The Mother

The Mother was born Mirrha Alfassa in Paris, 1878. She studied fine art in college. The Mother was aware of her spiritual consciousness even as a child.

cuuute

She received visions from one who she called Krishna.  When she traveled to Pondi in 1914, she met Sri Aurobindo and recognized him as the “Krishna of her visions.” She spent a few years in Japan before returning to Pondicherry to continue her yoga practice at age 42. She was married, but left her husband to stay in India. She became Sri Aurobindo’s best student and closest collaborator. When Sri Aurobindo went into seclusion to continue his work of consciousness, she was the only one he would let into his chamber. She helped secure housing and coordinate meals for the growing number of disciples that were coming to Pondicherry. In 1943 she started the ashram school, an experiment in integral education, which then grew to be the International Center of Education, inaugurated in 1952. At age 90 she started Auroville, an idyllic utopian town of peace, “dedicated to human unity.”

The Mother believed in the importance of physical exercise as a tenet of a spiritual lifestyle. She played tennis everyday (and won often!) until she was 83. Two dozen followers over 80 years ago has turned into into today’s diverse ashram community of 1,500 members. More to come on the Mother.

          Citations from the “Visitor’s Guide to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram”

Trees Have Feelings Too

           Shivakumar recommended that when the Alternative Break students come they should spend some time in Nature. Nature is a vital part of Indian life. They do not have a concept of human civilization vs. wilderness. Reminiscent of Cronin’s thesis, humans are nature; it is impossible to separate the two. We westerners must retrain ourselves how we see ourselves in relation to nature in order to start shifting our behaviors. In India, people ask permission of the trees before they are cut down. Nature is respected, because we are showing ourselves self-respect.

Samantha and Toodles, a featherless bird she rescued 

         Plants and animals all respond to love, just like humans. Living creatures are much more aware of their surroundings than we think, and they remember past experiences. I just watched a documentary called “I Talk to Animals,” about a California woman named Samantha Khury who communicates with animals, listening to their anxieties and concerns. She teaches others how to talk to their pets as well. The same idea of integrating humanity with the animal kingdom is key, people must not see the two as separate. She said that animals communicate through telepathically sending visual images. All one has to do is visualize an image of what you want to communicate. One woman who raised goats took a workshop from Khury. One of her goats used to kick the bucket over when she was being milked. The goat owner sent visual images to the goat. If the goat kicked over the bucket, she would pour the milk over the goat’s head. If the goat stayed nice and still, she sent an image of her lovingly petting the goat. She said after seven days of this, the goat stayed nice and still when she is milked! Fascinating, and it makes me want to try!

Another key idea I have learned about is motivating people to protect nature out of love, not our fear of global warming. When talking about environmental reforms, fear is not an effective approach. People do not respond to fear, it makes them want to exploit more. Instead we need to foster the love of nature that is within all our hearts. I have yet to meet someone who does not like nature.

Understandably, the issue of climate change overwhelms us. Yet we should not forget love is boundless; it does not know the meaning of impossible. This was a heartening idea for me. Carried out through a positive lens, sustainability efforts seem more hopeful. This might sound hippy-dippy to some, but stop and think for a moment. Of the people you know who work on sustainability issues, or even those who live conscientiously, do they do it lovingly or out of fear?

Last year when I worked with Connecting Eugene to stop the UO from building an office park on the banks of the Willamette River, I saw the committed hearts of unpaid, busy volunteers acting out of love. Last summer I drove to Portland with the Beyond Coal campaign, where a city board was determining the future of the Boardman Coal plant. Dozens of students and caring citizens testified (including Maneesh) in support of closing the plant. From all over the state, they prepared their testimony, traveled to Portland, patiently waited for their two minutes, making their voice heard purely out of love. When we hired the UO Student Sustainability Coordinator, Louisa Deheer, she stood out because she has a passionate heart and a loving attitude towards students and environmental protection.

Think about it: when are leaders most effective at passing policy or changing social behaviors? When you learn about environmental issues, what motivates you to action, learning about innovative solutions, or the threat of a flood or food shortage? Fear is powerful, but love conquers all.

In the News… July 27, 2011

From The Hindu

 

 Egypt: The military and pro-democracy groups are still waged against each other for how to proceed after the overthrow of corrupt President Hosni Mubarak.

Protests are still being held against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), calling for defense military reforms. The “Kifaya” movement (meaning ‘Enough’) was born in 2004 and is supporting the work of another group led by Ahmad Maher, which uses peaceful disciplined agitation tactics. The frontline group was the catalyst for the April 6th youth-led protests, using non-violent tactics inspired by Serbia’s Otpor movement.

