Asking Better Questions

Asking better questions (see my last post) has been a mantra for me taken from a number of very good teachers – the latest in the line being Mike Handcock and Dave Rogers of Rock Your Life.  And today I have found a book on just that subject.  “A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas”  Warren Berger.

Already only just starting on Chapter One I have been pricked into some new openings in my work.  I am about to head to the east of Maharasthra to a small village called Tirzada – to start the construction of the first in what is to become a series of check dams.  These are designed to assist the farmers to harvest more rain water into the aquifers and subsequently give them a better water supply all year round and a more productive way of life.

It’s all about water. Or is it?

Where are the questions that will open this work into its fullest realm of possibility?

And to whom should I direct these questions designed to dig out the most beneficial and practical answers that will bring to Tirzada an involved community with a self sustaining and satisfying lifestyle for them all?

First I have to direct the questions to myself.

That one is clear as if we do not ask ourselves the deeper questions first – it is not possible to move outside and expect an answer from the wider world.

So what am I doing?
Why I am doing it and for whom am I doing it?

The why am I doing what I do stems back to Peru and the realisation for myself that I had there..my life is dedicated to Mother Earth.  She is me and I am her – I am here for her.  Yes certainly there are times  when I lose sight of my vision entirely and get lost in detailed criricisms and forget this. But essentially that is the big WHY of my life.  I am fortunate because I have been blessed with that vision.

The questions now come through for the villagers and the farmers of Tirzada.

What do you need to help you to have a better life?

Paul Polak – Out of Poverty – asked this and other pertinent questions to many villagers and small farmers – and the strongest answers he gained came back to – being able to earn more money.   He went on from that to develop low cost products to assist the farmers to grow more crops and hence to earn more money.

His great questions brought me to begin asking what is the underlying cause of them not being able to grow more crops? and my answer was given – that of lack of a consistent regular supply of water.  From there the answers started to flow.. and I met the right people to guide me – and here today we are starting the water harvesting structures.. the check dams.farmer3  But now what further work can be done in the village to enhance this work?

In what way can we bring the villagers together into a stronger and more cohesive community?

What is the best method of bringing education to the villagers -both to the children and the adults – education about better cropping methods, about the sanctity of water, better cook stoves, biogas production and other innovative potentially life saving technologies such as drip irrigation methods?

At the village level politics is just as rife as it is at the national level.  Who are the best people in the village to have on side with us so that the political beast does not raise its head and get in the way of the work?

I am a foreigner – and a foreigner who also does not speak the local language. Can I offer value and valid insights through an interpreter relating to equality – environmental harmony, the need to honour all our water, the need to find the place where we are each responsible for our land and our world?

Humility – connectedness to myself, a stance of non judgemental being, and seeing the beauty in all comes to mind – for this is the intention of my work – and when I bring these qualities to all I meet then the only thing left to do is let go and let God.

Living in the Heart

Asking better questions has been a mantra since my days with Roger Hamilton – and more recently in the past years with Mike Handcock and Dave Rogers – who are all masters at the skill of asking better questions.

This morning as I wrote my journal I invited my guides and helpers to assist me. I was going in circles with a lot of noise both inside and outside my head. Questioning my place here – questioning my attitudes, my work, my purpose, my seeming lack of passion and gratitude.

And as the pen began its flow across the page so too came very welcome insights.

Are they better questions.. those you are asking?

When a question only takes you in a circle, and to a place of darkness and discomfort – then seek a better question.

Ask yourself – “what was it that made your heart sing yesterday?”

“What deed did you do that made the most difference? Who’s heart did you touch to help them feel better in themselves?”

And with deep acknowledgement to the words of Thich Naht Hanh – “What sharing in your ‘sangha’ (commununity) helped to keep the boat afloat as some were carrying heavy stones in their hearts?”

When you ask these questions the focus returns to the heart and away from the head.

Live in the heart and what else you do matters very little. Live in your heart and seek to find that place at all times, remind yourself to fall into that place.

For there is the place of inspiration, of joy, and of connection to all things and all beings.

And from that place your purpose is fulfilled with no possible thought or question of:  “Am I enough?” “Is it enough that I do?”  But simply and only of connectedness to the whole where doing becomes only an extension of being and the purpose of existence simply is with nothing to ask and nowhere to go.

Out of that place, action flows and gratitude arises for the privilege of being in this body, in this place and in this time.P1410472-small

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The Passing of Agee

Yesterday afternoon finally Agee – our old lady of unknown origin – kindly known as Agee – or grandmother – completed her cycle of life. She left us at around 3.30 – and by 9 the flames had all but consumed her. Agee had no family that we knew of – but her family here with all our children were around her as she was given her final send off.

P1410930-smallThe ritual and ceremony was simple – organic and of the earth.
Candles were lit at each corner of the place where she was lying – and burning incense was constantly there. We closed her nose, ears and mouth with cotton wool and smeared ghee (clarified butter) onto her legs and arms.

Our chappati lady seemed to be one of those who knew the right order of things – and she instructed others in the way to proceed. First priority was to gather the necessary things including most importantly – a big bag of dried cow dung – to cleanse and purify as cows are considered holy and pure.

The water to be used for washing the body was heated over a fire of five cowdung pats – and the area where the body was to be burned was cleaned, water splashed on the area – and then water mixed with cow dung also thrown onto the earth to cleanse and purify the place. P1410925-small

Then came the building of the funeral pyre.. which began also with cow pats – laid out – in a pattern with a candle lit in the centre.

