Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year 2015

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2015 looms just hours away! Our world is confusing right now, no doubt. Our young people seem baffled about their futures, so many contemplating work possibilities while still seeking balance with free time and fun. Uncertainty prevails.

It seems similar with my own cohorts too! Many of my friends are approaching ages of equanimity and awe. Change is imminent and possibilities are grand. I am at a stage of my life where everything I’ve always dreamed of is achievable.

My word for 2015 is awesome! I am aware of the complexities in our world. Sometimes I feel frightened about the unknown of what could happen. Random terrorist attacks, natural disasters that happen in response to our misuse of environment, disease and death resulting from toxins and poisons that we continue to ingest. To some degree, we as a civilization have not learned how to deal with the changes and complexities in our evolving world. I think we need to start zeroing in on what we have learned, and begin to fine-tune our journey to create a cleaner, safer and more productive world!

During my first few teaching years, I taught grade one children. I always say that in grade one, children come to class in September with their fingers up their nose and their thumbs in their mouths. They leave grade one as literate human beings no longer learning to read, but in pursuit of reading to learn. Learning is about being exposed to everything and absorbing only little bits at a time. We need time to process change to successfully grow.

Contrary to conventional lesson planning, my ‘reading’ classes were about ‘hanging out’ on the floor reveling in the experience and joy of books. Children lying on the floor, sitting together, or cuddled up in my lap were happily devouring a variety of picture books. Some ‘read’ upside down, simply making up words that told a story that they wanted to tell. Some children just simply carried the book, becoming comfortable with it in their hands, getting the ‘feel’ of books. Some children looked at the pictures and, not able to read the words, made up their own stories. Sometimes, since I had read the book to them so often, individual children would be able to read the book to each other by memorization.

The new skill of reading began with total immersion - an exercise in becoming familiar and comfortable with resources and concepts available for reading. Once the students settled in and demonstrated a comfort with books, I began the practice of teaching specific reading skills like phonics, word recognition, looking for meaning in text and pictures, fluency and critical thinking. That specific attention to skill development happens best once we have identified how a child will learn best, and only when he/she is ready to weed through the abundance of context to acquire and improve specific skills.

Maybe this won’t make sense, but I think the way my grade one children learned to read reflects the way we all learn to live a happy life!

I feel a little like that now. My life for the last few years has been an immersion in semi-retirement, and a push towards a life that is very different from my experiences of the last 40 years. I no longer have children at home. I have greatly reduced the hours I work in classrooms and universities. I go exploring in the world and travel to places that I never dreamed I’d see. My body is aging and functions differently from when I was younger. Mortality is ahead in the future. And I am less afraid about death and even about living!

I feel good about the future. I sit in meetings with young, energetic, smart teachers who are passionate about learning and living and teaching. I see a genuine focus on developing healthy communities in our cities and on world improvement through environmental repair and a healing of relationships. More people talk about the need for love and compassion when negotiating complex decision-making, conflict resolution and solving challenging problems in our world. Our own children are independent, committed to their work, their lives and bettering the lives of others. I still feel eager and able to give back to our generous universe.

As I anticipate the final decades of my life, I feel confident and strong. My shift in priorities becomes more obvious and my journey continues with clarity and intention. I am looking forward to a strong future of carefully crafted activities specifically focused on a new sense of priority and to the next decade of growth, continued health and adventure! Happy New Year all!

Sunday, December 28, 2014


The coral bubbles out of the sea floor, varying shades of yellow...everything from sunshine yellow to pale beige. Every type of fish has some expression of yellow. Schools of bright yellow fish, one looking just like the other, dance together as they twirl through the waters. Hawaiian Hogfish, Trumpet fish, Hawaiian cleaners, Butterfish, Triggerfish and even the Moorish Idol adorned with yellow stripes. Hews of turquoise sometimes show glimmers of yellow. Even the large Honu (Sea turtles) sparkle with various sizes of yellow dots.
The turtles on The Big Island are regular residents. Unlike the fish, which primarily travel in schools, the Green Turtles tend to wander alone. They’re quite large and, though they’re not necessarily friendly, they tend to just go about their business without avoiding human encounters. I spend time following turtles when I spot one. They swim through the ocean, their massive span of wing-like flippers delicately flapping through the waters. Occasionally, one turns around, presses it’s turtle nose close to me and then turns back carrying through with his original intention. I am a mere curiosity. Sometimes he nestles under a rock and rest.  I saw at least one turtle every day. I think they’re probably my favourite sea buddies now!