Citizens are angry over the lack of prosecution against Mubarak and his two sons, the continued detention of protesters, and the inability of the military to align with the priorities of the working class. Military leadership is accusing the people of “benefiting from foreign funding and training.” Yet where does the military get their funds and training from? Oh that’s right, from taxpaying citizens…

 

London: Members of British Parliament are looking to slash the number of non-European Union student visas given out each year. Critics argue that this will come at a loss to England’s economy of 3.6 billion pounds a year. This initiative is mainly motivated by an attempt for immigration reform by the conservative Home Secretary Theresa May, citing that “many prospective economic migrants use [visas] to gain entry into Britain.” Foreign students are charged three times as much as English natives, and are “regarded as cash cows.” Cash-strapped universities have been letting in more and more foreigners. Sound familiar? This is a tough issue for American public universities as well. In 2010, 49% of the freshman class at the University of Oregon was from out of state. Without quotas for in-state students, this upward trend is likely to continue, changing the socio-economic makeup of the university very quickly. How can schools find a balance between protecting access to the people they are supposed to serve and staying afloat?

 

The United States: Whine, threat, whine, threat, exaggerated claim, threat, whine.

Temple Ruins and Goodbyes

Yesterday Keri and Dan left to go back to Eugene. I remain. What wonderful travel companions I have been blessed with! Keri is such a sweetheart; she left me her sun hat, extra toiletries, and some books. I am sad to see them go, but on the taxi ride home I just couldn’t stop thinking about how fortunate I am to be here. India is hot and wonderful. So much fruit and noise and colors and time to read and write by the ocean. I am making friends with the society members, the people are so hospitable, intelligent, and passionate about what they do. I’m going to learn so much here, and I know that I owe it to God and the world to do something great with the training I will receive.

Before they left we went to the world-famous site of the Mahaballapuram temples. Built over 2,000 years ago, these beautiful granite temples were each carved out of a single piece of stone. Granite is the hardest rock in the world, and yet the gods, goddesses, animals, and royalty depicted are very delicately carved, with lifelike expression. Beautiful.

Also, the funniest thing kept happening while we were touring the sites. People kept asking Keri, Dan and I to take photos with them. Dan says, “Americans are good luck.” They told Dan he looked like President Clinton. Haha.

‘Vishnu’s  Butter Ball’, a giant granite stone that is perfectly balanced on the hill

An Organic Paradise

July 22, 2011

Today was an epic day.  This morning a taxi ride took us to the jungle of the ashram’s organic farm, where they produce all the fruits and vegetables to feed 1,500 people a day. They even grow all of the rice for the ashram. The only exception is the wheat for baking bread, as wheat only grows in North India.

Bug spray is a must!

Dan, our guide Deberatu in the center, and the organic farm director, Bhavaram on the right

One of our guides is a tall, lanky gentleman named Debabrata, which his mother gave him because it means “divine mission.” He has lived at the ashram for 35 years. He used to be a follower of Vivekenanda, but when he was 21 he discovered the Mother. It’s a great story, I’ll post about it later.

The fragrant champa flower, which has over 200 varieties. The other day I bought some locally made champa soap and it smells up the whole bathroom. 

The farm is not like our mono-cultured crops, all the plants in perfect rows. The farm mirrors how plants grow in nature, all the plants mixed up. The farm workers know where all the plants are, they are clearly identifiable and cannot get misplaced. Some crops are grown alongside other plants that promote pollination. This model is much healthier for the plants, and less work for the humans. They use the in situ composting technique, which means that vegetable debris is thrown directly into the garden beds, instead of being left to decompose in a pile first. Soil is layered with vegetable matter, so it can fertilize directly in the beds.

 In situ composting: Potato plants with hibiscus flowers layered on beds

The farm also has a medicinal herb garden, for teaching about the healing  power of plants.

This herb’s leaves are used  to heal any mouth sores and also doubles as a mouth freshener! 

Cinnamon! Smells like Christmas…

Basil, which looks different than Oregon basil but tastes similar

Our tour only took us through a tiny bit of the 42 acres, yet we saw dozens of different crops. Keri and I took a million photos!

Henna! The root of the henna plant is used to cure jaundice, the leaves are used to treat kidney stones when combined with wild radish. The fruit is dried and ground up to make red hair dye. What a helpful plant…

This leaf is ground up to make black hair dye. I didn’t catch the name of it. 

The hibiscus flower is made into a syrup, which has a cooling effect. The flower is also combined with coconut oil and used as a hair conditioner treatment. 

