You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2005.

lunaloveThe month before coming to India, our little cat Luna became very sick. Her kidneys and liver started to fail. It seemed as if she had ingested automotive coolant. The doctors gave her one in a million odds of survival. Loveleen and I did everything we could to keep her alive, feeding her with a syringe and keeping her fluids up through a self-administered IV twice daily. With so many people praying for little Luna, she miraculously pulled through.

A year later, the same conditions have developed and she is now skin and bones, barely holding on to life. It’s definitely a two person job, and last time, with the two of us working heroically, she survived. This time, Loveleen is on her own.

Within a half an hour after hearing how serious things had developed, I got a phone message from a friend saying that 3 of the 10 puppies she is caring for are really sick, and I spotted a homeless man with matted hair, dirty clothes, sitting near a pile of trash, who was so socially withdrawn he wouldn’t even take the cookies I had bought for him. Within that same half hour, I got an email from my friend Yaniv describing how sick he was, hospitalized and unable to move, and then even more tough news after that.

yanivSo many heavy and complex questions arise when it comes to supporting the life of dying loved one.  I suppose at the end of the day, it’s a matter of how much heart you put into whatever comes your way.

If anyone wants to pray for Luna, Yaniv, the puppies, the homeless man… please do… these things seem to work. As there are so many others in perilous states, perhaps make it a universal prayer on their behalf. I’m including you in mine.

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My favorite holiday is Diwali, where people prepare for weeks, cleaning every corner of their homes, buy new clothes and sweets to give, and then fill the world with light on the darkest night of the year. My second favorite holiday is probably Christmas, a day of connection and abundance, and a celebration of our togetherness.

As a child, Christmas was magical. As an older child, it lost that enchantment for me as so much of the pure spirit at the core of Christmas became overshadowed by the schizophrenic madness of commercialism. With every Christmas, I started desperately wanting to make an escape so as to avoid the insanity of a meat-filled, tree-killing, day of expectations.

cuddapah01A few years ago, I decided to see if I could revive the Christmas magic by steering my family in a direction that included what was meaningful to me. Christmas is a celebration of selfless giving and the world is in no shortage of need. Instead of giving Uncle Harry another useless item that adds to our overstuffed garages and landfills, why not take that $10 along with all the other money spent on unwanted gifts, pool it together and use it where it actually makes a difference?

A couple years ago, we started the experiment and pooled money together to buy economical water pumps for farmers in Africa. The following year, we helped jumpstart a new wing at Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai, that would begin treating children with cancerous eye tumors. Going about Christmas in this way is not easy as the old habits are deeply engrained. It takes preparation to coordinate something different and it can also lack the immediate gratification of gifts galore – but it just has so much more soul.

cuddapah02Before we left for India, Mark said that he only had one request for this trip – to visit his friend, Swarna, who had started an orphanage/elderly home in Cuddapah, Andhra Pradesh. Her idea was a novel one. By pairing the two groups together, orphaned children could receive extra love and attention from the elderly, and this neglected group could in turn be surrounded by more happy and youthful energy. Add to this combination a group of workers who are mostly widowed or abandoned wives, and you get a complete family where once there was much loneliness.

We have such an impossible schedule that it wasn’t looking like visiting Swarna was going to happen, but we made it happen, heading to her orphanage for Christmas Eve and Christmas. The orphanage/elderly home, Nav Jeevan (soon to be moving to Tamil Nadu), is very Christian, but you get the sense that this place is not about propagating a belief system as it is about working in harmony with the genuine spirit of Jesus, a la Mother Theresa.

Spearheaded by Mark, we went out shopping and bought cricket bats and colorful balls, badminton sets, color markers, little purses, flowery handkerchiefs, candies, and toothbrushes, and put them all together in colorful tootsie roll-like gift packs for all the 50 children. For the kids, it was totally unexpected. After playing Santa at 4am, we awoke to sounds of a happy riot in the morning by the tree as they reveled in the joy.

cuddapah03We decided that for the older folks, we would have the kids all draw their names from hats and make them cards with their new markers. The older crowd enjoyed it immensely!

Later in the day, we took them all to the park for a rare field trip.

