Saturday, August 6, 2011

Vision for Conscious Community

In considering the ecological, political, economic, and social state of the world, I regularly find myself asking three questions:

  • How can I, and all people, protect and care for the Earth and its ecosystems?
  • How can I, and we, live in ways that contribute to the well-being, health, and happiness of all people?
  • How can I, and we, experience joy, aliveness, fulfillment and love?
Time and again, the response that comes to me is “community.” Even with the challenges of shared living, I find intentional communities to offer one of the most compelling and comprehensive responses to humanity’s urgent need for health, happiness, peace, justice, and sustainability.

With this inspiration, I have spent much of the past 15 years living and working in, visiting and learning from intentional communities and ecovillages around the world – from Findhorn to Auroville, from the Possibility Alliance to Hummingbird Community. Inspired by many aspects of these communities, friends and I have then experimented with various community prototypes, from community houses to year-long learning communities.

Having experienced both the strengths and challenges of these various communities, I have been inspired to dream into what might make the next generation of intentional communities even more fulfilling and sustainable, more supportive of personal and cultural development, and more appealing and accessible to all kinds of people on Earth.

The following is a draft vision for a multi-faceted conscious community that I am in the early stages of co-creating with a group of friends and colleagues. I invite you to explore this vision, to see what resonates with you, and to join in a collaborative dialogue by commenting below (at the end of the post) and/or emailing me. I would also love to know what you are inspired by and involved with yourself. There are some questions at the end of the post to invite further dialogue.

Thank you for dreaming into ways that humanity can embody sustainability, peace, and justice on Earth!

With gratitude,
Karl Steyaert

A Vision for Conscious Community

It is possible that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual.
The next Buddha may take the form of a community --
a community practicing understanding and loving kindness,
a community practicing mindful living.
This may be the most important thing we can do for the earth.
- Thich Nhat Hanh




Picture a community in which you and your friends: live within a five minute walk of each other; collaborate joyfully on world service projects; have a vegetable garden & fruit trees out your back door; have a small ecological & social footprint; have time & space for being alone & still; support each other to be your highest selves; spend lots of time outside; can walk or bicycle to most places you want to go; take action to help those in need; play often; hold each other when you want comfort; have your basic needs met locally; make music, dance, & sing together; embody evolution of consciousness; meditate & practice yoga; live passionately; develop ever-more elegantly good, true, and beautiful ways for people to live; tell each other stories by the fireside; heal conflicts in circles; allow yourselves to cry & laugh freely; celebrate regularly; inspire & uplift each other; create beautiful, natural homes; raise free-spirited & well-loved children; let them play outside by themselves & be looked after by the whole community; dream big dreams; and live your dreams.



I believe that the Earth can be a place where all human beings can live such a life, and that some version of such a community, whether urban or rural, could be a desirable place for most, and perhaps all, of humanity to live.

What follows is a vision for a multi-faceted conscious community with the mission to support individuals to live joyful lives in service to the well-being of all life.
This vision for conscious community consists of a number of interconnected initiatives:

Eco-Village Community
Transformational Living Learning Center
  • Integral Sangha
  • Young Adult Leadership Program
Other Initiatives
  • Collaboration Incubator
  • Transformation Teams
  • Retreat Center & Café
  • Declaration of Interdependence
  • Conscious Community Network
Following brief descriptions of these initiatives, there is an articulation of core values which all of these initiatives share.

Eco-Village Community
The foundation for this vision is an integral eco-village/sustainable community that will serve as home for an extended family of friends and collaborators who share life, learning, and laughter. In addition to offering a nourishing home environment, this community is intended to support community members to live in a way that is in harmony with and in service to the local and global community of life, as well as serving the wider society as a demonstration site and model for conscious, sustainable human habitat.

The community will practice diverse and flexible approaches to:
  • Sustainable living (ie. green design, renewable energy, material re-use, etc.);
  • Dynamic governance (ie. Holacracy);
  • Permaculture;
  • Alternative economics (ie. local currency, community land trust, etc.); and
  • Spiritual practice (ie. meditation, moment-to-moment awareness, dance, etc.).

