Skip to content
Fellows Spotlight
Cohort VII & VIII Individual Learning Excursions
October 5, 2021
Composite photo of Kūha‘o Zane, Suzie Schulberg, Janice Ikeda, Rachel Solemsaas, Jan Boivin, Kawika McKeague, Claire Sullivan

(L to R): Kūha‘o Zane, Suzie Schulberg, Janice Ikeda, Rachel Solemsaas, Jan Boivin, Kawika McKeague, Claire Sullivan

This summer, 20 Fellows from Cohorts VII and VIII embarked on and returned from their Individual Learning Excursions (ILEs).

Cohort VII’s ILEs were originally scheduled for summer 2020, but were postponed due to COVID-related restrictions. Remaining Fellows will take their ILEs in the months ahead.

Below, seven Fellows reflect on their ILE, share their learnings, and describe how they continue to transform from their experience. We begin with an uplifting chant written by a Fellow which inspired him on his ILE.

Click on a name to go directly to their reflection:
Kūha‘o ZaneSuzie SchulbergJanice IkedaRachel SolemsaasJan BoivinKawika McKeagueClaire Sullivan

Halulu ka Honua
by Kūha‘o Zane, Cohort VII

Halulu ka honua, manunu ka honua, kuolo ka honua
The earth whispers a rumble, land trembles.

Puʻō ke ahi lapalapa ʻā pele i Kīlauea
Announcing the arrival of pele at Kīlauea

Kūloloku ka ua i uka i ka honua ola
The rain taps the earth and encourages growth.

E ulu i ka ʻekuʻeku, e ulu i ka pikopiko, e ulu i ka uaua, e ulu ē

Growth to the foundation, growth to the center, growth to the nourishment. Abundance.

Kuaehu i ka maialile a nā lani kehakeha
There is a regal stillness in evening skies.

A ka mahina Akua e palanehe aʻe nei
Mahina Akua, traversing the night and bringing the morning.

I ka ʻula pūnohunohu mai o kaiao
Punohuula dresses the kaiao horizon.

E ulu i ka ʻekuʻeku, e ulu i ka pikopiko, e ulu i ka uaua, e ulu ē

Growth to the foundation, growth to the center, growth to the nourishment. Abundance.

Compassion Institute
by Suzie Schulberg, Cohort VII

This summer, I embarked on a journey with Compassion Institute. During a retreat in the serene venue of Ahu Pohaku Hoʻomaluhia, I learned that deep systems transformation can only occur hand-in-hand with self and collective inner inquiry and discovery. To learn about the power of compassion, I focused on the words of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama,"Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive."

In order to translate compassion into action, three elements must work in concert: compassion (the heart), wisdom (the eyes), and skillful means (the hand). Providing healthy self-care, specifically self-awareness and a sense of self-worth, is paramount. I was given the space to discover and embrace an understanding that my worthiness is not about arrogance or narcissism, rather, it is being human and striving for common humanity. If truly adaptive change is desired, applying compassion to systems is non-negotiable. Compassion must become a critical part of the metric.

Engaging employees and fostering a corporate culture of compassion is values-based and requires a shared language, shared norms, and showing employees that they are valued and needed. Compassion takes courage, and it also takes discernment–sometimes it’s stating a truth that people don’t want to hear.

Senator Cory Booker shares in the foreword of Compassionomics Stephen Trzeciak and Anthony Mazzarelli, “We are often led to believe that sentiments like compassion, love, and kindness are expressions of weakness rather than signs of strength. And we are often all too ready to give in to the false belief that meanness somehow equates to toughness and that empathy is empty of power. But the evidence suggests the opposite. We are a country that rightly values the ethics of self-reliance and rugged individualism, but we also understand the necessity of our larger communal ethic–that our greatest achievements are the result of collective struggle and sacrifice. And, at the heart of that ideal is our ability in any moment, to choose to exercise compassion.”

Energy Mastery
by Janice Ikeda, Cohort VIII

I admit. I wanted to work with Aikido Master Chris Thorsen because I was tired of being afraid of everything and I wanted to learn some cool kung fu moves (like a certain fat panda).

Instead, I sat and remembered.

I remembered how it feels to sit under a tree and connect with the love of ancients.
I remembered how to sit tall, and without apology.
I remembered how to sit quiet, open, and with breath soft in my belly.
I remembered how it sounds when there is no noise.
I remembered the ways of children, grandparents, and zen:
sleep when you are tired, eat when you are hungry.
I remembered how it feels to be alone and without fear.

