2022 is coming to a close while my husband and daughter are cooking Vegan French Onion Soup and Vegan Kugelis in the kitchen for our last meal together before the kiddo flies to California for New Year’s Eve with her friends. We have had individually and as a family many joys and challenges this year and spending the past week and a half together has been the reset we all needed. As we prepare for the year ahead of us, we think back to what we experienced this year, knowing that despite any challenges we have had (most not listed here due to personal privacy), we still are more fortunate that families in Pakistan who lost homes due to severe flooding, parents selling kidneys and daughters for food in Afghanistan, the trauma and horrors of war in Ukraine, starvation in Somalia (with official famine projected in the coming months), and many more around the globe.
We started off the year still seeking answers to Matthew’s hospitalization in 2021 due to a mystery illness that was affecting his organs. By the beginning of the year, an unrelated diagnosis was issued that would have minimal effects now but would in the future - Monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS). We learned that Matthew would now be monitored for life for this precancer that one day would turn into a blood cancer. When this would happen, no one could tell us, but we were prepared with monitoring and plans for the future. Later on in the year, Matthew would experience the joy of seeing an indie feature-length film he co-wrote, Turbo Cola, in a screening and learned that writer/director Kevin Smith liked the film. Matthew also completed shots on a short he wrote and filmed pre-pandemic, The Littlest Ghosthunter, and wrote the feature length version of the film, while also starting on his next feature length film script.
Vi also made her film debut with a short horror flick, Siren, that she co-wrote and acted in. She also spent her time in California volunteering at the bunny shelter, BUNS. Midway through her Masters in Social Work program, she was finally able to attend classes in person at University of Hawai’i Manoa and moved to Oahu. Within a month she moved in and out of dorms (housing shortage) and then into a shared apartment a half hour from Waikiki with her bunnies, Toni and Braxton. Braxton still has not forgiven her, but she is working on it. She has been spending her free time as a social butterfly befriending so many amazing people, raving, learning about Hawaiian culture. She has taken up fire dancing, has interned at a mental-health facility and a family court for at-risk youth, and volunteers regularly for programs that focus on cleaning up streams and Surfrider Spirit Sessions where she teaches at-risk youth how to surf. All of this with a 4.0.
For me, 28 years after I started my B.A. I finally graduated Summa Cum Laude with a B.A. in Art History and a minor in Anthropology. I also started my path as a graduate student in Arizona State University’s Master of Science Global Health program. I hope to focus on the intersection of food/health/climate change but have been doing research and writing papers on Zika virus and Diarrhoeal disease in children in Indonesia. This year I also shifted positions at the library moving into a programmer role where I get to read stories to young children and share cultural and STEM programs. I continued my work as a Grader for ASU and was just awarded in the position of Research Assistant for a USDA-funded research program into the livelihood of farmers as tied to farmers markets across the country.
Outside of academia and work, I launched a food-drive yoga class to support Allison Hill Ministries, held Satsangs and workshops on Ayurveda, joined Kula Kamala Foundation and Yoga Ashram for kirtan at a Holi event and Earth Day Festival, in-house kirtans, a personal retreat, kirtan support for Mirabai Moon, and facilitated a kirtan weekend workshop. I offered yogasana at Swami Sankarananda's Pennsylvania retreat, learned how to completely disassemble (and fortunately reassemble) a simple harmonium, tended to our garden, apprenticed under the amazing Dayananda Das for sound at the ashram, and Swamini Ji taught me how to make Swami Adhyatmananda Ji’s famous cheelas.
Our family also shifted and changed as our youngest nephew moved in with us weekdays, our dearest chicken, Princess Fiona died, we became first time rat owners when a pregnant neighbor needed to rehome a rat (new allergies she developed during pregnancy). Petal was a senior and didn’t live too long, but she was a super cool being that taught us so much.
This year coming out of the pandemic, we didn’t do as much volunteering as we usually do, but Matthew made sure to share our duck eggs with Allison Hill Ministries dropping them off every 3 weeks, as well as volunteering for all of my children’s events at the library. We did a donation drive at home and partnered with Kula Kamala for a larger one for St. Anne's Ukranian Catholic Church to send to Ukrainian refugees. We also volunteered at the new farmer’s market in Camp Hill, protested the SCOTUS ruling on abortion at the state capital, and signed up to host an Afghanistan refugee in our home.
One thing I came to understand this year was my spiritual name. It was a beautiful name given to me by Soni Anderson many years ago in India and with her passing, has become one of my most treasured gifts in this life. In September, the name was given to me again by my Guruji, Swamini Shraddhananda Saraswati Ji with the addition of Devi at the end. Jyoti has always been translated as “light,” and in the New Age and Western interpretation has always been associated with only positivity. However, light is not positive or negative in its existence. That comes from our own interpretation. Light itself, when viewed, is electromagnetic radiation. It is where it is, when it is, without concern for how we feel about it. It exists whether we acknowledge it or not. Where light gets associated with positivity is how it permits us to see in the dark, which due to our human eyes, can be quite scary in unknown circumstances. However, what I have come to understand this year is that light makes that which was hidden seen. Those that know me are never surprised by my blatant truth with what is always happening (chocolate be damned!) despite how we might want to turn a blind eye to truths. I hope to always see what is hidden by preferences and ease and be a witness to what is and an active participant in easing the suffering of others.
As we move into 2023, I find myself in blissful awe of the gifts I may receive and hope to embrace those I do not know about with as much grace. I will be at the ashram almost every month offering seva, kirtan, and workshops on a variety of topics. In May we will be heading to Hawai’i for my daughter’s graduation. In June I head to Indonesia to live there for the summer as part of my graduate work where I will be conducting “radical listening sessions” and prepare the groundwork for surveys on organic farming and the perception of its link to health. I’ll be deep in the rainforest with lots of mosquitos, orangutans, and thousands of other species. In October, I will be accompanying Swamini Ji on a group trip to India. In December, I should be, fingers crossed, graduating before heading onto a second masters or PhD program. I also hope to continue to offer food-drive yoga classes, kirtans, workshops, and Satsangs on the East Coast throughout the year.
Wishing you good health, prosperity, and peace in the coming year.
Jyoti Ma Devi