Our driver with gestures and mimics asked us, are we sure that this is the place. Back in Seoul, he picked us up from the petrol station, tried to figure out translator on his phone, failed to do it, and so we drove for over 2 hours listening to Korean radio stations. The night full of insect and bird sounds welcomed us to our destination. Very anxious about our first work exchange experience, we knocked on the gate and soon were invited inside. The next two weeks in this place were quite a quiet, purifying and magical time in which we learned much more than we’ve expected.
After finishing our long, wild road in Russia, for the first time, it was time to have a small pause – settle down somewhere for 2 weeks and do some good work. While searching for the right offer on work exchange sites, we stumbled upon the one which seemed perfect for us. Compactly – organic farm work with some yoga lessons in the rural location. At the spot we’ve learned that it’s much more than that – the place we stayed was actually Ananda Marga Yoga & Meditation Center. What’s Ananda Marga? In short, worldwide socio-spiritual organisation that was founded by Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar in India in 1955, but at the same time it’s the name of practical philosophy propounded by the founder. We believe that not specifying this information in the offer is a good thing since the volunteers can make of it as much as they wish. Basically, there’s always work at the farm and in your free time, if you’re willing to learn about Ananda Marga in a very wide sense, there, like nowhere else you have the opportunity. If you’re not that interested, there’s no pressure at all. As much as we respect this climate, we would very much encourage everyone to use their time well there – and learn. We find the knowledge we gained in the Centre to be very precious and practical.
It was an honour for us to meet our hosts, Dada and Bodhideva, the teacher and his helper. Dada is the master of Ananda Marga Unit in Korea and although he is a busy man, almost every evening he found time for us to share his knowledge and teach us a lot (about which we’ll write more later). Bodhideva, a younger fellow was the one to instruct us at work and introduce to tasks in the garden. He’s kind, understanding and intriguing, being a student of agriculture at university in Jeonju, here at the Centre he has possibilities to try out and experiment with things in practice, on the land. We listened to him wondering and considered the solutions for the garden. After a few days we were joined by another couple of travellers – Wes and Jez from Texas, we enjoyed the trips and time spent together very much (cheers guys!).
Definitely big advantage of this place was its location – completely rural, nestled among the forested low mountains with some crop fields around it. Here and there were other houses of the farmers, smaller cities could be reached with a longer walk, and the big one (Jeonju) with 40 minutes drive. As for October, air there felt almost exotic for us, but that’s maybe because we were coming from Siberia. It was humid and misty, but once the sun rose over the ridge it was getting hot. Not only us seemed to enjoy it, huge bees and spiders could be observed, also much more pleasant for the eye – praying mantises. We were also told to watch out for snakes, but the only ones we saw were sadly dead by the road. Bird songs never stopped, they dined on the persimmon, which out of all the places in the world we know, there it’s most abundant. We enjoyed their taste every day from matured ones – soft and sweet, to those less developed with a texture of an apple. During our multiple walks, we admired persimmon orchards and their dark green leaves contrasting with orange fruit.
Our temporary house was charming! Round, built with clay and wood. Inside we could lay on the very warm floor with, characteristic for Korea, ondol – heating system. We had there everything we needed and were well rested for every next day.
Two weeks went so fast there! We woke up early, ate breakfast and prepared ourselves for work. 5 hours for 5 days per week – intensity varying depending on the task. At the Centre there was a small organic garden and the greenhouse. We took care of creepers, made some soil beds for winter, harvested sweet potato, peeled taro stems and dried it with harvested sesame. Beside that there were some house works like painting the walls and fixing the shelf. For us to do the work felt just so good. Although sometimes it got quite intensive and sweaty, it’s so rewarding and joyful to stay close to the earth, dirt, and do things. Sounds of the shovels and insects, local older farmer ladies with their backs bent over and big sun hats, from time to time a cooling breeze falling from the mountain. Sometimes it felt like time would slow down, while doing repetitive tasks we would be getting flashbacks of what we experienced in the last few months. Here it was the time to gain new skills, but also finally to realize and somehow to sort all the new memories and moments from the road.
After the work we took shifts to make lunch, just like with the dinner, almost all of the ingredients were from the garden itself. Ananda Marga might feel for some quite strict (no meat, no onion and garlic) but it was an interesting opportunity to find new solutions in cooking while discovering new taste of dishes. We tried our best to make it tasty for the rest, still we could not compete with their skills, every meal was just so delicious!
After the lunch we were free to do what we like which often time was just chilling or longer walks in the area. Honestly, we thought we would have more time-to-do-nothing, so we could for example, write some blog posts… but time was passing fast and the surroundings had a lot of gems to check out! Mountain tops, forests, Buddhist monasteries, smaller towns and of course bigger city, Jeonju. All of them are quite nearby and to get to them, we used mostly hitchhiking, which worked like a charm (well.. maybe except for the times it got dark).
Our favorite time in Ananda Marga Center though, was the time with Dada. Almost every day for 1,5 hours he gave us private lessons of yoga, meditation and self massaging technique. Except for that we enjoyed the dances, singing and long conversations. Although our time was limited it feels like we learned a lot and made progress each evening. Dada is an amazing person and a great teacher. He was happy to share his wisdom, which is vast but never overshadowing his humour and young full of energy spirit. To ask him any simple question is not an awkward thing – he will take time to answer and won’t rush. His step by step lessons on meditations preceded with yoga let us clarify and calm our minds. We both loved the moments of deep silent meditation in the dark, in front of the mountainous night landscape behind the big window. After 2 weeks time it felt like we made a strong bond with Dada, it was not easy for us to say goodbye to him and express how thankful we are.
This mix of farm work, yoga, meditation and healthy diet was something that we very much needed, not only after a months long journey, but in life itself. In future we wish to pay a visit to the Ananda Marga Centre again – maybe the one in Korea, maybe somewhere else as there are many organisations centres world wide. Thank you Dada and Bothistava for the wonderful time and memories for a lifetime!