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.

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.

Heading East

I had to leave Sedona well before dawn and regretted that I’d be missing the views from 89A North, one of the U.S.’s more scenic roadways. But the moon was out, lighting snow-sprinkled mountainsides and peaks with mystical, iridescent royal blue hues, now appearing, now disappearing behind curves.

My overnight stopover in Albuquerque was near a mausoleum where, to my astonishment, a thick wall with names, birth and death dates, and occasional plastic flowers, held coffins stacked six high. The next morning I again started before dawn, traveling east on I-40 as the sun rose before me, a huge, radiant orange orb that so illumed every watermark, scratch and dust particle on my “clean” windshield that I could barely see. Such bright, head-on light is humbling, I thought, for it shows every flaw and failing. Yet the very light that makes flaws and failings visible is also the light by which a person can rectify them, or perhaps learn to live with them without sorrow and, eventually, see past them.San Antonio dawn

When I crossed the Texas border I half expected to see expensive, shiny pickups parked on the roadside waiting patiently for their owners—weathered Republicans wearing cowboy boots and hats, standing in the open scrub shooting ducks with rifles. Instead, the first words spoken to me in that Lone Star state were from a thirty-something radiant, Afro-American gas station attendant who, smiling and looking right at me said, “Have a blessed day!” What a wonderful thing to say.

I can’t remember any other time in my life when someone has said that to me.

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.

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.

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.

current events

While walking on our dusty community dirt road earlier this month, I got a whiff of roses from a nearby dust-covered Nootka wild rose bush. I stopped, breathed deeply and was astonished by the goodness of that scent as it filled me. Here’s what happened the next evening, July 7, 2011 (I was standing on our front porch while John held an umbrella over me and the camera):

A brilliant rainbow over a Cascade Valley in British Columbia.Two unbelievably beautiful rainbows decorate Sharanagati Village.A photograph can hardly captures the magic of the moment as two full rainbows arch over our valley.