Collaboration - Journal of the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother

Summer 1995, Vol. 21, No. 1


In search of community

by Savitra

In 1969, I left the States to meet the Mother. I hitchhiked from London to India. Nothing else then could have satisfied me. Nothing else could have moved me to such a journey. Not India. Not the Ashram. Not even Auroville. No, the lure for such a journey, though I never thought of it that way at the time, had to be That One we seek behind all our journeys.

I was a very introverted kind of guy then, in many ways unrecognizable to those who have known me since except for my seriousness of purpose. After She came into my life, cutting me loose from all the earlier dead-end spiritual paths that I had thrown myself into in such dire earnest, nothing could hold me back. I knew where I had to go.

When I left San Francisco and the 60s behind, I was clearly on a quest for personal realization. But when I finally met Her that day that first time, the meaning of the word "personal" expanded beyond definition, coming to include "collective" within it.

And so it was that on that most personal of quests, this shy fellow would walk through an innermost door and find himself turned toward a radically altered "outside." Find himself irreversibly cast forth from his accustomed insulation, no longer able to fully withdraw into his former inner world, no longer fulfilled with his individualized brand of sadhana.

Thus, unsought and unexpected, began my awkward transition--conversion, I would call it--from loner to self-in-relation. Began my search for Her Community.

Not that I was innately averse to community. On the contrary, it was indelibly part of my childhood dream to belong to some larger, more beautiful and harmonious collective in which all of us were embraced in a trust of light and love. But that child was to find himself all-too-quickly exposed to a world bristling with bullies and sharp points, where sensitivity learned to conceal or contract itself to numb the pain and harshness, the venomous jokes, betrayals, and outright brutality.

But now, She had brought me back to that dream. And I could begin the search again in India . . . gently at first within the sweetness and protection of the Ashram; then more daringly a year later when I asked Her if I could live in Auroville, that mysterious place I had heard of before leaving the States but which would never by itself have attracted me without Her lure.

I remember dimly those early days walking down Nehru Street (when one could still wander leisurely down the middle of the road), venturing forth from the safety net of incense bordering the Ashram compound to the fish-and-god-knows-what-other-smells of the Central Bazaar. I still see myself in my starched pale-blue kurta pajamas, Prosperity-issued, staring voyeurishly into the Indian Coffee House at the assorted Westerners, most long-haired and bearded, often shirtless in lungis or dhotis--the men, that is. The womenfolk, just as inscrutable, were garbed like gypsy queens, little Rajasthani mirror-work vests draped over butterfly blouses.

Who were these hybrids? I wondered then as I watched one of them, hair matted in a bun, only wild eyes visible through his jungly beard as he drove his little bullock cart down the main street of Pondy with his wife and daughters in tow.

It was sort of like an East-West cowboy town then, the Coffee House being the Saloon where desperadoes met over beedis. On the surface, it was hard to see anything in common with this raw first-of-the-new-species or last-of-the-old. But something more dangerous than curiosity, more tidal than full moons was pulling on me, drawing me away from the blessed order of the Ashram where I seemed to fit in to this Auroville where I didn't.

I would wind up spending 21 years there (and who knows how many more in some next future?), trying to fit into anAuroville that was still too large for this small world of ours.

The first years on that barren red plateau, difficult as they were in material terms, everything unreliable, still in flux, were the honeymoon years. Even with all the outer insecurities--the scarcity of shelter, running water, electricity, the plethora of parasites, strange fevers, boils, vipers and scorpions and mildewed monsoons--what did it matter? She was there in Her room and all was right in the world.

There we were, for all our foolish innocence, voyaging off in our shaky communal raft of palm thatch and bamboo. And though I am sure time retouches the negative, putting a halo over the past, still there was a sense of real comradeship in the yoga we shared together then before our cynicism and ideologies caught up with us. Before She left us on our own. A comradeship protected by Her Presence or our own naiveté, but one which seemed to erode over the decades, giving way to the coercion of political and ideological group affinities.

I reminisce over the good old days that were never as good as we like to recall them. But human as I am, it is a relief to remember times when we stood together with no one on the other side, supporting one another, appreciating each other's work and contributions, sharing a more genuine understanding of each other's hardships and limitations. A time when we looked forward to forming that human chain as we passed along the chettis of concrete, watching the darkness fade under the glare of construction lights, feeling our fatigue give way to the joy of working together into the dawn. A time when we would sit around in the evenings sharing stories of our inner lives rather than lobbying one another over the latest hot issue or hot gossip, rather than losing ourselves in our chosen indulgence. A time when mutual trust had not yet been replaced by committee approval.

