Saturday, November 21, 2015

Shadow Work

Dear Victim,
Thank you for protecting my fragile self from the harshness and the injustices of the 'outside' world; harshness that could have potentially left me damaged.
I now feel ready to carry forth the wisdom from and not the fear of hurt.
I seem to have better practice at feeling pain without suffering it.
You may now return to Mother Earth, and send me the Healer.

Dear Guardian, 
Thank you for all your hard work building those strong walls around me to protect me from the dangers of the 'outside world' that could have potentially left me assaulted.
I now feel ready to carry forth the wisdom from and not the fear of being attacked.
I seem to have better practice at defending and striking knowing exactly why, when and how to do it.
You may now return to Grand Aunt Light, and send me the Warrior.

Dear Judge, 
Thank you for taking me to task every time I didn't live up to your standards, and protecting me from all the mediocrity around.
I now feel ready to carry forth the wisdom from and not the fear of failure..
I seem to have better practice in discernment, in being firm with myself when there is a real need to.
You may now return to Grandmother Mountain and send me the Wise Woman.

Dear Beckoner,
Thank you for constantly keeping me tempted and excited to explore the new, and keeping boredom away from me.
I now feel ready to carry forth the wisdom from and not the fear of stagnation.
I seem to have better practice in staying with the old where I need to and recognising and creating the more 'conscious new', also called the truly radical.
You may now return to Aunt Wind and send me the Seeker.

Dear Friend,
Thank you for being so easy on me, and protecting me from the oppression of my own judge.
I now feel ready to carry forth the wisdom from and not the fear of rejection.
I seem to have better practice in accepting myself where I am in the present moment; better practise in self love and self care.
You may now return to Sister River and send me the Lover.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Are we grieving enough?

I am an optimist. I see possibilities and miracles everywhere all the time. Where there is a garbage dump, I can actually see a community permaculture garden. I needed to proclaim this upfront in order to avoid any kind of misinterpretation of my post.

A few weeks ago, I read this article about all the 'extraordinary things happening in the world' that went viral. I see it all too – the economy crumbling, an explosion of people wanting to quit their jobs, return to small scale farming, pull their kids out of school, taking active responsibility for their own healing - body and mind, individual and collective – which is what I call spirituality. More than just seeing all this, I am very involved in this work myself and am actively witnessing this day in and day out. Calls from people who want to see, support and be involved in 'Change' keep pouring in everyday.

In spite of all this, I felt that something was sorely missing in the article. I strongly feel that we are underestimating the momentum with which the old story is still gripping our lives – our thinking, our daily living, our behaviours and our habits; limiting and colouring our dreams and imaginations too. I strongly feel that the new content is still being written over old templates. Organic exports, organic monocultures, expensive organic supermarkets, excessively packaged (in plastic) organic fastfoods is one example. Unschoolers still looking to somehow join the 'mainstream' is another. 'Natural' and 'Ayurvedic' cosmetics flooding our markets today having so much toxins in them is yet another. Wendell Berry's 'In Distrust of Movements' elaborates this idea quite well. The language of the New is being co-opted by the Old.

I am writing this feeling a sense of urgency because talking only about what is changing could give a false hope that there is going to be some kind of a smooth transition into the New World. Cancer, parkinson and autism rates are going to rise phenomenally because of the toxins we are still pumping into the world in billions of gallons, many of them being persistent. What are we going to do with the plastic gyres and the nuclear wastes? Human race has wiped out 50% of all life on the planet over the past 40 years alone. The Climate Change ball has been set rolling and can't be really stopped by any kind of logical and planned action.

I absolutely believe that the New World, or the More Beautiful World, is emerging. I can totally see it with my eyes every day. I love to and I do celebrate that everyday. But there is a huge precondition to this 'Celebration'. And that is 'Grieving'.

We cannot truly and fully celebrate if we don't truly and fully grieve. Alongside recognising the New as it is emerging, are we also mourning the death of so much life and beauty everyday? Alongside recognising all the structures and the institutions and the attitudes that are causing this destruction, are we also seeing the same drama going on within ourselves? Are we accessing and staying with our pain enough? Are we having enough sleepless nights about all the violence and loss? Are we shedding enough tears?

