Friday, July 31, 2015

Bicycles and Umbrellas

I haven't been able to get such a composition, but so enjoy this sharing this and breaking my norm of using just my own photos.

Soft manufacturing.  Light infrastructure.  Tools.  Wholesale utilities.  These are pieces of my every day that I see done well.  Very well. So well that their use if obviously for the long-term — longevity, purposeful, effective, sustainable.

Sustainability. The ultimate death knell or the initiative-saving redeemer.  Sustainability is to where my weeks have led me. Though the word has so much buzz, thick politics, and a spectacular indeterminacy, I do believe it is the key to any project’s livelihood and efficacy.  Programs to create or achieve sustainability usually take the form in some sort of monitoring and evaluation / analysis.  Keeping track of what has been done and periodically checking its usage / productivity / impact / support is essential to keep relevant and improve the afore mentioned metrics.

To zoom this in to real application, let’s talk about three things.  First, where I see this happening in my daily life.  Second, where it has become a factor in my time here.  Third, where recent of my conversations on the issue have led.  First:  bicycles and umbrellas.  I don’t know if Hero Bicycles actively monitors their product in India, but these bikes are built to withstand anything.  I have seen these bikes everywhere, of all conditions and ages, used as transportation for a family, as anchor to haul a trailer, or even ridden to herd goats.  The frame sizes all seem to be generally similar — large — and I see rural village children far too small for what they are riding, as well as older elegantly white-mustached gentlemen cruising into the Old City.  Much like many lower socio-economic urban areas of the US, there exists a general stigma that bike riding is for the poor and not something sought out.  It greatly joys me to see the utility these bikes do serve, though, despite such existing attitudes.  I see the sustainability aspect at play in two phases, here.  One, the quality and durability of the product.  As mentioned, these bikes are heavy-duty and I see bikes of all condition still in use.  Second, the bikes’ prevalence and utility helps to reform the stigma and negative perception people may have about bikes and poverty.  Essentially, these bikes heroically help to reform perception while providing a durable device — truly (hopefully) a sustainable initiative.  Umbrellas also rank on this order.  This one seems natural to me now that I am in the monsoons and constantly wet.  Hardcore umbrellas are a must!  Sometimes I do see umbrellas turned inside out, but they don’t then collapse or break apart.  What I have come across so far are of thick fabric and sturdy handle, built to successfully block the torrent of wind and rain.   

Second:   miscommunication.  Miscommunication, missed communication, mass communication, absent communication, maybe over communication, all can have devastating effects on development work.  Fortunately thus far, I have not met devastation, but I have recently run into an unfortunate lack of interaction between personnel that is soon to be explored.  

This room is in the Seva Mandir rural hospital near Kherwara.  K and I found ourselves stuck here for a few hours (remember the monsoons…) last Saturday as we were heading to a new village initiative in Pareda.  Since we were in place we went ahead with some maintenance and repair works that were in order.  As you can see in the picture, the room is freshly painted and is aimed to make the environment fun, warm, and relaxing for future adolescent residential-patients to be treated for malnutrition.  K and I were there taking measurements and strategizing the layout of the room in order to make it child-friendly:  lowering sinks, adjusting water faucets, tiling the bathrooms, accessible and functional windows, etc.  What my panoramic misses is all the reconstruction and renovation work that needs to be done with the ceiling and upper walls.  So, the (recently?) painted murals will either have to be redone if repairs go ahead or repairs will not be done so that the murals can stay.  This makes no sense and is simply disappointing.  The whole initiative to convert this space into a residential room is known, but respective project planning was done completely in the wrong order; thus, where I see sustainability as issue in my work.  In order for anything to be maintained — let alone improved — foresight, systematic planning and monitoring, evaluation, and transparent communication across initiative divisions is foundational.  This is a very simple example, but it speaks to much more than just the order in which to handle a wall.  Development work is often under criticism for only creating more problems or leaving false hopes for despairing or neglected communities.  This definitely has happened in the world and is possible.  Sadly, there will probably be more “fresh paintings done over what really needs to be fixed.”  There is much more to comment, but let us transition with this theme into the final section.

Third:  how to foster sustainability and what areas really need it.  Being surrounded by other volunteers from SM and other NGOs is an invaluable resource to reflect, react, and plan for our work.  Lately, I have been very fortunate to engage some very challenging, proactive, and honest conversations about development work at large and in India, “development issues” in India, and ways (mostly questions) to address disability and gender hierarchies.  There could easily be a whole other meandering reflection essay about these, but here I want to provide a link where this is emotionally demonstrated and give a brief list of ideas we have discussed.  Please take this list and challenge it, explore it, troubleshoot it, and definitely feel free to share your thoughts!

