Monthly Archives: January 2014

Clash of the Coconuts

om frogAs meditators, we spend many hours, inwardly gazing at the ocean of karma that crashes against our insides. But no matter how strong the need becomes, to understand our idiosyncrasies and undo suffering, we must not lose touch with the outside world. Sure it is nice to find that perfect, quiet spot where the world leaves us alone once in a while. But it is wise to remember that meditation is a means to an end, a way of finding peace with the other – whoever that may be. Only then can we find true unity.
Of course, it is not easy to ‘find’ peace and even more so when we go looking for it! I liken the seeker of peace, through meditation, to the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The golden ticket is the prize that every child in the land seeks, but it seems the more they search, the less chance they have of finding it! Then, along comes Charlie, he throws his faith into the wind. He knows that buying a winning ticket is not something he can will, but it is something he can enjoy, regardless of the outcome.
Through meditation, we become more like Charlie; we forget the ‘prize’ and simply remain aware of the process. Here, our afflictions to peace are revealed, and we learn to drop them one by one. We do this by observing our thoughts and witnessing the presence of our karma. We notice the disturbance this brings and allow any aversions we have to come through. Next, through the breath, we release anything other than peace – all that we are not. A peaceful, compassionate state becomes the by-product of our observations.
But that’s not the end of it! Next comes the tricky part, integration. How to remain peaceful and compassionate in daily living? Like anything worth working hard for, the process can be challenging. It matters not how peaceful you are inside the outside world will do its best to stretch you. The real work begins at the parameter of our inner world; here we build a bridge to the outside world. The two must merge. To remain inwardly focused is not the life of a liberated human being.

 

Imagine the scenario: you are on a tropical Island and have found the perfect meditation spot. Here, palms sway gently back and forth as the sea breeze cools your skin. The only person in your vicinity is a local man perched high-up in a tree picking coconuts. You sit down breath in the salty air and go inward; it is so much easier when in paradise. After a short period, it seems bliss is well within your grasp. You are in perfect harmony with your environment – or are you?
You cannot believe it; a voice appears, ‘Excuse me sir’. Your heart jolts, causing your nerve ends to tingle, but you try to remain poised. This is your time and nothing will disturb you. Your inner voice tells you; it is probably some fellow selling beads or possibly a beggar. You remain steadfast! And so, the outside world continues turning while you get back to your inner work. But seconds seem like hours and you cannot maintain focus. Your inner and outer worlds are in conflict, and there is no escaping this. Something is not right; you open your eyes, and there standing in front of you is a man waving a machete. His limited English affords him, a second excuse me sir. He then points to a rope dangling from a cluster of Coconuts in the tree he has just climbed from. When released the coconuts could swing in your direction, which would result in your head being removed from your shoulders. You jump to your feet as though you have sat on a termites nest. Thus confirms, your stubbornness to remain locked in peace was anything but harmonious…

It is a good job someone was practicing momentary awareness.
It happens – it happened to me. (lesson learn’t : go inwards by all means, but remain aware of the outer world).

Sleeping with the Enemy

A ‘crash’ course in yoga, to prevent you from crashing

If you ever had the pleasure of visiting South India, you will know how important it is to protect yourself from what is commonly known as the ‘Mozzi’. Apart from the fact that these little critters transmit disease, they can devour a human, like a shoal of piranha, in seconds (ok, I slightly exaggerate). Due to this antagonising little shit, it is best that the traveller lay under a net at bedtime. That is, if he or she aims to sleep with any degree of comfort. It matters not if you take a room of the highest standard or the highest floor; the ‘Mozzi’ likes its ancestor the ‘Nazzi’ will do its best to bring you suffering.

