In researching where on the globe to bring our guests, Declan and I carefully consider our collective carbon footprint. We look at retreats help to sustain the community, where the meals we eat are plant-rich, grown and gathered locally, where the environment is protected from over-development and/or where owners and locals are working to foster greener practices that not only support the communities that are affected by tourism, but that our travel there actually helps the local population in an eco-conscious way.
It’s not always easy to do this, but it is important to us personally, especially as Dragonfly offers several international retreats a year now, including our 4th annual retreat to India this winter, where the retreat supports 30 local families from the revenue of our visit, our group trip to Ireland this coming April, where we will travel a section of The Wild Atlantic Way, a glorious and carefully protected section of Ireland’s coastline, and our second trip to Mexico this coming Fall.
You might ask, why Mexico for a second year? It would be an understatement to say that Declan and I fell in love with Mexico this past November. The colors, the food, the temperature, the water, the people… as we were getting on the plane to journey home, we were already planning our next visit! And this year, we have the most special place to share with you! Here it comes!!!
Nestled between the sparkling waters of Mexico’s Pacific coast and the majestic Sierra Madre Mountains is Playa Viva, a 200-acre eco-retreat situated on a mile of pristine and private beach, where for the past ten years, the owners have dedicated their efforts to preserving the beach, the estuary teeming with birds, and an incredible turtle sanctuary where they have helped over 400,000 turtles make it into the sea!! They are dedicated to the local community by supporting the education of girls and women, hiring and teaching locals to care for their organic farms and educate them in regenerative agriculture, to collect and care for turtle eggs and hatchlings on site in their turtle sanctuary, and to hire locals from the nearby town to steward their retreat center. For the past two years, Katie has been corresponding with the owners and making plans to take you here on retreat. It is truly a magical place.
We are incredibly proud and beyond excited to announce our 2019 fall retreat to Playa Viva, Mexico. Here s a recent post from the retreat itself about the effect of our travel on community, conscious consumption, environmental action, global warming, and green travel. Playa Viva Blog Post. We hope you will join us! Space is limited to 12 rooms, each of which opens to miles and miles of untouched beach and endless sky where we will eat beautiful organic food grown on site, visit local coffee and cacao farms, relax on the beach or beside the gorgeous pool, go surfing if you like, and to practice yoga in the amazing open-air studio that allows us to connect with nature and all of its elements.
For more information, visit our Mexico 2019 Retreat page. Rates and registration coming soon!
I held a little wood thrush chick for a half hour this morning, walked around the edge of the yard close to the forest, tried to get her to lift off. It was touch and go as she went limp, eyes closed, head falling into my hand… I bounced her gently in my palm-nest to jostle her awake, and her eyes popped back open, studying me, little heartbeat fluttering against my own life-lined hand…
Declan and I are no stranger to bird rescue. Our kitty cats bring them to us sometimes, jaws full of feathers and a garbled meow as they present the gift. If they could only understand we’d rather have their wings up in the sky than on our doorstep. Most often, I can get there in time to grab Puddy by the scruff of the neck, so he’ll relax his jaws and set the bird free; sometimes it’s too late. Occasionally a bird is stuck on the back porch, trying desperately to fly through the screen back into the trees. We have scooped up scores of juncos, a few bluejays, chickadees, and even sawhet owls, but the hummers are the hardest to catch. Declan managed to corner one a couple weeks ago, and when he closed his fingers gently around its back, it cried out as if to say, “Oh noooo!” But sure enough as we opened the door and Declan uncured his fingers, the ruby throat zipped out into the sun with a sharp chirp.
Some birds come to us on the road, injured and in shock, as our latest barred owl did on Sunday evening on our way back from Father’s Day dinner. We were out with friends visiting from Ireland, Eamon was driving, and we were nearly home.
Our back road is very dark at night, with maples and oaks shrouding any light from the stars and rising moon. On this night the air is still and very warm, and as we slip under the trees in the silver rental car, I can see the barred owl up in the distance sitting squarely in the middle of the road. It is the same spot where Declan and I have encountered MANY owls before; in the daytime, they sit on a few of the overlying branches, looking out for chipmunks and mice; at night they swoop down over the car as if following the headlights. Once a few years ago, this guy bounced off the windshield as Declan was coming up the road to home:
What a gorgeous huge bird! He was completely knocked out, his downy chest rising and falling… it was an honor to hold him in our arms like a baby, even if just for a half hour or so. When he woke up, he sat on my arm for another bit, and eventually flew up to the roof, where he sat for over three hours before disappearing into the night.
Tonight’s guy is very alert but sitting still, and it is hard to tell if he is injured or not.
We stop the car, and Declan floats out like he is on his own wings and approaches the bird, whispering, “hey, Buddy.” It flutters a bit, stands, and Declan again moves slowly in to see if he can aid the bird. It flaps one wing, while the other falls and drags on the pavement. I tell Eamon to wait a minute, and I leave Rachel and their 14-year old son Max in the back seat, and head the thirty feet to where Declan is now down an embankment where the bird has hopped and rolled. One wing is clearly broken. Dec manages to take the owl’s feet and lift him gently upright. He tries to flap his hurt wing, and then settles down. I hand Declan my jean jacket, and he places it between the skin of his arm and the bird’s claws. We speak softly to him, but he makes three very loud claps with his beak to let us know he is not charmed, and we stand wondering what to do. “We can’t leave him here… he’ll die,” Declan says. So once again, we are bringing an injured barred home to see what we can do.
Once in the kitchen, we check out his wing, and Max, Rachel, and Eamon complete their last night in NH with the gift of seeing this majestic bird up close. We are all very quiet, and the bird sits wide-eyed watching, his fuzzy head swiveling nearly all the way around as we move to peek at his gorgeous feathers and his humongous eyes. I quickly get online to read about what to do with a barred in his condition: soft towel, animal crate, don’t try to feed it, no water, put a blanket over the crate, but leave an end open for ventilation. He is more likely to die from shock than his injuries tonight, so we need to put him somewhere quiet until we can find someone to take him. We email our friend Chele, who is a local animal tracker and birdwatcher, and look up local rehab centers. Mr. Owl goes downstairs away from cats and kids for the night, and I try to sleep, hoping he will be alive in the morning.
Flash forward to today. The sweet baby thrush sits in my hand, and I cannot get it to fly. I attempt to get it to flutter its wings, but the more I try, the more it’s belly warms into my palm, and its sweet little eyes get heavy like the light is going out. I call out to God, to Source, to Light, to give this baby bird back her wings. I think about the children being torn from their parents arms at the border. I break down and cry at how cruel some humans can be to each other. For a moment, all of those children become this one little bird, and I am determined it is going back up into the trees with its sibling chicks and mama bird up there singing my favorite bird song of all. But it won’t leave my hand. I decide to go get my phone to take a picture. This bird is going to fly away–I am willing it. I am already writing this story in my heart, so dying is not an option. I am going to document its survival. This story is about hope… yes, the one with feathers, to quote Emily Dickinson.
