Update – Andrew Perera

RS Alumnus Andrew Perera–an Eric Freed Peace & Justice Award winner from this last year–has given us an update on his life and work after graduation. Here is his note:

Hi classmates and colleagues! I trust you are all excited for your classes in the coming days. I’d like to update you all on the goings-on of my life, post baccalaureate. I have been hired on as a biology and ecology teacher at St. Lawrence middle school in Santa Clara. As many of you know, I spent 4 years studying biology before switching to Religious Studies. However, I am still trying to change the whole education system to be more inclusive and critical, which means that eventually I have to move back into Social Studies to continue that mission.

I am starting a M.Ed. program at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, where I will also earn 2 single subject credentials (biology and Social Science). Classes (as a teacher and as a student) start this week so I am about to enter into a world of business. Just in time to welcome our son, Finn, into the world. I will send photos of my classes and of Finn in due time.

If you’d like, you can find me on Facebook and I will add you. My name there is Andrew John Bear, or Papa_the_redbear on Instagram. That would make it easier to follow my classes and grad school process.

I miss you all and I will be visiting soon.

Be well in whatever you do,
Andrew Perera

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Sean McCann Opens Practice in Chinese Medicine

[Sean McCann gives a brief report on his recent graduation with a degree in Chinese Medicine and acupuncture, and his subsequent opening of a new practice in North Carolina, where he has been seeing patients for the last several months. His report is in the form of a letter to William Herbrechtsmeier (dated 31 Aug 2015). Please enjoy. He’s doing some very interesting work.]

Dear Bill,

How is everything on that side of the country?  What’s new in the Religious Studies Department?  My wife and I are at the start of a whole new chapter of our lives.  To begin, Trang is 30 weeks pregnant!  We are very excited for the new addition.  She is due 11/10.  It’s hard to imagine all of the changes a baby girl will bring, but we’re looking forward to it with great anticipation.  Trang is handling the pregnancy well, and I’ve been able to take care of most of the morning sickness, fatigue, pain, etc using Chinese medicine.  In addition, we moved to North Carolina in April, and I recently started my own clinic.

Grinding HerbsI completed my M.S. in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine in April (I know, it’s fairly ridiculous that the word, “oriental” is still being used in some professional circles).  We moved to Asheville on the very day that I completed my courses.  The move was precipitated by an offer of a residency and job at the Alternative Clinic.  The Alternative Clinic is a comprehensive Chinese medicine clinic started by the teachers I’ve been traveling to study with for the past 2 years, Andrew and JulieAnn Nugent-Head.  Andrew spent the last 27 years studying with the old doctors and martial artists in China and moved to Asheville with his family last summer.

I spent my first 3 months in Asheville in their clinic, dividing my time between seeing my own patients, observing and assisting their treatments, filling herbal formulas, and speaking about Chinese medicine with people who walked in off the street.  It was fantastic to be completely immersed in the clinic with them 6 days a week, soaking up everything I could.  At the beginning of August, I decided to start my own clinic.  I continue to study with the Nugent-Heads and spend time in their clinic, but my primary focus is now on building my practice and applying everything I have learned up to this point.

McCann's Clinic

I am simultaneously studying the classic texts of Chinese medicine with them.  We are currently going through the Shang Han Lun and Jin Gui Yao Lue.  We will cover many others in the coming years, including the Huang Di Nei Jing and Nan Jing.  We go through the texts line by line, the two of them translating the classical Chinese and commentaries relevant to the text, as well as discussing the clinical relevance of the passages.  These times take me back to the RS days and leave me feeling thankful, once again, for my experience at Humboldt State.  Without it, I may not have discovered qigong and taiji, and I would likely never have understood what it takes to study and gain understanding from ancient texts.  I hope that the current students realize how immensely special their time there is.

This has been a thoroughly enjoyable time for my taiji and qigong practice.  I studied with a wonderful Chen taiji teacher, Dave Christophy (a student of Wang Hai Jun), while in Florida.  Since arriving in North Carolina, I have had extended periods of time during which I have been left largely to my own devices in terms of my personal practice, giving me ample time to reflect on what I have learned from Dave, Andrew, and you.  The interplay of the input from each of you leads me to new insights daily.  I have found, however, that freedom and willingness to play are of equal importance to good teaching.  Without these, one can never make an art their own.  I will begin teaching qigong and Wu style taiji here in a couple of weeks and am looking forward to working with a new group of students.  I hope to be able to impart to them the importance of this balance.