And then I returned,
fully to the vessel that holds my being.
I returned to my community.
I returned to vibrancy.

I returned to the hanauna hou,
waiting for me at home.
“Mom, we missed you.”
Yes, my dear ones,
20 years is a very long time to be away.

One quiet morning I placed the golden bowl on its ornate purple and gold embroidered pillow.
I held a small stick, used to ring the bowl to begin my time of opening,

First strike, the bowl rang out and I awoke.

Second strike, the bowl rang out and I settled.

Third strike, the bowl shifted on its pillow—imbalanced and imperfect—
and I immediately reached out to fix it.
Protect it from falling?
Make it right?
Help it look better?

As soon as I touched the bowl, it stopped ringing.
It went completely silent.

I sat for a while and thought about all the ways in my relationships with others and with myself I react to fix, to protect, to right, to help—and by doing so,
I rob the vessel of its song.

The vessel was not created to look perfect.
The vessel was created to sing.


Presence and Exploration
by Rachel Solemsaas, Cohort VII

My learning excursion experience with Christine McHugh was a transcending and transformational experience. For six days, I was guided to accept and celebrate the strength of my solitude and independence while receiving the best affirmation and love from nature. My biggest takeaway is the realization that I have defined my life through the affirmation of others. Sadly, the urge to please or the fear of being rejected by others has caused anxiety and stress on how I lived my life. 

In the end, the answer has always been me and bringing out the best of me. The power of self-affirmation reassures me that I have it in me to create and build a better path and overcome obstacles. What is more impressive is realizing that I am never alone and that nature provides that unconditional affirmation if I simply tune in, listen, and heed her calls. 

My learning excursion strengthened my capacity to be a more adaptive and transformative leader. It is critical that I am able to amplify the voices of our community, especially those our systems and structures may have marginalized. As someone bestowed with leadership opportunities, I am committed to give back not just as an educator but also as a community member. This investment to my effectiveness would expand our community’s capacity to respond to the challenges of our state with passion, integrity, and resiliency. Furthermore, it is my commitment to carry on building and expanding the future of our state by mentoring and coaching the adaptive leaders of tomorrow.

Jibun Sagashi no Tabi – A Journey of Self-Discovery
by Jan Boivin, Cohort VIII

I engaged in a jujitsu retreat that was hosted by the Horiuchi Kodenkan at the Soto Mission. At Sensei Scott Horiuchi’s request, I researched the origins of Soto Zen in Hawaiʻi so that I could understand the protocol needed to join the bishop and ministers in their daily temple preparations. This is how I came across my late grandmother’s photo in a history lesson; my ‘ohana was with me every step of this journey.

Over the course of a week, I was reintroduced to the physical challenges of Danzan-ryu jujitsu while studying its history and esoteric principles. We studied the seven virtues of the Bushido warrior–integrity, respect, heroic courage, honor, compassion, honesty/sincerity, and duty/loyalty. Five technique lists were embedded into the curriculum, with an emphasis on techniques for women. Sensei’s father, Judan-ranked Harold Horiuchi, designed the women’s curriculum for the founder of Danzan-ryu jujitsu, Master Seishiro Okazaki. I accomplished techniques I had not attempted for 20 years.

In addition to practicing healing techniques, we exploredzazenandmunen musomeditation at sunrise. Zazen involves sitting with no intention, being present. Munen muso is a Bushido warrior’s meditation. For munen muso, the goal is stillness and presence... with worries and attachments banished to allow for instinctive actions. To be quick and reflexive in jujitsu is to first be still. 

I concluded the excursion with a resolve to practice the Bushido warrior way through jujitsu, and to introduce my son to the art. There were many lessons learned, but several deserve special mention. One was the concept ofichi-go,ichi-e–one encounter, one chance. Putting yourself in every moment and making the absolute most of it. Another involved embracing stillness: being present and open to the world, while recognizing but not dwelling in the past. I also realized how deeply appreciative I should be of my wonderful ‘ohana, and vowed to treasure every moment with them. 

While this was a solitary excursion, I maintained a sense of belonging to my community. I have wanted to help others before, but this call was elevated by the experience. I admit that two pandemic-related relief projects technically intruded into my evening reflection times. But the projects informed the experience and another takeaway was born–timing can be imperfect when it comes to helping others. 

I returned from the excursion with a sense of being fuller, rooted, still, and grateful. I have a greater appreciation of the heroic courage it will take to fortify Hawai‘i. I welcome and embrace the sense of obligation I feel when I think of my son, my daughter, Hawaiʻi’s keiki, and future generations to come.