I am extremely grateful for my PMS (the time just before I bleed) every month. It is the time when my soul connects to the World Soul. It somehow feels like I connect to some other larger being that is being assaulted. It is increasingly becoming a sacred time when I allow myself to grieve and embrace the experience as much as I can. When I am actually going through it, it is not easy for me to retain so much perspective. I feel like 'Damn, what is this horrible thing? Why do I need to go through this stuff?' I'm getting better and better at holding my awareness and perspective as I go through it. Slowly. Very slowly. But I'm grateful for this experience for I feel that the intensity with which I grieve is directly corelated to the intensity with which I am able to celebrate. I must say that the lesson actually came from my daughter.

Those of you who have been with Isha must have seen her cry intensely and grieve about an unmet need of hers. And in the next moment, even before her tears have dried, she can roll in laughter. I have seen many people witnessing this call it drama. “She is pretending. How is it possible to cry and laugh like that in the very next moment?” Once, a couple of years ago during my PMS, I got surrounded by, what I call the black clouds or the dementors, sucking all the happiness out of me. The inside and the outside worlds looked overwhelmingly dark. (This happens to me at that time of almost every month.) Rajeev, Isha and I walked down to the beach we used to live close to. I excused myself from the two and said I wanted to sit by the waves for some time. It was a weekday and a little after sun down. The beach was empty. I was going to try this out. I held my gut and gave out a loud cry. I wept uninhibitedly, trying to hold my awareness of my weeping as much as I could; not indulging in the victim story in my head, as much as I could. After just 30 minutes of doing this, the dementors had left. I ran up to the two, played and laughed the rest of the time there. That powerful experience gave me a new understanding about how intricately 'grief' and 'celebration' were connected.

There can't be one without the other. If we don't celebrate life, we can't really connect to pain and sadness and don't have much to grieve about. If we don't grieve, we can't truly celebrate.

As part of our celebrations, how about we also come together to create communal grief rituals?

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Healing with Harikambodhi

Until 20 years ago, music had been a big part of my life. During my school years, apart from home and school, my music class was the only place I regularly went to, soaking up varnams and kritis. Even in school, I remember spending more time in the music room, in inter-school music competitions and school functions when I'd have to sing the invocation songs. I think I survived my schooling hugely because music was my refuge away from the classroom.

When very young, I learnt from several teachers, whose names I hardly remember now. Brinda Tyagarajan (daughter of the late Maharajapuram Santhanam) was one. Later, I learnt from B.V.Lakshmanan Sir.

For years (I don't remember how many!), when he had stopped teaching because of severe asthma, I was one of his very last students. Lakshmanan Sir would use his inhaler several times during our classes, going breathless from time to time. I suggested to him many times that he stop his teaching, to which he would say “No, you're my only student. I really want to teach you.” Lakshmanan Sir was a very involved guru. He would painstakingly write, with his own hands, every kriti and varnam that he taught. I really enjoyed his classes, and his sense of humor. 

I took a short break from singing due to my permanent braces, because of which, I could not pronounce sahityam properly. Briefly after this, disgusted by brahminism, feeling shamed about being part of an oppressive community, I shunned many things that were associated with it. One of them was Carnatic music. I felt very uncool singing it. Thankfully, I didn't take much time to recover from this. But by then, Lakshmanan Sir had passed away and I was already deep into my mission to 'save the world'. I perceived my pursuit of music as selfish. In hindsight, I think this also comes from being praised for good singing and being told that I would “shine” and “become famous”, and I somehow never connected to any of this. The more I came to learn about the world crisis, the more my pursuit of music seemed like nothing but indulgence.

Over time, as my understanding of the kind of healing the world needed, the importance of arts, and the meaning I gave it deepened, I was once again ready to resume my music. During pregnancy, since I anyways withdrew from active work, I created a lot of space in my life for it. I actually started spending a few hours singing every day. For some reason that is still unknown to me, right from when she was a month old, Isha felt distressed whenever I sang. A few years passed, without my even humming a song for months together! 

Not singing has clearly blocked my prana at many levels. My being was definitely much lighter when I used to sing regularly. This was so long ago that I only have a vague memory of it. I knew that my healing was closely connected to resuming my singing, among many things I'm slowly making space for in my life.