Jensen and CaseyTrang and I plan to spend anywhere from 3-5 years here, and then we hope to do some traveling before moving back West to settle somewhere.  I am intrigued by the idea of eventually getting a Ph.D. in something related to classical Chinese texts or Chinese medicine.  The field of study, as well as the practice of the medicine in this country is very young and, unfortunately, immature.  There are some incredibly skilled individuals with an immense amount of experience and knowledge to share, but the field lacks the structure to allow these people to teach what they know to large numbers of people.

The only way I can imagine increasing the ratio of good practitioners and scholars to charlatans is to bring the field into the major universities.  Certainly, these too have their issues, but I believe the difference in quality of education would be significant if this were the case.  I imagine Chinese medicine students with access to anatomy labs and professors who are qualified to discuss the classic texts, as is the case in the RS & philosophy departments at HSU.  This increased level of scholarship and blending with the larger academic community would, inevitably, bring about some magnificent changes for Chinese medicine, and medicine in general, in this country.

That is all quite a ways down the road, however.  There is plenty to focus on right now, but I still like to dream.  Anyway, I hope that this email finds you well.  Write back whenever you have some time.

Take care,

Sean McCann

Mindful Mountain Medicine
(828) 785-2401
SeanMcCannLAc@gmail.com
http://www.MindfulMountainMedicine.com

Carmen Finken Returns to Iowa after One Year at HSU

[Carmen Finken studied with us in Religious Studies for one year (2012-13) as part of the National Student Exchange Program. She’s now back in Iowa, but credits HSU and the Religious Studies program as a life changing experience. Read on below…]

(August 13, 2015)
I’m now working with AmeriCorp, but I would not be here had I not chosen to attend HSU during the 2012-2013 school year. The AmeriCorps program that I work for is called Green Iowa and there are six sites across the state. Our mission is to make Iowans more energy efficient through low-impact home weatherizations, energy education, and community outreach. As education coordinator, I work specifically with people (mostly children) on how to be more environmentally friendly and enrgy efficient.

Living Myths and Consumerism and Eco-Spirituality were huge wake up calls for me. I had no idea that we were living in the midst of an environmental crisis, nor did I care to look at religion through a phenomenological lens. My year at HSU was very informative, often in a very frightening sense. From Herb’s class concerning terrorism, to Sara’s class about the environmental crisis, and Steve’s class on impermanence, it was an incredibly heavy year. There was no way I would have been able to come back to Iowa and resume living my life as though I had not been to Humboldt.

I finished my religion degree in May 2014 and started working for AmeriCorps this past fall. I will do the program for a second year and then hopefully attend graduate school for environmental sustainability. I’m actually touring Portland State this Wednesday!
I find the work I do for AmeriCorps rewarding, though it becomes difficult to keep the faith that we aren’t spiraling into an environmental apocalypse. In a very long-winded conclusion, studying RS at HSU made me more aware of major environmental, social, and political issues, and has since given me a better understanding of global and theological concerns.
As you can tell I still have a lot of feelings about my year at HSU.

I’ve been doing a lot of volunteer work for the Bernie campaign here in Waterloo and Cedar Falls, like phone banking, canvassing, and holding house parties. When some of us here saw him speak in Waterloo, he said that human beings are not meant to be fighting in such violent wars. It instantly made me think of Living Myths and just violence. I just hope that he doesn’t get taken out for his attempt to bring forth a political revolution like in the past.
I hope that this fall semester’s Living Myths class brings forth a lot of insightful discussion. I wish I had had the courage to speak more when I was an undergraduate, especially at HSU.

The summer here has been pretty mild, at least in Cedar Falls. How is the mystical town of Arcata?

Thanks again for staying in touch. It means a lot to be hearing back from the HSU Religious Studies program.

Emily Rood’s Year of Service to the Cheyenne Nation in Eastern Montana

 

[Emily Rood gives a fine report about her work among the Northern Cheyenne in the year following her graduation from HSU with a double major in Native American Studies and Religious Studies. She’s now back in Arcata, and has given guest lectures on campus.]

(June 10, 2015)

After graduation in Spring 2014, I ventured off to the Southeast corner of Montana to serve with the Capuchin Volunteer Corps Midwest at St. Labre Indian Catholic School. With a major in Religious Studies and a minor in Native American Studies, my passion lies with bridging the gap between the privileged, and the marginalized and oppressed in our society. I was searching for an organization where I could work with a Native community and live in an intentional community rooted in spirituality and social justice. It was fate when I happened upon the Cap Corps program. This being the organizations first year sending volunteers to St. Labre, it was chalk full of different challenges and adventures.

