Monthly Archives: October 2016

Monks on Motorbikes and Astrology Cafes

Greetings and Salutations,

The past week has been filled with so many adventures and transitions. After leaving

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Wildlife SOS in Bangalore we were off to Mysore. A five hour drive isn’t so bad when you can look out the window and feel as though you’ve been dropped into a little Tibet. Monks in their maroon and gold robes riding past on their motorcycles, chatting with each other at a cafe, or walking around having a good laugh with their fellow monks as they carry Coca-Colas in their hands. We had an amazing opportunity to tour the monastery where the monks eat, live, and study from young to old. We were given a personal tour by a monk

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thanks to one of our contacts name Gomo who was an amazing kindred spirit that we were all so grateful to meet. We saw the monks chanting and we were also fortunate enough to spend some time with the little monks, which was adorable. Next day we prepared for a two hour drive to our next destination, Byalkuppe. Here is where we were given the opportunity to wind down a little, learn something new,

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and explore. The first day we took a tour of the city and learned about the city’s history and delicious food. The next day our group went out to explore the city some more and we found this funky little cafe name Sri Chakra House, thanks to our tuk tuk drivers. This place was amazing, from the art, to the super healthy foods, to the classes, and to the amazing staff who always had a smile on their faces, probably because we kept buying food. We were all wrapped up in pure bliss

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after just one bite. The cafe had Astrology readings which everyone in the group did. Some of us received a relaxing ayurvedic massage after all the hard work at Wildlife SOS, and some of us took an ashtanga yoga class that definitely pushed us to beyond our limits, but made us realize that our limits are more in our mind, and the body is capable of many things. After a relaxing couple of days in Byalkuppe we were again to RTU in G. Kallupatti.

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Twelve hours later and we’re touring the place where we will be living and working  for the next two and a half weeks. RTU is a Christian organization where we will be building three houses for three families. It’s going to be hard work but so rewarding, and the fact that we will be helping to provide a more stable roof over the heads of three families is more than enough to keep all of us motivated. Until next time.

 

Peace Always!

Life in Xela

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The LTAM group has been busy culturally immersing themselves in Latin American culture, staying at home stays and studying Spanish 5 hours a day. The wonderful city of Xela provides a typical Guatemalan experience garnished with a city who’s architecture is heavily influenced by European design.

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We did a traditional Mayan ceremony with a priest who told us our Mayan cosmology signs. In exchange, we did service work by building a pig pen for a family in need. To unwind we treated ourselves to an exotic hot spring day filled with spiritual satiation, and beautiful vistas to appease our senses. What a country!

 

Stories From Nepal: Living in Community, Living as Family

Hello, from Nepal!

This week, we traveled from the Sri Aurobindo ashram to Conscious Impact, a sustainable living community in Takura nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, focused on rebuilding schools and homes in local villages affected by the 2015 earthquake. The views were incredible with endless mountain peaks, green hills, farms, and blue skies. Weather report: no rain!

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At Conscious Impact, there were a variety of activities including agriculture, brick, cob, bamboo-making and communi-tea visits. Our living arrangements included three tents and a teepee! How cool! We started each morning with 5:45 am sunrise yoga followed by a yummy breakfast at 7:30 am. Some mornings, we were asked to help prepare breakfast for

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the community and our dishes included omelettes, oatmeal, fresh veggies and fruit, and more. After breakfast, the community meets for a morning check-in to discuss daily activities and where each volunteer would like to work that day. With all of the options, our group decided to spread out and try all of them! Jette really liked spending days in the garden learning about agriculture through composting and planting seeds. Jack, Ricky,

img_8623and Lucas spent some time at the Training Center where bricks are made for building schools and homes locally. Alex, Leilah, and Ann spent time at cob making, getting their hands and feet dirty learning about how to make a bench out of mud, sand, and straw. Sarah and Mikaela really enjoyed the community visits being welcomed into local Nepali

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families homes and learning about Hinduism, how their lifestyles were affected by the earthquake, their day to day lives, and what crops they grow. We loved moving around activities everyday and hearing the stories from each other about what each of us was learning. These activities were all facilitated by the founders and organizers of this non-profit organization, which included Orion, Beth, Allen, and Jose. They created a beautiful, open space for us to learn and grow as individuals while experiencing what it was like to live in a community with big hearts and strong values. Like our community at Maacama, we met each night before dinner for gratitude circles where we were able to share a little bit about our days and what we were thankful for. It’s funny how small the world can feel!

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We continued with our daily movement and meditation, even focusing on an “Om” oriented meditation learned at the ashram a week earlier and this was led by Ann and Ricky. At the end of the week, we said goodbye to all our new friends from Conscious Impact and made our way back to our home base ashram where we were welcomed home like family.

