Everywhere we look around, the buzz words these days are living green, being eco-friendly, promoting sustainability, saving the environment etc etc. Slowly but surely we all are becoming more and more aware of issues that are creating negative impact on our planet. New businesses, products are markets are coming up to promote eco-friendly living. We have Green Building movement going on and buildings are following new codes and rules to create a healthy living environment. All of this to restore and rebalance the relationship between our species and mother nature. All of a sudden the growth of using natural materials in our buildings, food, clothes and everything else we can imagine has spiked. Every time I read an article or book related to this topic, my heart dances with joy. I get super excited to learn new ways of living naturally and knowing that we are thinking about caring for our planet and healing the wounds that our mother earth has incurred because of our unconscious and most of the times short term goals.
But despite of this growth in sustainability and the growing needs of eco-friendly living, we are forgetting a very important component of ecology - HUMANS. We worry about the imbalance between the nature and our living, between different species and environment, but what about us? Isn't the relationship we have amongst ourselves as important? Isn't one of the greatest imbalances these days seen within our own species? Yes, we are better connected globally. We know what someone thousands of miles away is doing at noon on a random weekend....but what about our next door neighbor? Or the friend who lives couples miles away? Or the bus driver who drives our kids safely to school everyday? Or a two year old who has to spend time at the dinner table watching a video on I-pad? Are we really as connected as we think we are? Yes we all live in neighborhoods, gated communities and high rises....but where is the sense of "community" in all these? Most of us don't even know who all lives in our neighborhood! What is the use of all this healthy and eco-friendly living when at the physical level we all are globally connected but at soul level we are growing far apart?
WHERE IS THE ECO IN OUR LIVING????
This has been in front of me all along....because this is what I have adapted to in my adulthood. I had gotten so absorbed in it that this all was becoming natural to me. But this past week in Thailand, in a small town of Bang Phra, something changed. We lived in a "real" community....and it was beautiful. It was joyful, exciting, adventurous and peaceful at the same time. We stayed with a group of beautiful souls in an eco-farm called Daruma Eco-Farm (www.ecovillageasia.com). A small full of life and loving group of people - doing what they love to do and living in a place that supports and nourishes their dreams. We both went there to learn more about a subject very dear to me, which was forgotten and ready to be re-discovered - building using natural materials (www.darumanaturalbuilding.files.wordpress.com). And we came out learning more about everything! From natural buildings, permaculture, farming, rocket stoves to making fire, tea, bread, pickles, spreads while sharing whole lot of love, wisdom and delicious food from all over the world. We cooked and cleaned together everyday. We exchanged stories and experiences. We played in the mud. We plastered walls. We made some bricks. We laughed. We shared. Life is already slow while we are traveling but this past week it was crazy busy and slow at the same time. We felt connected to each other and things around us. Everything felt simple....and uncomplicated.
Wouldn't it be amazing to have such communities all around us? And not just our neighborhood....even in our families. Where we do things together - not because we are supposed to or we have to but just because we want to. Where we are connected thru our senses and thru our hearts not thru social media. Where we talk and listen. Where we learn from each other irrespective of our age. Where we stargaze at nights and take long walks in the forest. Where we pick vegetables for our meals together instead of driving to a supermarket. Where we all share, care and love - our own Selves and each other. Where everything is abundant.
No it's not an imaginary community. These communities exist all over the world and are growing everyday. The principles of such communities have been with us for ages. They seem impossible in today's capitalist society but believe me these same principles can be incorporated at any level - be it your own home, office or your gated community. The concepts are easier than learning to use a new gadget....because they are not something "new". We just got distracted a bit and forgot about it :o) Just remember your childhood and it will all come back. Would you not want your children and your current Self to have all that back? I know I would! So let's slow down, take a breather and bring that "eco" back in our living! :o)
We spent a day hiking in Khao Yai National Park, Thailand. It was a very different experience for us. In Asia hiking or trekking is usually with a tour guide. The tracks are not well laid, there is usually little signage, no maps and your experience pretty much depends on how your tour guide is. But no national park or forest has ever left us disappointed or bored, even if we were not so much a fan of the guide. To the contrary, every minute spent in nature - walking on lush green grass, sitting under a tree, listening to birds singing, having food by the river, every bit of it has left us longing for more.
Strange isn't it?
And what is also strange is when sometimes you come across another person's words, poems or stories that leaves you completely speechless! That is what happened to me a month or so back. I came across these beautiful and powerful words. These are out of a passage written by Herman Hesse, a famous novelist, poet and painter.
"Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.
A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.
When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. . . . Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.
So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness."
WOW! I read this passage and all of a sudden it was all clear! Every time we have been hiking in a national park or forest or just been amongst trees in a park, their presence has had a magical effect on us. After hours of walking/hiking our bodies ache but our mind and heart dance with joy. I know I can sit under a tree for hours and not do anything and be completely ok with it. And this effect has been universal....well at least for us! After all we have been to a number of forests in past few years and all across the globe. And we have been to quiet a few parks as well.
So what is it about them? Is it their biology and chemistry that leaves us feeling more alive? Is it the feeling of strength and security that extends far beyond what us humans can even comprehend? Or is it a deep knowing of connectedness and harmony with everything surrounding them, the mutual understanding that we all need each other to survive and thrive....and that we ALL can CO-exist!
