Friday, January 27, 2012

Auroville, City of Dawn, City of Confusion

Well, one thing about writing this post is especially convenient, our time in Auroville is coming to a close in two days, so we can really be accurate in our overall perceptions of this very unique place.

Whitney: Five years ago I went into Whole Foods Market in the Pearl District of downtown Portland and bought some Maroma incense. Maroma is one of the best I've ever come across, and they always have a tiny insert with information about the product, and also mention Auroville. As soon as I read even that small blurb about Auroville I said " This place sounds amazing! I have to find out more!" Little did I know then that I would make the trip to India and be fortunate enough to volunteer and live here for two months. It's amazing how these things can happen.
Auroville was founded in 1968 by The Mother, who was a woman of jewish heritage from France. Mirra Alfassa came to India, and here she met the political and spiritual philosopher Sri Aurobindo (hence Auroville's name). Sri Aurobindo was also a great poet and writer, and his main teachings from my perspective seem to be that spiritual truths unite us, while religious dogma separates us. Of course he also believed in love and the pursuit of higher consciousness as every other guru touts too. I started reading The Mother's teachings in the U.S., and I found her much more approachable. Perhaps her more famous quotes are descriptions of her vision for Auroville: 

"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." 

Auroville Charter

  1. Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But to live in Auroville, one must be a willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness.
  2. Auroville will be the place of an unending education,
    of constant progress, and a youth that never ages.
  3. Auroville wants to be the bridge between the past and the future. Taking advantage of all discoveries from without and from within, Auroville will boldly spring towards future realizations.
  4. Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual Human Unity. 

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother have both passed on, The Mother in 1978. One of my questions in coming here was how is Auroville doing on it's own? Is it sticking to The Mother's vision? If so/not how is it differing? 

The Mother wanted Auroville to be completely free of money, any monetary system, to be a place where Karma Yoga or voluntary service is done on all levels, and a place of free education for all people at any stage of life and in whatever area they chose to learn about. These are things I dream of too, though these are dreams far from the reality of what has happened with the rest of the World. I can say that Auroville is currently only following some of The Mother's wishes, though I do believe in the potential of Auroville to fulfill it's purpose eventually. 

Our first weeks in Auroville were not what we expected, even though we didn't know what to expect. We were without a doubt under-whelmed. Auroville does not blossom overnight for many travelers, we were to find out. It's strange because Auroville seems to have many many things geared towards tourism, even a big visitors center, where you can walk through a small gallery with information. But, that's the problem. We didn't come to Auroville to walk through museums about it, we came to volunteer our time and enrgy, to see if this place could inspire us, to find understanding, and to make friends with the land, and people. Staying in Center Guesthouse (in the center of Auroville of course) was absolutely convenient, and we did make some very good friends because of that location, but the only true Aurovillians we met while there was a guide for a bicycle tour we signed up for. We really were feeling and asking "where's the real Auroville?" And another thing, The Mother wanted Auroville to be a place without capitalism or money, but everything here costs so much! So, we felt very confused about the whole thing the first couple of weeks.

Enter our volunteer experiences with the Auroville Kindergarten. We had been trying, without success, to arrange for volunteer work for at least four months, and had sent several e-mails to the kindergarten expressing interest. A connection from our Mill Valley fund-raising concert had come through with an e-mail of a woman architect in Auroville. She actually went to the kindergarten for us before we arrived, and we finally received an e-mail back. Eventually we made our way to a scheduled teachers meeting, and after they saw we were good people, they invited us to start assisting two of the teachers. We were there Monday through Friday, 8:30AM-1PM every week. I was assisting children around the age of 5, and Jonah age 6. It was really wonderful for us to experience the changes of the children's moods day to day, and to learn how to feel compassion when they acted out ;)

Jonah (Starting where Whitney left off)

Volunteering at the Kindergarten really allowed the doors to open in AV. And when I say doors I mean both my heart as well as the heart of Aurovillians. We were able to really serve, and see great insights in how Aurovillians have been putting into place the visions of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo. One Small example is that when the children begin there day and when the teachers meetings begin, they start with a short meditation or "Consintration" is the word they prefer in AV. The children are told to imagine they are silent mountains, focus on the there breathe, and the candle+flowers in the center of the circle. As I sat with children every morning I noticed the beauty that they held and how this concentration truly had a calming affect on each one of them. This also was true to the concentration held in the teachers meetings. Although only for 1 Min or 30 sec, it takes baby steps to reach the goal, Unity. Big smiles, laughter, running around, fighting and small conflicts were presented every day. It was work. But who says that work can't be enjoyable? One of the greatest lessons I took away and am still reminding my self every day is that, you cant teach children anything. So how then? Instead of teaching, you create a loving space, allowing them to teach themselves and if they fall, give them another option, another way to reach there goal. If I could embody this teaching alone, wow what progress I would truly make. This teaching has also been one that has presented itself to me in meditation recently, that is, calm my mind, open up space within (simply by allowing) and let the divine do the rest. Because what can we really do anyway, there always seems to be a larger grace making this whole creation flow. Making it flower, fall and flower again.

This past month has brought many challenges/ opportunities to grow. One of which came in the form of a natural disaster, a cyclone. Whitney and I heard whispers of the approaching Cyclone, whispered on the gentle, still air before the storm. And it CAME. We were eating lunch at a cafe set in a forested outdoor setting and were forced inside the small kitchen of the place do to the pouring rain. In candle light we and the rest of the pack in 35 others finished our lunch. Then with a short break in the storm Whitney and I hopped on the Motor Cycle and rode through the thick, soon to be thinned and drastically re-arranged forest leading back to our guest house. Eventually night fell and with it, over one million tress. You see, Auroville used to be a desert. But, with the hands of hundreds and later thousands of humans, comming from over 124 diffrent countries, Auroville with Mother Earths blessings has taken this once desert and made it in to a giant forest. A forest of once over 2 million trees until the Cyclone which uprooted and broke over half of the two million. That night was the first grand scale natural disasters I have ever expeirenced, and wow how humbling it really was. Our guest house had no windows, which has its pluses because that means no broken glass, but what did happen was that we really felt as if we were right in the middle of the spinning vortex of wind and water, the vortex forcasters called "Thane". The wind and water consumed our small guest house that night, yet we both managed to live through it. No one in Auroville was injured, and only a few houses were really devestated by the storm. Unfortunatly this was not the case for the people of Pondicherry and the villages living closer to the coast. There the winds were almost double the speed and as news papers reported around 100 people were killed. 

 Whitney: The cyclone was pretty raw, and getting up the next morning after no sleep, the winds were still blowing in the downpour till late in the day. But the communities quick recovery and good spirits was absoluteley amazing. And really, there's probably no place safer from a natural disaster than the place one just happened. The unlikelihood of lightning striking twice and all. So, our tale will end here today, and we will pick up on the next blog about our circular trip through south India last week, and our fairwells to Auroville. 

Au revoir nous aimons!

Whitney and Jonah