At the beginning of my year in August, I had a realization that set the theme for the rest of my service year and has provided a context for which I hope everyone can better understand how and why this year has been so transformative for me. And also why I believe that St. Labre is truly a miraculous place.

It started with our first day of orientation. When Father Paschal introduced himself, before he started us off with prayer, he mentioned the things he’s done and places he’s been in his 60 some years as a friar and priest. The thing he said that really stuck with me was how the Northern Cheyenne taught him to survive. Throughout my years in Native American Studies, survival was always the underlying theme no matter the focus of the class. For centuries indigenous peoples in the United States have struggled to survive and are still struggling. But the miracle is that many tribes have survived; they’ve survived genocide, and are rebuilding their populations, relearning their traditional languages, songs and dances. In many areas the indigenous peoples of this country have found ways to thrive amidst oppression and marginalization. After talking with some of the people in the community, It became very clear that I was called here to better understand what it truly means to survive in this world and what it means to thrive.

Jensen and Casey

With this in mind, the first day of school at St. Labre really opened my eyes to an entirely new way of seeing education. I know that education is a powerful tool in the empowerment of an individual’s human dignity and attaining self-sufficiency. Yet, I always struggled with it being controlled by an outside system. I’ve always thought that to help maintain the beauty and wisdom of native tradition the outside needed to stop trying to force its way in. In the beginning I was worried that St. Labre would not contribute to the survival of tradition, but instead only perpetuating the American capitalist system. I see now that St. Labre is doing its best to balance between both. Of course, it’s not a perfect system (what man­-made system is?) but I believe they are a necessary part of the survival of many of these Northern Cheyenne and Crow kids. And in many cases the education and community that St. Labre provides give them the chances to not only survive, but to thrive through cultural learning and a spiritual community.

St. Labre Indian Catholic School ranges from a well-rounded pre-school program to a college aimed High School Academy. However, the non-profit organization is even bigger. St. Labre runs entirely on private donations; they do not have federal, state or church funding. Serving a 98% Native American community, as it is located on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation line, St. Labre also has their own Youth & Family Services department. Here they run a group home for students who do not have another healthy environment to go home to, manage a childcare center, offer community and elderly outreach service, hold the only food pantry available in the area, and facilitate a work incentive program that provides members of the community with an opportunity to take classes and volunteer in exchange for food or gas vouchers.

Emily's studentsOriginally I was chosen to be a reading interventionist at the Middle School Academy. Although I must admit I never expected to be working as academic support in a middle school, the need for assistance in the middle school was real. While implementing and maintaining behavior programs for the students in the reading intervention program, stepping in as a substitute teacher for all grades and subjects, and assisting in the main office with a variety of secretarial duties, I expressed my interest to step outside of the school environment and work with Youth & Family Services (YFS). Not long after I began my work at the school, I began co-coordinating St. Labre’s Food Pantry. I organized volunteers, assisted in management of clients’ paperwork and monthly reports. Once I saw the need for extra supplies and food in the Pantry, I began conducting fundraisers in the Middle and High School. We raised over $700 throughout the entire year for extra food to fill in the gaps from what we get as donations, as well as to stock up on the most sought after item: toilet paper. After one fundraiser, we were able to stock our warehouse full over 400 rolls of toilet paper. My work with the Food Pantry lasted the entire year. The relationships I’ve built with volunteers, staff members and students has been rewarding beyond words.

In January I started to begin plans for a program that is known by many as the “Backpack Program.” It’s a program that is run through Montana Food Bank Network in which they help provide a bag of non-perishable food items for chronically hungry students to take home on the weekends. Attempting to start this program was when I really realized the disconnect between YFS and the school. Before I arrived there was little to no communication between these two departments. Even when we attempted to bridge that gap, the administration and teachers were already struggling to stay above water, adding another program to their plate was challenging. So, I pushed it until they gave me the signatures I needed and managed to set up the whole program so that it should be easily manageable for next year as long as everyone does their part.

Every part of living in the middle of nowhere Montana has been an adventure. I’ve learned so much about myself having been pushed to limits I didn’t even know I had. The most rewarding part of being in Montana for me was getting to know the extraordinary culture and the people. I’ll admit, watching my students dance at the local powwows has almost brought me to tears a few times. They are thriving. Reservation life is different from the injustices experienced by those in marginalized communities in other areas of the United States. The people have a completely different worldview. They have a reverent relationship with their creator and every piece of creation is sacred. Many of the people here are still devoted to the traditional way of life, however, when you are here you can see what the federal policies have done to destroy that relationship and how it’s affected the community. Now native people are trying to live in two separate worlds.

