Holistic Living - Living and Loving
by Life Positive
(as told to Suma Varughese)
Navina and Asger Sondergaard have crafted a unique and satisfying life through the medley of influences that have shaped them - anthropology, activism, natural hygiene, spirituality and downsizing.
When Navina and Asger Sondergaard, a Dane, decided to be man and wife, it was a union not just of the East and West. It was a meeting of the head and heart. Navina was an anthropologist with a string of degrees including one from Berkeley, while Asger had not gone to college. It was also a merger of activism and spirituality. Navina was a member of the Narmada Bachao Andolan and immersed in the principles of natural hygiene through exposure to her mother Vijaya Venkat, a firebrand propagator of natural living. Asger is a follower of Osho (his sanyas name is Deva Oorjas and he is known to all as Oorjas), and an advocate of simple living. All these influences have fused into a lifestyle for Navina, husband Oorjas and their son, seven-year-old Tanay, that is unique, sometimes difficult, but always an authentic response to their own values and selves.
Oorjas and I
We are very different people. I am a head person who has to analyze and understand situations. Oorjas, in spite of being a Westerner, is totally instinctual. I am open and spontaneous around people while he is cautious. He is very content with himself. I need people around me. And yet it works. We believe that our marriage was pre-ordained. Look at the way we met! I was on a six-month Leh-Kanyakumari-Enfield Bullet-Peace Yatra with 14 others from all over the world. We stopped over at Pune and I needed a place to stay. I stumbled upon someone I had met in Leh during a Vipassana course. Coincidentally enough, he had just done the down payment for an apartment that he no longer needed because he was leaving town. I moved in and found that Oorjas was my housemate! We said hello, and six hours later we knew we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. There was such a degree of ease between us. And trust. Oorjas is so honest! Tanay was born soon after and that helped cement the bond further. These things help you cope with everyday irritants like the toothpaste cover not being properly closed. At the end of the day we know that these are the big things.
Following the Sun
For the last eight years we have been living in three zones. Summers (3½ to 4 months) are spent in Denmark. Here, Tanay goes to a borne-have (kindergarten). He gets a wholesome exposure to Danish - its language, food, clothing, weather, style. In Denmark, I learnt to cook and clean for the first time in my life. Now I revel in my role in the kitchen, which I see as my way of ensuring the well-being of my family. Yet Denmark, with all its fine design, sense of aesthetics and ecological consciousness continues to have one of the highest rates of alcoholism in the world. And we have now decided to sever our ties with it. The rest of the year we are mostly in Goa but always aligned with Mumbai's times and people. The lifestyle happened for economic reasons. Oorjas had a summer job in a factory. He could make much more money working for five-and-a-half months because of tax savings than he would have made by working all the year round. Also, we had a summer house there which was not equipped for the winter.
Goa, because Oorjas, who has been coming to India for the last 24 years, used to live in Goa. Living in Mumbai, I was always going to Goa, which was so multicultural. In Goa, we live in a 150-year-old castle-like house with shell windows, cow dung floors and iron-barred doors. We live in a vaddo (settlement). We have a well, home to fish and frogs. Electricity is intermittent. There are at least 40 different plant species - mango trees, lemon trees, drumstick, guava, pomegranate, cashew, banana, starfruit, kokum, bamboo, neem, local teak, and palms. We lead a simple and basic life in Goa - drawing water from the well, sometimes cooking with firewood, making our own compost, growing vegetables like spring onions, brinjal, kadipattha and tomatoes. All this keep us in touch with ground reality and we learn to give back to the earth and to community. We own no TV or computer, just a very small fridge to chill water. A telephone happened only three years ago and a mobile phone just now for business. It's a great consolation to come to Mumbai periodically and luxuriate in a well ordered and comfortable home with enough staff. I enjoy the pampering but I am also learning to value them and not take them for granted.
Tanay was born at my maternal home in Mumbai. I refused to go to a hospital or enlist the services of a doctor. I didn't want to be straddled, nor did I want Tanay to have his first vision of the world to be a man in a surgical mask. So I had him in my bedroom, next to what we called the angel wall, which was a place where we hung scores of figurines of angels. Eleven friends and family members surrounded me while I was birthing and we lit candles and played beautiful music. I had a midwife to help me. On her first visit, she had placed her practiced hands on my belly and I intuited that these hands knew whatever there was to be known. Having seen me, she said she knew when I would give birth and she would come accordingly. She came 10 days before the due date, and sure enough Tanay was born the next day. Uncanny! Just three tremendous pushes were all it took for Tanay to slide out. He was clean and with wide-open eyes. Did you know that the length of the umbilical cord is exactly the length of the distance between the vagina and the breast? Eleven pairs of hands guided him to my stomach and then I placed him against my breast. Sucking is what opens up their lungs and the action also helps the placenta to naturally slide out. The only equipment we had was a blade and that was the only expense too!