Back to Monday morning, the day after Father’s Day, and Declan and I go down to see the owl. He is sitting upright in the crate, wing extended, eyes open. Okay, he’s alive. We have people to contact. Chele emails back the name of a rehab clinic in Madison, and we call right away. Kathy answers the phone and agrees to meet us at 11 am to take our guy. In the meantime, we hug our Irish friends goodbye, and once they head off, we take the barred away in the car to a person who can help. When Kathy sees him, she takes a deep breath and sighs in a way that makes my heart sink. She goes on to say that if he survives, it will be a long haul. What we thought would be a few weeks of rehab is really more like nine months… and that’s if he makes it. She was being honest. Taking care of animals, or children for that matter, means a commitment. And even if you commit, they might not make it. Would you still help out, even if you knew your efforts might not save someone?
We left Mr. Owl in good hands with the promise they would keep us in the loop about his status. The next night we learned he had eaten a mouse but couldn’t see the veterinarian until Wednesday to get his wing looked at and possibly set. We still haven’t heard how his appointment went, and that was yesterday. I am hoping no news means he is still alive, and that maybe next spring he will be released here on Bennett Street, his home. If he doesn’t make it, I admit, my heart will be broken, but what are we to do? We are here to help each other. Declan couldn’t NOT jump out of the car to help the owl. It is in our hearts to care for each other. Ram Dass says “We are all just walking each other home.” How is it that some people cannot see that those Mexican children are THEIR children too, and that those parents are THEIR parents too? I don’t get it. How is it that people decide to protect an “endangered species,” keep pets, have children, love their families, go to church, give to children’s charities, treat people politely on the street, and then decide that because of some invisible boundary line in the dirt that families should be ripped apart because they are seeking asylum? I’m sorry, but I just lose my shit over this kind of insanity. Henry David Thoreau said “Anyone living in a country where the laws are unjust has an obligation to break the law.” Time for some new laws, I think.
So my story is about the bird. It is about us humans and our capacity for goodness. It is about reaching out to offer your hands with love. It’s about taking a half hour to do what you can to bring healing, caring, support, and light into this day, whether it is for an animal, a person, or this oft forsaken planet. Come on, people! Open your hands!! Hold each other up! Let us do whatever we can, but let’s not sit still and watch things crumble around us. The word Namaste teaches us to do just this: I honor the divine in you; I honor the place in you where the entire Universe dwells; and when you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, we are as ONE.
After a little while of standing and holding the little chick, she stood up on her skinny pink legs, stuck her tail feathers out over my hand and pooped, then looked to the woods and flew awkwardly up to a beech branch. Her stumbled launch left a single baby feather on my thumb. She sat for about five seconds on the branch, turned her head my way, chirped, and then disappeared into the trees. I will never know if she made it, but for today, that’s okay. Open hands. Open heart.
With love from Dragonfly in North Sandwich, NH,
Our taxi deposits us on the side of the main road, still bustling with rickshaw, car, and foot traffic at nearly 10 pm. There are no streets in the old town wide enough for cars, so we hoist on our backpacks, the driver points to an unlit walkway barely wide enough for us to stand side by side, and in we go. Somewhere here in the thicket of ancient walls is the Lotus Guest House. The stone pathways of Varanasi crisscross and wind inward like a labyrinth, and people squeeze up to the walls as mopeds and a steady stream of Royal Enfield motorbikes weave between bodies, several cows, and more dogs and puppies than I can count, most of which are already curled up for the night amongst the litter, some in the middle of the pathway. I wonder how they survive with so many tires, feet, and hooves, but they seem too exhausted to care. I am struck by the shadows, the contrast of vivid color and monochromatic dirt, and the constant vibration of voices and barking and horns and laughter from rooms up high, all of which are already forming a dull hum in my brain.
We are greeted at the door to Lotus by Kandu, a handsome young man who smiles at us and immediately takes Brendan and I up the wide stone steps to our rooms. We stop at the “Rose” room where Brendan has a queen en suite with a new bathroom. His bed isn’t made up yet (at 10 pm), so we continue up to the third floor to my room “Sunflower,” the smallest of the rooms at Lotus with a shared both across the hall, and the last open room at the time of our booking. It is clean, sweet, and at 500 rupees a night, it’s a deal. Kandu tells me I can shift rooms in two nights, if I want to upgrade to a bigger bed. Eventually Brendan’s room is ready, and as he heads back down the stairs, we agree to sleep in and catch sunrise another day.
I am awake most of the night. All of the eight rooms at Lotus are full, and my floor is all young men who are awake late into the night, and one guy is hacking up mucus in the shared bathroom just outside my door, which, by the way, has only an in-floor toilet, a sink and vanity full of messy guy toiletries and with their wet underwear and tee shirts hanging from the few hooks on the wall. There is a shower spout, no shower stall or curtain, and I wonder if I will shower in Varanasi at all. I am too tired to think, crawl into my bed, and cry a little in the dark. I miss the familiarity of my room at the retreat, and I miss our guests who have become dear friends over the past three weeks of panchakarma together (sorry guys, three of you didn’t make it into this pic).
My sleep is intermittent at best, and at five am I hear the conchs and first voices of the morning singing out chants. I pull out my iPad and begin to look through pictures and write. Two hours go by before Brendan comes upstairs to check on me, and we decide to head to the ghats for what is left of early morning prayers and to see in person the bathers practice their ritual dunk in the exquisitely beautiful and unbelievably filthy Ganges River. Each morning we wander the skinny stone streets that wind from our guesthouse to the river, between pastel painted buildings, past stray dogs, one with three little puppies curled up in a ball in the middle of the road.
Shopkeepers open their tiny snack shops to serve chai and pastries, women sweep dust from their doorways onto the street, and then this: a portal that leads us from the city streets down multiple set of steps, called a ghat, all the way to the river’s edge. This particular ghat has fifty-seven very steep, uneven and irregular steps, which I take slowly in my treadless flip flops.
On this first morning, we walk through colorful saris and a stream of Chinese tourists with breathing masks on and each holding at least two cameras. There are packs of locals swimming right off the ghats, praying, chanting, lighting candles. People sit at the Puja (pooja) huts where priests paint peach-colored stripes on their foreheads and dot them with a red powder bindi. I am stunned at the colors, which in my pictures are muted by the morning sun. Women and men change between bathing clothes and back into saris and cotton tunics, and boys jump into the river, splashing each other as they go. Some sadhus sit praying and others are ready to ask for tips if you try to take their picture. It is wonderful in every direction my eyes can see.
