Photo: Kisoon Choi

“Only Hearts” Art/Peace Project

Sharing the peacemaking visions of 3,500 Sarasota, Florida students with students in Chungju, South Korea


Taking our Florida-grown art/peace project to Chungju, South Korea, as a featured segment of my artist’s residency at the Ureuk World Music house, was a wonderful cross-cultural opportunity. Whilst the director of the music house and I had fairly clear ideas on the ways of introducing this project to students in Korea, I was not prepared for the ways in which my heart would be impacted by the wonders encountered again and again on this odyssey, impacted by the beauty of the people of all ages that I met, moved by the physical beauty of the terrain and of the traditional and contemporary architecture, and smitten by the encompassing experience of peace, ease, well-being, and joy. I embarked on this project from my home on Florida’s Gulf Coast, where knowledge about Korea is minute, misguided, and mostly reflects a negativity fostered-by-media sensationalism towards the negative; my gift/experience opened with love and amazement whilst folks back at home imagined me, falsely, going into a area of great personal danger.

The “Only Hearts” Art/Peace Project has been an incredible adventure and getting out of Florida four days before hurricane Irma hit proved to be a monumental task. With my Tampa to Atlanta flight overbooked, it was a necessity to rent a car at TPA for the grueling-to-discover fourteen hour drive to Atlanta (usually six hours), along I-75 clogged with snail paced and fear-filled hurricane escapees, to make my connecting flight to Seoul.

A long non-stop, sleep-filled flight landed me in Seoul to a lovely welcoming by Professor Anna Cybele, director of the Ureuk World Music House, and her beloved, Kisoon (a noted Korean photographer of Siberian tigers and wildlife), and an immediate introduction to the first of many great and healthy Korean meals, followed by a drive to Chungju through unimaginable traffic congestion that I’m told is the norm on Korean roads.

My first slumber came after settling into my room at the rustic Korean Lord’s house (hanok) that is the Ureuk World Music House and, on my first day in Chungju, preparing for the introduction of our art/music based peace project to students, teachers, and parents, a wonderful and enlightening experience which would bring great insights shared by participants of all ages.

Cybele and I delighted in a lovely and heartfelt “Only Hearts” Art/Peace Project presentation, with wonderful interactions between students, adults, and educators on the topic of world peace, which, I was told, was a surprise mix for a dialog across the age spectrum on the subject.

Talking to many, in English and through translators, it was evident that the viewpoint from our US perspective is deeply flawed and, if one truly embraces the psyche of those of all ages whom I interacted with . . . as can be seen in the wondrous photo below . . . there is a pervading vision of only ONE Korea. This is their articulated dream and the dream of family members on the northern side of the DMZ divide; perhaps akin to East and West Germany in the difficult days before the Berlin wall fragmented.

If I could choose one photo that encapsulates the dream-vision of the collective it is this:

Meet Subin, the beautifully creative, talented, and wise young woman who opened and closed our September 10th Chungju presentation at the Ureuk World Music House. Importantly . . . do YOU really, really, really, get her artistic vision of heart . . . it is a reflection of millions of students on both sides of the DMZ! If you really do grok her creation it will shift your reality to the core!!! Moreover, no matter what underlies your indoctrination into personal fields of thought, a simpleton would conclude it to be a stupidity of the gravest intent not to find the manner of conciliation and mediation that is life-affirming for all parties regarding a dawning oneness that is Korea . . . no matter the challenge and certainly not with the bellicosity echoing from a bully pulpit on a distant terrain.

Photo: Kisoon Choi

Jang Chul Min wrote: As the confrontation and tension deepens, we need to collect wisdom for the sake of genuine peace. Is there a plan to devise a diplomatic solution and measures to establish a solid peace regime? How can we cope with conspiracy politics and Demagogue politics based on chaos, mob politics, mass dictatorship, collective fear, and false information of the digital age?

Student Jang Seun Mi wrote: “Even if people don’t have a position I think they can make a rich life by practicing communication, compromise, and a positive way of thinking. Therefore I think a peaceful world is not far away.”

Whilst there were changes to our scheduling plans for a later presentation, a special success was that the United Nations fiftieth anniversary stage-set tapestry (that Cybele and I are sitting on in the opening photo) was delivered to Ban Ki-Moon, not as originally foreseen on the International Day of Peace, but at a dedication for his new center at Yonsei University in Seoul on September 25th on behalf of our 1992-1995 S.E.A.T. (Society for Enlightenment and Transformation) team at the United Nations Secretariat.

A time of deep peace and reflection for me was as a guest at this Buddhist monastery . . . peace and an attunement with Essence that is humbling beyond words. There was a merging with the brotherhood that was deep-felt, conversations and a communion-of- depth over tea, and a sharing in the rituals and celebrations, which were indeed a shape-shift to the psyche. Gratitude for this gift of the Mystery . . . so sweetly moving!