One of the best ways I have come to truly experience connection with the community, that transcends all of actual work I do every day, is my participation in the sweat lodge. There are usually several elders there, and a few other members from the community (some I know, some I don’t). Before the sweat we sit outside and talk about our weeks. We complain and we rejoice about the things that have happened. We share stories about our lives and our culture to better understand each other. In the sweat lodge everyone has a chance to share their prayers. We pray together as one people, as God’s people. It is the closest I have ever felt with a group of people, and many of them I have never met. Afterwards, it is traditional to share a meal together. Listening to the elders share their stories, old and new, has been the most uplifting experience. A woman at one of the sweats I went to said that being Northern Cheyenne means living in a good way. “You have to be a really good person,” she said. I have never felt closer to God, so well connected with my fellow man, than during a sweat. After a sweat, I feel prepared to walk through the next week in a good way, in community with every person I meet.

There are so many things I could talk about, but I did my best to sum up what this place means to me and the things I have been doing here. So what does it mean to survive in this world? And to thrive? It means to never stop fighting for what you believe in, for what you know in your heart to be right. To survive means to get back up when you’ve been beaten down; getting back up because there are other people in this world that need you, because you have something to contribute. Thriving means to be connected, to not expect to do everything on your own, to ask for help, and to take care of one another. Thriving is a balance between self-care and caring for others. Thriving is knowing who you are and where you came from. Thriving is being grateful.

In closing, I want to take a moment to express my admiration for the will of indigenous peoples in this country. They have resisted and survived. Each and every one of them deserves the utmost honor for that alone. These men and women are fighters and today some of them make up many different important social and environmental activist groups that will continue to fight for just legislation to improve the lives of their people. May we remember and honor those that have developed the strength to resist and those that have not yet healed and still suffer from historical trauma. Also I’d like to acknowledge those non-indigenous folk who are almost equally connected to this land and equally dedicated to St. Labre and the empowerment of the Native communities in Montana. I am honored and grateful to have worked with and learned from all of them.

Alexis Dorsey Completing Her Graduate Studies in Neolithic Archaeology

[Alexis Dorsey is working on paleolithic archaeology in Malta. Even though she also majored in Anthropology, she considers Religious Studies her family at HSU. And a late note: since she wrote us this message in May, her Master’s Thesis has been approved with distinction. She’ll receive her degree later in 2015..]

(May 8, 2015)]

Greetings from an old student!! I was just going over my HSU email account and found a few messages about the RS website and your collective wish to keep up to date with former students. I saw a few students listed who are currently enrolled in graduate programs, but noticed mine missing. So I would like to inform you of my life since Arcata as well as my current academic standing.

Alexis DorseyAfter graduation I became an Au pair and moved to Ireland. I minded three young children there for a year and a half; some of the happiest times I’ve had to date. I applied to the University of York and the University of Edinburgh for archaeology programs. (I was a double major, and archaeology was my primary focus) I was accepted to both programs, but chose the University of Edinburgh. My program title is MSc of Mediterranean Archaeology. I’ve had two semesters of classes so far, and now am on a trimester of independent study to finish my dissertation. I will be focussing on the Neolithic temples of Malta, a fascinating topic! While I have chosen archaeology as my field of study, I have always loved religious studies and tried to incorporate it into my archaeological work. I will be travelling to Malta for some fieldwork the first two weeks of June. I am more than excited to see these prehistoric monuments of spirituality and religion that pre-date any other free-standing structure in the world, revelling in the beauty of man’s creative abilities from five thousand years ago.

Anyway… I digress. I just wanted to update the department on my whereabouts and hopefully start a habit of keeping in touch with HSU. I miss Arcata and the fantastic collection of people in the Religious Studies department. While I was an Anthropology student, I did choose to walk with RS during graduation.. I found that group much more of a family than Anthropology ever was. I hope all is well with all the RS faculty, and that you are illuminating the world’s problems and potentials for your current students and future academics.

All the best,
Alexis Dorsey

Dorsey's Dig

Alexis Dorsey taking notes while her colleague measures the opening of a Punic tomb on Malta.

Stephanie Andaya at Planned Parenthood of Northern California

[Following is a report from Stephanie Andaya about her work with Planned Parenthood .]