Our wanderings take us past the main ghats by all the boats. There are men, women, and children selling malas and bangles up and down the ghats. We sit up high and watch the day unfold. I fill my phone with dozens of photographs to edit later. After awhile, I spot a pretty lady standing under an umbrella near a mala stall. I climb a few steps to her and find every kind of mala you can imagine: necklaces and bracelets strung with rudraksha seeds, wooden beads in numerous colors, black lava, bone beads with little Oms painted on them, skull beads, and lotus seeds. She has dozens of anklets with little silver balls and bells. She comes right to me and we smile at each other. I ask her name: Lakshmi. She asks mine and then says it out loud. Her voice is soft and friendly like her smile, and I don’t feel pressured to buy a thing, unlike at every other stall we pass.
I trace my fingers over the anklets and think about bringing a bunch home. She doesn’t ask me to buy anything until I ask her “how much,” which i know will yield a different answer to each person who asks. It is easy to see the sellers size up the tourists, asking the biggest price first with the expectation of their bargaining. I begin to look through the designs, and ask if she can get more of certain ones. I try a bunch on and decide I like the ones with jingles the best. They are not not real silver and will probably leave a ring around my ankle, but I don’t care. “You come back in the afternoon, and I will bring many. Need to go to the market first.” I tell Lakshmi I will return before sundown, and she puts an anklet on my left leg, we hug, and as I walk away, she waves and puts her hand over her heart. I do the same.
Smoke rises over the boats as we round the river bend to the burning ghats. As we approach, an Indian man tells us “No cameras!” He says he can take us to a spot where we can take a few photos. I ignore his request to be our paid guide, and modestly keep my phone out and camera on without aiming at anything. I will try to capture what I see in the most respectful way I can, never bringing the camera lense to my eye, and opting instead just to hold my phone low and do my best to aim and click.
The atmosphere is intense, and the ancient stone buildings are covered in a thick layer of soot. There are several fires going, orange tongues licking the hazy sky. Wood is piled high in countless square stacks and layered upwards against nearby buildings and free-standing on the blackened beach littered with trash bags, roaming cows, and men who scrape refuse into the smoldering ends of the fires. A row of bodies is lined up above the ghat steps, each awaiting its cremation. Five men slide a body wrapped in red and gold fabric down a chute made of thick wooden sticks. Together they act like a series of dowels, rolling the dead toward the Ganges where the previous body is already engulfed in flames and sending thick gray plumes into the air. I manage to capture a few far off pictures so I can explain the scene to my kids. When they receive my photos in a text message, they suggest I do not swim in the river. It is half with humor but also a knowing that their mother is a “when in Rome” kind of woman. I think about all the bodies burned on the Ganges over the years… and how people still bathe in the putrid water here, insisting on its healing and magical powers. Maybe I’ll swim once I make it north to a Rishikesh in a few days where the water still flows clean up at the base of the Himalayas.
Eventually, we leave the waterside and snake our way through the minute manure-filled streets, market lanes full of tourist shops with wares hanging into the streets. We find our way back to Lotus to have a late breakfast, but only after stumbling upon a heart wrenching scene: of the three puppies we saw earlier this morning, one is now dragging its hind legs behind it, trying to keep up with its siblings and a worried mother dog who paces back and forth. I guess out loud that the helpless creature has been struck by one of the many motorbikes. It is a struggle to keep walking, but there is nothing I can do. It will certainly die unless someone takes it in, and there are so many stray puppies here. I have to pull myself away, helpless. Later when we walk this way back to the river to see Lakshmi, the little buff puppy is dead where we saw it, abandoned and pitiful, it’s little body outstretched as if in a nap. My heart lurches into my throat and I choke away the bigger sobs that would drown me if I allowed. I feel the crack in my heart giving way, and I cry in between bites of breakfast. The rest of the day is a blur of shopping and wandering, with a siesta before sunset and Aarti celebration on the river.
Lakshmi sees me from a distance and smiles. I am greeted with a hug and the patting of her hand on the steps to come sit beside her to look at anklets. As the sky turns pink behind us, we talk about our kids, she wants to know why I am here and what is my job, and who I am bringing all these anklets home to in America. I explain that I am a yoga teacher and the anklets are for my twelve very special yoga students who are becoming teachers in a just a couple weeks. “Ahhh, this is good karma,” she says, followed by “for this, I give you good price.” We sit together talking for an hour while Brendan receives an uninvited massage by a man who grabs his hand and launches into a full rub, complete with finger pulls. Lakshmi and I laugh out loud together as Brendan shrugs his shoulders and submits to the experience. By 6:30 pm, the ghats are once again alive with throngs of people families and sadhus, dogs, cows, foreigners, and merchants. Chanting has begun on the main ghat, and people holding flowers and candles as an offering to the river Ganga Maa pile into wooden boats which are ushered into the fray of watercraft which line up in ragged rows facing the show about to begin onshore. I pull Brendan away from the masseuse and explain I am hopping onto a boat if he wants to go.
On shore there is incense, fire, and people packed and singing devotional songs. Groups of women light candles and chant as they set them on the water and whisk them away with their fingertips. Out where we are on the boats, boys hop from boat to boat with pails of hot chai. The atmosphere is joyful, celebratory, and overwhelmingly beautiful. It helps to clear my heavy heart.
This day in a nutshell barely scratches the surface of all I have experienced. My brain is in overwhelm mode. My mind wanders over the images of vendors, the little dosa shacks, the dog fights, three men who separate paneer cheese from the whey with a blue cloth, dodging cow patties in the streets, the women carrying infants who plead for money, saying they need milk for their babies, the little dead puppy with the broken legs, the sadhu reading the newspaper in the sun.
More: how I feel later on when I see the mother dog down at the bottom of the steps in the evening light with her two puppies dangling from her underside as they stand up on hind legs. Eating dinner on the top floor of Sita’s Hotel, overlooking the river. Lakshmi’s sincere hug and our wish to see each other tomorrow as she places the jingling string of silver bells on my ankle.
You’ve all seen my food pics with me oogling over the chutneys and the fresh fruits here in India, so I thought we’d take a bigger dip into the meals here on retreat. Some of you foodies back home have asked for recipes, so I’ll try to throw in a simple chutney for you to try from Chhaganlal’s seemingly endless repertoire. But first, what are the humble beginnings of our amazing food? The garden, of course, where they harvest corn, peas, beans, all kinds of root vegetables, celery, and so many herbs… tons of cilantro, a big Ayurvedic staple here.
