Sunday, May 10, 2015


Looking back on my project, there are some things that I'm really proud of, but defiantly some parts I should have put more work into.

I am very happy with how my project grew and changed over the year.  I began the year with my project centered around a trip to India, and as I did research,  I became increasingly interested in the meditative practices I will be a part of.  I found my focus shift more to the practices and using them as an outlet of stress than to my planning.  This couldn't have been better timed, because this year has been extremely busy, and the meditation has really helped me push through it without going insane.  It's been an unexpected but welcome benefit of 20 Time, and one I hope to continue past this year.

While my focus shifted to spirituality, it also shifted away from planning (maybe why I've been so relaxed. . . ).  I regret not being more active in making school arrangements for my trip.  Looking back, it would have made it a lot easier to talk to school administrators and counselors about missing so much school earlier, and I'm going to have to work harder to get it cleared now.  I also neglected fundraising more than I would have liked to.  I have started to save up and am getting a job this summer to add to my funds, but haven't started crowd funding or fundraising through my church yet.  My procrastination in planning means more work for me over the next few months, and I wish I had done more during the year.

Even through the procrastination, I feel that I have grown immensely.  I have learned to better handle my stress, which is no small feat.  I have burdened myself with a very heavy schedule lately, and knowing that I can fall back on reflection and meditation has made me slower to freak out and more apt to slow down and think.  Though it was not the original plan for my project, I'm glad that I ended up here rather than stressed but planned out.

20 Time may not have left me where I though it would, and I still have a long way to go on my original goal, but to me it has been a great growing experience and has given me a knew view of how I learn.

Monday, March 23, 2015


This week I didn't have much spare time to work on my project, much less spare time to meditate.  It was surprising to me to see how much it affected my attitude during the rest of my day.  I hadn't really realized how much less built up stress I have since beginning to meditate, and not having time to spend not thinking about a test or a project really made me feel bogged down.  It makes me happy that this project has helped me to become a less stressed person, and that I will continue to benefit from it past just my 20 time this year.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Dhamma Brothers

This weekend I watched a documentary on Vipassana meditation, the ten day part of my trip that will be spent in silence and extensive meditation.  The documentary was called Dhamma Brothers, and followed a group of prisoners in a maximum security prison in Alabama that went through a vigorous Vipassana program.  Seeing the struggle the men went through during the silence and contemplation makes me wonder if I am mentally strong enough to go through Vipassana.  Though the struggle is intimidating, the outcome looks hugely successful.  Seeing hardened criminals become introspective, calm people makes me hopeful that my own meditation will be a meaningful and lasting part of my life.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Last week I went up north to Frankfort, Michigan for vacation.  While I couldn't do much research or planning with no WiFi and spotty service, it did give me a better idea of what life at the ashram will be like.  Limited access to my phone and friends was very different, and I found it easier to focus on what was going on around me rather than on social media.  The frozen lake was also a very nice place to practice meditation.

Monday, February 9, 2015


This week I did some research on the meditation and reflection focused on at Shantivanam.  Though the ashram is not devoted to one religion, it believes that meditation is important to all spirituality. Central to this ideal is the Hindu practice of Sannyasa.  This lifestyle revolves around simplicity, including life without excess and even eating with the hand.  The goal of this simplicity is to focus less on the present material world and more on being.  This is reflected on in sunrise and sunset meditation hours as well as group readings and hymns.  While I am at the ashram, there will also be a ten day period of silence.  This means we will not speak and focus on meditative exercises.  I am excited to discover a more contemplative way of life, but the I'm also getting a little nervous that I might not be cut out for ten days of silence. Better brush up on my meditation skills!

Monday, January 26, 2015


These last couple weeks have been hectic with the end of the semester and midterms. I've been swamped with work and combined with rowing practice and indoor regattas, I haven't been able to get much done on my 20 time project.  My schedule for the next few weeks should allow for more time to work.  In the near future, I'd like to figure out how I'm going to fit a month-long trip into my school year.  If the last few weeks have been any indicator, it may be tough to work it in.  I'm also looking into fundraising options.  The crowd-funding app Tilt has caught my eye and I'd like to find out more about how successful Tilt campaigns are and if my trip would be eligible.  

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Social Outreach

During my two weeks off of school, I made it my goal to find out more about the effects the Hindu caste system still have in modern India.  The caste system divides largely Hindu populations like India into social classes, the bottom-most being the 'untouchables'.  Untouchables, also called dalits, are said to have committed heinous sins in past lives, and must repent as members of a class that people of higher castes are not supposed to even look at. Although caste discrimination is legally outlawed, its presence is still undeniable in employment rates, violent crime, and education.

When speaking to Rev. Riegel, I discovered that caste desparities are especially evident in rural villages and agricultural communities like Tannirpalli, the home village of Shantivanam.  He told me that in the village, there was a stone wall built to divide the brahmin (upper class) neighborhood from the homes of the untouchables. One side of the wall is the home of 'modern' India, with the homes of business owners and easy access to education and aid, and one is made up of the huts and meager homes of the untouchables.  The wall is a clear dividing line between the quality of life, and those who live and work at the ashram are trying hard to close the gap.

Current social outreach from Shantivanam covers education, healthcare, and spirituality.  The part of my stay at the ashram not dedicated solely to spirituality and meditation will be devoted to supporting these social justice programs. Volunteers from the ashram work to educate untouchable children in hopes of social mobility and opportunity to work.  A home for the destitute elderly is also run by Shantivanam, taking care of those who usually would not be able to stop working.  These projects are ongoing, as well as building housing to accommodate dalit homeless.