Hawaii is wild! The topography offers spectacular vistas as we drive around the coast of the Big Island. Lush, green forests line the roads. Then black rocky lava loads cover the grounds. Lava rocks intermittently display sprouts of dry spiky clusters of yellow grass. The ocean is visible always, as we make our way north towards the volcano.

I feel a great sense of my parents’ presence. I was here with them more than 30 years ago. It was a gift from them for my 30th birthday, so memorable, maybe because it was the only one. Their essence is present as I explore.
Hula and belly dancing accompany musicians in the cafes and restaurants. Hawaiian people are, generally welcoming and inviting. The music highlights the shrill, high pitch of the ukulele, and the voices compliment the sounds. Proprietors, entertainers, and servers demonstrate a love for their island, engaging vacationers to share it together.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that we’re in the United States. “There sure are a lot of Americans here!” I said shortly after our arrival on Oahu. It was one of those statements we call ‘Jacquisms’ whose sense of humour targets the obvious. Hawaii is America. Culturally it displays a strong Polynesian and South Asian flavour. Hawaiian language is not English, though most residents speak both.

Daily rainbows span the sky as a gentle “Blessing Rain” settles on the ground and on me. Hawaii is a gloriously beautiful place to be. I definitely feel the blessing!

Monday, November 24, 2014

American Music Awards - 2014

My son picks me up at LAX. I get into the car, and he leans closer to me and says, “Hey mah! I know this isn’t really your thing, but I have 3 tickets for the American Music Awards for tomorrow night. Wanna go?” “Of course”, I respond cautiously. This was an experience I wasn’t going to pass up!

I wasn’t quite sure what I would wear. “The American Music Awards”, I thought to myself. “Isn’t that like, really, big? Don’t I have to wear a gown?” Jonathan and Staci reassured me that ‘casual dress’ was fine, so I chose the nicest attire I had brought with me, borrowed my granddaughter’s brown boots that matched my skirt, and appeared at the front door ready to leave. “Nice” says Jonathan. “You know mom, you don’t need to bring a bag with you. Why don’t you leave it here?”
“Are you sure?” I said.  “I’m totally open to leaving it behind. It has my wallet and glasses though. Is that okay? Will you hold my glasses?” “Sure” he says.

As we get into the Uber cab, I notice that Staci is carrying her purse. “How come? Why didn’t she, also get encouraged to leave hers’ behind?”

Then I realize. My Indian cloth purse adorned with peace signs identifies, just a little, who I am. And who I am is definitely not in line with what I’m about to contend with.

Pop culture is extreme in Los Angeles. Even my 10 year old granddaughter, Stella, listens to pop music whenever she gets a chance, and struggles to emulate what she hears and sees in the entertainment around her. I am reminded how influential that world can be and I struggle with our youth’s obsession with trying to ‘fit in’.  Pop culture creates a vision of unreality and disguised authenticity. Instead of us searching within ourselves for meaning, we find meaning in others and in our outside world. That’s dangerous.

Our Uber cab takes us as close to the theatre as the driver is comfortable. Crowds are thick and noisy, and very well dressed.  Approaching the red carpet is difficult and I am aware of the significance of walking on the famous ‘red carpet’.

The opulence and decadence is everywhere and I’m feeling a little uncomfortable. The people seem a bit unreal… perhaps plastic representations of themselves. I have never seen so many skinny (and I mean really skinny) women in one place. And the clothing, mostly black and mostly scantily covering bodies, spans from the very simple to the extravagant and glittery. The show is in the fashion.  In contrast, I like the simplicity of what Staci and I are wearing. I’m in baggy brown silk pants with a short skirt and a white loose blouse. Staci is in a simple black dress.

Now… I’m not one to live in fear. I don’t generally engage in media hype and I tend to avoid getting involved in other people’s business. I don’t listen to news. Instead, I tend to seek good news events and see positivity and joy around me. The AMA challenged that practice.
As I wander down the red carpet towards the entrance to the theatre, I think, “If extremists wanted to attack pop culture, this venue would be the place to do it.” The epitome of pop culture is highlighted right here at The AMA in a city that thrives on the same all year round! I had to reroute my thoughts in order to disengage from those patterns and focus on the event and the unique experience before me.

