Differently One – An Interview

Carmen Rivas and Gloriana Brenes talk about an exciting new program being developed at Dzamling Gar for people with diverse functionality.

Carmen Rivas (left) and Gloriana Brenes (right).

The Mirror: Today is November 16th, 2022, and we are here in Dzamling Gar with Carmen Rivas and Gloriana Brenes. We are interviewing them about an exciting new program that is going to be developed here; a program for people with diverse functionality.

Carmen has been doing this work for quite some time, so we wanted to interview her about her extensive experience and knowledge. Carmen’s experience and knowledge is the basis for the programming that will be developed here. So it’s very important that we talk with her and understand what has been her experience and how that will help create the programming at Dzamling Gar.

So, Carmen, can you tell us about when you first started doing this programming in Caracas, Venezuela and about how you came to the idea to work in this way with people with diverse functionality through the Vajra Dance? 

Carmen: I was giving a course on Vajra Dance in Caracas. And in this course there was one doctor who had two nephews that had certain difficulties with movement and learning. When this doctor learned Vajra Dance, he became very interested. He saw the potential to spread it to a group of people with diverse functionality that he had been working with already for quite a while. 

In this group there were people who had Down’s syndrome, some aspects of autism, motor difficulties, difficulties of attention and learning. And this particular group was already quite organized, and for me it was a surprise because I had never been approached with this sort of invitation.

And at that particular time we were very lucky to have Rinpoche physically with us. I went to Rinpoche and asked him if I can teach the Vajra Dance to this particular group with these challenges. On the same day, almost immediately, he responded ‘Yes, go ahead’.

And that was a big challenge for me because, of course, I had never had a contact with such diverse people. And I didn’t know what kind of things to expect and what difficulties would come.

Then I started to study the profile of each person, just trying to understand what I was going to deal with and also being aware that the studies tell you exactly how it goes and it gives you a lot of information, but it doesn’t really give you the full scope of what is going to happen. I thought that the Dance of the Three Vajras would be the most essential and easy for them to learn, but at that time the transmission was required. So, being very shy and also very careful, I asked Rinpoche if I could teach the Dance of the Three Vajras to this group. And he said, ‘Yes, please, that’s the best’.

I started to prepare myself and the Gakyil of Caracas organized this activity very well. Then we started working and prepared all the different aspects so that it could really be a successful program. But there was something particular. At that time Rinpoche told us to be aware and to spread the news outside and in social media.

And this was very particular, because with this kind of people, when others got to know about it, they became more open and sensitive and wanted to participate.

Carmen and the Vajra dancers in Caracas

So it was a very well organized event: we got the best place, the best sound, everybody helped, everything was organized by the local authorities with the presence of news media, TV channels and everything. So I was very happy with all of this and we started the course. 

This was in 2015. The first day was the first step and it was quite chaotic and I really didn’t know exactly how to start the experience. Also, the kids were very attentive, but they also realized it was very difficult to do. Because when you do this movement open like this, many of them only knew how to do the opposite, to close. But I noticed they were really interested and wanted to learn. They showed so much joy. They were happy and they didn’t really care if they made mistakes. They actually enjoyed, laughed, and even when they were making a mistake, they were trying their best and still carried on.

It’s really caught my attention and made me very happy to see that they were not afraid to make mistakes, they were laughing and they would just continue on the mandala and try again and try to fulfill what was needed.

This particular thing, not making a problem when they did a mistake, no judgement, and trying again and again, really gave me a lot of inspiration and made me want to continue. I had a lot of help and support from their therapists, teachers and also parents. But also, of course, from practitioners of the Сommunity who knew the dance. So we were a team. 

Within the five days, working each morning, the Pawos learned the inner dance of the Pawo, and the Pamos learned the outer dance. And they were doing it very well.

If there was one person who couldn’t move correctly and would do it differently, it was perfect for their condition. And if there was somebody very distracted and, instead of moving both arms, they would move one arm first and then the other, the important thing is that they were really trying to do it well. That really stimulated me a lot. And I could notice that they could really relax. And they were happy when they finished.

Then we did the second part, where Pawos learned the outer dance and how to enter and also exit. And the Pamos also learned the inner dance and also how to enter. And finally, they did the whole dance.

And, of course, it was not as perfect as some of us would do it, but they were perfect in the timing, they were perfect in the space. As for the movement, they had challenges but it was perfect for their condition. Some of them were really perfect, and some others had a little bit of difficulty, but it was still perfect for them.

I learned so much from them. And I learned that the perfection for us is also relative. Because for them they were doing their best and they were practicing very seriously. One very important aspect for me was to share with them joy and gratefulness for what they were doing. And they were able to share that joy and gratefulness for what they were doing and they considered it an achievement.

