Author Archives: sfrydman

SHARED MEDITATION, TIME OUT AND THANKS

November 10th, 2017 | Posted by sfrydman in Healing | Meditation - (Comments Off)

Bell2Before I take a break from weekly meditation teaching to retreat further into my own practice, I’d like to share what I’ve learnt so far. I had taught yoga before but when I started my meditation classes in Colac four years ago I was still new in town. People came along with an open mind and became regulars, others tried the classes for a while and moved on and a few made inquiries but never quite got there. To each one of you I am so grateful as you all helped convince me of the following…

Something unique happens when people gather for meaning-making. Being a bit of an introvert and independent doer, it took me quite some time to really understand the power of groups but in a meditation class there might be a range of people quite different from you (hopefully) and yet everyone can sit or lie in the space and work to let go of the many distractions and challenges that affect peace of mind or way of life. When we sit together we often hear each other’s restlessness and other whispers from the soul. In these moments we are most genuine and reminded of our common humanity and shared need to rest, heal and flourish. Where people gather and let go of masks or performances, compassion shines.

We learn something new, maybe even something we don’t like. The great thing about coming to classes is exploring new techniques. I have my own favourite ways to get into the meditation zone, but when facilitating classes I usually offer a range of techniques since different things work for people for a range of reasons, including people’s learning styles and personalities. Practising new and uncomfortable styles is a gateway to develop the witness, and whatever technique we use, meditation is about Witnessing. Although not always easy, it is great to step out of the comfort zone and this is one of the best ways to establish our own home meditation practice. After being introduced to new practices in class we can then return with more clarity to what works best for us at home and also integrate new aspects to advance our practice.

We find the discipline to actually meditate. While offering the classes myself, I have needed to keep my own meditation practice regular. Perhaps without this commitment to teaching weekly classes, my own practice might have dropped off or wavered. We can all fool ourselves into delegating things to an I-will-do-it-tomorrow-wish-list or even think we’ve done some meditation when it really was the week before last that we actually sat down and watched our breath. When we do watch our breath it often isn’t for very long and longer classes or sessions can provide the framework to strengthen this capacity.

Can you be too tired to meditate? People sometimes share that they don’t come to class or meditate if they feel too tired and yet I think this is absolutely the perfect time to meditate and rest the adrenalin system in a much more efficient way than screen time or wine o’clock at home. We can sit or lie down for meditation and when we externalise and end the practice we usually feel more refreshed.

Meditation can be about so much more than mindfulness. Mindfulness is great (really great) – don’t we all want a clear, calm and non-reactive mind? But the search for mindfulness can also be a trap into attaching one’s self to superficial needs and unrealistic expectations. When someone or something close to us inevitably dies or we face rejection, physical pain and other difficulties, posting sticky notes of affirmation all around the house will not usually change the circumstances, but sitting with deep feelings can bring acceptance and a lighter way of being. When we acknowledge and integrate our own suffering and joy, we can build a compassion based on our shared vulnerabilities and strengths. Sometimes, often times, we humans are brave. We can also be our own worst critics. I certainly know I am. Through sitting still and bringing our attention to our moment to moment experiences we can soften in places, allow for our imperfections and even feel a sense of homecoming. Meditation is love, or at the very least, a practice of meaning making. It does not guarantee expected outcomes (despite much of the mindfulness-based marketing hype out there) but it always provides an entry point into ourselves, if we are brave and honest enough to sit with our shadows.

Meditation can be spiritual. Moments of stillness can and often do lead us into spiritual or surprising places. I’ve always been reluctant to use the word spiritual in my classes as I think it can be such a deeply personal thing at best and spiritual talk can also be elitist and narcissistic. Drawing the occasional mandala in a meditative state, chanting aloud, wearing certain uniforms, or even loudly proclaiming how meditation works for you is not a humble or quick route to being any better than another person. But if we can fight off inner and outer noise and attachment by engaging in meditative practices a route to meaning making and spirituality becomes established. Our values can be most tested by what we do when no one is looking and in meditation not only is no one else looking, but the veil of what we hide from ourselves is blown away and we can sit with truths.

