Ma's 2014 Good Gift Guide

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Feasting together and giving gifts has been an important way of cementing bonds since Paleolithic times. This season, I'd like to focus on environmentally and socially responsible gift-giving. How can we give without cluttering our Earth with stuff, using unnecessary resources, creating financial stress and supporting multinational corporations?

  • Make it yourself. As a child I enjoyed long winter evenings cutting up glossy magazines and advertising material to make calendars for family and friends. Today Sadananda and I still make calendars, using some of our top photographs from the year and getting them printed at a locally-owned business. We also make jars of chutney for family, friends and neighbours.  You could also make jams, cordials or elixirs.                                          
  • Create a gift basket. We source pretty baskets at a neighbourhood thrift store and fill them with home made or local cheese, home made chutney, artisan bread and other local and regional goodies. I haven't ventured into soap-making yet (it's on my wish list of hobbies!), but home made soap, salve, potpourri etc. would make a lovely herbal gift basket. Some of our Alandi Ayurveda Gurukula students and graduates enjoy showcasing their new-found medicine-making skills by creating Ayurvedic herbal gift baskets.
  • Give services instead of goods. A pretty card offering a service you will render can be a heart-warming gift that saves money, doesn't generate more stuff and increases  interpersonal connection. Alternatively, offer a gift certificate for a massage, shirodhara, Ayurvedic Consultation, house cleaning or other service that would nurture the recipient.
  • Support your local bookstore. My adopted grandson always receives a book from Boulder Bookstore for his birthday and for the holiday season. And he enjoys the books immensely. If you are fortunate enough to have a locally owned non-chain bookstore still, please support them with your gift dollars or pounds!
  • Support local craftspeople. The years I go to Wales for Christmas, one of my treats is going to the craft fair at Aberystwyth Arts Centre to get unique gifts for family in the US. I also own quite a few treasured craft fair gifts myself! Visiting a craft fair is a way to support local potters, silversmiths, artists and artisans as well as purchasing a one-of-a kind gift.
  • Visit your fair trade shop. See my previous blog, Slavery and your holiday shopping for an extensive discussion of this topic.


Meal Blessing for Thanksgiving

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Since people often ask for 'Ma's meal blessing' --here it is!
 Some of you might like to use this non-denominational blessing at your Thanksgiving meal.

May the Earth be blessed that bore this food
And may they prosper who grew it
May the hands be blessed that cooked this meal
May all grow strong who eat it.
May the hearts and wills of humankind be moved
To feed the hungry of the world
And may all come to eat the bread of life
From Wisdom's table.

People atop the Berlin Wall near the Brandenbu...

People atop the Berlin Wall near the Brandenburg Gate on 09 November 1989 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, the world celebrates twenty five years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. This summer, Sadananda and I had an unique opportunity to commemorate this world-changing event. We spent a week in Assisi, designated the City of Peace. Because of this special status, Assisi was host to an exhibition of Wall art marking the twenty fifth anniversary of the fall of the Wall. A wide variety of artists exhibited art pieces created on segments of the actual Wall--turning a symbol of oppression and division into a space of creativity, wonder and questioning. Perhaps my favourite was by an East Anglian artist, who obliterated the 'Wallness' of the Wall by turning it into what he most loved--an East Anglian fishing village. I too dearly love the fishing villages of my native land.
At the conclusion of the exhibit, we had our own chance to do some graffiti on a segment of Wall. I wrote "Peace, pax, pace, shalom, salaam, shanti." The museum curator was thrilled!

The Berlin Wall has fallen. It's time was up. But what have we learned? We still build walls. We are building a wall across the desert at a cost of billions of dollars to protect ourselves from poor Mexicans and Latin Americans who just want a chance at a better life. The wall increases the likelihood of migrants dying in the desert, as they seek out ever more remote and hazardous routes. A wall divides Israelis and Palestinians, exiling people from their ancestral lands. We put asylum seekers behind walls and fences as they wait for us to decide their fate. Can a wall bring peace? Can a wall bring security? Can a wall bring safety?

As we celebrate the reunification of Berlin, let us remember that peace comes from truth-telling, from liberty and justice, and from brotherly and sisterly love among humans. Peace doesn't come from a wall.