Guavas are like apples here, I eat them everyday. It’s wonderful. 

The Callotropis flower. The milk is poisonous, but it is used to cure migraines. One must use a needle to prick the temple and release pressure, and then rub the milk on the temples. The plant is also rich in potassium, and so is used in the beds as compost to balance out the nitrogen in the soil. 

The pineapple plant. Most people think they grow on trees, when in fact they are actually a tiny shrub. 

Palm fruit, which has a high sugar content. The fruit is mixed with cow urine and used as a fertilizer.

At the end of our tour we were given a feast of raw coconut, mango, papaya.  The coconut water is delicious, which we drank through all natural straws made from papaya leaves. After we finished the liquid they machete’ed the coconuts open and we ate the soft meat with spoons. Fully grown coconuts soak up all their water inside and the meat gets thicker and tougher. We had juice all over everywhere. Delicieuse! Debabrata said they don’t get many visitors, so they love to show people around. Such nice people.

The Rise of Women in India

Women are taking over India, in both business and politics. Here is a quick overview of the Indian political leaders in power. All women. Thanks to UO Professor Surendra Subramani for the email & photos.

We have Tamil Nadu’s own J Jayalilithaa in the South.

The fiery Mamata Banerjee in the East, the first female Chief Minister of West Bengal 

Mayawati in the North, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh

 In Central India, New Delhi, the Indian capital itself is ruled by Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit.

Ms Sonia Gandhi is the leader of UPA, the party which is running the Government of India for a second consecutive term. She is the leader of the biggest Indian Political party, Indian National Congress. 

Ms. Pratiba Patil from the state of Maharashtra is on top as the President of India.

Parliament is in the process of passing the “Women’s Reservation Bill”, which reserves 33% of its seats for women. What a great idea! For reference, the 112th US Congress is made up of 16% women. We need to get some more women in there, who want to get to work instead of fostering healthy egos.

The other day I read an article about the increase of women enrolled in business schools. I liked this article not just for the good news of more women entering fields of leadership and management, but that The Hindu would find it newsworthy enough to write about. The Indian Institute of Management in Kozhikode has seen an increase from 10% women over the past fifty years, now the percentage of women enrolled is at 35%.

The article also talked about more women leaders in the United States, naming Drew Faust, the first woman president of Harvard, and Ren Khator, Chancellor of University of Houston, who is the first American-Indian woman ever to become head of a major American university.  Originally from Uttar Pradesh, “her story illustrated the rise of a first generation Indian immigrant from an obscure town in northern India to hard-earned glory in North America.” I thought the editorializing about glory was amusing.

A recent report in Reuters International put India as one of the top five most dangerous countries to be born a woman, alongside Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Equal opportunity is the greatest barrier for girls and women, as parents often give their sons more coaching and leadership development, along with an early marriage age of about 13 to 18 in most villages.

Women are expected to get married after school, which makes it more difficult to study and do well on the necessary examinations, even if that is an accepted option for them. One of the Sri Aurobindo Society’s large-scale projects is infrastructure development and education in the nearby village of Sarvam

The village school only offered up to grade 8. The school that offered grades 9 and 10 was 5 km away. If a student gets through grade 10 they take the big examination that will determine their future access to post-secondary education. But parents in Sarvam do not want to send their daughters that far away to go to school, as it is not safe for them to walk on their own. Daughters need to also provide daily household support to their families, so a daughter in school can seem burdensome. So with the help of the Society, the local school began offering classes through grade 10. This is one example of the straightforward but very impactful initiatives that the Society does in their village development work.

Education of women is the single best thing we can do to boost economies and better the quality of life for everyone. One of my favorite books I have recently read is called Half the Sky, a heartbreaking but inspiring  book about the impacts that education plays in empowering women. Another one I just finished is called Infidel, about a Somalian refugee who escapes from an arranged marriage and eventually becomes a member of Dutch Parliament. She is a strong advocate for women who are societally oppressed by Muslim culture. A captivating read.

A Funky Smell

India has a lot of smells. Some are bad, some foreign, many delicious. For the last couple of days our room has smelled horrible. Not like garbage, but simply the smell of decay. We tried burning incense to cover up the smell; the guesthouse staff moved the plant material that was outside our window. We didn’t know what was wrong.