Right now, I don’t know where my own meditation practice will lead me but I continue to try (and often fail) to make peace with processes of change, non-attachment and letting go.  I do know my meditation practice has continued to evolve, in a large part thanks to the people who have shared the journey and discipline with me, asked many questions and provided feedback about their own experiences. I feel touched and honoured to have had the opportunities so far to facilitate the different techniques we have explored and I hope to be in touch in the new year to continue further conversations about meditation and meaning making.

With love, Suzanne

 

© Suzanne Frydman / Relax Communications

TO VIPASSANA AND BACK, WITH THE HELP OF A SOOTHED NERVOUS SYSTEM

October 7th, 2017 | Posted by sfrydman in Healing | Meditation - (Comments Off)

redhead1It is not easy to put aside ten days to sit in silence in our noisy world but that is exactly what I did last year by attending a Vipassana meditation retreat. Vipassana translates as insight. Here is an attempt to make sense of the adventure I both loved and hated (note: the basic premise of Vipassana meditation is to drop like, love, hate… or any other reactions of preference).

First, when they say it is a ten-day silent retreat they really mean it. Vipassana provides an incredibly unusual way to throw oneself into a challenge. Some people leave on the first day and some would never even contemplate it. The rules include no speaking, no reading, writing, music, or even looking directly at other participants. This meant some major effort and for a few years I had thought about trying it but certainly hadn’t put myself forward. The idea of a stretch of time with no work, driving, cooking, housework, telephone calls, social media and other routines did appeal. But I also knew I would be confronted by the contents of my mind, and in particular, things I wasn’t sure I wanted to remember or integrate. Don’t most of us find multiple means of distraction to avoid certain thoughts or things in life? Would Vipassana crack these patterns wide open?

This Goenka-style Vipassana involves two general techniques. For the first three days participants sit and follow the breath at the nose. Then, for the next seven days we continue to sit but then scan up and down the body observing any physical sensations. There are three group sittings which are in the morning, afternoon and evening, as well as plenty of further time to stay in the meditation space and do what you come for – meditate. Besides meditating, the only other activities are walking (in confined areas), sleeping and eating, plus video instruction each evening where the Vipassana teacher S. N. Goenka reviews the day’s processes and the next day’s program. By the time he died in 2013 the Burmese-Indian Goenka had led thousands of people in the ten-day program he had designed, so he seemed to have the knack of predicting how participants might feel on different days and provided instructions, warnings and encouragement. Still, nothing could have prepared me for the deep fears that arose and released from my body during the retreat.

As mentioned, this style allows for two meditation techniques only – following the breath at the nose and scanning sensations up and down the body. Perhaps by only having two techniques the discipline of practice develops quite rapidly and participants go very deep into themselves. No other techniques are allowed. I even had to sign a form on enrolment agreeing that as a meditation teacher trained in the Satyananda style, I would not engage in any other practices I knew. There would be no visualising, no mantra or Aum chanting, no movement, no noticing or moving the breath around the body, nothing but keeping the focus on the breath at the nose and/or observing the sensations in the body. The reason given for committing to these two practices exclusively is that other techniques might lead to attachment and delusion. For example, by visualising we can distract, excite, or soothe ourselves. At this retreat the aim is not to aim for anything at all, but instead observe whatever arises with absolute non-reaction or non-attachment. When holding the attention on parts of the body and grounding and feeling into our physical experience only truth can be revealed, goes the theory. The basic and yet profound premise repeated via each night’s instruction video is that we meditate in order to practise ‘equanimity’. In other words, we observe whatever we experience without desiring more or less of whatever is happening, whether those moments are pleasurable or painful. Each evening our teacher Goenka reminded us that since everything is impermanent, we can be equanimous in the face of suffering. ‘Equanimity’ is a profound word and an even bigger task to perform seriously, regularly and without mistaking it for any form of denial. Equanimity is not an established part of my general disposition, but dictionaries have accurately described it as ‘calm and composed’ or if you rely on Wikipedia, ‘a state of psychological stability and composure which is undisturbed by experience of or exposure to emotions, pain, or other phenomena that may cause others to lose the balance of their mind.’

