It has been exactly one year since the announcement of Hridaya Yoga’s new project “Ramana Village” caused a wave of excitement and enthusiasm throughout the sangha. The vision of new Hridaya Center in Europe that, in addition to offering courses and retreats, would have ample space to develop permaculture gardens and host a community of yogis living and working together resonated with the dreams and aspirations of many.
It seems to be a natural process. After going deep into silence and the absorption in the Heart, at some point the urge comes to step out, to act, to take this bliss, this causeless happiness, love, and peace into the world, to make it manifest and bring harmony and awareness into all areas of life.
The shades and directions that this inspiration takes are probably very individual. For me, there were two essential components. First, I felt the need to share the message of the Heart, to create the conditions for others to come into Presence (which is why I took the Hridaya Teacher Training Course). Second, I felt the need to reconsider the way we, as human beings, interact with this planet that we walk on: the way we use its resources, the way we fulfill our basic physical needs (food and shelter), and, last but certainly not least, the way we interact with each other.
Why? Because I feel we can do better. We can relate to Mother Nature with less greed and more care and devotion. We can come to a humble, yet joyful, simplicity by living in cozy houses made of materials that nature provides and eating food that was grown under our care in soil whose fertility is preserved through natural processes. An immediate joy comes from this pure interaction with the elements, caressing the earth with our hands, listening to the rain falling gently on the ground (and the stillness between the raindrops…), feeling the warmth of the sun and the touch of the wind on our skin…
In order to provide the richer countries with the multitude of affordable products that we have become used to, the globalized economy exploits the Earth’s raw materials and the workforce in poorer countries. This causes environmental disaster and keeps large numbers of people in a kind of modern slavery. The more I become aware of this, the more compassion demands that I step out of these systems and look for fairer, more local ways to obtain the things I need. And, it also inspires me to need less, to challenge my habits, to simplify, to purify…
So, Ramana Village will be a place where meditation and conscious action come together. It will be a place where we free the concept of “work” from limiting and alienating paradigms. A home where we rediscover the authentic joy that lies in any activity when it comes from the Heart and is dedicated to the benefit of all beings.
What Has Happened During the Last Year to Realize the Vision of Ramana Village?
As our chosen area of focus in looking for land was Portugal, my beloved partner María and I made our way there just after summer solstice last year. We had offered ourselves as pioneers in this quest as we have a longstanding affection for the country and some knowledge of Portuguese. We had the intention of finding a place to settle in Europe anyway, so this offering came quite naturally.
We spent the following seven weeks exploring several areas in Portugal, from south to north. We lived out of a car, camping on lakeshores and river banks, meeting old friends, making new connections, driving some 15,000 kilometers (9,300 miles), and of course, looking at land!
Nobody had prepared us for this search. We had no experience with real estate, and there was not yet a very clear vision of what we were looking for (except for approximate size and price). So, there was a lot of surrender to our pure intention and a lot of learning along the way.
One key factor that it took us until very recently to clarify was the optimal climate we were seeking. We started our search in the south because of the obvious preference for mild winters. But, we found ourselves arriving during a weeks-long heat wave. Daytime temperatures were 40-45 degrees Celsius (104-113 degrees Fahrenheit) and hot winds blew in our faces like hair dryers. We saw properties where the vegetation would completely dry out in the summer months and that had only a few trees to provide the shade necessary to survive even one hour without heat stroke!
Going further north, we found lusher environments and greater availability of water. But, a look into climate statistics promised colder winters and a lot of rain. So, where to find the perfect balance?
Another factor that took faaaaar more of our attention and energy than expected was the “science” of building laws. Portugal is one of the more liberal countries in Europe in regards to building on rural soil. For example, in neighboring Spain, building on rural land is almost completely forbidden! However, with integration in the European Union, things have become more regulated even in Portugal. We very quickly had to learn about the meaning of “REN” (Ecological Reserve) and “RAN” (Agricultural Reserve), designations that often put an end to any emerging dreams of sprouting Ramana Village on a particular property. A challenge in this context was that each council has its own rules. The inhabitants of a council could also have very particular ways of dealing with the rules. The most creative proposal was that we could make up a fake “ruin” on land that had no building license, and then ask for official permission to restore the ruin!
We Find the Heart Land… Almost…
At the end of July, some magic happened. We stepped out of the universe of real estate agents and just followed a tip from a local who showed us some ruins on Google Maps. Navigating on dirt roads, we reached the location and, to our amazement, found the PERFECT spot for our project. It was a group of around seven semi-decayed houses overlooking a lush meadow bordered by two small rivers. On the other shore of one of the rivers were another house and more meadows. It was all set in an idyllic valley covered in pine trees, about 1 kilometer from the next village (i.e., isolated enough, but still within walking distance).