Our visit was a huge success and so much fun. You wouldn’t believe how precious these kids are – particularly when they pinch your cheeks and then kiss their hands – in an overflowing gesture of affection.

disabledA week earlier, we had a similar experience when we went on a shopping spree for a group of physically and mentally disabled kids in Chennai, spearheaded by Maria, whose brother had spent months working there.

This kind of giving is awesome – when you know you are giving unexpected joy and not just satiating a developing greed.

My guess is that many families must also be tired of the over-abundant Christmas and might want to consider what our family has tried. Giving to a nonprofit is fine, but it’s even more optimal if ever you have the opportunity to connect directly with where your gift is going.

johnloveThe best advice I ever got about relationships came from my friend Luke. He said that in order for a relationship to be a healthy one, there needs to be an alignment or harmony between our most treasured or core life dreams or worldviews. If one person really wants to work toward a big house in the suburbs and the other lacks that ambition, or instead dreams of development work among the poor, there could be problems – no matter how much the two people love one another. When our dreams are stifled, inevitably it will result in an unhappiness that will likely express itself in a variety of counter-productive ways.

When Loveleen and I first started dating, we were very happy together. Taking Luke’s advice to heart, one day I decided to put it all on the line and find out whether or not our deeper purposes were really in harmony – and I was prepared to act on that truth. I told Loveleen that I had no intentions of living my life for me but that I was here to give it away, working to serve the world in whatever ways I could. Deep inside, I always felt that this was going to involve much traveling. When I probed into Loveleen’s core interests, she also seemed to have selfless dreams of working with children. It seemed like our fundamental desires were compatible enough to move forward. Ending the relationship at that point – when we were so happy – would have been the most difficult thing in the world. It’s not an easy question to ask honestly, because there is so much on the line, but in the long run, things will always come back to this truth. As hard as it may be, one might as well get to the bottom of this question right away.

Loveleen and I went on to spend many years together as very best friends.

johnloveleenwedding1The other day, someone asked me how long we had been married. Whenever someone asks me that, I have to think about it for a while. Technically, we’re not legally married, as I’m not so interested in having the government involved in my love life. We were, however, married under the Heavens, in a Divine Marriage, Cosmically arranged (great story – some day.) We also had a traditional Sikh wedding ceremony.

I decided the Divine Marriage was the real deal and that occurred at around midnight on December 3rd, or morning of December 4th, 1995. I calculated the year and realized that it had been almost 10 years, and then I realized that it was now December 2nd and that our 10 year marriage anniversary was like… tomorrow!

Phenomenal timing.

“Bummer!”, I thought, being here in India, with Loveleen so far away. And then quickly I got to thinking. I sent an email to a bunch of friends and tried to arrange the most romantic anniversary I could, being so far away. I asked one friend to leave flowers and a lit candle outside the door and knock late at night – at the real time of our anniversary. Included would be a note saying “Happy 10th Anniversary. John loves you!” I asked some friends to take her to her favorite restaurant and include a card that would say “Happy 10th
Anniversary. John loves you!” I asked another friend to give her incense with the same card and another to bring a vegan chocolate cake, again with the same card. And then finally I asked another friend if she could give her one of her famous facials, yet again with a card saying, “Happy 10th Anniversary. John loves you!” With so little advance notice, my friends back home rose to the challenge and went to work.

anniversarycakeLoveleen was very happy. :) A fun twist came about as well. I had only told a couple people about it, but somehow, that was enough. On my end, I received a cake in Ajmer from Gopi and crew saying “Happy Anniversary, John. Luvleen loves you!” And back at Manav Sadhna, word got back to Jayeshbhai and he asked everyone to personally make food for a cow and feed it to them in our honor. I also got another Happy Anniversary email telling me that Loveleen loves me.

It was nice.

When it comes down to it, how many people would be so understanding as to let their partner go off for a year to follow their calling without even questioning it. Loveleen has taken on the hardship of being alone and managing a household while I’m off here playing in a dreamland. She is an extraordinary person, truly exemplifying selflessness without any perks or recognition of any sort. Loveleen is truly a beautiful being in every way and I am so lucky to have been her companion for the last 10 years.

I have a feeling when we had that little talk 12 years ago that she didn’t think I really meant what I was saying quite so literally. Sorry Love. :) I adore you.

One spirit-
    Of many minds,
Brought here together
    Of this moment.