I was in search of a teacher who won't just teach me compositions, but would also connect to my inner journey; a kindered spirit who I could travel with. My search led me to Prarthana, a mother I know through the homeschooling network.

This Vijayadasami, I spent time invoking the blessings of my earlier Gurus, especially of Lakshmanan Sir, who I learnt the most from. I took out my old music notebook with pages so brown and brittle that they needed to be held very carefully. I sang his most favourite composition in Ananda Bhairavi. And started classes with Prarthana on skype. A wonderful teacher and human being. I love her neat and soulful music, her smile, her teaching style and her questions in life.

Beginning my new music phase with a very bhaava-filled ragam, Harikambodhi. Slowly preparing myself to share my gift for collective healing, embracing the journey ahead. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


Marudam is a community that strives towards sustainable, aligned and holistic living, with a farm to grow most of its food, and with an organisation called The Forest Way to
Children up a tree-house that they
helped build
undertake outreach and nature conservation work. Such a community ALSO anchors a school, as a way to engage with children; and through that engagement, be inspired by and learn from them as well. 'School' is not its exclusive identity.
This space has up to 70 children, really living like a huge joint-family. All the (mostly) young people (called teachers) have arrived there for a love of nature, of community, of children and a love of what they are there to offer – like music, art, tending to a nursery, or working on the farm and forest. The parents of children come from diverse backgrounds. There are farmers, cooks, yoga teachers, sculptors, jewellery makers, entrepreneurs, painters, writers, theatre artistes and more. They enjoy sharing their skills and knowledge with everyone.

Art, craft and free-play are a central part of everyday at Marudam. I haven't seen any hierarchy of activities. Swimming and tree climbing are valued equally with Maths. Crocheting is valued equally with language. The adults in the space join in learning basic skills like mountain climbing, sewing, crocheting, weaving, 
Silambam class in progress
kalamkari printing, swimming and martial arts like silambam. I am yet to meet any older child or adult who does not know crocheting, clay modeling or swimming! Everyone goes for a whole half-day trek up the hill through the forest once a week learning about birds, animals, rocks, trees and the art of climbing. In fact, they decided to call mountain-climbing 'academics', in order to change the popular mindset that somehow it was not as important!

Indoor and outdoor sports is also a central activity here. This is probably the only place where I've seen girls enthusiastically take to playing cricket and kabbadi, and boys take to embroidery and crafting!
Little ones harvesting peanuts. What fun!

Both Tamil and English are given equal importance. There is great diversity among the children, teachers and volunteers - from urban middle and upper middle class, local villages to foreign countries. All the children are involved in sowing, weeding, harvesting rice, millets, fruits and 35 different varieties of vegetables grown on the farm itself. A wide variety of tasty and healthful foods - ragi koozhu (porridge), pulao, millet rices, pastas, thai curry, salads, payasam, puttu, firewood-oven baked bun, cakes, cookies, etc. are some that I’ve seen over the past few months.

Marudam and the community around
I see a sense of generous sharing of resources, knowledge and skill with the extended
Learning to weave a mat during the 'Craft Week'
community into the village without any sense of patronization. The thing I most love about this place is that the kids of most people who work here also come here. This includes the annas and akkas who do the cooking, cleaning, painting, driving and farming. Isha's many lovely friends are these kids. In my interactions with the parents of these children, it is evident how much they learn from and contribute to the space. Friday afternoons are opened up for anyone (child or adult) to offer workshops on any skill that they'd like to share with others. Marudam also opens itself up to children from other schools to participate in forest walks, and learning craft and other life skills.
Children from another school learn rock-climbing
at Marudam

There is a whole week every year that is dedicated to craft. During this 'Craft Week', basket weavers, stone sculptors, wood workers, bamboo workers, painters, printers and weavers come from the villages around to teach the young and old. It is opened up to children from other schools around them as well. It culminates in a mela.

Cost of Education
The cost of education that covers practically everything (food, craft materials, transportation, books, etc.) per year per child is Rs. 35,000. The number has been arrived at in order to maintain the fine balance between keeping the number of children small and being affordable to families from all economic backgrounds. Half the number of children come here paying either zero or partial fees, the rest of which is covered through donations. There are people who regularly visit Marudam to volunteer, sharing what they know or have: their skills, knowledge, resources or labour.
The weekly walk up the Arunachala hill

Marudam shares my dream of co-creating more communities where education happens in rich contexts and more organically. It is growing into a hub where families and individuals interested in this dream are drawn to.