So in my case, not only I was sure that it would benefit so much their physical condition that they would also do it, they would, they also manifested a better condition. They were also more relaxed. The therapists and the parents reported to me that their condition really improved. There were very concrete results, like for instance, there was one girl who had very deep depression. And her parents and therapists later reported that her attitude changed.

There was one quadriplegic boy who would move on a wheelchair. But he wanted to participate. Sitting, he would only do the A with a lot of difficulty, but he would do it constantly. At the end of the course he was able to raise his right arm. And his mom told me, ‘Look, look. Now Achilles can eat.’ It was very, very strong implication for the body, speech and mind of each one of them. So, of course, there were benefits on the physical level, but I I’m sure that on the energy level they had deep benefits related to Rinpoche’s transmission. So I am convinced that potentiality of the dance, the space of the mandala, the timing, the sound of the mantra and the movements made a lot of impact and benefit.

M: And are they able to continue to use this method that they learned? You had this one course and that was all that you were able to do or?

C: There was a follow-up but it did not last. Sadly enough, that year the political situation and safety situation in Caracas was very difficult, there were many protests, much disorder. And therefore, even though they found a place to continue dancing, a public square, it was a quite a privileged place and very secure, and the parents didn’t want to take the risk to take children there.

Nevertheless the director of the center reported to me that most of them kept doing the dance of the A at home. We were able to achieve all this due to the openness and positivity of the Gakyil who really wanted to try this out and to carry on this program.

M: Is there any possibility, when you return to Venezuela, before you relocate in other places, that you would be able to continue?

C: Yes, in the next couple of months, when I will be back, in January and February, I will contact an already quite organized group in Merida, my home town. There are a lot of people dancing there and they are already trying to organize this type of activity with the local community. But you just gave me an idea that I can actually contact the group in Caracas and see what happens.

M: Should we talk a little bit about the event that just happened here in Tenerife, in Adeje, and then also about the group of you who are working towards implementing something like this here for the local people of Adeje?

Let’s talk about the course that you came to do here called ‘Differently One’ that’s related to diverse functionality. Was it more for instructors?

C: There were people who didn’t forget about this very special activity, like Gloriana and some others who contacted me so that we could talk and discuss how to transmit this very essential and important teaching to people with diverse functionality.

Gloriana, with Dzamling Gar and Atiyoga Foundation, invited me to Dzamling Gar. I prepared myself learning what is the best way to approach and introduce this method to people with certain conditions, and especially how to guide them on the mandala, how to teach them to coordinate the right and the left, the inside and the outside, the sides, the steps, so that they can follow internalizing the movements, the sound and timing on the mandala. I worked along with Nataly Nitsche, who made a big contribution into this project, and together we came up with this program.

We had some people on site and there were other people in Zoom, but I am sure, whoever participated in that, were quite moved by it and got really inspired to continue and carry on to try to deepen this experience and make things more approachable to this diverse dimension.

Gloriana: The aim of ‘Differently One’ was more like a sharing. It was a sharing of Carmen’s experience that she had in 2015. And it was for Vajra Dance instructors, of course, in case they would be inspired to do something like this, and also for any instructor in general. Because it was just a way of how to communicate to others, others with different conditions. It doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily diverse functionality. It could be really many other conditions – very shy people, introverts or people who don’t do very well with failure. So it’s about how you encounter these situations as an instructor. And also it was even not for instructors, it was really open for everyone, but who was interested to communicate in this way to different people. So the name of it was inspired by the fact that we are all different in our own ways, but at the same time we are all one. This is why the name is ‘Differently One’.

M: You set the stage for how these programs began and that you came also here to Tenerife to introduce things here and then you ended up going to Adeje and having contact with the person who runs these kinds of programs in Adeje. Can you talk about what happened there?

C: Based on this experience that we all shared and got really inspired, we told Casilda Gonzalez about our interest to make contact with the local authorities to ask if they might be interested that we do something like this. So we tried to establish a first contact with the government of the island and it was the Town Hall counselor of the section of diversity. We invited him to come to Dzamling Gar. Nataly, Adriana, Gloriana, Casilda and I were there, and we had a meeting.

It went very well, we discussed many interesting things, possibilities to establish open relationship between Dzamling Gar and local people of Adeje and the island in general, and develop more contacts thorough different cultural activities.