Transformational Living Learning Center
The eco-village will serve as home for a learning center that will support a range of short- and long-term learning pathways for personal and planetary transformation. This learning center will explore a range of topics essential to the well-being and resilience of humanity and planet Earth in the 21st century, including:

  • Social & Cultural Transformation: community building, conflict facilitation, Nonviolent Communication, Restorative Circles, Dynamic Governance (Holacracy, Sociocracy), transformational learning, grassroots community organizing, deep democracy, nonviolent direct action, action research, activism
  • Personal Development & Conscious Evolution: Integral theory & practice, Nonviolent Communication, co-counseling, intimacy & sexuality, life purpose
  • Sustainability: permaculture, ecovillage design, homesteading skills, green building, simple living, wildcrafting, deep ecology
  • Mind-Body-Spirit: meditation, yoga, aikido, tai chi
  • Wilderness: vision quest, traditional living skills, wildcrafting, tracking
  • Crafts & Creative Expression: folk crafts, art, music, creative writing, dance, 5 Rhythms, contact improv, authentic movement, improv theater
  • Alternative Economics: resource sharing, right livelihood, voluntary simplicity, local economic self-reliance, cooperative economics
In addition to offering a range of range of workshops and short-term courses for the general public, the living learning center will support deeper, longer-term learning communities/programs. For example:

Integral SanghaThe sangha will consist of a committed “community of practice” for individuals dedicated to developing and embodying the internal and external capacity to be transformational global service leaders. The integral sangha’s practices would include a range of practices and approaches to development, including those listed above.

Young Adult Leadership Program
Similar to the Integral Sangha, this transformational learning community will offer young adults a focused and supportive learning community for integrating a range of pathways and practices for personal and planetary transformation. The program center will offer applied learning supporting the development of body, heart, mind, and spirit, as listed above.



Other Initiatives
In addition to the Transformational Living Learning Center, the community will support a number of related transformational initiatives as well:

Collaboration Incubator

There will be a collaborative ‘Hub’ workspace and incubator for synergizing both ‘for profit’ & ‘non-profit’ socially & environmentally responsible initiatives. This incubator will offer individuals and organizations a supportive environment for cultivating professional collaboration, project development, office sharing, mutual inspiration, synergy, economic cooperation, and fun.

Transformation Teams

These mobile teams of skilled transformation agents will catalyze & facilitate conscious, life-serving transformation in settings ranging from neighborhoods to corporations to war zones. In this way, the community will offer individuals and organizations everywhere on-site support for cultivating sustainability, peace, and justice.

Transformation Teams will offer a range of services such as:
  • Integral organizational assessment and strategic design
  • Restorative Circle facilitation and system building
  • Permaculture and ecovillage design
  • Community organizing support
  • Conflict resolution
  • Group process facilitation
Retreat Center & Café
A Retreat Center and Café will offer inviting & lively spaces providing natural, community-sourced food, lodging, meeting spaces, and right livelihood. These will offer varied and rich opportunities for interface and collaboration between the community and the wider public, as well as providing a means of income for other community projects.

Declaration of Interdependence

A Declaration of Interdependence will provide a vision and set of principles, best practices, and aspirational standards supporting individuals and organizations to embody and cultivate global sustainability, peace, justice and consciousness.

Conscious Community Network

A Conscious Community Network will consist of a global network of conscious, transformational, urban and rural communities sharing a core vision, values and commitment to action. This network will facilitate mutual support and learning, as well as allowing community members to travel freely among like-spirited communities.

Values
This vision of conscious community rests upon a core set of values:

Care for Self, Community & Planet
This value consists of attending to the highest order of care for all life, including care for self, community, and planet. One example would be supporting local and global sustainability, peace and justice in a way that is nourishing and fun for individuals. (If it isn’t fun, it isn’t sustainable!) Another example would be designing spaces and systems that support individuals to have private time & space, while at the same time supporting easy social engagement & collaboration.

Honoring Body, Heart, Mind & Spirit

This refers to cultivating and engaging the individual and collective body, heart, mind, and spirit. For example, how can all community members be supported to engage in activities that involve hands, heart, and head? (Helen and Scott Nearing’s described a daily balance of “bread labor, civic work, and personal pursuits.”) This also includes honoring the creative arts and play as essential dimensions of human experience and expression.