 

With an amazing week spent outside in the sun and dirt, we came back to the ashram with a deeper, more rich experience of Nepal and all of the people we met along the way.

Caring for Sloth Bears in Bangalore

After a long train ride leaving Kochi, Kerala, our group arrived in Bangalore, Karnataka on

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the night of October 6th. Embraced by a warm welcome, our orientation to our new housing, land and community members, was filled with kindness and generosity. We spent little over a week working side by side with WildLife SOS, which is a non profit organization that works towards protecting Indian wildlife, conserving habitats and creating alternative livelihoods for the former poacher communities. The facility we were volunteering with is located in the lush

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Bannarghata National Park that holds a variety of different animal enclosures and habitats. We were working primarily with the sloth bears at the center, and were given the opportunity to learn about these animal’s intelligence, build enrichment structures, support positive conditioning and help with other important tasks on the site. Enrichment projects involved creating hammocks, swings or anything

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the bears could climb over, and their presence within the enclosures created a safe space for playfulness and also reconnection with their natural state of being. There was a total of 80 sloth bears at the facility, all coming from backgrounds of abuse and trauma, which

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largely originated from being dancing bears. Thankfully, this form of entertainment is now illegal in India. The staff held such a deep devotion to the restoration of the bears, the ecosystems and the Kalandar people. The social justice  aspect of this organization has created many positive impacts on the well being of the bears, as well as those affected by the poaching. Our group was inspired and moved by this opportunity

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to be working with such a team. From the delicious home made meals, endless riddle games, hard work spent cleaning, and the laughter from all the joyous sightings, this experience has opened our hearts with hope, inspiration and activated action.

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Traveling by Chicken Bus to Xela

A day in Comalapa begins with the cry of roosters and the feeling of warm sunlight streaming in through the windows. The sun is hot, but the cool mountainous breeze balances the heat. Comalapa has become a kind of home for us. We all have our favorite corner shops and internet cafes. At Long Way Home, we befriended some students, and many dogs. We have all become familiar to the woman who sells crepes on the main

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street; Betsa is her name, and she knows all of ours. Sadly, it is time to say goodbye to this beautiful place. Now we make our way to our new home, Xela. We decided as a group to enter the ancient Mayan city the Guatemalan way, by chicken bus. The chicken buses seem to be in a world of their own, possibly because of all the life held within them. In each row, there were two seats on each side meant  to hold two people, the key phrase there was ‘meant to’. Instead, about six people would squeeze into each row. At different stops the back of the bus would open, either for the ayudante to come by and collect money, or for street vendors to come in to sell peanuts, chips, or even sliced fruits. So, with our bags tied

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down on top of a bus, and our bodies squished between the Guatemalan people, we excitedly entered Xela. We had to find our hostel, which was more of a trial then one would expect. It took over thirty minutes before we finally managed to find the Zen House, and believe me when I say we were ready to be in a bed. The next day was gorgeous, perfect for exploration. We went on a citywide scavenger hunt, searching for a laundromat, Cafe Mandarina, the spanish school we

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would be attending, and an ATM. My group was successful in finding the entire list of things, but we kind of cheated. We found a local tourist information stop and had a lady point out everything on a map. But even with a marked map in one hand and a fair knowledge of Spanish in our heads, we were hard pressed to navigate the endless streets of Xela. It made for a fantastic adventure. And now, with home stays and Spanish classes in front of us, we surely have much more fun in store.

 

Celebrating Dashain in Nepal

Greetings from Nepal!

This past week we started off at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram outside Kathmandu and celebrated Dashain with the community there. This is the longest and most important

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festival celebrated in Nepal.  The women started the celebration by getting dressed in saris by some of the young women who live here. Afterwards we participated in a ceremony where we were blessed by Ram Chandra with tika.

Tika is a rice and saffron paste that is placed on our third eye in our eyebrow center. We continued to stay at the Ashram until the 14th, when we began our trek through the Himalayan foothills. In four days we walked 35 miles through jungle and farming villages. This was a really good

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experience for our group to grow and come closer to each other. Although the journey was very difficult, we discovered new things about ourselves and the group as a whole. We are now back at the Ashram for the night and will be heading out to work with Conscious Impact tomorrow morning for the next week.

 

That’s all folks!

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South India Group Explores Kochi

Greetings from the South India Group!

Our first week has been jam packed with new experiences, sights and sounds.

The trip started out with a long layover in Singapore, where we were able to leave the airport for a tour of the city. We learned some basic history of Singapore and the people, visited a mosque, and hung out in Marina Bay before catching our final flight to Kochi.

