I'm actually not a big fan of the word 'honeymoon.' To me, it implied indulgence, or even willful ignorance of the state of the world. Over the last several months, that perspective evolved as I saw the opportunity to have more space for dialogue with Anne-Marie, and even the possibility to reframe the experience towards our shared values. Several months ago, we were both beyond surprised when we were gift bombed a honeymoon - completely open, do with it as we please. We reflected on it for some time, and took a leap in receiving :) We came up with a trip that smacked of indulgence at one level, and heart-connection at another.
India, then Thailand. First, we would connect with our family that taught us the value of service to others. Then, deepen relationship with inspiring individuals devoted to inner cultivation. And finally come to a space to expand our understanding of living in ecological harmony. What follows is a bit about a few of the many inspirational people we met in our travels, as we came away enriched through exposure to their hearts.
He has had a most amazing journey - himself a well-known actor/singer in his state of Gujarat. And along with that, he would volunteer his time with the local slum children, teaching them to dance and sing as well.
Several years ago, he was diagnosed with blood and lung cancer with middling survival chances, and 2 things happened together. One, the Gandhi Ashram community was there supporting him through the process of treatment in every way imaginable. Two, he himself shifted his approach to one of even deeper service. Every conversation from then on began and ended with 3 words - I love you. He has said it over a million times, and he no longer has cancer. Just being in his energy field was a joy for both Anne-Marie and I! Here's a short video of him sharing that bit himself-
How many? +6000. It is part of a broader animal sanctuary that is within a Jain spiritual community on the border between Gujarat and Rajasthan. The community was started with the help of Parag and Mita, who held an intention of a place of nonviolence where human and non-human could cultivate.
These animals live for 14 years, and they are fed every day (for more, here's a video I took). They are not milked and they are not killed. The average cow in the US lives 2 years, about the age of an adolescent, before they are slaughtered. The common reason given for this (beyond human taste for meat) is economic.
Certainly, these folks have chosen to forgo tremendous economic gain with their choices, but given that their compass is driven by a more holistic form of wealth, and led with compassion, the choice starts to make sense. Interestingly, when they share this message with people who come there, they are met with the same compassion, and the animals are actually cared for without a financial shortfall.
Sant Amitabh & Jitendra
You'll see Sant Amitabh in the center on the chair and Jitendra as the darker-skinned man in the back left.
Sant means saint in Hindi. A few days after meeting Archan bhai, a few of us took a trip to Mt Abu, a sacred mountain in Rajasthan, where one of our stops was at this ashram. Sant Amitabh was originally a Jain monk, but after 30+ years of that, he discovered the value of meditation for the insight and peace he was longing for (Jain monastic practices placed less emphasis on meditation). And so for the last 40+ years, he's been focused mostly on being present in his inner journey, and offering insight to anyone who came by.
Jitendra was one of the volunteers at the ashram. Himself a 70 year old man with decades of inner practice and service, his energy was a revelation. Anne-Marie and I may have never seen a man with that context be so ready and willing to serve so humbly. Endless energy (cooks for everyone, fights you to clean up, and wins), caring (never focused on himself, even when we ask him questions, he shifts the inquiry to how wonderful others are), and humble (on multiple occasions, fully prostrates before Audrey, 40 years his junior, in love and respect). We left the space feeling like we'd received a crash course in how to combine inner practice and outer service!
Just to the left of me is Kiran bhai. Most people who know me have heard me share about Jayesh Patel, who I've been inspired by for years. As we left Mt Abu, Jayesh bhai told us about his elder cousin, who we had to meet.
Kiran bhai runs a Gandhian school in rural Gujarat. Calling it a school feels like a misnomer - its really a network of schools, educating +30,000 children, all for next to no money and geared towards the poorest of the poor. It was actually his fathers mission - to combine the worldly activities of education with the spiritual teachings of Sri Aurobindo. A mission continued by Kiran bhai and his brother.
The rural-based school focused on teaching Gandhian lessons of self-sufficiency, ecological stewardship, inner cultivation, and service to our fellow man. I asked him how this can be done financially, and he says he'll do whatever he needs to, including taking jobs on the side, always with the intention of doing everything to support the children. In a land where GMO's, pesticides, and 'conventional agriculture' is taking deeper root by the day, this man is educating thousands in a different way, driven by a heart of compassion.