We explored a bit, did a consecration, said a prayer for the land, and quickly returned to the village to inquire about the owner. The first person we asked pointed out that we could easily find him — at a funeral! So, we had our first conversation at the gate of the churchyard, struggling to understand the difficult country accent of the owner.
We held this land in our hearts for almost three months. It even had the shape of a heart! After four more visits (one of them with Sahajananda) and several meetings with the owners around their kitchen table (getting sugar overload from pink cookies), we had to let it go. It was a typical Portuguese story. The plot of land consisted of two properties. One was owned by a group of nine brothers. The other was owned by six brothers, most of whom lived in Brazil, Switzerland, and France. It proved impossible to have all of them agree on a sale. The area also promised long, cold, rainy winters…
It was unexpectedly difficult to find the kind of land we were seeking. We discovered what a disastrous impact EU subvention (subsidy) policies and the mentality of seeing nature primarily as a monetary resource have had on the Portuguese landscape. Its typically Atlantic climate (a combination of sun and rain) makes Portugal very suitable to grow eucalyptus, which is predominantly used to produce toilet paper. EU directives and the aggressive initiatives of the paper industry have led to almost completely replacing Portugal’s indigenous oak, chestnut, and pine forests with endless eucalyptus plantations. This leaves the soil sterile and prone to erosion and provides a very poor habitat for wildlife.
As winter came, we decided to settle in Portugal in order to continue the search and connect more with the country. After our driving experience last summer, there was a need to make our efforts more efficient. So, we resorted to doing more investigation on the phone. As we made our inquiries, another challenge arose: how could we get information about any “weak points” of a property from a person that wants to sell it?
We developed an elaborate 58-point checklist. To get half of the information we sought required an average of five phone calls! Yet, in spite of our efforts, we still had more than one surprise. For example, it turned out that 95% of the gigantic 184-hectare property at the end of the world whose stunning photos featured a beautiful river and lake was actually an endless desert of rocks! And, a promised 22-bedroom, ready-built retreat center was located just underneath two giant steel towers bearing a high-voltage electricity line!
Even though these were disappointments, they were still more entertaining than settling into what became our daily “office” routine of going through online offers, making phone calls, doing detective work on Google Earth, studying zoning maps and building regulations, considering, discarding, reconsidering… We ended many nights with square eyes, our spirits only buoyed by our yearning to find a home for our community.
The most recent chapter of our search took us beyond Portugal. From the beginning, we had known about the possibility of buying entire abandoned villages in Spain, mostly in its most northwestern region, Galicia. We hesitated for a long time because of its reputation for rainy weather. But, in February we decided to give it a chance. We figured that with the greenhouse effect it is getting warmer everywhere, so better to be in a place where this is welcome than in a place that is already an oven, right?
Online research quickly presented no fewer than three promising properties. All of them had a lot of pre-existing construction (a must in Spain, where constructing new buildings on rural land is next to impossible), rivers, lush meadows, oak forests…
So, after another 700-kilometer (435-mile) drive, we arrived at Maribel’s family home in Galicia. Together with her and her father, we went to see these properties. At first sight, two of them seemed very suitable. One even had a big cow barn (our yoga hall-to-be!), and its river had a stunning waterfall! Its main issue was that the land around the houses was divided into a patchwork of about 100 small plots, some of which belonged to other people. So, in order to get suitable acreage, we would have had to buy some land from these people as well. This seemed solvable, however, so we had Antoaneta stop by on her way to Mexico. Two weeks later, Dominik and Lisa flew in from Mexico.
In the end, we had to let go again. Data from a nearby weather station showed us a scary 1,600-millimeter (630-inch) annual rainfall, and a total of only about 1,800 sunshine hours. While we were still debating if this was acceptable, one of the other owners declared that she would not do business with us, and without her plots buying land there made no sense.
Going Back the Way we Came
This is where we are now. “Going back the way we came,” and reconsidering Portugal. It seems we have more trust in bearing with three months of living in an oven than with three months of living in a cloudy fridge. We hope to find a place with more water in the mountainous areas of southern Portugal.
Our initial enthusiasm and excitement have given way to a healthy respect of what it means to set up a project of this size in a European context. We continue with optimism and determination. This kind of project is so very needed in Europe.
Right now, we are taking a breather. The search will continue throughout the summer, and we so hope to be on the land before next winter.
If you feel a resonance with this project, please hold it in your prayers. May there be a strong intention among all of us to help this flower blossom!
Kilian is a Hridaya teacher and a driving force behind the Ramana Village project.
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