Moments of intention. Image courtesy: Neha Mundhra and Madhushree Daga
What began as a loosely planned journey of best intentions to keep my carbon emissions low as I travel far from the city towards greener surroundings has become an unexpected lesson in understanding what it means to live by our intentions.
Intentions don’t hold the reigns the way willpower does. They are not an exerted force that keeps us on track, they are akin to the fragrance that guides us on the path. (Track for me is like a course cleared for an athlete, and a path is land that has been tread upon by generations but the landscape is still intact: flowers, bushes, trees, and stones are as they were, no longer wild but not manicured or tidied up).
Living by intention, a life that is more respectful of natural balance is not quite that simple, because it’s not about aligning ourselves with some larger, more perfect phenomenon. It’s about what we put out there so that natural balance is maintained within and around.
We don’t just decide to live a zero waste life and stick to it without compromises, making life difficult for ourselves and those we live with. Instead we have the intention, and each time we buy or ask for something, we live that intention with complete cognisance. There is no compromise. There is a choice at each step and there is knowing and recognition that the choice could have been better or different in different circumstances—the minute we get this, we start to choose to put ourselves in circumstances that are more conducive to developing our intentions and we accept the circumstances that we cannot change.
During the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, I did all that I could to reduce our packaging waste—my mother and I began to make bio enzymes with citrus fruit peels, water, and jaggery, it’s a great all-purpose cleaner for the house; we proactively managed delivery of fresh produce to the residents of our apartment building, setting up a system where residents inked their apartment numbers on grocery bags and kept them downstairs on delivery day, we coordinated for all deliveries to come one day a week to reduce the back and forth for the vendor and to cut down the use of fuel, and we requested that he carry all produce in crates separated by apartment numbers (not in plastic bags that the delivery boys disposed unthinkingly after our delivery). The orders were of significant quantity and he was understanding enough to make the effort.
We made many small adjustments, including baking biscuits and roasting snacks at home, so that we could eliminate unnecessary wrappers and boxes from our recyclable waste that most often gets sent to landfills, because the entire chain still needs to be developed to match our copious consumption of packaging. I also chose to make my own fresh almond and coconut milk for the same reason. We bulk ordered natural laundry and dishwashing soaps that came without individual packaging; the list of small tweaks was long, each a choice that we made despite being used to the conveniences that city life and financial flexibility provide, and then (in April 2021) we got Covid.
Both my parents and I were unwell at the same time, and extended family galvanised to send us food so that we got the necessary nutrition. Everything had to come in disposable boxes and bags, nobody had spare stock of reusable boxes to send our meals for three weeks. We had to accept fruits and vegetables in plastic bags because giving our cloth bags was no longer an option. We didn’t have the energy to bake and make, and we needed the right food to help aid recovery. We ordered it all! Sure we chose homegrown brands that made and packaged consciously, but everything we needed was being shipped and delivered to us in more packaging than place in the house to store.
The effort that we put through 2020, the first year of the pandemic, and the changes that I had gradually introduced over a decade made me see how adjusting to the situation was a non-negotiable that strengthened intentions and did not in fact bring them to a compromise.
These strengthened intentions were the reason I calculated carefully my carbon emissions while planning a four-month learning expedition in India that began in November 2021. As a woman travelling alone, I made safety an important criteria and chose a combination of road, flight, and train transport; second best to a journey by train throughout.
However, the travel hasn’t gone as planned, and therefore I call this a loosely planned journey of best intentions.
I took to the road and went from Mumbai, a city of about 21 million people to Hatkanangale, a rural town of about 15,047 people at a distance of ~375-kilometers or 233-miles. After serving at a ten-day Vipassana Meditation course in a remote location in this rustic town, I was supposed to participate in the following ten-day course as a meditator, only to discover that the three-day gap between the two courses did not offer me the needed rest after a rigorous volunteer service.
My heart felt sated by the experience of untarnished moments of purity, where the mind was at complete ease with no blame, covetousness, or ambition, and each action was born of understanding, love, and gratitude, but my body felt exhausted. I took the cue and opted out, adapting to the situation that had arisen.
The next leg of my journey was supposed to be covered by plane. I had planned to go to Navadarshanam, a community-managed forest preservation and sustenance farming land, but instead I decided to drive a distance of about 250-kilometres (~155-miles) to the coastal state of Goa, where I had lived for three and a half years. The place I call, ‘home in my heart’, and the penultimate destination on my way back to Mumbai, after volunteering at Navadarshanam and exploring by train the coffee-belt in the mountainous region of Chikmagalur in South India.
Goa unexpectedly shifted up in the travel itinerary. And here I am writing this blog post, unsure of how my plans will evolve. In a world where we look for certainty, I am learning how to mature my intentions without the force of will to bend circumstances. You know what it feels like? A slinky that a child’s tiny hands are trying to keep in perfect equilibrium by making the palms still and nerves calm, except that the trick to balance the springy motion of life is not in the palm of our hands, its in what we put out there to maintain natural balance within and around.
It won’t stay still. “It’s slinky!” Image courtesy: Getty Images
In the unhurried pace of rural life, I listen to the silence of the Honey Forests and I watch how uncertainty pushes us into action. Goa is part of India’s vast Western Ghats, a mountain range of 160,000 square kilometres (~62,000 square miles), where giant bees, known as mavā mūs in Konkani, the language of the region, gather honeydew from trees to make honey that is more flavourful than honey from the nectar of flowers, conferring on the Western Ghats the title of Honey Forests.
We rush, we pursue, and we conjure and imagine, because living with uncertainty is hard. It’s hard till we accept our vulnerability, develop our patience with wisdom, and put forth our determination with love—All in its own time, trusting that the whiff of intentions will lead us to honey that is sweeter. So far, I have not managed to cut carbon emissions from my travel as much as I wished to, but I walk more, buy carefully, turn down the water flow when I do my chores, keep the stove flame lower than the perimeter of the pan, compost regularly, cook at home, use till things are unusable, mend what I can, keep lights turned off when not needed, and am doing all that I can to live by my intentions.