Stephanie currently works for the Planned Parenthood Northern California affiliate as a Reproductive Health Specialist, educating clients on sexual health topics such as birth control, STD testing, and pregnancy options. She also works a trainer for the organization, giving classroom trainings and staff presentations as well as one-on-one support to new employees at the affiliate’s twenty-one clinics.
Extending her work in reproductive care, Stephanie volunteers as a talkline counselor for Exhale, a national hotline for women and their loved ones to receive nonjudgmental support around abortion experiences. Exhale operates outside of the pro-choice/pro-life divide on a “pro-voice” platform that respects and validates the complex, varied experiences that people can have around abortion. She also volunteers at the East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland, a community center that offers meditation workshops, spiritual teachings and events steeped in social justice and action.

Stephanie cites her time as an RS major as pivotal in helping her find work and volunteer opportunities that are meaningful to her. “The skill of ‘suspending judgment’, of being able to respectfully listen to others’ ideas and opinions and try them on, so to speak, helps me to be aware of how religious beliefs influence the people I see, and to provide nonjudgmental and compassionate care in the work I do. I’m so grateful for the amazing, dedicated professors we have in the department and their commitment to a rich learning environment for their students. Thanks for such a profound learning experience.”

Jensen Martin Reports on His Study Abroad in India

[Jensen Martin graduated from our program in 2014, and has been studying and travelling in India during the 2014-15 academic year. Here are two reports from him about what he has learned, and how he has grown. We think that this is a good example of how students of Religious Studies build on their academic experience in order to develop their own spiritual practice and consciousness. Following are two reports, one from February, 2015, and another from April, 2015.]

February, 2015:

Dear friends and devotees of srf

First off, I apologize for taking so long to write to you all. Many of you I told I would be writing regular monthly updates on my experiences but I have done no such thing. I hope that this letter finds you all well and that you are all progressing in your spiritual path the way that you all desire too. Please excuse the length of this letter, due to my absence the first five months of my journey I have a lot to write on.

Jensen and CaseyMy indian experience began in Bangalore, I was there taking classes in an indian university. It’s hard to describe all the details of that time, but I’ll write what I can. There were about 13 other students in the program, all of them girls from other parts of the USA. I could see pretty clearly that none of them were even slightly interested in spirituality or sadhana, so from the start I was the odd man out.. Literally.. We had our own series of classes arranged specially for us for me including; Sanskrit, Hindi, Kannada, yoga, indian culture, indian art, travel and enoucntet with the other (a course on traveling and cultural viewpoints) and Hinduism & Buddhism.

The biggest positive aspect of my time in Bangalore was the presence of the Bangalore dhyana Kendra. A Yss center that was 15 minutes from my dorms. This Kendra was visited by master and daya ma, she blessed this center saying that it would always draw sincere devotees thanks to the efforts of the founders. Within a few days of arriving I had visited them and already been invited back to one of their houses for lunch. Over the next four months this became a real haven for me, I became close friends with the group of young men who live nearby and work IT together and every Sunday after the service I would go back to their apartment and have food and stimulating conversation. I was going to 3 group meditations a week and by the end of it I was also leading the chanting on some of the Thursday meditations. I regularly did things with devotees; lunch at their houses, outings outside of Bangalore, and they even took care of me when I was sick. This group truly became a spiritual family for me and a resource when all else failed.

The first holiday of dassara in early October became a shifting point for me. Up to then I had a relatively smooth transition and was really enjoying my time abroad. For that holiday I visited an ashram in tiruchirapalli in the state of Tamil Nadu. This ashram was founded by Swami Abhishiktananda, a Benedictine monk from France, on the ideals of creating an ashram that was both eastern and western. His ideals were strongly in line with masters. This ashram also became home to father Bede Griffiths a well known academic writer and spiritual man who also lived for the east – west ideal. For some reason by coming to this ashram my mood plumetted. Internally I became low and frustrated with myself at the difficulties of India and being away from my home. This was partly due to the conditions at the ashram, but I think the time was ripe because it continued almost the rest of my trip. It took all my willpower and faith to get through. I can go back and read my journal entries and see the shift as I move to darker and darker stages, wanting to go back to the USA and resisting the changes India was putting me through. On top of this I judged myself pretty heavily for the mood itself and it created a cycle of unmotivated idleness. I never missed a meditation but some days it was pretty brutal. During this period the Yss center became my only place I felt uplifted. It was a lifesaver.

