Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Where former IBM engineers live alongside indigenous Tamil villagers

embracing mystery Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Karl's New Years Update from India

Here is a summary of my life since I left for India in September: I am happy and healthy, I loved teaching in Auroville this fall, and I am staying in Asia for at least a couple more months of teaching, meditation, yoga, and travel. Read on for more detail and photos. (PS: Thanks to the Living Routes students for sharing photos, as my camera stopped working!) For the past four months I have been living and teaching in India, based primarily in Auroville, an aspiring ecovillage in south India “dedicated to human unity,” and based on the vision of 20th century spiritual teachers Sri Aurobindo and Mirra Alfassa.

Until about a week ago, the great focus of my life in India involved serving as faculty for, and living in community with, a group of U.S. college students studying in Auroville for the semester. The program is one of the ecovillage-based college education programs of Living Routes, the organization I also worked with when I was at the Findhorn Community in Scotland.

I absolutely love the teaching work with the Living Route students! The curriculum was centered on the three intertwined themes of sustainability, community, and consciousness, and draws on both traditional academic content and rich experiential learning, to support the development of the students as whole people – mind, heart, body, and spirit.

Here are some highlights from the semester: We began each day with sunrise yoga and meditation practice for students and faculty. Some of the students and I lived at the American Pavilion, an innovative dormitory in Auroville’s International Zone, with solar power, rainwater collection, and compost toilets, as well as a giant lotus pond with a chorus of frogs. The students and faculty co-created a profoundly caring and mature “learning community” including weekly heartfelt “community sharing” and smoothly student-run consensus-based “community meetings.” Each student designed a proposal for their own “integral sustainability project” which they will implement when they get back home – from creating a sustainability-themed student housing cooperative at their University, to starting a summer community garden camp at an inner city school.

Together we explored Nonviolent Communication, Integral Theory, the Pachamama Alliance’s Awakening the Dreamer symposium, and much more, and the students seemed to love it all. At mid-semester we traveled to the ancient and boulder-strewn landscape of Hampi, India, where students completed a 3-day sacred solo and vision fast, each in their own cave. I had the opportunity to co-teach and co-design the semester with Abigail Lynam, an experienced and wise educator, and a dear friend. I come away from the semester feeling deeply grateful to be a part of education that blends personal transformation and service to the planet, and that allows me to be mentor and friend to students, as well as their faculty.

As for the place of Auroville itself, I find its vision to be particularly inspiring: "Auroville wants to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity." While it may not yet have fully realized its utopian ideal, Auroville is a fascinating and unique experiment, and I have enjoyed being here. Nowhere else on Earth have I found such a diversity of humanity, and of experiments in sustainable living.

  • Picture a place where 40 years ago there was a barren plateau of hard baked red earth, which through the painstaking planting of thousands of trees, has been transformed into a town covered in the native tropical evergreen forest.
  • Picture a town in south India where electric bicycles and mopeds are beginning to whir silently along dirt roads alongside pedal bicycles, motorcycles, and the occasional honking car.
  • Where a “solar kitchen” feeds 2000 people each day with meals cooked with heat collected from a giant sun dish on the roof.
  • Where no one owns the land they live on. Where you can sip cappuccino and eat hummus and baba ganoush under the shade of palm trees, at a table alongside people from Italy, Israel, and all corners from India.
  • Where the town center is a giant meditation chamber dedicated to the evolution of human consciousness.
  • Where former IBM engineers live alongside indigenous Tamil villagers.
  • Where an Englishman inspired by J. Krishnamurti and M. Fukuoka experiments in no till farming of traditional grains and tropical fruits, while playing in a band and singing Classical choral music during his free time.

And while Auroville and the Living Routes program were both worlds unto themselves, all of this is happening within the context of Tamil Nadu, India. What a gift and a challenge to be in a nation of over a billion people, of both crippling poverty and ultra high tech information technology industry, and of profound and ancient spirituality.

Here is some of what stands out in my awareness. Tamil culture, including one of the most ancient literatures and natural medical traditions in the world, down-to-earth smiles and generosity from daily encounters with villages, and the occasional harshness of stories of spousal abuse and rigid constraints of traditional gender roles. The joys of South Indian food, particularly dosai (fermented rice and lentil crepes) – hmmm. The richness of a culture which gave birth to yoga and Gandhi, in which it is commonplace for people to undertake extended spiritual pilgrimages and to recognize the divinity in all life and in all belief systems. The intensity of Indian cities: the roar of honking and beeping cars and rickshaws and motorcycles; the neon-colored temples with their array of deities, and sometimes a temple elephant; the trash-lined streets; and the eager appeals to buy something or to give something.

The climate, from the exhausting heat of early autumn, to the torrential downpour and flooding of the monsoon rains. The sights and sounds of nonhuman life: the black “lobster” scorpions you check your shoes for; the lizard catching his dinner of flying insects by the bathroom light; the herds of sacred cows wandering the roads; the chorus of birds ricocheting in the early morning; the packs of easily provoked village dogs; ants and termites constantly exploring your clothes, computer, and bed; and the poisonous viper or cobra you hope to see but not get bitten by. The simple living, from cold showers to squat toilets without toilet paper.

So, what am I up to next? I am currently leading a series of Nonviolent Communication workshops in Auroville, as well as preparing to offer the Pachamama Alliance’s Awakening the Dreamer symposium and some other trainings in group process and communication. In late January and February I am intending to go on a meditation retreat and then a yoga teacher training course. There are some interesting possibilities for after that, but for now I’m looking forward to a post-semester break, and to allowing plans to unfold naturally. Posted by nomadic catalyst at 8:22 AM > But in rural India, Dutton changed his mind. The Art Instinct; Arts & Letters Daily 7:45 PM Showing off the life of the mind

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