Ma 2017 New Years Letter

And we must extinguish the candle, put out the light and relight it;
Forever must quench, forever relight the flame.
Therefore we thank Thee for our little light, that is dappled with shadow.
We thank Thee who hast moved us to building, to finding, to forming at the ends of our fingers and beams of our eyes.
And when we have built an altar to the Invisible Light, we may set thereon the little lights for which our bodily vision is made.
And we thank Thee that darkness reminds us of light.
O Light Invisible, we give Thee thanks for Thy great glory!

TS Eliot from Choruses from the Rock

Greetings dear ones,

On 24th December, Sadananda and I kindled the menorah for the first night of Hanukkah. As the flame burned down, we set out in the biting cold to celebrate the lighting of the Christ Candle at First United Methodist Church. "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined." Not for forty years has the first night of Hanukkah occurred on Christmas Eve as it has done in 2016, bringing together the rededication of the Jerusalem temple with the birth of the miraculous babe in Bethlehem. Both stories offer hope and renewal in a time of darkness and oppression.

When my parents were young children, clouds of darkness were gathering over a Europe already shattered by the horrific war in which their fathers fought. They were fourteen years old when the Second World War broke out. Six years later, seventy million had died in battle, bombing, starvation and genocide. Even as a young medical student, thirty years later, I walked each day past a bombed out London church. Yet, in the face of the horrors of war, the resilience of the human spirit reasserted itself. The ending of the war brought a determination to create a more peaceful world and more just and open societies. The UN was born on 24 October 1945. In 1949 came the Geneva Conventions, seeking to limit the atrocities of war and promote basic humanitarian values. The great ideal of the Enlightenment, liberal democracy, began to spread across Europe and become a normative political ideology. And on 25 March 1957 the Treaties of Rome were signed, laying the foundation stone of the European Union, based on the values of human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights--hard-won lessons for a Europe grappling with the legacy of two appalling wars.

Today, many of us in the United States and Western Europe take liberal democracy and the rule of law for granted as our inalienable birthright. Others of us-- African Americans, Native Americans, LGBTQ, religious minorities as well as refugees, migrants and asylum seekers, shine light on the gap between these ideals and their implementation in daily life. None of us are truly free or equal until all of us enjoy these inalienable rights in full measure.

A new year, 2017, is taking birth in a world shaped by the ideals of the Enlightenment. And again, just as in my parents' childhood, dark clouds are gathering with the rise of far-right populism and authoritarianism. Turkey's President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is leading his nation away from promised democratization to escalating authoritarianism. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has cheerfully compared himself to Hitler, saying he would be "happy to slaughter" 3 million addicts. Urged on by far right populist Nigel Farage, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, isolating itself from the great project of the Four Freedoms. And the election of self-described populist Donald Trump has energized America's white supremacists as well as Europe's extreme nationalist parties. With the appointment of Steven Bannon of Breitbart News as Trump's chief strategist, the far right is ready to enter the mainstream.

According to Jan-Werner Muller, "populists always, at heart, reject pluralism, and claim to be the exclusive and moral representatives of "the people" and their interests. It is therefore, above all, a moralistic imagination of politics... Once in office, they tend to describe the opposition as illegitimate, immoral and "enemies of the people" -- this polarization is a key element of what populism thrives on. Just like Chávez and Maduro said those who voted against him were infiltrators and traitors, Donald Trump referred to "millions of illegal voters" who explain why he lost the popular vote."

"It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness." This quotation, attributed to sources as disparate as Confucius, Eleanor Roosevelt and a Unitarian minister, shines forth as a flame to clarify our confusion and warm us as we shiver in anxiety. We are the ones who can brighten the gloom and avert impending catastrophe. We can't take freedom, equality, liberty and justice for all and the rule of law for granted--and perhaps we never could. The checks and balances offered in our constitution can be removed at the stroke of a pen. We the people are the only real checks and balances. Are we ready to arise for justice like the Standing Rock water protectors and the Black Lives Matter activists? When we see minorities assailed, are we ready to stand with them? Are we willing to allow the Geneva Conventions become a dead letter as hospitals are bombed and civilians starved in Syria--or will we call the governments of the world to account? Are we willing to allow all the humanitarian gains of the last seventy years to wither along with the hopes of unwanted refugees shivering in tents--or will we advocate for them?