In early November I had another holiday and another shift. I went with some devotees on a weekend outing to sri paramudur ashram, a Yss ashram in chennai. On the way I ate some bad food and water and a long period of sickness Insued. I had a intense stomach bacteria that really drained me and after a few days of health I came down with a more intense fever. This turned out to be dengue fever, a mosquito borne illness that has no medication. I didn’t get hospitalized though I should have been. I did though go to the ER and spend several nights at devotees houses and the Yss center itself a few nights. My condition went pretty critical, by blood platelet count dropped to maybe 4000 which is extremely low and dangerous. It was a heavy period which only enhanced my mood and longing for normalcy.

In December things happened fast. I recovered and found I had passed through my mood. Suddenly I felt comfortable in India, it felt normal to me there and I had no more tensions or fears that were preventing me from being at ease. My school finished up with a lot of finals and paper writing and In mid dec i went with my school on a brief tour of north India; including the history of Delhi, Jaipur, the Taj Mahal in Agra, and the village of Brindaban, where Krishna spent his childhood. His village actually was quite nice, nobody else on the group was conscious of the spiritual import if this place, but I was thankful and able to absorb some of the vibration.

After our little school tour I got on the plane to Sri Lanka. It was necessary for me to leave the country of India in order to re apply for a tourist visa. I settled on Sri Lanka because of it’s proximity and spiritual heritage, I planned to fly back to Bangalore on jan 4th to attend their groups 50 yr anniversary janmotsov program celebrating masters birthday. Sri Lanka itself was a great rest. Something about the vibration was less intense, I felt easily capable in traveling there. I had an apartment booked there for a few weeks in the capital Colombo. Right after getting off the plane I met a local who gave me a Sri Lanka SIM card for my phone and he helped apply for my visa and travel around. I went with him to his wife’s village and stayed there a night with the villagers which was very nice. On Christmas I met with the Sri Lanka Yss group and though small, they are sincere. I had Christmas dinner with the leader and some Brazilian diplomat friends of his.

On Christmas Day itself my girlfriend Casey came to Sri Lanka to travel with me. It was really nice seeing her and we went on a tour to all of the main places in Sri Lanka; some famous Buddhist meditation caves, historical sites, the temple of the tooth which houses a Buddhas tooth relic, and some of the worlds largest Buddha statues. I completed the tour feeling more connected with Buddhism and more aware of the spiritual history of Sri Lanka. There were some complications with my visa, so I had to delay my reentrance into india by a few days, missing the janmotosov program. Overall it was quite a nice time in Sri Lanka.

The return to India has been great, upon arriving I felt almost overwhelmed with the amount of love at the Bangalore center that was waiting for me. All of the devotees had been missing me and were looking forward to seeing Casey. It was a really nice feeling, almost like a homecoming. they helped us find a free apartment to stay in at Bangalore where we could stay and leave our stuff. After a few days there, we went to Hampi a world heritage site.

In Hampi we spent a week staying with a friend of one of the Bangalore devotees. It is a rural area, but famous for being the birthplace of hanuman and the home of the vanara kingdom, the race to which hanuman belongs. The land is fertile and we spent hours driving through endless fields of sugarcane, banana, and coconut on a motorcycle lent by my host. The vibration at the hanuman temple was incredible and I felt a spiritual connection with him and a piece of his devotion and loyalty to lord rama. There were an abundance of ruins there which we visited all.

Finally, a week and a half ago we took the train with a devotee friend to his hometown of dharwad to stay wth his family. The whole family are Kriyabans and the dad has been highly involved in the construction of a Yss center here which was just dedicated a year ago. We have been traveling with the family to all these spiritual sites and temples around Karnataka. Casey and I had another stomach infection here so we have taken some down time here and again they asked me to lead the chanting for their long meditation on daya mas birthday.

That about completes the update, thoguh there are a lot of upcoming trips. One of the Senior devotees in Bangalore gave me the phone number for swami krishnananda in Yss, one of the senior swamis. He put together for us a whole list of places to visit,  including all the ashrams and retreats in Yss. I’ll be visiting there before my return on May 20.

It’s been an incredible trip so far, i honestly can’t even believe that I have made it. It seems I am growing but it’s hard to track. I am doing all my meditations but sometimes  it’s extremely difficult to do a full routine and feel connected the way I want. It’s a total test of faith and devotion. Thanks to the presence of Kriyabans and devotees I never feel apart from master, but it It really makes me miss hidden valley and the community there.

Thank you all for reading this far, I’m sorry I don’t have pictures I’m typing on a phone and it’s hard to attach them. I’ll look forward to connecting more and catching up when I return from India.

