It’s not exactly for religious or “spiritual” reasons that I come to a place like this, but rather to try something different. Where as before my life felt safe, predictable and often unexciting, I’ll now try things far out of the ordinary, which I never would have before.
So on Sunday I set out on the coach to Murwillumbah. It was the first time in a long time I wasn’t driving myself, it wax nice to be able to do something different while underway.
It was slightly less nice to have to haul my heavy backpack in the heat to the YHA along the river. The YHA was quite quirky, not many people stayed there but the owner was very friendly and I met a British girl there who was also heading to the Krishnas the next day.
Once we were picked up and arrived at the place, we got to pick a spot and set up our tents in between the trees. All of Monday we wouldn’t be working, it was just an introduction. After some explanation we were off for the rest of the day.
So I went along with a few people that had cars to Massage Rocks, a swimming hole nearby.
It was a pretty good first day, although not really representative for the rest of the week.
Over the coming week I learned that there are actually two separate parts to this Hare Krishna farm. There’s the main farm, school and temple which is a more traditional Krishna setup, and then there’s the “Krishna Village” where all the volunteers stay. It’s sort of a more loose, “Light” version than the other part, more focused on yoga, wellbeing, etc.
Breakfast and dinner (more traditional Indian food), prepared by Krishna followers and volunteers, is taken by everyone in the main temple on top of the hill, lunch (rawfood salads) is prepared by and for volunteers in the village at the bottom of the hill.
The day starts much earlier than breakfast though, tasks are handed out to volunteers at 6.15 in the morning, which means getting up at about 5.30 when it’s still dark. The getting up early part is definitely the hardest for me, despite going to bed very early as soon as it goes dark.
We work until 8.15 and then have breakfast for an hour. Then it goes on from 9.15 to 1.15 officially, however we are allowed to stop a bit earlier at 12 to attend some lectures and classes that range from singing to philosophy and coaching. We’re free for the rest of the day, so I’ve been mostly going swimming (very welcome with the heat here) and attending the afternoon yoga classes.
The work I’ve been doing has been mainly gardening, tending to trees and plants, as well as some construction; putting pavement down in the common kitchen area. Work before breakfast is nice because it’s still cool, but it’s quite tough in the heat by midday.
When spreading mulch on plants I also saw my first snake in Australia; a Carpet Python had hidden itself in the bottom of the hay bale we were spreading out. It didn’t do much and mostly pretended not to notice us.
While as a volunteer you don’t come into contact much with the “real” Krishna teachings that are are taught at the temple (unless you want to), but there is definitely some brought up in the classes they encourage us to attend at the Village.
I am at times slightly bothered when the whole “health” thing is taken a bit far in my opinion. We were shown a documentary on (raw)food where lots of big words and theories were thrown around. I did some research and a lot turned out very questionable or anecdotal evidence, while most people whom I watched the movie with seemed to take it as gospel. I just don’t think things are as black and white as some of the coconut-water sipping crowd here believes.
It is interesting to compare with my other recent journey to a religious place, the Orthodox peninsula of Athos in Greece. Things there in general were strict and could have a bit of an oppressive overtone to it, while here everything is much more cheerful and upbeat. Just the fact that no women were allowed on Athos, whereas here at least among volunteers the majority are women makes for an interesting contrast.
Most surprising to me is how a few of the volunteers, very young people, just seem very drawn to the whole Krishna thing. They spend most of their time at the temple, dress up in Indian gowns when they can and are seen going around mumbling prayers while holding their praying beads. I can’t say I see anything wrong with it, but I just don’t get the point of the whole religious and spiritual thing. Sure, I’m all for an ecological, conscious way of living, promoting positivity, but all the chants, ancient texts and prayers feel like useless fluff and decoration to me. I might be harsh but I’m sure one could live a lifestyle with the right values without having to go for the religious thing.
But I might not be in the best shape writing this: I strained my neck a bit during yoga, have some really bad stomach trouble from the food or water here (I’m really not too convinced by the rawfood), and slept incredibly bad since my borrowed tent is not waterproof at all. At least it’s a day off so I can recover!