I usually suggest simple, health-oriented New Year's resolutions. This year, I invite you to BE the one you are waiting for. Democracy, the rule of law, pluralism, and international humanitarian law are inherently fragile, for they represent our highest aspirations as a society and international community. If we forsake the dream and vision, they will be no more. Dystopia awaits us if we do not uphold these ideals. And sustaining democracy and humanitarianism requires more than a click on a petition site. Here are some simple tools:

  • Use the Indivisible Guide to borrow strategies from the Tea Party in order to resist the Trump Agenda. Or, if you prefer, use these same strategies to advocate for refugees or push for a just resolution of the war in Syria.
  • Support organizations like the ACLU that are standing up for our civil liberties.
  • Support charities that are helping refugees:
  • Want some weekly action items to help you work on behalf of our democracy and protect minorities? Look at this site.

As TS Eliot said, the darkness reminds us of the light. Instead of despairing or cowering under the covers, we can light our little candles as beacons of hope. If we fail, at least we lived in integrity and sowed seeds of hope for future generations. If we succeed, freedom and democracy will be stronger than ever before.

Wishing you a joyous New Year and peace and prosperity during 2017!

With my love and blessings always

Alakananda Ma


Alakananda Ma December 2013

Child of the dark time

I long for light

Recall the light.

Lights before I came into the world

Cranley Mews menorah kindling

Behind blackout curtains

In the days when London burned

And no church bells rang.

Lights that welcomed me to the world

Sodium lamps glowing on icy streets

Advent candles calling to Emmanuel.

Lights of childhood

Yule log in the hearth

Lantern in tent,

Lamps shining through leaded glass

Pooling on cobblestones,

Sunlight on warm brick wall,

Shafts of light through stained glass windows.

Trinity wharf lighthouse

Illuming London docks

Ipswich harbor lights

Reflected in the Orwell

Ship lights, port red, starboard green.

Lights of faith

Sabbath lights

Lumen Christi shining in dark church

Tiered arati lamps

Circling before Shanta Durga,

Sea of butter lamps at Svyambunath,

Divali lights floating down the Ganges.

Lights of joy and sorrow

Birthday candles, yahrtzeit candles

Kirtan votives, romantic candles,

Wildfire blazing on Bear Peak,

Starlight in the desert,

Firelight by full moon.

Child of the dark time

I seek the light

Light in face, in smile, in eyes

Light of spirit, light of love

Light of lights

Beyond the darkness.

Child of the waning year

I see the light

Hidden in the hearts of all.

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"'I wish it need not have happened in my time,' said Frodo. 'So do I,' said Gandalf, 'and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."

This time has been given to us--and it is a time that calls for great moral courage and clarity of purpose. It is a time when we are asked to resist injustice, resist bigotry, resist the targeting of vulnerable minorities, resist racism in all its forms. It is a time when we must stand up for Mother Earth and all her species, more strongly than we have ever done before. It is a time when we must wake every morning and set our moral compass.

For some of us, it is inevitably a time when we experience a sense of threat. If we are undocumented, we fear deportation. If we are Muslim, we fear being put on a registry. If we are African-American, we fear increased racial profiling. If we are in the LGBTQ community, we fear the loss of marriage equality. If we are women, we fear the erosion of our reproductive rights. If we are rape survivors, we fear the normalization of rape and sexual harassment. If we have come here fleeing an authoritarian regime, we wonder if history is repeating itself. Where now can we go?

For others of us, the threat may be less evident. It is tempting to look on the bright side; after all, it's only four (or eight) years. The People have spoken (sort of, as Hillary won the popular vote). Now we need to give Trump a chance. It is tempting to accommodate, to look the other way, to get on with our own lives. And this is why we need to set our moral compass every single morning as we awaken to a new day. Is racism permissible, because it won't affect us? Are deportations acceptable, if our family won't be deported? Is persecution of a religious minority acceptable, because we don't belong to that minority?

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.

Pastor Martin Niemöller.

