Youth Leadership Training Program (YLTP) is an intensive residential program for youth where they not only learn and experience the benefits of breathing techniques, yoga and meditation in eliminating stress and negative emotions but also get trained on how to teach these techniques to the community. YLTP is an empowering program in all senses, and graduates of this program emerge as youth leaders, fully prepared to serve the needs of the community. Bill Herman, one of the senior teachers in the Art of Living Foundation has been conducting YLTP since many years. Below is his experience, in his own words, about conducting YLTP in Pakistan.
What a mystery! So much to learn from being transported into a modern world simultaneously happening on the other side of the globe, so different, yet in truth much the same as my own world. The problems of these apparently opposed worlds, are the same. We are victims of our conditioning! We have been told something false by others and believe it to be true. Whatever that conditioning may be, it is keeping us from the Truth of the moment. Conditioning acts as a wedge of fear between people.
Truth: We are One! At the inside, at the core we are no different. There is only One!
Fear: Because we have been told that this or that category of people are bad, they are different from us, they want something from me, they want to take from me what I hold sacred to myself. They are my enemies, set to destroy me so I must defend against them.
When I have accepted this fear to be true then I look for ways to support this concept that takes me away from the bigger Truth.
This truth of Oneness is a thing of great beauty. To believe that I am the same as the other, that the source of LOVE is the same, knowing myself as One with the other could make my life so easy. It is the ego, the source of fear and conflict, that has created this duality. Ego is the part of me that’s identified with boundaries, differences and limited identity. That ego defends, polarizes, complicates, separates me from the other. The infinite Self within that is Love, my deepest Self, seems too simple to accept as Truth. I have chosen to “Doubt the Positive” a normal tendency of the mind, and “Cling to the Negative,” tendency of the memory.
Truth: Responsibility brings Freedom. Taking action, choosing to take responsibility creates the opportunity to succeed, to move forward in achieving what needs to be done. When I give 100% and take action I cannot regret, because I’ve given my best. Then I’m free to make choices that increase my abilities and if I choose to not take responsibility for what I want, it definitely will not happen and I will stay the same.
Fear: If I take action there is a risk of failing. I may look like a fool. Others will judge me. It is always fearful to take a risk and venture into new territory. Taking responsibility is an investment and investing creates the risk of losing something. It’s a courageous act because it’s moving out of my comfort zone into the unknown.
This was easy to see in a culture which on the surface seems to have a different set of problems, which appears so different than my own. To blame or see that culture as different from mine is easy, but when I look deeper I see the same thing happening in my own world. In America we live in a culture of violence, a culture of exploitation, objectification, and greed. Our American conditioning is deep. It is focused on, “me, me, what about me?” The “Me generation” which began many years ago, has remained. We believe in our fears and our own needs first, and this keeps us small. Our education system has been lazy and gone into a state of denial about it’s own inadequacies. It has lost relevancy to the youth of America, and when you are no longer relevant, youth lose interest and that is why our schools are failing so badly.
Pakistan has a great need of education and so does the United States. The literacy rate in Pakistan is about 55%, one of the lowest in the world. The United States has about 32 million illiterate people. About 50% of youth do not finish high school in the major cities of the USA. Education is the key. We need to give our young people the ability to make better choices and give them the awareness how manage their minds, their emotions and their stress in a healthy way. To live the best lives they can.
When we taught the human values points: responsibility, respect, commitment, when we empowered the young rural participants of this first Pakistan YLTP to see how to make better choices and take the responsibility to bring awareness to their communities, they got it. They understood the need of the day. In experiencing the peace, relaxation and goodness in their own hearts after doing the breathing exercises on YLTP, they got it. They also wondered where is this coming from and at times they were afraid. When something so different, so good comes along we get scared. This is our natural tendency. But by the end of the week they couldn’t deny the Love, and the fact that it was coming from within their own hearts, not from anywhere else. This was beautiful to see and to be a part of. When we break boundaries in ourselves or in others, we can feel the expansiveness of freedom in a real way. As the passionate cry of a Rumi poem goes, “why do you stay in prison when the door is so wide open!”
The Pakistan Leadership Training experience showed me the beauty, the innocence, the openness and freshness of young people, of humanity. It showed me an inbuilt readiness to grow when something so relevant is presented to inherently intelligent, open-minded young adults. I got to witness first hand the conditioning, the small- minded protectiveness of a cocoon break down over the period of 8 days, and the expansion of freedom awaken in the minds of 40 Pakistani youth. I came back to my hometown Chicago and two days later we began a new program with 260 students in a Chicago high school and I clearly recognized the same longing in the faces of American youth. This longing is not for Pakistani freedom or American freedom. It is Universal Freedom and ALL young people around the world are longing for this.
What did YLTP do in Pakistan? It provided the participants the freedom to break out of conditioning and allow clarity of vision and personal power to explode from within. It allowed the young participants to make choices to determine their own direction in life and be of use to people in need in their own villages, in their own country. To offer something of value to their world. The power of the breath and the power of knowledge allow this transformation from “what about me” to “how can I serve others.” How can we afford not to spark this in our young people?
-- Bill Herman
-- Bill Herman