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After resting off our flight, we awoke to the fragrant smells of Kochi, a coastal city in the southern Indian state of Kerala, and long an entrepôt of the spice trade.  On our first day, we took a historical walking tour of the town and learned of its thousands of years of history.  We saw the house Vasco Da Gama died in, Chinese fishing nets (from the court of Kubla Khan), Portuguese and Dutch colonial buildings, and a Jewish Synagogue (the oldest active synagogue in Asia).  After our introduction to the town, we used the next day to go out and explore on our own.  In small groups, we embarked on a scavenger hunt, which had us interacting with locals.  The people we met and talked to touched us and helped to cement our connection to this place.

We have also taken Kerala martial arts, where two local masters trained us in a warm up

img_1833routine and self defense.  We caught a Kathakali play and took a cooking class, where we learned about the usages of the different spices.

On our final day, we ventured inland to a place on the banks of the Periyar river.  We were able to bike and kayak among the natural beauty and that afternoon we took a tour of a spice plantation to see how rubber is produced, where pepper, pineapple, cacao, nutmeg and much more come from.

The warmth of the people of Kerala have left their mark on us and the spiced food

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has filled us.  We said goodbye to our first place in India and boarded a train to Bangalore where we will spend a week working with a wildlife rescue organization.

Stay tuned for updates from Bangalore….lions and tigers and bears-oh my!

Endless Learning in Latin America!

It is now the 7th of October, and we have been staying at La Casa de Feliciano, which is in the center of Comalapa, Guatemala. This small town is nestled in between tall mountains,

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and is full of corn fields, stretching their way over the many hills. Our neighborhood is close to the center of town, which makes walking places easy. We have had many wonderful moments of physical and personal growth, spending most of each day helping

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build a school out of recycled materials with an organization called Long Way Home. We have also been starting each day with some energizing movement practices and meditation on the roof, where we are staying. Each morning, we wake to the voices of neighbors getting ready for the day, dogs barking, and music drifting in and out of windows. After over a week here, we have grown accustomed to the ways of life, and even have our favorite places to eat, our daily commute through corn fields, and many new

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friends. After lots of shoveling, digging, and using a pick-axe, we now know many new words in Spanish including Pala for shovel, Piocha for pick-axe, and mazo for mallet. Thanks to Oscar, our Spanish teacher for the past week, we have also learned the basics of the Spanish language, and have been practicing speaking to the locals. Everyone we have met has been so kind and welcoming, and even strangers on the street say hello with a big smile. It really is a special place.

During two of the afternoons, we went to visit two local artists and a tapestry weaver, all of whom had stories to tell and beautiful work to show. We also got the opportunity to go to

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the local open air market that was full of people, animals, noises, and food. As a group, we have been learning the art of working together, practicing leadership, taking care of our own wellbeing, and buying our own groceries. Each day has brought new learning opportunities leading to a greater awareness of humanity as well as ourselves. Thank you LEAPNOWfor this life-changing program.

 

Hello from Nepal!

Hello from Nepal!

We arrived in Nepal October 1st around midnight. We were taken to a beautiful hostel called the Dankapura Holiday Home, where we spent our first four nights in Kathmandu. We spent our days exploring the bustling streets of this exciting city. On our first day out, we visited the Buddhist stupa of Boudhanath. The stupa was damaged by the earthquake that hit Kathmandu a year and a half ago, and we watched each day as Nepalese laborers

img_0066-smallworked to rebuild its landmark. On the second day, we attended a kite-building workshop provided by the media arts collective, Sattya. Our third day out was spent at the monkey temple, where we learned about Hindu rituals involving death and family. It was a moving experience for many members of the group. (The monkeys were quite fun to watch as well).

On October 5th, we arrived at Sri Yoga Mandir Ashram. Life at the ashram is different than

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we expected it to be. The property is made up of various buildings, including a schoolhouse, living quarters, a cow shed, and a temple for Lord Hanuman. Asana yoga begins at 6:30 every morning, followed by breakfast at 8:00. We start karma yoga (meaning unity through work) at 9:30, which is composed of various tasks to help support the ashram. At 10:30 we have class, taught by either Ras Chandra, the master of the ashram, or Veda, a long time member of the ashram who teaches us about Hindu knowledge and its ideas of spirituality. At 12:00 we have lunch and a little bit of free time, before starting special activities at 2:00 and ending at 4:00. These activities include incense making,

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Ayurvedic medicine, Nepali dance, language, music, cow milking, Mala bead making, and cooking. Dinner begins at 6:30 and we end the day with either meditation or chanting at 7:15. Here we’re surrounded by rolling green mountains, fresh air, and a beautiful view of Kathmandu Valley. So far so good!