The music ranges from the ridiculous (Mary Blige’s “Why would I spend the rest of my days unhappy when I can go therapy two times a day?), to the inspirational. Artists like Sam Smith and bands such as One Direction, Imagine Dragons and Magic demonstrated great musicianship in their composition, lyrics and performances. The women performers tended to annoy me, focussing more on the spectacle than on the quality of the music.  Provocative costumes that intentionally accentuated body parts, movements that are sexual in nature and provocative, and obvious invitations of sexual activity with other performers insinuated the focus on sex. I had always thought the AMA’s was about music!

The set designs are overly extravagant. Singers falling out of flaming torches on the stage, and incredible designs with lights and glitter demand attention. Designs that mimic the outdoors with brilliant moon displays are spectacular I just can't help but imagine the millions of dollars that go into these displays, and the better places where this money could be spent.

The women strut and grind their bodies flamboyantly on ornately designed stages. The men paw and gyrate insinuating the more aggressively we act, the more love we receive.
I feel strongly that those people in our lives who become role models should reflect behaviours and qualities that we want to emulate. Media influences the direction of this course. For me, the AMA’s focus too much on sexuality, violence, divisiveness and hype and not enough on music, moral integrity, and talent.

I’m glad I went to the awards. I so appreciate the opportunity and am grateful to Jonathan for making it possible for me to experience. I know it should have been about listening to music and watching the show, but it sure made me think!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Remembrance Day Memories

“What did poppi do in the war, mom?” This was the question my 24 year old daughter asked me this morning. She is on her way to a school assembly with a teacher friend of hers. It’s Remembrance Day in Canada and she realized she didn’t know very much about her own grandfather. He’s my father! And, quite frankly…I don’t know much either!

My father, Sidney David fought in the Second World War. I know this because there are pictures of him as a soldier. I used to hear how during my parent’s courtship, my father was overseas. Those were hard times. My mother would tell me how being separated from him was challenging, and, patriotism in the United States made complaining unfashionable. Both my parents loved being American, and, serving in the US army during W.W. II was an honour.

There are pictures taken from an airplane flying above Hiroshima after the bomb was dropped over the city. I remember seeing those pictures and wondering how that was even possible. I remember my dad casually telling me how he was sent into Hiroshima to help ‘clean up’. I can’t even imagine what that meant. And I never thought to ask.

The only other reference to dad’s army involvement came in the form of an on-going family joke. During our dinners, whenever someone was asked to “pass the salt”, or “Can I have some more carrots?”, it was expected that we would pass it directly on. If one of us served our self before we passed on the requested item, my father would tell us “If you were in the army, you’d be peeling potatoes for a full day!”  With furrowed brows and cynical smiles, inevitably, we all laughed!

I never had those deep conversations with my dad! I never knew about his experiences. He never offered to share. I never asked. I wish I did. I wish I could ask him now. Those stories are lost. There is no one who can tell me about them. Those are my father’s stories, and, like him, they’re gone.

So I persevere to tell my stories to my children. They don’t ask, and sometimes I think they’re not even interested. But I do it anyway, because I know that one day, they’re going to want to know. And I want them to know me! I wish I knew my daddy better!

So that I had more to remember...

Sunday, November 2, 2014

I'm back!!!!

Feelin' gooooood!
I’m back! It’s been a good six months since I’ve last posted. I’m not going to say I’ve been busy”. I’ve decided I don’t want to use that expression anymore. The fact is…my life is full!

Maintaining our home takes lots of time and energy. Building structures, creating gardens and managing outdoor living requires daily effort. Because we basically live outside, so much of what we do, happens right under the skies, no matter what the weather provides. So, basically, we need to be ready for anything. That takes effort.
Yurt Living

It sure is getting cold. Making a simple meal takes inspiration! Our new barbecue is great, and, I’ve finally figured out how the temperature works. Our ginger chocolate chip cookies were burned on the bottom. And our Friday night challahs were crispy on the outside and too moist on the inside. I’m learning, now, how to control and manage the baking better. It’s a challenge that just takes time to work through.

