Les and Mor: karma yogis on steroids

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As part of the process of the Gift Circle last week, we were asked to state a gift that we wish to receive from the Universe.

Khushmita asked that we find someone who can help us set up a simple, rodent free composting system at home. Chintan who was part of the circle, wrote to Leslie and Mayuree if they could help. And they enthusiastically responded “Yes!”

Yesterday, these two angels bussed down 4 hours from Mumbai to set up a kitchen and dry leave composting system for us. After working all day in the hot sun, we literally had to pull them inside for dinner at 7 30 pm as they were still in the backyard working in the dark.

Over some deep conversations, Karoona shared that she was deeply touched by the simple songs of love, peace and oneness that they were chanting as they worked.

Today morning as I dropped them off at 5 am to the bus stand, I felt deep gratitude for their spirit of service and consistent generosity. Actually, I was up last night wondering how can I ever repay such generosity, and a still voice within me said “just smile, receive gracefully, and play it forward joyfully.”

Dearest karma yogi’s, “Les and Mor”, thank you for this wonderful gesture.. It rekindled the flame of selfless kindness within me and I am grateful for it all..

Gift Circles

GIFT= Giving In Full Trust

“To live in the gift is to relinquish the compulsion to control, the program to label and number the world, the quest for reductionist certainty, the drive to convert the world into money and property.”

“You can’t make community without gifts. Community is woven from gifts and stories.” – Charles Eisenstein

The community at the Urban Ashram greatly enjoyed the opportunity to host a special guest for three days this month—Charles Eisenstein, the author of several books including ‘Sacred Economics’, ‘The Ascent of Humanity’ and ‘A More Beautiful World that Our Heart Knows is Possible’.

Charles has been a strong advocate for the (material) de-growth movement and a proponent of a more equitable, natural way of living and being based on the ideals of gift culture and spiritual oneness with all.  He shares deep respect for the traditional, indigenous societies of the East, especially India where such practices have been part of the culture for thousands of years.

Apart from an Spirited circle of sharing and some of the most insightful conversations shared with Charles, we had a taste of the ‘more beautiful world our heart knows is possible’ when he facilitated a ‘Gift Circle’ for an intimate gathering of 15 people on his last day in town.  The idea was simple—people started off with two minutes of silence and reflection upon what their genuine needs were at that point of time in their lives.  They also spent time thinking about the gifts they would like to offer to anyone  ready to receive them—material, or otherwise.

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The circle was then opened up for sharing.  It was amazing to see the range of needs from the immediate, simplest ones to long term, more complex ones emerge from the group. One of the participants in the circle simply asked for blessings for a new relationship with a man she loves.  Another young woman was looking for someone who could help her with writing her career profile.

The Ashram has been looking for people who can help set up a herbal garden and a rodent-free composting system in the surrounding premises as well as a ‘divine cook’ who simply enjoys cooking for the visiting pilgrims who pass through the Ashram everyday.  A friend from Canada, who has been a regular at the Ashram since the last four years, asked for specific help with ‘figuring out’ the Indian Railways website. There were young people looking for life-partners, a ‘home of their own’, contacts in publishing industry and work opportunities in educational settings, ideas around making their vision for sustainable living spaces possible, assistance with not-so-smooth relationships with parents etc.

Appreciating the scientific aspects of water as a ‘living organism’, Charles was very impressed with the round earthen matkaas that are commonly used in India for holding drinking water.  He expressed his wish to have them made accessible to his family and friends back in America.  Khushmita’s mother, having lived a very fulfilled life, had no major needs, except for her dentures to be fixed at the dentist that evening!

Being able to articulate and openly express our genuine needs to a group of people in a trusted space was in itself quite a healing experience.

The energy in the circle was one of gratitude and service.  People seemed eager to offer their heart-felt gifts. Immediate tangibles were spontaneously offered such as a pen with a quote by Gandhi and laminated pictures of Rumi’s poetry in breathtakingly beautiful calligraphy. Some of the other offerings came in the form of a farmland space to explore and experiment with alternative ideas, contacts in specific fields of interest and places or Yoga classes specific to certain ailments.  The intangible offerings such as receiving genuine smiles, blessings, and simply having someone to talk with as a trusted mentor seemed like the most invaluable gifts coming from the group.