We face, at best, a presidency that could set us back fifty years in terms of civil rights, LGBTQ rights, women's rights and basic human rights. Let us remember how hard-won these rights are. People struggled and died to get us where we are today. And we need to gain much more ground before minorities truly have equal protection under the law.

At worst, we face the erosion of our democracy and its transformation into a Fascist autocracy. American exceptionalism may lead us to think, 'It couldn't happen here.' We have a constitution, a Bill of Rights; we have strong democratic institutions. Yet many, even today, do not experience all of these rights--the right to a speedy trial, for example. Our rights will last as long as we defend them, not just for ourselves but for all segments of society. Our institutions will not protect us--we need to protect them.

This time has been given to us; and it is a time to awaken soul-force, satyāgraha. Soul-force is a Gandhian concept that has become part of the American psyche through the work of Martin Luther King Jr. The Civil Rights Movement was powered by soul-force.

'Truth (satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force. I thus began to call the Indian movement 'satyagraha', that is to say, the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence.'

Gandhi: Satyagraha in South Africa.

'Non-violence in its dynamic condition means conscious suffering. It does not mean meek submission to the will of the evildoer, but it means putting of one's whole soul against the will of the tyrant. Working under this law of our being, it is possible for a single individual to defy the whole might of an unjust empire to save his honour, his religion, his soul, and lay the foundation for that empire's fall or its regeneration.'

Excerpt from Gandhi's writings.

We see this soul-force demonstrated today by the Water Protectors who stand in peace and prayer in their fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Faced with tear gas, mace, rubber bullets, water cannon and LRAD noise bombs, they continue drumming, chanting, praying and standing their ground. The Water Protectors are willing to die to save the Missouri for all our grandchildren. This is satyāgraha.

This time has been given to us. It is a time to use our freedom of speech while we still have it; a time to assert our right to free assembly; a time to defend press freedom as reporters from prestigious media outlets shiver in the cold outside Trump National Golf Club, waiting for scraps of information. It is a time to protect our democratic institutions, not to wait for them to save us. It is a time to uphold the rule of law.

This time has been given to us. It is a time to overcome our fear, thinking of others who have more reason to be afraid. Today we all need to stand in soul-force, ready to defend our cherished freedoms. For so many, these freedoms have yet to become a reality. To allow them to be further weakened would be a catastrophe. As a nationalized citizen, I have taken a vow to defend the constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, inner and outer. I pray that you will join me in this endeavour, for this time, a time for soul-force, has been given to us all.

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?

But if I am only for myself, who am I?

If not now, when?"

Rabbi Hillel, Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14


Thank you to activist Marty Rosenbluth for calling my attention to the opening quotation from Lord of the Rings.

See also my post Dear Mr. Trump, here's why you are not 'my' president.

Further reading: mostly excerpted from a list compiled by Professor Jeff Colgan of Brown University. Also see his Google Doc on Risk of Democratic Erosion


Donald Trump | by Gage Skidmore Creative Commons

Dear Mr Trump,

You may be surprised to notice that I am not calling you 'President-elect Trump.' The reason is simple. You are not my president elect, nor will you ever be 'my' president. Let me explain why this is so.

First of all, it is not because you lost the popular vote and will become the President of these United States only because of an antiquated institution that some consider a dishonourable relic of the days of slavery. No, Mr Trump, Mr Not-my-president-elect Trump, you would not be my president even if you had garnered an Obama-style landslide.

Nor is my obstinacy based on the fact that you will implement policies such as cutting taxes for the rich--policies that in the past have only led to deepening income inequality. Much as I oppose such policies, they are standard Republican fare and would have been a looming reality even if a different Republican nominee had won the Electoral College.

It is not even because you, who own casinos, beauty pageants and a modelling agency, appear to espouse socially conservative policies so restrictive of women's liberties that they are reminiscent of Margaret Atwood's dystopic novel, The Handmaid's Tale. Your own running mate and many of your former rivals for the nomination espouse similar policies, albeit with less apparent hypocrisy.

Do I refuse to acknowledge you then, because your environmental policies will lead to further escalations of climate change, raising the terrifying prospect that our own grandchildren will have no life, no future, no habitable planet? Grave as these concerns are, frightening as a Trump presidency seems for millions around the world, this situation is not in itself irremediable. It is always possible you could wake up to the urgency of the situation--if in fact you love your children and care about their future. You could become a global leader for positive change--you do not have to be the person who signs our species' death warrant--and that of countless other species.

