In the autumn of 2015, I had the opportunity to travel to India. I revisited a project that I deeply appreciate and admire – the Abha Seva Sadan Multitherapy Clinic, which serves a very neglected rural area in Jharkhand state, near to the city of Bokaro. I made a short video documentation of one of their most impressive projects, the Cerebral Palsy program for children:
The multidisciplinary team of doctors at the clinic use a combination of acupuncture, physiotherapy, herbal medicine and homeopathy to treat children with cerebral palsy. The results are quite breathtaking. In Romania, one of our kindergartens integrates children with cerebral palsy and over the years, I have seen how their incredibly dedicated parents were always trying out new therapies in the hopes of improvement, which was often quite slight and difficult to determine.
However, in many cases, if the child is treated early enough before the onset of contractures and the resulting physiological deformations, the results are quite visible, as you will observe in the video.
2 large parsnips, peeled and grated
2 cups arborio rice
4 T butter
1/4 t asafoetida
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
6 cups vegetable stock (I made it homemade by boiling the leafy celery tops, a carrot, some peppers and straining)
1/2 kg spinach (two medium sizes bunches) washed and with stems removed
zest from one lemon
6 T mascarpone
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
black pepper to taste
Melt the butter in a large pan over medium heat. When hot and sizzling, add 1/4 t asafoetida and then the grated parsnips. Stir and let them brown slightly. Add the uncooked rice and stir until even coated in butter and slightly golden. Add the vinegar and stir as it evaporates. Then start adding the vegetable broth, one or two ladles at a time. Add 1/2 t salt. Keep stirring. Allow the liquid to absorb, but do not let the pot become dry – there should always still be some bubbling of broth at the bottom. Keep adding the liquid and allowing the rice to absorb it gradually. When the rice is nearly done, add the spinach and lemon zest. Salt to taste (approximately 1/2 teaspoon more). When the rice is soft and creamy – add the parmesan and mascarpone as well as ground pepper.
I just made this video documentation of the WWD Golden Jubilee held in Ananda Nagar. My master, Shrii Shrii Anandamurtii founded a special section of Ananda Marga “WWD” standing for the Women’s Welfare Department in 1965 with the mission of promoting the all-round upliftment of women as key to societal transformation. A bird cannot fly with only one wing was a metaphor he often used to encourage women to strengthen themselves, and to encourage men to give appropriate importance to the upliftment of women.
It was memorable and inspiring to join together with so many fellow “Didis” (yogic nuns) and sisters from around the world for this three day program. I attended with two sisters from Romania, and we briefly toured a few places in India before and after the conference.
In its essence, the Neohumanist philosophy is about continually expanding the radius of our circle of love to include the entire universe. Human love is nurtured from birth by forming attachments to those closest to us, but often, beginning in early childhood, those outside of our circle of love, are part of an unknown “Other”. We then begin to experience the duality of “us” and “them” – those that are part of our world and thus familiar, safe and approachable, while those that are not, and are unfamiliar, alien and often thus perceived as threatening on some level due to our basic fear of the unknown.
I just made a playlist on SoundCloud of some of my favorite recordings of live kiirtans, that I made during gatherings with hundreds of Ananda Marga meditators. Kiirtan is the chanting of sanskrit mantras that create a deep resonance with Divine Love. There are many mantras in the tradition of kiirtan – but the one that I love best is “Baba Nam Kevalam” which means “I am only calling out to my Beloved”. It focuses and aligns the whole heart and mind to that core of unconditional, Divine Love that vibrates the essence of the entire universe.
Singing kiirtan is such an amazing simple way to experience pure spiritual bliss. These recordings give a taste of how that bliss intensifies when many people gather together to sing, creating a powerful flow of minds all moving towards that same Divine Nucleus.
