Sunday, September 30, 2012

bus from kandy to nuwara eliya.

travelling in a rickety bus blasting sinalese classics as it rattles round bends up and down rolling hills of tea plantations is something i could spend the rest of my days doing.

i love sightseeing from local buses; women waiting in peacock-coloured saris, delicately protecting themselves from the sun with umbrellas, men jumping on and off as the bus is moving, looking forward to each bend to see what breathtaking view is in store. 

local buses, i love you. 

even when i'm wedged so tight against the window i can't breathe. 

even when i know you charged me twice the local fee. 

even when you stop just so the driver can have a coke and a samosa, whilst we sweat it out inside. 

yesterday we took this baby from kandy to nuwara eliya: 

every bus should look like this.

 we drove past fruit stands and flower garland stands:

flower necklaces!
we also saw tea factories, which made me all thirsty for, tea. a big, steaming mug of tea. with biscuits to dunk in it.

after three hours of twisty curves, the tea plantations gave way to the cute town of nuwara eliya, also known as little england. how cute is that?! it's cute. 


 we are staying in a lovely hotel on misty moutain, which makes me feel as if i were in the lord of the rings. this morning i woke up at 6 or so (Vipassana wakes you up at 4am every morning, so i'm still getting used to the concept of a lie in), and walked outside to watch the sun breathing life into the valley. it was, indeed, misty.

a little later my dream came true and i was sipping on a porcelain cup of tea with toast and jam.

a story: seed and fruit.

dragon fruit

during my meditation course, many stories were told. stories from folklore, sacred texts or passed down from generations past.

one such story, on the day we listened to the discourse on wholesome actions, was the following:

seed and fruit

as the cause is, so the effect will be. as the seed is, so the fruit will be. as the action is, so the result will be.

in the same soil a farmer plants two seeds: one a seed of sugar cane, the other a seed of neem tree, a tropical tree which is very bitter. two seeds in the same earth, receiving the same water, the same sunshine, the same air; nature gives the same nourishment to both. two tiny plants emerge and start growing. and what has happened to the neem tree? it has developed with bitterness in every fibre, while the sugar cane has developed with every fibre of it sweet. why is nature, or, if you prefer, why is God so kind to one and so cruel to the other?

no, no, nature is neither cruel nor kind. it works according to fixed laws. nature only helps the quality of the seed to manifest. all the nourishment merely helps the seed to reveal the quality that is latent within itself. the seed of the sugar cane has the quality of sweetness; therefore the plant will have nothing but sweetness. the seed of the neem tree has the quality of bitterness; the plant will have nothing but bitterness. as the seed is, so the fruit will be.

the farmer goes to the neem tree, bows down three times, walks around it 108 times, and then offers flowers, incense, candles, fruit and sweets. and then he starts praying. "oh neem god, please give me sweet mangoes, i want sweet mangoes!". poor neem god, he cannot give them, he has no power to do so. if someone wants sweet mangoes, he ought to plant a seed of a mango tree. then he need not cry and beg for help from anyone. the fruit that he will get will be nothing but sweet mangoes. as the seed is, so the fruit shall be.

our difficulty, our ignorance is that we remain unheedful while planting seeds. we keep planting seeds of neem, but when the time comes for fruit we are suddenly alert, we want sweet mangoes. and we keep crying and praying and hoping for mangoes. this doesn't work.

so here's to me planting sweet mangoes as often as i can. 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

the art of living: Vipassana.

i have spent the last 10 days doing a Vipassana course in anuradhapura, sri lanka.

vipassana is the essence of Buddha's teachings, but let me state now, it is not sectarian or buddhist in any religious understanding. vipassana has helped thousands of people from all cultures, backgrounds and beliefs.

it is super simple in theory, very hard and challenging in practice. it's taught during 10 days and is open to anyone who sincerely wants to get to know their inner reality better. during 10 days, participants remain at the facilities where the course is held, having no contact with the outside world. for the entire time, they must follow a strict code of morality which includes celibacy, abstention from intoxicants and noble silence - silence of the mind and speech.

during the first 3 days we practiced mental concentration by focusing on the natural breath and feeling sensations on our upper lip. after we were introduced to Vipassana in its essence: observing the body's sensations and learning how the root of all suffering stems from craving, aversion and ignorance.

how so? well quite simply: if we want something and don't get it, we become miserable. if we don't want something to happen and it does, we become miserable. we understand this on an intellectual level, but it's difficult to experience. Vipassana is created with this aim in mind; to experience the truth. when you have been sitting in silence for 10 hours, your body begins reacting, it is not happy. it wants to be distracted, it's in pain. it craves attention, becomes averse to sitting in the same position. and this makes us miserable. the technique teaches you not to give in to these desires, but to observe them. by observing them, they become weaker and weaker until they disappear. so we experience suffering and the truth behind it: that it eventually goes away.

