The month of January has been full of academics, pedagogy and a new schedule. In the past week I have been ruminating on how exactly to write this post but my day today has presented me with the perfect narrative arch for just such a post! I have had the most quintessential Manav Sadhna day through which to weave the tail of my new happenings.
My day began at 5:30 this morning when my two roommates and I woke up for our morning ashtanga yoga practice and meditation. I have been dabbling in asana (posture) yoga for ten years or so and I have always felt a sense there was some sort of answer in the practice to a question I didn’t quite understand but knew I was asking. However, I have never practiced too regularly and always came upon a mental wall. I studied the yoga sutras in school and found yogic philosophy beautiful and helpful, but could never connect those teachings to the westernized workout classes I called yoga.
In coming to Manav Sadhna, I wanted to make the most of my precious time here. I therefore created several personal intentions, one of which is to learn about meditation and mindfulness and increase my sense of grounding. I created this goal after arriving here and in conjunction with MS’s ethos- from the moment I got here, I was encouraged to meditate. “Meditation is service for the self. Service for others is living meditation.”,- one of the first things I remember Virenbhai (cofounder of MS) telling us at the day long meditation retreat that happened my first week here. Like asana yoga, I have been trying meditation for about ten years, but I always seem to hit a wall.
At the beginning of January, my two new roommates arrived, one of whom is a very experienced ashtanga yogi and practices every morning for two hours followed by meditation. In awe and a bit confused, my other roommate and I asked a lot of questions about such unusual behavior but have come around and actually started practicing the same practice with her guidance. It’s difficult to describe the gratitude I feel for this practice having come into my life… We’ve been practicing for almost three weeks but I felt from the first day as though my body and mind were returning to something they had done before. Of course, to feel grounded in life is a continual process but I feel like this practice was meant to come into my life when it did and it’s a perfect example of the magic of MS to bring people together in just the ways they need.
After yoga and meditation and breakfast, I left for Manav Mitra on the back of a fellow teacher’s motor bike, part of my weekly thrills. At Mitra, I worked with Komalben in 3rd standard. Our class is about 25 students, age 9 and 10. However, Komalben lost her voice today so I had the challenge and pleasure of leading the class through rhyming and phonics - I will admit I was quite nervous not to have a translator, but, as everything just tends to work out here, this was no exception. An older boy, Miru, who has outgrown Mitra (only a primary school) but still hangs around the center to help in any way he can, came to our rescue. My shaky Gujarati combined with Komalben’s whispering to Miru and his shouting the instructions to the students gave way to an entirely and somewhat surprisingly productive lesson.
When morning session was over, I wondered out of the community around Mitra, through the neighborhood, past a woman selling fruit on her cart (where I stopped for some bananas and pomegranates) to the main road where I caught a rickshaw back to MS for our daily communal lunch. I arrived a bit early so I thought I’d spend the hour working on the curriculum I am creating for the older students’ English classes. Shortly after taking out my computer, my friend Anundi came to sit by me. Anundi is eight year old and we met because she sells souvenir bells outside MS with her mother. Every day for a month she came up to me and other volunteers, asking us to buy her bells, asking us for chocolate, asking for food by gesturing with her fingers together to her mouth. Westerners respond differently to beggars and street vendors when they first come to India but I think it’s natural to be wary or even try to distance yourself in your mind from their life situation. Perhaps it’s even difficult to make eye contact, let alone heart contact. It was and is for me at times. But the rituals of MS encourage remembering that we are all connected, we are all sisters and brothers on this one earth. Of course, we all know this and in the comfort of our clean places of worship or yoga mat or wherever, may truly feel compassion for all humanity. But it’s different to practice. How many times have I walked past a person with a sign asking for help and tried to avoid their eye or driven just around the block because it’s raining and I’m cold so for those moments chose to forget the 28 million climate refugees this year alone and my role in their suffering? Countless. Because it hurts to feel connected to the rest of the world. But being connected to the rest of the world is the only thing I have ever known to truly ease my own suffering.
If I had fruit on me, I would give it to Anundi, but I didn’t know her name. I didn’t stop too long. I always had somewhere to be. A month ago, another volunteer and I were walking into lunch at MS and Anundi came up to us as she usually did, and, upon her asking for food, my fellow volunteer told her she could get lunch inside. We didn’t know if this was allowed but figured it couldn’t hurt to try. She came to lunch and we became friends. Anundi loves piggy back rides, almonds, and coloring in my notebook. We’ve talked to her mom to try to get her into school or at least the earn and learn program. I’m embarrassed that I ever avoided her eye and now look forward to seeing her everyday. Anundi, incidentally means “the one who is always smiling” - and it’s true, she’s always smiling.
This afternoon I was scheduled to go to Manav Gulzar for English Club - a new venture I created to teach the English teachers English. There are now bimonthly meetings with all the English teachers! I am particularly excited about this because I soon became discouraged about creating an English curriculum when I gained more experience with the teachers to find their English is at a much lower level than they themselves would like. Typically, the English classes are entirely in Gujarati with only the specific English vocab words spoken in English. For perspective, a student in year nine who has been in English class since year one, can rarely speak a whole sentence properly on their own, and same for the English teachers. I’m therefore very excited at the prospect of getting to the root of the problem with the English classes because the students will only ever be as good as their teachers. I hitched a ride to Gulzar with the Rabi and the Imam - an intentional duo from Israel and the U.S. who are lovingly referred to as “the Rabi and the Imam”. They are traveling the world and teaching about unity and compassion as two typically opposing identities proving that differences are surmountable with love and compassion and faith. Upon arriving to Gulzar, I found my class was canceled as the teachers had forgotten and scheduled another class… not an entirely uncommon occurrence. Just how 9am Indian time is actually 9:30am, you never really know what is going to happen here until it is happening. Quintessential moments. But even more so is the idea that the universe gives you exactly what you need when you relax into the flow of things. So with the canceling of English Club, I got the opportunity to participate in the Rabi and the Imam’s values class - a deeply inspiring talk about the importance of listening to your soul and honoring the uniqueness that only you bring to the world. The Imam said there is only one person exactly like you and a very specific reason you have been incarnated. You can find your reason for being on this earth by listening closely to your soul. This sentiment was catered to adolescent ears but all the same, made a deep impression on me and I feel grateful for hearing them on this day. They then asked me to speak, if I had anything to say from the heart. The best I could do was to say, the most precious gift I have been given in this life is this connection to my own soul, that it shouts loudly above the chaos of life. We all have this gift and our soul becomes louder and louder the more we listen to it and head its advice. Each time we’re reminded of our soul’s importance is a gift because it is a practice to listen. This is why I am grateful to exactly the way things turned out today, because I got an opportunity to remember.
January has brought me heaps of work with creating a new curriculum for the older students, English classes for the teachers, all in addition to maintaining the primary school English classes that Amy conceived, but I couldn’t be more happy with feeling busy and useful. Every moment that isn’t spent doing these works is filled with unexpected but perfectly timed lessons and adventures. As ever, I am overwhelmingly grateful to be here.
Love and light,