Jai guru
In divine friendship
Jensen Martin

 

April, 2015

Dear friends and family,

I know its been a while since I updated everyone, I have been either busy, exhausted, or not in the mood to write. I figure its time to write once more to capture the experiences of the past month or so. Thank you to everyone for all the mental support they have been sending my way, it is very encouraging.

Jensen and CaseyI dont exactly remember where my last email left off, but I have traveled through the entire southern region and traversed all of the SRF( Self realization fellowship) ashrams in North India including some holy cities. I think my last update may have talked about the visit to Dwarahat ashram in the Himalayan foothills, making pilgrimage to the cave of Mahavatar Babaji. We left from there to Rishikesh spending two nights in a retreat on the banks of the Ganges owned by a SRF devotee from Israel.

Arriving in Rishikesh was a more strenuous task than expected. The taxi ride was only supposed to be four hours but was extended to eight hours due to a landslide on the road that stopped all the traffic. Casey and I spent about a week in this city, which is known for being one of the modern yoga capitals. It was really nice to be in civilization again after being deep in the mountains, but rishikesh was almost too civilized… The city was entirely tailored to Western travelers and felt a little touristy to my tastes. It was our first opportunity to eat guacamole since being abroad, so there were some nice perks. One of our friends at the ashram in Dwarahat knew a devotee who could show us around and help us find accommodation in Rishikesh, so we did have constructive activities to prevent us from stagnating. Highlights from our time there include visiting the Vashishta Cave, ( a cave where Sage Vashishta supposedly practiced meditation for an extended period as well as Christ visiting this cave during his supposed sojourn in India) The Ashram and Tomb of Anandamayi Ma, and a famous temple that is crucially important to ancient indian mythology. We also spent a lot of time relaxing on the banks of the ganges and in the cafe’s oriented toward the western traveler. The popular drink here is a lemon nana, an ice slurpee with lemon and mint. Our friend also showed us the local places to get the best breakfast paratha’s and puri’s.

After Rishikesh, we took a train to Ambala where we spent one night to prepare for the next day’s taxi ride to Shimla. At shimla we had planned to attend a spiritual retreat themed around Easter. The drive to Shimla was beautiful, and the retreat center was beautifully constructed a halfhours drive from the city. It was built in such a way that you could overlook the entire valley from the balcony of the center. Absolutely breathtaking views mixed with such a deep feeling of peace. The swami who was leading the retreat was Swami Krishnananda, one of the most senior monks of YSS, and he infused the retreat with a lot of deep wisdom. We passed our time here absorbing the spiritual atmosphere and making friends with the other attendees (most of whom were from Chandigarh or other places in Himachal pradesh ) There were a lot of spiritual classes for the retreat as well as videos shown on the life and wisdom of Christ. We decided to stay a week after the retreat and were rewarded with some of the coldest weather we had yet experienced including thunder, lighting, and hail storms. We did spend one day visiting the city of Shimla and I was amazed at the panorama of mountains from that vantage point. In the city proper we also took darshan from the ancient kali temple there as well as the YSS dhyana kendra meditation center. In total we spent about 10 days there.

From shimla, we took a long taxi drive to Manali. A Himalayan Alps valley nestled deep in the mountains. Here, we were scheduled for another retreat led by Swami Krishnananda. This time the theme was on the guru disciple relationship. The feeling of being in Manali was unique and special, and the retreat fed us not just with gourmet indian food, but with precious wisdom on deepening our connection with the guru. It was only 3 days long, but it felt like much more than that crammed into a short time. After the retreat finished and all the participants returned home, we went deeper into the valley and checked into a room in old manali; the travelers haven and scenic section of manali. This place was one of the most beautiful places I have been in India, incredible himalayan mountain views intermixed with cherry and apple blossoms made for a picturesque scene. The people here looked like real mountain folk. Almost looking more nepali than indian, they dressed in colorful fabrics and could be seen washing their yaks off. By this point we had started getting tired of indian food, so starting in manali we started eating exclusively chinese food consisting of chow mein and momos ( steamed veg dumplings ). Manali was an amazing place to be, and we went on several beautiful hikes through the forest and were rewarded with some pretty incredible views. It is also home to some famous spiritual temples dedicated to the ancient god Manu. Supposedly the location of the temple is where the ark of Manu ( an ark containing the seeds of creation ) was kept by the avatar of Vishnu while the world was covered by a flood. This area is also known for the presence of the sapta rishi’s. The sage Vashishta who I mentioned in rishikesh also has a temple and village dedicated to him. There is a waterfall nearby which is said to be sacred for his meditations. We visited all of these locations and really tried to absorb the feeling of the place and the people. We stayed in Manali for about 10 days as well.