In many ways my journey has just begun, and I am indebted to the Omidyar Fellows program for this inexplicable shift in me. 

From Conditioned Mind to Unconditioned Awareness
by Kawika McKeague, Cohort VII

Journal Date: 12 July 2021
Hinaieleele, Kukolu

Last night was the first night to abide alone in this sheltered retreat. As eventide drew nigh this far north in the 10 o’clock hour, I had ritualistically undertaken the energy to secure every door bolt and window pane. I paused to ponder why I had painstakingly locked every latch and switch to fabricate a sense of security to ward off the unknown. I rationally concluded this was an emotional response pattern that goes back to my childhood trauma, a once inconsolable urge of deep survival conditioning, a way to commune with an unspeakable memory. Apparently, the latency of the urge still lingers. The mantra of this time and season, “energy follows attention”, seems to take on new meaning in this twinkling of a moment. The 46th year of 50 years of being consumed by false narratives in response to an atrocious violation of inviolable space that every child should never have to bear–an alteration of the self, an emotional residue, an enduring blemish from the flashpoint of a revolver. The words of our morning lesson–“what we hold in consciousness is what we resonate, is what wein-tensionand what we manifest”–resound.

In this depth of night, the profundity of the unknown is omnipresent. I center on the training earlier in the morning–on one breath that is ever flowing seeking to slow down the ramblings of my mind. As I prepare for slumber, the warmth of a blanket embraces my fatigued spirit, a cloak of peace envelopes the room with each hanu-hā, therein in this state, I begin to extend my consciousness and awareness outward into the room and beyond the depth of luminance from my bedside lamp. I hear the distinctive voices of raindrops pelting the roof top of this quaint cottage and the whispers of the blustery gale crackling through the cedar and pine. I recall the words shared by a 10-year-old while facing a mountain lion in the wilderness who spoke an emphatic truth–I have no interest in fear when the universe is bowing in beauty and grace. The intonations of a melodic composition emerge, the wind and rain as they do back home have a name, and therein a story, and therein a memory that has been shared for millennia. Perhaps we no longer can hear their song because our ears have become deafened by the discordant clamor of our busy lives.

Breathe in and out. Open the lenses of attention. Shift from mindfulness to fair witness. Fears are nudged aside as my naʻau opened to hear the most beautiful symphony that nature could compose. As quickly as the storm made its acquaintance with my being, it quickly fades like a sojourner into the night. And all was still and quiet. The silence echoed across space and time. And for a fleeting second, I was the silence. My naʻau could clearly see the peace. ʻAe, ua ‘ike a.   

I awoke to a beautiful chill that rode along the wispy rays of morning light–a welcoming sentry fronting the fog bank creeping nearshore from the horizon. I sat at the edge of my bed, the lone witness to this part of the world awakening, greetings extolled by the squawk of two squirrels playfully dancing on the porch rail, a baby fawn and her mother carefully foraging among the clumps of dew-laden grass, and a thicket of wild raspberries. I stir a dollop of honey in my tea cup, sipping the warmth and solace of mint tea as part of my morning mindfulness practice. I can only laugh as I wonder how the universe perhaps has amusingly observed my transformation these past few days. Perhaps I am just another squirrel attentive to the unlimited possibilities in the seeds that life unfolds, one nut at a time. And the universe and I smiled.

I am consciousness. I am awareness. I am hope inspired. Let the dance of the uke and nage continue.

Cultivating Spaciousness and Clarity
by Claire Sullivan, Cohort VII

I set out on my ILE with the intention to cultivate a spacious, reflective, and curious exploration. I pursued this open inquiry through a solitary pilgrimage walk. Across the miles I encountered the hard slog, the sublime, fear, wonder, solemnity, elation, and, perhaps most radically, sustained moments of quiet contentment and lucidity. From this emerged an appreciation of the incredible abundance around me–on the trail and in my own life–and a clarity about the opportunity to shed an ill-serving “all or nothing” construct in favor of embracing an expansive both/and mentality.

At first I misinterpreted that this abundance is composed of things and experiences that are, on the face, good and enjoyable. During the walk and again since my return home, several hard and distressing experiences have productively complicated my understanding. By its nature, abundance encompasses the whole, the spectrum, and a timescale across which experiences reveal themselves to be multi-faceted, and transient, always transient. And so emerges a sense ofequanimity.

And now... to the dailiness of bringing this into the work of living, working, and dreaming with others.