So why do I stubbornly insist that you are not and never will be my president? My friend, I will never accept that you are my president because your campaign was based on hate. You spoke to those who suffer and gave them someone to blame--the Muslims, the Mexicans, immigrants--the Other. You ridiculed and denigrated women, minorities and disabled people, dismissing basic human decency as 'political correctness.' You have awakened the beast that sleeps within each of us and empowered him to tear apart our communities, our nation and our world.

My friend, we have seen this before. We have seen another man who inspired huge rallies and gave a hungry and humiliated nation a scapegoat for their suffering. My parents lived through those dark times of the rise of Hitler and the Second World War. Their teenage years were filled with bombs and rationing and death. Later, as young adults in the time of peace, they were determined to raise children who would stand up to the next demagogue, the next would-be fascist leader. My parents knew that there was no flaw in the German character that is not shared by each of us around the world. They knew that good people acquiesced to Hitler's increasingly dark policies in order to be proper and respectful citizens. They saw their own politicians seek to appease Hitler in a vain attempt to preserve the status quo. They taught me never to accept or acquiesce to a ruler who spoke words of hate and stirred animosity towards the other.

So you see, my friend, all my life I have been preparing to have the fearlessness to stand up to a leader such as yourself. Please don't misunderstand me. I wish you well, and I wish only the best for your supporters and those who voted for you. I understand that your rise to power is a symptom, not the problem. I know that we all desire the same thing--happiness, but we do not always know the best way to attain it. I understand that sometimes we make the fatal mistake of pursuing our own happiness at other's expense. And when we do so it creates misery for ourselves as well as others.

But, my friend, as your sincere well-wisher, as one who has pledged to defend the spirit of our constitution against all enemies, inner and outer, I will stand against the rhetoric of hate, I will stand against the 'othering' of minorities, I will fight for our liberties, for justice, for true equality, with my pen, with my voice, with my firm conviction. I will not appease nor acquiesce; I will not consent to the normalization of hate. You may be duly elected, but you will never be 'my' president.


My parents celebrate their eightieth birthday at 21 Park Road.

Day 5-6

The year was 1963, and we were caravanning from the Midlands to East Anglia, the caravan consisting of a removal van with all our furniture, and the entire family with both our cars. If I recall rightly, by that point we had a green Austin Cambridge mainly distinguished by a propensity to break down and a white Ford Anglia. Our family comprised four children, three adults and two cats, one of whom temporarily escaped when we stopped at a layby. Several of us were in tears, unhappy at leaving our old life in the beautiful market town of Melton Mowbray. We had been half-dragged out of empty rooms, weeping hysterically.

After the momentous journey, we pulled into the drive of a red brick house built in 1901, formerly a boarding house for schoolgirls. Boxes began to be unloaded, cats were let out in a closed room and the neighbours came over with lemonade and snacks to welcome us to Park Road. A new life was beginning in Ipswich, Suffolk--and for my parents it would last more than fifty years.

Both my parents were born in London, Mum in Southwark, near the Elephant and Castle and Dad in Muswell Hill. After their marriage they moved to rural Leicestershire. And now we had come to the county town of East Suffolk, where Mum would be working in the public health service. Mum claimed that as a cockney, she only knew two bird species, sparrows and pigeons. Nevertheless, my parents were to indigenize themselves in Suffolk, with its saltmarshes and rich bird life. They watched Ipswich, once the greatest port between the Humber and the Thames, be superseded by the roll-on roll-off container port at Felixstowe. They saw a mainly white provincial town of 75,000 become a multicultural city, home to 300,000.

There are many ways to make a place your own. My parents tended a beautiful garden with magnificent old roses and a small greenhouse for Dad's tomatoes. They also grew vegetables in their allotment (community garden plot), at one point insisting on being self-sufficient in vegetables during garden season. They made key contributions to many aspects of community and parish life and formed close bonds with neighbours on Park Road. They took the time to know and appreciate Suffolk's unique ecology, walking the seawalls and footpaths and spending many a weekend on their yacht, the Wild Rose, moored on Shotley Peninsula. They reached out in their own ways to the disadvantaged, Dad by being a reliable source of odd jobs for men in need of a little cash to get by, Mum by helping start a counselling centre and, after her retirement, serving as counsellor.