From Manali, we headed to our final destination; Dharamsala. Dharamsala is a bit unique among India’s holy places. It is the official seat of the exiled Tibetan government and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We have been here at least a week so far and will be here for about a month more, totally relaxing and enjoying not rushing from place to place. We are still enjoying chinese food, getting thukpa(tiebtan noodle soup) and tibetan butter tea, as well as exploring what this area has to offer. There is a nearby lake and waterfall as well as numerous buddhist and hindu temples. It is a great place to be and for us, the perfect place to take a breather and stay in one place for an extended period. Casey remarked on this today, her journey started in Sri Lanka, a predominately Buddhist country, and is ending in Dharamsala, the seat of Tibetan buddhism in India. In a way completing that cycle that is so prevelant in Buddhist spirituality.

I hope to update all of you on my journey in person when I return to the United States in may. All the best and much love.

Jensen Martin

Eric Bablinskas Reports on the Crisis in Ferguson

[Eric Bablinskas has been living in the St. Louis area as a member of an intentional community associated with the Episcopal Service Corps and the Anglican Church. He sends us this report:]

I moved to St. Louis in 2013 to be a part of an intentional Anglican Community in a low-income, predominantly African American neighborhood only a few miles from Ferguson. In August, not long after the shooting of Michael Brown, my six housemates and I participated in a march down Florissant Rd, where the gas station had burned down. It was a march for justice and peace, and we wanted to know who the police officer responsible was. The marchers were young and old, black and white, cop and civilian. It was an incredible experience.

 

Right after the shooting, my program ended and, I’m afraid to say, my involvement faltered and I had to build a life for myself in St. Louis outside of my community. After the grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson, back in late November, the city erupted. I was working part-time at a coffee shop a few blocks from South Grand, where much of the protesting occurred. and you could feel the tenseness in the air. Everyone was engulfed in deep thought and concern. I visited South Grand later that day, to see businesses boarded up, their windows smashed the night before. Several eyewitness accounts would say that it had been done by members of a young white anarchist group.

I was not there for the protesting on South Grand the night before, but several of my friends were, including clergy members and children. A local coffeehouse, Mokabees, was teargassed. Thankfully, the deacon of my church was present and, being a nurse, she knew how to deal with teargas. Children were teargassed. St. Johns, an Episcopal Church and designated safe-space for protesters, was teargassed. I did not go to Ferguson, but I’ve heard that it has been like a war-zone. Several businesses have burned.

I attended a protest in downtown St. Louis and we marched up an on-ramp to block interstate traffic. The police were prepared in their riot-gear. I must admit that I was terrified and backed down rather quickly. More protests are occurring daily, and I simply can’t keep track of it all. I’ve never been much of a social activist and it’s hard for me to admit that. But after seeing the prevalent disparity between black and white in St. Louis, it’s hard not to be outraged. I lived north of the Delmar divide, the imaginary line between the black and white halves of the city. The north side is blighted. There are empty lots where houses once stood. Traffic signals are ignored. Crime rates are high. I grew to know the residents up there. Everyone is simply doing their best to get by. This is where I’d like to say that I love St. Louis. Even on the coldest winter days, when I remember Arcata’s relative warmth. Even when I am driving past crack houses and vacant lots, and I think back to the redwoods and the ocean. On South Grand, the community painted murals of hope and inspiration over the boarded up windows. Ferguson has had live music events, teach ins, and an outpouring of support from all over the region. I’ve seen clergy from all denominations and all faith-traditions marching together.

Yes, St. Louis is dealing with racism, as well as a staggering population decline and a whole slew of other issues, and the media will happily report this and people back west will be quick to criticize St. Louis and places like it. I remember hearing people at HSU say, “It’s such an intolerant, backwards place!” in regards the whole of middle America, not even taking a moment to notice their own racial issues that plague Humboldt. St. Louis is full of good people who are working together to heal wounds that have existed for centuries. You can go online and see pictures of blighted neighborhoods, decaying buildings, or read crime statistics, and they are all true. You can’t hide from these problems in St. Louis like you can in other places. But the other side of the story is the dedicated community members who love St. Louis, who wash each other’s eyes out after being pepper-sprayed at a protest, who paint murals to show that there still is beauty on these old forgotten streets, who donate their time and money to building a healthy community in this overlooked (until now) part of America. I’m proud to call this place my new home.