Appalachian Thoughts

winter forest scene

“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor,” announces the sermon sign of the Fulp Morovian Church in Walnut Cove, North Carolina. I have lots of time to consider that statement as I wait in front of it while a mile-long procession for the deceased passes.

Later, finally heading west after almost six months of south and eastward travel, it’s wintry and the sky is a sullen, motley grey. The blithe vacuousness of some of the Appalachian dwellers, the sameness and foundering of their paltry existence and their aggressively reactionary mood pervade my small camper. For the first time since I left home I feel lonely. It’s odd, as I’d just left friends and by nightfall will again be with friends. But there it is, and the cold-cough and back strain I got in North Carolina don’t help. In a rest stop, tight earplugs block out some of the I-81 noise. I sleep for two hours, drive on, the sun appears, and life seems somewhat better.

How frail and vulnerable is this human body and mind!

through the camper window, Tennessee interiorLater I watch from my camper window as an old fellow fusses over a small, ornery tractor while his young assistant whips the machine with a horsewhip. Jerkily, the thing starts its tilling work on a virgin but rocky-clay field.


Deeply South

Nearing New Orleans, marshes, swamps, rivers, streams, and flooded fields border billboard-lined Highway 10. Those billboards, perched so high up they block the sky, ceaselessly blare at me: Eat here! Sleep here! Get gas here! Gamble here! (Those include a toll free phone number where compulsive gamblers can get help.) Get a no-contest divorce for only $499! Cremation and embalmment services available here!

I finally train my eyes not to look up and, after passing car dealers on the edge of town where helium balloons float from the side mirrors of each car on the lot, I’m finally out where I can see the horizon. That vision alone makes the soul stretch. Bhaktivedanta Swami writes,  “The need of the spirit soul is that it wants to get out of the limited sphere of material bondage and fulfill its desire for complete freedom. It wants to get out of the covered walls of the greater universe. It wants to see the free light and the spirit.” Barreling down the interstate, the sky clear, now only electric poles and wires accompany the roadway. Finally crossing the Florida border, I accidentally look up to see a huge, one-word billboard: “PRAY.” Okay, I think, that’s an improvement over the other screaming signs, but pray to whom and for what?

On the side of a grassy hill in Atlanta a plaque tells me I am standing on the same spot where, in the summer of 1864, General Sherman directed the Union army as it battled the Confederates. That summer 9,200 men died here, including the Union General James Birdseye McPherson, whose bloodied body was carried past the very spot where I stand.

As I read, sleek bicyclists dressed in black from helmet to cleats speed by.

Amatory Americans

Getting ready for a book and DVD tour.

My husband and I bought a camper van from our friend Philip, a car dealer in Eugene, Oregon, and while the camper was still parked near Philip’s house I spent a few days learning how to drive it before setting off on my first crosscountry book and DVD tour. One afternoon I was in the camper when I saw a man across the street talking to, then hugging and kissing a woman near the woman’s car. I thought, “Oh, they’re Philip’s neighbors, and the wife must be leaving her dear husband for a business trip.” Two hours later, when the two of them finally drove off in separate cars, I suddenly understood I’d witnessed a paramours’ rendezvous. Later, Philip’s wife Divya told me that both the man and the woman are married, work in the same office, and come to that spot near her home daily – sometimes twice a day.

Beneath towering dark firs at the end of a quiet street, a couple jeopardizes their status quo in their family, at work, and in society for the overpowering dance of a happiness called love. This innermost need for completion, excitement, joy, for deep and requited emotion is the topic of uncounted songs, stories, sculptures, plays, poetry, paintings, dramas, films, and fantasies. It’s a need within all of us, yet the love that fulfills it is notoriously elusive and fleeting. Strange phenomenon, that.

the joy of enough

Stunning natural beauty captivates the mind and gives solace to the heart.

Happiness means that one no longer has to think of attaining things. —Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

Currently, due to unprecedented production and consumption, we humans are using more natural resources than the earth can replenish and are creating more waste than the earth can consume. And throughout the world we’re increasingly depressed and over-stressed. This year the World Health Organization declared, “Depression is among the leading causes of disability worldwide.” And the American Institute of Stress reported, “Time magazine’s June 6, 1983 cover story called stress ‘The Epidemic of the Eighties’ and referred to it as our leading health problem; there can be little doubt that the situation has progressively worsened since then. Numerous surveys confirm that adult Americans perceive they are under much more stress than a decade or two ago.”

While we destroy our planet we’re finding ourselves more and more unhappy.

So it’s become ecologically and psychologically imperative that we make and consume less, that we simplify our desires, but as long as our hearts churn with dissatisfaction we won’t: our desires will force us to continue ripping resources from earth to create products that we often don’t really need and can’t afford to buy.

In our tiny Sharanagati community we’re trying to live more lightly. We use cars and computers, but our electricity comes primarily from the solar panels we’ve installed on our homes, our water is gravity-fed from pipes that tap nearby mountain streams, and our heat comes from wood from the forests around us. We eat vegetables and fruits from our home gardens and we compost, burn or recycle most of our waste. The Bhagavad-gita tells us we have an intimate relationship with the earth, the creatures and things of the earth and God. In participating in the cycle of sowing, watering, mulching, weeding and harvesting, we feel our dependence on the necessities no one on this planet can create or replace: wood, water, seeds, sunshine and soil.

Sharanagati’s ample space and open air form a backdrop where our hearts can be calmed and where the Bhagavad-gita’s message can instill us with a spirit of service to the earth, her creatures and God. Answering that call to service brings us health and something sublime—a feeling of thankfulness for all we’ve been given.

Today dark clouds rumbled overhead and sent hail bouncing off our porch until it finally turned into a steady, straight rain. Now the air is buoyant and the land spongy. For a few fleeting months our woodstove lies empty and cold, but our hearts fill with wonder and appreciation for the designer of this complete and completely beautiful arrangement called Mother Nature.

Beneath a brilliant sky and the setting sun, Lake Sharanagati lies placid.

Our daughter Priya, who just started studying digital photography, took this photo!

The afternoon sun rests on wild flower petals.

our-spiritual-journey.comThe community came en mass to congratulate and support Priya and Kalindi, our two Sharanagati graduates.