Plenty of fruits and veggies come from the vast local markets too, which have things I’ve never seen on a farm back home; drumstick vegetable, anyone? Bitter gourd (the green one with the reptile-looking bumps)? Some kind of orange watermelon-looking squash? There are rows and rows of eggplant and radishes piled so beautifully, it’s really an art form. I’ll try to find out what that puckered thing is, too.
And the fruit! One word: papaya. Every morning we eat the sweetest, most beautiful papayas (see first pic above). We could fill up on this magical orange fruit alone… but then there are the mangoes, so juicy… and jewel-red pomegranates! Kalu makes us fresh juices from whatever fruits are in the kitchen, which could be black grapes, guava, pineapple, oranges and clementines… And there are so many kinds of bananas here, most of the ones we get at the retreat are the length of an index finger and very stubby and fat. The little rust-colored ones are my favorite! Guavas and melons and little pineapples… it is just too much!
The spices abound and are integral to Indian cooking. Of course there’s lots of ginger and garlic and turmeric, but the fun ones are the mustard seeds, fenugreek, fennel and cumin, the cloves and hunks of cinnamon hiding in a spiced rice, the masalas in our soups and dosas. It is not uncommon to have a sambar soup at breakfast or some kind of rice cake like idly (little flying saucer shaped rice and urad dhal patties), or even rice noodles with fresh coconut milk and red chili chutney to spice things up! Chagan tells us what spices we need to get, one of which is a sambar churna for soups and veggie dishes. The market sells spices by the bag or by weight from big bins, so I’m hopeful we can find it here:
Somehow our cooks make magic in the modest kitchen and turn out the most beautiful meals. Here are Chagan and Mohan, our dynamic duo, serving up another amazing breakfast with fresh coconut water, kaman dokla, papaya, coconut green chili chutney, and mangoes… o…m…g. I know you can tell from this picture below what a pair of characters these two are; they sing as they set up the tables for breakfast and make us feel like family as we rush into the garden after yoga practice, hungry for whatever goodness they are serving up!
Okay, so I know not all of these items are hanging out in your pantry, but if you are creative, you could come up with something that resembles this most wondrous condiment that sells out every single morning at breakfast:
*1/2 cup roasted chickpeas (not the same as canned or cooked)
*1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
*1/2 a fresh tamarind pod (you could use tamarind paste to taste)
*1 green chili, finely chopped
*1 tsp chopped ginger
*1-2 curry leaves
*pinch of black mustard seeds
Blend ingredients with a mortar & pestle until ground to a paste. Add water to desired thickness, and add a pinch or two of salt to taste. Voila! You could toss this all into a little Bullet blender and pulse a few times, but Dr. Mouli tells us that blending with an appliance vs. mixing by hand will actually affect the flavor of the food—that the structures of the ingredients are altered, which in turn changes the balance of tastes in the food; something to consider, since the coconut chutney I make at home in my blender can’t hold a candle to this here green sauce!
Here’s another breakfast shot, this time of a chutney-slathered masala dosa, my single most favorite thing here at the retreat; I literally get happy feet just thinking about it! Second picture thanks to my co-leader buddy, John, who captures my breakfast ecstasy (I admit, it is my favorite meal of the day).
Just to be fair, here is a photo of John getting excited about his pile of kitchari with John’s brother, David, egging him on, of course! (Photo courtesy of Carol, one of our sweet retreat guests 😊). Even though we all love eating here, the Ayurvedic diet during panchakarma is pretty important. Food is “taken” the way you think of taking a medication; in fact, food is the ultimate medicine; and when medicine tastes this good, you can’t help but feel healthy, happy, and whole (and maybe just s little giddy)!
Speaking of kitchari, there is a lot of it here at the retreat, but typically it is only given to those of us who go through the ghee cleanse and / or the purgation process. For those of you who don’t know about kitch, it’s a one pot meal made of urad dahl and basmati rice, spices and ghee, resulting in a tridoshic dinner with the perfect balance of protein and carbs, easy to digest, filling, and very grounding for the body and mind.
Below is a sample day at lunch—always an array with some kind of yummy soup, savory veggies, this beautiful shaved salad salad with lemon juice and sea salt, and, of course, chappati flatbreads, on which we drizzle ghee and sprinkle salt. YUM!
Our days here at the retreat are drawing to a close this weekend, and all fifteen of us, I am sure, would say one of the most interesting, fun, and favorite things about India and the Ayurveda Retreat specifically, are the culinary delectables. I’m going to miss the fruit, the dosa, the papaya, the chai… too many wonderful things to mention. No doubt, we will return for more of this love-infused food. On that note, sending much love from India to wherever you are!
The flowers here in Coonoor bloom year round, watered by monsoons in May and June and kept misted by mountain nights at 6,400 feet. Just this morning on our walk, I brush my hand over the tea leaves to find a thick layer of dew sitting in the folds of the leaves.
Vegetation varies as much here in the outskirts of Coonoor as the houses themselves. Huge white mansions are going up all over this area, and often alongside tiny rainbow villages that would fit in the back yard of some estates; but the wealth is welcome, as it brings work to the locals who build and plant and caretake these second homes of the aristocracy. Here is the country home of an Indian dignitary we have watched under construction for three years now—and all those perfectly trimmed tea fields belong to his estate.
The manicured gardens inside the iron gates bearing grand names like Northwind are watered daily and dangle their lush nasturtiums and roses over the bars. Red poinsettias and passion flowers laced with honeysuckle are trained around the fences that keep intruders (and wild bison) out of the perfectly paved new driveways, and gardeners clip grass with hand scissors so the wealthy can escape to their compounds and enjoy their spectacular views over the brilliant green tea fields and fragrant eucalyptus forests.
Around the corner, apricot-hued lantana mixed with purple morning glories spring from dusty red dirt and form tall dense hedges along broken concrete walkways, in between shacks, and under crisscrossed electrical wires. They belong to no house, no metal gates can hem them in, and they receive nothing but God’s sun and rain to nourish their bright foliage.
Hot pink tobacco flowers gather on the edges of the village dump and rage beauty alongside plastic litter that will never turn into soil, and wild white morning glories spring from the gutters that snake alongside the steps that lead us downhill to the painted village homes of Bharat Nagar.
The miracle of these blossoms is that they are no less beautiful than those cultivated in containers and lining the driveways that hide the entryways of the whitewashed estates, and yet like the people, some have privileged roots and a staff to maintain them, and others flourish without thinking how and without questioning their status. Life is what it is here, and although the dichotomy between monetary wealth and having just enough to live on is very evident, the happiest people I have met here are the ones who emerge from little pastel painted houses to wash their laundry in buckets or collect their water from a communal pipe or cook their rice over a pot in an alleyway or brush their teeth over the gutter. I wonder if the saturation of color here makes a difference in the mind and in the heart. The ladies smile as they fill their colored plastic pails, and the children grin as they say “good morning!”