Beautiful though the experience was, I don't know if I would have another baby. It would be like climbing Mount Everest again!
I have been much influenced by my mother's conviction that the body knows best and that immunization actually damages the child. Tanay has never been vaccinated. In fact so far, we have avoided the use of all chemicals for him. Even the coconut oil for his massages was made at home. Despite the three-culture traveling, Tanay has had no health breakdowns. He has been free of childhood diseases like skin rash, colitis, colic, and ear infections.
Tanay and I usually have nothing but fruits in the morning. Oorjas, however, is a breakfast person, and has some form of bread. Lunch usually consists of a salad and soup. It is a non-cereal meal. In Denmark, I used to cook dinner as well, but in Goa we usually eat out. This is our time to socialize and be with our friends. When we eat out, we occasionally binge but we make sure that we balance it with vegetable juice and have a correct diet the next day. We have vegetable juice three times a day and fruits in the evening. Tanay and I are pure vegetarians but Oorjas has the option to go non-veg when we eat out. We don't buy oil, and we buy milk only when we have visitors who need tea or coffee. We eat local hand-polished rice. Biscuits, aerated drinks and other junk food are not allowed into the house. However, we don't make an issue if someone offers Tanay a chip or a chocolate.
Our health is usually very good. We are quite attuned to our body and feel the deprivation if we have not had vegetable juice for a couple of days. We do not believe in taking medication. So when we fall ill, we take nothing but rest. We also avoid all cooked food and stay with vegetable or lemon juices. This is the time when we surround each other with love and attention. Playing good music also helps.
I have never worked for money. Usually there has only been an exchange of services. However, we have now, after a nomadic eight-year existence, decided to settle down in Goa and have had to generate our own livelihood. Oorjas was working for Carlsberg, which manufactured beer and we felt that it went against our values. During our peace yatra, Oorjas and I had bought enormous quantities of agarbattis for lifelong use. Our Goan friends, though, persuaded us to sell them instead. Slowly, this has expanded into a business. We have now opened a company and trade in 750 items from Auroville and Pondicherry. We supply to 24 shops. It feels good to be marketing something that makes people pause in their busy schedule for two minutes and think of God.
Having worked with the Narmada Bachao Andolan and experienced firsthand the distorted concepts of development and progress today, and having seen the vast disparity between the rich and the poor, I would never willingly want to do anything that would take livelihoods.
For us security does not lie in having money. We see health as a security, and our family and friends as security. We know that Tanay can go to any of the three places we call home and be looked after. Yes, the world we live in discriminates on the basis of caste, class, gender and race. Security for Tanay lies in respecting differences and that is happening on the basis of the lifestyle we lead. And living in a 150-year-old house is a security in itself. We know that the foundations will last. We don't see earning a livelihood as the primary motivation of life. Life for us is about learning to live with ourselves and with others. Our desire is to get educated by life. And that is what we wish for Tanay as well.
The School of Life
We do not send Tanay to school. We educate him ourselves. His interests are varied. He does yoga and sings in four different languages, including Tamil. He loves cooking, is very into numbers and enjoys painting. Right now, I am encountering a little resistance in him towards writing and that is my challenge at the moment. Because writing is my thing! However, he enjoys reading. Three times a week between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. he goes for a phonics (the art of speaking properly) class, where he also learns yoga and painting. We are lucky to know other like-minded parents who also bring up their children differently. We are a group of four families, whose children have been home-birthed and who do not subscribe to conventional education. We are planning to invite people with different skills to teach our children. So far, there has not been a school one could consider. There is one alternative school in Goa, where children travel in a Mercedes and have an ayah in attendance. These are not values I want Tanay to pick up.
Nourishing the Spirit
For Oorjas, Osho is his guru. He had a life-altering experience when he first came to Pune, 24 years ago. He had a fused backbone and he had been told that he would be unable to walk without a risky operation. He was in constant pain. Coming to Pune, his consciousness changed and the issue simply dropped from his life. We have no idea if his backbone remains fused or not, but he no longer suffers from pain and can walk and run effortlessly. I have had diverse influences that range from Vipassana, Swami Chinmayananda, Meher Baba to Sri Aurobindo. However, the spirit of surrender is important to both of us. Both of us know we are being guided by a higher force. For me, all my achievements - my thesis, drawings, writing - happened through me. My closest gurus are Tanay and Mom. Tanay because I have had to expand so much in order to be available to him and Mom because she has the courage of her convictions.
Everyday we light agarbattis and candles and say a prayer. When we bathe, we put a drop of essential oil into the last mugful of water and chant the Gayatri mantra as we pour it over ourselves. And we always give a thanksgiving prayer for our food when we sit down to eat.
Subject: life - 11 September 2008
i was reading this article with great interest till the author mentioned she did not believe in chemicals and did not get her child vaccinated. For all our interest in spirituality and natural living, lets give modern science some benefit of doubt. you just have to see the streets, trains and buses More...
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