Compassion, Challenge & Communion

This means honoring all pathways of realization, including the loving embrace of compassion and empathy, the fiery crucible of challenge, and the release into communion with all that is. For example, how can a community support people to access all parts of what David Deida distinguishes as “therapy, yoga, and spiritual practice.”

Being & Doing

This consists of integrating and honoring the complementarity between “being” (state of consciousness) and “doing” (meaningful action). For example, how can we cultivate both compassionate acceptance of “what is” and meaningful action to contribute to the well-being of all life? One approach consists of allowing action to unfold through emergence rather than control or effort, by cultivating action that arises from an open mind, open heart, and open will. (See Otto Scharmer’s Theory U.)

Depth & Lightness

Depth & lightness refers to engaging deeply and truthfully with individual’s and the world’s challenges, while at the same time welcoming abundant lightness, humor, play, and celebration of life!

Co-Creation
Co-creation involves alignment and cooperation between people, a higher purpose, and what is arising in the world. On a practical level, this would mean power-sharing, approaches to collective intelligence, and collaborative decision-making designed to serve the higher good (see Holacracy). Also, all individuals would be supported on their personal paths of self-actualization and leadership development.

Inclusion & Discernment

Inclusion and discernment are complementary qualities, such that an open mind and open heart can be integrated with value-based discernment, in relation to people, perspectives, approaches, etc. For example, a community can draw on the depth of various traditions and practices (Buddhism, Nonviolent Communication, etc.), while remaining non-dogmatic, non-denominational, flexible, and open to other perspectives.

Stability & Flexibility

This refers to protecting and caring for basic needs, with flexibility and nonattachment in relation to specific strategies or outcomes.

Integral

Integral refers to aspiring to attend to the interior and exterior well-being and development of individuals and collectives. Additionally, an integral approach embodies multiple perspectives and approaches, recognizing both the truth and limitations of them all, while also discerning higher and lower order truths. In this vision, the intention is to embody an integral and developmental approach with humility, recognizing that while “maps of reality” can serve the common good, the reality of each individual and collective is far more beautiful, complex, and gifted than any conceptual framework can adequately represent.

Feedback
In the comments section below, please offer your feedback on what you have read here. If they are useful, feel free to respond to any of the following questions:
  • What responses, feedback, or suggestions arise for you as you read what is written above? What speaks to you and why? What would make it more clear, inspiring, or inviting for you?
  • What visions for your life, for community, and/or for humanity inspire you? What might an ideal way of life look like for you?
  • Are you aware of any resources that might support the unfolding of this community? Potential locations, collaborators, funding sources, etc.? Are there related communities, people, or projects you are aware of and inspired by, beyond those listed below?

Thank you for taking some time to respond to these questions!
- Karl

Inspiring Examples
The following existing communities and transformational programs offer inspiration and possibilities for collaboration:




Friday, March 5, 2010

Compassionate Justice & Compassionate Communities

Having been living and teaching in Asia and Europe for the past year and a half, I returned to the United States in January and am currently enjoying a journey across North America. As I travel I am offering trainings and presentations on a range of topics related to conflict resolution, sustainability, and community-building. Particularly exciting for me has been the opportunity to begin working with Restorative Circles, an approach to restorative justice that I find profoundly transformational and inspiring. For more information on this work, check out www.restorativecircles.org.

As I have been traveling, I have also visited some communities that have deeply touched and inspired me. One that stands out is the Possibility Alliance, a small community in northern Missouri founded 3 years ago by some amazing friends, Ethan and Sarah Hughes. The mission of their “experiment” is “to work toward the upliftment of all beings, and awaken to our true nature, which we believe is love.” Inspired by Gandhi’s whole-system approach to nonviolence, they are guided by five principles: simplicity, service, activism, inner work, and celebration.