Pink and green houses glow in the sunlight, and even the worn out flip flops strewn at the doorways look as though cast off of happy feet.
Brendan reminds me of that ancient quote about blooming where you are planted, which seems to hold true here, although I often wonder how people and plants (and pets) would flourish differently if they were planted someplace else on the planet. Remember last year I almost came home with a kitten, thinking I could offer it a better life? Who am I to say? No matter; we are here, and this is the day we are given. So I will just ask you this: how will you flourish today?
And on down the road aways, dogs, like flowers, Join our walk with wagging tails, sometimes leading the way now that they know us and know the smells of our morning entourage. There are always the grumpy ones, but that is true with humans too, so we pass by those who growl and round the bend where two sweet pups recline in their morning sunspots. On this third day of seeing them here, I realize just like us, animals have their morning rituals, and they too can choose to greet the day with happiness and kindness.
People line their jugs up to be filled, and children spit toothpaste into the ditch as we squeeze through pathways trying to find the parakeet lady we met last year.
At one filling spout, we stop and I ask, “Does anyone know the lady with the birds? The parakeets?” One woman smiles, and says yes. It is she herself. Her eyes are full of glitter as we recognize each other from last year. She leads us to the birds, tweeting their morning songs, their cage wrapped up in burlap bags to keep out the mountain air, still cool from last night’s full moon. I ask if she still has her puppy and little kitty, and she nods yes and says they are still inside asleep.
So I guess I am just in love with the painted houses, with the flower petals of every shade, with the pooches and the parakeets with their exotic lime and turquoise feathers kept in a tiny cage on the side of a mountain. I am in love with the people.
Here is my favorite photo so far I have taken. I think it captures the spirit of this place with its burst of magenta energy against the soft blue wash of paint on a simple wall. The beauty is impossible sometimes, and photos and words do not do justice to the experience of seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting, and touching this place.
To all of you back home reading this post, Shanti Shanti Shanti Om on this gorgeous morning!
I have been struggling the last week to settle on a topic for my next post. There is no lack of material; in fact, the problem is my mind is saturated with ideas, so many images, experiences, interactions… so perhaps I’ll just tell you about mornings here in India.
For those of you who might not know, I am here in Coonoor once again with my dear friend John de Kadt co-leading an Ayurvedic retreat in the Nilgiri Mountains of Tamil Nadu. The experience is built around a three-week panchakarma cleanse with twice daily Ayurvedic bodywork treatments and tridoshic meals intended to restore balance to mind, body, and spirit. We all come here with different issues and concerns, and with the guidance of our Ayurvedic physician, Dr. Mouli, the goal is to leave not only with a better understanding of ourselves, but to return home with the knowledge that food is medicine, each of us armed with recipes and Ayurvedic practices to help support each of us as we resurface after such a deep dive into our body, mind, heart, and spirit. Thus the panchakarma experience we offer is supported with daily sunrise walks, yoga, meditation, kirtan, storytelling, and Indian cooking classes (don’t get me started on the food!).
Our mornings begin at 6 am with Sunny’s gentle rap on the door. Sunny is a wonderful pharmacist who blends up herbal concoctions for each one of us to be taken five times per day, the first dose at dawn. Those of us who want to walk in the rising sun, down our herbs in the darkness and dress for the chilly mountain air. We meet at the gate and walk down the garden-lined driveway to the road. Our walks vary between vigorous up and downhill treks and meandering walks through the tea, but they always lead us through one of the numerous neighboring villages, each washed in pastel paint and lit by the rising sun.
On the morning the above picture is taken we climb the road up and up into this sweet village where women leave incense at the statue of Nandi in the town square. They circle Nandi as they pray, then kneel on the steps of the shrine where the sun sets the yellow paint aglow.
Some days it would be so easy to stay in bed just a little longer, but I don’t want to miss a single morning. The air is cool, and this is the most special time. We see children getting ready for school, women doing laundry, men returning from the local bath house, and water heating in steel pots over tiny fires.
There are barking dogs, birds in the bougainvillea, and chickens scratching in the red dirt and dusty grass along the pathways.
Already the lines are strung with laundry waiting for the sun which peeks over the hills and shines into the valleys and villages below.
And then the light turns the tea plants the most vibrant shades of green:
No matter what village we walk to in the morning, we pass through tea plantations to get back to the Ayurveda Retreat. We are literally surrounded by tea on all sides. Lining the path are wildflowers of all colors and shapes. I pick a new bouquet every couple of days; this one has a mix of ageratum, nicotiana, strawflowers, and lantana:
Back on campus, we have just a few minutes before yoga class begins. We lean into the path up to the studio, leave our shoes at the door and file into the room to roll out mats and claim sunspots or place mats near the heaters. I lead our group through slow flowing poses in the circular studio flooded with morning light.
We stretch and play our way into the day, working up an appetite for whatever goodness Chagan, Mohan, and Kalu are cooking up, always accompanied by bowls of coconut chutney and piles of papaya, pomegranates, and mangoes. And the chai! Oh, the chai, which Chagan calls “coffee coffee!” to which we all raise our little tin cups and say “yes!”
This is how we start our days, full of sweetness and joy and sunlight. And gratitude. Lots of gratitude. As I write this I am reminded of one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems:
Wishing you all a morning full of happiness and kindness,
In the dark hours before dawn our Qatar Airlines flight soars over some of the most bombed cities on the face of the planet: Aleppo, Baghdad, and Kuwait. Most passengers sleep uncomfortably in their upright seats, others snore loudly, mouths agape, contributing unconsciously to the rumble of the plane, and some like me sit awake watching the map slip slowly under our wings.
I am once again on my way to India to lead a retreat, this time with a group of fifteen people from eight states. I have a few days before and a full week after the retreat to travel, so this year we begin with the Taj Mahal. Before we land, I pray from the skies that our fragile planet below can hold; that the people down there inside the map I am studying are safe and sound tonight; that we humans can treat each other with love and compassion; I pray for peace as midnight delivers us into the coming day.
It is 5 am and my travel buddy, Brendan, is on the phone trying to negotiate with a taxi service from Delhi to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, the universal symbol of undying love and one of the seven wonders of the world. A price is settled upon, and the taxi will be here in an hour. In the meantime we sip Americanos and eat almond croissants full of marzipan. I know I’m heading into a three week panchakarma cleanse, but it is Valentines Day, and I have just left my beloved behind in the snow for five weeks, and I am not going to be eating chocolate for a month. Coffee and pastry one last time.