So, we make our bed and we lay in it. In this case, you have surrounded yourself with protective netting to avoid being ravished!  Your safe haven is so well made that a herd of Elephants couldn’t penetrate it (there I go again). There are no gaps and no way, even the most cunning of mosquitoes’ could enter. But, there is a problem; you closed your fortress doors with a ‘Nazzi’ inside. And, this blood thirsty beast has the intention of you becoming a pin cushion, by morning you will look like you have the mumps. My point is this: you may have the best intention to avoid suffering, but unless you look inside correctly, you will suffer.

Are you asleep or awake?                                                                                                                       

In his book ‘Living Dangerously’ Osho suggests that a Yogi is simply one who is together, one who is aware of their actions and aligned with truth. I have told many students a simple example of what yoga isn’t, it goes like this: Two students are practicing side by side, the first is perfectly aligned in seershasanam (head stand) the other is sitting cross legged in padmasana. The first student has the posture nailed, the other is slightly twisted at the waist and the head droops slightly forward. One is practicing yoga, the other is not. Of course, due to the nature of me asking, it is quite probable that the underdog is the one actually practicing yoga, but how? How can it be, that the student out of kilter is practicing yoga and the upright one is not? The answer is simple, the first student is proud as a peacock; he has read many books and due to his persistence has forced his body to align upside down. The second, however, the true yogi, is comfortable with his effort. He knows that the posture will develop in due course. So long as he gives his best and remains true to his own capability, and not that of his fellow student, he remains in union (yoga). So, one student is awake, the other is asleep. When you are asleep, yoga can become the enemy.

I have personally witnessed the enemy face to face. I have also seen the enemy on the face of others; it’s not a pretty sight. Due to the thirst of attaining yoga, I became bedridden with a chronic illness for 2 years. Then, after being confined to a life of insular desperation, it took a further 3 years to make my recovery. The enemy has the capacity to destroy you! Of course, it’s not yoga that will take your soul, but more so your desperation to reach it. My story was one of desire, I learnt about yoga, and then applied everything I learnt with the motivation of a Trojan.  I became chronically exhausted, to the point that I might as well have eaten the books I read.

They say, ‘the eyes are a window to the soul’, but mine were whirlpools of confusion. You may have seen this in some seekers – they become inwardly drawn – their search is so strong. I was told I must look inside that the enemy is within. Of course doing this, without caution, can be contra indicatory. Yoga is about making peace with the world not alienating ourselves from it. Since my subsequent recovery, I now practice yoga from a place of knowing and not of seeking. I would say, the main ingredients for reaching this state, were observation, reflection and acceptance. Not to mention the mantra: be patient; be patient; be patient.

Practice yoga like a Russian athlete and your peril

During a visit, to the mosquito capital of India, I spent time in an ashram where I met a young Russian lad whose desire to enter yoga was troublesome. I saw the enemy in his eyes; it was like looking into the mirror of my past. The Swami who was running the course expressed concern; the boy was not eating and losing vitality by the day. With an unrivalled persistence to reach the state of meditation the young lad was so withdrawn that his capacity to engage in life was worrying. Often, in mid conversation, the young lad would switch the topic, to matters of super-consciousness. It was as though he did not wish to be of this world and sought to reach nothing less than instant bliss. Between classes, whilst the other students were interrelating, the boy sat searching for his ‘true self’, admirable maybe, but disturbing also. His room was littered with books, but his eyes looked tired, tired of searching for answers.

Through my experience I have learnt to see the world through different eyes, the eyes of momentary awareness. I like to look for the message that every moment presents – it is treasure after all. I remember sitting with the young lad at lunchtime, and it was not long before he asked about the ‘secret’ power of pranayama. Surely if he could master this, he would reach his goal. I told him to be careful what he reads, the development of such practice needs to be taught by a master. I referred to our lunch which included idli, a soft dumpling made from fermented black lentils and rice. I proposed that he saw pranayama as the base ingredient from which idli was made. That it was the foundation for developing nourishment for the mind. But, if too much flour was used in one sitting, or the mix was over fermented it would spoil – inevitably he would become stuck. Also, that this mix was used in many traditional foods and to stick to one would be robbing his pallet. Only once he had tasted a variety of recipes could he be sure to find one best suited to him.
The lad raised an eyebrow; needless to say he ate all his lunch for the first time since arriving.

