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Auroville Experience

March 2009


Returning to Auroville:
Jivatma and Jeremy

- Priya Sundaravalli

Jivatma: “My cultural roots are in Auroville”


It's been a long day!” says Jivatma as she walks in and flops down on a bright yellow couch in the common living space in Existence community. She still looks peachy fresh and aglow, “I've just finished setting up my new massage room,” she explains. Jivatma offers therapeutic massage at the Center Guest House to Aurovilians and guests.

For 24 year-old Jivatma, or ‘Jivi' as her friends call her, a lot has happened since she left Future School five years ago. She has travelled the world, participated in several international youth gatherings, travelled with the Voice of Youth Tour as part of their film crew, and more recently went through massage school and is now a licensed massage therapist. She also met the love of her life, and is now married. She and her husband, Jeremy, have returned to Auroville and made their home in the little community of Existence where Jivatma grew up.

“I've always had a love for massage,” she explains. “As a child, any time I fell or hurt myself, my mother would tell me to put my hands on the spot and shine love and healing energy on it. That stayed with me and really shaped my relationship to the human body.” She remembers at five years old, massaging her mother and friends. “It was like a hobby; my hands were always on somebody's feet or back!”

Serious interest in bodywork came when Jivatma was attending a dance workshop with Melissa Michaels in Colorado , USA . “That was when I realized how much I loved feeling connected to my body, and I wanted to share this feeling of wellbeing with others.” Jivatma began thinking seriously about being trained in massage therapy.

When Jivatma returned to Auroville, she signed up for several courses offered by Aurovilians. “I started out with Umberto's workshop on traditional Ayurvedic massage, and something clicked.” She went on to take other courses including another Ayurvedic course by Kalyani. “These workshops gave me a great base and I practiced a lot on my friends for several months after that.”

Soon it was time for Jivatma to leave Auroville again. She was part of the Voice of Youth group, a non-profit organization started by Jeremy. “We travelled through India , New Zealand , and finally went back to the States where we lived for a year. It was during this time that we got engaged and planned our wedding for the following summer in New Mexico , where most of Jeremy's family lives.”

During this time, Jivatma was on the look-out for massage schools where she could be trained. “But I found nothing suitable for me. And then, just before returning to Auroville that winter, Jeremy and I made a trip to Hawaii ; he had always wanted to show me the place where he had grown up.

“ Hawaii was pure magic for me! Something about the island got my heart hooked. It was beyond the beautiful beaches and pristine nature; it was like a homecoming for my soul!”

And there in Maui , she also found her school. “It was an instantaneous connection, I felt it as soon as I walked in – and the programme was just what I was looking for!” The couple made a decision; whatever it would take, Jivatma would do her training there. Shortly after their wedding, they moved to Maui and Jivatma enrolled in the programme.

Soon the next obstacle came: money... “It was going to cost quite a bit, but with some effort and the gracious support of friends and family we made it happen,” says Jivatma. “While I went to school five days a week and worked on the weekends, Jeremy worked full time to sustain our needs. It wasn't easy but somehow we managed!

“Having grown up in Auroville, the realm of finances and economic logistics of the Western world were quite challenging to me. I had no experience with bills or bank accounts... here you don't really have to deal with them at all.”

But on all other levels, Jivatma believes that Auroville had prepared her very well for life outside. “Growing up in Auroville I found was a great advantage; it equipped me in a way no other place could have – it gave me a real open-mindedness to different cultures, different people, and different ways of living. Even the familiarity with languages; for example, I am fluent in five languages... And then, Auroville gives you a very good sense of community life.”

Did she miss Auroville? “Oh, yes! Through-out my travels I missed Auroville, my family, my friends and the way of life... It wasn't until we settled in Hawaii that I felt a sense of ‘home'. The Islands are very similar to Auroville in many ways; the warmth and connection with people, a healthy lifestyle amidst beautiful nature and a feeling of ease and grace no matter how busy and crazy life gets.

“What is interesting is looking at your culture from a distance; you get a completely different perspective and things that you never understood before begin to make sense. My cultural roots are here. Obviously I also have strong ties to The Mother, Sri Aurobindo, the concept of Auroville and even Hinduism. Yet it was only when I left Auroville that I could see that all these elements are an essential part of me.”

Now that she is in Auroville and contributing how does it feel? “It feels great to have a tool with which I can engage and be of service to the community! But it still remains a challenge to try and make a living though!”

