It’s a Jungle in There

September 17, 2011

 “Your heart is not a grocery list!”  -Harvinder

These last two months, I have had a lot of time to myself, to sit and reflect without a thousand distractions buzzing around me. Because of this, many emotions that I have put off and buried are starting to surface. It is nothing too dramatic, but the last couple years have been to say the least, a roller coaster of victories achieved at the cost of friendships lost or damaged.

I do not consider myself a very emotionally in-tune person. I don’t really get angry or sad or extremely excited about anything. I use my logical left-brain to rule my life, hardly asking myself how I feel about a certain situation. When I was president I had no time to think about the hurt of the past, there was too much work to do and not enough time to do it.

I am tired of not caring about my emotional self. I came to India for many reasons, but one of which was to learn how to feel. I have realized how weak my emotional self has become, and now I am ready and willing to actively work on it. I want to be someone who can pour love on others, but until I come to terms with the baggage and negativity inside, there will always be a rock solid wall, blocking the flow.

My problem was that I had no idea how to change. Each situation needed to be approached and resolved in a different way. But how to handle it? Should I make contact? Call? Write a letter? I was overwhelmed thinking about how to begin the process.

Yesterday I had a great talk with Harvinder, the Society’s curriculum developer who gave the creative writing workshop. She told me that there is no magic plan for processing emotions or trauma. You cannot use lists and structure to sort out the subtle emotions of your vital being. Each individual must find his or her own way. This last year I have done nothing but compartmentalize, finding a nice place on the closet shelf of my brain for each experience, both good and bad. Move on, carry on, rock on. She explained that compartmentalizing things was a good skill, but too much of it can be very damaging.

Before I can think about reaching out to those I have lost, I need to resolve the inner pain within myself, and then reach out externally. Letting things rise to the surface is the first step.

Even as it began to make sense to me, I was still trying to understand how to think about how to process my emotions. Should I think of them as positive lessons to learn and grow from, or as trash that should be cleaned out, set on the curb and never thought of again? “Stop thinking!” She cried. There I was, trying to use my mind to label things again. When you try to categorize an emotion or experience, you lose the essence of it. In fact, it’s quite impossible to do, “like putting a cloud in a box,” Harvinder explained. You need to sit and just be with it, in its twists and contortions that don’t make any sense, because emotions are not logical.

I feel that emotions are not valued enough in today’s society, I certainly did not value them. There is much to be discovered by going within. It is only when you begin to be quiet that you realize what a chaotic jungle there is within your own heart. Another adventure!

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Do Goldfish Go to Heaven?

Today I got my Ladybird cycle repaired, as my back tire had busted. She is not so happy with me I guess, but I don’t wonder why. Cycling on the roads here is always an adventure, dodging potholes, speed bumps, poop, and bits of trash. And those are the stationary objects.

I also received word from my great friend and ASUO presidential successor Ben Eckstein that one of our office goldfish may not have much time on this earth. Ben and I bought the fish last summer in an attempt to brighten the office, and because I just really love fish. They are so relaxing and low maintenance. Tasty too, I’ve been wanting to cook some fish here… (I currently only get protein through lentils and copious amounts of dairy at the ashram).

Anyway, we have two over-sized goldfish, black, bug-eyed Stu and big, orange Auto. They stand for Student Autonomy. Ben named them. We also adopted some tiny fish at the beginning of fall last year, when a UO welcome event was handing out goldfish as prizes and all of these freshmen were wandering around with plastic bags of fish that they did not know how nor want to take care of. So we adopted six babies, who serve as the tank’s “intern” fish.

lunch time at the ASUO

Amelie,

Since you and I are the original parents of the fish and they are a product of our eternal bond, I wanted to let you know that the fish are not doing great. Stu is probably dying right now, we think he won’t make it to the morning (Consuela and Katie have already cried). We think Auto is alright, but he is really sad for Stu. He even rescued Stu from the filter when Stu just flopped under the filter and was too tired to go on.