Keri and I had an idea that it was coming from the air conditioner that sat in our window, so they cleaned out the filter for any mold. As Keri’s bed is right by the A/C, sleeping was difficult for her. Still the smell persisted, and much fuss was made. Finally a maintenance man came and took the A/C apart. He found a dead squirrel caught in the front grate. A squirrel! I just about died laughing.

fuss being made

 

Secretary of State

Guess who came to Chennai a few days ago? No one but our own Secretary of State! Hillary met with the newly elected Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. After congratulating her on her impressive victory, Clinton talked about her desire to build economic ties in Tamil Nadu for road infrastructure, automobile manufacturing, and Tamil Nadu’s goal of building ten solar energy parks.

Jayalalithaa wants more American visas to be granted to Indians from Tamil Nadu. The US’s original quota of 195,000 H1B visas has been lowered to 65,000, meaning a very high rejection rate. Sounds fair to me. The US can build their factories if Indians can get into the US to benefit from its prosperity? I don’t believe in international outsourcing, but if I did that sounds fair to me…

Clinton also gave a speech about the US pulling out of Afghanistan by 2014, as Indians have concerns.

Good Vibrations

As we have discussed, values cannot be taught, only nurtured. Children need teachers who are strong, loving, and patient. Children are sponges. They will absorb not just our language and physical attributes but our emotional vibrations that we send out to them. Our inner insight speaks to inner insight of the child. Every thought and emotion creates a vibration, either negative or positive.  Emotional vibrations are very powerful. Positive vibrations have the power to cure cancer. Nothing is impossible.

Here is a famous Indian illustration of this idea:

A mother approaches an Indian spiritual master, in need of help. “My son eats sweets indiscriminately. Can you advise him to not eat so many sweets?” The spiritual master said, “Come back in a week and I will help you.” The mother came back a week later, but the spiritual master said, “please, come back in a week and I will help you.” The mother huffed but went away. A week later the mother came back, and the spiritual master again told her to come back in a week. Very frustrated by this point, a week later the mother brought her son to the spiritual master. The spiritual master talked gently to the boy, telling him that he should eat sweets moderately, only every few days.  The mother asked angrily, “Why did you wait so long to tell him?” The spiritual master replied, “I myself like sweets very much. I set out to conquer the desire in me.  Children do not communicate by words alone.”

So you can see that teachers who teach with angry or frustrated hearts make their classrooms angry and frustrated too. Hopefully we have all experienced the being in a classroom that is filled with joy because the teacher is joyful and loving. At the Society’s school, if a teacher is emotionally unwell then they do not come to school that day.  Mental health days, institutionalized. Neato!

Dan, who is a professor in special education, brought up the idea of not just negative and positive vibrations but neutral vibrations too. Neutral vibrations come from things like computers, instruments, TV, and pets.  Autistic children are often drawn to machines. Autistic children like spending time with neutral vibrations because they are patient and comfortingly predictable to the child. Machines do not try and tell the child to go to bed, to eat or to perform certain social behaviors differently. Although they love their child, parents can get caught in a vicious cycle of sending the child negative vibrations, out of frustration, sadness, impatience, etc. How do we get autistic children to see both machines and humans positively? Integrative education would say that the parent and child, through very different techniques, need to develop their emotional body.  In the US, a 2009 study put the rate of autism in children at 1 in 100 children. Practices like this are critical to refining and reforming our curriculum and training in special education.

Our goal should be to send out positive vibrations to all with whom we interact. This of course extends to not just children but every living thing we come into contact with.

Leave No Body Behind

Integral Education

Integral education is the philosophy and practice of teaching children holistically. It was pioneered by the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. The Mother took Sri Aurobindo’s philosophies and brilliantly turned them into an educational structure and curriculum. This curriculum is what is used at the Sri Aurobindo Society International Center of Education.

 We received a presentation about integral education from Shivakumar, the society’s master logistician and society director Vijaybai’s right hand person.

Shivakumar pointing The Way

This post is a long one, but please read it, as these ideas have deeply inspired me. This philosophy would revolutionize the way we teach our children, and thus the way we develop our citizens who will shape our collective future. There has to be a way to incorporate some of these ideas into the mainstream in a cost-effective way…But in my excitement I’m getting ahead of myself.

Integral education is the idea that children should be taught more than how to read and write, add and subtract. They should be taught to develop their character and their physical selves in conjunction with their intellectual growth.

What follows are the basic principles of integral education.

There are four life stages: birth, growth, decay, and death/return.*  We cannot control when or where we are born or when we die, but we can influence the stages of growth and decay. The moment we stop growing, we begin the stage of decay. All education should be focused on supporting growth.

*Return is included in death because when we are born we have come from somewhere, and we do not leave when we die, only go onto something else.