The Ashram also received a volunteer stepping up to set-up a herbal garden and composting system for the sacred space.  Our Canadian friend was thrilled to find a tutor to walk her through the Indian Railways website.  People had this genuine feeling that everyone’s need should be met in the best possible way, almost as if your need is my need too!  This created a sense of oneness amongst the participants.  One of the participants could not control her tears as she broke down, overwhelmed with gratitude for the Urban Ashram space that has nurtured her journey.

Very spontaneously the participants gifted each other a hug at the close of the circle.  Smiles, stories, food and hugs…the evening turned out to be another magical one at the Ashram. Thanks to Charles for introducing Gift Circle to all of us…we pay it forward by sharing this with you all!

Here is a three-minute video that may offer more ideas around hosting a Gift Circle:

http://youtu.be/aUPZvU1y_v0

In gratitude,

Vipul, Chintan, Khushmita and Sheetal

ps: The next day, after the Gift Circle, one of the participants took Khushmita’s mother to her parent’s clinic, both renowned dentists and got her dentures fixed. The bill read “zero” and asked the recepient to pay-it-forward!

Spirited Circle with Charles Eisenstein

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Last Wednesday, the community at Urban Ashram had the good fortune to host an inspiring talk by Charles Eisenstein, renowned author, speaker and de-growth activist, as part of the Spirited Circle series of talks.

As part of the proceedings, we started the evening with an hour of silence, followed by Charles’ sharing and some Q&A. Over 50 pilgrim hearts had the opportunity to listen to Charles share his ideas, engage in conversation with him and participate in a group activity. Post that all the guests enjoyed a home-cooked meal that had been cooked by an enthusiastic team of volunteers who also found time to decorate the space with beautiful flower rangolis.

Charles

Our friends Vipul Shaha and Kathryn Scarfone who joined us that evening have jotted some of the special highlights from that talk and offer them here in the spirit of sharing.

Vipul shares:

* I loved the group process that Charles led us into wherein he divided the participants into two groups. One group was from the present times, and the other group was from the year 2114. He then paired one person from 2014 with another person from 2114, and that “future person” had to answer any questions we may have about the state of the world a century hence.  Interestingly, there was much optimism about the future. No need for money, for heartless jobs, competition, wars, hunger. The ‘artificially created scarcity’ would not exist and abundance would thrive once again, was the tone from some of the participants sharing their interactions.

* We heard Charles expressing regret in an almost apologetic sense about the effects of Western colonization and capitalism. He spoke about human arrogance in trying to control, manipulate and dominate the natural world; also the flip-side of science and technology with its linear, fragmentary, and reductionist approach accelerating the crisis of modern times. He offered this picture in contrast to Eastern philosophies of holistic living and perceiving interconnectedness, the oneness of all beings. He was also cautious of not being another white guy trying to profess what needs to be done in the developing world and yet again fall into the trap of the colonizing mindset. He simply confessed: “We do not know any better. I am in India to learn from this land.”

* Chalres was comfortable with ‘not knowing the answers’. He repeatedly said that he did not know the way out of the current mess. However, he said that we do know that we cannot continue to pretend that the same old ways of doing things will solve the problems. His analogies were interesting. One of them was about trying to run faster and faster in the maze, in the hope of trying to get out of it. Instead of that, slowing down and trying to hear the song of the heart might help one come out the maze.

*I was struck by the idea that when a rainforest is cut down, or species of birds and animals are being wiped out, a part of me is also dying because we’re made up of the same universal consciousness.

* Charles remarked that 90% of consumption in the West, and increasingly in the East, is unnecessary. We can be happy with less. Material de-growth is what is imminent but that’s just too radical, and is being laughed away in political, economic forums. He also mentioned a study in Boston wherein millionaires with an average of $77 million were still feeling insecure about their wealth and stating that they needed at least 25% more in order to feel secure!

