(notes from Sunday 19th April 2020)
Today has been a truly joyful day. I awoke at 6am which is later than usual and felt rested and positive when I woke up. I’ve noticed that my mind can be quite agitated and negative in a morning and sometimes up to thirty minutes has passed since waking and I’m still laid in bed with the mind worrying and churning over inconsequential stuff. So I am learning to manage it better and one thing that really helps is the morning pages practice from Julia Cameron’s book and programme called the Artists Way. The practice is to write three pages of whatever is on your mind which might seem like utter nonsense or quite profound – it really doesn’t matter, you just let it all out through the pen. I find it really therapeutic and often quite insightful too.
I then meditated for an hour using a guided breathing practice, followed by a refreshing shower before doing a few rounds of sun salutations and a bit of TRE to loosen up the body and get it moving. Today I felt compelled to dance, something I’ve done very little of recently and I chose some tunes from my Spotify dance playlist – ‘Rhythm is a dancer’ by Snap, ‘You’ve got the Love’ and ‘Dog days are over’ by Florence and the Machine. Such a great way to lift the spirits and get the body moving – think I’ll make that more of a regular activity from now on. It reminded me of the five rhythm sessions that I’d started going to back in the UK and if you love to just let your body move with music then I can recommend seeking this out when we are all able to get together physically again. I’m sure there will be versions of these going on online right now too and I did try to join a dance session that a friend organised although my phone signal here is not that brilliant and I don’t have wifi which can make online sessions a little tricky.
I thought that today I would have plenty of time to do my daily hour of writing and to finish the mailchimp newsletter that I had started on Friday and that I planned to send out this weekend. I had planned a morning walk with the children, a session with Emma Slade in the afternoon and a family quiz zoom meetup in the evening so there would be pockets of time in between these to write. However, even living this simple life here in the forest where the days generally unfold in a relaxed way the days are often full and I never know what they have in store for me and today was to be no exception.
John came round at 9.30am for porridge and a cheese, egg and tomato butty before the children arrived for the planned morning walk at 10am. Anshu was the tour leader and off we set into the forest. It wasn’t long before he had us ascending a steep route through sometimes dense vegetation to finally arrive on the path that I often walk which looks down onto our little cluster of community buildings.
We continued walking to where the path ended at the Woodstock school gates, which were locked, and just as we were about to turn round a family walked by and perhaps unconsciously craving some contact with the outside world I struck up conversation with them. It was great to meet some new people (from a distance of course) and as I write this I realise that after two months of meeting so many new people when I first arrived in India and then the last two months of being solely in our small community and spending more time on my own I was missing meeting people for the first time and hearing their stories.
As we headed back down the path John suggested two great games to play; I-spy and a memory game “I packed my bag and in it I put….” which we all enjoyed but especially the children who entered into the spirit of it very enthusiastically. We came to some water pipes running up the hill and the kids in their creativity used them as a slide and I couldn’t help but join in too. I can’t post videos on here but you can watch one of them here on Instagram .
We then had a bit of a sing song on a viewing platform although I think my version of Wild Thing was a bit too much for Arohi who said whilst I was in full swing “Ma’am shall we go now”! 😂😂
We sat on what has become my meditation rock outcrop overlooking the densely packed forest and the steep hills that surrounded us and played some more I-spy. Such a simple game but ideal to foster their learning of the English language and by now the children were getting a bit cleverer in their choice of words.
As we continued down the steps and on the path back towards the estate, I videoed the children in slow motion jumping off rocks. They absolutely loved it and I think we might have been doing that for a few hours if it wasn’t lunchtime and we needed to be heading back. Krishna wanted to show us the fish in one of the large water troughs so we clambered down a small steep banking and then up another one to walk precariously on the edge of the trough.
At 1pm we finally parted ways and as I popped in to say hello to Anu and show her our forest fun videos and photos she offered some spaghetti with a lovely veggie tomato sauce that she had just made. I wolfed it down due to it’s deliciousness, the novelty of pasta and being pretty hungry after our three hours of forest capers. I’d just finished when Chandan Singh called me, which he doesn’t do very often as he doesn’t speak a lot of English and I speak even less Hindi so our conversations are usually very short! Anyway the gist was that he was bringing round some dahl and rice for my lunch!! I couldn’t eat it all and popped some in the fridge for dinner but as it was pretty hot/spicy I added some yoghurt with cucumber, coriander and grated beetroot and voila, lunch number two which was also very delicious!