Uday and Ragu
Uday bhai and Ragu bhai were both in the house as we got back to Ahmedabad in time for the beginning of the first ever 'Sabarmati Festival.' The original idea was to draw attention to the artisan crafts that this region of India is behind, but on this evening it was a showcase of the continuing work in the line of Gandhi.
This was highlighted by Nimo's performances throughout the evening, but also included talks by these 2 super inspiring individuals. One of whom is a rickshaw driver and does it with a heart of love and no price tag. The other is the head chef at Seva Cafe in Ahmedabad, again all heart and no price tag :)
Click this link to hear Uday bhai's talk - https://goo.gl/photos/NqSwYUMGuQfqLAha8
And this link to hear Ragu bhai's talk - https://goo.gl/photos/jv3wrShx79Z7zyZeA
While my time with Suresh bhai was limited due to illness, his story was nonetheless super inspiring - and to have him leave all that to come visit me bedside and give me a footrub with the same energy that he has revitalized an entire village armed with $10/month and love in his heart (link highly recommended :).
Rongrit is directly next to me here. He is a monk in the Theravadan Buddhist tradition in Thailand (Chiang Mai, specifically). We met at a Buddhist university, where everyday there is a practice called 'monk chat' - where monks sit outside on park benches and meet lay people to answer any questions they may have on any topic.
So here was a monk who had been practicing for 10+ years with much earnestness. We spent the day together and Anne-Marie and I peppered him with many questions on what it means to live such a life in a country that is 95% Buddhist. In some ways Rongrit would not stand out at all - his appearance, his demeanor, everything is geared towards not being seen as 'somebody.' And yet, to actually come close and inquire - and we started to see embodied insight towards living a life in constant service.
Of the more interesting reflections we heard from him - in this country of Buddhist practice, only 2 out of the 3 themes were put into action. Ethics, Concentration, and Insight. Laypeople practiced the first, monks practiced the first two. However, insight/Vipassana practice was reserved from most folks, and Rongrit even mentioned that he didn't feel ready to take the practice on. There was a sacredness that these things had that I felt was less present in western practice. You could be a monk your whole life and never practice the crown jewel of the practice - Vipassana meditation. Meanwhile us lay people can be initiated into practice in 10 days or less. I was left reflecting on what is lost when I cultivate such a mind of impatience.
Another monk Anne-Marie and I 'ran into' while in Thailand (either our good luck or Thailand has been doing some amazing things!) 24 years old, been a monastic for more than a decade.
We asked him what led to that choice - he says he hadn't even heard of Buddhism, but he did know that to ordain meant a free education, and he signed up. Imagine that - i know of a few countries where if you're a young man seeking a free education, the nationally recognized route is to put oneself in the line of violent action. Over the years, Tony actually started to feel connected with what he was being exposed to, and took it more and more seriously. He is now teaching at a local school along with his other duties.
We asked if he saw himself staying ordained through his life, and he mentioned interest. Interestingly, he mentioned how Thai monastic practice felt to him as the most watered down, and a part of him longed for Myanmar/Burma and Laos, where the traditions were more directly connected to a life of insight and a spiritual practice rather than a religious one.
Anne-Marie and I originally came across Peggy because of her connection to her partner Jon Jandai, whose TEDxTalk had deeply inspired us years ago. We had planned visit to visit Punpun Resilience Center (Punpun means '1000 varieties' in Thai) and learn from them both while also going through an earthen building course. Life intervened. I was beset with a stomach bug and Jon was traveling. And yet, we started to build a relationship with much to learn.
Peggy is originally from Colorado and had strong interest in ecology and activism. In her travels she met farmers who were living in service to the land, but none like Jon Jandai. Jon told her to 'be poor.' Farming with a mindset of voluntary simplicity. The seed-saving center that is Punpun came from that mindset - and yet, every year was an abundance from nature as they served the land. And with that mindset, was a shift in what was valued. She had more time, more spaciousness. Punpun evolved to be not only a center for ecology but also a center for intentional community. A center for inner inquiry.
We left the center feeling like we had not even scratched the surface, and the biggest learnings were not related to the tangible, despite all the mud pits that Anne-Marie stomped through! :)
These are just a few of the SO MANY PEOPLE that just blew our minds for a few weeks in January 2016. If interested in more, we took many pictures, a subset of which are here :) As if our gratitude weren't deep enough, I feel that we are carrying the hearts of all we met as we continue our best to grow within back at home in the bay :)