In terms of simplicity: they grow their own food (including everything from peaches and nuts to goat cheese) in permaculture food forests and they can food for the winter; they travel by foot, horse, bicycle, or public transportation (Ethan has been in a car less than 10 times in the last 10 years); they live electricity-free and computer-free, eating dinner by candle-light every night; they make their own music with guitars, a piano, and their own voices; and they tell stories by the wood stove at night. Some of their many forms of service and activism include: they live by the “gift economy,” sharing free food, free lodging, free permaculture courses and more; they helped start a bicycle cooperative in a local town; they advise people on natural building techniques; one month a year Ethan leads a group of costumed “superheroes” on bicycle-powered spontaneous service adventures in various parts of the world. For inner work they regularly share readings from various spiritual traditions, study Nonviolent Communication, and support one another to live with open hearts and minds. As for celebration, there is a "director of fun" and a time during the morning meeting to share jokes, and during my stay I experienced a couple of spontaneous guitar-driven dance parties and a great skating session on the frozen pond.

I found my time at the Possibility Alliance to be so enlivening and heart-warming, and I loved the balance of physical work and heart-felt human relationship and service. I would love everyone I know to visit. They are very welcoming and can be contacted by phone at (660) 332-4094, and by mail at The Possibility Alliance, 28408 Frontier Lane, La Plata, MO 63549. Here is additional information and an audio interview with Ethan: www.suesupriano.com/article.php?id=145.

Another community that I find quite inspiring is the Hummingbird Community, set in a beautiful valley in the mountains of northern New Mexico. Hummingbird’s vision is “to cultivate a joyful, vibrant, co-creative culture in service to the evolution of consciousness,” and they are an impressively loving and wise group of people co-creating community and offering a rich range of transformational educational programs. Here is their website: www.hummingbirdcommunity.org/community/our-essence.

To a more sustainable, just, and peaceful world,
Karl

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Emotional Liberation

Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I'll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase 'each other' doesn't make any sense.
- Rumi



I regularly find myself grateful for the clarity I find in a framework for emotional liberation that Nietzsche wrote about, and then Marshall Rosenberg applied to Nonviolent Communication (NVC). Applying this framework I find myself more able to understand and shift patterns of self-denial and self-isolation, and therefore able to enjoy much richer and more alive connections with people and life. Rosenberg writes about the 3 stages of Emotional Liberation in his book, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. In my experience these stages are not "linear", meaning that we dance through all 3 in various directions at various moments, though Nietzsche and Rosenberg both imply that the 3rd stage is the most "evolved" or "life-serving." Here they are:

1. Emotional Slavery: This is when we tend to disconnect from the fullness of our own needs or values while focusing on the needs of others. I find it key to remember that when we are do this we are doing the best we can to meet needs for love, acceptance, belonging, care, etc. We get caught here when we get attached to being "nice," "caring," "self-less," "compassionate," or "generous." Unfortunately, no matter how loving we may try to be, if we are doing so from a place of self-denial, it is a recipe for depression and resentment over the long term because those needs we're disconnected from don't go away. This stage is sometimes called co-dependency, with both the one "hanging on" and the one who's "hung onto" caught in emotional slavery. Both are disconnecting from the fullness of their needs for freedom, self-reliance, flexibility, self-worth, self-respect, etc.

2. Anti-Dependence: As a reaction to Emotional Slavery, we often go into what Rosenberg calls the "obnoxious" stage of focusing on our own needs while disconnecting from the needs of others. This is a crucial and beautiful swing of the pendulum (just as Emotional Slavery is), where we explore freedom, independence, and self-respect, and we get away from the constraints of being "obedient," "nice," "a good boy/girl," etc. Unfortunately, it also means cutting off the flow of full connection and care with others, so it gets kind of lonely after a while, and we are not contributing the fullness of what we could to the well-being of others. Unfortunately, many of us spend years on a vicious pendulum swinging between Emotional Slavery and Anti-Dependence. Fortunately, once we become aware of these patterns, we have the chance to develop our capacity for.....

3. Emotional Liberation or Interdependence: Whaa-hooo! When we are able to stay connected to the beauty of our own needs and to the needs of others, we are in Rumi's field beyond right- and wrong-doing. Ahhhh! This doesn't mean we try to meet other people's needs all the time, or even our own, but we are at least aware of these needs existing, and we connect to and honor them. In essence it means that we see the humanity in ourselves and others and have both respect for ourselves and our needs, as well as respect for others and their needs. Just like the oxygen masks on the plane, I find it important to self-connect and address my own baseline needs for empathy and well-being before trying to reach out to others. When living Interdependently, we have the great pleasure of contributing to the needs of others from a place of self-full-ness, without self-denial, and without believing we have to "save" others, as often happens in Emotional Slavery.