Dad also made Ipswich his own in the same way that Van Gogh claimed Arles, a place far from his native Holland. Dad's urban landscapes of snowy days and rainy nights on humble street corners illumine the quiet beauty of a provincial East Anglian town. He saw the Ipswich people walk past every day and never really notice, capturing the radiance of a traffic light on a wet street or the cheerful colour of a garage door on a snowy day. It's because my parents made this place their own that it continues to reflect them, even after both of them have passed on.

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Day 4

Today we completed the process of taking care of Mum's earthly remains. Since the funeral and cremation, her ashes have been in the living room of our close family friends, Sue and Murray. Her wish had been to have her ashes interred in the churchyard of St Mary le Tower Church, where she worshipped from 1963 until her death. In a simple ceremony, attended by the close friends who supported Mum in her final years, we fulfilled that wish.


White powder in black earth.

Ashes to ashes

Dust to dust

Ache in heart.

The body that bore me in the womb

Nursed me at the breast

Held me on warm lap

Dust you are

To dust you shall return.

Your earthly remains

Rest by the path

Where bells peal,

Summoning worshippers

Choristers process

Brides walk

Mourners stand

Flowers offer welcome.


Your warm voice

Always in my ears

Your love

Always protecting

Your eyes in my eyes

Your wisdom in my heart

Until I too

Return to dust.



We are on a journey of remembrance, following the same vacation plan we've followed every year in order to visit my mother--except that this year, my mother is no more. I promised to give you a chance to 'walk with me', so here it is.

Day 3:

One feature of any journey of remembrance is that life keeps flowing on, current events impinging upon the time set aside for remembering the departed. This became clear at the end of 2009, when we travelled to Wales for the anniversary of my father's death and to scatter his ashes in the Aeron River. A big crisis erupted in the village, replete with lies, adultery and betrayal, sweeping up a lot of the energy we planned to devote to mourning Dad.

This time, the eruption is being far more intense. We flew into Heathrow Airport on the morning of the referendum. Of course, we were utterly exhausted from the journey and there was no prospect of staying up all night to follow the results--only Gibraltar had declared by the time we tumbled into bed. I peeled my eyes open at eight next morning and turned on the computer only to get a horrible shock--Britain had voted Leave. My mind was spinning with the insanity of quitting the single market, turning our backs on Europe, crashing the economy, degrading the pound, splitting the UK, losing Scotland, jeopardising the Good Friday accord and giving up our ability to live, work and travel freely in twenty-seven countries. Facebook immediately revealed that my siblings, cousins and nieces were just as upset.

In the two days that have followed, the horror has only deepened. Both major parties are falling apart. Scotland is calling for a second referendum on independence. The Prime Minister is resigning, leaving us to be governed by the extreme right of the Tory party. A Polish cultural centre was vandalized. British Muslims and Sikhs are being attacked with cries of, "Get out, we voted Leave!" (Leave the Commonwealth? The World?). The Remainers are calling the Leavers Fascists and the Leavers are calling the Remainers whiny millennials who make poor losers. But the millennials grew up as Europeans and have never known any other reality. The other EU countries are telling us to hurry up with the divorce and yet we seem to have no leadership at all, no plan B, no way forward.

For me, so many emotions are mingling together. It was enough to be dealing with the death of my mother--now my motherland is in crisis. I'm losing my identity as a European. I love my family very much and don't want them to be stuck in an impoverished and divided country with a right wing government. And as my cousin and 'big brother' Garry said, my parents would be really sad. They would be sad not just because they would care what kind of a country and world their grandchildren will live in, but also because they were Francophile, widely travelled, global in perspective and raised us to have broad minds and wide horizons. They did not expect us to live in a Little England where foreigners are unwelcome.

With all these emotions tumbling within me, we went for a walk in Christchurch Park and the arboretum and visited the Lebanon cedars Mum was so proud of. The greenery, flowers, fragrant roses and honeysuckle, bumblebees and birdsong soothed my soul and epitomized the England I love and that my parents loved too.