*What also resonated with me was the emphasis on the need for healing from our deepest wounds by disrupting the old paradigm with the power of love, trust, generosity, and small acts of kindness.

* Charles mentioned that the old story is getting weaker by the day. In the West, people are realizing the futility/impossibility of pursuing the infinite growth paradigm, so they’ve begun looking eastwards in search of ancient philosophies, and spiritual laws. This is where hope is!

Kathryn offers the following reflection:

“Charles invited us to imagine the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible. As I wake up and bow to the beauty that we are surrounded by – discovering a deep gratitude for all that is, Charles suggests that an even more beautiful world is possible. I wonder, is this greed? Is this an attachment to a world that does not exist? Are we not meant to practice accepting things are they truly are, and not impose how we want them to be?

With these questions circling in my mind, my heart calls out while I imagine the possibility of this world. My inner bodhisattva knows we are deeply connected to all that is, and for as long as there is suffering around us, our work here is not complete – we are called to serve. A grief sets in and a warrior spirit takes over, not one ready to fight for the future but one ready to defend the option that this world is possible.

My heart calls me to action – to devoting my life to making choices in the direction of this more beautiful world. How can we continue to create this world? Do we follow the spiritual path of going inward, and focusing all energy on changing ourselves - or do we react to the urgency of the global maladies at hand and take immediate action? In shifting our perspectives and understanding of the world from a view of separateness to one of inter being, we are reminded that neither this inner spiritual path, nor the activist path alone is sufficient to create this world.

Charles proposes a path where these two meet, blend, and our practice becomes one of responding to the present – with a readiness to walk whichever path presents itself as necessary in that moment. My heart knows that this world is possible – and I am in deep gratitude for all the co-creators – and to Charles for helping to set my heart’s desires free.

May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all. Om peace, peace, peace. ”

Sheetal shares:

I am more and more deeply convinced that our innate wisdom dawns when we receive words in silence. The quality of the space and the silence around the words plays a critical role in determining how we will “digest” and “assimilate” all this food for thought.

I feel grateful that we were collectively able to create that field of an empty space and a potent silence in which Charles could so he(art)fully pour his reflections and experiences from both his inner and outer journeys.

I have uploaded a recording of the talk. Here are the two parts.
Part 1 and Part 2.

And deeply grateful to the Universe for all the synchronicity that brought Charles, the beautiful pilgrim to our city. May his journeys be blessed.

Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu

Empty Hands Pilgrimage

” Khaali haath aayein hain…Khaali haath jayenge…”
“We come empty handed and we go empty handed.”
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These were the lines which Nimo heard many years ago while listening to a particular song and it stirred something within him. Who knew that these very lines would inspire him to create music from the heart, for so many other hearts.

Natural Building Workshop continues…

We just concluded an eventful workshop using games, dances and natural building materials with bio-architects Merve and Mukund who are visiting us from Turkey. It was a lot of fun and there is so much to learn about this “play with clay” that we decided to go ahead and continue to build more breathing and alive spaces with mud. This week we continue working with natural building techniques on an open air kitchen and a zen garden in The Urban Ashram.

Here is how Merve and Mukund introduce themselves:

Merve: “I came to planet earth in Cappadokia-Turkey, a magical landscape which was shaped by lava. I guess the energy of lava keeps me excited in life. I am playing with natural buildings, communities, hand craftings, happiness and beauty around of me. And I am seeking for the ancient knowledge of humankind and keep travelling, questioning and searching for this. Feel blessed for the gift to experience different ways of living, loving, praying, magic and beauty:)
 
Mukund: My name is Mukund, and I am a social artist and bio architect. I love travelling and mingling with different cultures. Learning, sharing and gathering knowledge from each and every part of the world is my passion and my dexterity is to translate these energies into my art work  and my buildings. I am living my dream, going to random places around the world and gathering people in dance and celebration. Mythology has played a deep role in my growth and i hold it very close to me. Gift culture has been my inner call for many years since i was young and I have made it a deep part of my way of life.

