One Dear Friend, One Dear Daughter

Yamuna Devi, my close friend of forty years, passed away last December. She was prepared to go; she passed with dignity and grace and in good consciousness. I miss her piercingly truthful insights, her charm, wit and laughter, and the loving pokes she gave me to draw me out. Yet I’m relieved that she’s finally relieved of her many bodily troubles. Her mature, confident God consciousness shores up my hope that one day I may be likewise.

Last month, Priya, my sweet eighteen-year-old daughter, left for her first year of college. Fearful, tearful, and confused about her career goals, her luggage weighed in at 150 pounds and her heart seemed heavier. She hasn’t liked change her whole life, which is a bit problematic since everything in this world changes.

One who’s practiced at flying soars when the final test comes. And one new to the art flies when she pushes herself out of the nest.

Ample Space, Divine Opportunities

One of the more noteworthy statements I heard while traveling was, “As yoga enables us to stretch in ways we couldn’t before, so the Bhagavad-gita enables our mind to stretch to accommodate ideas we couldn’t entertain before.”

Recently—and unfortunately—my absorption in the mind-stretching Gita has been disappointing. Although I had great intentions and read the Gita daily, I’ve been preoccupied with keeping my camper functioning, maintaining my stock of books and DVDs, having exchanges and farewells with friends along the way, forging future plans, keeping a wary eye on the weather, and trying to stay healthy and safe.

suburban samenessMy lack of absorption in the Gita may have been due to all that, or it may have been due to my feeling like a zombie after so much driving. Or from feeling suffocated after driving through cities with office buildings and houses so similar I could hardly tell them apart, buildings so close together that children couldn’t play between them.

At Saranagati, where my family and I live, each house is pleasantly quirky in ways just suited to its residents, as if the house and its residents morphed a bit to fit each other well. There’s ample space between them—space that doesn’t separate the residents but draws them closer.

The poet Cowper says the city is made by man and the country by God; perhaps that’s why the mind breathes deeply in the country, expanding to encompass dimensions suffocated elsewhere. And in the country the spirit, stretching toward that unknowable Person who’s within and without, basks in the enchanting freedom of real, divine intangibles.

Sedona, Arizona

I arrived early in rainy Sedona to find the place where I was supposed to stay locked and empty. It was too wet to walk any distance, so I passed time at the Sedona Public Library next door. Moseying down aisle after aisle, shelf after shelf, countless books drifted before me, books that delved into innumerable endeavors, emotions, and fancies. The library’s solemn patrons, its silenced ambiance, and the expanse and diversity of the literature it held expanded my appreciation for the human attempt to discover, create, and record, well, everything.

During a few fleeting hours in a library, what extravagant respite can be found in the human mind’s magnitude, preserved in written words that mystically carry a willing reader to undreamed depths.

So many books surrounded me that I wondered what is left to write about. And with all that’s here to read, who will read what comes after? Yet I couldn’t think of not writing. A couple have their own child even though they know billions of people already populate the earth, and a writer writes even knowing that billions of words have already been written. The writer’s contribution may be miniscule, but she wants to write clearly, with impact and freshness, so that readers will feel their time was well spent – maybe even that they benefited a little.

A Buddhist shrine and prayer flag beneath red rocks.

California! Arizona.

While visiting friends in northern California, somehow or other I parked for a week with the camper level from front to back but tilted five degrees from left to right. Living in it was like being in a boat that’s stuck on the side of a frozen wave, and I often lost my balance—it was a strange type of seasickness. Farther south, in Ojai, I parked level all around in a land where oranges burden trees that grow next to cacti and the streets are lined with valued herbs and flowers—rosemary and lavender, gardenias and birds of paradise. Spared of concrete and given a little water, the earth here erupts with bounty and offers it with grace.

Now in Arizona, I start driving well before dawn and watch the sky slowly lighten. Moment by moment the Rorschach-shaped titanic rocks that jut out of the desert to the right and left of the freeway become visible. During dawn and dusk the earth’s rotation through the firmament is more noticeable, a light-induced reminder that every moment makes a difference and can be used wisely—or not. As Phoenix looms in front of me, it’s rush hour and the freeway predictably fills with cars that can’t stand to be behind one another. In this city too, I’ll surely hear stories of suffering from financial lose, soured relationships, illicit acts, unmet expectations, physical woes.