We are the fruition
    Of our ancestors’ deeds,
And trapped in time
    By their misdeeds.

We all pass through life
    And rarely step out
Of our motions
    To see they are motions.

Stop.

One spirit-
    Of many minds,
Together, we share in
    This moment.

Products we are,
    But also producing;
We are the ancestors
    Of tomorrow.

Our motions, the foundation
    Of a world that will follow-
A product of our deeds
    And misdeeds.

Go.

js
11 December 2005
Ahmedabad, India

starSince we’ve been in India, we’re no strangers to the media. I am told on a regular basis that we were spotted on TV or a newspaper or magazine. Just last week, Mark made national news in Pakistan… dancing, of all things.

Man, it’s going to be tough going back to America, being a nobody again. :)

After reading an article that appeared in an international Gujarati weekly, we were contacted by the well-known and highly respected filmmaker and actress, Gopi Desai, who was interested in making a documentary on our letter-writing campaign.

Mark has been nowhere in sight. After a certain point, with jaundice, I took
a step backwards to recover and to give attention to projects I had begun like Seva Café and the Manav Sadhna Annual Report (Large PDF).  Mark felt an aversion to going back to Ahmedabad and stayed on in Delhi, later going to Pakistan.

After talking to Gopi, I contacted Jayesh Parekh, founder of Sony TV in India, to see if Sony may have any interest in the project, and he personally volunteered to fund it. I was seriously touched.

Since then, I met with Gopi and her film crew in the city of Ajmer, where she was filming a TV documentary on the Holy Dargah, or tomb of a famous Muslim Sufi saint, Moinuddin Chrishti. After they finished, we immediately started on our project, and I can tell you, as of this moment, this film has extraordinary potential.

Supposedly, Mark will be joining us soon and we have also recruited superhero, Maria “Dengue” Durana to come along.

Being the quiet, shy person that I am, this project comes as a big challenge. There are so many good messages that can come out though and it’s such a gift to be able to play a part in something like this.

We only have six weeks left here in India, but it’s looking like that time is going to be very busy, extensively shaking it up throughout India and Pakistan.

hunger1_2When I was lying around with jaundice and essentially starving, I started to develop cravings and a lot of the cravings were for fat and protein, particularly in the form of cheese. One thing I’ve learned over the years with a restricted diet is that craving always takes a form, but it’s never necessary to fulfill that form. Underlying any particular craving is a deeper need. When we satisfy that deeper need, the form simply disappears. For instance, if you crave meat, your body is likely crying out for protein. If you eat something with beans or nuts, that craving, unless you become super-attached to it, will go away. In some cases, the craving may be more emotional, in which case, perhaps you are craving the feeling of comfort or “home” that is associated with the food. This can also be fulfilled in other ways.

At the time, I had a particularly strong craving for Blondie’s pizza in Berkeley. It lasted so long and was both an expression of what my body was crying out for (fat and protein) and a yearning for relief and comfort. Eventually, I decided I would probably make an exception when I returned to the US and have a slice to fulfill the emotional part.

pizzasliceThe thing I learned about being vegan from when I first started is that exceptions can easily lead to a complete meltdown and that is why, if you choose to uphold a decision like this, it’s sometimes necessary to remain very strict.

Knowing that I was going to make an exception, when the feeling of starvation persisted for many more weeks, and the yearning for protein and fat remained, my guards had been relaxed and I opted on a few rare occasions to take cheese. Since I had made these exceptions, why not add a little more fat to my diet? On several occasions, I stopped and bought ice cream. With jaundice, you are supposed to keep fat intake to a minimum, but my body was telling me otherwise.

I was very ashamed and did not want anyone else to know I was making these exceptions. I think for one, I had trained everyone to know that I was vegan. It’s easier to remain disciplined when the rules are clear and concise and they are upheld. Exceptions can make things fuzzy, and more difficult to live by. Plus, in taking dairy, I was clearly choosing to ignore and violate certain compassionate truths I had come to understand, and felt tremendously ashamed about this.

icecreamIn taking dairy for the first time in years, it quickly became apparent how nourishing it is. It was amazing to me that people eat it on a regular basis. It felt like such instant and complete nutrition. Just taking a little, I could feel my body absorbing it and using it. It was as if my body had a memory of where it was supposed to be and it instantly started to work its way back to that state. Without effort, my muscles were returning. My appetite was growing huge.