Portrait of Berlin Wall exhibit curator in Assisi, by Sadananda


Often called the festival of light, Divali or Dipavali is actually the festival of little lights or little lamps. Dipavali means a row of lights. We kindle rows of little lights or dipas to guide Lakshmi into our home. In other traditions, the little lights guide Lord Rama home from Lanka to Ayodhya. The real Ayodhya is not a place on a map. 'Ayodhya' means 'no conflict'. The real Ayodhya is the state of living free from conflict.

In this Divali blog, I want to draw our attention to some people who are overcoming the darkness of adversity, lighting little lamps of hope.These three young women--two of them still schoolgirls--have been inspiring me all year long and brightening the flame of my heart.

 Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yusufzai faced the adversity of turmoil and extremism in her native Swat, followed by a journey through the valley of the shadow of death after she was shot in the head. She woke to find herself in a hospital in Birmingham, far from her friends and her beloved native land. Yet she continues lighting candles of hope for children around the world and speaking truth to power, even telling President Obama to stop the drone attacks in Pakistan. As a Nobel laureate at her young age, she holds an unique position in tending the lights of truth and justice that guide us towards the place beyond conflict. To hear Malala speaking for herself, watch her entire Nobel acceptance speech.

My friend Sabina England faces the adversity of profound deafness. Sabina and I have never actually met, but I feel that she really is my friend, as we share so many cultural connections, and we do correspond from time to time. Sabina is a remarkable writer, film-maker and performance artist. Her films express her activism, love of life, passion, spirituality and humour in an extraordinary way. Like Malala's peace work, Sabina's films are bright dipas of awakening, offered to all of us who are deafened by the busy noisiness of the world. Take a look at her eight minute film Deaf Brown Gurl for some special inspiration this Divali. 

Lastly, but never least, I'll mention my niece Ruth. Born with Down Syndrome, Ruth faces a lot of adversity in finding her autonomy and actualizing her quite amazing creative vision. She is interested in  puppetry and has her own Punch and Judy puppets. Last New Year, Ruth and I saw the New Year in together with my mother, who is in her late eighties and suffers with dementia. We spent New Year's Eve making music. I would play a song on my fiddle and then Ruth would strum her guitar and sing a song. We talked about the people and events that were important to us in the past year and our hopes for the year to come. Finally we sang Auld Lang Syne as 2014 arrived.

 Ruth might not be a Nobel Laureate or a famous performance artist like the other young women in this blog (or not yet, anyway), but she definitely lights lamps of joy for my mother. Ruth showers Mum with affection in a way that is truly healing. The challenges Ruth faces don't stop her giving a lot to anyone who is open to receive what she has to offer.

The dipas that are lit on Divali are quite tiny. Yet when billions of these little lamps are twinkling, India shines so brightly that the radiance can be seen from space. Malala, Sabina and Ruth are keeping their lamps shining in the face of challenges and adversity. And as the dipa is made more lovely by the surrounding darkness, they are turning their adversity into a gift. If each one of us keeps brightening our little dipas by the daily practice of being true to ourselves, we can light the way to the city beyond conflict.
A diya - Indian oil lamp.

A diya - Indian oil lamp. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nanny: A deaf woman in wartime

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Nanny and me! 1952

The recent International Deaf Awareness Week (last week of September) has got me thinking. I do feel especially close to deaf people because of my maternal grandmother, Emily Board nee Hunt, known to us as Nanny. Born in London in 1896, Nanny contracted measles at age three and lost her hearing. She never received any special education, was teased and despised as 'deafy' and started work as a factory girl at age twelve. Nanny was a brilliant self-taught lip-reader and could snoop on conversations across the room--or private asides whispered on the television!

During the London blitz, Nanny was especially vulnerable because she could not hear the air raid sirens. She was living in Shenley Road in the London borough of Camberwell at the time. Nanny's  fox terrier, Skippy, would bring her to the basement when the sirens wailed and lead her out again when the 'all clear' sounded. Natually, Nanny felt a special bond of gratitude to her dog. When I was a baby, she gave me a straw and rag fox terrier toy called--of course--Skippy. I loved that simple toy like no other, even when I was a big girl.

When the National Health Service started up in 1948, Nanny's life changed dramatically. Finally, she received a hearing aid. Nanny said that until that day, she had never heard a watch tick or a bird sing. She had lived in a silent world, isolated in many ways.

