Jane Hancock is an educator, photographer and woman who has sought and embraced a path of compassion and courage. I approached Jane briefly at Land of Medicine Buddha in Soquel a couple of years before Expedition Bhutan even existed and when I heard she frequented Bhutan. But we finally sat and bonded over a latte while in Thimphu, Bhutan at the tail end of our expedition. It was then, amidst our mutual love for the country, that she finally shared the story of her work in this unique place. I totally got why she had changed and shaped her life to help such a remote cause. Bhutan kinda causes that to happen to people.
Jane taught in the Scotts Valley School District for 22 years, is the cofounder and director of the Aloha World Music Camp for Children in Santa Cruz, CA and is the photographer on two acclaimed early American Music research/recording projects. She has co-produced many recordings for Music of Bhutan Research Center (MBRC), and when in Bhutan—which is as frequently as is able—she has a weekly radio show devoted to classical music and volunteers in Bhutanese schools to teach classical music history. Jane has stated here that What Matters to her is COURAGE. I’d say her life’s work is an embodiment of courage. Living courage.
Terri: Jane, from a general long time interest in Bhutan, you decided to help form an organization preserving the important and traditional music of that country. What matters the most to you in your life right now that caused this chain of events that altered the direction of your life? If you could sum up what matters to you in one word, what would that word be?
Jane: I have always had an interest in Buddhism since my early twenties, mainly because of the emphasis on compassion. In 2006, I decided to seriously study Buddhism and began to have the yearning to travel to India to the sacred sites where Buddha lived.
A friend of mine mentioned that Bhutan was a country where Buddhism was practiced by most of it’s citizens unlike India. I thought perhaps an immersion in living Buddhism may be a better way to go.
I told my friend, Janet Herman, an ethnomusicologist, of my intention to go to Bhutan. She responded that she had always wanted to go to Bhutan because their traditional music was exquisite. Within that moment a vision was created to archive the music of Bhutan. However, we knew next to nothing about Bhutan.
It just so happened that in the summer of 2008, the Smithsonian was featuring the country of Bhutan in their summer folk life festival. Many Bhutanese musicians and artists would be there. Janet and I went to DC., met the premier traditional musician, Kheng Sonam Dorji, and were invited to help him archive a legendary singer. That October, we were on our first expedition in a rural village in central Bhutan.
Mr. Dorji then founded the Music of Bhutan Research Center and we were asked to be on his advisory board. In the few short years of the organization, we have published three CD’s and the first book on Bhutanese music, archived over 60 elder master musicians, established the Annual Druk Norbu National Award for excellence in traditional music, created the first Bhutanese folk music festival, and have video footage for 10 documentaries in the making. To be a part of preserving a culture’s music, music which embodies rich Buddhist themes of compassion and loving kindness, has been an honor. Stepping into this vision has been a life altering adventure.
One word that suns up what matters for me is courage—the courage to evolve, the courage to be compassionate no matter what occurs in one’s life, the courage to be patient (which has proved to be immensely valuable) and the courage to be open and nonattached. This is a great path, however, quite a challenging one as well.
Terri: The story of how you came to work in Bhutan is so inspiring! But what do you do on a regular, day to day, basis to keep you focused on ‘being in courage’? What would you recommend to people who might struggle with finding courage in their own lives?
Jane: Without a doubt my Buddhist meditation is the main avenue for me to daily bring a consciousness of courage into my life as well as patience, compassion, and loving kindness. That is the inner courage dealing with the mental and emotional reactions to the vicissitudes of life. Also talking with good friends about challenges seems to call forth courage as well.
Then there is the outer courage, say traveling to other countries and embracing cultures. I was born with a fearless sense of adventure. Whether traveling with friends or by myself, I feel at home anywhere in the world. As the Dalai Lama says, “Our shared humanity makes us all brothers and sisters.”
It terms of how others can bring more courage to their lives, I truly feel each person is on their own path and through life experience, only they can decide how to bring more courage into their lives.