But as in all our halfway Edens, gravity overtakes us, the apple falls, the honeymoon ends, and we begin to repeat the patterns of our parental egos all the way back to the first ones, trading our childhood dreams for power dramas, reverting back to reflexes of blame and denial and revenge, retreating into our corners to lick our wounds. And the smiles exchanged along the road stiffen or disappear altogether; the jokes get cruder, more barbed; the behavior more like that of the world we were trying to put behind us.

And the deeper bond and code of conduct that had prevailed gives way to substitutes for that Grace; gives way to all the tools and techniques we have developed since then to compensate for our gracelessness: the more structured meeting forums and governing bodies, the communications workshops and computer linkups, all of which, while contributing to a more conscious process of interaction, still cannot create community. No, for that, we must be willing to live it, to work through the humble day-to-day resolution of our lives where community is actually lived.

And then one day in 1990, as unplanned and unchoreographed as the day I arrived, I left Auroville for reasons I don't fully comprehend even now. Reasons that I still find myself stopping in mid-stride or mid-sleep to fathom, to reconcile. Yes, why did I leave then, and did my departure mean I had abandoned Her Community? Or had we all abandoned it then, our friction and disunity full-blown, our rudderless collective hardly resembling a community worthy of His Name?

I trust we have all grown in the interim, more aware of the magnitude of the transformation and resistances that Auroville fronts. But as I regrouped then in Berkeley, my exodus was not a matter of reflection but of survival and new beginnings. The intensity of discord and distrust had simply become too painful to sustain, even with all the positive things that Auroville still represented for me. I humbly realized that whatever human goodwill and collective savvy I still had left, it was no match for the enormous dysfunctionality of our resident-family then.

Drained of inner and outer resources, I had withdrawn, acknowledging on the one hand defeat, while on the other taking it as an opportunity--no, a necessity--to recover and renew a relationship with Her that had gotten obscured in that churning battlefield of red clay; recognizing that I would now have to work--freed of peer pressure and peer approval--on that more immediate field She had given me to change: myself.

Perhaps I had also finally purged myself of the illusion of turning a corner. In Auroville, it was not uncommon over the decades to hear the collective sigh: "At last, we have turned the corner." Only to discover a second or a season later the same scenario replaying itself. It seems that there are no corners after all, only endless curves in what can either be a spiral or circle depending on our determination.

"It is in work done as an offering to the Divine that the consciousness develops best," She had told us in '71. That along with the personal message She had given me that same year had become fundamental compass points to recenter me in my earlier solos Westward in a process that would eventually become my primary "work": A liaison process in which I found myself struggling to build bridges and resources across terrifying gulfs when there was hardly anything resembling a network of support in the States.

Still driven in 1990 by those energies, expectations, and perhaps a fair dose of guilt, I tried to continue to actively serve Auroville from here; tried in all earnest to pick up and build off my former role and extensive experience in liaison with the States. But try as I did in good faith, pulling out all the stops for over a year as our "dowry" (I was no longer flying solo) burned like a rope bridge behind us, that was not to be.

It was a rude and unexpected awakening, watching two decades of a real working process come to an abruptly gut-wrenching halt as that door slammed in my face. It took me a moment to get my throbbing fingers out of the door, to recover from the shock. Then I turned back to Her, the One to whom I had offered the work, who had set me forth on it to begin with. The same One, I reluctantly realized then, who had slammed the door in my face.

Yes, behind every slammed door is a Grace. And another door opening. In this case for me, I was being forced to withdraw even more than I had anticipated. There would be no intermediate collectives to cushion the transition. No familiar outer works to slip into. Even if I wanted to. Now it was just me and Her again. Me and Her and my partner Soleil. A community of two struggling to become a Community of One.

And so I turned to the only thing I could do when all else was taken away from me: writing. That now became my work, my service, my path to Her. I would find Her in the writing.

And thus began an impossible manuscript, three years and three versions in the labor. A living process that brought me closer to Them than anything I could have imagined. Except for Sundaure (pronounced Sun-dor), our leap year's child whose birth would bring us to Oregon and expand our Community to three.