Tough things happen often in life and even the strongest people can ‘lose the balance of their mind’ when exposed to enough pain and suffering. It’s tricky, of course, as we need to address our pain but at the same time this can feel like or really be like playing with fire. In my own classes, I often instruct participants to anchor through deeper breaths if anything is triggered while meditating on any part of the body. The thing that astonishes me the most about the power of meditation is its physical capacity to support us when processing difficult, almost unbearable or seemingly unbearable, feelings or memories. By focusing our mind and witnessing the experience from moment to moment our flight-or-flight response is soothed or halted long enough for us to feel safe enough to process stuff. We’ve all got stuff we need to sort out, let go of, admit to, accept, learn from and so on. When we can sit quietly enough to process any of our shadows then we get to short-circuit more habitual reactions. In these more relaxed states we see more clearly, feel more clearly and integrate things that our more day-to-day automated minds and bodies can keep avoiding, particularly if unpleasant. Without awareness, discipline and practice, we can also be caught in the trap of constantly seeking pleasures and this too creates hyperactivity in our nervous system and therefore stress.

In meditation, we can sit with the unpleasant and at Vipassana retreat there is plenty of time for unpleasantness, or at least boredom. Across the ten days we learn that constantly reacting either to pleasant or unpleasant moments is counter-productive since this continuously activates our fight-or-flight response and adrenalin system, often leading to burn out. Our great passport to freedom is stamped the moment we really realise we can’t keep going around controlling things in order to usher in the pleasant and shield ourselves from the awful. Shit happens. We can’t always stop it. And joy happens too, but we can’t bottle that either. What we can find is some calm in the face of it all. I think of this temporary calm as moments of stillness.

Vipassana is an incredible training ground so in case you’re interested in trying it out, or just curious, here are the six main things I learnt from the retreat:

Thoughts can be so totally unreliable and mischievous. I’ve seen the cute warnings of don’t believe everything you think floating around Facebook often enough but at the end of the Vipassana I realised how true it can be. Remember how I said that rule number 92 (well, there were lots of rules) included no eye contact or body language conversations with people? Well, I cheated. I did notice others around me a fair bit. My totally unreliable thoughts had decided that the gorgeous-long-haired-Byron-Bay-looking-yogi-in-the-flowing-robes was finding this retreat an absolute breeze. The night before the silent retreat had commenced she had told me she was a second timer. Repeat attendees only eat two meals per day, not three, and I had watched her floating in and out of the dining space a few times. On the last day when we were allowed to finally break our silence we ate together. She then told me that on day four she thought she was having a breakdown and that she nearly left on day five. How wrong my judgements were! I also judged the person I sat next to in the meditation space quite differently to the way she later appeared when we talked on completion. That’s another rule – we had to sit in the same spot each day – so I could not help read some of the body language of the person next to me. I just read it incorrectly. As well as having to sit in the same spots daily, meditators are divided into segregated male and female only spaces at all times to avoid further possible distractions. In any case, there were plenty of possible distractions from the meditators directly around me as we all sat very close. This woman next to me, who I had judged as very self-assured, actually seemed very concerned about how much she had disturbed my meditations through her coughing. She wanted to talk to me at some length about this, and launched into detailed information about her allergies and how if she had removed the nearby blanket which had irritated her throat she might not have coughed at all. In fact, while I had noticed it almost daily, her coughing did not disturb me at all. When my husband did the Vipassana a few years before me, he had someone telling him on completion that he had looked like a plumber. Odd that someone was even wondering what another’s job, status or roles might be in life, and not just meditating and minding his own business? But don’t we all do that? Anyway, I certainly take my thoughts far less seriously these days!