As I began to make exceptions, it no longer made sense to say no to some dairy and yes to other. This is the slippery slope that I was talking about, when meltdown is just around the corner. I decided to give myself a conscious window of a couple weeks. That way, I could take in the nutrition my body wanted and not feel like I had thrown out my values.

In taking dairy, life becomes a hundred times easier. I could eat what was offered. I could get full nutrition super easily. Life just became damn easy and so much more pleasant. And I realize that is how most people are living. But with this relaxation, there was also a loss. There is something deeply valuable about maintaining a discipline. It keeps you sharp. It keeps you focused. It heightens life and provides a meaning that can be lost when things are too comfortable.

cowmothercalfI could also feel a shift in consciousness. Years before, I had been a very strong and physical person – engaged in working within the material world. Since then, I had become more meek and fragile. Again, I felt a shift back into this consciousness, where I was becoming stronger, more of a force, more physical. I was re-entering the more human plane and it felt empowering.

When I became vegan, it was never a health choice. It was a tremendous sacrifice as a refusal to participate in a murderous system. In the process of evolution, you see that species adapt to their environments. One can argue that humans are natural meat eaters or are supposed to drink milk, etc. But from my point of view, I saw my decision as a conscious evolutionary choice. Sure, this decision to go vegan is perhaps new to the human species, but a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Though the transition may be a difficult one, eventually with time the human species would evolve into another form as we walk down the vegan path.

One thing I know for certain is that when I take milk, the cow literally becomes my mother. That may sound ridiculous, but when you really think about it, how can it not be this way? You are drinking her milk like an infant. Would you kill your mother when her milk production decreased? Would you treat her as a commodity? Would you kill her children when they are born male? Of course you wouldn’t, but we do. It’s the standard.

holycowWhile here in India, I began an investigation into the milk industry and I have learned a lot. I came in looking for the dark, hidden secrets, and what I have found instead is that for the most part Gujarat serves as the model for the world. Since this entry is too long to go into it now, I’ll have to talk about it elsewhere, but what I have found is extraordinary and provides such hope.

For now, I have stopped taking dairy again completely outside of Gujarat, or unless I’m assured the cows, both male and female, have it good. In Gujarat, I’m still not entirely sure where I stand, but for now at least have decided to continue making exceptions.

People don’t always understand why the Hindus regard the cow as Holy, but it’s when we do, that we come upon a natural harmony.

Continued from: Know Thyself – Part I – Moving to Berkeley

When I came back to Connecticut from Berkeley, I was able to find the comfort I needed to begin to blossom. I spent much of my time thinking deeply about everything, trying to figure out the secrets of the universe, and writing continuously. I started to read physics and philosophy, but for some reason, I was drawn like a magnet to the works of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Both were incredibly prolific writers, with volumes of work that look like complete encyclopedia editions – and over several years, I managed to get through a large chunk of both of their works.

freud_jung_01_1As I read them, I absorbed them – not merely their ideas, but their lives. I felt as if I knew them so completely that I had actually lived their lives, knew their times, and understood them from the inside-out.

There was a time my mother actually thought that I had gone
insane, reading the same books over and over. She just didn’t realize, like an encyclopedia, they all shared the same cover design. I think what I gained mostly from Freud and Jung was the understanding that there was so much more to me than what I knew. They both were pioneers in discovering the ‘unconscious’ and being able to tag along in their processes of investigation, I was enabled to connect with that which lay hidden within.

During this time, my creativity began to grow exponentially. I loved to cook – without following more than a few recipes ever, I knew by instinct the art of cooking. I could feel it and thrived using it as an art form. I actually considered it as a profession, though the thought of having to learn it in a meat-based institution immediately put an end to the idea.

My poetry also continued, becoming an indispensable outlet for self-discovery and expression.  And soon enough, I finally came to grasp art. One day, I went up to my room, got out some ink pens and water colors and just knew what to do. Within an hour or so, I had four finished paintings. Until then, I had the passion of an artist, but lacked any style. I never liked anything I had ever done. In just one hour, my innate style simply revealed itself. It was inspired and I loved it. And from that moment, there was no going back.

