Brett Says Goodbye

March 9, 2012

It’s been awhile, dear readers! I could apologize for being away for so long, but… it’s my party and I’ll blog when I want to, blog when I want to…

After my parents left mid-January, my sister stayed to work with me at the organic garden of Matrikunj. Together we designed six display panels for the Matrikunj visitor center, explaining the natural farming practices for planting, fertilizing, harvesting and food preservation. I wrote the text and drew some diagrams; Brett did some wonderful collage designs. We used handmade paper from the ashram paper factory for all of the panels in shades of green, red orange and violet. Finally, we had them sealed in plastic to protect them from the humidity, mold, insects, etc. Baburam was very pleased. It was a perfect project for us to work on together, and I think it gave her visit a structure that complimented our sojourns to the beach and our nightly chapatti making.

Arielle and I just got back from a month-long tour filled with camels, palaces, palms, train rides, boating on the Ganges, and when we couldn’t eat another bite of vegetable curry, lots and lots of eggs on toast. Read on for the details!



Lotus Planting

Today I hopped on the ashram bus to tour the ashram’s land on Lake Ousteri. As Darshan (Sri Aurobindo’s birthday) is in two days, there was a small ceremonywhere we planted lotuses in one of the small ponds on the property. In three months the pond will be covered with the giant round leaves. The land is beautiful, and produces some fruit and the flowers that are used to decorate the samadhi everyday.

At this time of year, right before monsoon season, the lake is really dry. Krishna said that in some seasons all you can see is the pink expanse of lotuses.

Lake Ousteri

Hetal, Sushanto, and Krishna (my roommate

Sushanto, pictured below in the pond, is an artist for the society and always has a twinkle in his eye. He comes here with students to teach them watercolor painting. Maitreyee, my colleague who I’m helping with the ecology project, brings students regularly to the lake to learn about nature.


Lotuses are a sacred flower in the religions of Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism. It is a symbol of divine beauty and purity, its unfolding petals representing the expansion of the soul. The fact that it grows out of the mud holds a divine spiritual promise of prosperity and potency. The god Vishnu is often called the Lotus-eyed One, from whose bellybutton the lotus sprung out of.

There is a lotus pond at the beach office, and I love to inspect the pond each day, because there are always different buds popping their head up out of the water, white, pink, periwinkle blue. The lotuses close up to rest during the heat of the day and when the sun goes down, just like humans.

There were lotus ponds everywhere!

I also came upon these beautiful red beetles, which look velvety and so bright crimson. Even all the insects in India wear bright colors.

Return to the Garden!

I got so engaged in my armageddonesque eco-talk that I forgot to explain my project.

Vijay asked me, “how often do you want to go? 2-3 times a week?” I had been thinking maybe once a week, but okay sure! I’m happier and healthier when I stay busy, so I think it will be good for me. As of now I pretty much at the beach office all the time. It’s beautiful here, but I would more than welcome a chance to balance that time with meaningful excursions to the farm.

Vijay said that the Sri Aurobindo Society would like to start documenting the work of the organic farm, and would I like to help with that? Umm, YES! I’ll be developing content that will become a booklet and go on the website. I might revamp the current training they have too. The goal is to go over the specific techniques used, but to also convey the systems of natural farming. At the Sri Aurobindo Society, agriculture is spiritual. How cool is that?

Farm coordinator Bhavuram = documentation averse

Natural farming” is the new term used to define holistic farming practices, where all inputs matter. Organic farming connotes a response to inorganic farming. Natural farming stands alone. It asks where does the water and fertilizer come from? I believe it is similar to the values of permaculture.

Here the farm stores rainwater, mixing it with cow dung and urine to make a super-powered mixture for the crops. All inputs come from the farm itself.

Food gardens are very important to me.  When I took the Urban Farm class at UO, it was by far my favorite class. Whenever people from out of town visited, I always took them to see the beautiful two-acre farm, tucked behind the major thoroughfare by campus. Come to think of it, I took unacquainted UO students too. When I lived at the Campbell Club I loved helping out at our lovely community garden plot by the river.

My lovely friend Grace, with the Campbell Club tomatoes and strawberries

I have always been fascinated by the plant life cycle. Growth, pollination, fruiting, consumption, then the passing of food that returns to the soil to fertilize the next generation. What is a more beautifully perfect system than that?   Just like humans have a desire to sacrifice and serve others, plants also have an innate wish to give their produce.

The Mother writes about this. When she was in her garden she would never know witch flower to pluck, not wanting to cause harm to some while sparing the others. She sat and concentrated for a bit and started to hear which flowers were calling to be plucked. She went to the vegetable garden and the same thing happened. Some would say “no, no no”, and then a vegetable would call to her, “pick me! I am ready!” Animals do the same. When a cheetah catches a zebra, it struggles for a bit, but there is a moment when it knows it cannot escape and it relaxes and gives itself to the cheetah, to the cycle of the natural world.

Yesterday I had a revelation that food gardens are my sacred places. They have such pure intentions. When I go into temples or cathedrals, I appreciate the fine architecture but I do not feel anything deep inside that connects me to the walls or high ceilings. In a garden, I feel calm yet vibrant, alive and connected. Barefoot as much as possible.

On top of being a meaningful project for the society, I think the garden has many truths to teach me.

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.

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.

Sweet Homeopathy!

Vijaybai told Dan today that Keri and I needed to go see the ashram’s homeopathy department. I’m very interested in herbal medicine and so was excited to go check it out.

However, when we arrived it was clear that we weren’t there for a tour, but to get a check-up! Keri for her mosquito bites and me for my fever.

The caretakers were very friendly, and asked us questions about our symptoms. After scribbling down something on a piece of paper, we went to the front desk where a woman gave us some tiny white pills. I was given a tiny bottle and four paper packets filled with a few pills each.  The packets were to be taken every ten minutes, and the bottle of pills four pills three times a day until the bottle is gone. In our amazement of this process, Keri and I forgot to ask what the medicine was! We will investigate further and I’ll give you all an update. The ashram also has a western medical center, but I haven’t been there yet (hopefully I won’t need to!).

To my surprise, the pills tasted like sugar!

Keri got a tiny bottle too.

I can’t wait to learn more about the wonderful power of plants and this place of healing.