Presenting a Different Story (Auroville Today, August 2018)
The way we present Auroville through films and exhibitions is overwhelmingly positive. Little or no attention is paid to the challenges, dissonances, even contradictions that we encounter every day here.
Contradictions like a community which made its name with its environmental work having so many fossil-fuelled vehicles; large sums in the bank but a struggling service sector; human unity as an ideal but inequality between the haves and have-nots; beauty in matter as an aspiration but very ordinary institutional architecture.
There are no simple explanations for these, certainly nothing that would fit neatly on a 6×4 exhibition board. And it’s understandable that we would want to highlight our undeniable achievements. But there is another story to tell, and one which, if the right context is provided, may give people a much better appreciation of what is happening here.
So what kind of context does one need in order to better understand the confusing aspects of the present Auroville? Here are some suggestions.
Firstly, of course, Auroville is a place for experimentation and, like most experiments conducted in the real world rather than sterile laboratories, the outcomes can be messy, erratic, confused.
Secondly, the people are not trained researchers or yogis but a cross-section of humanity: hot-blooded, cantankerous, generous, dogmatic, idealistic, selfish etc. And within each of them, at some level, a conflict rages between an aspiration for a new life and the pull of the old world, between altruism and selfishness.
Thirdly, many if not most Aurovilians are strung-out, operating at the very limit of their energy reserves due to the climate, inner contradictions, lack of an adequate support structure, the need to make money to be able to stay in Auroville etc. As a consequence, personal short-term interests often trump what is best for the larger community.
Fourthly, the Auroville ‘energy year’ runs roughly from August to March. During the summer, many key groups are eviscerated as their members seek refreshment in cooler climes. Promising initiatives sometimes disappear without trace into this black hole, or have to be resurrected with considerable difficulty later in the year.
Fifthly, we have no embodied source of wisdom, or one that is accepted by all of us. Rather, for guidance we have to rely upon Mother’s words. However, we all refract these according to our predispositions. Consequently, since there is no common agreement on which line we are to follow regarding decision-making, the economy, town planning etc., the result is fragmentation and multiple contradictions. Our governance system is a bewildering mix of meritocracy, democracy and oligarchy; our town planning veers between dogmatism and pragmatism; and our economy is a patchwork of gift, command and market economies.
Finally, there is the meta-context, which is that Auroville is an experiment in consciousness development, both for individuals and the collective. The way this works is that pressure is put upon all of us to develop as fast as possible towards realizing our true Self. This involves, among other things, surfacing all the darker and less evolved aspects of ourselves for us to work upon them so that they can be eliminated or transformed. But as each one of us is an individual, with individual ‘baggage’ and a different back-story, what manifests as a result of this pressure differs widely from individual to individual. In one person, the fastest route to the Self may be through exploring the darkest recesses of the being or addiction, in another it may manifest as asceticism, in another as an arrogant grasping after power, in another as high-minded idealism.
The meta-context also helps explain why there are so many apparent contradictions and counter-movements in the present Auroville: everything is still in process, the pieces have not yet fallen into place. Yet, from the Supreme’s perspective, perhaps things couldn’t be better arranged for individual and collective
It is the best of all worlds…it is also the worst of all worlds. Because somehow, in the midst of all this turmoil, we have to function, do shopping, mend the bike, make decisions, initiate projects, draw up five year plans. Many of the latter will fail, not just because of our individual frailties, but also because we couldn’t grasp the larger picture, or we were not receiving guidance from our psychic being, or it wouldn’t have been good for our or other’s spiritual progress if we had succeeded.
This is why efforts to control this turmoil using conventional methods like rules and regulations will not succeed. They are simply not suited to the complex task of consciousness development. We may need holding structures to contain the pressure, but these can only be temporary expedients. The only way for fragmentation to be lessened and genuine harmony to increase is for more and more of us to tune into something larger than our individual egos and to contact our truer Selves. Only then will our every action, down to the minutest detail, acquire the inevitability of truth.
Bottom line, then: for some considerable time Auroville, in many respects, will continue to be messy, chaotic. But seen from the context of overall consciousness-raising, the chaos may be a necessary one.
Isn’t this a story that is worth telling? Auroville has real achievements in many areas. But isn’t it time we stopped just polishing our image when we present Auroville to the world and try to be upfront about the contradictions and turmoils that are part of our daily life here?
After all, in the modern world where every visitor with a cell phone has the capacity to be an investigative reporter, little can be hidden.
Risky? Perhaps. But we would probably be surprised how much fresh energy such a new perspective would attract from a world surfeited with advertising, fake news and immediate gratification.