A few weeks ago, Giulia and I were deeply moved after visiting a place called Pebble Garden here in Auroville. We didn’t know quite what to expect, so we were completely shocked to find out how the two caretakers (an older, but amazingly in-shape Flemish man along with a vibrant Indian woman) had completely transformed the land from barren rock to fertile soil in less than a decade. On land that once produced nothing, they now grew rare varieties of vegetables in order to harvest seed and distribute to other farmers- on a donation basis. In a sense, their story is a microcosm of Auroville as a whole, and gave me a wonderful opportunity to reflect on what makes this place so special.

When Auroville began in 1968, this is what the earth looked like:


Pebble Garden looked exactly the same: nothing more than a barren moonscape of rocks. (Incidentally, this environment was completely human created: when the French colonized this area of India, they made sure to chop down all the trees surrounding their capital, so as to prevent wild animals from entering. Because of the harshness of this climate (extremely hot all year, very heavy rainfall during the monsoon), nearly all the arable soil was eroded, leaving behind an inhospitable wasteland.)

Today, as a result of 40 years of afforestation, this is what Auroville looks like:

 Everywhere we look around here, we see evidence of these remarkable transformations. But for me, the most amazing part of all this is that once humans began to care for the land and treat it with love and respect, the land’s fertility came back on its own.This is also true of where we are currently staying at the Buddha Garden, which continually impresses me as an example of how quickly nature can heal herself.

We’ve also found a parallel in our own internal lives as well: when we stand back from our negative emotions and habits, and simply allow love to come in these dark places, they are transformed on their own, without any of what we would normally consider to be “effort.”

Speaking with Pebble Garden’s caretakers, I was very much impressed to hear their motivations for their work. It felt like everything they were doing was done out of a very deep sense of inspiration- to heal the soil, to pass on their knowledge, to distribute the fruits of their work freely. Even though there are days when they have to work through difficulties and resistance, they continue to work because they love what they do!

In my moments of looking inside, I’ve also been able to question my own motivations for doing what I do- everything from teaching, to writing my book, to this blog. What I found wasn’t really what I expected.

With the book, I’ve faced new frustrations with finding an agent and a publisher. Just last week, an agent who had asked to read the entire manuscript wrote back to say he wasn’t interested in pursuing the project (with no constructive feedback, despite my follow up). I asked myself why I was so disappointed, and found that much of it stems from the ambition that I have for my book: I would very much like to be a published author and make a living from my writing! Similarly with this blog, I found myself at certain points wondering if anyone out there was reading it, and have a certain ambition that I’d like to be fulfilled through this.

I took notice of the differences between my motivations and those of the Pebble Garden farmers. For one, I found that ambition presumes a lack; inspiration a fullness. When motivate by ambition, there’s alwasy the evaluation of success or failure. This is why I felt such frustration with not achieving the goals I have for my writing. With inspiration, however, these categories don’t make sense. There is no stage or acheivement that will allow you to say, “now my inspiration is complete; now it has succeeded.” This is the way they live at Pebble Garden.

I also realize that ambition also has no end and is, by nature, seeking more in the future.  After I get my book published, then what? Will selling a million copies really be enough, or will I simply want more once I reach that point? By contrast, something done out of inspiration is fully rooted in the present, and is most beautifully expressed when one is fully open and aware of the present. For the Pebble Garden farmers, even though they have future intentions, they seem happy to work within their limitations and accept that what they do in the present in enough.

And when I really get down to what motivates my (and all) ambition, it’s really a sense of who and what we are in the present not being enough- a motivation ultimately grounded in fear. Many people (myself included) are driven to find success in order to feel complete and whole with themselves. When something is done out of inspiration, by contrast, it is motivated by love, by the joy of what you’re doing for its own sake, and thus is done out of a feeling of plenitude  and contentment.

Looking around at Auroville is a lesson in the power of inspiration. 40 years is a remarkably short time to undergo all the changes that have been brought about. Sure, there are people here who dream bigger and who suffer from not being able to achieve the highest ideals of this place. But ultimately, whether it’s working with vegetables or words, it’s the joy of people doing what they love to do that produces the most inspiring results.