Will I see the Matrimandir? This question has occupied my mind for the last hours. I have to register and today is the last chance to get a ticket for Thursday or Friday. The temple had been closed due to the weather so there might be a big run now. At 10 am there are about ten people waiting in line and more and more are joining. Finally, the registration employee hands me the last yellow card for the next day: I have my “ticket to enlightenment”.
After a Cappucino and a vegan biscotti at Dreamer’s Cafe I cycle to town hall to pay Auroville Radio a visit. I walk in their tiny one-room-office. There are three people sitting at old PCs (I haven’t seen floppy drives in a while), headphones on, absorbed in work. In the back I can see a small studio with folding chairs. The air condition is a relief – it is the first time in Auroville that I walk into a cooled room. Andrea is coming over to me. He is a sort of chief editor, it seems, an Italian guy who came to Auroville about 15 years ago. He gives me a short introduction to their broadcasting. They report on everything “that’s interesting”.
Could be 5 minutes a day or 5 hours. They have a live stream online, offer audio files of stories on their website and plan to add video content. They just got some new servers and Andrea invites me to donate. The microphones in the back room are all from Germany. “They are the best”, Andrea says with a smile. The journalists here are Aurovilians who drop in and want to be a helping hand – either as a volunteer or after the first year with the typical Aurovilian “maintenance” as a pay – but the radio also attracts students staying for some months, doing an internship and gaining experience. Must be a great place to be a reporter!
Almost noon, lunch time. I cycle to Solar Kitchen – a vegan restaurant with Indian food that cooks everything with Solar power. I grab a huge metal plate and load it with different kinds of rice, gravies, a “something” that is deep fried, crushed almonds and a green paste that is obviously made of algaes. Anusha later assumes that it is “spirulina” – it tastes like nothing but it is also sold as a food supplement and probably extremely healthy.
In the afternoon Stefan offers to go to Sadhana Forest, a little bit outside of Auroville. At the entrance lies a police officer chilling in a sofa-like bed held by trees. We walk into a forest, are greeted by some puppies, passing an open kitchen and some chill out areas and make our way to the centre of Sadhana Forest – a community space with pillows, gym mats, instruments and an exhibition about what the reforestation project is all about and has achieved so far.
“They work in shifts”, Stefan explains, “twice a day, each time three hours.” Some plant, some cook. Every week there is a open stage. People also live at Sadhana permanently: In huge bamboo huts build into trees – even huge enough for families with children. Ananja is excited: We want to go to the mud pool of the forest. I am less excited but I trust both of them that it will be fun. We arrive at a giant puddle with reddish water. It looks as bad as the Ganges and rather like a basin that hosts every kind of bacteria. The ground is all muddy and slippery. “This is natural clay”, Stefan says. “It is soft and healing to your skin. Try it!” I need 15 minutes to be convinced and then I decide to jump in, in underwear. We use the mud as a facial mask and swim through the refreshing water. It is not too bad! And the colors are amazing: red water, blue sky, silvery bushes.
After the mud bath I am heading to dry bath: one with sounds! Mani drops me off at Unity Pavillon. Around a collection of instruments there are meditation pillows and bamboo mats on the floor, some people are already lying down, eyes closed. The description promises to “create a space of deep relaxation through a basic tuning process and exposure to the soothing waves and vibration of pure acoustic instruments. Gongs, Bells, Chimes, Strings and diverse new and archaic sound sources will invite the listener into a sound journey into inner landscapes and synaesthetic contemplation towards a Unity experience.” Aha!
I drift away into another sphere – especially when a deep, soothing “Gong” flies by right next to my ear. But I am still in that room, on the bamboo mat, trying to let thoughts pass instead of let them conquer my mind. The music distracts, relaxes but my mind is active as ever – so hard to make it shut up. After a while I stop trying. Take yourself as you are today. Some days are better for meditation, some are worse. Nothing is the same tomorrow.
After the sound session, I make my way back to “realization” – again, in almost complete darkness but with more people on the main road. Thankfully! Because Ricardo passes by with his motorcycle and offers a lift. He lives near my community so we have the same direction. He has been living in Auroville for 20 years, left his family and all his possessions in Argentina behind. “It is the search for aspiration I love about this place and the people here. And the spirituality”, Ricardo says. I wonder: “Couldn’t you find something like that somewhere at home?” Ricardo denies. “I was surrounded by people not searching for a higher cause. Then your effort is in vain, too.” It sounds arrogant but also right. What if you strive for something that others don’t miss or regard as “unattainable”? What if you feel like you live in a dull satisfaction, hypnotized by work, appointments, everyday chats and more and more things you buy but do not need? When I get home, Anusha is surprised how fast I got from back from Unity Pavillon. “Ricardo gave me a ride, do you know him?” “Oh sure! He is our carpenter for the new house. Should be working on our kitchen again tomorrow”.