Summertime was all about opening our home to family members and friends. We had on-going activity in the summer, hosting many gatherings and providing space for people to gather. We work and play together, making meals, playing music, and simply talking. Winter, however, is when we gladly accept invitations to be with friends in their warm spacious homes.

Work is woven in to the seasons.  The fact is, people exist even during the summer, and my work always involves people. Whether people come from schools and/or school districts, or from food banks or soup kitchens, my work survives even through summer time frolic and, then, into the colder winter months.

This summer Paul and I began the planning of our new house.  The trees have been cleared and there are two piles of beautiful fir planks ready to be used for our floors and ceilings. The ground has been dug and the hole clearly identifies where our house will be. With our builder friends, Marc and Huguette, we painstakingly designed the house, sent the drawings off to the inspector, who ultimately assured us that it is within “the building code’. Cement will be poured within the next two weeks.

Notice the tarp covering 
the kitchen to ward 
off the winds
Meanwhile, winter is in full bloom. I awaken each morning in the dark, and begin dinner preparation late afternoon in the dark. I am finding my biological clock adjusting, and, exhaustion leads to deep sleep before the moon swings across our sky.

The toothpaste is frozen when I go to brush my teeth, and in order to get the conditioner into my hair, I have to ease my finger into the tube to warm the solution before it squeezes through.  Our outdoor shower is glorious with a powerful, pounding spout. When the wind comes, I just have to follow the flow in order to stay under its stream.

And, sometimes, as I gather dry twigs to light the fire in the morning, I sometimes think to myself “What am I doing? I’m almost 60 years old and I’m gathering twigs to keep us warm?”

One of our sons said to me lately, “How do you live like that? Why are you doing this? “
I am living an adventure, no doubt! And…I am immersed in Nature. People pay big bucks for this kind of adventure. I live it daily!  Yurt living keeps me closely in touch with the natural world. Cleaning the dirt, cooking hot meals, maintaining a nice collection of firewood, and loving the time to read, watch movies, create and just ‘be’ is a beautiful alternative to busy living…especially on 
those days ‘off’ from work.
Who woulda’ thunk? Life is full, and rich and wholesome! And, for now, I wouldn’t want it any other way!!!!
Our 'dining room' (in warm weather anyway)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Grand Cardinal Cross and Living

Many years ago I read a great book called Healing Through the Dark Emotions by Miriam Greenspan. The most important thing that I learned from reading that book was the idea that some of us are acutely sensitive to the energies of the world and the invisible activities of the universe. The concept in the book describes people who experience grave depression and cannot explain why. This suggests that many of us intuitively pick up what is going on around us, and can’t always identify why we feel the way we do. I relate to that. I think that often, I am affected by the “cosmos”. As I become more attuned to this influence I can better understand why things happen and, perhaps, how to adjust my own behaviours accordingly.

The last 10 days has been one mess after another. On Monday of last week, I broke a front (sharp) tooth and had to ferry in to town to get it fixed before 14 people came to our yurt for a Passover dinner and seder. On Tuesday I was running from garden to kitchen and, preventing a fall, smashed my hand on the side of our wooden cabin. My 5th metacarpal bone is broken in my right hand. On Thursday my front incisor veneer cracked and, it being the Easter long weekend, I knew I had to prevent any chewing in order to keep the crack from growing until I could make my way back into town to get it fixed. On Monday we received word that our good friend, Clayton Leather, suddenly passed away in Guatemala. I don’t know. I think this was a really bad week!

I do feel like it’s improving though. Even as I write, I am on a ferry to Nanaimo to visit my dentist who is repairing my front tooth. My right hand is in a cast and, no doubt, my bone is finding its place of rest. I have plans to fix my other teeth too. I feel confident that our friend Clayton’s spirit is resting peacefully and remains with us.

So what’s really going on? The fact is, there is something really big happening astrologically right now. Four planets, Jupiter, Uranus, Mars and Pluto are all set up in such a way that they are sitting facing each other in the shape of a cross. The planets, sitting in opposite line-up, suggest opposition. If we were to connect the dots and draw a line between one point to the next at the end of each line, it would form a perfect square, made up of the four planets. That’s profound! Now, I’m just a beginner in understanding astrology, but I do understand the nature of geometry. I think of the implications of a square:

In a square, the points of the lines converge forming four 90% angles. There is obvious confrontation at the vertex, creating clear closure. In a square lines meet and create endings. You can’t go any further. There are limitations to be aware of, and blocks for on-going activity. You might find yourself ‘up against a wall’ as in needing to find alternate routes of getting to where you want to go. Decisions are many and challenging.