Ancient House, Ipswich, formerly a bookstore

We are on a journey of remembrance, following the same vacation plan we've followed every year in order to visit my mother--except that this year, my mother is no more. I promised to give you a chance to 'walk with me' , so here it is.

Day 2:

Saturday today, and we walk to the town centre to do a little shopping at Sainsbury's and Boots. Meanwhile, I experience a flood of reminiscences of Saturdays forty-five or fifty years ago, back in the Sixties. Reminiscence, although perhaps frowned upon by many spiritual and meditative disciplines, seems to be an intrinsic part of the grief process. After Dad died, Mum and I would reminisce together, not only about Dad, but also about her childhood, the War, and long-dead relatives, kept alive by the passing on of memories. So here are my reminiscences of those long-ago Saturday mornings.

I remember Mum working on her menus and shopping list on Friday evening. She had a card index of recipes, things she had learnt in Cordon Bleu classes (I used to believe there was a chef named Gordon Blue!), recipes she had cut out of Woman's Weekly and so on. Mum leafed through recipes, created a menu for the week and made the shopping list accordingly. Fifty years later, I prepare Alandi Ashram's weekly shopping list in very similar way, leafing through Ayurvedic cookbooks and scrolling my own recipe blogs as I create the menu and list.

Next morning, we all set off to the town centre, parking in Mum's parking space at County Hall. The exciting day began with a visit to the County Library. Unlike other Ipswichians, who could only use the town library on Northgate Street, we had County Library privileges because Mum worked for the county. After stocking up on books for the week, we went shopping. Sometimes I accompanied Mum to the butcher, baker, fishmonger, greengrocer, Marks and Spencer and Sainsbury's, helping to carry the heavy shopping bags (we brought cloth bags from home, plastic shopping bags lay in the future). At other times I would make my own way to our magnificent Ancient House Bookstore to get the latest assigned reading for History or English Lit, or visit Woolworths to look for sundry items. Without mobile phones, the meet-ups were tricky and might involve quite a bit of waiting. Sometimes we might stop for tea or for a Danish in Marks and Spencer--each shopping day had its unique features and each expressed our family energy in its own way, according to the season and the needs of the group. But they were always happy and exciting expeditions, full of the promise of delicious cheeses, fresh vegetables and new books to read.

Today, Ipswich town centre is not what it was in those days. Pound shops (similar to dollar shops) and charity shops full of secondhand wares have filled much of the once-bustling streets. Yet not all the changes have been for the worse. The last twenty years have brought a tremendous influx of diversity, enriching our provincial town with many cultures, languages, ethnic food stores and cuisines. Today, amid all the darkness and gloom of Brexit, we wandered by chance into the tail end of Ipswich library's Multicultural Day. Vibrant African fabrics and glittering belly dancers filled the hall with life and colour, and world music got us clapping. Surely my parents would have loved it and found hope in the spirit of diversity and friendship that prevailed.

As I wrote in a previous blog, we are on a journey of remembrance, following the same vacation plan we've followed every year in order to visit my mother--except that this year, my mother is no more. I promised to give you a chance to 'walk with me', so here it is.


A glimpse of Christchurch Park,

Day 1:

Yesterday afternoon we arrived in Ipswich, very tired. Aside from the usual jet lag, I had also developed stomach 'flu on the plane journey. And things were so different! On every other visit since 1991, we had arrived to the loving welcome of my parents, or in recent years, of Mum. Now we had to face that empty space. How would we feel? Our Airbnb hosts, Gertrude, Steve and little Angelina, are from Malawi, and offered the kind of warmth and welcome I associate with East African culture. Their genuine human kindness and friendliness went a long way to assuage the initial grief. They made certain that our needs were met and then took off for London, leaving us our own space, peace and quiet.

We had chosen our location carefully, to be in the part of Ipswich where I grew up. In recent years Mum had moved from Ipswich proper to a retirement community in Kesgrave. Now we are back in the old haunts of the family. The bells peal from the churches, thrushes and blackbirds sing and seagulls cry, just as they did when I was a girl. Two minutes from the house where we are staying, we found Bolton Stores. Now part of a chain, the store was started in I973 by a Ugandan Asian, after Idi Amin expelled the Asians. Dad loved to pop over to Bolton Stores for sundry items and chat with the proprietor, who in Uganda had been a philosophy professor. The two men had a natural kinship and Dad spoke enthusiastically about his visits to the store. Another minute away and you get to The Woolpack, Dad's 'local' where he liked to go for 'a swift half' before lunch.