At 5:20 the taxi driver leads us to the small white car labeled TOURIST on the windshield, and we zip out of the parking garage into the pre-dawn smog draped over the city. The road is wide and quiet, our driver is not in a rush, and the sun seems stuck in the gray haze as it pushes its red face up over rooftops and the fields that flow endlessly by on the Taj Mahal Highway.
Our driver pulls into a gas station to fill up and take the first 2,000 rupees of our down payment. I use the filthy bathroom and am grateful for the wad of tissue I find stuffed into the outer pocket of my fleece jacket. Little things.
The road from Delhi to Agra is known for its morning fog, and at times the driver slows down to see the lines on the road. I find it amusing when we emerge from the mist and there is a tractor riding alongside us as if racing us into the sun.Two hours go by before we stop to grab a snack of masala spiced peanuts and to use the restroom. The sun is fully up now, and for the first time I want to peel my coat off and relish the warmth. Nearby a minivan door slides open, the hatchback lifts, and I kid you not, eleven people pour out of the van into the rest area: ladies in saris, little girls in dresses, men in skinny jeans and a variety of fake leather coats and parkas. Everyone takes off a layer. For a moment I watch, mesmerized. We drive away into the sunshine with our peanuts and water bottles. Next stop: Agra.
I neglected to mention earlier that our driver cannot speak English and has no interest in engaging anyway. I’ve always been amazed at how despite language barriers, people still enjoy the challenge and fun of trying to communicate; but this driver is having none of it. So you can imagine how odd and surprising it is when our car comes to an abrupt stop alongside a park in Agra, and in hops a little man who says his name is Hari. He tells us he will be our tour guide for “no extra charge.” Hmmm. We are too curious to say no, especially since his English is good, so we speed off with Hari riding shotgun next to our driver whose name we still don’t know.
Hari ushers us to our lodging, Sunita Homestay, only a few hundred yards from the East Gate of the Taj, and we literally drop our bags and head down the street lined with souvenir and shoe shops. By now it is 10 am and the place is bustling with cafes, vendors, tourists, and Indians here to enjoy a day out with friends. I wonder if anyone comes to pay homage to the love of an emperor for his lost queen. It is not as crowded as I thought it would be, and there is no line at the ticket booth where we pay 1,000 rupees each for a pass, a pair of white fabric booties, and a bottle of water.
We follow Hari inside the complex, and he explains a bit about the masonry and stone inlays on the buildings that surround the Taj. He is already telling us about the marble factory tour we will visit next and seems to be rushing us along. The details of the external buildings are exquisite, and I am trying my best to listen to Hari who rattles along too fast to really hear him, so that eventually, I admit, my ears turn off. Have you ever been in a place so beautiful you just don’t care how it was made or came to be? I can tell by Brendan’s face he wants to be done with Hari too.
But for a moment, let me be your tour guide. The Taj Mahal was built in 1632 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his second wife who he married in 1612. The word Taj means crown, and Mumtaz Mahal was the Shah’s crown jewel. Mahal was from a noble Persian family, and she married the Shah at nineteen, bore him fourteen children, and died in childbirth at thirty nine years of age. In his grief and in her honor, he built a mausoleum enclosed in a forty-two acre complex. At the time the project cost 30 million rupees, which in today’s money is $827 million dollars. It took the hands of 20,000 sculptors, artisans, and laborers to complete in 1653. After all was said and done, the Shah’s son had him locked up in jail for spending the royal fortune on his mother’s tomb.
There are no words to describe how white the marble is, or how at first it looks unreal—a mirage floating at the end of a row of gardens and throngs of saris and iPhones and people watching people. Here is our first glimpse:
The whole scene is one of magical chaos: lovers holding hands and posing for photos, gardeners on the lawn pulling weeds under the hot sun, whole families clustered for portraits with professional photographers, guards and tour guides, dogs reclining under cypress trees, and women lined up to sit on Lady Diana’s bench. I wonder how many pictures have been snapped here.
By this time Hari has lost Brendan and I both, and we decide to go without the guide and just plant ourselves here for the entire day. We hand him a tip and say we’ll see him later, both knowing we won’t ask him to guide us to the Red Fort tomorrow. For now we are absorbed in this one beautiful place.
Before we enter the central tomb, the line of tourists stops to slip white elastic booties over our shoes. The collective shuffle of feet up stairs and through portals is a whisper as voices bounce along the marble walls. We are told “no photo,” and enter the place where the queen reclines under the carved coral lotus flowers and jade leaves of her marble coffin. People toss coins into the tomb. We are out of the room in less than three minutes. Already the light of the day is changing, and the front of the Taj is no longer gleaming white: now long lines and gray shadows creep into her pale face, but this only enhances the sculpted facade and semi precious stones decorating the archways.
I cant help myself—I have to do a little bit of yoga posing to express my delight!
Awhile later the marble begins to take on a golden glow as the sun begins its descent, and even when it becomes a silhouette, it is magnificent.
We decide to stay until sunset, still hours away. People from around the world sit basking like us, just soaking up the day. No one is in a rush. Even the monkeys take their time as they parade across the steps of the Shah’s mosque toward the Yamuna River overlook.
Eventually the guards sweep the campus, and people slowly meander back toward the reflection pool where a final lineup of people waits to have photos taken in the Taj Mahal sunset.
Before we turn to go, I take a final look at this gorgeous monument. All at once I am overwhelmed with the knowledge that I am loved as much by my husband as Mumtaz was by her Shah Jahan. It is a sweet and tender knowledge.
The sun didn’t turn the marble pink like in some pictures I’d seen, but it did glow in the last rays of the sun. I admit I messed around with the filter on my camera in this final image, but I feel like it captures way I felt as I walked away from this beautiful sight; for a moment, time stood still like in a postcard.
From the Taj, with love,
Happy Solstice, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah,
Kwanzaa, and Feast of St. Stephen!
It has been ages since I sent out an email to everyone, and there is so much to say and share! Dragonfly has grown to offer more than 15 retreat events a year, including group trips to India, Central America, and right here close to home on beautiful Squam Lake at Rockywold-Deephaven Camp, as well as Yoga Teacher Training, special classes, and Ayurveda workshops.
The yoga life is good!
