chopping wood, fetching water part one & two

an ongoing series exploring the everyday acts of service, kindness and humility that can lead us to a heightened state of bliss

Jennifer Ottaway: Le Grand Detour

It is Friday midnight and I am enjoying a quiet summer moment, windows open, dog at my side, writing. Crickets are the background music. The lights of the south shore St. Lawrence River villages can be seen from the window of this 215 year old farmhouse. Maybe it’s not a wild and wacky Friday night but it’s my speed.

I own and live on a farm called Le Grand Détour, with friends and strangers who have chosen to share the work and see if there is a dream they can turn into reality here. Our mission statement describes a social project respecting the environment and the human condition. We attempt to live well, become family, share joys and sorrows, and learn to respect each other in the day to day. Living on the farm right now are 2 licensed drivers, one mechanic, one woodworker, one agricultural specialist, one child with her mom in need of housing, and one drug addict in need of shelter. Many are given my address through social workers.

We support the local economy and the locals support us. An acre of vegetable garden is our most ambitious, unifying project. Most of the produce is given to the soup kitchens and city mission houses where I went for help when I lived on the street.

I had a dream as a serious 12 year old. Missionary friends were running summer camps, teaching me their beliefs, Bible truths, in song and by example, all in the great outdoors.  I wanted to do the same when I grew up. 

There was fragility in my young enthusiasm. I lost my guiding star and pushed aside spiritual questions once I married and started a family. We lived happily enough but the bubble burst when I went through a depression and realized I wasn't following my mission. A divorce followed and I was chased from everything I knew for being weird enough to follow my dream. Homeless, often penniless, I started over on street-level, training for today. It was my grand détour. Once I had my heart in the right place and gave God permission to guide the rest of the necessary education, I took some unexpected roads to end up here at the farm.
Sharing what I have on the farm comes from my heart and is my spiritual practice. In the sharing of what I have, who I am, I liberate others and I am alive. This act of liberation frees me up to do whatever life proposes.

All are in need of meaningful work and positive relationships. In a spirit of sharing we have a new family and I live fulfilled. To be free to follow my own rhythm, choose my companions, write without censorship…this is my bliss.

Lopamudra Das: the Ashraya Initiative for Children

My name is Lopamudra Das, and I'm a 4th year Honours Student in Microbiology and Immunology at McGill University. While I'm originally from Medicine Hat, Alberta, my family's origins are in Calcutta.

In 2004, I was approached by my friend Kaminika Morjaria about her idea to open a home for street children. I decided to help out with the project, and gradually got more involved. I am currently the President of the McGill and Canadian chapters of the Ashraya Initiative for Children (AIC).

One of the projects that I am involved in through the AIC is a home for street children in Pune, India, run by university students around the world. My work includes organizing fundraising and awareness events in Montreal, networking with other university chapters of AIC, speaking to groups about the problem of street children in India and elsewhere, obtaining grants for the home, and recruiting individuals to help out with the project.

The tremendous changes we see in our children have been inspiring, and motivate me to do as much as I can to help them. A few months ago, one of our children announced that she wanted to be a dentist so that she could help other poor kids with their teeth. She has blossomed from being very shy and apprehensive into being an outgoing, confident child in her time here, and it's been absolutely wonderful to see. All of our children have become so loving towards each other, and their spirit has carried over into the whole organization, inspiring us to work together and have the same happiness that they do.

I've always seen myself as a member of the world. Helping others reminds me to always be loving and sensitive to people I meet. Being able to make people happy and make their lives a little easier makes me feel I am doing my part to make the world a more beautiful place. Working for children reminds me about the joys and laughter of being a child, ensuring this lives on in my own life.

Bliss for me is being able to work with, and for, people that inspire me, and feeling like our world is full of human compassion and love. My work with AIC has helped me become a more focused person, to look at the world in a global sense. Although the children are on the other end of the planet, my connection to them reminds me of the common humanity amongst human beings everywhere.

Copyright ©2007 ascent magazine, first Canadian yoga magazine, yoga for an inspired life