 I will keep you posted. Let’s never forget that the fish belong to you and me.

 Love, Ben

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Dear Ben,

Nooo!! That is so sad! Please keep me posted on whether Stu decides to leave his body for another realm. Give my condolences to Auto and the rest. 

 Love, Amelie 

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

At the Society beach office there are some beautiful goldfish in the ponds, shyly swimming under the shelter of the lilypads. Stu’s dance with death got me thinking about animals and reincarnation.  Are animals a less evolved soul that will return to the divine world after it leaves its mortal body, or is it a human who has more work to do to improve its karma?

Kaushal says Hindu and Buddhism philosophy states that all matter is trying to attain to the divine, and souls naturally progress into a more and more advanced body. In the material world we have evolution, and thus in the spiritual world as well. Sometimes souls can devolve, but it is very rare, and only in instances where the soul needs to learn something more before it is ready to manifest in a human body. So as long as Stu has learned what he needs to in this life, he will be born as a more evolved organism. If not, than perhaps he will have scales and gills again.

Humans do not realize that we can evolve into something more because we are at the top of the food chain. But that is the core idea behind the work of thousands of years of India’s practice of yoga. Sri Aurobindo believed that man can evolve into a divine being that communes with God, serving as a vehicle for helping humanity. His main goal was to show us that the purpose of people with a higher consciousness, evolved beings, is to spread the divine love of God throughout the world.

 

 

Holy Cow

Yesterday morning, these lovelies were standing outside my front door. I have grown accustomed to cows on the roads, sidewalks and munching the shrubbery/trash at the city park. Yet somehow it’s still a bit startling to see these giant black beasts returning your blurry-eyed stare in the predawn.

Hindus do not worship cows, they are considered sacred because they are a very useful animal. No Hindu text condemns eating beef, in fact, early Hindus were beef eaters. Their milk is consumed by young and old in liquid form of tea, yogurt and cheese. Cow dung is also a natural disinfectant, and is mixed with water by native villagers to wash the floor and walls of their house daily. It is speculated that they also serve as a reminder that all animals should be treated as sacred, as they are created and protected by God.

Sun Salutations and Tilaka Powder

Every day I get up at 5:30 am and go to yoga on the beach office rooftop from 6-7. Then breakfast at the dining hall, visit the samadhi of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and go to work around 9 am. (The samadhi is their burial shrine, where followers go to pray or meditate. August 15th is Sri Aurobindo’s birthday, so thousands of people from all over the world will come to the samadhi.)

Yoga is with my friend and colleague Kaushal, who is a great teacher. We do our sun salutations facing the ocean, literally greeting the sun rise over the ocean. I couldn’t have dreamed up a better way to start my day. I took a hatha yoga class freshman year at UO, but many terms of budget hearings instead of gym visits has rendered me very inflexible. I am excited to get my physical body back into shape.  Along with my mind and heart, it feels good to make my body stronger.

Kaushal=way more flexible than me!

For some reason, hundreds of giant dragonflies are always buzzing over our heads. Where do they come from? What do they eat? And most importantly, what do they want from us?

I am NOT a natural morning person, and I am eager to change my natural sleep patterns. When I do get up early, I feel very content and usually have a very productive day. That is, if I get enough sleep, which means in bed by 9 or 10 pm. It gets dark here around 7, so that’s not too hard.

This morning after breakfast I went to the the Ganesh temple with the elephant in front. The elephant’s name is Lakshmi and has been there since it was a baby. It is so cute but sometimes I feel bad for it. It isn’t very healthy for elephants to stand in one place so much, and once its foot was infected. One of the society’s architects, Tripte, has a father who works in leather goods. He made Lakshmi a set of giant shoes, so that his foot could heal.

photo by my friend Aishwarya

A nice man inside the temple taught me how to receive the blessing of red tilaka powder that is rubbed on your forehead. Right hand puts the rupee coin on the tray, waves over the oil lamp flame, left hand receives the powder from the priest, then the ring finger of your right hand places the powder on the forehead.

