Moved by Love

Like many around the world, I’ve listened to heart-wrenching NPR and BBC accounts of the suffering, death and sorrow in India caused by COVID.  When the Facebook message below popped up on my Facebook feed, I was heartened and deeply moved by Maher’s loving response to a dire humanitarian crisis.   The most recently initiated acts of love include a quarantine center, short stay care for vulnerable children and adults affected by COVID, as well as food, clothing, masks, sanitizer, transportation and counseling.

Maher offers Care in Times of Quarantine . . .

A Simple Choice

India has been grappling with COVID challenges since the day in March 2020 when an immediate lockdown was adopted to stop the initial spread of the disease. Maher has been walking with the nation’s vulnerable throughout this difficult time.  At Maher, the decision to offer aid is straightforward.  The organization sees a need and addresses it to the best of their ability without hesitation.

Maher’s Humanity Kitchen

In March 2020, Sr. Lucy Kurien, founder and director of Maher which means “Mother’s Home” in India, watched as hundreds of people began passing Maher’s gate.   They looked hungry, worn and frightened.  Without hesitation, she dialed Maher’s National Center and ordered 500 meals prepared.  And, so with a single phone call and lots of meal preparation, Maher’s Humanity Kitchen was born.  Between March and May, Maher’s kitchen would provide 30,000 meals to displaced workers returning on foot to their home villages.  The non-governmental organization founded in 1997 would do this while caring for the 1,500 women, children and men living in the community.

Sustaining Workers Returning on Foot to their Home Villages . . .

Rations

Shortly after that, Maher identified and responded to the food insecurity of the suddenly unemployed workers by expanding its ration program to 50,000 individuals with the realistic expectation the program would continue until people were able to return to work.

Mobile Food Delivery
Rations offer Food Security

Masks, Sanitizer, Tarps, & Blankets

The organization’s production unit quickly shifted to making masks for local distribution.  Approximately 10,000 masks were distributed along with hand sanitizer and information on their use before the current situation.  Social distancing is far more challenging in a country with 1.4 billion people that occupies about one-third of the land mass of the United States.

Maher’s Production Unit Stitches Masks Appropriate for 100-degree Heat . . .

During the monsoon, plastic tarps were delivered to shelter neighbors in need from the elements. Diwali marked the annual food and blanket distribution to Maher’s vulnerable neighbors. 

Rapid Response to Growing Needs

Maher Opens First Home in Kolkata in Jan. 2021 . . .

In the midst of a pandemic that has lasted longer than most of us ever imagined and caused an uptick in family violence and poverty, Maher stepped up and carefully opened four homes in three Indian states.  Since the pandemic began, Maher has welcomed 249 women, 63 men and 111 children. For Maher staff opening homes, that can mean everything from clearing the property of snakes to dealing with administrative requirements all while welcoming the neediest, and often outcast, in the community.

Weddings, Births, Memorials

Celebrations Keep the Community Strong . . .

Even in the time of COVID, life in Maher’s 54 homes goes on.  So far during the pandemic, eight socially-distanced weddings were celebrated and ten babies were born. Two more are expected later this month.  Recently, when a beloved Maher volunteer died suddenly, an international Memorial Service was conducted on Facebook Live to allow the community and friends everywhere to grieve.

Academic & Values Education

Homeschooling, which can be a challenge for families everywhere, was initiated for all of Maher’s 1,000 children of school age.  Computers were donated by companies to aid the effort, yet even so maintaining the interest of so many children who are the first in their families to attend school has been a challenge. 

Learning Together . . .

Maher staff and youth who completed the Second Standard (high school) and college pitched in to help.  The effort continued even after local schools resumed because of the communal nature of the Maher homes, which each care and shelter between 20 and 30 children.

Tending to the Mind, Body, Spirit, Emotional Needs of the Community . . .

Throughout this time of sheltering in place, Maher youth have continued and expanded their practices of yoga, dance, singing, and drawing all the while learning and assisting as the community’s staff and adults aid in values-based relief efforts to help those in even greater need.

Caring Actions

Caring for the Earth & Faith in the Future . . .

Maher, an interfaith organization where all are welcome, holds regular days of prayer and meditation for India and the world in addition to daily morning and evening meditations.  Monthly Zoom calls connect, inform and uplift volunteers, donors, friends, and the staff and community members at Maher who are buoyed by the love and care of people around the world.

Maher Combines Prayer with Compassionate Action. . .

Sr. Lucy and a handful of senior staff members have received doses of India’s scarce vaccines.  A recent update indicates that work is underway to secure vaccines for all at Maher. Here is a recent message from Sr. Lucy, “Life has become very tough for all. We are working day and night as we give more and more people shelter and food. Poverty and sorrow is everywhere. The death rate continues to increase.”

It is said that “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”  Maher has been going strong since its founding in 1997, however, perhaps never stronger than during the last 15 months.

To make a financial contribution to support Maher’s vital work during this time, please visit www.usmaherfriends.org.  100% of US Maher Friends contributions go directly to Maher. No amount is too small or large. To learn more about Maher, visit www.maherashram.org. Thank you ~ 

Staying Grounded in Tricky Times

Thriving in challenging circumstances

It’s hot.  There’s a global pandemic.  The election is 96 days away.  Racial and general unrest is rocking our cities.  The short- to mid-term economic outlook is, at best, uncertain.  Tempers flare.  Sparks fly.  Blood pressure rises. 