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Bamboo – dried grass – and pieces of plywood and other scrap wood then were carefully placed to build a good structure – surrounded by holding stakes so that the pyre did not collapse as it burnt.

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Lastly another bed of grass was placed on top of the pile. And then we turned to bathing Agee – together we women lifted her to a place – behind a curtain – where we first rubbed turmeric with water all over her body. This was rinsed off.. and she was carefully dried – a head scarf tied securely around her head and she was wrapped in a new sari.

It was time to place her on the bamboo and grass covered frame – where she was covered with a white sheet and then a bright pink cloth – and blessed with flowers – a coin placed on her third eye, rose water – incense – and she was lifted onto the bier by our men.

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More incense – and the wood and bamboos and more dried cowdung was spread over her – as well as ghee to help the flames. P1410991-small When the pile was high and considered ready the flames began .. it was very quickly too hot to remain close.. and we all retreated to the place above the burning ground to watch andstand vigil while the fire raged.

And then Game Sir threw an earthen ware pot hard against the rocks near the fire.. as it smashed – the significance was spoken.

The pot is like our lives – it breaks – as always the earthern pot will break. So too our bodies are impermanent.

After some time a loud crack was heard – the breaking of the skull – and the fire continued – as it died down and the bones began to be revealed – we drank chai in honour of Agee. And lovingly made jokes about her constant cries for “Chhaaaaiii” in the last days. There were finally calls made to various scattered members of our ‘family’ who knew Agee in the past three years to tell of her departure.

This morning as I write this – the flavour of the smoke from the cremation is still with us – and the only evidence remaining is a few small bones and the bones of Agee’s skull.

There are all the facts. This is how it happened.  But for me – I could not help but compare this passing to how we deal with death in so-called ‘developed’ countries. The sterility, the dressing up of the body – the long drawn out process of funeral arrangements – the huge expense of dying – the legal process – and the attempt to somehow conceal the reality of dying during the whole process.

When I choose my time of leaving I should much prefer this way – just let me go –
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Allow the body to sizzle and spark
and disappear into the flame
wave me goodbye
cover me in bright pink cloth
as a gesture to the lightness of life
and the joy of the passing
Don’t cry for me
but rejoice with me
as the light beckons
and I leave my body behind
For this body is as the earthen pot

It breaks upon the rock
and spirit flies
released to the light

Days of Caring

Choice is always with us – I believe we have choice in all things – but sometimes the lines  are somewhat blurry and it is difficult to really understand that  – “Yes.  I did put my hand up for this.”

Actually at the time, someone needed to and it looked like my job. But as the days pass I know more and more deeply just why it is my job.

I live in a shelter for children.  We care for many people here.  Lots of kids, some dogs, a family of cats, a young homeless pregnant woman – and last but certainly not least is Agee.

Agee is ancient – probably in her late 70’s though it so hard to tell with an Indian village lady who has clearly had a tough life.  She has been with us for a couple of years – for some time living at the old hostel – but recently she became unable to take care of herself and we brought her here for her last days.

And the last days are upon us.

Now what am I feeling as I daily clean and bathe her – as I try to get her to eat just a little, as I tempt her with chai (Sweet spicy Indian tea) – is that this is her journey onward and for some weird and wonderful reason it is also mine.   In her – I see my own mortality – how different are our lives – how incredibly far apart our realities and yet – in her as she struggles to let go.. as she traverses the long journey to her passing – we are connected.

I talk to her constantly as I bathe her and feed her and sit by her and stroke her head..  English dotted with the occasional Marathi word – if all she understands in these last days is that another human being serves her with kindness – then my work and my reason for being with her is complete.

candleI know one morning – or evening – I shall go to her side and find her gone.. maybe if she and I are fortunate that passing may happen while I am with her.. and I also know for me – the tears then will flow as they do often in this time – for there she lies and here am I – but we are one and her passing will bring a small light into the unknown future of my own passing.

As I assist her in her travel – so too I bring a deeper understanding to myself of the flavour of this life we are living and how brief a candle it is that burns in each of us during our physical experience in this world.

What a privilege it is to share these last days together.  In the writing of these words I discover the gratitude that is there for Agee.. thank you dear Grandmother for sharing your journey with me for it allows me a glimpse of this road that we all must walk one day.

Stillness Within

Living in a land where few speak my mother tongue, most of the language around me is simply sound – there are many children here and none of them are silent – so it is often a cacaphony of big sound. But the sound is sound … laughter, play – as of the birds, or even of the highway – or the city noise. It has no verbal meaning to me.. it is noise – sometimes harmonious and sometimes not.

At times it is simply too much and is difficult for me to just allow it to ‘be’ in the background especially if joined by the intensity of the dog barking close to my door or the Shelter cat yowling to be fed.

But I have found that social chatter – ‘what happened when’, talk of things we cannot do anything about – politics, ‘who is doing what’ -‘ who did what to whom and when’ – creates  a clatter in the mind that is far more disturbing than the bark of the dog!

Yes being on the outside of conversations, having no idea of the meaning – is difficult and frustrating at times – but the gaps – the space – the place to allow the flow of the quiet to just be – this has become deeply significant to me.

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Let me not become a recluse,
or one who cannot tolerate the chatter of the world –
but gift to me the silence of the spirit and the heart.

And when I find not that space within myself –
allow me to hear the wisdom of those around me
who will remind me where I shall seek that space again
to heal the mind and the spirit of the noise of our world
that keeps us from the depth of understanding.

Stillness within
the quiet of the heart
freedom of being
to soar above sound
to dive deep
the blessing of silence
deep inside
a gift
a present
a now
a breath