Given all of these awesome things here, the 'school structure' at Marudam, which I am not in resonance with, becomes a mere detail to me. But I've also opened up to learning what it has to offer that I'm not seeing yet. In any case, what is most important to me is the consciousness with which the adults anchor the space. Whether it is a school, a home-school, or an un-school then becomes secondary!

Lots of pictures in the Photo Gallery here.

A video of the Craft Week here.

Our journey to Thiruvannamalai and Marudam

This is a long promised note answering the three most oft-asked questions.

1. Why did you move to Thiruvannamalai?
Is it my ancestral place? No.
Am I particularly drawn to the energy of Ramana or the Ashram? No; at least not in a way that I'm aware of yet!
Is it so my child could go to Marudam, a reason for which many families relocate to Thiruvannamalai? No. This was thought of after our move.

For long, I’d wanted to move out of a large city like Chennai to a slower, more natural and more soulful place. Lovely friends Gowtham and Sandhya, who had just moved to their farm here, extended a warm invitation to me to spend time on their farm. The more I did, the more Thiru felt like home to me. And when I talked about it to my parents, they expressed their desire to move to a place like that too. And the whole thing – from making the decision to making the move – happened in a very short span of time. So, it all just happened!

This beautiful watercolour painting is by Kumar Anna, who loves to paint Arunachala in its various colours and moods. Here is his facebook page with more paintings and portraits. And yes, he can be contacted for his works.
2. What made you change your mind about homeschooling? Why Marudam?
First of all, there is no change of mind in a way that many people, I think, might understand it. I'm still very much part of the homeschooling network in Chennai (and India) and would highly recommend it for anyone who's interested. It is still very true that I don't resonate with 'schools', where teachers come 'to teach' and students come 'to learn'. And I've been uncomfortable with many alternative schools that I've seen(My understanding of all this has also been growing and maturing in its own way, with new questions, new answers and new clarity. I will write about them as and when I feel ready to share.)
But, I've always felt that the most ideal place for children to grow up in, is a rich inter-generational intentional community, where adults strive to live authentically and sustainably. From this perspective, homeschooling / unschooling in the way that many of our families practice it, is a journey embedded within a longer journey seeking to be part of / to co-create such communities, rural or urban. I see Marudam as primarily a community of learners and doers, striving to live sustainably, which also anchors a space to engage with children. School is not its exclusive identity. Will write and post a separate post on Marudam.

3. What do you plan to do in Thiruvannamalai?
My immediate answer is this: 'I plan to get off the highway'. After the significant shift in my understanding that 'Change happens elsewhere', and with a deepening realisation that I need to commit myself more to 'The Study of Miracles', I'm consciously shifting more from the 'doing mode' to the 'being mode'. Especially after decades of largely inhabiting the former, I am working to build more space in my life to get back into the arts and music, discipline my breath and body, slow down, catch up on years of sleep-debt and rest-debt, detox my body and mind, de-clutter my life, get back in touch with old friends and family, read, write, spend time with parents, watch the hill…. You get the drift!
But this isn't easy at all! Old habits die hard. Temptation to initiate new activities and work on new ideas is very much there. But with more awareness and deepening conviction, it is loosening its grip on me, a wee little by wee little each day. As I become a better and better container and channel, I feel that my next phase of engagement will slowly emerge. My time here is to prepare myself and to learn to do what I call the 'sacred waiting'! :)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Welcome back, traditional wheat!

It all started in early 2012 when I looked up online to make a change in my diet to heal my eczema. I had liquid-oozing and itching patches all over my body! I found wheat to be right on the top of the list of foods to be given up. And I did so. Within a period of one month, 50% of my patches healed and disappeared. More importantly, a supposedly neurological condition I was suffering from for a whole lifetime called Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) that wouldn't allow me to sleep at night, simply disappeared. For the first time in my life, I was sleeping through the night! I can't tell you enough what a great relief it was. I lost 13 kilos in a matter of 6 months. All that weight had been from my body being inflammated. I started feeling healthier and more energetic. Every time I have wheat, I get my RLS back. My healing from eczema is another long story I'll tell very soon.
Just fifteen minutes after I forwarded medical journal articles about how avoiding wheat could help my FIL find some pain relief from rheumatoid arthritis, I heard back from him asking me for a list of foods that contained wheat. That very day, he went cold-turkey on wheat and dairy. In just three weeks time, he started losing weight from bloating and had to alter all his pant waistlines. He started reducing his pain medication and eventually stopped it altogether. Occasionally, when he does consume wheat, his pain comes back for a day or two and then disappears again. Being a general physician, a wheat-free diet has become part of his standard prescription to patients who come complaining of joint pains. He says that every one of them comes back with a positive experience from giving up wheat.