I am privileged and the fabric of my days has changed dramatically since mid-March.  I go to the market, occasionally get a take-out coffee or meal, meet colleagues and friends on Zoom, and enjoy family photos and phone calls rather than in-person visits.  I wear a mask when I’m out and about.

Strengthened by meditation & prayer

After witnessing a few particularly charged interactions, I decided to share practices that are making it easier for me to stay centered in the hope that you’ll share some of yours as well.  Here they are, in no particular order:

  • For the last 54 days, I’ve risen early and started my day with 45 minutes of meditation and prayer,
  • I’m drinking lots of water – regular and coconut – aiming for roughly half the equivalent of my weight in ounces,
  • I do my best to spend at least as much time performing activities like reading, writing, cooking, weeding as I do on the screen,
  • After dinner, weather-permitting, I spend 20 minutes in the hammock staring up at the clouds, hummingbirds, owls, leaves, butterflies, bees, or whatever is right in front of me,
  • Three to four times a week, we take a 20+ mile bike ride to enjoy nature and move our bodies,
  • Three or four times a week, my yoga mat and I spend an extended time together,
  • When friends come to mind, I send cards, usually by local artists,
  • Appreciating, purchasing, preparing and serving dishes of organic, locally-grown produce has become a daily ritual,
  • I’m working more intently than ever to align my work, purchases and contributions with my values,
  • Sometimes because it’s so energizing, I just let it all go and act silly, laugh and be weird.

It’s definitely true.  There are serious matters at hand.  There have been for centuries and, with any luck, there will continue to be. 

My intention has become to FIRST appreciate the joy and beauty of living and what is working and then move from that place.  I don’t know that the new patterns I’ve formed will change as our world does and I don’t know that they won’t.  My plan is to enjoy them while I can.

Be well, all,

Sherry

Life Interrupted

Finding solace in times of change . . .

“You’ll be kicked out of the convent,” my boss said as I prepared to leave for a 10-day silent retreat on the outskirts of Santa Fe.  Her words ran through my head again as the van pulled through the wrought iron gate and stopped in front of a row of adobe buildings.

It was a February afternoon in the year 2000 and the New Mexico sun warmed my face.  I had a few hours to rest, explore the grounds, and settle in before our welcome dinner.  After that, our 10 days of silence would begin. 

I was physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually drained.  My need for rest prompted me to reserve a single room.  On my patio rested a statue of Buddha adorned with rocks, twigs, dried flowers, and coins left by previous pilgrims.  After a nap, I went outside and walked the track that would become my solace during the last meditation of each day.

Diving in Head First

Prior to this retreat, my meditation practice consisted of fairly brief periods of candle gazing, daily prayers, and attendance at a visiting teacher’s dharma talks.  Looking at the retreat schedule, it was clear that I was now attempting to enter the sphere of serious meditation – five one-hour periods of seated meditation daily, periodic morning dharma talks, and silence 24 hours a day.

The big surprise came at the opening dinner when I learned that in addition to observing silence, I had also signed up to refrain from eye contact for 10 days.  My visual nature cringed. My palms began to sweat.  

Never before had I heard the full measure of a strawberry’s snap . . .

Quiet Hours, Quiet Days

The stillness I’ve experienced during this year’s global pandemic resurrected memories of those ten transformative days more than twenty years ago.  The handful of photos I took in the silence have disappeared leaving only memories in their wake.

  • The vibrant snap of a strawberry at breakfast.   
  • The way my restlessness affected the people around me. 
  • The star-filled sky above the track I walked round and round during the final evening meditation. 
  • A pre-dawn gathering of my blankets and the wonder of lying beside the lake as the geese made a watery landing. 
  • Peaceful 2 a.m. visits to the hot tub. 
  • My surprise at feeling rested and alert after just four hours of sleep.
  • An unforgettable sense of being bathed in Divine light and love.   
A recent photo illustrates the rocky beauty of the path.

On the Path to a Brighter, Lighter Future

The final dharma talk addressed preparing for re-entry into the world.  Listening I wondered, “Would it really be so hard?”  During our final lunch together, the floodgates of conversation opened for seemingly everyone but me.  Much to my surprise, I was not eager to share or to listen.  I felt as though I was still “coming down” from an expanded space. 

Fortunately, several of us left for the airport together, which seemed dizzily confusing.  Seated in the middle seat of a full flight, claustrophobia set in for the first time. 

I returned home to a weekend-long dance competition with our daughters. “Mom!!!” one shouted as I unwittingly drove over a curb on the way.  Seated in the last row wearing ear plugs, sunglasses and a hat, I quietly cheered the dancers on – relieved when we could go home.

Like this time of sheltering in, I left for Santa Fe intending to resume life as I knew it.  I returned to life and work and gradually stepped up the pace.  Yet, something was different.  There was no “going back.”  I knew what a different, more soothing, way felt like.  Life around me wasn’t different, I was.  And, that changed everything.