Me and our taxi driver petting a goat at Chidambaram, a massive temple, 75 km from Pondi. I’m wearing a blessing of white ash, another type of blessing powder. 

I went to the Chidamburam temple with Keri and Dan. (Photos posted soon)

Today I was self-conscious about wearing a blessing, because not many of my office colleagues go to temple in the mornings (or at least don’t receive blessings.) And Indian passerbys stared at me. Did I put it on wrong, or is it just very unusual to see a Westerner with a Hindu blessing walk around town? Will I offend anyone because I don’t identify as a Hindu? Is a temple visit contradictory to the ashram’s beliefs? But when I got to work, people just smiled very genuinely and said, “Oh, you went to the temple?” Like it was no thing, they were just happy that I am diving into it all.

Does this mean that I want to become a Hindu? No, I just appreciate the ritual of it. Back home church is where you go once a week on Sunday mornings. Here the temple is a daily place of community. Yet there is also no worship service, message, or personal relationships forged with the priests or religious leaders, at least not that I have yet observed. There is a lot of smoke chanting flowers incense statues. It’s pretty nuts.

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.

A Sacred Mountain

Two days ago I was feeling a bit down. The last few weeks have been a rush of newness, exploration of sites, tastes, and sounds. But now I’m creating a routine, one in which I currently spend a lot of time By Myself.

When you are on your own, you have to create your purpose, as well as friendships out of the people in your proximity. Everything was exciting and safe and new at the beginning and now I’m on my own. Naturally I have to create a new life for myself. When I started at UO in the dorms I felt like this. After I had decorated my room I didn’t know what to do with myself. Last summer at the empty ASUO, too. Despondent, too much free time. And for someone who loves food, eating the same meal of yogurt, lentil soup, rice and bananas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is a bit depressing. I’ve started sneaking in bits of tomato in plastic tupperware. I know my days will fill up eventually, with both activities and friends.

When I start to feel blue, I am training myself to revert to what I am grateful for. I asked Sampad, one of the society’s resident Sanskrit scholars, what thank you is in Sanskrit: Dhanyavadah. Nice word, one that I can actually say. I think I will use this to meditate on for awhile.

I have much to be thankful for. Yesterday was Sunday, our one day off. I went to a sacred mountain, with Venus and Bini, two cool women from the Media for Social Change team. The mountain is called Thiruvannamalai, two hours from Pondi on a crowded public bus. We hiked up the mountain and had a lovely picnic lunch at the ashram.

Bini and Venus

Venus loves mountains. But who doesn’t?

 green beans, chapati, tomato, guava

The four doors and towers of the temple face north, south, east and west. The ascending levels represent levels of consciousness to be attained.

Below in the city there is a large temple that is associated with fire, because of a centuries-long battle between Brahma and Vishnu about who was more powerful. Shiva, the god who is really supreme, decided to show them that he was in fact the most powerful. Below is the legend:

“To prove he was the most powerful, he took the form of fire which was very big and immense. This fire stood in front of the two and a voice was heard from the fire, which was Lord Shiva himself and told that “Among you two who will first approach the top and bottom of this dazzling fire will be said to be the most powerful forever.” Then Brahma, changed himself as a swan and flew up to the sky to reach the top of the Fire and kept flying for hundreds and hundreds of years. But could not reach the top on the other side, Lord Vishnu changed himself as a boar and starting digging down the Earth to find the bottom. Who also did the same thing over couple of years and could not ever find the bottom. Then both of them realized that Lord Shiva, he who is endless without the start nor an end was only the “Superior” among both of them. Their fight had got a conclusion. They came back to Earth and bowed in front of the Shiva, who was in the dazzling form of fire and requested to stay in the same form on this Earth and bless the devotees. Lord Shiva agreed to stay in the same form and transformed himself as a mountain. From then, every Karthikai Deepam Festival the column of dense fire comes to the sight on the top of mountain. At Thiruvannamalai this is done on the 10th day of this festival Karthikai Deepam.” (tiruvannamalai.co.in)

The best part of the trip was seeing the multitude of peacocks at the mountain base ashram, and then monkeys at the top! A whole family, big and small. It was my first time seeing wild monkeys in India. Very exciting.