Thursday, Matrimandir day. As is written on the ticket, I am on time at the video room, together with 20 other visitors. We watch an introductory film and learn some pieces of Aurovilian philosophy such as: “Work is just another form of yoga – to serve the divine.“ It reminds me of a remark from Stefan: “People here just DO yoga. They are not talking like: ‘Oh, I am going to a yoga class at 4 pm‘. They just do it. It is not a schedule, a thing, it is just natural.“ The film also mentions the urge to find your field of interest and contribute to the community. I also like the claim that „everybody in Auroville is a researcher, a learner and a teacher.“ I decide to put that in my pocket home with me.
While we were waiting, I met Ana from Russia. She is a 25-year-old architect and came to India to study how houses and temples are built here. She is fascinated about the style of leaving out glass windows and put in a mosquito net instead. She has traveled for two weeks and I almost do not trust my ears when she says: „Well, I tried couch surfing. But it did not work too well. One guy here just did not show up and the other one did not know I was coming.“ What a beautiful sweetheart and such a daredevil or am I overly scared? I would even have second thoughts about couch surfing with a male host in Germany – lest in India!
We are guided out of the video room and board buses to Matrimandir.
From the outside it looks like a massive golden golf ball, sleeping in a bed of red bricks. We have to leave behind our backpacks and shoes. Barefoot we walk to a medication circle under the „golf ball“ where water is flowing down in to a richter made of white marble. Once we get inside, we have to put on white socks in order not to leave dirt on the spotless white floor. The Matrimandir is a mixture of Guggenheim museum, spaceship, igloo and heaven. Everything is white: The floor, the walls, the pathway up to the center in the top where we are allowed to mediate for a maximum of 20 minutes. There s absolute silence, nobody speaks, even coughing and sneezing should be done outside the meditation room. In the middle of it there is a glass ball. Perfectly vertical to it there is a hole in the ceiling, through which a ray of sun light hits the glass ball. Yes, it has something dive and holy to it. But what strikes me the most is the complete silence, the cool temperature and even a slight wind (or am I fantasizing?) and the peacefulness. I close my eyes and even ignore a small ant or spider that is crawling over my right hand. No scratching, no moving. Just the thoughts keep moving from time to time, even though I concentrate on my breathing.
Coming out of the Matrimandir, I observe a woman with a big green hat standing at the roadside. She also seems to hope for a lift back to the visitors’ center. A cab driver starts talking to her and I trot over to them and join the ride. “What are you doing here?“, I ask. The woman replies: „I am avoiding life“. This will be the most perplexing encounter today. My first guess is a shot in the bull’s eye: She is American. From Hawaii. “Have you seen the Matrimandir from the inside?“, I ask. „I don’t have to. There is so much energy coming from everywhere else in my body, I do not need to go into a building or meditation room for that.“ This woman knows what she wants! Her name is Rohini – she has changed her real name to that name. She has a mysterious vibe around her, saying that she is an architect and a healer (later she relativizes: “Well, I COULD be a healer.“). A confusing conversation already.
I pay for the taxi because the driver does not change her 500-rupee-bill (about 5 Euro). „What a sweet pussycat“ she says and the driver nods. Oh, I appreciate this American way of gross exaggeration. Rohini is 78, has been in Auroville since August to explore some of her Indian roots and she has no more plans for today. Me neither. We sit down for a coffee.
Rohini rummages in her handbag and pulls out a set of Tarot Cards. I get excited to receive a vision of my future for free, but she just wants to show me the paintings on every single card because she admires the woman who painted them, named Teal Swan. She seems to be worshipped like a kind of savior, if you have a look at her youtube channel. “And consult ‘Mother Meera‘”. What a strange advice. We have met each other half an hour ago and the first spiritual suggestion is to turn to these women. I smell conspiracy theory and for the blink of an eye I imagine Rohini wearing an aluminum hat.
„Are you married?“, Rhine suddenly asks. Me: „No.” I wince when she exclaims enthusiastically: „Oh that’s good news!!!“ I explode in a loud laughter. that is definitely the sweetest comment I ever got to that answer. “Why is that good news?“ Rohini: “Because you’re not under any law.“
Rohini is not stoppable. She talks and talks but as usual I feel comfortable with people with a tendency to hold monologues. Rohini has been at an Osho Ashram in Pune centuries back and she praises Osho himself (although she never met him). She is convinced that „he could read what the audience was occupied with, he just ‚listened’ to the silence coming from them”. I have read two books about Osho and it does not appear too far fetched.
We philosophy about finding people you can get deep with and share something of meaning. “They are rare”, I hear myself say. At least it is so rare to reach the level of true conversation with somebody because there is often something in the way: a question of somebody else in the room, a waiter bringing food, a smartphone, a “need”, a movement. Rohinis wisdom: “If you have people around you, you cannot get deep with, do what Trump does: Fire them!“ How did it happen we come from Osho to Trump? Oh dear. They seem galaxies apart. “Well, in this respect, Trump may be right for once”, I say. We both laugh.