  • Why is there seemingly so much miscommunication in domestic development projects?
  • What initiatives or programs can be put in place to institutionalize foresight and long-term planning?
  • How do these types of dilemmas compare across the Global South?
  • What level of impact can really be expected by someone who comes to do work and then leaves, i.e. summer volunteers who must work with translators?
  • What is the ( / Is there a) fundamental piece to development work?  Is it health? Infrastructure? Education? Particular human rights?
  • How can we open up channels of access and advocacy for individuals with disabilities?
    • especially for youth
  • What is an effective means to provide children starved for attention, compassion, and intellectual stimulation?
    • in the context of discussing a residential-school for children with disabilities 
  • How can we ensure that curricula address the needs of an environment that demands dynamic problem-solving?
    • in the context of discussing equitable instruction between government schools, private schools, and institutions for disabilities, but I consider the question of analytical thinking paramount at all levels of Indian society 
  • Are love-marriages, versus arranged-marriages, helping to balance patriarchy?
    • in urban environments? in the rural environments?
  • Could a different dating culture help to empower women?
    • such as longer courting?
    • what types of spaces make the most sense in India for such an institution?  i.e. coffee shops? restaurants? theaters?  outdoor spaces?

I am sure these items have been explored and central in development work since its inception.   I encourage you to look at any of the numerous websites, articles, and books that offer their opinions on causes, proper presentation for discussion, and solutions.  The more we challenge with an open, cooperative, and proactive spirit, the more effective we can be in addressing the qualms that limit projects in any arena, not just India.  

The beautiful city of the lakes below Karni Mata by night in the rain.

Monday, July 20, 2015

A Fort and Temples. . . and bumpy roads

Sunday brought an exciting day trip out of Udaipur to explore Kumbhalgarh Fort and Ranakpur, home to a beautiful Jain temple.  The day hosted us with some cooler weather, a little rain here and there, awe-inspiring sights and heights, and the most efficient driver with whom I have ever ridden.  The drive is definitely worth mentioning -- as another volunteer on the trip said, "I usually have to pay for this much excitement."  Truth. Our driver was tearing up the roads in our mini-suv, I can only imagine him in a high-performance car.

Perhaps our last stretch of level, straight road passing behind us.
To get to Kumbhalgarh from Udaipur, we drove westward through the Aravali mountain range.  A very luscious green and leafy area, it is easy to see why this serves as a retreat to so many.  The fort began construction in the 15th-century and is now a World Heritage Site.  Interestingly, the fort contains the "Great Wall of India," the world's second largest wall after China's.  The area included within the fort demesnes is massive and incorporates farmlands, ruins, Hindu and Jain temples, and small hamlets.  Once we arrived to the fort, the altitude and cool winds met the enshrouding fog to give the whole atmosphere a mysterious intrigue of the history in the spot on which we stood.

Shot from the Ram Pol (Ram Gate) along the fort wall.

Following the track of the wall from the fort's top level.

Amid one of the over-300 temples inside the fort.

After a lunch with some curious monkeys, we starting on the second half of our day towards Ranakpur.  Also, constructed in the 15th-century, Ranakpur houses a Jain temple devoted to the first Jain Thirtankara, Adinatha.  In Jainism, there are 24 such "ford-makers," or those who have successfully left this cycle of rebirth and redeath, from our current cosmic period. The 24th in the line is Mahavira, who is said to be a contemporary of the Gautama Buddha.  I don't know as much about Adinatha, but could read his name on most of the murtis (images) around the temple (sorry, no pictures of those!).  Tradition holds that as the first of the jinas in our age, Adinatha, taught basic human civilization:  farming and commerce, politics and art, and the proper teachings of caring for mendicants, such as dana "alms."

The temple is known for its intricate carvings and cool marble finish. What really astounds me, though, is how well preserved everything is.  For the shear magnitude and detail, the structure seems pristine.  Enjoy the pictures, and stay with me for more this week.

Jai mata di.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Clever People

A beautiful sunset dinner view towards the Monsoon Palace.  Check out all those bats above!

“People in India are very clever.  They always figure the way to maximum profit.”

