Just north of the Lakshman Jhulla Bridge in Rishikesh, up the stairs from the German Bakery and past the bends and twists of Tapovan, you find the Garden of Eden. It is a surprising place to find paradise, in the middle of dung fires, mangy stray dogs and dust storms. But nevertheless there it is. Ramana’s Garden. Home for Destitute Children, as the sign says.
When I first heard of the orphanage in town, I had images of Oliver Twist and a dark nightmare out of Charles Dickens, where children are punished when they ask for more food. India constantly surprises. Just when you expect to see the worst of everything, you come upon the best. An American woman started Ramana’s Garden twenty years ago because she thought she could make a difference. And what a difference she made.
There are gardens sprouting everywhere, growing the organic produce fed to the children and used to make food in their café, which supports the running of the orphanage. The children themselves are smiling and laughing, and game to join you for a dance or a joke. There is a playground, schoolrooms, and even a yoga hall.
In this yoga hall, I taught Kundalini yoga to the children. Yogis all, some could do advanced asana such as arm balances, and most of them were familiar with the most common Kundalini mantras, seasoned by volunteers from years past. It was not difficult to get them to pay attention or stay interested. They were so excited to be doing yoga.
When they discovered that my iphone took video after class one day, I became an instant Bollywood producer. Each little girl wanted her own solo dance scene. There was so much love and so much joy, you would never know what hard lives they had already lived.
You would never know that the little girl dancing the bhangra for my iphone video had been found unconscious after having been ganged raped in a Delhi bathroom by the men her father sold her to. You wouldn’t think that the boy who could do such good headstands in yoga class got those scars on his head when the Maoists set him on fire. You couldn’t know. They have such a special glow and sweetness to them. They live in the now moment, and that moment is now good.
While I taught them yoga, the children taught me to live in the now. I hope I have been a good student. I hope I have been able to integrate some of their precious wisdom. Let the past go. Let the drama drain out of you. Find the grace of God in the present moment. Listen to the sound of your breath. Marvel at it. Smile at it. Dance with it. Let the beauty that can be found in the most unlikely places on this planet take root in your heart and bloom into a Garden of Eden wherever you are.
You can help Ramana’s Garden by making a donation at www.friendsramanasgarden.org