I have been in Auroville, India since the end of Januray–the full moon a few days before arriving a month ago has just again past again. The first 3 weeks here was the orientation period with tfor my 17 other classmates and me. The first task for my academic program here, called “Integral Sustainability in Auroville” through UMass’s Living Routes, first task was to present the Life Map we had created before arrival, a psychological and physical diagram of what led us to this program.
Mulling this assignment over with my parents while travelling in northern India the week before, my mother revealed an old memory. When I was about three year old–while staring out the window at the lake 10 floors below, as I often did—I turned to my mother and said:
“When can we live on the ground?”
“Never,” she responded, having always wanted to live in an apartment.
“That’s okay,” I replied. “At least we live in front of a lake and botanical gardens,” I reflected, staring again at the lakefront park.
Hearing this story for the first time over 17 years later, I felt as though I was listening to my inner self speaking through. When can we live on the ground?? I still wonder this, more than ever, and now with all sorts of experiential and intellectual layers into the ways we can live more appropriately for ourselves and the earth. Leaving for Auroville, I realized I was about to be living more on the ground than ever before, and decided to name my Life Map after this inquiry.
Following our group introductions based these maps, we began our weeks of bike tours of the new environment. Auroville was inaugurated in 1968 as a universal community for the purposes of experimentin human unity and elaborating the philosophical-spiritual writings of the 20th century sage Sri Aurobindo, a practice he assimilated known as Integral Yoga.
Considered an ‘ecovillage’ by many, the Auroville I toured last month certainly seemed like a dream: a lush and green landscape, tropical creatures, individual communities where imaginations are manifested, social projects and green technology have become status quo, along with its ample share of modern luxuries such as shops and international restaurants. Auroville is, as the Mother–the spiritual counterpart of Aurobindo who led Auroville’s construction after his death–has written, “a place where one thinks only of the future.”
But in no way has this the way it has always been. When the first ‘pioneers’ arrived in Auroville in the late 60s, they found themselves in completely barren landscape of dry, red clay. Seeing photos from this period are striking: only a handful of lonely palm trees sprinkle the horizon stretching all the way to the Bay of Bengal. Thus, the first years of planning for this futuristic city began at the most basic level—the soil. Beginning with exotic plants from Africa and Australia that could handle theses conditions and later incorporating only indigenous species, Auroville may be one of the single greatest examples of reforestation and ecological design. It is dumbfounding to think that everything I am seeing has been created within the past 40 years. While it is in no way void of problems and contradictions, Auroville is by far the most ‘perfect’ place I have ever been or could have imagined. And if progress continues in the same way it has, there is no limit to what can be created here.
At this moment, a quarter into my program, I have found myself feeling very settled here—grounded in my living situation, schedule, and activities. Last Sunday, our group split up into 3 groups of 6 students and began our 5-week stays in different communities around Auroville. I am staying in a community called Forecomers, so called because it was one of the first communities created and did most of the reforestation work. It is situated in what is called the ‘green-belt’, the external ring of Auroville comprised of forests and farms, and so, to my liking, it is the most secluded, quiet, lush, and least populated of any of the communities we can stay in. Having a living space to myself at Forecomers has given me much more balance than my other peers have, mostly living in one room all together. All together I am very happy with a little family and routine here: waking up at 7 to garden for an hour before breakfast, setting up meals together, having fires, etc.
We also recently began our service learning projects (SLPs), which we do ever morning from 9-12pm before having classes and yoga practice in the afternoon. I decided to dove tail my work with medicinal plants from Nepal to Auroville and so I am starting an herbal garden at Forecomers. Until now, I have only been working to build the planting beds, prepare the soil, and order the plants from the nursery. But this week the herbs will actually be here and I will learn more about how to use them by supplementing my gardening with 1 day a week doing herbal medicine workshops at the local ethnomedical center and another day a week at a healing center in a nearby village.
After a long morning of work, I have lunch somewhere and head over for afternoon class from 2-4. We have 4 courses: 1) Global and Local Sustainability, 2) Group Dynamics, 3) Applications for Sustainability (SLP), 4) Body, Mind Spirit: Cultivating Personal Sustainability. I am so happy focusing on these topics and so far the interconnected lectures have been very enlightening. Finally, from 4:30-6pm, we have a yoga class as part of the Body, Mind, Spirit courses’ curriculum. Much more to come in the next two months of work and expansion here.