By Rachel Hardy
This used to be a cashew plantation, I thought to myself, staring at the tall forest around me. If I hadn’t been told that, I would have never known.
Standing in the middle of the Evergreen Forest in Auroville, I paused to glance around me. Trees towered above my head, leaves carpeted the ground around my feet, a woman sat reading in one of the open-air guest houses; I was a far cry from the busy city life of my familiar Paris, a city where I had begun to feel quite stagnant in life. I inhaled deeply and smiled; the fresh air seemed to begin my personal renewal.
While following a path through the underbrush, I happened to overhear a conversation between Sasha Elder—our Aurovillian chief of sorts—and one of the other students. Sasha described the hunting adventures of his youth when the area used to be a cashew plantation years ago. He reminisced about his childhood as he pointed out landmarks; I was fascinated at the change one piece of land could undergo in a matter of fourteen years. When describing the relatively young landscape and the goals of the forest management team, Sasha stated, “In order to be sustainable, it must grow.”
Though Sasha’s remark was simple, it struck me as more profound than an unassuming observation on the future of the forest. Yes, the forest needed to be managed properly to reinstate the indigenous tropical evergreen forest in an area that hadn’t seen such vegetation in years. As our forestry expert Dave said, trees had to be planted and thinned, biomass had to be encouraged, and careful watering schemes had to be implemented in order for healthy forest growth and development to occur.
But perhaps Sasha’s statement went a bit deeper. Sasha meant to describe the evergreen forest but had also inadvertently defined the purpose of every individual in the practicum. While we’re here to give back to the community, we’re also here to grow personally. Every person we meet in India contributes another piece to our life landscape and teaches us a lesson. Every experience deepens our understanding of the world and brings us closer to the purpose we’re meant to fulfill. Our own growth is vitally important to our lifelong individual sustainability.
Personal planting, growth, pruning and change allow the growth necessary to create meaningful and sustainable lives. My wish is that each of us can grow from this experience in a way where if someone were to hear our life story, he would think, That person used to be very different, but if I hadn’t been told that, I would have never known.