Another friend who had serious issues with her digestion, got healed from giving up wheat. Another friend who suffered from chronic clinical depression felt much more cheerful after she gave up wheat. My sister started to heal in many ways after she went wheat-free. My mom who had been suffering from leg pain for over two years now just eliminated wheat from her diet and says she had the first pain-free month in years. She has stayed away from chappati since then.
My six-year old daughter suffers from RLS in exactly the same way as I do. And she's also prone to eczema. She had cradle cap until last year, when I consciously reduced the amount of her wheat intake.
And there are more stories from my own circle of friends and family.
What is it in wheat?
The gluten, the sticky substance that gives the dough its elasticity, is the culprit. Wheat has been cultivated and consumed without problems for thousands of years across the world, including in India. It is the modern hybrid varieties bred by Normal Borlaug and his team in the 1950s as part of the Green Revolution that started this problem. The protein structure of modern hybrid wheat is supposed to be very difficult to digest. When the gut is leaky (i.e. our digestion is not at its optimum) the undigested protein leaks into the bloodstream, which then treats it as a toxin, unleashing a wide range of diseases depending on our body type.
More of us than we think / know, could be allergic to hybrid wheat!
Until recently, it was thought that only some people, who had this severe condition called 'Celiac disease' were to avoid wheat. But no! Wheat allergy is an impending epidemic in India and all over the world, also according to a leading gastro-entrologist from CMC published a research article in IJMR (Indian Journal of Medical Research).
The reaction to wheat shows up differently in different people. It ranges from bloating, migraine, arthritis, asthma, eczema, anemia all the way up to auto-immune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. Gluten-free diet has been found to be hugely helpful for autistic children. And so on.
Finding out if one is allergic to gluten
The best way is to simply test it for oneself. That's what The Quad team from Chennai recommend to all their clients: 'Give up all productscontaining wheat for 40 days and see for yourself how your bodyresponds'.
Products containing the problematic gluten
It is said that two other grains, rye and barley, also contain gluten. But in this part of the country, we don't use them as much as we do wheat. Wheat is not just in chappatis and other baked products. It is also hidden in asofetida (hing / perungayam), soy-sauce, as maida in some soup recipes. And yes, even extremely small quantities matter. And also know / remember that maida is refined wheat and has more gluten than does whole wheat per unit weight.
Gluten-sensitivity can be cured!
The friend, who I earlier mentioned, suffered from chronic depression originally could not even tolerate extremely small amounts of wheat. She underwent a long course of Ayurvedic treatment from a well-known vaidya in Chennai, Dr. PLT Girija, to heal her gut. One day she called me and said “Guess what? After years, I can eat whole samosas again, and nothing happens to me!” I'm waiting to see how long-term this cure is. Another case study from the same doctor's website explains in great detail how a child was cured of gluten and other food allergies.
But, according to another school of thought, wheat is just not the food of the future. According to them, spiritually speaking, the human DNA structure is changing with evolution of consciousness, and wheat is on its way out as a source of energy for the humans, especially for those who want to contain and channel higher frequencies of energy.
Ferment your breads
Traditionally, bread making was supposed to be a really long process. The dough sat fermenting for days together before being baked. This also digested the wheat protein making it even easier for the body to process and absorb. Wheat fermentation also produced phytase, a phytic-acid inhibitor, that aided nutrient absorption better. These days, it's allowed to sit for a matter of a few hours only. So, whether traditional or modern wheat, ferment your dough. Let it sit overnight and rise slowly. This makes wheat more digestible and more healthful. 
Fermented Bread
Welcome back Traditional Wheat varieties
Across the country, the revival of traditional paddy varieties has really caught on like wild fire. With more and more farmers wanting them for their fields, the seeds of what were once called 'low-yielding and unscientific' varieties are now in great demand. Seed festivals across the country are on the rise, with thousands of people – urban and rural farmers – thronging to them. Wheat is now following suit. This time, it's triggered mainly by the range of diseases that the hybrid wheat consumption has unleashed.
Khatiya wheat, Emmer wheat, Einkorn wheat, Spelt wheat are the known names of varieties that were grown in India and other parts of the world for thousands of years. They can all give good yields in poor soils, use much less water to grow and are resistant to disease and pest.
Vandana Shiva documents some varieties in this article on Biopiracy of Wheat
It has been three years since I gave up hybrid wheat and have sorely missed pasta, pizza, parathas, samosas and other baked stuff. But now I can enjoy traditional wheat without any side effect! The market for these wild / ancient / traditional wheat varieties is booming in the west, where gluten allergy is quite rampant and well researched, acknowledged and documented. In South India, I know of a few places where you can get them.
Emmer Wheat 
* Emmer Wheat: Auroville Bakery makes Emmer Bread. These breads are also available in a few stores in Thiruvannamalai, where I buy from.
* Spelt Wheat: Tantos Pizzeria in Auroville sells Spelt Pizza, Spelt Pasta, Spelt Lasagna.
* Khatiya Wheat: reStore sells Khatiya wheat dahliya (rava) and flour to make chappatis.
If you have any more information / experience on this topic, please post in the comments below or write to me at 
Disclaimer: If you are a Celiac Patient, please consult your doctor before making any dietary changes. If you're suffering from gluten-sensitivity, please try this by all means.
Request: I am not qualified in medical science. If there are scientific / factual errors in this article, please bring them to my notice. Thanks!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Midwives of the New World