I believe that Kaoshikii dance is one of the most complete, all-round workouts ever invented. It is a rhythmic yogic dance, that uniquely combines a stretching of the spine in all directions while at the same time giving an aerobic workout to the heart. The cross-lateral movements of the feet, which tap a toe behind the heel of the opposite foot, this crossing over the body’s center line, are considered by authors such as Eric Jenson, who wrote “Brain Based Learning” to be connected to improved brain coordination and increased mental acuity. At the same time, the arms are gracefully bending to the sides, forwards and backwards, open up the major meridians of the body, increasing circulation and energy flow. The forward bends are calming, while the backward bends are invigorating and energizing.
There are correct ways and incorrect ways to do almost anything, including meditation. There are certain simple skills and techniques we can learn, that work and over time, tend to consistently lead to beautiful, inspiring results when practised with patience and precision. On the other hand, it is also quite possible to spend a lot of time and effort spinning our wheels without getting anywhere. How to learn the skills that will assure a steady progress in meditation?
If we were to sit down in front of a beautiful grand piano for the very first time, it is unlikely that we would expect to see our fingers flowing across the keys, effortlessly producing a stream of melodious music on our very first try. Even if we spread out the sheet music, with all of the notes for a Beethoven concerto before us, would it help us? Most probably, the crowds of notes, jumbling on so many neat horizontal lines like stacks of golf clubs would overwhelm us in its complexity. To attain the ability to play the concerto, we would need the help of a teacher – someone who already knows how to play, and who can start with simple exercises to build up our strength, dexterity and ability to read music. As we progress, and gradually become proficient in the basic techniques, slowly we learn to go beyond dry technique and truly achieve artistic mastery and self expression. Then again, receiving expert guidance from an advanced pianist who already knows how to delve deep into the music, fully engaging her whole body and spirit will accelerate our own progress and abilities more than if we practice only on our own.
This Blueberry-Lemon Cake is an eggless, sattvic vegetarian dessert. The tartness of lemon enhances the flavor of blueberries, and the sour cream adds a luscious texture. It is the chemical reaction between the baking soda and acidic lemon and vinegar that causes the cake to rise and maintain a fluffy, light texture. As all of those of us who made baking soda volcano experiments as kids may remember, this chemical reaction is relatively short lived, so the cake must enter directly into a hot oven after adding the vinegar, at the very end, when all of the other ingredients have been added. It is possible to change the type of berry used to vary the flavors – for example replacing the blueberries with raspberries and the lemon juice with orange juice and orange rind.
In our increasingly sophisticated and technologically driven world, many children are primarily exposed to discovering the world through the screen of a tablet, TV or computer. They become habituated to these highly concentrated doses of information and their young minds readily adapt and crave greater and greater stimulation. It is then no wonder that it becomes difficult for them to sit quietly, to have long periods of concentrated attention. We adults complain that ADHD has reached epidemic proportions, yet if we observe ourselves, many of us have become accustomed to being constantly available on our cell-phones, filling up the spaces of our lives while we wait in line, drive in the car, or go for a walk with checking email, messenger, Facebook, or making calls. How much calm, quiet spaciousness do we grant our own minds? How much do we flit rapidly from task to task?
Mindful time in nature is both antidote and medicine for this condition. The natural world operates in spontaneous harmony with its Divine source and thus exudes peace, beauty and truth from its very essence. Poets and artists throughout the ages find metaphor and inspiration in the natural world as it is a pure mirror of subtle, spiritual truth. Only human beings have the ability to choose consciously whether or not to act in harmony with their Divine nature or to ignore it. The rest of Nature is on auto-pilot. As a zen teacher I heard speak once said, “Human beings are number one bad animal because human beings don’t know what human being’s job is.”
A new experiment – combining some of my favorite things from the US – cornbread, black beans, cumin, cilantro, fresh tomatoes, sweet corn – what is not to love!!! The slight sweetness of the cornbread contrasts with spicy, savory black beans . It is also quick and easy to prepare (a characteristic of most of my recipes….I like to eat well, but not necessarily to spend unnecessary amounts of time in the kitchen!)