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Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Far Flung Friends vs. Bucket List Aspirations

High school, to many, was a time of being young and carefree. Almost all day and everyday was spent being around friends, talking and joking, with only class as a distraction.

I never fit in back in high school and didn't get this high school experience. So, for me, one month at Sadhana Forest was like having a very late high school experience.
Working in the forest at sunrise
For one month, I was surrounded all day and everyday by fellow travelling volunteers. I planted trees in the forest with them, cooked, served and ate meals together, cleaned and maintained our idyllic little hut village together.

The rest of our hours were spent mingling and chatting away, cooling down at the mud pool, or going on excursions outside the forest. We often went to Auroville or Pondicherry to hang out at coffee shops, eat out, or spend time at the beach. I indulged in several of Auroville's cultural offerings such as a live Shakespeare play, and a live concert by a French jazz band.
Shakespeare in the plaza, Auroville
The rigid and bland curriculum of high school didn't compare to the endless opportunities for learning and enrichment at Sadhana Forest. Based on our gift economy, volunteers offered a multitude of free workshops such as meditation, salsa dancing, ayurvedic massage, non-violent communication, and sustainability and permaculture topics. I even attempted a Shamanic journey. I coordinated my own workshops on fermentation, worm composting, and identifying constellations in the night sky.

Other amazing ongoing events included sharing circles, music sharing circles, bonfires, and weekly talent shows and film nights, screening eye-opening documentaries.
Going the wrong way on the highway? Only in India
I learned, I grew, I inspired on an unforeseen level here at Sadhana. Beyond my own body and mind, the greatest benefits I will reap will be from the personal connections made.

The people of Sadhana really raised the bar for the types of personalities I enjoy meeting.

With no mirrors at Sadhana, and little concern paid to personal hygiene and aesthetics, people were comfortable in their own skin and showed their real, unabashed selves, revealing their true beauty. Their energies and talents flowed from their inner cores, which radiated warmth and compassion.

Many of them are musically and artistically inclined, speak several languages, have worked on farms and been exposed to permaculture, and prefer yoga and meditation retreats to famous monuments and package tours. The average conversation I had was about travelling, veganism, worldviews, world issues, philosophy, society and the environment. Absent from these talks were complaints about weather and traffic, or how everything is too expensive, gripes that characterize the ills of city life.
My favourite quote, written on the main hut
Leaving Sadhana Forest was sad. I exchanged kind words and long hugs with many of the people there. Despite leaving behind a cherished experience, I look with a flourishing optimism towards my future.

Sadhana helped reinforce the goals and values of my life and journey. I was previously considering popular India excursions such as houseboating in Goa or seeing the Taj Mahal, but now I will likely avoid these, focusing instead on fulfilling experiences and building friendships. (the veganism at Sadhana has rubbed off a bit on me too, and we'll see how that affects my dietary decisions)
Jonathan, Sadhana alumni, with Shalev, the daughter of the founder
The ultimate lesson from Sadhana, and which I continually learn through travelling, is that it's about the people, not just the places. The places are simply the settings for which the scenes of my life take place - the mingling and nurturing of fellow actors of world change.

With my vision clear and the open road before me, once again, the scene is set for my last few weeks of travelling in India, and beyond.

Here is a video by Jonathan, pictured above, a fellow Sadhana alumni, about life in the forest. Watch video

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