Whatever it is I am not going to complain :o) I feel FORTUNATE that there is something so pure, peaceful, inviting and harmonious that leaves me feeling the same whenever I am a part of it. I feel BLESSED to have found THAT which leaves me so connected with everything else that I feel so small yet so completely loved. I feel HAPPY that every time it teaches me something that no classes or workshops or courses ever taught me.
Honestly, I feel EVERYTHING which is not what today's world of competition, survival, greed and control wants ANYONE to feel. And the best part is....I KNOW I am not alone :o)
Designated as a UNESCO Heritage Site, Ayutthaya was the second capital of Siamese kingdom. It was founded in 1350 and flourished from 14th to 18th century. After being attacked and destroyed by Burmese army in 1767 it was never rebuilt and is now an archeological site. It was a very well planned city. An excerpt from UNESCO states:
"Well-known from contemporary sources and maps, Ayutthaya was laid out according to a systematic and rigid city planning grid, consisting of roads, canals, and moats around all the principal structures. The scheme took maximum advantage of the city’s position in the midst of three rivers and had a hydraulic system for water management which was technologically extremely advanced and unique in the world."
We spent a whole day exploring these ruins and praising the details of planning and architecture still remaining and wondering how this capital city would be today if it wasn't destroyed by another country. And we wondered - centuries have passed but some things have not changed - destruction in the name of power, fear, religion and safety still goes on. When will we learn our lesson?? How many innocent lives have to be taken and how many species have to become extinct for us to realize we are not killing someone else, we are killing a part of us! We are in this together! Earth is one and so are we!
Our stay in Chiang Mai was a cultural and religious excursion. The city and it's neighboring areas are full of temples - old and new. Since Buddhism is the main religion in Thailand, these temples are adorned with Buddha statues. The temples glitter with bright red and golden colors, the air is filled with beautiful fragrance of incense sticks and people kneel down to pay homage to Buddha and to light candles while making offerings of lotus flowers. Being a Hindu we could relate to these rituals and idol worship.
We witnessed so much faith and devotion towards Buddha statues and on the same ground we watched teenagers sitting in a group showing same devotion to their smartphones. We watched people taking selfies with Buddha statue in the background. We didn't know whether to laugh or be sad. After all we are one of them....taking pictures of ourselves everywhere we go....we have an excuse though, we are travelers exploring these new countries and cultures.
Nevertheless, some questions come to mind again and again. Don't we all get busy capturing these moments on our cameras and phones so much that we forget to live that moment?? Don't we want to share our experiences with others so much that we do not share these day to day experiences and beautiful moments with our own Selves?? While performing rituals, do we really know the history, the story and it's importance or we are just following our parents and ancestors?? Whatever religion we follow, do we REALLY know what it stands for??
Home made paranthas, fried karela, besan laddoos and lots of mithai....parent's visit is never complete without some of this heavenly goodness :D Four days spent with them in Bangkok was a bliss. We walked, talked, laughed, shopped, ate, visited temples, got a massage, watched theater, went to floating market and spent a day in Pattaya. It all went really fast....and it was a welcomed change from living in backpacker hostels for sure. And it was even more special because after so many years I was celebrating mom dad's anniversary with them!
Sometimes we feel we don't tell them enough how much we love them and appreciate what they have done for us. We are where we are not just because of us but because of their love, hard work and support. As a kid we used to take so many things for granted, used to get angry when things didn't go our way....but we never thought how hard parenting is!
So as this year comes to a close, we both want to thank our parents for everything....we feel very blessed and grateful to be a part of you. The love that you have always showered upon us, we always pray your life be filled with immense love, light, health and joy. We love you!
One of the best days we had in Thailand was the day we spent at Elephant Retirement Park (http://www.elephantretirementpark.com/) near Chiang Mai.
Thailand is famous for dozens of Elephant parks and homes, most of them claiming to be providing a safe place for these beautiful beings to live. Well, if making these elephants work for continuous long hours every day, having people ride on them for hours and hours with short or no breaks and training them so they showcase those skills in commercial shows was a part of "providing safe place in the natural habitat"....we did not want to do anything with it. We did a lot of research online and talked to locals and travelers before deciding which place to visit. Fortunately, we found out about Elephant Retirement Park - a genuine place that provides a natural and healthy living environment for elephants.
Elephant Retirement Park is genuine because they keep rescued and retired elephants....and some of them have had a real tough life. When we went, there were five elephants - one of them 45 years old female with a cute baby elephant of 8 months, and three young kids ranging 3-5 years. The female was a retired one and spent her whole life in a commercial place, having people ride on her continuously....to a point that she could not take it anymore and one day decided not to even stand up! She is living a real healthy life now at this park and her main task now is to just eat :) And her baby was soooo adorable and playful!! Another young elephant got mentally unstable because she was always kept in a cage her size and she could only move back and forth....it was sad to see her still doing that. She has come a long way though....developing trust with her mahout and other volunteers.
It was a real treat to see these five elephants having a time of their life in this safe haven....we fed them bananas, had a mud bath with them and them scrubbed and cleaned them....it was so much fun!!!! And believe me, that is what they do pretty much everyday....eat, take mud bath, shower and get pampered and sleep....what a life! :D
We were really glad to see there are places like this where elephants are really taken care of. We are proud of ourselves that we did not blindly go for any elephant park and chose to spend our time and show our support to a non-profit that actually means well being of elephants. Can you imagine, if all of us did our little part and made a conscious choice of what/who to support, even while on vacation?? After all, every action counts and every small step leads to a big change :o)