Vipassana means "insight" in the ancient pali language Buddha spoke; insight into how the sensations on the body affect our mental balance. in fact, the two words most pronounced by Goenka, the teacher, during the course are: awareness and equanimity. through these two values we will learn how to be happy. by being aware, we are able to observe ourselves and not react. if the weather is sunny, we are aware it makes us happy but we think "i am aware this shall change". when the sun goes away and it becomes stormy, we are aware of it and think "the clouds are here but this shall change". it is about accepting the changing nature of the universe and not reacting. only this way shall we have an equanimous, balanced mind. and a balanced mind that is not constantly reacting with "like!", "dislike!", is a happy mind.

once, Buddha was asked to explain real happiness. he said:

"when faced with all the ups and downs of life, 
still the mind remains unshaken, 
not lamenting, not generating defilements, always staying secure; 
this is the greatest happiness"

on the last day of vipassana, we were taught the loving-kindness meditation, in which one sends love to every being. it's beautiful and the logical conclusion of Vipassana meditation: the development of goodwill toward others. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012


remember i told you we share our hut with a dog?

she adopted us from day one. well, she decided our hut was the one she planned to sleep in and we came with it.

she looks a bit like scrat from iceage. slightly boggling eyes and a thin, quivery nose.

when i make my way home after nightfall, i know she's there because her tail knocking against the bamboo floor sounds like an african drum, beating through the jungle.

now, does anyone have a huge accorn? 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

negombo - sri lanka

i might be in love.

negombo is a sizeable town about an hour north of colombo, the capital of sri lanka. once upon a time, this emerald green land grew the best cinnamon in the world. now it is a popular comercial hub, although the colourful fishermen boats mask the poverty their owners live in.

having only landed yesterday afternoon, i am unfamiliar with most of sinalese culture, but for now i am in love: it's ridiculously beautiful and the people are the friendliest i am yet to meet. white, palm-tree lined beaches stretch up to the pretty, flower-lined streets.

oh sri lanka, we're going to have so much fun the next 6 weeks. i can't wait.

Friday, September 14, 2012

1 year, 4 months

we met in july 2007.

best friends for 4 years.

married last year, on the 14th of april, 2011.

the night we met
five years later
we changed so much all those years as our friendship got stronger: he'd just flown in from johannesburg - jobless, penniless, all his friends still in brazil or london.
i was at university - jobless, penniless, my friends slowly leaving for their countries of origin.

we used to wonder the streets of barcelona, a bottle of sangria shared under the sun, stretched out in the park, talking. getting lost in the old town, splitting the cost of a drink in small terrazas hidden on narrow cobbled streets. two souls adrift, living off dreams of faraway, B regailing me with tales of his travels in the amazon and asia as I closed my eyes and let my mind fly.

now we're changing together and today, as we fly over the indian ocean to sri lanka for a month and a half, we will have been married 1 year and 4 months, living our dreams of faraway. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

the sky

this week i volunteered to be a wake-up caller. this invoves awakening at 5:15 and singing to the rest of the community to rise them from their slumbers. so far i have gifted them with shania twain, cat stevens and "la bamba"; a powerful combination.

there is something profoundly unique about being the only one walking around under the stars before the sun has even touched the horizon with warmth. the stars shine brighter, the silence is purer and as Reif Larsen wrote:

"outside, there was that predawn kind of clarity, where the momentum of living has not quite captured the day. the air was not filled with conversation or thought bubbles or laughter or sidelong glances. everyone was sleeping, all their ideas and hopes and hidden agendas entangled in the dream world, leaving this world clear and crisp and cold as a bottle of milk in the fridge"

yogic tradition dictates starting your practice in the calm hours before dawn; this is the time when Brahman is prevalent in the air - Brahman being the univeral spirit, the origin and support of the universe. i haven't meditated this early yet, but after a week of breathing in the serene atmosphere i can see the potential benefits and why so many choose to let their minds float freely with the crisp breeze.

professor John S. Hoyland shares with us his beautiful words on this moment when "the veil between the things that are seen and the things that are unseen becomes so thin as to interpose scarcely any barrier at all between the eternal beauty and truth and the soul which would comprehend them".

so here's to breath-taking skies and the power of Brahman. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


i'm sitting in the main hut, quietly reading my mail, and i tune into the conversations going on around me.

we are such a diverse community, so many personalities, opinions and experiences to share. a non-stop of give and take, give and take of ideas. it's like studying a major in international anthropology and communication, with a minor in languages. and hoola hooping.

this sharing happens in a beautiful mix of languages; a true babylonia of tongues. as the community stands right now, we have accents from spain, england, france and brazil. south africa, germany and america, india, new zealand and korea.