The response had laughingly been given to me after I asked about a mine we drove past on a rocky, winding road between villages.  My village guide, K, told me the mine was probably illegal, just someone who lives nearby, goes to cut the marble himself and finds buyers.  All unregulated, unmonitored, and most of all unknown to the government.  Even though the conversation fell towards the end of our day together, the theme of “outside the government’s knowledge” seemed to very aptly fit the day. 

After the start to a week of miscommunications, misfortunes, and just plain misconnections, I finally got back to Kherwara and able to get to Bichiwara.  This time, I was thankfully joined by another volunteer, G,  who is working on education materials for the sanitation projects across blocks.  The Kherwara block office was packed -- every field attendant from the block was in-house for a full day's workshop / review / analysis / overhaul on initiatives.  The modest space was carpeted for the meeting.  Everyone sat circled in the main room, papers scattered, pens furiously noting, chai noisily sipped, and voices bouncing from different sections of the circle.  Of the 30-ish people in attendance, my reporting officer, Ms. AB ji was the only woman.  Her vivacious and directed speeches, though, proudly ran the meeting.  G and I were glad to leave them to their day and for us to get out and to the village, finally.

I was pleasantly surprised to see some improvements on the community center K and I saw during our last visit.  Now completely in use, a chalk board and two posters hung on one side of the inner room, while a non-formal education class of 26 was being taught.  The community center / education center site is one of my two primary foci right now.  We are pushing a proposal to construct an eco-san toilet there and to also develop educational materials for the children in order to inculcate the eco-san practice.  

Moving past the center we were warmly welcomed by the families we met as we discussed their habits and usage with the Seva Mandir-built toilets.  Here is where the "outside the government's knowledge" theme really hits.  Up 'til now K and I and have been discussing the numbers in the villages.  Currently 52 toilets by SM, 12 toilets by the government, and 4 water tanks by SM (3 of which are broken -- addressing these is focus #2).  14 more are in a current proposal.  The next families we met had gov-toilets built near their homes.  Any social-justice-inclined individual would be disappointed to see what was there.  No roof, a far out-dated dry-toilet system, tiny, ill-supplied -- all around rough.  The SM toilets have been built with great care and effort and have support from the families near them.  The gov-toilets have become storage sheds, forgotten shafts of cement, and neglected resources.  From what I learned in conversation, these gov-toilets actually hurt SM efforts because they so poorly represent the logic and ambition of ecological sanitation.  

One of the families we met with seemed a little apprehensive to have us walking around their home, but after a quick intervention from a neighbor we befriended, and (what I take to be) a quick cut at the shitty* job done by the gov-initiative, we were conversing and laughing in no time.  It was a telling point to me in my, SM's, and any organizational development initiative.  There is incontrovertibly a greatly shared desire to help, or at least recognize needs, but the outcome of the efforts terribly span the spectrum of impact.  This is no surprise considering the varying attitudes and experiences with each particular initiative, but it becomes a very real, sensitive, and important issue when efforts inhibit one another. 

Maybe because my previous efforts in service were with a government-endorsed and situated organization, I hadn't in the past felt the need to worry too much about "government initiatives" -- all I needed to do was to focus on the situation I was in, the students I was with, the amazing team I worked with, and the corps-at-large with whom I served DC.  It appears now that my projects are not only balancing village needs, SM fit, human capacity, but also gov-efforts.  Thank goodness I am working with clever people.    


Monday, July 13, 2015

Jodphur, the Blue City

My first trip away from Udaipur.  Just want to share a view photographic  highlights from it.  A Jodphur weekend.  Gratefully spent with this divine friend and many new ones!
And we even booked the same place to stay without previously discussing!
The 7-ish hours heading northwest by bus from Udaipur helped me to recognize how green everything in south Rajasthan actually is and that I was definitely heading towards the Thar Desert.  The steady progression into dryness was an interesting geographic change for me.

Fort Mehrangarh.

The distanced Umaid Bhawan Palace.

Looking below to the Blue City from within the Fort.

A resting room built on the top level.

And finally the Blue City below.
The beautiful temple structures inside the Mandore Gardens.