Cross the street and you're in Christchurch Park. I was so blessed to grow up right by this beautiful park, which was like an extension of our own back yard. Here are the lawns where Magnus, my parents' beloved Sheltie, used to romp, the pond where little Nick used to feed the ducks (an activity strictly forbidden in these more ecologically enlightened times), the gently-sloping path where I used to go roller skating, the mighty oaks which Dad portrayed in a powerful and unsettling expressionistic style. Today I saw that my parent's death did not have to mean the loss to me of Ipswich and Suffolk--and that in ways great and small, Ipswich contains my parents and always will. There is a sweet and cherished memory on every corner. In the magic of place, I find my parents still.


In three weeks, I'll be arriving in Suffolk--visiting my motherland for the first time since my mother's death. What will I find? Will the church bells be loud with her absence or resonant with her presence? Will the oaks in Christchurch Park, the Lebanon cedars, the arboretum, whisper to me of loss or of enduring connexion?

I travel there knowing that my mother is gone. I miss everything about her--the humour, the cheerfulness, the wisdom, the occasional acerbic comments, the dementia wackiness. Her departure leaves a gap that can never be filled. You only have one Mum. Yet I know that, though their physical presence is gone, neither she nor my father can truly be dead, for they live in me. They have given me so much more than chromosomes, for they nurtured my gifts and sowed the seeds of the neuroses that bring me growth.

When I stand by the estuary to watch the ships come in, my father is there, teaching me how to predict the wind and weather. When I hike in the mountains, he is there, reminding me to look back and take a mental photo, so I will find my way on the return journey. When I look at the forest, he is there, showing me that trees are not just green but also indigo, turquoise, silver, red, gold and black. What paint colours must I select to capture this view?

And Mum--she is there in every pot of soup I make, every batch of chutney I stir, every story I tell. She inspires my life as a doctor, reminding me every day to offer my gifts to the world, but she also permeates my most private and intimate life--she, the woman who defined for me what a woman is. When I look in the mirror, I see her eyes; when I breathe, I feel her breath.

In the person I am today, I see my father, the quiet, introverted artist and also my mother, the lively, outgoing doctor and public speaker. Though I miss my parents deeply and feel the loss of them every day, I know that they live on--in me, in my siblings, in their grandchildren, in all whose lives they have touched.

My parents loved Boulder, the Flatirons, Eldorado Canyon, Peaceful Valley and Wild Basin. The places I know and cherish are their special places too. But soon I'll be traveling from the home I've found in the Western United States to the place they brought me to as an eleven year old, the provincial town where they made a home for us and where they lived, worked and loved for over fifty years. What will I experience, how will it be? Will the journey bring tears, joy or both? Walk with me and we shall see.


If you want your dream to be
Take your time, go slowly
Do few things but do them well
Heartfelt work grows purely
If you want to live life free
Take your time, go slowly
Do few things but do them well
Heartfelt work grows purely

Day by day, stone by stone
Build your secret slowly
Day by day, you'll grow too
You'll know heaven's glory

If you want to live life free
Take your time, go slowly
Do few things but do them well
Heartfelt work grows purely
If you want to live life free
Take your, time go slowly
Do few things but do them well
Heartfelt work grows purely

Day by day, stone by stone
Build your secret slowly
Day by day, you'll grow too
You'll know heaven's glory.

(By Donovan, in Brother Sun, Sister Moon)

"If you want your dream to be, take your time go slowly." Honoured guests, staff, graduates and students, each of you in your own way a part of our Alandi family--today's graduation is truly a story of patience and perseverance.

First of all, perseverance on the part of the candidates, each of whom had initially hoped to graduate much earlier than today. Heather Marie, despite being evacuated during the 2013 flood disaster, was on track to graduate in 2014 when challenging life circumstances intervened. After a long interruption, she has resumed her studies and brought to completion what she started in 2012. Heather, thank you for persevering!