This was the second time in two days that some food arrived unexpectedly. Just yesterday morning Anshu knocked on the door with a breakfast bag that his mum had just made. What a lovely welcome surprise that consisted of rice poppadums and a sort of rice pudding dish which had pieces of fresh coconut and raisins in it and I could taste green cardamom too. It was just so yummy and comforting and I savoured it with much appreciation. Not long after Anu sent over a Dosa that she had made which was equally delicious. These two course meals are becoming a regular occurrence and as they are all vegetarian, healthy and freshly cooked then I’m sure my body is benefitting, which is really my excuse for eating copious amounts of food! I remember also one morning Chandan Singh arrived at my door with what I think was a tasty nettle dish for breakfast that Berfi had made, such a wonderful surprise.
It feels very special to receive food from others whether they have very little to offer in a material sense or even if they do. It’s such a thoughtful act of kindness and I know that I too enjoy cooking for others and sharing food. So I am certainly feeling very loved and cared for by my neighbours in what has become my new home in the last eight weeks.
I’d just finished my second delicious lunch when a friend that I’d met in Rishikesh phoned and it was lovely to sit out in the sunshine on the veranda and catch up. At 3.30pm I had to ring off to join Emma Slade’s Sunday online session where she is sharing some of the Buddhist teachings and practices to guide us through these challenging times. ( Here is the link for the next session with Emma Slade) Today she talked about the opportunity of a precious human life and she shared the following words:
This Precious Life
“Everyday think, as you wake up, today I am fortunate to have woken up. I am alive. I have a precious human life. I am not going to waste it, I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”HH Dalai Lama
I bought a postcard with this on years ago whilst doing some yoga therapy training down in London but for some reason the words and the teaching today with Emma resonated very deeply and I had a real sense of “Oh my word this life is just so precious and what am I doing with it that is of benefit to others?”. I have written the words out on a piece of paper to read each morning when I wake up as a reminder and I’ve also added at the end “And I’m going to have some FUN doing it!”
Emma gave us a few questions to reflect on such as “If you were to view your life as really precious each day what would that do for you? What might change, what might be enabled?” She asked us to reflect on what prevents us from recognising that our life is precious and what helps us? The teachings emphasise just how rare it is to have a life, that is why it is so precious and also it isn’t here for ever and because of the intelligence and compassion that each living being has (say compared to a worm!) we have enormous potential to benefit other human beings.
Emma also talked about resilience and how we are hearing phrases such as “fighting the virus, we are going to win this war, that we need to stay strong and resilient” and suggested that this can be very exhausting. Perhaps instead of battling if we put our energies into recognising the opportunity we have in this precious life for love, compassion and appreciation then we can move through these challenging times with greater ease.
I have reflected on the Dalai Lama’s words and how might I take action to the benefit of others as for the last two months I have been taking care of myself as this has felt necessary. There are small ways I am doing my bit here to support others whether it’s helping fund the building projects, supplementing a family’s income by paying for my washing and some food or helping the children with their school work. After a hectic two months in India I have for these last two months, whilst staying in the forest, taken the opportunity to slow down, rest, recharge and continue to let life flow and unfold. As a result, I’m now sleeping better, I feel fitter from my daily forest walks and yoga asana practice and I’m eating a healthy vegetarian diet. I think this together with being at altitude, 2,200 metres, the clean air and the oxygen of the forest are all benefitting my body on a physical level. When our bodies are more relaxed and we slow down then it helps the mind too in the same way although as we become more present to this life emotions are more likely to surface. It is fair to say that I’ve had a few emotional meltdowns whilst here with some familiar emotions arising and some surprising ones too. I’m very grateful for the teachings and practices that I’ve had over the years that are helping me now to support myself at these times and also for the support from Anu here and other friends and teachers that have provided virtual support. Whilst it may not feel pleasant at the time, I know that it will pass and that ultimately these emotions need to be processed and shed to feel freer and more joyful going forward.
Life does not accommodate you, it shatters you.