Obligatory nod to elephants.  
 More thoughts and reflections to come soon!  I have plenty from my bus rides there and back! Comin' 'atcha in a few days time.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Why Seva is Simple

Jagdish Temple nearing sunset.  This Hindu Temple is basically right in the middle of the Old City, surrounded by a constant fury of people, Tuk-Tuks, cycles, and vendors.  
So, after one week of living at Seva Mandir there has been plenty to see, hear, eat, touch, taste, experience, and so much about which to think.  Some things stand up as exemplary, others lay deep down as questionable and unfortunate. Exemplary (and rightfully listed as first) -- the sharing-culture.  Unfortunate -- the disparity of resource access and understanding.  Exemplary -- palak paneer (hmm got to get that spinach and cheese!).  Unfortunate -- village children sustained by packaged "wafers" (chips, oh, not so different from my kids in SE Washington, DC).  Exemplary -- water filters and tanks.  Unfortunate -- unsanitary water wells and polluted rivers.  Exemplary -- WiFi.  Unfortunate -- isolated villages.  

But telling truths emerge from such words.  My descriptions of such observations are not helpful for the situation.  The positive and excited words are nice and enjoyable to share with others, while the saddened and hardened words are difficult.  My two months of exposure to these dichotomies -- as they appear to me -- will indelibly impact my outlook and the types of questions I pursue, but in the meantime they pull me in innumerable directions to synthesize and cope with all that is here.  I have always read and seen India as a land of mixes, but the spectrum I experience each day is almost incomprehensible.  When I spent time in Sri Lanka, it was a similar situation, but maybe because transit and most meals were provided, the day-to-day bustling exchange and interactions were lost on me.  As an immediate reaction to it all, I love the embrace and reception into everything.  Nothing can beat the sharing-culture, except maybe not sharing a 4-person space with 8.  The sharing-culture is a sign of trust, a sign of solidarity, a sign of acceptance.  Anything can be shared, just try it :)  But, simultaneously, it pains me that the sharing-culture I have been in also represents survival, struggle, and need.

Broken well in Dilwara. Yes, the water is that color #nofilter. 
My first day in Bichiwara, K told me that we would be going to a very poor area.  I told him I was ready and that I hoped my presence wouldn't offend anyone.  I wasn't shocked by the conditions we saw, but was very happy to experience K's final words, "The people may be poor materially, but they will treat you with the utmost rich kindness." In every community I have been in that finds itself at or below "poverty level," I have always had this experience.  This is where the sharing-culture means the most.  Nearly every family we met with that day brought us chai and sheepishly laughed with me as I tried out some Hindi.  Though we were far separated by words, we sat close with some tea.

The importance of taking you and myself back to that day in the village after my written introduction is to tie together the exemplary and the unfortunate.  After living the sharing-culture for one week among the villagers, the Udai townspeople, and the wonderful other volunteers, it is easy to see that it is a form of seva.  Remember, seva can mean service, but in tradition and especially in practice it takes on much more than what one might think of as service.  Seva embodies a selfless act, almost to an extent that there are not selves, per se, just an existing need or opportunity for good.  From what I understand of its philosophic roots, the service constitutes worship of the divine [my exposure has been in the Bhagavad Gita and some Jain agamas, if you want some places to look].  I haven't had conversation about the intention yet, but will be interested to compare responses about this between my rural friends and urban fiends.  My point in all this, though, is that this shared-culture as service, seva, transcends the differences of material wealth, it collapses the gaps between strangers, and creates a microcosm of community.

Community. That is why seva is simple.  It is doesn't come with posh and airs, it is one just living, being, sharing -- making it.

An unfinished rooftop in Dilwara, but what beautiful doorways.
I don't have ready solutions or thorough proposals for improvements or directing development, but there are many wonderful people, organizations, and projects working nonstop that do and I hope my time on the sanitation projects in the Kherwara block will be a piece.  I am grateful to be part of Seva Mandir's effort that has been in action for so long.     

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Friday in Udaipur

The deep and distant sound of the pre-dawn (Muslim) Call to Prayer can be heard outside.  The constant low whoosh of the fan is nonstop inside. The conversing Tuk-Tuk and auto horns address every passer-by — two-wheeler, four-wheeler, and bi-ped alike.  Shopkeepers call out in the Old City.  Mand blasts from one room high above the street, while sweet tabla tones comes from an unseen radio.  As much as Udaipur, and I imagine India in general, is known for its colorful dress, buildings, flowers, and images, there definitely is no shortage of creative and captivating sounds.  