Akacia--Tessa--was accepted for the 2013 academic year--and we were eagerly awaiting her arrival. But again, life circumstances intervened, preventing her moving here when she had planned. Remarkably, she held firm to her vision and intention and has now graduated as a practitioner and been accepted into our ground-breaking doctoral program. As for David-- he should have graduated in December. Somewhere along the way, David realized the benefits he could gain from taking extra time and accruing additional experience. If you want your dream to be/Take your time, go slowly. David too has been accepted into our doctoral program, so we look forward to graduating two outstanding Ayurvedic Doctors in 2018.

Let us look next at the patience and perseverance it took to arrive at this moment--this well-loved garden filled with students and their family and friends--a garden, be it said, that has literally been build step by step, stone by stone. When Sadananda and I arrived in America in 1985, dressed in white cotton robes, with sandals on our feet in the winter snow and eighty dollars in our pockets, who could have predicted this day? From a tipi in a friend's back yard to a tiny apartment in a Tucson back street, from there to the basement here on Twentieth street, the journey has been slow and full of pitfalls, with many highs and lows along the way. The black pearls and shimmering white pearls of this journey of co-creation are strung on the unbreakable thread of patience.

As an eighteen-year-old medical student at St Barts in London, grappling with calculus, titration and cadaver dissection, never for a single moment did I imagine where I would be, what I would be doing today. I had no idea that such a place as Alandi Ashram could exist anywhere in the world--still less that I would be living, teaching and practicing Ayurveda in this humble yet all-embracing space.

The creation of a profession is another aspect of today's celebration that has called for great patience and perseverance. Alandi has been involved with NAMA, the National Ayurvedic Medical Association, since its first public meeting in Berkeley California in 2000. Over the years we have worked, slowly, carefully and by consensus, to bring the profession together and create educational standards and a National Exam, crucial steps along the way to becoming a licensed healthcare profession.

And Ayurveda itself, as an outgrowth of the perennial wisdom, embodies millennia of patience and faithfulness. As Doctor Ram Manohar has said, Ayurveda is the result of a vast clinical trial involving countless people and stretching across thousands of years. Behind every sutra, every axiom, every verse of the texts lie generations of trial and error, stretching back to our earliest origins as a species; honed through deep thought and reflection by the finest minds of the era. Why do we fall sick? What is the cause of imbalance? What is the relationship between external phenomena such as weather and our internal state? What is the relationship between plants and people--which ones kill, which ones nourish, which ones heal? What are the elements of life? What is life itself? What is the soul? The sages of yore pondered these questions, discussed them in conference and wove their conclusions into easily memorable verses that were learned by heart before they were ever written down. We are the fortunate ones who inherit this vast body of knowledge.

We are the fortunate ones, the immensely rich heirs of all that has gone before us. Heather, David, Akacia--you have worked hard and demonstrated loyalty and commitment. Today we celebrate your achievements. We honour your families and ancestors and all they have contributed to making you the people we know and love today. Yet also, let's take a moment to think of all the spiritual ancestors who stand behind you today--your teachers, staff and chefs here at Alandi, the NAMA community, our colleagues in Colorama; Doctor Lad, Doctor Frawley and and Doctor Svoboda, who worked so hard and gave of themselves so freely to bring Ayurveda to America--their teachers, Vimalananda and Māma Gokhale. Behind them stands a vast assembly of people whose names are unknown, whose lives have slipped past unnoticed, yet who contributed in ways great and small to the vast corpus of knowledge, philosophical, practical, herbal, botanical and culinary, which is your inheritance. On this auspicious day, let us take a moment to thank them and count our blessings.

Count your blessings one by one
When dawn appears and day has just begun
They will light your heart with happiness
Make each hour bright and bring you gladness.

Count your blessings one by one
When twilight falls and toil of day is done
And in sweet dreams they'll come again to you
If you will count your blessings each day through.

Count your blessings while you may
For we are here but little time to stay
All around are hearts sincere and true
Lovely things abound just waiting for you.

Count your blessings while you may
The big or small, whichever comes your way
For then you'll find this world a place of love
If you will count your blessings from above.

Song by Reginald Morgan, lyrics by Edith Temple, 1946



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