10 nacionalities, 26 people. it's beautiful and it makes my heart sing in a thousand tunes.

clockwise: alia from spain, my husband from south africa, alan from india and myself. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

swastika perspective

the omnipresent symbol of India and a constant Hindu reminder of how we look at things: when i first arrived i was disturbed by its nazi associations. the longer i live here, the more i come to see it as a sign of auspiciousness and joy.

a constant reminder to see the cup of chai half full, if you will. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

hut, sweet hut

my husband and i live in a hut. a bamboo and keet hut. quite the pimped-out hut, in fact, located in the south of India, surrounded by other huts, inhabited by those who call Sadhana Forest home.

it's our quiet space away from the bustle of community life. so different from our apartment in Barcelona, except for one thing: there are books everywhere. in piles, on makeshift shelves and by the bed, on the coffee table and on the floor. 

i open my eyes to see a thousand shades of green spreading out into the distance, twinkling and turning orange and pink with the sunrise. it makes me wonder if i'm ruined forever for city life.

the hut is not ours alone, however; we share it with a dog and a humming bird. photos of that to come...

Saturday, September 1, 2012

karma yoga

as i work my way through the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu scripture that can and is used by many as a guide to day-to-day life, i want to share the lessons that resonate the most with me. karma yoga has long held my interest. also known as selfless service, it's the yogic path to perfection through action.

behind our actions there are generally two types of attitude: one is the assured feeling, "i shall enjoy the fruit of my action. i have a right to it". on the contrary, there is a feeling, "if i am not to enjoy the fruit of my action, then i will not act at all".

in the Gita, we find another attitude of mind or way of life, which says, "you must of course act, but don't think that you have a right to the fruit". the man who acts has no doubt a right to the fruit. but the aim is to give up this fruit of your own free will. in other words, do the work and give up the fruit.

"karmany ev'ādhikāras te
mā phalesu kadācana 
mā karma-phala-hetur bhūr- 
mā te sango'stv akarmani" 

this paragraph in chapter II says, "to work alone you have the competence not to claim their fruits. let not the longing for fruits be the motive force of your action. at the same time let not this attitude confirm you in indolent inaction". those who practice karma yoga will have a radiant body and mind; there is no motive behind their work, their gifts to the world. and besides these benefits, they also receive the great gift of purity of mind. there is no deceit or hypocrisy, the action comes from a place of contentment. there is no need for material gains.

karma yoga also flows into society: it is an ideal. in a community, a man is born before one and after another. it becomes the responsability of the one who was born earlier to set an example to those who come later. it is the responsability of the elders to the younger generation, the parent to the child, of the leader to the followers, of the teacher to the pupils, to set example through action.

and he or she who practice karma yoga are unceasingly devoted to their work. for in it, they see joy and vanity loses ground in their societ.

when i am overcome by laziness, or other undesireable states of mind, my current objective is to seek out seva (selfless work). luckily for me, living in a community enables me to find one with relative ease: there's always something to be done. sometimes i fail and succumb to negativity, sometimes I succeed. the more i succeed the more natural it becomes and the results are undeniable: creating positive habits is the key to a more fulfilled life.

last friday i'd had a long day preparing huts for new volunteers, a job i enjoy and take pride in. however, by nightfall i was ready to tuck into my book and curl under my moskito net alone. the community had other plans: kitchen cleaning on a friday is a particularly taxing job, it takes place late and involves a lot of work, but the reduced nature of our current community meant we were down one person and it's not a single person job. as my mind raced over ways to avoid helping, i walked myself to the kitchen and began rinsing pots and pans. within minutes my apathy was overcome and i was enjoying a chat on german fairytales with a volunteer friend of mine. i went to bed with a smile.

karma yoga dictates that after taking action and performing seva, i am no longer the owner of the outcome. such a freeing realization that i can put my heart and soul into my work and then surrender the outcome to the universe. what shall be shall be, yes, but knowing i did the utmost so that what shall be, shall be good.

my favourite way so far of practicing unattachment.