Discovering deeper levels of feelings can bring us freedom. Some people walk around as if they are brains on a stick and I was one of those people who thought I could figure things out if only I just thought hard about things for long enough. Often enough, quite the opposite is true, of course. If I can shut my thoughts up for long enough, or attend to them without adding further mental fuel, I might discover more about my feelings. Many of us have developed our very active brains as a way to suppress a range of feelings, a way to feel in control, minimise risk and reduce ambiguity. For those of us who have overactive minds for any durations of time, meditation can remind us that the bodies have wisdom and also limits and our nervous systems respond accordingly. In meditation we can find the freedom to observe, rather than respond in old or unhelpful ways. We can become humbled and more open by realising how delusional so many of our thoughts can be. New or deeper access to feelings that were previously suppressed for good enough reasons take time to be integrated into one’s daily life. But as they do, life becomes more and more real. And there is relief in just allowing feelings such as sadness to exist. Of course sadness and grief are far more pervasive than day-to-day conversations or mainstream Instagram posts reveal. Our sadness often traps, contains or releases the pearls of joys, depending on how we manage it.

Reminders that ‘everything is impermanent’ can really help us. I am not talking about being indifferent to change and suffering because if we were calm all the time there would be no great poetry, art, music, social activism or justice. The nightly Vipassana video instruction repeated the great Buddhist mantra about attachment. Attachment can lead to suffering because eventually or instantly everything can and will change and we will all experience suffering. Knowing this doesn’t actually make me feel less attachment towards the people or things I love. But it does make acceptance, letting go and compassion more real in the day to day, and it certainly allows the meditator to experience thoughts, physical pain, feelings and other sensations without going into fight-or-flight mode. Sitting for one hour in meditation without moving numerous times a day can feel like an eternity and then when the hour or hours are up it also feels as though it all flashed by – impermanence.

You are your own best teacher. Vipassana retreats have helped millions of people. The way Goenka has programmed two meditation techniques into an easy to access package is brilliant. But the book title, If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him (Kopp, 1972) really did apply for me. On day six I experienced intense fear, terror, during one meditation sitting and I felt that my heart had either frozen or would give out. In that situation it was slowly returning to deeper and deeper breaths that first helped lift me from a place too dark. In those moments I also felt no choice but to break the Vipassana code and visualise hard on something safe and nurturing to soothe myself. This was how I looked after myself. At the end of the retreat one participant told me about the shoulder muscle agony she had persisted with during the three times daily one hour-and-don’t-move-meditation sessions but she had trusted the video instruction about body pains arising from present but also past lives and so committed to not moving an inch when meditating. I suggested that had she just briefly moved her shoulder a bit and then quickly come back into alignment and stillness she might have avoided the extra suffering. We laughed about it but her shoulder was still in a lot of pain so the laughter was one more of compassion than humour.

Our bodies really are our temples but not in a body-beautiful way. Our bodies are crumbly as we age, they ache in places, store memories, break down, need to be held, respected and paid attention to. Most importantly, through our body awareness we can learn more about what we need psychologically. Through attention and rest our bodies can be the first and safest place to go to for healing. Past traumas can also be integrated as slowly and safely as they need be and we can be more at ease in our own skin. In meditation our brain waves literally slow down and we can witness difficult things that require attention without wanting to flee the scene. Our biological processes can help us, if we allow them to, by resting the nervous system and thereby providing ourselves with a sanctuary.

Sitting for meditation is now easier. Hey, I sat for long periods of time. As mentioned above, the body remembers. Now I can grab some cushions and more easily settle and sit for longer periods of time. However, after years of yoga training, I already knew a fair bit about sitting in an aligned manner. It is fine to lie down to meditate too but when we sit awake and alert we are often more aware of whatever arises. A meditation tutor of either gender is in attendance during each meditation sitting and they are also available for ten minute private sessions at lunch times via a (silent) sign-up sheet. Many participants took the opportunity to meet with a teacher and talk about their difficulties or perhaps just to take the opportunity to speak. I used this opportunity once to request a kneeling stool which I used from time to time. I don’t see how providing some initial instruction on aligned sitting positions would detract from the Vipassana methodology but then of course I was not leading this retreat and letting go and submitting to an established program for a mere ten days of my life was all part of the learning.