Edges in a square suggest the possibility of falling, as in ‘falling off an edge’. There might be danger and it’s important to be cautious as you traverse through the journey and navigate directions and work through choices.
If you’re following one of the lines of a square, there are limitations. There’s only one place to go and a clear idea of the ending. Choosing to go off the line creates unpredictability and possible danger, and the probably of not getting to where you want to go. Facing up to endings and making abrupt changes in direction is imperative.

There is pain involved with this great transition and astrologers say that the end result is new life and new hope for the future. It’s a time for making choices, and the movement of the planets reminds us of the urgency to do so. It is also a time to be very aware. I sense that things are improving. I feel it, and as I read more, I am comforted that the planets are continuing to move, creating a profound sense of transition. The rigidity of the moment will subside and the next season promises to be easier. In fact I’ve read recently that the summer promises to be bright, clear and easy! At this point in time, I’m definitely ready for that!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Everything In Between

I started this blog entry over 3 weeks ago. Then I was still well immersed in life in Fort Cochin and wondering what it would be like once we came back to Canada. At that time I started to reflect on my time in India and what were the repetitive themes that became weaved into my life patterns over the last few months.

Being back in North America and focussing on settling in here on Gabriola, I’ve had time to consider.

Time passes so quickly and so much happens each day. My life has been full these past 13 weeks. So many adventures, joyous new relationships, and new faces that will be forever present in my life now. I am becoming more and more amazed about the places I’ve been and how much I have learned!

There is such difference between living in the East and the West! I feel both a Western influence and also an Eastern. I am comfortable in either place. And each place is extremely different! I can be Indian, at times, and North American if I choose. Both fit!

I am recognizing with more clarity polarities in life! There is good and bad, lightness and dark, love and hate, east and west. Polarities are good, and the wider the poles, the better. I don’t see them as mutually exclusive. Polarities comprise possibilities. Between good and bad, there is everything else. Lightness and dark can be defined by the continuum that binds the two together, east and west is way more interesting when we consider what constitutes the meanings of what happens in the middle!

Learning is about seeing a whole picture. It’s about the greyness of what is. Extremes simply present the boundaries for everything that happens in between the two sides! The broader the polarities, the greater the possibilities for choice and diversity.

That is something I have come to realize this year during my journeys in India. We are changing, all of us. That is the fundamental nature of our world right now….change. Some of that change is out of necessity. We have to do something about our deteriorating environment. We have to make changes to the way we live in this world in order for our earth to survive. Many of us in the west are seeking a renewed spiritual deepening because we realize the shallowness of seeking after money and surface pleasures. Indian society is becoming aware of gender justice and changing behaviours around treatment of women and anti-violence measures for women.

Recently, during one of my visits to the Drumbeg Park, I saw a kingfisher bird. I am reminded about the kingfishers that fly all over India. The kingfisher is even the national bird of the country. In fact the local beer is called Kingfisher after the bird! The one I saw on Gabriola was dressed in black and white feathers. In India the kingfishers are colourful and diverse. The same-same but different idea applies. The kingfisher share many common characteristics, and they become differentiated due to where the bird is hatched and grows.

I find this change exciting. All over the world we are coming closer together in harmony. Nature, social communication, business awareness, and sharing of wealth is way more evident than before.

I recently read an article that describes the advancements in developing countries because of the care and support, both economic and personal that more needy communities are receiving from the more advantaged. We are becoming more aware! And some of us are giving generously, of our time, money and energy!

I stated something aloud when I left a young battered woman in the solace and help of a community in Bangalore. “The world is watching India!” I said. No longer can abuse and violence go unnoticed. 

There are many changes. It will not be easy to transition. But it is necessary. The world is changing. We are watching each other now, from the West to the East and everywhere in between, and most of us will do what we can to make it a better place to live! 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Seeking Unity

The waves are vigorous and free. They rush against the shore playfully, threatening to reach my toes. I am absorbing the warmth from the sandy earth. I am confident, for now, the waves will not reach me.

