A Different Kind of Hope with #DeepAdaptation in Southern India

So much activity does not happen online, and does not get seen online. And thank goodness for that! As I research what is happening around the world as people wake up to the likelihood of a more unstable future, I am feeling grateful and reassured that so many of us want to make a difference, and can, even if small, or fragile, or transient. As I used to live in Southern India, I was excited to hear what is happening there, and this guest blog is the result. If you have your own local story to tell, please contact the blog team at the Deep Adaptation Forum.

Lakshmi Venugopal, member of Deep Adaptation Auroville and Founder, Inner Climate Academy.

As an Indian woman returning from abroad, I was attracted to the international spirit of Auroville, an intentional community in Southern India. Both Indians and foreigners seek to live a life that is a holistic application of the principles of Sri Aurobindo. We seek not to separate the spiritual realm from our livelihoods and lifestyles. Therefore, for decades, the people of Auroville have sought to live more gently on the land and with each other. That holistic approach to conscious living may be the reason why the Deep Adaptation concept and framework has been flourishing here in our corner of Tamil Nadu, with implications for our wider region. As I witnessed the international discussions online in the field of collapse anticipation and Deep Adaptation in particular, I have wondered whether there are many people like us in the Global South, but whose experiences and initiatives are being overlooked. I wondered whether it might help to share what we are doing, so we might learn from each other, inspire others, and perhaps even shape the international agenda.

One reason I write these words is to continue to contribute to the Deep Adaptation community in Auroville, despite the way Covid-19 has impacted on my own life. My work in the Deep Adaptation group had been providing space for emotional connection, expressions of grief, and building community resilience through group processes. My experience with facilitation of Joanna Macy’s Work That Reconnects (WTR), and my own broader interest in the role of grief in community life propelled me to hold space for these explorations within the Auroville Deep Adaptation group. But when the Covid’19 related lockdowns and restrictions started becoming a reality in Tamil Nadu, I found myself going inward, withdrawing from the outside world even when I was aware of the sufferings of many (especially migrant/day labourers) in India. It is surprising to me to see how I have now spent most of the past year confined to my home in the forests of Auroville. From my seclusion I have observed, mostly through the local Deep Adaptation whatsapp group, how many of my colleagues have reacted quite differently to the hardships emerging because of the societal disruptions from the pandemic and the associated policies. They have been busy setting up systems, frameworks and channels of volunteering and fundraising to help our community, as well as the wider bio-region, adapt to the new reality of COVID-19. Therefore, I hope these words will reach you, wherever you are, so that you can join me in marveling at the courage and creativity of my friends and colleagues as they saw adversity growing around them.

But before I summarise more of their activities, it may be useful to explain something about the community that has generated such leadership. Auroville aims be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity. Currently, Auroville consists of around 3000 members from over 60 countries, and a transient population of over 2000. There are many small enterprises that pay particular attention work-life balance and environmental sustainability as well as grassroots charity projects to help the local community with health and education.

Why would a framework about how to respond to an experience or anticipation of societal disruption and collapse matter to us here? The community has a history of harsh disruptions, including tsunamis and cyclones. We have also rejected in a fundamental way the forms of economics and business that have dominated globalization over recent decades. Perhaps, therefore, we are the kind of people who can welcome new ideas about how to find a new path beyond ideologies of material progress. Looking back, a key moment was a conference held in the French Pavilion in Auroville on collapsology by Daniel Rodary and friends. After this, a series of ‘collapso-coffee’ sessions were held, where interested community members gathered and shared their insights and feelings about the possibility or inevitability of societal collapse. Given our difficulty with water shortages, workshops on the water situation in Auroville were also held, and gave a more tangible and immediate focus for how we can begin to prepare for increasing disruptions.

Young people seemed more easily able to embrace the possibility of collapse and begin to respond in creative ways. Significant interest came from Youth Link, a unit of Auroville run by the youth that engages young people from within Auroville and the wider bioregion. They invited me to facilitate some processes and provide emotional support for a week-long engagement of Youth on Collapsology. Meeting these young people helped me begin my own journey with these concepts and the emerging network on Deep Adaptation in Southern India.

