"My granny was active all her life. If there was a great feast, she didn't just call the young girls and say, 'You do the work.' She said, 'Help me,' and seated together they would slice great piles of okra, eggplant, and green beans — enough for our whole joint family, which numbered about a hundred people. Slowly, one by one, the girls would say, 'Granny, I'm falling asleep!' And she would smile and say, 'Go to bed then.' Toward the end she might be seated there alone, chopping and slicing until daybreak. When my mother would come and ask, 'Wouldn't you like to sleep now?' Granny would reply, 'Isn't it time to go to the temple?' And that would be the beginning of another day.

"In a village society that expected an aristocratic family like mine to rely on servants, my granny really stood out. 'She milks her own cows!' people would say. And she could have had the cowherd do it. More than that, when necessary she would clean the cowshed with her own hands. When I asked her, 'Granny, why don't you let Appu do it?' She told me, 'The cows give us milk. They help take care of us; shouldn't I help take care of them?' She also enjoyed a pithy Kerala saying: 'Your own gums are better than somebody else's teeth.' She was always independent, and she liked hard work.

"Sometimes there is a misconception about the spiritual person: an image of someone who is nice enough, but who doesn't get much done. This couldn't be farther from the truth. When you meditate deeply, you get into danger if you just stop acting. You need meaningful, engaging work, work that adds to the benefit of all. When you have gone a little way in meditation, instead of rushing about doing a myriad different things, you learn to act efficiently in ways that are harmonious with your goal; you don't waste time and energy on meaningless activity. You become very active, but in a controlled, focused way. This compatibility of action and contemplation is one of the little known secrets of the meditative life."