I'm curious to know if reading this contributed something to you. Feel free to send me an email or comment below.

To emotional liberation for all,
karl

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Transition Movement


Hello! I am excited to share resources about some of the initiatives and issues that I see as essential at this time on our planet. I'm guessing you may know about many of these, but just in case, I'll mention them anyway.

The top of my list of life-serving initiatives on the planet today includes the Transition movement. In brief, it is a town-by-town positive action approach to shifting society to sustainability and away from oil dependency, consumerism, etc. Transition is gaining a lot of attention recently, with many articles and many ways to get involved. Here are a few:

A New York Times article: The End Is Near! (Yay!) - April 16, 2009


Transition United States: an organization supporting US Transition initiatives

Transition Towns WIKI: a WIKI with information and resources for Transition initiatives worldwide


May we co-create a sustainable future for all!

- karl

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Journey in Asia, Part II: January-April 2009

Below is an overview of the second half of my stay in Asia, from January through April, in India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, and Japan.

I spent most of January through March in southern India engaged in a lively mix of teaching, traveling, and introspection, teaming up with Clayton Barker, a good friend whom I met in Auroville and who has a passion for teaching about peace and sustainability. Highlights of those months included: savoring sweet stillness during a week-long silent meditation retreat at a Buddhist zendo high in the cool, banana-tree covered mountains of Kodaikanal in south-central India; practicing daily morning-to-night yoga, chanting, and meditation for two weeks at a yoga ashram in Kerela (as well as the illicit fun of sneaking out of the ashram with friends to go swimming in a local lake); offering the Awakening the Dreamer Symposium and the first Symposium Facilitator Training in India, to audiences with people from Brazil, South Africa, Australia, Switzerland, the US, and India; and becoming friends with Naveen and Manasi, two young and passionate nonviolent activists, and having wonderfully alive conversations with them about consciousness, community building, and social change.

In the midst of my time in India, I also made a two-week visit to the neighboring island nation of Sri Lanka, which has suffered from 25 years of deadly civil war, to offer nonviolence trainings and support to students and organizations there. My brief visit stirred a deeper longing in me to find more substantial ways to support healing in Sri Lanka and other regions of the world where people are experiencing war and ongoing physical violence. I was saddened by the huge loss of human life I heard about, and at the same time, I was deeply inspired by the courage and dedication of women and men I met who are working day after day to bring peace and universal human rights to the country. In the future I intend to write about various ways in which we in more prosperous and peaceful (in some ways) parts of the world might contribute to well-being in these other regions.

I had initially dreamed of leaving Asia by a form of transportation other than an airplane, both for the adventure of a sea or over-land return to the West, and to take a more ambitious step toward personal sustainability and low-impact living. What more, my fellow traveler Clayton had a lifelong dream to travel the world by sailboat. However, after a month of extensive research (mainly done by Clayton) and searches which took us as far as staying on a friend’s boat in the harbor in Singapore, in the end it turned out that the main sailing season was still a long way off and land routes to the west were pretty problematic with the war in Afghanistan. I made uneasy peace with my ecological footprint and decided to buy airplane tickets to make a final stop in Asia and then fly to Europe.

I have dreamed of visiting Japan ever since I was about 14 years old and my father showed me Akira Kurasawa’s film, Seven Samurai. Drawn by the transcendent calm of Zen Buddhism and the elegant simplicity of Japanese design, I began studying Japanese martial arts in my teens, beginning with Karate and Judo, and then years of practice of Aikido and Zen meditation in my late 20’s and now 30’s. So, I was excited to complete my eight months in Asia with a three-week pilgrimage to Japan in April. Staying with friends in Tokyo and the ancient capital of Kyoto, I enjoyed so many wonders of Japan: delighting in every meal, from salmon sushi to soba noodles with fried tofu; picnicking under explosions of delicate pink flowering trees during the height of cherry blossom season; training in aikido at the world headquarters dojo in Tokyo, on a mat packed with martial artists from around the world; climbing mountains of trails and steps to visit dozens of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines with my friends Thor and Toshi; and enjoying the simple yet amazing pleasure of soaking in onsen (natural hot springs). I also had a chance to reflect a lot on both the benefits and challenges of a culture based, at least historically, so strongly on tradition and collective values rather than Western individualism, but I will leave that discussion for another time.

