Thursday, May. 7, 7:10 AM
Puducherry, Tamil Nadu, India
No blogging in two weeks! I surmise that the only reason I’m typing this morning is because I’ve left Sadhana Forest, a place where time stands still. Coming out fresh on the other side of a two-week stay there, Amy and I are now in Puducherry (aka Pondi), a former French colony and charming little city on the Bay of Bengal, splurging on a nice room and sleeping-in. I laugh because, despite going to bed at 1:30am, I woke-up feeling like I’d slept-in too late, (but it’s actually only 6:40am). In the forest we’d get our first morning wake-up call (singing volunteer at the door of your hut) at 5:45am, and here I am an hour later, wide awake, eager to get on with my day. Amy, on the other hand is still sleeping, curled up in the blanket, except when she asked me to crank-up the fan to complement the AC which has numbed my fingers and toes.
What a contrast to life in Sadhana, the real turning point of this trip. For two weeks, we’ve been immersed in an almost tribal lifestyle, sweating it out (no fans!) in an eco-friendly community practicing permaculture with a family of 30-50, a pack of dirty sweaty forest children, running around bare-foot, cooking our all-vegetable meals over fires (always with fresh fruit and veg. salads), composting everything, climbing the ladders of the multi-level grass and bamboo huts, turning the solar panels, collecting topsoil and leaves in the woods to feed the garden and seedlings, using only natural soaps and products, finding cooler refuge in a mud pool (which was my shower 4 out of 5 times), having big family meetings, meals, and discussions many times daily… Everyone took on various jobs and responsibilities to keep this sustainable village going, and it was an extreme pleasure. For me it had tremendous emotional and educational value, experiencing brotherhood like this where everyone was so warm and helpful, carrying-on duties with pleasure (and good company), learning to respect and improve the planet while working together for a greater and common goal.
It continually inspired me to Green my life, now and also in the west. Someday, even in the city, I’d like to make a rooftop garden, grow fruits and vegetables using locally available natural materials (yes, even in any urban environment), build a compost bin to re-use all my food and waste (for the food & plants), make a pond for Axl (doing it right!) and perhaps another to grow Spirulina (which is a pretty amazing supplement, used for millennia by civilizations throughout the world), use and make my own natural products… forget industrialized processing and creating waste! I’d even like to revamp my toilet… it seems gross the way we’re used to, especially after it leaves the house. It was a great experience to actually live this ideal 100%, to see that it’s possible in reality and not only in theory. It’s all very simple; the hard part just being able to detach yourself from the systems that have debilitated you and made you dependent on them, deciding to just slip away into the forest for a couple weeks to do things yourself (and with the help of your community) and see that an alternative exists.
Sadhana Forest is a model community, a very real alternative to the ‘Real World’, where many people find a Home like they never imagined existed. Many people come back there again and again, and I am personally thrilled to have found it, to know such a place exists, and I consider it my home too. Someday, as with many other places I’ve volunteered in India, I plan to return. I also strongly recommend Everyone to come and visit! People of all ages, from any society and culture (many Indians as well, not just Westerners), can grow and learn. I especially think families will benefit, so bring the kids. (Cristina and Dave, how I wish you and the boys were here for the last 2 weeks!)
ADVERTISEMENT: Recession getting you down? Sick of our economy which strips you bare? No job? Having trouble scraping together rent money? Completing this endorsement, I want to tell you, my friends, that a visit to Sadhana is extremely feasible, inexpensive, (and also quite rewarding!) Your commitment is to work 4-5 hours a day, 5 days/week, planting, watering, taking turns preparing meals – basically helping run the commune & playing in the forest. (LOTS of free time.) The only expense is $3/day for food for the 3 meals, as they buy most of the fruits & vegetables from a local organic farmer. (It’s primarily a re-forestry project, not a food-producing one.) And after 3 months, should you choose to stay long, food is free. So beyond the $42 for 2-weeks or $270 for 3-months-till-forever of food, there are no other expenses outside your plane ticket ($600), visa ($60), and negligible expense for travel from Delhi ($25). So if you want to spend a year, you can get away from it all for under $1K. Wow!
The value of Community made a home in my heart, and I realized how my previous lifestyle lacked any genuine and significant embodiment of it. I feel like our lives are rather isolated, not so much socially, but on the most basic level of our everyday survival. I think most of us can all agree that we are consumed by our own little worlds, a unique individual universe of the mind which nobody else occupies, not even your partner. We all have friends, family and activity partners to help alleviate the strain of solitude, but it’s not Complete. I’m glad to have neighbors, lovers, roommates, the farmers market, CSA, community gardens, Burning Man, the chance to RA in college, the multitude of opportunity to volunteer in local projects and events, but I think the basic building blocks of our lives – moving away from our families, being reared in a competitive educational system, living in our own boxes, ‘owning’ all our own Stuff, reporting to our respective black holes of Work, shopping/cooking/eating-out for ourselves – all keeps us divided. Competition and self-sustenance have made us less like a Society, and more of an aggregate of loners.
At our weekly Big Sunday Meeting in the forest, we all went around and spoke a bit about whatever thoughts were on our mind, a forum to share and connect with everyone else in the commune. It always seems to get a little emotional, as many volunteers tend to express their inner peace, gratitude, and happiness to be in Sadhana, and you can feel the love. Yorit, the Mom of this place, was saying how she couldn’t remember what she did yesterday, or what she ate, or decipher the days and events from the last week. This wasn’t uncommon among us. It’s true: being in a routine, doing your duties, relaxing, and Living In The Moment, you forget when stuff happened, or even that they happened at all. It’s actually very nice, but I, being at the end of my two-week commitment, while happy to have had the experience of total immersion, was anxious to keep moving on to new places, the great unknown outside this nest of peace. (“I’m a traveler. I haven’t stopped anywhere for two weeks! When I’m ready to go, I have go.”) Amy, having only been there for 5 days, came to me after the meeting and said she wasn’t ready to leave. This isn’t uncommon, this Not Leaving, as dozens of volunteers have decided to stay for periods of months, and many are staying for some years. Jamey did the same: After only three days there (one evening at another such meeting, which happen frequently and more unofficially at meal circles), he came to me to say that he didn’t even decide, rather he just knew he would stay in the forest for the summer, for five months (until his Indian visa runs out).
Eventually, late in the week, Amy and I agreed to push-on. We packed up our panniers, loaded up our bicycles, and said good-bye to all our new Ewok friends, family, animals, and also Jamey. It was a little sad. All three of us welled-up with tears. It was the first time Jamey and I would be away from each other (except for 3 days, 2 months ago) in almost six months! It was like we were breaking-up, dividing up our mutual possessions, bringing to an end this chapter of our big Asian adventure together. I could reflect here on what a great companion he’s been, but I’ll simply leave it at that I couldn’t have hoped for a better one. Thanks for everything, Jamey.
As Amy and I cycled to nearby Pondicherry, I felt as if my trip was just beginning again. We’ve never actually been alone together for even a day. Our first decision as a team of Two was to check-into a romantic penthouse apartment with a balcony and an ocean view in the quiet and charming French quarter of town. Our trip has begun.
tunes: International Flight by David Snell on The Outernational Sound