I’ve taken a break from Fandom 5 this friday to bring you the latest interview! The wonderful Kara is here to tell us all about her volunteering with the Tibetan Buddhist non-profit centre Jam Tse Dhargyey Ling in New Zealand.
Each month I will be interviewing someone from the online world. They could be someone creative, quirky, geeky or a fellow spoonie. I’m really not picky; the whole point of this is to open up dialogue, share with the world and if you wish, bring awareness to your work or a cause. Interviews are open to anyone who wishes to take part so if you’re interested in volunteering please check out the Interview information page.
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Hi Kara, please tell us a bit about yourself!
Hi all! I’m a 26 year old Australian who shed the shackles of the “normal” life I’d been living, and found my way to New Zealand with little but a suitcase and my best friend. Since being here, I have become involved with a Tibetan Buddhist non profit (the Jam Tse Dhargyey Ling centre), helping to organise events such as Sand Mandalas, public dharma teachings, and Thangka art classes, along with fundraising and campaigning for causes such as the conflict in Tibet and the recovery efforts for the earthquake-stricken Nepal. I work alongside volunteers, Buddhist practitioners, nuns, monks, and a experienced Geshe (high lama/teacher) to bring aid to those in need, and learning to all who seek it.
How did you get involved with Jam Tse Dhargyey Ling?
The most ironic thing about all of this is that I didn’t really get into it… it actually more so found me. After I uprooted myself from my stable Australian life, left my friends and family and long term job as a kitchen designer, I found myself kind of wandering aimlessly, unsure of what in the world I was supposed to be doing. I’d always been a very busy person who filled every hour of the day with work and friends and family and kitty snuggles, but yet here I was being asked to completely redefine myself in how many ways. Who do you become without that work, those friends and family, that lovely kitty to snuggle? I’ve always been the kind of person who very much believes in jumping and building your wings on the way down, but I will admit that I started to feel immensely threatened by the notion that perhaps I wouldn’t actually be able to build something that would carry me anywhere before I crashed down to the bottom. It was after seeing a post on a Facebook community noticeboard asking for volunteers for an event where a Tibetan Sand Mandala (an intricate mandala made entirely with individual grains of coloured sand) would be constructed on Waiheke that my enthusiasm sprung to life – I was so excited at the idea of being able to help out and maybe even do something like make a meal for these wonderful Tibetan Monks! Little did I know that it would be a single Facebook message that would change the course of my life. I was given a phone call and then asked to meet a local Maori leader in charge of the Piritahi Marae (sacred Maori land), where the event would be held – and within a few moments of conversation, this gentleman was insistent that I was precisely the person that they needed. I wasn’t going to cook for the monks. I was not going to direct visitors. I was going to organise all the volunteers for the entire thing.
How many years have you been doing it?
I’ve been interested in charitable event organisation for quite some time, and even back in Australia I was constantly involved in helping to organise spiritual events and the sort for local businesses, but it wasn’t until 2015 that it really took hold for me and became something that I centred my life and career around. It has been the community and sense of family found within the centre I’m a part of that has really solidified everything for me.
What does your charity work mean to you?
This is the hardest question in the world, because I can’t fathom a way to put into words how precisely everything that I do makes my heart sing. It seems tacky to say that “it means the world”, but that is the first thing that springs to my mind, regardless. The work that I do is something that resonates within my very soul. It gives me the opportunity to reach out to people, to get people involved in events and occurrences that are bigger than them, and bigger than the daily lives that we all lead. It reminds me, each and every day, that there are people out there fighting for the greater good, that there are people whose entire life purpose is to bring peace, joy, clarity and kindness to others. I am able to help those people, and hopefully, through my work, become one of them. We are able, as a team, to reach out to people – whether that is by helping a single human being who is struggling with the darkness that they find in their own soul, who we can give the opportunity to come to a community, a place, an event where they feel at peace, or it is by sending funds to monks working in places like Nepal, where each dollar that you can raise will go entirely towards funding schooling for orphaned children, rebuilding homes, giving opportunity of employment, feeding the starving. Sometimes, all I can do is offer someone a smile, some perspective, a ray of sunlight within the day as I work within the charity store that I manage, that has been set up to support everything that we do. But regardless, big or small, I am blessed each day with the opportunity to help – and it brings me incredible peace to be able to do so.
What was the first time you realised that was what you wanted to do?
Ever since I was a small child, I’ve been drawn towards helping others. As an Empath, growing up was a constant battle between my emotions, the emotions of everyone else, and an overwhelmingly crushing feeling of never being able to do enough to help. As I grew older, I sought out ways to assist and to heal, throwing myself into multiple charities, causes, movements, but never really finding an outlet that soothed my soul while I did it.. it all threatened to become too much. It was the peace and clarity that I found when we first opened up the Sand Mandala that affirmed to me that perhaps, within this, I had found a place that I could stay.
What is your proudest moment?