Perhaps the last time I sent a detailed note to all of you, it was shortly after our dear silly Mr. Paws and old lady Miss Sweetie Pie left us. My Nana died at the age of 94 shortly after my kitties, and I feel like time just slipped away after that. I don’t remember much about last fall and winter, actually, and was pretty absorbed in our losses. It took a few months, but I began to crawl out of my rabbit hole in India earlier this year and rediscover the joy I thought I had lost. It was there all along, I just couldn’t feel it under the cloak of my sadness. Some of you may remember the blog posts I shared from way up in the Tamil Nadu mountains of Coonoor, but if not, here’s a link to one which speaks most specifically about the loss of pets: https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/417450/posts/1368364769
I came back from India renewed and with a lighter heart, and Declan and I enjoyed a summer full of vegetables, retreats, and projects around home. After a lot of soul searching (and prodding by my Bridie child), the two of us went to the Conway Area Humane Society and adopted Mr. Seamus Og (og means little or young) and Miss Maizy Moon (our little black sprite with a sliver of white moon the length of her belly), who have filled our house with laughter and silliness ever since their paws hit the pine floors here. As much as he grumbles from time to time, we think Puddy Tat appreciates the company and the playtime, hopefully keeping our 14-year old man sprightly in the now latter years of his kitty life.
Our own human babes are grown and flourishing, and I don’t think they’d mind me sharing a teeny tiny bit (they appreciate their privacy with our business being so public and all). Finn is closing in on the last hours of his pilot’s license, and you locals may have even seen him floating over the hills of Sandwich these past few weeks in the single prop Cesna as he takes his required solo flights. It is a thrill to see him up there doing what he has always wanted (to be up in the air like the decade of rockets he fired off from our field), although I admit, I hold my hands over my heart to keep it from thumping right out of my chest when he zips over the treetops above his bedroom! A little farther off down the road is Bridie Rose, now a sophomore at George Washington University in DC and studying journalism, photo, and film studies. Rumor has it she is thinking about junior year abroad, and if that doesn’t make me think back… (ahem, a lot of years) and remember what it was like to be 20!! We are looking forward Christmas when the four of us (plus 3 kitties) are back in the house together for a little while (insert many heart emojis here!)
On a business-y note, Declan and I led a yoga retreat to Lago Atitlan, Guatemala this fall, and it was a most wonderful trip! It had been eleven years since my last visit there, and it really was a coming home, with many of the same staff, owner and family, and the volcanoes… Oh, what a sight to wake up to every morning!! Thank you to the sweetest group of retreat guests, who made this time so much fun and playful!
And, for those of you who are not here year-round, you may not know I am leading my first solo Yoga Teacher Training here at Dragonfly, and I have an incredible faculty, including our own Hannah (Peaslee) Hayes, DPT, Lindsay Mayock, DPT, Dr. Paul Dugliss of New World Ayurveda, and special guest teacher Girish who joins us for our final weekend of training in March! If you are interested in reading more about this journey (and maybe enrolling yourself in 2018!!), see the YTT link below!
Dragonfly is flourishing, and of course you are all invited to share the in the goodness going on here! Whether you are a regular student, an annual retreat guest, a snowbird who only sees Sandwich in the summertime, or someone who travels with Dragonfly to far-off lands, we are grateful for each one of you, your patronage over the years, and your presence in our growing yoga and Ayurveda community. Here is a list of what’s coming up as well as a link to our weekly schedule, so you can check in and maybe hit your re-set button with us over the Holidays and into the New Year. You can always simply visit our website and cruise through all the pull-down bars, but here is a menu you can peruse:
UPCOMING EVENTS & WORKSHOPS
HOLIDAY SHOPPING GALORE!!
Don’t forget to fill your stockings here!
Beautiful 108 stone bead malas (on sale now!), sterling jewelry,
silks from India, yoga props, and more!! Gift certificates and yoga passes too!
Welcome Winter Solstice Yoga: Thurs. Dec. 21 @ 6 am
This is our annual sunrise yoga class to celebrate the first morning of Winter!
We circle ‘round the Solstice spiral of evergreens, practice sun salutations,
and then share a potluck breakfast in the farmhouse kitchen! All are welcome!
To read more and RSVP: https://dragonflyogabarn.wordpress.com/winter-solstice-yoga/
Yoga Nidra, The Art of Conscious Relaxation: Wed. Dec. 27 @ 4:30-6 pm
To read more and register: https://dragonflyogabarn.wordpress.com/yoga-nidra-series/
Mala Making Workshop: Sat. Dec. 30 @ 10 am-12 pm
with Heart Opening Yoga & Intention Setting for the New Year!
To read more and register: https://dragonflyogabarn.wordpress.com/mala-making-workshop/
Restorative Yoga & Reiki: Wed. Jan. 17th @ 5-7 pm
To read more and register: https://dragonflyogabarn.wordpress.com/restorative-yoga-reiki/
Intro to Ayurveda Presentation: Wed. Jan. 24 @ 6:30-8:30 pm
@ Meredith Whole Living
This class is an opportunity to learn the Principles of Ayurveda with Katie O’Connell,
Ayurveda Health Practitioner and Ayurveda Yoga Specialist. Presentation/workshop is held at MWL’s
beautiful location on Main St. in downtown Meredith!
Registration fee is minimal, and info is coming soon!
UPCOMING RETREATS & TRAININGS
HEALING INDIA Retreat: February 16-March 9th, 2018
There is still time to register! Flights are cheap, and the retreat is offered at an amazing rate!!
Just a few spots left!!
To read more and register: https://dragonflyogabarn.wordpress.com/india-2018/
Please email Katie: firstname.lastname@example.org for details today!
SQUAM YOGA Retreat: Relax and Renew at Rockywold-Deephaven: May 31-June 3, 2018
This retreat sells out quickly!
To read more and register now to save your spot: https://dragonflyogabarn.wordpress.com/relax-renew-retreat-2018-2/
TO CHEW ON…
Dragonfly is planning retreats to Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way,
as well as to a beautiful warm getaway in 2018 (next location to be announced soon!),
and a 4th trip to India in 2019!
Details coming soon for all of these and more!
Dragonfly’s 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training
This year’s class is an amazing group of diverse yogis from all over NH and Maine! We are heading into our last 3 retreat weekends together, and it has been a wonderful journey of self-discovery, awareness, and yoga practice. If you or someone you know has been considering deepening her/his own practice and may want to teach yoga, please share Dragonfly with them! Our program is an 8-month, weekend immersion training registered with Yoga Alliance and exceeds the YA’s minimum 200 hours for a foundations program.
Dragonfly Yoga & Ayurveda is a Registered Yoga School.
Next training begins in August 2018!
Please email for an application! Early bird registration is on now for those who apply before April 15, 2018!!
To read more about our YTT program, visit: https://dragonflyogabarn.wordpress.com/yoga-teacher-training/
CLASS PRACTICE SCHEDULE:
There are no yoga classes on December 24th.