In addition to the role of young people in getting this work going, there has been important sharing of ideas internationally. I remember one collapso-coffee gathering in 2019 where we heard from Gail and Michael Shaw about how they had used the Deep Adaptation framework with community members in Findhorn, Scotland, to shift attention to readying for increasing disruptions and change.They had first discovered Professor Jem Bendell’s work through the collapsology group in Auroville, and so now having returned to Auroville, encouraged us to explore its potential in the Indian context. They explained how they had brought the Findhorn community together for a workshop on the four questions of Deep Adaptation (DA) recommended by Jem Bendell. They then divided the work between different groups in Findhorn to bring these deep adaptation principles to practice in areas like energy, food, water, and shelter.

When Gail and Michael shared their experience with us during that gathering, it helped us, as a group, to shift from thinking about impending doom to possibilities for the future. We realized that the Deep Adaptation framework could help us switch from fears and complaints into exploring creatively ideas for becoming more ‘collapse-ready’. The shift in energy of the group was palpable, and there was unanimous agreement to embark on a similar trajectory in Auroville. We decided to rename the group as Deep Adaptation Auroville, and agreed to pass along Jem’s paper and have conversations around it with as many people as each of us could, and invite them to the next meeting.

Soon we had to find a bigger venue, as the attendance tripled, then quadrupled. With the help of Michael and Gail, we organised a workshop where we worked on the Deep Adaptation questions. In terms of the present global crisis, What do we want to keep? What do we want to let go of? What do we want to restore? And what – or with whom – do we need to make peace with? We ended up with a series of responses for each question, which we prioritized. This has resulted in the formation of action groups on topics like food, water and emotional support. Collaborations with initiatives such as Citizen’s assembly in Auroville also began.  It has been interesting and quite inspiring to see that the leadership within this network has seen many shifts, and to me, represents a healthy system where those who are drawn to a particular aspect, and have the time, energy and passion to lead that aspect can step up and start a movement towards what is required. I believe that the emphasis within the Deep Adaptation ethos that we begin by engaging each other in deep dialogue that recognises multiple possible responses to our predicament, without one right answer or an expert to tell us exactly what to do, has been key to enabling this emergent leadership. 

Jem’s concept of Deep Adaptation asks big questions of us and shakes the fundamental core of assumptions we may have about our existence on this planet. While exploring these fundamental questions, and considering systemic shifts within Auroville and the bioregion, we struggled and found it challenging to reconcile between individual transformation and action and making changes at a systemic level. As a community, Auroville has focussed on individual transformation and evolution of consciousness since its inception. The current planetary crisis, and the work of deeply adapting to a changing world requires us to also promote a collective shift in consciousness. We were exploring this slowly, finding our way in the dark, stumbling and holding each other up, when an immediate crisis came knocking at our door in the form a new respiratory virus.

This propelled the beginning of another chapter in the story of Deep Adaptation in Auroville, where members from the group stepped up to help the community adapt to the quickly changing social circumstances in response to the virus. As government-imposed lockdowns and social isolation became the norm, members of the DA group spontaneously started forming small groups and activities to help the situation. Leadership emerged, focussing on immediate needs and logistics. Under the expert guidance of Damien Navineau and Laurence de Junnemann, a successful fundraising initiative to help the migrant workers in Pondicherry was established along with collaboration with the Auroville COVID taskforce to help the community organise itself during lockdowns. Helping with delivery of essentials, organising volunteers, and collaborating with initiatives such as the community permaculture gardens. We also created the Deep Adaptation listening group to cope with social isolation. More recently, initiatives abound the waste situation in and around Auroville have emerged, through a DA Waste solutions initiative that organizes collaborative efforts for a more circular economy, in association with groups such as Waste without Borders.

As we make way for our human story to move forward on our dear planet, we have to forge new paths, and step in to the future without a roadmap, but a clear intention to explore a more beautiful way of human existence. Deep Adaptation in Auroville is still finding its way, slowly, but steadily, adding it’s little pieces to a different story of hope to the one’s that no longer inspire.  If you share this hope that we may all find ways to do what is right by others, whatever the circumstances, then I encourage you to reach out in solidarity with the Deep Adaptation group of Southern India.

3 thoughts on “A Different Kind of Hope with #DeepAdaptation in Southern India”

  1. Thank you for this lovely post! I wonder if you might know some dear ones in Auroville, Sheetal S or Deven S?

  2. I loved hearing about the thoughtful work that’s going on around Auroville. I had the pleasure of Meeting Daniel Rodery once, to hear him discuss some of these ideas, back in 2019. Wish I lived nearer by you and had the opportunity to participate in your efforts. Wish you all the best in your endeavors and explorations. —Usha Alexander

  3. What a beautifully written post about the deeply meaningful work happening in Auroville. Thank you!

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