"To volunteer is to live in accordance with dharma in accordance with the values of righteousness, selflessness, and above all egolessness. To volunteer is to practice humbleness; to volunteer is to live in synchronicity with Mother Nature, loving, caring, and sharing as She does." -Anand Krishna
Traveling with no set plan, no time limit and no restriction often takes us to places we could have never imagined existed. Somehow, in the middle of southern India, I have become a forest-dweller, living and working in a community of almost one hundred volunteers. Our main focus is water conservation and reforestation, growing the forest with each baby tree planted. The legend of Sadhana says that the forest grows people (while people grow the forest) and after three weeks of living here, I am beginning to experience this truth. What is it about Sadhana that creates magic and rouses the spirits of Her inhabitants? Is it the planting of trees, the building of community, or the togetherness with Mother Nature? Let's take a closer look into the world of Sadhana Forest...
Our days are divided into two categories: work and play or seva and free-time.
"Seva" is a Sanskrit term meaning selfless service; a service performed for the greater good.
Monday through Friday, mornings are broken up like this:
5:45 Wake up call
6:00 Morning circle (Harlem Shake!!!)
6:30 Seva number 1
9:45 Seva number 2
2:00 WORKSHOP TIME
During our seva shifts, we perform various activities like gardening, mulching, composting, compound watering, poo stirring for composting (yes, this is a real job!), recycling, etc. The rest of the afternoon we are free (except those on dinner prep) to shake our booties, swim in the mud pool, or head into Auroville.
Workshops are given by community members in the afternoon that include (but are not limited to) African dance, African choir, yoga, meditation, Spanish, juggling, poi, women empowerment, capoeira, ecstatic dance, contact dance, salsa, macrame, crochet, etc.
The workshops are the highlight of the day. The community loves to learn and loves to laugh. I've never met another group of people who are more tuned into their bodies, minds, and hearts--even the men--who are so willing to share openly and honestly. The environment is incredibly conducive to personal exploration and growth. There's little judgment and a prevailing sense of ease and trust here that creates a safe space for everyone to truly be themselves. Maybe it's because we are all dirty, smelly, wearing the same clothes from yesterday, working and living together and haven't looked at ourselves in the mirror since the last time we were at a guest house. Whatever the case may be-life is sweet here!
In exchange for our seva, we get room and board for free and contribute a minimal fee for three organic vegan meals a day. Edible pathways (paths in which either side is lined with plants and trees you can eat) link the buildings of the compound together and are ingredients in the meals. Occasionally I find myself wishing the edible pathways were lined with Oreos, peanut butter and gummy bears but now that I've adjusted to the organic vegan diet, I crave processed food less and less. Learning how to take care of our earth is teaching me how to take better care of myself. Learning to be with nature and all the critters that come with nature is teaching me how to connect with the earth on a more personal level.
The separation between dry and wet, dirty and clean, earth and person is nonexistent. I'm constantly covered in dirt, mud, water, and sweat. I can't remember what it's like to have my nails painted (or even without dirt under them), to wear makeup, to wear hole-free, western clothes or to not be covered in bug bites. It's a surprising relief, leaving behind the pressures from city life.
Work doesn't stop when it rains; it gets more interesting. A sunny, normal work shift suddenly becomes an opportunity for a rain dance ceremony while throwing mud balls at friends. Or you can shower in the rain in your bathing suit after your seva (like I did once) since showering is a bit of a task, having to fill up a bucket of water with an old school pump and then carrying it to the shower.
The days run together and pass so quickly. I have only been to India so far on my journey but I feel as though I have been to hundreds of countries from listening to people talk about their homes and where they have traveled thus far. The collection of people with different backgrounds, accents and ideas gives Sadhana Forest a rich cultural community that makes life interesting. Sharing experiences, comparing countries and customs, learning each other's languages makes this forest unique and memorable.
Beyond the workshops, beyond the daily activities, a sweeping wind of change and growth propels the progression occurring in the hearts and minds of the residents of Sadhana Forest. Constant evolution of the land and of the people bonds and unites us as we navigate the unknown depths of our minds. It is evidenced in the Sharing circle on Monday night when we come together to reflect on our feelings, our hopes, our disturbances. It is evidenced in the emotional depth of conversations between strangers at breakfast, at meal preparation in the kitchen, at the mud pool. It is evidenced in the retelling of our own personal stories as we recount the path that led us to who we are today. The magic of Sadhana begins in the forest, begins when we look beyond ourselves and act selflessly to contribute to the greater good of humanity. But it doesn't end here: it continues on to the interaction of the community members, it continues on to authentic Italian pizza making in a Tandoori wood-burning oven, it continues on to a night of ecstatic dance where we shed our egos and dance shamelessly, it continues onto a jam session of guitars and drums and singing around a bonfire on the night of the full moon. This forest that grows people, grows communities, and strengthens our world for future generations comes from the total sum of all the parts of Sadhana and creates a living legend, a magic, that continues on in the heart of India.