About massage therapy itself, Jivatma points out that it is not just about applying pressure on parts of the body. “It is more subtle than it looks. You are dealing with energies; trying to unblock and release them and letting them flow. The real work is in bringing awareness to one's touch. One can learn many techniques but what I have found is that it is most important to be present; to tap into intuition, to let go of the mind, and allow the body to feel and communicate on a deeper level. I am finding that I continually learn so many new things – and not just about how to give a good massage, but about myself!”

Does this mean Jivatma is back for good? “Auroville will always be home and it will always have a special place in my heart. But I feel I still have a lot to experience and learn from the world!”




Jeremy: “I felt some calling; some presence...”

Jeremy has his own links to Auroville that go way back before meeting Jivatma. “Seyril Schochen was my godmother and she was very connected to Auroville, The Mother and Sri Aurobindo. I remember when I was 4-5 years old, she would come back from Auroville and tell us about her experiences, and often she brought us Indian comic books. It was my first kind of connection with India . My mom and dad were also following Mother and Sri Aurobindo.

“Every time our birthdays came, Seyril would donate on behalf of us to the Matrimandir. And every year my brothers, sisters and I would receive postcards from kids in Auroville writing to thank us. That for me was the beginning.

“When I was six, Seyril gave some gold coins to my family, so that we could all visit Auroville. Those coins got stolen so we couldn't come. Finally in 1993, when I was 13, my family made the long trip here. That was my first physical experience of Auroville.

“For me personally, that trip changed my life. It was a big shift coming from Hawaii . We were here for three months and I remember as I was leaving, I had such a strong connection to Auroville that I told my parents that when I graduated form 8th grade, I was coming back to live and go to school in Auroville. I was determined.”

What motivated the youngster were not the friends he made in Auroville, but something else. “Not to sound ‘fu-fu' but I felt some calling; some presence...” The following year, when his parents began looking for a high school for Jeremy, he reminded them of his wish to return to Auroville. “Being the kind of parents they are, they supported my wish.”

Jeremy worked that entire summer, saved up money and took off by himself for Auroville. “I had made some connections and ended up stayed with Bill and Tine in Aurogreen.” He was only fourteen.

“That period was something of a vision quest or a rite of passage; and it wasn't easy. Being an outsider, there were a lot of challenges, especially coming into the tight social group of youngsters.” Staying with an Aurovilian couple that had no children didn't particularly help. “The couple I lived with were beautiful people, but I felt like they didn't understand what I as a teenager was going through.” Jeremy made a few good friends and found relief spending time in nature and the Matrimandir gardens.

The fourteen-year old lasted six months. “That was enough on my own, and then I went through a state of depression. I think my soul wanted to be here and for this conflicting adolescent, trying to fit in, and trying to understand, and getting bashed up by the whole youth scene, it was too much.”

Jeremy remembers how for a whole month he completely retreated and didn't go anywhere. “I came so close to packing up and leaving, but somehow stuck it out. When I did leave Auroville, I felt somewhat defeated but somehow also enriched. There were many who were very supportive.”

In the years that followed, Jeremy kept contact with Auroville through people who visited the States from Auroville. Fast-forward ten years... “I was 24 and going though a confused time – I didn't know where my life was heading. In response to my struggle, my mother asked me what I would do if I had only one year to live. My answer was... I'd travel around the world; I would go back to Auroville! It was that powerful.”

Jeremy returned. “In some way it was like a homecoming. I remember two friends picking me up at the airport and as soon as we entered Auroville I became emotional. I asked the taxi to stop and put my hand in the red Auroville earth and offered a prayer of gratitude that I had returned safely. It was the day before The Mother's birthday. It was a beautiful healing. I came back as an adult with a lot of gifts to share.”

On that visit, Jeremy held a Capoeria workshop [see box], gave a music concert, and was part of The Wyrd Sisters, the community's theatre group production that season. “I felt really received by Auroville.”

The highlight of that trip was meeting Jivatma. “Shortly after we met she got invited to a dance programme in the states that allowed her to come and visit for a few months. Then the Voice of Youth tour happened. And now, five years later, we're married, we've travelled all over the world, have had many beautiful adventures together and we both call Auroville our home.

“To look back to when I was 13, if I'd have known then that I'd be here now, that this would be our life and I'd be connected to Auroville like this, I wouldn't have imagined it. It's incredible. Of course, this is the romantic version of the whole thing.”


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