Lifting the veil of Duality

So often we read: that gaining mastery over our ego will promise liberation and that once we do this, we will get promoted into the ‘oneness division’. What a lovely idea this is. But how can we crack the safe of spirituality, and drink from the fountain of enlightenment, in practical terms? The good news is: it doesn’t matter whether you’re taking your first or millionth step down the path of self discovery, liberation can be yours…
To read more go to my Yoga section.

Om Sweet Om

Puja family

 It is true; the roots of yoga grow both wide and deep, perhaps this is why it provides such fruitful offerings. But, as modern day yogis, it is sometimes difficult to comprehend and adhere to some of the complexities passed down from our forefathers. We have studied sacred texts, in hope that yoga will provide an antidote to the stress of modern living, but still we get caught up! Diligently, we aim our practice, both on and off the mat, at enhancing the world we live in, but often we are stretched in more ways than one. Of course, because we understand the concept of ‘balance’, we are soon able to bounce back. But why is attaining yoga (union) such an ongoing challenge for us?  I was recently invited to India, to stay with a Hindu family, in the hope of finding some answers. It was the sights, smells and sounds that triggered an insatiable appetite to write, but the simplicity in which they lived became most poignant.


Looking through the window of my sleeper carriage, at the lush countryside dotted with candy coloured homes my heart begins to thaw. As the iron wheels clatter rhythmically against the tracks, my body is gently cradled back and forth like that of a new born baby. My journey to this cauldron of spiritual soup where Muslims, Christians and Hindus live harmoniously side by side is well over due. After three years of trying to fathom out the status quo, I have returned to Kerala, ’Gods own country’. With the optimism of an Indian sales man, my work is to reignite that part of me which was woken during a previous visit.


I have the privilege of living with a very committed, but humble yoga master named Paramas. With Brahman (Hindu priest) blood running through his veins, a candle burns ever bright in his heart. Upon entering the traditional Kerala home, I am moved by its simplicity. With the calmness of a Buddhist temple, ornate wooden pillars support a lattice of hand carved beams, revealing the craftsmanship of a bygone age. Beneath a large shaft of pure daylight, in the centre of the living room, sits a Tulsi plant (Holy Basil) which is fully exposed to the elements. During the rainy season, a waterfall cascades through the centre of the home before draining away onto the surrounding land. Such architecture is called nal-u-ket-tu, based on the Hindu philosophy Vastuu. Vastuu uses astrology and the 5 elements (pancha-mahab-hutas) to better place buildings with their environment. Similar to the Japanese art of Feng Shui, it provides the dweller with a comfortable living space that is sympathetic to the flow of energy.


After being introduced to Param’s wife and 3 small children, I am acquainted with the bread winners of the family, a small herd of sacred cows. The garden, in which they reside, is an oasis of life. Filled with exotic fruits, herbs, and flowers, it provides more than enough temptation to the birds and butterflies that visit. With no actual boundary to this 6 acre site, it is hard to distinguish ‘owned’ by man and on loan from God. Occasionally, amongst the tapestry of greens, appears a brightly coloured sari, the wearer of which carries jug upon head, requesting milk. This white unpasteurised elixir tastes divine and when boiled soothes the body like medicine. Things, I take for granted, require incredible effort here and yet the emphasis on doing and getting things done seems to have no importance.


From behind the kitchen door, hums a grinding stone which is busy preparing our supper. The sound provides a gentle melody, to which the family sit down together and chant before we eat. The home is now alight with oil filled lamps and love. Shadows flicker, across statues of deities, whilst portraits of previous generations watch over us. There is a sense of wonderment in the air. I am safe, amongst people who have little care for possessions and yet possess everything…

The essence of yoga is prevalent in every breath they take.

puja boy