open free world

thought provoking tidbits collected from here and there...

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Roy's Experiments with Life

This is Roy, my friend... who lives in solitude amidst the wilderness of Wayanad in Kerala, in a self built hut on the banks of Narasipuzha, a tributary of the river Kabani. In a space of less than 20 cents (approx. 9600 sq.ft) he is "experimenting organic farming", or rather learning living with nature. He wakes up to the sound of birds chirping, his pleasure grows with the day seeing his plants bloom. Cabbages, cauliflowers, beans, turnips, carrots, radishes, mustards ... all grow together in his tiny orchard. He is no close to Fukuoka or Dabholkar, but with an attitude much the same. Read on to know more about that attitude in his own words.
information technology & the usa

I was working as an IT consultant in corporate America for nearly five years. By most definitions I had ‘made it’ — good education, good job, nice car, pretty girlfriend, ‘success.’ Yet, I voluntarily chose to walk away from it all and search for a totally different way of life. Why? Let me share two reasons, one external and one internal, although both are deeply connected.

I had long since questioned the role of the US government and multinational corporations in dominating the world and recreating it in its own image. But the wars in Afghanistan and then Iraq — though hardly new or different than what the US had long been doing — brought me to a point where I had to make a decision: was this a system I could support? For supporting it I was, through my tax dollars, job, and my way of life — despite going to protests to the contrary. I decided there must be a better way of living, a way of life not based on competition, violence and endless ‘growth,’ but rather based on cooperation, justice, harmony with nature, etc.

The other reason I walked away was more internal. It’s not that I was depressed — in fact I was actually happy much of the time. But I learned that extremes of highs and lows are two sides of the same coin. It is like a drug. In fact, I found that much of my life was like a drug. I was addicted to so many things: to money, work, material wealth, impressing others, etc. Like any
drug though, there was no real satisfaction, no contentment, no peace — only a desire for more. And like any addict, my character suffered for it. I realized I had become competitive, stressed out, selfish, greedy, individualistic. I did not have any real love for others, was certainly not content, and had little peace of mind. That was hardly the person I wanted to be. And so, after a long struggle, I quit my job, sold my belongings, and left America in search of truth, in search of a better way of living and being, both externally and internally.

joyful living at kanavu - kerala

Lightning bugs lit up the dark night, along with millions of stars that filled the clear sky. Crickets and frogs by the thousands rang loudly from seemingly everywhere. The paddy fields stood still, barely visible, growing silently in the dark. Yet, it was the sound of children and youth singing joyfully that filled the air and overwhelmed all else. It was my last night at Kanavu, and after a full day my favorite time had arrived. That day, after waking up at six and doing Kalari, Kerala’s traditional martial art, we then went to the nearby forest to collect plants to put in our newly dug up beds. The knowledge of which plants have which benefits was astounding. The forest was green as always, the main river supplemented by several small streams with pure water. Leeches here and there kept us watchful, scorpions and snakes kept at bay. After lunch, I joined the team building a bamboo hut close by for one of our friends. We gathered everything we needed locally - bamboo from the forest and thatch from coconut leaves. I learned a lot watching the group skillfully cut, scrape, and weave bamboo with grace. We worked until dusk, bathed, and feeling refreshed after a good day’s work, we sat down on the verandah and sang with happiness.

After leaving my corporate job in America and returning to my family’s homeland of Kerala, I was led to Kanavu by a question that has pursued me for some time now: what is the good life? Is it possible to live a life based on values of sharing, love, peace, justice and harmony with nature, rather than the competition, alienation, exploitation and violence so much a part of capitalist culture?

While not perfect, in many ways Kanavu actually exceeded my dreams of the good life – simple in material possessions but so rich in spirit. Here everyone participates in work, which hardly seems like work at all, since we do varied tasks with people we cherish, rather than doing monotonous labor only for money. And here the lines between work, play, and education are not so clearly separated. At the rice harvest in particular, I was amazed how quickly my friends would break into song and dance!

My experiences at Kanavu raised many questions. What has my own schooling lacked? What are my true needs? What have I been neglecting? How do I change myself?

After working in the paddy and ginger fields, I felt surprisingly great. I discovered that we as humans were meant to do physical activity – something I wasn’t getting much of in my years of schooling and office work. Despite all the propaganda to the contrary, working with our hands in the fields is not beneath our dignity.

At Kanavu I learned that so many of what I used to consider ‘needs’ were really artificially created, whereas many of our true needs I was neglecting. After experiencing the daily singing and dancing that so enriches Kanavu life, I have little doubt that there is something in the human spirit that needs this. And the songs here are not formulaic film songs that are played off a CD, but mostly folk songs that touch our spirit – the energy is amazing. Community also is a true human need – we need other people near us that we know and love.

Finally, I have a need for nature – both being connected to the forest, animals, and rivers, but also being connected to the processes of nature – birth and death, young and old, day and night. At Kanavu, we live in harmony and connection to nature, growing much of our own food without chemicals, building with local materials, treating animals like family. In my artificial urban upbringing, food was something that seemed to grow at the supermarket, people lived in fear of old age and death, and even night was turned into day by bright lights and the TV. By meeting more of our true needs, I experienced a joy at Kanavu far deeper than the temporary pleasures of the consumerist lifestyle.

On the other hand, living without electricity or running water, sleeping on the cold floor, leaches, etc. - those are all things one can get used to rather easily. I learned that the human body has a remarkable ability to adapt to new environments if one is willing.

I was challenged personally at Kanavu in many ways. I realized I had a strong sense of ‘mine’ – my space, my belongings, doing what I feel like doing, etc. It was a challenge to learn to share freely – something that seems quite natural to everyone here. My very consciousness needs to change – from seeing myself in separation from others to sensing the interconnectedness of us all. I may know this in my head but it needs to go deeper than that. Being in an environment like Kanavu certainly helps in nurturing such a deep change.
At the end of Akira Kurasowa's famous film 'Rashomon', when the woodcutter adopts the abandoned baby, the monk thanks him for restoring his faith in mankind. After meeting Roy the first time, I had said to myself 'Yes, there is hope!'.