We are in a familiar place, a beautiful, quiet beach in Varkala. We were here four years ago during our first visit to India. Odayam Beach is away from the hustle and bustle of the more touristy area of Varkala Beach. We loved it then and sought it out now. It’s heavenly!

So much has changed for me in the last four years! For one thing, Yoga has completely embraced me. In so many ways I feel in unity with my world. My asana practise keeps me on track. With my daily ritual of physical practise I am reminded about the way I want to live my life:

Stretching: Pushing my limits even when I think I can’t go any further. For me, there is no concept of giving up. I set an intention and I keep moving towards it. Patience, tenacity and hope keep me going.

Flexibility: Becoming able to move in ways I didn’t think I could move before. Being open to alternatives and maintaining awareness that there are other ways of reaching the same goal. Letting go of the sameness of how I’ve done things in the past and gently incorporating fresh ideas gets me closer to my original purpose anyway. The more flexible I become, the more diverse my joints can move.

Finding calm: Regardless of my surroundings I am learning to rely on the patterns of my breath. It is mine! It is an integral part of me! It is with me always. I can use its constancy and predictability any time. And I lose myself in the comfort of her rhythm. I can even control that rhythm if I desire.

Bending: Bowing inspires humility. Reaching towards the sky and forward bending towards the ground allows me to give thanks to the sun, the moon, and the higher powers in the universe. Bowing, a sign of reverence and respect is invigorating and inspires my intellect. It helps me to expand the possibilities of  my perceptions and attitudes.

Strength: The more I practise, the stronger my body becomes. My muscles tighten and grow and the ability I feel to move increases. I need to be strong in this world to continue to do my work and the things I want to do. My grownup children, my increasing family members, my circle of friends, and the social health of my community wherever I am in the world all are focuses for my work. Our world can be challenging. There is still a lot of repair needed and there are many deterrents that make the work more difficult. Sustained commitment requires a strong essence. I can practise that and strengthen through asana.

Opening up: When I practise Yoga asanas I feel my body opening up. My heart reaches outward as I relax my shoulders downward. My body feels expansive as I reach out stretching my spine and expanding my limbs. I want to stay open in my mind and in my heart. I want to maintain acceptance and an approachable spirit. In my inverted postures I actually see things from a different perspective. I want to be able to practise seeing things differently always and to stay aware that others might too.

Our teacher, Sajee encourages me to imagine I am in water, floating comfortably and moving with ease as the water surrounds me. I listen, now, to the energy of the waves and watch its flow. The Arabian Sea is vigorous and strong. I don’t understand its depth or breadth and continuous energy! It reminds me about how much I don’t understand and how much more I have to learn! Yoga brings me closer to that.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


 India is changing. It’s been four years since I first came to India, and, since then, I have spent an accumulated 9 months here. India has inspired change in me, and, what I’m noticing this year, is that India is changing.

Perhaps that’s the nature of our world right now. Our world is changing rapidly. India represents one extreme and North America another. Environmental deterioration (and repair), advancement in technology, varied and simpler forms of communication, easy and quick transportation, all make it easier for us to learn about each other. The prospects of ‘East meets West’ is becoming more of a reality!
This morning, as I go into the kitchen to say good morning to Soba, the caretaker of the apartments where we stay, I notice that she is dividing the garbage from the kitchen bin. “What are you doing? I ask. “Plastic” she says as she adds to the small pile of plastic products on the counter,  “and paper”.  There is an awareness that was never here before. I become more aware of the piles of plastic bottles scattered on the streets. They are undoubtedly destined for somewhere in particular. An awareness of the need to separate is being acted on.

There is orderliness in parts of India that I never noticed was here before. The roads through Bangalore are paved and there are the beginnings of a Metro that will take you right through the city from the airport. That will eliminate much of the traffic that is a daily part of Bangalore life. Escalators are available now in most train stations to make it easier for people to access the appropriate track for trains.
As we exit the station in Ernakulum to find a tuk tuk to get to Kochi, we realize that there is an absence of bombardment from the drivers outside the station. A queue of people are orderly standing for tickets. “Wow” I say. “This is so civilized!” “Police enforced” explains the woman in front of me. A signs reads “Prepaid rickshaw service”. What a concept! Standing on line, waiting our turn, and receiving a guaranteed price ticket to take us to where we wanted to go!!! No haggling with the price. No bargaining. No riding away feeling we’ve been ripped off! I like this! I would think it changes the disposition and attitudes of the drivers too!