Monkeys on the temple


I have been reading a lot of books, both spiritual and fiction. I met a lovely American couple, Cambria and Devin, who have been working at the society for the last five months. They left today, but Cambria left me a stack of wonderful books and some soap. The first one I read was The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy. It takes place close to Tamil Nadu in the state of Kerala. It’s about a twin brother and sister growing up in the caste system within a dying family. The book’s strength is the dense imagery; I couldn’t put it down. I think A Fine Balance is next.

Unsettling Survival

“The infinite wonders of the universe are revealed to us in the exact measure that we are capable of receiving them.” –Helen Keller

I had a check-in meeting with Vijaybai yesterday, and I have been given a very exciting new project. But I will start at the beginning.

An hour earlier I had been meeting with Shivakumar, and he was answering my many questions on spirituality. We were talking about how each culture has a unique capacity in the physical, emotional, and mental bodies. For example, the culture of England and France were very developed in technology, the physical capacities of force. When they came to North America, the Native Americans were more developed spiritually, something that the foreign invaders would not have even noticed, let alone valued.

Shivakumar told me I had to read a letter from Chief Seattle in a book called Whispers of Nature, edited by Vijaybai.

So then an hour later, I had my meeting with Vijaybai. I told him that I wanted to go again to the organic garden to experience and learn more of what it has to offer.  We started talking about the importance of holistic farming, and he said, “let me give you something to read.” What book did he pull out but the Whispers of Nature! Within an hour, I had received two copies of this book from two of the wisest people I know. Weird, huh? I think this book must have been intensely trying to find me.

In 1854, the US federal government wanted to buy a large area of land in exchange for a promised ‘reservation’ for the people to live on. Chief Seattle has some beautiful advice and words of warning for the white man to remember our relation to the land. Chief Seattle asks, “How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?…All things share the same breath.”

I don’t necessarily think that owning land is inherently bad, but if it must be so then we should take a serious look at how we treat our land that we “own.” Is it necessary to cut down every tree on the lot to build our house? Where will our water and electricity come from? Do we really need to build a pool, or to clear the brush for manicured lawns? Could we even build living communities that share spaces, such as the bathroom and kitchen, so that we don’t all have to build new houses?

Chief Seattle also comments on the limited understanding of the white man in spiritual and religious matters. Europeans had the uncanny ability to ignore the intent behind the spiritual views, focusing only on the material manifestations of religion.  Any belief system that didn’t have monumental structures or texts was automatically considered barbaric. Didn’t anyone understand that religion is a cultural construct? That man is so desperate to label and categorize right and wrong, bad and good, that he will build walls of morality around him to pretend he understands how to live? But I digress…

Chief Settle issues a warning to the white man:

“We may be brothers after all. We shall see. One thing we know, which the white man may one day discover-our God is the same God. You may think now that you own Him as you wish to own the land, but you cannot. He is the God of man, and His compassion is equal to the red man and the white. The earth is precious to Him, and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its Creator. The white too shall pass…but in your perishing you will shine brightly, fired by the strength of the God who brought you to this land and for some special purpose gave you dominion over this land and over the red man. That destiny is a mystery to us…The buffalo are all slaughtered…the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires. Where is the thicket? Gone. Where is the eagle? Gone. The end of living and the beginning of survival.”

We are now in the age of survival. But God is nothing if not full of grace. So too is the earth. We can fix the damage if we start fixing ourselves.

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.

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