All beings have an innate knowledge of how to grow and decay. How does a plant know when to sprout? They do not go to school to grow leaves and roots. Plants have an inbuilt knowledge. All a plant needs is a little protection in the early stages of its life. Who taught a fish to swim? Or a peacock to dance when it rains? Don’t you think that the same inbuilt knowledge lies in more developed beings like humans?

Shivakumar’s sketches, with the Mother watching over us in the background

Three Bodies

Now integral education says that we all have not one but three bodies. First, there is the physical body, which needs proper food and exercise to grow. Second, we have a mental body, which needs intellectual stimulation, new facts, skills, ideas, and puzzles to be developed. And thirdly, we have the emotional, or vital, body. What type of food does the emotional body need to grow healthily? A child needs love, security, and to feel valued to have a healthy emotional being. Everything we teach our children st not just be stimulating intellectually, but it must be taught with a loving heart.

The emotional body has certain qualities, or values. These are values like courage, truthfulness, sincerity, love, compassion, etc.  Just like physical exercises, these qualities need to be developed and exercised. By growing the positive qualities in oneself, the negative ones automatically decay. If we foster compassion in a child, aggression naturally fades away. But how do we put emotional education into practice? Emotions cannot be taught, right? Students must be prompted to look within themselves and learn to analyze their emotions through experiences.

For example, two boys who are friends get in a fight on the playground. The teacher is nearby but does not stop them. One of the boys runs up to the teacher crying and complaining. Instead of reprimanding the boy about how it is bad to punch people, the teacher asked,

“How do you feel?”

“Terrible!” he said.

The teacher asked, “Well what do you want to do?”

“He is my best friend, I don’t want to fight! I want to be friends again!”

The teacher pulled two candies out of her pocket and said,

“Here, then go and do it.”

With the teacher’s words of encouragement, that is what the boy did. Reprimand and timeouts only promote the recognition of negative emotions and behavior.  This mentality teaches a child how to listen to his heart.

The emotional body is so important because it has a major influence on the physical and the mental body. We can clearly see that we have three bodies when we have to make tough decisions, and our three bodies compete against each other. Has your physical body ever kept you up late at night because your heart and your logical mind are split in two different places? This is a negative phenomenon to avoid. Ideally, integral education teaches how to develop and control each body will integrating them together as one.

In the West, we value the mind and the physical body, but we do not nurture the emotional body. We do not think about what food it needs beyond some surface pleasures of art, beauty, and music. The emotional body is what should guide us and will push us to treat each other with love and respect. It is called the vital emotional body for a reason, without it we would not be human. In India the mind is considered imperfect, as it has many limitations. It can incorrectly interpret what comes out of the soul, trying to squeeze a vibration through the lens of logic. A complete person is one who has a brilliant mind, a strong body, and a giant heart. This is the aim of integral education.

Practical Implementation

But how do we put these theories into practice? How does a teacher write a curriculum based on this model?

Schools need to be clean and beautiful. Teachers should be strong and loving. Surround students with positive and beautiful sights, sounds, and vibrations, and the child will be nurtured properly. When the child goes into the outside world and encounters negative vibrations, pollution, alcoholism, or racism, the child will recognize these things as negative.

The curriculum is modeled after the stages of a child’s development. This first stage is physical development, years 0-5. When a child is born, the ears are the first thing to open up, then the eyes. Thus, sensory training is done to develop each sense, one by one. The physiology of eating, sleeping and going to the toilet also must be taught. Some aspects of the emotional body are taught, but they are still growing.  Children at this stage are filled with positive vibrations; they love to laugh, be loud, and they can respond very well emotionally to stories.

The second stage takes place typically between the ages of 7 and 14, and is focused on emotional development. Children must continue to be fed with positive emotions. Logic does not work, nor rational thoughts. Children at this age period are rebellious. If you tell them not to do something they will do it. Thus, teaching should be done through an emotional lens. Bullying is wrong because it makes one feel bad. Lying is bad because it hurts oneself. Teachers should ask students “how do you feel?” Values cannot be taught, only nurtured and modeled.

Onwards, more priority can be given to the the intellectual body, in balance with physical activity and emotional development. Students should be given the knowledge that they can handle. Teaching about WWII or the current slave trade should be done only if the child can handle it emotionally. You would not give a child a 1,000 kilogram to lift on her shoulders, but a kilogram or half a kilogram, she can do it.

So there you have it folks. Phew. The idea of integral education can also be used for management and other leadership.

For further reading check out:

Integral Education: A Foundation for Our Future (by Partho)

Integral Management (Sri Aurobindo Foundation for Integral Management)

Integral Education: in practice at the ashram

http://www.sriaurobindosociety.org.in/activity/educate.htm#safier