In the recent times, some of us have been witnessing a leap in the number of individuals and communities seeking to pursue HEALING. 

Some are seeking to understand and redefine their relationships with their bodies through organic and wholesome food, yogasana and pranayama, traditional systems of medicine, and other means.

Some are seeking to reestablish their lost connection with the earth through gardening.

Some are seeking to take their emotional healing into their own hands through inner work.

Some are seeking to redefine their ownership of their talents and resources, by offering them as gifts to serve life. 

Some are seeking to unlearn the dominant ways of our industrial culture, starting by taking their children out of school or leaving their corporate jobs.

Some are seeking to participate and co-create a more sacred economy that is based on relationships, trust and abundance. 

Organisations are seeking to redefine their visions in ways that are more life-affirming, to distribute power more equally, and to develop a work culture that is based more on cooperation and trust. 

Communities are seeking more authentic and harmonious ways of being, by learning how to share and listen to each other more courageously and compassionately. 

That we are the edge of a significant leap in consciousness, is evident from the growing number of people who sign up for workshops that facilitate any of the above. My conviction comes from personally and closely witnessing this through the spaces that I am associated with over the years.

I am blessed to have in my life, so many friends who have undertaken this journey towards healing. They have each struggled through life in disempowering family / work contexts, searched  in various places, found inspiration, found tools for healing and empowerment, connected with their callings, found their paths, and are journeying on them. And in their journeys, they are experiencing more and more healing with each step they take. 

These are ordinary people like you and me, who still go through everyday struggles, who are still entrenched in old habit patterns, who still have unmet needs, who are still hurting from old wounds, who still have pain that they are yet to connect with. But what makes them leaders is that 
- they recognise, acknowledge and embrace all of these, bringing awareness to their own judgment about them,
- they consciously decided to step out of the 'blame' cycle and own up their pain and their healing,
- they recognise that they have a long way to go, themselves, (long way does not mean long time)
- they recognise that we need to come together as groups in order to fully heal, and
- they have allowed themselves to be profoundly impacted by the insights and experiences they have had so far, and have assimilated and integrated them as much as they could. 

The delight and freedom that they experience through their journeys is so much that they decided to make their lives about sharing what they are seeing, what they are learning, how they are healing, inviting and working with others who would like to embark on similar journeys. They all love their sacred work of facilitating healing, and come alive doing it.

This is a humble effort in putting together a 'Directory on Healing' to be used by individuals and collectives that this invitation speaks to.