Photo: David Gittens

For me, in so many ways, there is a vibrational alignment and spiritual foundation that is ever-present, and also very ancient, permeating this terrain, be it Shamanism, Buddhism, or Christianity. The Western mind, often biased, uneducated and presumptuous, cannot perceive the wonder unfolding here and how ancient the echo of its roots. Great lessons to be learned on this transformational stage for Homo Sapians. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Ureuk, the namesake of the Ureuk World Music House, my residency in South Korea, was a famous 6th century musician/composer under the patronage of King Jinheung who believed that music would be instrumental in unifying the warring factions of Korea. Perhaps this ancient vision will be the reawakening in this NOW-moment in time.

The meditative experience of deep quiet after the monastery continued from this nest over a vista of a vibrant Chungju where a carpet growth of thousands upon thousands of 20- to 30-story high-rises sprouted below Cybele’s abode and beyond. These characterless monoliths are an awesome phenomena of sprawling urban development two hours south of Seoul, and they become more dense the closer one gets to Seoul and its twenty-three million inhabitants. I experienced a society functioning with great beauty, grace, peace, safety, and, at apogee, has a focus on education and a flourishing of capitalism on steroids, which is nourished by the healthiest foods I’ve experienced (and my awe at no sign of obesity whatsoever).

Photo: David Gittens

Sooooooo grateful to Mr. and Mrs. Moon (no relation to the Secretary General) for their friendship and hospitality whilst residing at Cybele’s . . . and grateful that he got my ticket mix-up at the Chungju train station resolved, and ushered me onto the express train to Seoul, where Anya and Keechi hosted me to wonderful and joyous last days in Korea, merging into the wonder and beauty of this dynamic metropolis of twenty-three million.

Festive, energetic, and funfilled was my short exploration of Seoul, which was capped by a taste-treat of restaurants and coffee houses, before a final gratitude catch-up with Anya over coffee and chocolate croissants in a great bakery off Mapo-daero brought to me a delight-filled grin, as we could have been sitting in Cafe Lalo in Manhattan, The Blue Bottle Cafe in San Francisco, or Holybelly in Paris. These places of rest and relaxation are a mirror of each other around the globe as we head through this first quarter of the twenty-first century and, importantly, they reflect a desire across all cultures for peace, harmony, and wellbeing, an end to social and economic imbalances, and a responsibility towards manifesting a world that encompasses all sentient beings.

Photo: Unknown

No rush for the Airport Express, a short walk from our breakfast nook, as all transportation schedules are cell phone linked and exact to the minute. A goodbye wave to Anya as the shuttle headed off towards Incheon airport on my journey home . . . heart opened, eyes opened, and the psyche bathed in an experience that impacts and awakens. Yes, we exist in a paradoxical reality and, that being said, there was a fullness of the spirit when LOVE was an inner radiant echo during my weeks in South Korea.

It has been an insightful experience returning home from the “Only Hearts” Art/Peace Project in South Korea. There my reality was a journey of great beauty, wonderful heart connections with so many beautiful folks and an experience of collective joy, nurturing, peace and stability. Ideas about world peace and conciliation from those decades younger than me were always astonishing, often out-of-the-box, deeply humbling and hopeful . . . and my homecoming to American soil was a palpable shock as headlines and television barked of a collective anger, rage, calamity, fear, division, and a dysfunction that clouds the psyche in a media-incarceration of questionable intent and misinformation that is so out of attunement with my experience of Korea. Family and friends who actually believed in the misguided news about this part of the world were sure that I had taken a heroic trip to a war zone. An alternate reality? . . . Thankfully I experienced a LOVE zone.

I’ve lived in, and loved, New York, London, Paris, and San Francisco and can say with certainty that Seoul in now a favorite. Importantly, to me, there is no doubt whatever in my wisdom-place that a reunification of North and South Korea would be a seed from which would blossom one of the greatest contemporary future-linked cultures Asia has birthed . . . just think of what that forebodes for the old paradigm Western power structures of lawyer capitalism seeking their diminishing possibility of global conquest.

Life’s aspirations come in the guise of children.   —Tagore

My heart is immersed in gratitude for each of the thirty-five hundred Sarasota students who participated in the original “Only Hearts” Art/Peace Project for the millennium as, over these many years, it is their vision, words, and art that has spread the message of world peace to students and educators around the world via our project website.  Visit the “Only Hearts” Art/Peace page and share this project with educators and organizations, lending your support and good heart towards this ongoing vision that gives students a voice towards creatively shaping the world-stage they are embarking on.

Link to “Only Hearts” Art/Peace Project:


Deep  _/\_  Peace, David


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