One of my next posts will tell about May-July 2009, including a Buddhist meditation retreat at Thich Nhat Hanh's Plum Village community in France, visits to two ecovillages in Germany, and my return to the Findhorn Community in Scotland for the Fall semester to co-lead the Living Routes program there.

Many thanks to you, friends and family, who despite many miles and sometimes years of separation, continue to send love and support, in many ways. You are with me wherever I travel, and I am deeply grateful.

Namaste,
Karl

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Year's Greetings from India

At the start of September I left the San Francisco Bay Area for India. For the past four months I have been living and teaching with a U.S. university program in Auroville – a town in south India "dedicated to human unity." In brief, I loved working with the students this past semester, and I am staying in Asia for at least a couple more months of teaching, meditation, yoga, and travel. I have deep gratitude for the gifts and lessons of India, of Auroville, and of teaching.

Read on for more detail and photos, which you can click on to enlarge (thanks to Katie, Ciara, and Abigail for sharing these photos from our journey – my camera stopped working in October). Enjoy!


Teaching

Until about a week ago, the main focus of my life in India was to serve as faculty for, and live in community with, a group of U.S. college students studying in Auroville for the semester. The program is one of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst accredited, ecovillage-based college education programs of Living Routes, the organization I also worked with when I was living in the Findhorn Community in Scotland from 2003 to 2005. I come away from the semester understanding what a friend once said about being honored to have the opportunity to teach.

I am inspired by the vision of the Living Routes program, and I so enjoy how Abigail (my co-faculty and friend) and I shaped and shared the learning experiences with the students. Within a curriculum centered on the three interwoven themes of sustainability, community, and consciousness, the students experienced a blend of traditional academic content, active experiential learning, critical reflection, and personal mentoring. I celebrate how this integral approach aspires to support the development of the students as whole people – mind, heart, body, and spirit – as well as inspiring and empowering them to take action on behalf of humanity and all life on Earth.

We began each day with early morning yoga and meditation practice. After breakfast of porridge and bananas, or muesli with curd, most mornings students went off on self-selected service projects, where they learned from hands-on work at sites such as a permaculture garden project, a village outreach education center, and an organic farm. In the afternoons we had more formal learning sessions, exploring a range of subjects relating to how humanity can live more consciously and sustainably on the Earth, including Integral Theory, the Universe Story, Nonviolent Communication, and the Pachamama Alliance’s Awakening the Dreamer symposium, and much more. In addition, through weekly student-run community gatherings and consensus-based community meetings, we co-created a learning community, and I found myself continually inspired by the wisdom and compassion of how the students engaged with each other.

The curriculum included both conventional educational means such as reading books and writing papers, as well as encouraging many other forms of learning and self-expression. Students kept rich written and visual journals of their learning, took turns facilitating the learning community, and designed their own semester learning plans. 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. For one of their final projects, 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.

I come away from the semester feeling deeply grateful. I am grateful to be a part of education that blends personal transformation and service to the planet. I am grateful for ways of learning that honor our hearts and bodies as well as our minds, and that remind us that all life is inter-connected. And I am grateful for students whom I am honored to consider friends.


Auroville

Home for the past few months has been Auroville, a "universal city in the making" that is laid out in a giant galaxy-shaped spiral design. Founded in 1968, Auroville was inspired by the vision of 20th century spiritual teachers Sri Aurobindo and Mirra Alfassa.

One of the things I most appreciate about Auroville is the beauty, generosity, and scope of its vision. It's exciting to imagine the day when all communities and people share similar aspirations: "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. Nowhere else have I found such a diversity of humanity, and of experiments in sustainable living.

