On Cold and Community

My Minnesota pride has been severely humbled during the past few weeks of winter weather here in Anjanisain. I am the only person wearing wool socks (most of the teachers and students go barefoot in flip-flops). I am the only one who sleeps in 3 layers of clothing, a goose-down jacket, and a winter hat. I am the only one who is constantly succumbing to sinus congestion and colds. And there’s not even any snow yet! Kya hua?! We Minnesotans have a lot to learn from these Garhwali mountain folks. My saving grace has been wild rose hips, which are boiled in water with ginger and a little sugar. I drink about 3 cups a day and have a thermos of reserve fluids constantly at my side.

The recent cold (which will only get colder in the coming months) has been a significant challenge. The other challenge of equal magnitude has been community living. When you spend 17hrs a day/7 days a week living and working with the same 10 people on the side of a mountain, tensions are bound to arise. In the past week we, as a community, have made some important breakthroughs in establishing a space for healthy (and much needed) communication. During the English class I conduct with the APV teachers, I posed these 4 questions: What are the challenges of living in this community? What are the joys? What would you like to improve? What do you need to be a good community member? The answers led to a whole week of discussion (at times quite impassioned). The end result was that we made a decision to set aside time every Sunday for a community “check-in”.

In addition to the English class, I usually write 1-2 reflections every week and post it on our community board so that the teachers can practice reading English. I’d like to share this week’s reflection, which (surprise, surprise) is on community.
Note: Sir ji is the director of APV School and guiding teacher of our community.

A Reflection on Communityby John Sir

Earlier this week Sir ji asked us all: “Why are you here?” I think this is a very important question; perhaps the most important question one can ask oneself.  Why are you here on this earth? Why are you here in this body? Why are you here at APV? In a community striving for mindfulness the answer should be:  I am a seeker on the inner journey.  I am trying to know myself, purify myself, and experience what the mystics claim to have attained—fana—annihilation in God (death of the ego).  Or, as Rumi puts it, experience the state where the two worlds become one.

Here in Ganesh Bhavan we live in a very unique community.  We speak different languages, we come from different backgrounds and cultures, we are different ages, one member has a family, and another member will soon be married.  We live and work together in a relatively isolated setting.  There is no escaping the challenges of community living.  Through our life together in community and our work in the school, we are constantly “stirring the muck at the bottom of the river.” On one hand, this presents many difficulties to maintaining a healthy and balanced community.  On the other hand, because of these challenges, and because the “muck” is being forced to the surface, there is enormous opportunity to grow and go deeper on the inner journey.

I find Sir ji’s analogy of life as a “drama” very helpful.  The stage for the drama is like Rumi’s “Guest House ”.  Everyday a new actor comes to perform some emotion, present a challenge or reveal a new awareness.  If we can learn to be simple observers of this drama, then we will be ok (we can even learn to laugh at the absurdity of it all) and progress far on the inner journey.  However, if the Ego gets in the way and convinces us that we ARE one of the actors rather then an observer, then we fall off the path.

To offer a concrete example, let’s say I have a conflict with another member of the community.  The first reaction is usually one of Ego—“This person has offended ME!”, “I am angry”.  Who is this me? Who is this I? The Ego has convinced us that we are the actor. The next action of the Ego is often to respond with an attack on the other person’s Ego.  Now both people assume the role of actors in the drama.  They are consumed with Ego and have fallen off the path that leads inward.

Let us, as a community, strive to reach the field that Rumi talks about in this poem:

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
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.”

Finally, here is a video I put together documenting the visit of 25 Elementary Ed. students from Gargi College in Delhi. The video includes a slide-show of pictures, video footage, and a few interviews.

[vimeo clip_id=17519624]

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