There WILL be a special New Year’s Yoga class, details TBA this week!!
From all of us here at Dragonfly to all of you near and far,
we wish you the sweetest of holidays with family and friends! Enjoy the beauty of the season!
Much love and many blessings,
Katie & Declan
As a yoga teacher, I am often asked by my students how yoga can help us emotionally deal with the all of the conflict in the world. Every day there is something despicable and painful in the news, whether it is a mass shooting, images of a war-torn country, suicide, genocide, sexual harassment scandals, or the political circus we are watching play out in our country. Add fires, floods, the ravaging of native lands for pipelines, the melting of our glaciers, and it’s like the people and our planet are completely out of control. I don’t have answers for all of these questions and issues–I can only teach what I practice and share from the yoga mat and then actually try to walk the talk off the mat and in the world. It’s a charge I take very seriously. So when I am asked by a student or someone curious about how a modern yogi handles what’s going on in the world, pleading, “what am I supposed to do with all this?” I understand. Our hearts are heavy. We have seen, heard, and experienced so much; some are beginning to shut down and become complacent. I open up my computer today to find another shooting. We feel paralyzed, too small to make a difference, or that our words fall on deaf ears that care more about their pocketbooks than human life. We are angry and don’t know how to direct our frustration.
A physical mat practice can help us work out stress in our bodies. A meditation practice can help us unknot the stresses of our minds. A pranayama (breathing) practice can help you to channel your energy, calm or invigorate yourself. These I can share with you at the yoga studio, in a classroom, or on a mountain top, but I don’t have the keys to your heart and mind, and I can barely keep track of my own. Thank goodness for the Dalai Lama!
Although he doesn’t give all the answers, just in time the Dalai Lama responds with an op-ed adapted from his new book “An Appeal to the World: The Way to Peace in a Time of Division, co-written by Franz Alt, a journalist and bestselling author. (I’ll attach the article at the end of my post). After reading this excerpt in the L.A. Times, I am inspired once again to share my belief that now is the time to do the hard work of self checking our thoughts, words, and behavior, and now is the time for self love, meditation, and connecting. I’m doing it for me. I want you to do this for you.
At every turn, we need to defy the egocentric, exclusionist, and resent-full attitudes we encounter–even if it is in our own friends or family, and especially in ourselves! Challenge: Call these things out when you feel them rising in your own heart and mind, not just when you see/hear it in others. Be a witness and acknowledge your own tendencies, stop your pattern in its tracks, and take a moment to re-frame your response. Give others the same mindfulness before you speak up about their cruelty or insensitivity. You CAN be strong and kind in the same moment. Try it. If you don’t think you can be kind, take 10 full breaths. Get yourself together. Be constructive instead of reactive. You can do this.
We find it pretty easy to judge others, actually, and we get all hot and bothered about it on social media where we can post about it from the privacy of our own homes. Here we don’t need to look into the eyes of another human; we can post some passive-aggressive Instagram quote to “stick it” to someone and hope they get the message, and we can point fingers, spread sarcasm, and feel good doing it too. We don’t need to face the ones who wronged us or those we may have hurt. It is all a little too comfy here on the couch.
Again, some real work to get you off your seat and get started in your close-to-home personal world: forgive those who hurt you, and this might mean forgiving yourself too. Don’t just ignore your pain or resentment and hold anger in your heart (or dramatize it in conversation behind someone’s back), for this leads to violence against yourself, destroys your own peace, and then inevitably affects others. Reach out to the person with whom you have a conflict. And if you can’t, for whatever reason, do the hard work in your heart of letting go–maybe find a coach or teacher who can help you process.
All we have to do is look at all the recent episodes of violence in this country and across the globe to know how much pain we are capable of feeling and causing… so much hurt on all sides. There is no way a mass murderer could gun down a crowd of people if he truly loved and cared about himself. Self love connects us to the Source–God energy. If we deny ourselves this connection, we become deranged, unbalanced, distressed. Connecting helps us to recognize we are all part of the same consciousness, and that requires humility, forgiveness, gratitude, and to see the divine in ourselves on a day to day basis. Now that is some strong medicine when we realize the person who hurt us (or someone we care about) is of the same Source as we are. Reminder: There is no “them.” Only us.
If you are courageous enough to take that step into the often uncomfortable truth that a murderer or a saint or yourself or the president of a country are all “divine,” then we have an interesting conversation going on. How quick we are to judge others, when what we are judging is a reflection of something in our own selves (which is why we hate it so much–who would want that horrible trait or capacity?) Can we re-frame the conversation a little by asking: “how did that person become so separate that s/he can harm/disregard/deny someone else (or himself)?” When we, ourselves, feel separate, how can we dial in to the resources that re-charge our hearts with belonging? Hint: you have to believe that you (that every single person) is worthy of love.
The Dalai Lama’s wish is that we could educate the heart as much as we instruct the brain in our schools. What a concept! But before this can happen, we need to have a chat about our compartmentalizing religions and the things that separate us (skin color, language, financial status, location on the planet, etc. ad nauseum.). Throw them all up on the table, and despite the perceived differences, we will most certainly find what we share in common as human beings. Rather than see culture, skin tone, and religion as impediments, can we learn to celebrate the variety and highlight similarites? Then we’ve got some empathy going. It is time. Time to learn how to talk through conflicts with others and find peaceful resolutions that knit us back together, like a quilt of many colors and textures. We don’t need to look the same, talk the same, go to the same church, eat the same food. That is all external. Start looking inward. We already have the same blood, body functions, and physical needs. We all have human emotions, the same need for love, acceptance, peace, the same capacity to feel sorrow.
So maybe we should start here… in every school across this country–in every yoga studio, church, town hall, soup kitchen, library. This is a movement that requires people and institutions to mobilize from the heart. With all of our desire for kindness and peace, why is it so hard to get this movement started? The Dalai Lama tells us in his recent article: “empathy is the basis of human coexistence. It is my belief that human development relies on cooperation, not competition. Science tells us this. We must learn that humanity is one big family. We are all brothers and sisters: physically, mentally and emotionally. But we are still focusing far too much on our differences instead of our commonalities. After all, every one of us is born the same way and dies the same way.”
It’s time to soften our edges–to blame less, problem solve, and forgive more. This does not mean be a doormat. It does not mean we have to agree on everything. We can still be truthful and be kind. My wish for today is that each one of us takes a moment to practice self love, forgiveness, and compassion. Once we can feel it here in our own hearts, we will immediately recognize ourselves in everyone we meet. This might be a start.
Much love, gratitude, and many blessings,
To read the Dalai Lama’s op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times, click Dalai Lama L.A.Times November 13th, 2017.