I have waited a day to write up this post in order to let the whole of Friday settle.  It is currently Sunday morning, here, and the gentle breeze rolling in through our screen window is encouraging me to write.  From what I now understand my Friday was unique in the life of a volunteer at Seva Mandir (SM);  it was only my second real day and I was going for a site-visit 100km away— “into the field.”  I hopped in the back of the Kherwara block office Jeep at 8:30 and after a quick stopover for chai and some Jain snacks as we picked up the HR Director and his son, dropping off the son at school, picking up another rider’s son somewhere off the side of Highway 8 about 30 minutes later, dropping that son and father off maybe 20 minutes later from that, we then arrived to the office.  (SM's initiatives across the state are broken into divisions called blocks.) The small, upstairs office welcomed us with chai, chapati, and bitter yogurt (really, quite a great mid-morning combo).  We met with the office director there and then my soon to be day-companion, K.  K was to take me to the Bichiwara village 15-20km and we were to spend the day observing the status of the numerous SM projects that had been completed, in place, or stalled.  The primary focus of our visit was to see some of the 52 eco-san (Ecological Sanitation) toilets and the village water tank.      

Leaving Udaipur.

Finally nearing towards the Kherwara SM office.

K and I have been paired for two immediate reasons, but after our day I am sure there are many more factors that have brought us together.  K is the primary office member who attends to Bichiwara, plus my reporting officer, Ms. AB ji thought I didn’t need a separate translator (I agree with her because K’s english is quite good, but I disagree because my Hindi is quite poor for working in the field).  He is a civil engineer by trade, so he found it interesting that I studied physics, but now study religion as a full-time focus:  “Religion is life.”  From K’s hindu point of view, he described to me that Jainism and Buddhism are nice, but ultimately they are really just parts of Hinduism since they come from India.  He further broke down a few levels of the caste system as defined by last names while we spelled out his name in Devanagari.  It was a new experience to have a practitioner talk with me in real time, instead of the flat pages of the books that have sustained my studies until now.  I didn’t push back too much on his statement but wanted to learn more about his thoughts.  Over the day K explained to me that he sees the Upanisads, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavad Gita, (he never mentioned the Vedas) as the original works and thus the original answers.  What traditions followed may have claimed other inspiration or interests, but really were rooted in those texts.

K and I at our first stop.

The rest of my conversations were rather far from religion, but all the same new and challenging.  I got to meet with many families through the day, which consisted of wide-eyed wonderment of young children and active intrigue from older children and adults.  It is very hilly where most of the families live in Bichiwara, so our visits seemed far apart and isolated.  We all shared many sessions of chai and plenty of slow and broken conversations.  K negotiated with the families for them to only speak in Hindi when they see me (THANK GOODNESS), because we are so far south in Rajasthan, the villagers speak a mix of Gujarati and other Rajasthani dialects.  The day was beyond most challenges I have known in my life.  The long time spent riding with K and hiking across the hills and farm lands was exhilirating, the conversations quickly exhausted my Hindi, the cooler day was more than welcomed, the afternoon Sun was sensational, I had probably my best cup of chai in India to date (the key is all the ginger), but the idea of me immersing into this community until September was both daunting and exciting, mostly daunting.  I will be staying at the block office occasionally, possibly visiting the field on my own sometimes, and all the time pushing my Hindi.  These prospects are why I waited to write:  some big pieces to put in place!

The day stretched and I was happy we stopped at another block site to pick up another group and that volunteer and I jumped in the back of the Jeep.  We talked about her travels in India and around Asia for most of the ride.  I’m sure I was a little eager in English conversation since all day I had been struggling in Hindi.  When we finally got back to SM a group of other volunteers were heading to dinner, so I quickly dropped my things and between two shared autos and a motorcycle, we made it to the Old City and found our way to a lake-side dinner.

Saturday offered me some time to settle my thoughts from Friday.  I took to the road to find myself at the Neemach Mata Mandir.  The serenity and view provided some humbled thinking.

The entry steps to the hilltop Neemach Mata Mandir.
Udaipur below Neemach Mata Mandir.
 "Jai Mata Di."

The environment of the Kerwara sanitation project overwhelmed my doubts and although the topic matter, desperately vital for the well-being of the village, may not be my first choice of topic, all the other components are absolutely amazing and I am sure I can at least dive in for a few weeks.  So, it seems fitting that I should apologize now for the inappropriate coping humor that is sure to come!  
Saturday night ended the work week with an incredible dinner on our rooftop, cooked in our kitchen, shared by a small group of volunteers, and taken in the great company of innumerable mosquitos.    