Here are some verbal snapshots of Auroville. Imagine a place where 40 years ago there was a barren treeless plateau of hard baked red earth, which through the painstaking planting of thousands of trees by the first Aurovillian settlers, has been transformed into a town covered in a native tropical evergreen forest. Ride a bicycle along a red dirt road and notice an electric moped silently pass you, before the next noisy wave of motorcycles. Visit the American Pavilion, the innovative dormitory in Auroville’s International Zone where some of the students and I lived, with solar power, rainwater collection, and compost toilets, as well as a giant lotus pond with a chorus of frogs. Cycle on to Auroville's epicenter, to the sprawling banyan tree and the giant, golden-domed Matrimandir, a meditation chamber dedicated to the evolution of human consciousness. For lunch, head to the “Solar Kitchen,” which feeds 2,000 people each day with meals cooked by heat collected from a giant sun dish on the roof. For some post-lunch indulgence, head up the spiral staircase to "La Terrace," where you sip cappuccino and eat chocolate tarts under the shade of palm trees, listening to surrounding conversations in Italian, Hebrew, and Tamil. Strike up a conversation with an Aurovillian, who tells you he used to be an IBM engineer, and how in Auroville no one owns the land they live on, because Auroville belongs to all of humanity.


India

There is so much one could say about this nation of over a billion people, of both crippling poverty and ultra high tech industry, and of profound and ancient spirituality. The sometimes perplexing tensions of this country create a place in which I can't help but let go of certain attachments, and reflect on what truly has meaning in life.

Like many Westerners who come here, I am fascinated by the spiritual dimensions of India. This land gave birth to yoga, to Hinduism and Jainism, and to Buddha and Gandhi. You can hardly turn a corner without finding a neon-bright temple to the elephant-headed Ganesh, a yoga ashram, or an ochre-clad and bearded sadhu who has renounced his worldly posessions. Here, it is commonplace for retiring businessmen to undertake extended spiritual pilgrimages. Even the national newspaper has a prominent daily column of spiritual teachings. What strikes me most is how omni-present and inclusive spirituality is here – people here say "How can you not be spiritual? What isn't spirit?"

At the same time, there is the paradox of a land of spirituality where the wealth gap is vast and growing, where you read more than one news story about someone lighting their maid on fire with burning oil because she didn't do her work well, and where you hear regularly of women being beaten by their husbands. Here too reality is filled with complexity.

My attention has been captured by a variety of other aspects of Indian culture as well. Despite eating South Indian food nearly every day my delight has not dimmed at all, and I have become particularly fond of dosai (fermented rice and lentil crepes) and having a thali meal (a rice meal with a variety of vegetable and curry dishes, traditionally served on a giant banana leaf). I have also experimented with the ancient Siddha medical tradition of India, realizing, for example, that the leaves and branches of the neem trees which pepper the landscape are a virtual pharmacy, and can be used to stop infections and fungus, to brush your teeth, to boost your immune system, and much more.

Finally, there are a number of aspects of life in India which stand out in their intensity. The climate is one, from the clothes-drenching heat and humidity of much of the year, to the torrential downpour and flooding of the monsoon rains. Equally impressive is the pervasive presence of non-human animals: the black “lobster” scorpions you check your shoes for; the lizards catching their dinner of flying insects by the bathroom light; 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. Last but not least, there is the awe-inspiring chaos of Indian traffic: the roar of honking and beeping trucks, buses, cars, rickshaws, and motorcycles; the five member families perched delicately on a moped flying down the road; the cows and dogs wandering into the street; and the scarcity of road signs. All of this provides an excellent environment within which to cultivate inner peace.


Next Steps

So, what am I up to next? I'm staying in India for at least another couple of months. In the first couple of weeks of January I am leading a series of Nonviolent Communication workshops in Auroville, as well as co-facilitating the Pachamama Alliance’s Awakening the Dreamer symposium. In late January I am headed to a Buddhist sesshin – a silent meditation retreat – at Bodhi Zendo in Kodaikanal, and in February I am going to a Sivananda Yoga ashram in Kerela for a month-long yoga teacher training course. There are some other interesting possibilities of going to Sri Lanka and New Zealand coming up also, but for now that's what I have planned out.

Thank you for your care in taking time to read about what has been happening in my life. I'd be very glad to read your responses and to hear anything you'd like to share from your life. May we all find joy and peace in our lives, and find ways to share these gifts with others!

~ karl

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