 

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Celebrating Shiva

 

On the occasion of Mahashivratri, artist Priya Krishnan Das is displaying 12 of her vibrant paintings titled “Celebrating Shiva” at The Urban Ashram. Drop in anytime between Feb 26th till March 2nd, 11 am to 7 pm and soak in the bliss of the “blue throated Mahadeva”.

 

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Natural Building Workshop

Bio-architects Mukund Iyer and Merve Tekin, visiting us from Istanbul, Turkey recently conducted a Natural Bulding workshop at The Urban Ashram. Mukund shares:

First time we organized our 2 day weekend workshop on introduction to community oriented natural building . 7 participants  plus few family  members together we started to build a open air kitchen which has a wood fueled oven and “chulha”, traditional stove.

The morning started with a dance of the dream, peering into each others eyes while moving in a circle holding hands and tapping our feet to “kumbalawe”. We then continued with the earth game , where we  subtly introduce the element earth to the participants in a playful manner. We asked the mud ” How do you feel ?”

We had a session of how to test mud and what is it that makes the mixture. Post which we started to build the oven. Thats the time when started to dig, sieve, stomp and started feeling weary. The work mainly covered two styles of construction cob and earth bags.

An earth bag base which connected with the oven and then later extended into a small seating. We got two traditional cooked “chulha”  from kumbhaar wada ( potters community in old pune )to be inserted into this base.

The day continued with the water game , after no water consumption afternoon we had a deep chanting of “sheema” and offered solar charged water .This game was followed by a deep discussion about bioclimatic / climate responsive natural building.

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The second day of the workshop started again to the beats of michael jackson  and dance of the elephant. We then continued to cob plaster the earth bag and positioning the chulha.

The air game was a series of breathing lessons and laughter yoga ( natural way of doing pranayama) which was facilitated by Khushmita . Lunch was traditional style maharashtrian food , zunka bhaakar with onions and taak. Afternoon we kept ourselves mixing more cob and making ladoos of them and tossing them to each other to begin a cob partition wall.

We had a beautiful closing session with “agnihotra” the fire element ritual , an offering to the god of transformation Shiva. Also we had a heart element , where we had a deep sharing sessions and the dance of the heart. The space was also opened to dariya dil dukaan, shop of the open hearted where people offered gifts from their heart to each other.

Natural building is not merely a process of building walls but more about a way of living. The two day intensive program was an effort to reach out to the citizens to experience conventional way of life which  many of us are not part of anymore. Yoga, element games, cooperative games, circular dances, traditional food and hands on all blend together shows us how to make life fun under the sun :) NB20140222_115049_Fotor

The “Inspired” workshop!

A few of us found ourselves being led on a beautiful journey of rediscovering our “Inspiration” yesterday with Manoj Pavitran from Auroville. We went through a day long process of unraveling our inner inspiration from the deep recesses of our hearts.

It was a magical journey as we slowly got deeper and deeper clarity on our inspirations and actions. It was a treat to see everyone’s face light up as they received their own a-ha moments as the day progressed.

Thank you Manoj bhai for this wonderful gift!

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Spirited Satsang with friends from the Kabir Project!

After the Kabir Fest rocked Mumbai earlier this month, it was now Pune’s turn to feel the magic of the mystic weaver poet. Shabnam, director of the Kabir Project was at The Urban Ashram yesterday along with her friends Vipul Rikhi, Gopal Singh Chouhan (manjiras) and Ajay Tipanya (dholak) to take us on a musical journey into the poetry of mystics like Kabir, Shah Latif, et al.

About 30 seekers gathered together at 6 am for an intimate early morning satsang, Continue reading

Happy Wednesdays!

Neha, a Wednesday anchor at The Urban Ashram shares:

” I loved the inspiring passage that Khushmita sent our group by email which was to be read out post the Wednesday silence. So many realizations were popping up for me while I read the passage and in the silent hour. Let me start with a beautiful sharing apart from the passage.

Today, in the evening before the silent hour started, Continue reading