Important words by which to live. 


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Udaipur, Day 1

Stunned.  Definitely not speechless. Definitely not overwhelmed.  Just stunned.  Happily, lovingly, graciously, generously stunned.  Beginning with my flight from Mumbai, the day has been filled with so much fun, help, and camaraderie.  On that flight I sat beside a photographer who was traveling with crew en route to do a fashion shoot at the Palace Hotel — an exotic hotel in the middle of the lake (definitely recommend you looking it up! and I hope to get some photos of the lake soon).  I also made friends with a German traveller who was hopping between Udaipur and Jaipur for the next week.  

As we descended into Udaipur, 6:00am.

The taxi ride to SM was not too wild — it was only 7:00am — but was made quite a joy by my taxi driver, A.  In conversation, Jainism came up and so he dutifully pointed out to me every Jain person, building, and area we passed as we zig-zagged down the road.  The quick trip wouldn’t have been complete if we didn’t pass A’s favorite spot to partake in his hobby:  collecting peacock tail feathers at a spot right off the road before the turnoff towards the Old City.  After all, I did ask him what he enjoyed about Udaipur :)

Two Jain women walking along the highway on the outskirts of Udaipur.  These two are walking because riding in an auto at high speeds would be potential for killing many many more organisms on the ground and in the air than just walking.  Besides the white coverings, a common Jain practice one will also notice is wearing a mouth covering in order to protect small organisms from being accidentally eaten.  Many more thoughts to come on Jainism, but it is important to realize the utmost concern for practicing ahimsā, nonviolence.

Generously waiting for me at the gate to SM was my roommate, Jose, and soon to be friend, M.  They helped me to get right to exploring around SM and we even shared an ideal morning sit-down with some chai.  M works with an NGO up the road, Shikshantar, so is around SM quite a bit.  After chai, I had a day of quick orientations and meetings with my prospective reporting officer, Ms. AB ji.  Ms. AB ji is a widely experienced and passionate individual in the rural development game around Rajasthan.  I am quite fortunate to have her as my guide into development work — not to mention the amazing lunch she shared with me after our afternoon meeting.  Oh don’t worry, you’ll get some, too; Ms. AB ji and I are already planning on a cooking lesson.  I will abstain from now discussing the nature of the project she proposed because we will be doing a type of “fitting” over the next few days to determine if I am the person for it, but will have a full detail soon!
The entrance to SM and one of the jeeps for going out to the field.
The rest of the afternoon was full of so much Hinglish! It was so encouraging to meet so many people who would listen to me and speak slowly for what conversation I could manage.  SM hosts numerous students preparing for exams in their library, so needless to say, there are plenty of new people with whom to talk and practice Hindi.  With no stop to the deluge of events, the evening was absolutely incredible! M was part of organizing a group for an hour of meditative silence, so J and I met him and a new friend, Rama, outside of Shansakar before grabbing a TukTuk.  The four of us picked up two more friends and after a bit of adventure we arrived to our host’s apartment.

In much South Asian thought, there is a common theme of separation of “I.”  Somewhat meaning one’s soul versus one’s body or one’s possessions or one’s attachments as definitions of self.  Our focus of the night was exploring our own internal understanding and relationship with that “I” (or those “I(s)”).  An hour of fragranced, candle-lit, serene silence holds an amazing and enlightening power.  An hour is a grand luxury, but if you have not had at least a little time in silent reflection, lately, I wish for you to stop and to dedicate just a few minutes to yourself.  It doesn’t need to be in a setting structured for that, the candles, the flowers, or incense are all unnecessary, though they are quite nice, but instead just requires of you a concentration within.  It may help to have a prompt like “What do I understand when I say ‘I’?” or it could merely be a few deep breaths of clearing your thoughts.  Whatever may be helpful to you in this moment, I wish you a deserved reprieve of silence for it.  

After our hour and conversation about thoughts and insights gleaned from the meditation, we shared out a wonderful spread of foods everyone in attendance brought — we took some fruits, which I must admit I am excited to have brought home a few for breakfast (J headed back home early to a new roommate we have, S.  He will be staying the next two months, also!) And then, potentially the most thrilling aspect of the day:  getting home.  The TukTuk ride earlier was nothing compared to a blitzing scooter ride. I will leave it at that and the fact I am here writing to you about the day.  

My next post will be much heavier on the photos, and a more about SM, this blog title, and projects on the horizon.

prēm aur āśā