It is meant to and it couldn’t do it any better.
Every seed destroys its container or else there would be no fruition.Florida Scott- Maxwell
So after this period of taking care of myself I’m noticing that I’m feeling more energised and ready to take more action and a few days ago felt compelled to write a newsletter sharing resources that I have found helpful during the lockdown as well as sharing links to the work that many of my friends are doing to help others. More will unfold gradually and I’m listening out for signs from the Universe as to what I’m being called to do.
So back to the joyful day…I was just settling down to do my hour’s daily writing when a text popped up from Anu asking me to head down into the garden. We have a major project going on to dig over and plant out around seven areas of ground. The family of migrant workers working on our neighbour’s property are also helping Anu with some jobs around the estate and they have worked hard as a team to dig over the beds and weed them. Anu had been given some seeds by her neighbour, Rupen, from the flowers on his large estate near Mussoorie. Whilst John, Anu and I planted theses flower seeds Chandan Singh spread out some beautiful rich compost that he has been collecting from the forest each day. He is only of small stature but boy can he carry some heavy weight, I couldn’t even lift one of the bags.
After we had finished Anu invited us in for a cup of chai and a chat and then I headed back to do my daily hours writing as it was now getting late in the day but other tasks needed doing as I hadn’t been in the house much that day. Then a knock at the door and Anshu arrived with a huge bunch of freshly pulled spring onions that Sushma, his mum, had just harvested from her garden, then it was time for dinner and Chandan Singh arrived with subje and three chapatis. The subje is vegetables and today these were maidenhair ferns that Berfi had collected from the forest. Every other day Berfi cooks a simple supper for me which I pay for as a way to supplement their income. Berfi will sometimes help me with my washing for the same reason. These are tasks I could easily do myself but it is a way to support their income and “helping them to help themselves”
After doing a bit of tidying and getting things ready for bed I tuned into zoom for what is turning into a weekly family Sunday get together and tonight it was quiz time. Each of us had to ask five questions and mine were all about India – did you know that shampoo was first used in India, it was called Champu which is a Sanskrit word. Clearly a larger group has it’s advantages with my brother and his family easily winning and little old me on my own clocking up the grand total of 1 out of 15 points 😊. Anyway as they say it’s the taking part that counts….and yes it was wonderful to see everyone and I did learn a few things too.
What a fabulous fun day. So much to be grateful for – kind unexpected gestures of food offerings that make me feel loved and cared for, laughter, fun and learning with the children, fresh vegetables from the garden, the feel of the warm earth and planting seed, connection with other human beings even if at a distance, spending fun time with family, writing, receiving teachings and engaging with others across the globe. Just a wonderful, heart filled day and one that I really feel has been lived joyfully, consciously and with so much kindness from all around me.
Not every day is like this and some are pretty tough emotionally and I’ll share these with you too in due course. But I wanted to really capture today so that I can look back and savour the good as Rick Hanson recommends. In the book I’m reading (The Reluctant Shaman) they talk about “Passion Hunting”, connecting to what makes you feel alive and joyful, well I’ve had all the ingredients today for that – kids, food, friendship, family, new experiences, gardening, being in nature, teachings, meditation and dancing!!! Oh and yes finally some delicious chocolate that I get delivered. Rohan who dropped it off the other day thanked me and said it was people like me and John that kept their business just covering it’s costs and paying wages. Bingo! What a great excuse to make a regular order. Eating chocolate and knowing that it is helping others, it doesn’t get much better than that.
The day however was also tempered with the news from the UK that a good friend and family had lost his niece to the virus. A stark reminder and contrast that life is not that joyful for many people in the world right now whether due to the virus or their ongoing circumstances that have been in existence for years such as illness, death, homelessness, loneliness, starvation, war, abuse. So if like me you find a window of joy then take a big deep breath and breathe it all in, let it fill your body, your mind, your bones and as you breathe out send that beautiful energy to all around you to the world around you. Nothing is permanent and one of our tasks in this precious life is to surrender to this uncontrollable fact and to take it by the hands and dance – like no one is watching.
May we all live this precious life joyfully, consciously and with kindness.
I’d like to share a poem with you that seems relevant in these times….
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,Naomi Shihab Nye
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye.