In May 2002, Yorit arrived in Auroville together with her husband Aviram and their daughter Shalev, in search of a different way of living. The first night the three of them slept in an old bullock cart with a roof made from coconut leaves. Yorit remembers that she was unable to go to sleep, as she felt a magic entering her life. The land which the bullock cart was standing on would become the place of her Sadhana. ‘Sadhana’ is Sanskrit and means ‘a spiritual discipline for self-realization.’ The family decided to grow a forest, this would become their spiritual practice. The first year was fascinating and challenging. Soon after starting they realized that their project was not only about planting trees but about conserving water. The lands they chose for their project was composed of red laterite earth and clay, which formed canyons in the heavy monsoon rains. How to control the flow of water and conserve the rainwater was the main question Yorit and her family faced. The land they were attempting to change was in the same condition as the land the pioneers of Auroville settled 50 years ago.
Sadhana Forest was slowly transformed, by building eight dams and several kilometres of dykes (or bunds), which collected water. Yorit and her family managed to create a system of trenches and dams that stored over 50,000 cubic meters of rainwater. During the first five years, the water table rose 6 meters, from an average depth of 8 meters to only 1.8 meters in 2008. The people living in the local villages got interested by the project once they saw their wells filing up with water again, providing them with water throughout the year, for the first time in 20 years. Sadhana Forest remains extremely water conscious in every possible way. The kitchen is equipped with a hand pump, not a tap, in order to create awareness about water conservation. Their hand wash station is a simple cup with a hole at the bottom; if one wants to use more water one needs to refill the cup again.
Over time, Yorit and her family realized that they not only wanted to create a vibrant forest, but an awareness that it is possible to create a healthier and more eco-friendly lifestyle while addressing the need for food security in the neighbouring villages. This educational aspect has become a huge part of their community today. They include as many children and young people as possible so that their vision of an ecologically responsible and sustainable way of life may be spread all over the world. Today, Sadhana Forest has begun to expand into other places all over the world. In April 2008, Sadhana Haiti opened with the same values and vision as the one in Auroville. Furthermore, a forest was started in Kenya with the aim to grow food and help promote food security in a region facing drought and malnutrition.
Sadhana Forest hosts over 1000 volunteers from all over the world every year. Their contribution has helped the wells to be dug even deeper and afforestation to become a real success. Living in Sadhana also means sharing, like having their three meals together, sharing their living space as well as essential community tasks. Life is Spartan but healthy. The volunteers share their knowledge and organise workshops, which can be anything from poetry to construction of solar cookers. Every Wednesday they have an evening open to anyone who wishes to participate in an open stage and share for the sake of joy and laughter.
In her book, Yorit tells an anecdote: After spending a few days in Pondicherry, her three-year-old daughter asked her mom if they could put a door for their hut. She asked her daughter, ‘Why do you want a door?’ She answered that she wanted to open and shut it, ‘I want to hear the boom when I close it.’ Yorit says that she never gave an answer and eventually, her daughter forgot about the idea. When she thought about it later, she realised that one of the main features of Sadhana forest is that there are no doors. Yorit and her family simply opened the door to their house and never shut it again.
Pictures © Sadhana forest.