But that is for me to ponder later. This trip still isn't over, and I've found myself nestled into another type of community - a hare krishna community. This is new for me, pretty much everything about it, minus that I recognize a word here or a deity there. But that is pretty much where it stops, at a very superficial recognition of some concept I've heard faintly about. So I came here to learn.
I am not looking for a new religion. The one that I have serves me quite well, but yoga is also a fundamental part of my life and this was an opportunity to explore that in a little more depth. It wasn´t just that, I'll be honest, I was drawn to these communities for a variety of reasons, and it's not surprising that one of them is food. I love food. I especially love fresh food heavy in vegetables, fruits and dairy. It seems the vast majority of Latin America does not share that same sentiment...this is carnivore country with potatoes served simply to soak up the blood. I appreciate meat as much as the next person. Clearly, as a guest in someone else's home, I will not turn it down but be grateful for the gesture of hospitality. However, nothing has occupied my mind more that the thought of days and days of vegetarian food. That's a given here, along with some other rules of monastic living: no drugs, alcohol, foul language, or sexual relations. This is a place for clean living, spiritual inquiry and service to God.
I also get to learn some other cool things while I'm here...that's part of the trade. I volunteer for 4 hours a day in some kind of service. It can be working the land in the farm that provides a lot of our food, maintaining the gardens, working on construction or renovation projects, or general cleaning and maintenance of the place. I get to pick, and lovingly devote my time and energy to that cause. Then in the afternoon there is another 2 hour window where I can learn about vegetarian cooking, baking, mantras and chanting, conscious art or yogic philosophy. I get a place to sleep, 3 meals a day, a yoga class and I get to be surrounded by lovely people in a beautiful place. My exchange of a few hour of labor (which is still teaching me a lot) and $10 a day, seems almost unfair.
But we learn from each other, me and these ashram dwellers. I am a window to a world very different from the one they live in. I have experiences, skills, talents and opinions to share, and they have openly taken me in curious about what exactly makes me, me. We chat with my forearms covered in flour as we knead bread. I am invited to the front of the room to guide a yoga class in my broken spanglishskrit and they mimic my movements with warm, glowing smiles. I am greeted as madre (mother) followed by a prayer to Hare Krishna. I am surrounded at breakfast and lunch by new faces...some old and wrinkled like a ripe grandmother, others overflowing with energy that comes natural to children. They ask...How long will I stay? They want to know...when will I come back?
I am not a member of this community, simply a guest curious about a different way of life. I don't subscribe to all their traditions, rituals, beliefs or superstitions. It's ok, I don't have to. They simply ask that I respect them while I'm here. That's easy enough, they aren't pushy about it, but have an open door if I want to walk through it. I may not buy it all, but I'm grateful to be here, to have the chance to sit on the fringes and watch their beautiful rhythm unfold in these green Colombia hills. I may not drink this particular brand of Kool Aide but those who have, sure are nice people; really trying to live in harmony with what they believe. That is an easy thing to respect.
It's a drastic change to compare that to one of the other volunteers that showed up. This new guy, he is going to serve as an interesting teacher as well. He carries with him an air of arrogance, one of those holier-than-thou types who acts as if he always knows best. It is a constant reminder for me to keep my ego in check. I want to continue to grow but not become blinded by my own sense of right. He's one of those "yogis" that is obsessed with how only alive foods are good, vegan and raw is THE only and purest way to live and harshly judges those that don't conform his strict way of being. He's convinced that somehow his diet is going to bring him spiritual enlightenment...I think, well, how about not being an asshole to people. Let's start with that maybe? I tried to have a conversation with him, asking him the why's of his chosen path. He seemed so confident of his direction and I wanted to know why. What drove him to make these choices? What can I learn from your experiences?
It didn't take long to realize that he is still trying to figure that out. He's latched on to certain recommendations or guidelines without ever fully understanding them...without himself ever having asked why? So his actions and his presence are one of a challenge, I dare you to live differently from me and then I can feel superior living an enlightened life with my raw food.
So I try to love him. I try not to react to his comments and judgements. I try to see myself in him and mould the parts of myself I don't like. I see my interaction with him as practice for all the similar creatures that I know will come across my path. So I try to be grateful, I try to be open, I try to see the god in him...because
that, not the almond cheese, is really his true nature, even if he doesn't know it yet.
In a world free of modern conveniences and distractions, I have plenty of opportunity to devote myself to this loving practice...to bite my tongue and smile...to rehearse my own personal mantras gleaned from my weekly bible lesson, to stain my fingers in blackberry juice while plucking fat berries from the vine. I have pockets of stolen moments to sit in the sun reading, marinating in the knowledge buried in these sacred texts. Night comes early and my path is lit by glowing flashes of fireflies...five...twenty....hundreds...turning on and off. I sleep, on a hard bed that is nothing more than a thin mat over wood slats, a heavy, mostly dreamless sleep. The kind of sleep that accompanies a content and innocent consciousness.The kind of sleep that even drugs can't buy.
It rains here all the time, it must be the secret to the green. But the rain is like rebirth, every morning is washed clean, every day is a new start. I hear it tink-tink on the roof of the simple house at night when I curl up with my books and in the morning it is accompanied by the sound of a conch shell ushering in morning prayer. Good morning, I am still here...let's work on being that light, let's work on being that joy, let's be that love...as I make my way to breakfast and prepare for my morning of selfless service.
I am ready before my fellow volunteers. This is not new, it happens every morning. I sit waiting at my usual table for breakfast. Govinda, the devotee who works with us volunteers brings me breakfast and sits across the table. How are you doing? she asks. I tell her I'm well. She looks me hard in the face and asks me again. I guess, I'm an open book to everyone. So I come clean and confess that, well, maybe I am a little tired. Is it the others? she asks. I admit, there are two other volunteers with me, the aforementioned guy and his "girlfriend." They fight a lot and complain about most everything: the food, the weather, the work, each other. They try to put me in the middle of their bickering and I refuse, but yes, it can be exhausting. I came here to get away for a while, to work and learn and grow...not play babysitter to tweedledee and tweedledum. I don't want to be harsh, I don't want to judge, but honestly the complaining just gets old and I am not sure what else I can do. What did they expect to find that they seem so unhappy with what is there? With a pleading look I asked her...are most of the volunteers like that? Isn't it clear in the website and the orientation what this community was about, what was required of volunteers? Was I crazy to expect more from my peers?
Govinda smiled her radiant smile and she told me to be patient. Not everyone is like you, she reminded me. You are very blessed. Yes I know, I agreed. I have been very blessed, my life is full of blessings. And I don't expect everyone to be just like me...that would be quite boring.
She shook her head like I didn't understand. "Claudia," she says,"let me tell you something. When you first arrived here I was surprised by how much I was drawn to you. You have a beautiful presence and a foundation that is so clear and so strong and it draws people to you. You have a sincere love that radiates and welcomes people in. You are blessed to have a starting point that other people may spend their whole lives trying to reach and because of this your actions are sure. Be patient, love them, we are not all as lucky as you are."
What could I possibly say to that? I never saw myself in that light. In fact I see myself as a work in progress, very much in progress. This was the kindest spoken criticism and most beautiful compliment I had ever heard. I was speechless, this strange battle of embarrassed and proud moving through my thoughts. With that Govinda stood up, responding the sound of the bickering in the distance. The other 2 volunteers were coming and she was off to get them breakfast.
"Hare Krishna," she called to them with that same radiant smile as made her way across the grass.
Yes, I get it...Hare Krishna