I did hear all that, as well as a Nepalese immigrant’s story. Janardana lives in Phoenix now, but as a boy he herded his family’s five cows in a forest near his village. The milk from these cows, he said, was “nectar,” and just a small amount of it was fully nourishing and satisfying. Processed milk from commercial dairies doesn’t compare, he said, and he’s sure that economic and ecological pressures would oblige us “modern” people to return to a more simple, land-based, God-centered life, which would actually be progress. Such a life is less stressful, more fulfilling, and healthier than our current lives. At least according to Janardana, who has practical experience of both types of living.

BC Hydro Invent the Future winning essay (ages 16-19)

This essay was written by five of the students in Sharanagati Village: Rasa and Kava Moore, Kalindi and Gopal Fournier, and Priya Griesser:

One School Saved – Many More to Go

Nestled deep in the isolated mountains of wild British Columbia, Venables Valley School was a rural school using over $23,000 a year in non-renewable resources, with an enrollment of 12 students. This consuming school continued until the amount of students could no longer keep up with the money required to run the school’s generators, air conditioning and electric heating during the long, cold winters. After 15 years of supporting the small school, the Board of Directors came to the conclusion that they could no longer afford to maintain the facility. In the summer of 2009, Venables Valley School was closed. We were left with an empty building, a disheartened community, and most of all an uncertain future for us – the students. But from the ashes of Venables Valley School, Govardhana Academy was born.

A young couple from Florida came here willing to help and with them came the future of Govardhana Academy. Over the summer, every individual from ages four to seventy-two gave whatever skills they could offer, and as a team created what would become the most energy-saving centre for hundreds of kilometers around.

To replace the gas-guzzling generators, we installed solar panels and instead of paying $10,000 a year for propane heating, we bought and installed wood stoves that the community cuts dead pine trees for. Then came the issue of being able to use minimal energy so the solar panels could power our whole school. To solve this problem, we switched from the energy-consuming computers, to laptops for online schooling, and re-constructed all the lights with energy-saving light bulbs. Everything was coming along beyond anyone’s expectations, but we were far from finished. We developed a worm factory to recycle all of our used paper and compost, and the amazing soil created by the worms we used for our Community Garden. Using this Community Garden, all the parents of the children attending the school take turns cooking lunch for all the students.

We went from using $23,000 to $800 a year. At first, the transition seemed impossible, but with every effort, starting with installing solar panels, the task became a fun-filled, empowering and rewarding mission.

Some might think that it is impractical for everyone to follow along the same path as we did, but it’s not. You too can change your light bulbs, turn off the lights when you leave the room, use laptops or notebooks instead of desktops, wash your laundry in cold water, and turn off the taps when brushing your teeth. It is so easy anyone can do it! Each and every person can contribute in such a positive way. We have all heard that by saving energy you can help “save the world,” but perhaps you didn’t realize how it can actually save your community, your school, well, your world!. Remember, it is never too late to stop wasting energy and misusing what we have been given…but soon it just might be.

spring murmurs

Aspens by a creek, Cascade foothills behind, the afternoon spring sunshine lighting it all.

For those of us who survived Sharanagati’s drawn-out winter, the varied greens that emerge from the moist and long-dormant soil especially gladden the heart. Somehow, whatever natural and man-made disasters plague our fragile planet, the earth is still robust and the sun still shines brilliantly.

In May I turned 61 (feels ancient!), and perhaps that’s why these days on my Sharanagati walks I often see decay and death juxtaposed with new life. Gradually, I’m getting it: these extremes are actually part of a continuum. “The material body of the indestructible, immeasurable, and eternal living entity is sure to die,” the Bhagavad-gita tells us, “and after death one is sure to take birth again.”

Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada comments, “The soul is so small that it is smaller than an atom. That small particle is within you, within me, within the elephant, within the gigantic animals, in all people, in the ant, in the tree, everywhere. However, scientific knowledge cannot estimate the dimensions of the soul, nor can a doctor locate the soul within the body. Consequently, material scientists conclude that there is no soul, but that is not a fact. There is a soul. The presence of the soul makes a difference between the living body and a dead body. As soon as the soul departs from the body, the body dies.”

Kinnikinik and grassesAt dusk in spring, British Columbia reveals its unique beauty.

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