Distracted by the uncertainty of what landscapes and experiences lay before us, we wound up crisp mountain roads, lake vistas, and seemingly endless and distant rice terraces. When we pulled into the Ananda Kurjana Ashram and Children’s Home on Bali after a long journey, we were exhausted by the overwhelming anticipation of the adventure before us.
We arrived on a Sunday afternoon to kids with beaming smiles who warmly greeted us. Taking a break from their various activities, their unfamiliar welcome, “namaskar, namaskar” was accompanied by a gentle bow of the head, chest high, hands pressed together as if praying.
Our children literally got out of the car, accepted the greeting, and were absorbed into the various games happening all around us. We quickly learned that the man in charge, called Dada, (meaning Brother in monastic terms), was at a meeting in the city and would be back later. We watched and waited, wondering what happens at an orphanage when the person in charge is gone. As it turns out, this was not just an orphanage, but a spiritual place, run by a remarkable man with a crystal clear vision that transcends any expectation of what is possible … but we didn’t know that yet.
Our driver, now friend, Surya, opened the trunk of his car and kids spilled from the trees to unload our things and take them to our room. The comfort of our Western life rushed over us, and we suppressed panic when we viewed our accommodation (8′ x 8′), with our own toilet (luxury), that we had to dump buckets of water in to flush. Toilet paper … non-existent! As we rolled out our blankets on the hard, steaming hot floor and organized our belongings, we felt right at home. We couldn’t put our finger on why just yet. Shortly after settling in, a few friendly bats crested the door to see who was in their room.
As our driver pulled away, dust swirling from the rural road and slowly settling again, we sat on wooden platforms, built under the shade of cool trees. We sat and watched our children play with 30 new, instant friends.
The kids who live at this Children’s Home (we call it the farm as it is a self sustaining property in so many ways), range in age from 7-18, and come from a range of challenging backgrounds. The youngest member of this community, and our daughter’s playmate, was dropped off by her mother because her new husband refused to care for another man’s child. One of the older boys, just coming into manhood, has a father with special needs that can’t care for him. This young man is learning everything he can from Dada so he can one day support his father. Although the Children’s Home has a definite operational structure that differs from the world outside the gate, it is an integral part of the community and giving back in ways that impact generations.
The kids used hand signals to point at different things letting us know it was time to wash up and meet in the yoga area at 6:30pm. We washed our faces and hands with the bucket and approached the open air yoga practice space. We found ourselves still waiting for the teacher as the kids began their mantra, music drifting over the hills, as their meditation commenced. Fifty minutes passed in group meditation, silent meditation, yoga poses and dance. Then we followed the radiant kids to dinner. Still no teacher in sight based on our limited definition of the word before this experience.
We feasted on a vegan meal full of vegetables grown on the five-acre property, local rice, papaya-black bean soup, and filtered water from the farm that is sold all over the region.
Dada arrived, robed in tangerine, with a glowing welcome. We spoke with him about our day and how at home we felt. As we were getting to know one another, the kids washed the dishes. When everything was clean, the kids collected their school work and sat back down in the open-air dining hall to do their studies. There was a melodic hum as they helped one another, questions flying in Balinese and Indonesian, giggles and yawns from all directions.
We wandered to our room discussing the best way to situate ourselves on the floor to get the most out of our six hours of sleep on the ground. Laying in a row next to each other seemed to be the best solution as we shifted around to get comfortable. Feeling the now cool floor comforting beneath us, we could hear the kids getting ready for bed all around us. We realized laying there, with the crickets drowning out the cry of the newborn goats, that we were waiting for the teacher all day.
What we realized in that moment is the teacher was everywhere in everyone and every living thing. As former teachers, with all we have read in our studies, this was our first experience in any place that was truly self-directed, building self-reliance from a place of inspiration, purpose, simplicity, and love. These kids, who we thought we could help before arriving, were leading us into a joy we have never experienced because they felt it themselves.
Below is the daily schedule at the Children’s Home. There is a lifetime of learning in each step. I will try to capture what we learned in the coming weeks, based on our experience living in such an inspiring, freeing place:
- 4:45am – Wake up
- 5:00-5:50am – Morning yoga and meditation
- 6:00-7:00am – Prepare for school, eat breakfast, leave for school
- 1:00pm – Kids arrive home from school
- 1:30-2:00pm – Silent work
- 2:00-3:00pm – Free time for rest or relaxation
- 3:00-5:00pm – Karma yoga – meaningful work done from a place of selfless action to enhance good karma. (What we used to call chores)
- 5:00-6:00pm – Sport
- 6:00-6:30pm – Bathe
- 6:30-7:20pm – Yoga and meditation
- 7:30pm – Amazing vegetarian dinner
- 8:00-9:30pm – Study hall in open air dining
- 10:00pm – Lights out
Aristotle said, “Those who educate children well are more to be honored than they who produce them.”
Imagine, as parents, if we can do both by seeking, trusting, and finding the world’s most inspiring teachers around us and within us. We believe we were not only in the presence of greatness during our time at the farm, we were an integral part of it and we are forever changed by the experience. Where is the teacher? Closer than you might think …
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