The idea was a simple one. We would explore all the secret, remote and magical locations in Southern India in order to put together our own unique itinerary for our yoga retreats. This is a story, told in hindsight, of two-yogis, on our own quest to bring joy, steadiness and ease into our lives and those around us, drawing on yogic philosophy for guidance. Sthidhi is the name we have chosen for these transformative yoga experiences, meaning position, seat or balance in Sanskrit.
Not This, Not This, Not This…
The legendary Rishis, the forrest dwelling ascetics who denied themselves the material world to find solace and respite in the domain of their internal worlds, inspired many a wise word written in the Upanishads and various interpretations of the Vedas. In uttering ‘not this, not this, not this," the Rishis were reminded that everything in existence is not Brahman, the universal life force, indivisible, unchanging, permanent, but rather a reflection cast by our mind’s eye. This enables meditation, free from distraction (...try to for yourself!). It is also a useful tool in working out what you do and do not want in material terms as well.
As described in our previous blog, we were searching for locations to host our touring yoga retreats. In hindsight the lesson had been that in all our activities, one ought not to rely on a result for satisfaction. There need not be any motive, other than to commit to a given task, and make each action one of genuine service to others and for the pure joy of the act in itself. With this in mind we decided to take a detour and visit an eco-community. "No expectations", we promised one another, and crossed palms on the deal.
We had to re-enter Karnataka to get to our next destination, Navardarshanam, an eco village community in Krishnagiri, near Bangalore and took a wrong turn. Google maps made it seem as though we could cross the border but in fact we came to the end of the road - actually the end of Tamil Nadu! A wizened looking farmer in his early 40’s joyfully told us in a mix of Tamil and Kanada as our car’s nose peered over a steep and grassy insurmountable hill, how we could go back to the main road. I was beginning to feel that all this was far from real. Perhaps, if all life is ‘maya’, illusion, then this section of ours was a re-run of The Wizard of Oz!
We were continuing on the yellow sandy road in our Zen Maruti car and noticed a lady making brooms from long dried grass. We stopped to talk to her and watch more closely for a while as she beat and stroked the brooms into shape with immense skill and concentration.
We drove past many villages and through the forrest and it became apparent, we were a rare visitor to be seen by the looks on the faces of the people we passed by. Such purposeful staring, until the imposter is out of sight, is not necessarily an act of aggression. Sometimes it is genuine curiosity and an expectation of curiosity returned. One woman even asked me to photograph her, which I did so obligingly.
Finally we found a way across the border. Navadarshanam boasts a neat and beautiful complex of homes built from clay bricks, stone and red oxide. Founded by a group of academic political activists, believing that social movements had no impact, Navadarshanam was intended to be an example to the world of sustainable living.
We were welcomed in by Nagarajan holding an impressive stick and wearing light shaded glasses and long robes adorning his slight frame, making him resemble a modern day wizard! In the outdoor light that cast beams across the buildings, he asked us questions in hushed tones. His role was to ensure we were not mere tourists but rather genuine fellow travellers on the path, as it were. We explained our Sthidhi dream, which starts with travelling transformational yoga retreats and later continues with a permanent space for food growing and personal development within community of people. It turned out our ideas were not so different from his own.
We were ushered in to the communal dining space and ate an incredible dinner of spicy lentils, red rice, chutneys and amaranthus with coconut. Later we chanted together and Nataragan spoke wise words to us and the group of families, many who had been living here for decades. Although they had provided us with an absolutely stunning cottage with high ceilings, the smooth warm earthen walls secured by big heavy wooden doors, a comforting bed and expansive kitchen, it was clearer over the course of the next 12 hours that our stay at Navadarshanam would be brief. We offered to help the next day but the front office, the shop, the farmer all sent us away again, until ‘later’.
We spent the morning walking the grounds of the site, noticing coconut trees, long beans, cucumber, pumpkin, watermelon, banana and rice growing here. A huge pool of water had been collected from rainwater to help increase the water table and for irrigation. Nataragan was busy building a new building. By now we were full of breakfast but still had not brought anything to their table. Here at Navadarshanam you must find your niche, for yourself and there is no set up for fleeting volunteers. While they have meditation groups coming here, we were told they were a a rarity, selected by the absent founders and trustees.
So we bought a bag of delicious red rice and lentils, dried fruit sweets, millet and dates from the Navadarshanam cooperative shop, teaming with ladies from the local village packaging the produce, and set off for Kodaikanal, back to Tamil Nadu once again. As we explained to them, we would return for longer next time. While it was not quite the result we hoped for, (despite one's best intentions it's hard not to hope for results), we left Navadarshanam full of admiration and respect for this well intentioned and ambitious project. Onwards to the next set of bizarre circumstances that lay ahead!
You may view the destinations we finally selected for our retreats, here: www.sthidhi.com