My proudest moment was undoubtedly the dissolution of the Sand Mandala. I’d been working behind the scenes for months ahead of time, trying to organise enough volunteer manpower to staff a 12-day event. The location, the supplies, and the monks were already provided for me, but everything else needed to be organised from my end. We would need a team of at least 20 volunteers able to run a kitchen, cook, clean and bake, care for the Marae, attend the monks, man our merchandise table, and direct guests, as well as answer any questions that might come our way. We would need – from limited funds – to organise enough food to feed the monks, the volunteers, and, in the beautiful tradition of the Marae, any of the visitors who came to experience the building of the mandala. We would need to advertise the event, gain support from the local community and the backing of Waiheke businesses. We would need to be prepared for an opening ceremony, and a closing ceremony, in which we would see hundreds of people flood our doorstep to bear witness to the creation, and the dissolution, of this incredible, intricate piece of sand-art. And at the end of this incredible 12 day event, where we had seen countless smiling faces light up with awe, where we had fed morning tea, lunch, and afternoon tea to thousands of people, where we cared for and tended not just the monks but also our Marae, where we had sold endless incense and prayer beads and flags to people wanting to support the centre, where I had found myself, lost myself, found myself again, discovered relationships that would last a lifetime, meditated, laughed, cried, played, and lived for 12 solid days – there I was, standing in the ocean, one single part of a gigantic line, engaging in a Maori tradition of “sharing breath” with the person beside you, holding hands with two of the people who mean the most to me in the absolute world, watching as hundreds of people linked together and braved the surf and the wind to unite as our monks and beloved Geshe sent the blessed sand along with offerings of flowers and plants out into the ocean, with the hopes that the energy that we had all invested being able to help other countless beings, as well. I was overwhelmed with pride, not just in myself, but in every one of my 20+ volunteers, in our local Marae leaders, in the monks and our Geshe, and in every visitor and guest who took the time to come, to witness, to walk in circles, to pray, to meditate, to breathe and exist, laugh and cry, to find themselves, right alongside me.
What are your goals for the future? What do you hope to achieve?
I would love to continue to help with the centre, and also branch out into further event organisation to help raise support and acknowledgement for causes and charities that are close to my heart. We, as human beings, are given the potential to reach out to one another, and to make a difference. I know that I am incredibly blessed, and I am very lucky to be given an opportunity to help others – and I feel that it is thus my responsibility, but also my heartfelt desire, to use any skills I may have to bring peace, kindness, awareness, clarity, assistance, growth and healing, to other people in need.
What was the best advice you were ever given?
Once upon a time, I was given a promise, that if I simply remembered to “just breathe”, all things would pass, and I would find myself in a time and a place where even if things weren’t okay, I would have the capability to make them so. It is the simplest advice in the world, really – just breathe – but it’s incredible how hard it can be at times. I will admit, though, that the gentleman who shared such advice with me has never been wrong – and that by taking the time to continue, to persevere, to hold space, to simply breathe, I have learned valuable life skills that have gotten me through anything that has ever been thrown into my path.
Any advice for others wanting to get into charity work?
Find something that sets your soul alight. Do not settle for things that you care a little bit about, but continue to seek the cause, the person, the place, the inspiration that will set fire to your soul and lift you to the highest person that you can be. And when you do find that thing, because you will…give it all the breath you have in your body. Fan those flames, always. Your passion is everything.
Now for some random questions…
If you were the god/goddess of anything, what would it be?
Oh, my! This is the hardest question in the world to answer! I would say that I would want to be the Goddess of the Soul – not because I feel that I’m particularly good at managing peoples souls or anything, but because everything that I have based my life around has been intended to grow the soul. I believe in passion, in meaning, in emotion, in any of the things that will make a persons soul sing – and I love to see that in people, because when our souls are dancing, we as human beings are at our best, our most beautiful, and most wondrous.
What would your animal form be?
Do mythical creatures count as animals? Because if so, my answer is undoubtedly the Phoenix. I have built a magnificent life from ashes in a lot of situations. I believe in adaptability, and that adversity will make us strong. Rising from the ashes is the most beautiful thing in the world. Picking a more worldly creature, however, I would turn to the Wolf – loyal, courageous, fierce, protective, pack-oriented, and defensive.
Do you have any fun quirks?
I can break out into song at any moment. Literally, I will have a song for any moment in time, and I will usually accompany said song with some ridiculous vocal tricks and even worse dance moves!
Do you collect anything?
Seashells and gemstones. I want the majesty of the earth around me at all times. I feel like these little gifts are the Gods reminders that no matter how harsh humanity may seem, the world herself, she is beautiful.
And finally; time for a shameless plug:
Please check out the website for the Jam Tse Dhargyey Ling centre at www.mandala.org.nz 🙂
Thank you, Kara, for taking the time to talk to us about your work!
I hope you enjoyed learning all about Kara’s work at the Jam Tse Dhargyey Ling centre and if you’re interested in learning more about Tibetan Buddhism please do visit the centre’s website that Kara shared at the end of her interview 🙂
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