinctly and completely as she could. Perhaps most impressive was that she never answered a question with “I don’t know,” but also said that she came into the interview without knowing the answer to any of our questions. Every answer was completely spontaneous, and intuitive, but they also came out well formulated and poetic in their economy of language: short, precise, to the point, and deeply insightful. I don’t know how she developed such strength of judgment in her intuition, or if she is merely an incredibly fast thinker, but whatever the case, she has complete confidence in what she says, and, for the most part, her answers resonated with us. This may partly be because much of what she said has already been communicated to us at Mount Madonna School.
Indeed, Dr. Metre embodies many of the values we hold at our school. For me, her responses reinforced, deepened my understanding of, and connected principles that I had already been exposed to. This made many of her answers easy to grasp. Most of them built upon existing knowledge, but even those concepts that were completely new to me were presented so simply that I could at least gain traction on them for later reflection. We were very lucky to have had the opportunity to meet this incredible woman.
Saying Dr. Metre is amazing would be an understatement. She had the most motherly vibe, and talked with everyone on a personal level. She got to know each of us individually; she asked us our names and why we each came to India. Her laughter was so contagious. Not only was I amazed by her energy, I was impressed by everything she said. She was incredibly intelligent, and really thought out everything before she spoke. You could tell she had so much wisdom and experience, and it seriously shined through her words.
Dr. Metre emphasized the importance of community, saying that people should be universal, and not individualistic. She also talked about how diversity is something beautiful, and how differences in people complement each other, to make a society stronger. Societies, she explained, often have a hard time changing due to people being stuck in their own ways. She said, “We cannot change people, but can lead them through active listening.” I really liked this statement because I feel as though we, as a society, try to change people by force, which ends up causing resistance. Active listening creates trust and discussions, which is way more effective than brute force and ignorance.
In addition to talking about society, she went in depth discussing our inner being. She explained that you often learn the most about yourself through interacting with others. For example, if someone is angry toward you, you react. Different people react in different ways. You can often learn the most about people by watching how they react to situations such as these, some may move on and others lash out. Dr. Metre also said, “We as humans are often aware of things around us but not within us.” I found this to be true. Currently, everything moves so fast and it is hard to find time to stop and reflect inwardly. So, we tend to only acknowledge physical things. This is one of the reasons that being in India has been beneficial to me, personally. This past week has been such an amazing opportunity to remove myself from the rush and stress of life back home. It has given me time to truly reflect and look within at who I am and how I feel, at any given moment. I have learned new things about myself, some that I love and others that I do not. But, with this awareness, I can really think about where certain things I don’t like about myself are coming from, and begin to start and improve those parts of myself. I am so grateful for this opportunity, I am truly learning so much about this culture, and myself.