A woman in a nearby village is physically abused by her husband, while we are staying with friends in Bangalore. It used to be, for the most part, that women are unaware of choices to protect them and their future. Now, women are seeking refuge, and looking for support from police and public organizations. The woman fled with her daughter to the place where we were staying. Days of staying and lots of conversation help her to see that calling police can lead to help and support, not more danger. She does call the police. They do come and listen and record the incident. I’m not sure if they’re at a place of charging and convicting the perpetrator, but they certainly are a little bit closer.

Sometimes I’m not sure if my outer surroundings are changing or if it’s my inner being perceiving differently. Maybe my love for India and my extreme comfort of being here influences the way I see things. People who have travelled here often say “India is so filthy dirty and the poverty is too hard to take. It smells and people just don’t take care of themselves or their country”.  I suppose I see all that. But most significantly I see the other extreme. People are clean here. It’s not unusual to witness morning washing rituals out in the streets. Teeth brushing, body cleansing, bathing are often public. The garbage is evident all over the streets and in waterways. I also witness the cleaners in the parks and in the streets sweeping up the debris from last night’s activities. And the shopkeepers clear their store fronts daily. There’s an awareness of environmental clean up and an attempt to understand. I see such beauty here!

Since my first trip to India I think I have become more accepting, less judgemental. Some people say I’m ‘na├»ve’ but I don’t think that’s true. I see things in reality, and reality has good and bad. I see them both. I am aware of the possibilities of ‘bad’ and anticipate the possibility. I expect good however, and, I have to say, generally, that becomes my experience. We live in an absolutely beautiful world!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Simple (and Not So Simple) Life

Our lives for the past two weeks have been completely overwhelmed with life. At the Gurukula, life happens and, how we spend our days is all about life!

Cows need to be milked. Food needs to be prepared. People come and go and the constant activity is vibrant and lively. Here, all people are welcome. It is about inclusion and love and personal safety. It is also about responsibility and giving and community. Learning occurs always. When the sunrise so quickly turns to sunset, I am amazed at how fully the day has been passed.

Time and life are interwoven and when night time comes, I wonder how it all happened so fast. How come I never put together the slide show presentation from yesterday’s Guru Pooja celebration? Why did I miss the opportunity to prepare paisam with Manju? What about the book I was going to finish reading? Why am I still dressed for Yoga practise and I still haven’t made it as far as the yoga platform? I hardly even spent time with Mah today!

Important and simple things happen at the Gurukula. Everyday routines are the default, and some days pass with nothing out of the ordinary. I have come to love the simplicity of our daily existence. I relish the time talking with others, the breadth of conversation we have, and the deepening of genuine relationships. There is time for that.

And very important things happen here too! Today a woman and her 12-year-old daughter come for refuge from the nearby village of Kagliapura. They are running from Lakshmi’s husband who beat, then hung her from a tree. Neighbours came and freed her and she was able to escape.

The two women arrive at the Gurukula shaken and frightened. We are available to help. The husband comes almost immediately to ‘reclaim’ his wife. There is a constant and very loud battle that lasts for hours. Saraswathi, the young child, benefits from distractions. I take her out of earshot. The Bangalore police are contacted. These are all actions that most village people are not aware are even options. There is learning happening here in India. “The world is watching.” is the message I try to share. We, as a universal community can help bring awareness right here to villages like Kagliapura!

I realize I should not get involved. Mah and Manju understand the mentality of the villagers. I understand the ultimate need for compassion and love and basic civil rights. But how that is realized in India is too different from what I have to offer. Sometimes ‘helping’ is knowing when to stay back.  I reach over to embrace young Saraswathi, I kiss her forehead, and say “Don’t worry, dear one. The world is watching.” I want to make that sentence true! I want to return to North America and do something to help.