G: I must say one detail, the government representative that visited us was very special. He immediately connected with the place. His father worked on the same land here in Dzamling Gar, his mother learned to swim right next to the pool that is outside of Dzamling Gar. He recognized the rocks that he saw. Somehow he has a very strong connection to the land here and to the people who belong for years and generations to this particular place where Dzamling Gar is. That really moved me. We were all really impressed. He told us stories about different stones, textures and things. So it was very beautiful. 

C: Yes, we had a wonderful time together. We had a beautiful sharing and he is a very open and humble person. So immediately he invited us to the upcoming celebration of the family gathering at the center for people with diverse functionality in Los Olivos, Adeje, where children and their parents get together.

We went there to make a presentation of Vajra Dance, not only to dance but also talk with the families, establish some kind of connection with them. We did a little bit of Vajra Dance so that they have some experience, and we invited them to participate. The kids were also participating. And then right after that, we also had a wonderful experience of Khaita Joyful Dances, which was very joyful. It was beautiful that we could share both experiences in the same place. People were very much inspired. It touched everybody’s heart. It was like a celebration somehow.

All people from Dzamling Gar really enjoyed the time there and not only us, but the local people also enjoyed. So instead of us teaching them something, it was more like a sharing and enjoying together. We shared space, we shared food, we shared a lot of conversations and then we also talked about the Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s teachings. 

I think it’s a great road to follow, where we are all equal. Even though we were doing a different experience, like Vajra Dance and Khaita, we are all the same, all one in the same space and in the same experience. This is the reason why we called it ‘Differently One’. Because you can feel and live the experience that on this path we are all the same.

At those moments you feel that we are all the same and that in reality there is a great potentiality and capacity of the teaching that manifests in everyone. Even though we’re all different, with the potentiality of Rinpoche’s teaching, we all have the capacity to reach the same state.

The contact that we have with them really enriches our lives and expands the ordinary limits that we have further, going from our normal condition or normal experience beyond the limits.

For example, whenever they commit a mistake, they do not bother very much, they just continue and try to do their best. Many times they just laugh at their mistakes. And also they don’t pretend to do things perfectly, but they just try to do their best. And this teaches us to work with circumstances. It’s wonderful.

M: So now you establish this base of this activity in Adeje and do you see any way that it will go forward or continue?

G: Yes, right now, after this wonderful experience, we are very inspired, but, of course, we want to do things in a very careful way. So we had a meeting with Adriana Dal Borgo, Casilda Gonzalez, Carmen Rivas and I. (Nataly Nitshce was not in Dzamling Gar but she will participate). Now we really want to come up with a project in a concrete way that will be Dzamling Gar’s project and that approaches the local community and specifically the diverse section.

We would like to bring Carmen again and all together make a team of Vajra Dance instructors who are open for supporting this and will all collaboratively work together. We’re thinking about a three month experience when we can establish certain phases of how to carry this kind of people into learning the Dance of the Three Vajras. But especially we want to come up with a program. There’s a lot of potentiality there because while having Carmen here we can do another ‘Differently One’, now that people finally, maybe with this interview and with the videos that are coming up, might be inspired and would like to do this in their local community. I think it would be wonderful. 

M: So this is not limited to Vajra Dance, is it?

G: No, but right now we are starting with Vajra Dance because we have this experience. But it’s exactly about how to communicate Rinpoche’s teachings to other people, how to communicate in a very essential but also very respectful way, really understanding others’ dimension first, in order to carry this message the best way possible for others to understand. That’s part of the program. We’re still in it, we’re still building it. We have a way to go into making this project because we want to do it well from the beginning till the end. As a result, we will have an experience that, we hope, can be replicated in wherever there might be an interest.

So it’s not only to repeat it with a group of people, but at the same time train others how to do it, those who have the capacity, because not everybody is capable. But if you’re interested, for sure you will be capable. So it’s more like how to grow into this together and explore this aspect and path and communicate to others.

M: So ‘Differently One’ is a way to introduce and engage people who are interested to work with people with diverse functionality. And it happened that it worked out from the beginning with Carmen because she is a Vajra Dance teacher. But people from all the disciplines of the Dzogchen Community – Yantra Yoga, Khaita, Vajra Dance – can benefit from this kind of training, not only for people with diverse functionality but also with people in the Community or just in general, expanding their sensitivity to people when they teach. Is this correct?

G: And not only when you teach. It’s how you carry yourself through life and and really understand the other’s dimension. So it’s really very beneficial on many levels.

C: There is a very beautiful, from the heart, big door opening for all of us to be able to bring evolution. And this is the way how we can go towards this direction and really expand Rinpoche’s teachings more, to certain people that never really get opportunity to get this experience. So I think it’s an achievement for us and the whole world.

M: Thank you very much.

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