August, 1994. A year after the last version of the manuscript had been written. Sundaure was nearly 21 months. And our withdrawal from the collective circuits had reached its most distant orbit. Other than a few letters from friends, we hardly heard any direct news from Auroville. And other than from letters sent out to their mailing lists, we received no communications from the Auroville-related groups here. For all intents and purposes, the world had become our collective context, our place of exile, and the small, remarkably receptive town of Ashland, our transit community.

Then out of the blue came a phone call from Lynda Lester. Would I consider writing something for NexUS? "What's NexUS?" I asked, hearing jumbled in my brain, "What's next for us?" That parallel inner and outer conversation and the June issue which she sent us seemed to trigger off the subversive possibility of reconnecting. Tentatively at first: A visit with Lynda on an exploratory trip to the Southwest where we had heard of some conference around Sri Aurobindo's birthday in Baca, Colorado. It would also be a first test of travels with Sundaure.

The Baca part of it never really coincided with the group event, arriving as we did on the eve of its conclusion. But the moment there did lead to some intensive personal time which broke something open in me, resulting in a rather radical "coming out" article on Satprem for the last NexUS. The brief visit with Lynda, crammed with its late-night conversations, furthered that opening, recalling the high of more interactive times.

But there was no immediate collective "descent." More a destined touching-in with individuals. Yet there was a renewed sense of reaching out for that lost tribe of ours still missing, still eluding the more contrived collective traps and nets we had set for it thus far.

How would we, I wonder now, as the year draws to a close, find that living sangha of Hers that seemed to be "just around the next corner"? How many of us in fact truly consider Community as a heart-felt need, as more than Virtual Community in the Internet or reservations for the next AUM? And though it is obvious that we cannot expect to replicate a live-in Auroville, spread out as we are over here, how many of us want to be part of more than just an Auro-club or Auro-network?

For, after the Weekend, after the e-mail, then what? Isn't real community something that happens beneath the gloss and hyperbole of spiritual class reunions and cyber-forums (valuable and inspiring as they may be)?--in the actual working out together in our lives-as-a-whole all that still remains unresolved between us, all the distortions in our past that we have left unhealed and unaddressed for fear of the awesome responsibility we would have to assume with one another? Isn't it easier just to leave things (persons) and move on, not bothering to take the initiative, to make that phone call that might expose too much vulnerability? Or worse yet, to hang up in the middle?

But these escapes and intermediaries--so second-nature to a culture such as ours which hides behind a technology that claims to enhance communication even as it so conveniently allows us to cut-and-run--are unavailable to us in real community. There, we cannot problem-solve by proxy; by simply burying the past with all its unresolved corpses that were once comrades in the yoga; or by gathering together for some annual collective fix to sanctify us and get us through the next stretch of isolation.

"As for experiences," Sri Aurobindo's quote jumped out at me in the Fall NexUS, "they are all right but the trouble is that they do not seem to change the nature, they only enrich the consciousness . . . That is why we insist on the psychic transformation as the first necessity--for that does change the nature . . ."

Yes, aren't we really looking to feel ourselves part of a community of individuals more interested in changing natures rather than just ex-changing experiences? Individuals willing to confront in ourselves those primeval competitive instincts that undermine our own and each other's works, offerings, and lives.

If so, what does this imply for us? What responsibility do we have to Her and one another to heal our pasts--not just paste over them--so that we might become a truer, more supportive and effective vehicle for Her Future, Her Community, joined together by more than just our Auro-prefix or our cellular passwords to access the party or program?

And what might we find if we took up that humbling work, digging back for that basis of trust on which the success of all our other projects and organizations depends? Who might we become if we re-formed that human chain, passing the chettis from one to another, letting that offering of concrete goodwill clear us of all our unresolved stories, threading between us as a bond far stronger, more reliable, creative, and joyful than the fickle attractions and repulsions that presently join us or divide us?

Yes, what might we find and who might we become?

I turn to our two-year-old son, the Dream still fully alive in his eyes. His smile disarms me as he takes my hand, saying: "Papa and Sunny go for a walk." And so revived, I resume our journey . . . --December 1994

Savitra received his name from the Mother. His liaison work for
Auroville included soliciting and obtaining the first U.S. foundation grants that started AV's afforestation, endorsements for the township from illuminaries such as Margaret Mead, and articles in publications such as The Whole Earth Review .