Oblish is a 30 something year old man who is completely deaf and dumb. He has a wife and child living in the village of Kagliapura. He is extremely poor. Oblish has been working at the Gurukula for several years now. He lives here too, and carries on all the day-to-day care that is necessary now that Mah is aging a bit and needs extra hands. There is a sign language that they use that is nothing like ASL. Everyone here learns to communicate with Oblish, and his smile and occasional grunt of laughter, makes his happiness evident. He works from early morning to after dark. He is fed and housed, and once in a while he returns to his family to bring them cash and have a visit. I don’t even know what would happen to Oblish and his family if it weren’t for the Gurukula.

The celebration of the Guru, called Guru Pooja, is a weekend event that takes several days of preparation. Villagers come to share meals and teachings and the members of the Gurukula welcome all and host the event. There are musicians playing during the night and friends of the Gurukala gather together. Villagers come as guests and, seated all along the walls of the prayer hall, are served a complete, sumptuous meal. Tents scatter around the land accommodating space for rest. The all night cooking sessions, when residents and members of the family prepare the meals for everyone, are fun and celebratory. Great conversations happen throughout the night. Underneath large awnings, gas stoves heat enormous vats of rice, curries, dahl, choles and paisam. The tandori oven is on for hours baking fresh chapatti and naan. We gather for days and share the chores necessary to ensure everyone who comes is fed and happy. Learning is the objective! This is a yearly event that is anticipated and revered.

People come and go. Swamis, travellers and ordinary people from all over India are confident that they will receive good food here and a comfortable place to lay their head for the night any time of the year. Most days are simple…very simple. And many important things happen here too! I suppose that is a clear reflection of real life after all! What a blessing to be a part of it all!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Finding Happiness

Hindu life is ultimately the pursuit of happiness. The teachers, or Gurus of Hindu thought, believe that the pursuit of happiness is the seeking of self. Once you find self, you become enlightened. Finding ‘self’ is absolute happiness.

Personally, I have no desire to reach absolute truth. I kinda’ like having the capacity to feel and to desire. I like being passionate and loving and scared and desirous. I love adventure and mystery and activity. I also like calm and peacefulness, but certainly not at the expense of feeling the joys and miseries of life.

In my western way of thinking, I, too, believe that in our lives we all strive to be happy. In my experience many people think that the acquisition of money leads to happiness. Many westerners pursue professional success, which gets translated to becoming rich in material wealth.

That’s an interesting concept! My father (bless his soul) worked very hard in his life. He wanted to be able to satisfy all of us with things. He strived to provide, and, in so doing, worked way more hours than he should have, to satisfy the material needs of his family. He died completely unsatisfied, even though he had a beautiful home and many luxuries that could have satisfied most of the population living in various parts of the world. And, my father never really was happy! It was never enough! He always wanted more. I know many people who live like this today.

For me there is a relationship between loving your work and loving life. Most of the people I know who love what they do, are not miserable in their work. But they are miserable in their desires. Many of them want to have time to travel. Several want to go back to school and learn. I have many friends who want to ‘have the time’ to work out, or read good books, or spend quality time with family and/or friends. Work, and the stresses that come with work often get in the way. Life becomes all about the work we do.

People in the west are beginning to realize the need for balance. Many are changing the way they think about money. Having less ‘things’ requires a lessening of the desire for things. More young people seek a compromise between working and play. I notice that with several of my own children. There’s still a strong work ethic, wanting to ‘give back’ to the world. And, I’m noticing, there’s also a desire to explore and develop other things in life.

In India, I am finding contentment in the ‘nothingness’ of being. I tune in more to the sounds and sights around me. It is easier to connect with others and I find joy in the simple existence that I experience. The constant cawing of the crows, the regular honking of car horns, the shrill voices of the vendors on the streets become musical, and I experience a deeper clarity to the visual stimulus around me. I notice the beauty of nature and am settled with the idea of not pushing. I continue to share my essence with the simple interactions that unfold. I am still working and writing and learning. Here, in India the balance is acceptable. There is no expectation for more. I like it!

I am aware that my stage of life affords me the ability and capacity to broaden my outlook. I am working less and being more focussed in my work. I am expanding my skills and learning about other things. I’m travelling and meeting new people who enrich my life. I often think about how I could have done that while I was invested in career and child rearing. I think young people today are more aware. “We are merely visitors in this universe”, says one of my teachers. Finding happiness, experiencing self, can happen in so many different and beautiful ways!