„Do not be afraid going through life alone“, she says, „and get rid of stuff. I do not have a phone, I do not have Facebook (well, you are 78, I think to myself) and I do not have a house. Things keep you from finding enlightenment. They distract you and sting like a bee again and again.”
After almost an hour, coffee cups emptied, I start saying my goodbyes. I think I have to let all this settle in my head and I long for a lunch break at Ganesh bakery in another part of the city. We do not shake hands but put them on top of each other on the table, it just happened. „What are you gonna do next?“, I ask her. She has no plans, but she has ordered a delivery yesterday. „I wait for pizza!“ She’s an American, after all.
A little foggy in my head I walk to my bike and cycle 15 minutes to Ganesh Bakery in the Lively Neighborhood. The bakery sells cookies (in plastic bags, oops), cooked food and drinks. I order the speciality: Kombucha – that the man behind the counter describes as a sort of lemonade made of tea and a kind of mushroom. I never tasted it but it sounds antibacterial so I order it. Kombucha turns out to be another „superfood“ with up to 2% alcohol. Cheers! I just drank half a liter of it – accompanying my hot lemon cake. Yummy!
After my break I throw myself into some souvenir shopping. There are designer stores next door – with cotton clothes and chandeliers and accessories made of bamboo wood. In a supermarket I buy a Ganesha cotton bag and some incense sticks. Then I cross the whole city to go to Probiotics House.They make soap, water supplements and jewelry infused with probiotics. I want to believe that it works and buy a bracelet that is not only “good for cleaning the water in my body but also for a strong immune system, well-being in general, as well as better sleep and relaxation.“ Next door I have another coffee at Aurovelo – a bike shop aka cafeteria to get ready for what Stefan and Anusha recommended: Vinyasa Yoga Flow with teacher Bebe, in the “Hall of Light” in the creativity community. „You will sweat“, was their promise. At 5 pm I am lying on the yoga mat and follow Bebe’s instructions. She is one of the most precise yoga teachers I have ever had – with not too much flow but great expectations from their students. I leave out the handstand and take some more rests in child pose than usual. The air is thick and heavy. But the highlight of my evening will be Bebe’s headstand-part.
For the first time, I understand the coordination of that posture and know (in theory) what to do. Bebe assists – very patiently because I am so scared to fall over – and after the class she explains the technique again for me. My personal „Aha“: You do not stand on your head but on your elbows and wrists. Your head should only slightly touch the ground, one should be able to put a newspaper under it while your in headstand. „Practice the scorpion several times a day“, Bebe says, „that strengthens the body parts you need for headstand. And do not practice with a wall for too long. Better refine your technique in bending your legs slowly up, pushing your hip forward and stretching your shoulders. And do not kick your legs up – then you fall over. It is slow movement upwards“. Ok. Now I have my toolbox. We will see how it goes further. For tonight, I am so happy to have a first idea of standing all the way upside down, assisted of course.
I return to the flat, have a cold shower (because we have no warm showers) and sit down at the kitchen table – still energized by the yoga class. Anusha has ordered food: quiche, mushroom tarte and potatoes arrive half an hour later in reusable aluminum boxes. We talk about our careers. The jobs we did and we would like to do. About what jobs made of us and that it should be the other way round: We should create a job that suits us. She has been a professional dancer and an NGO-worker once – until she found another calling. I envy her. „Well, Yvonne, I guess I am just a few years ahead, not more.“ Anusha is getting up at 5 or 5.30 am every morning. She then mediates for one hour. I am stunned. „How do you manage to keep your focus for so long?“. She: „Well, I have more issues coming out of the mediation than staying.“ I envy her again.
This is already my last evening – what a shame. Time went by so fast. What remains is the feeling that everything I might experience after Auroville might not have this magical light on it, will be not as „extreme“ in a sense and not as intense. I will never forget this chilled atmosphere. Like there have people found each other, guarding all the same secret: „We know and live the truth“. Of course there is gossip, garbage, stinking water tanks, broken engines, too many appointments, problems of any kind – that is just human. But besides that, there is spiritual space. A lot of space.
What a childhood for a 4-year-old girl. In addition to learning English, German, Hindi and a bit of Tamil (like her mother), she does not go to a kindergarten or school where teachers indoctrinate children with their understanding of right and wrong. What an experiment! And how different to my childhood and teen years. I am curious what she will be like in a couple of years – – also absorbing NVC (“non-violent communication”) guidelines from her father.
“Now you haven’t seen rain or experienced an electricity blackout while you were here”, Stefan says, when we say our farewells. What a bummer! Another reason to come back.