I have to give so much thanks and credit to my parents for giving me all the time I needed to discover myself. While my classmates were still all in high school, I was growing and developing in extraordinary ways.

My spirit was ignited. The extreme, nearly infinite, love I had felt for Lina was ever-present. I was continuously overcome with feelings and emotions. It was such an extraordinary experience to be so super-saturated with passion. I would visit her house, just standing outside immersed in the rapturous agony of soul separation. Wherever I went this blissful intensity came
with.

woodsA world full of magic began taking various forms. I would often walk into the woods, feeling the deep connection with Nature, and then take off running wildly without inhibition, tapping into a purely physical, purely instinctive side of my nature. I connected strongly with the deep romance and spirit of Led Zeppelin. And I started to search deeper.

Somewhere during this time, I began to write down my every dream, each followed with an interpretation. In a matter of time, I began to speak dream language fluently, knowing exactly what most every detail of every dream was telling me. Every aspect was a description of myself and contained within the needed secrets for working through the things that needed to be worked through.

mandla_1I also began to create mandalas. Mandalas are generally geometrically-shaped symbols that ultimately help one to find center and balance. Jung realized a value in the process of making these, where they would often serve as useful tools or guides in Self-integration and healing. I started off without much direction, and as I continued, I soon found Jung’s discovery to be profoundly accurate, where again I became fluent in the language of mandalas, later interpreting every aspect, every color, every meaning. Between the dreams and the mandalas, poetry and art, and all the other avenues of meaning, I had fully entered a state of self-discovery, self-integration, and self-expression.

Life during this period was rich and exciting, profound and boundless. Fully engaged in a sphere of inspiration, I had tapped into the core of my being. One evening, while taking a walk around the block, I had a vision of a gold square hiding behind the moon. This little vision would soon become the defining element in my life.

Continue to: Know Thyself – Part III – Knowing the World

jayeshanarHow can they give so much to so many? My own feeling of intense gratitude for Jayeshbai and Anarben is not unique. How could I ever repay them? Nearly everyone they encounter soon feels the same way. How are they able to give so much to so many?

In 1977, two Western monks, under the guidance of the Chan Buddhist, Venerable Master Hsuan Hua, began on an 800 mile bowing pilgrimage from South Pasadena, Southern California to Ukiah, Northern California. With hands folded in prayer, they would take three steps, then drop to their knees and do a full bow, placing their foreheads on the road, only to get up, take another three steps and bow again. This journey took them over 2 ½ years and served to strengthen the spiritual foundation of The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, which they were working in their own ways to establish.

3steps02In tribute to this practice, a group of about 20 set out in the middle of the night to walk 13 km, from the new campus of the Environmental Sanitation Institute (ESI), that Jayeshbhai’s father founded. We started by taking three steps and a bow for 2 ½ hours straight and then mixed it up with walking in order to arrive at their home at 7 am.

This exercise is amazingly powerful. While you step consciously with hands in prayer, you are finding your own center, your own heart, your own truth. As you get down and bow, you are at first letting go, offering yourself to the universe, and then taking in the expansiveness in return. As this process is continued, one can’t help but purify. To do this for so many years, continuously in complete silence, must have been extraordinary.

When we arrived, they were deeply moved, overwhelmed by the humble gift of gratitude they had received from so many.

rangolipeacocksFor all those who went so far out of your way to be there for me when I was down, thank you.

From Jayeshbhai and Anarbhen and the amazing supportive staff of Parvati and Ragu, to the great distances traveled and generosity of Mark and Yoo-Mi. From the strongly worded advice of so many like Guri and Pavi to the counsel and gifts from Yaniv. From the many doctors who recognized the path of service and honored it by refusing to take money, to the many letters of support from family and friends – what an amazing experience to know there is such care out there.

On Diwali, I created this rangoli design on the floor of Jayeshbhai and Anarbhen’s living room as an offering of thanks. I started it when I thought everyone was sleeping. I was surprised when Anjali, who lives there, came home at 2 am. I invited her to join in and she did. Going twice as fast, the one peacock gained a friend.

I wish that the spirit of gratitude that went into these can reach to everyone out there who is working to bring care to others. What a priceless treasure. Thank you.

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