History nearly repeated itself when I contracted a severe case of measles at age three and ruptured both eardrums. But the healthcare and nutrition available in postwar Britain was dramatically better than that of Old London, and my  hearing was saved. Unlike Nanny and millions of people worldwide to this day, I do not suffer from preventable deafness.

Nanny's story serves to remind us of how uniquely vulnerable deaf people are in conflict zones around the world. When civilians are caught up in war, the disabled and special needs population is affected in ways we can barely imagine; both from imminent danger and from deprivation of ongoing support necessities. Deaf people need the opportunity to fulfill their potential and to be afforded the same basic human rights so many of us take for granted.

Afghan Schoolchildren in Kabul

Afghan Schoolchildren in Kabul (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here are a few words of my memories of travel through Afghanistan in 1978:

When I was traveling from England to India, mostly hitch-hiking, I passed through Europe, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, reaching my destination in India.Today I want to speak about my travels in Afghanistan.

People verily make up a wonderful garden wherever one may go.The people of Afghanistan were particularly striking--the music, dance, physical beauty and vitality, tremendous hospitality, tangible heartfelt-ness and peacefulness. The children especially struck me as they seemed so interwoven into the whole of life.

I can remember the day the Communist coup began, to overthrow the government of President Mohammed Daoud. I was present in Kabul at this historic moment, which led to the Soviet invasion of 1979 and ushered in more than thirty years of continuous warfare
, mostly at the hands of the world's superpowers. I recall that the army rebelled, fighting the police. I remember planes bombing government buildings and bullets flying in the streets. Afghanistan hasn't been at peace yet.

Since I have traveled to Afghanistan my heart has had a tear in it, a wound. All people on this earth are my people. The Afghans are my people, my brothers and sisters, daughters and sons. I can't forget them--the people of Afghanistan have been through so much!

I pray that peace and justice will come  to this land and people.

June Haibun

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Torrential rain
Crushed poppy petals
Blood on paving stones.

When I see the magnificent blooms beaten down, their glory cut short, sorrow of a thousand mothers wells up in me.


poppies (Photo credit: __o__)

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Silver Gelatin

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They are elders now

If death has not yet taken them.

Hair is grey

Lines crease their faces.

They have birthed children

Buried loved ones

Toiled and laughed,

Yet always innocent

Always alight

Their radiant childhood greeting us

In silver gelatin print.

Wayne Miller 1948.jpg

Cherry Blossom Haiku

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Cherry tree blossom Русский: Цветущая ветка ви...

Cherry tree blossom Русский: Цветущая ветка вишни Latina: Prunus cerasus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lilac breeze
White petal shower
Bees in cherry blossom.

Bagpipes skirl
Dancing together
Cherry and chokecherry.

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With the New Moon in Taurus, the eclipse cycle ends. It was a particularly intense cycle, involving both a total lunar eclipse and the Cardinal Grand Cross. At such a time, seemingly ordinary events take on a dream-like symbolic quality. Two events, on on either side of the lunation, captured for me what this New Moon is about.
On Monday, less than twelve hours before the eclipse, Alandi Gurukula student Joanna arrived with two buzzing swarm boxes. Soon we were installing the two queen bees and their myriad attendants in our topbar hives, left empty since the Boulder Flood Disaster.
In Hindu mythology, Bhramaramba, the Queen Bee
, is a form of the Goddess, she whose fragrance draws all beings to her. Divine Mother's arrival at the ashram in Her form as Queen Bee spoke of the rich, abundant feminine energy of Taurus that that New Moon ushered in. It was a promise of beauty and abundance to come, as honey-making pollinators crowded our garden, sipping apple-blossom nectar or turning golden with dandelion pollen.
Next day, as we entered the energy of the waxing moon, Martine, our indigenous Peruvian friend, arrived at the ashram garden with his lovely consort and vigorously set to work tilling the ground. Rich and earthy, Taurus was here, bringing the Earth People of the First nations and the groundedness of  soil, humus, compost and earthworms. June and July will bring lush greenness and blooming roses-- for Taurus, the soil itself is the thing, as the brown beauty of Earth reveals herself.
May this eclipse cycle bring abundance and groundedness to all of us!


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