This type of Vipassana retreat is not suitable for everyone at all stages of their lives. In fact, the application process requires demonstrating some readiness and stability before giving it a go. Staring into the contents of your body and mind for ten days is not a normal process, but if you can go there, it can take you quite somewhere else. Where, I am still not fully sure about myself but the glimpses of calm are enough to keep me going.

© Suzanne Frydman / Relax Communications

For more information about Vipassana retreats around the world: https://www.dhamma.org

WHY CALMNESS IS ONLY PART OF THE MEDITATION STORY

January 3rd, 2017 | Posted by sfrydman in Healing | Meditation - (Comments Off)

It’s no secret that a meditation practice can bring more calm to one’s life.  What is also well known are other benefits, and yet the repeat mantra of calmness is what seems to get top billing.

We know that telling someone to calm down at the exact moments when they are upset or angry about something is usually counter-productive, even patronising, and yet the wellness industry keeps churning out images of calmness; if you only sit on a cushion or lie down in a room with a view. Some apps promise it in downloadable bite-sized guided recordings of 5 minutes so that you can then rush back to your to-do-list.

The problem with telling people new and familiar to meditation it will bring calm is that often when we sit down to meditate we might be feeling a range of things besides calmness. And when we don’t feel we can quieten the mind, body, emotions into as much calm as a fluffy cloud or clear lake we might get disappointed, even give up the practices.

It can help to understand why we might gain a sense of calmness or peace during and after meditation, but then it’s best to just let it be a by-product of the physiological processes that take place in our brain and body. A great mantra for meditation is – “Accept, Don’t Expect”. Through various practices, particularly following the natural breath, our fight or flight response mechanism might be somewhat released and some relaxation might be experienced. Here’s what else might happen:

GROUNDING OR STILLNESS:

We might stay long enough, for whatever that stretch of time is, with our own experiencing – whether it be the soreness in the knee, the sound or feel of the blowfly hovering around us, buzzing thoughts, empty or blank mental spaces, strong or vague feelings, or numbness and other sensations. In a word, this is Mindfulness – we witness from moment to moment aspects of our experiencing. There might be some feelings of stillness or grounding, however fleeting these may be, and these might be achieved through staying with bodily sensations or scanning parts of the body, noticing the posture, or other practices such as breath awareness, sound awareness or watching of one’s thoughts.

GRIEF, SADNESS, ANGER AND A RANGE OF OTHER EMOTIONS:

When we sit and let go of some of our defences then strong emotions may surface, and exactly the ones we often push away through busyness, eating, incorrect thoughts, blaming others and a range of other techniques our species apply in order to get through difficult times. When we take time to sit more quietly, or do practices such as following sensations at the heart, our “stuff” can bubble up. Sometimes people want to access these buried or simmering feelings and meditation can provide the entry points. For others, this can be deeply confronting and even unsafe and in those cases  more conscious deeper breathing can help some return from deeper states. The amazing thing is that meditation can support people to be in those more difficult spaces because the autonomic nervous system, through the parasympathetic system, provides more of a physical shield of safety than would otherwise be available during our more externalised daily fight-flight response modes.

COMPASSION AND CONNECTIVITY:

MeditatConnectedion practices often have a long history of spiritual traditions behind them and practices to expand one’s compassion for self and others are certainly part of this tradition. When we sit in a room with others meditating together and keep an open mind to others’ possible suffering, hopes, dreams and unique stories, we can remember to soften our hearts, lessen our judgements and listen more closely to the whispered stories that others might be sharing with us without words. As we reflect on the world beyond our doorstop, we can be activated into further commitments to act with compassion where we see injustice. We can do this as calmly as we can but calmness alone might not be a starting point for social action. Through witnessing our thoughts and intentions, we can check that we are not erroneously using non-attachment or calm as a means of superiority, non-connection and absolve of our responsibilities to assist and care for others and ourselves.

GRATITIUDE:

Much has been written about neuro-plasticity. When we focus on certain things, such as gratitude and happiness, they can become acquired or developed skills or states through changes in the brain. Some days we may notice that we are warm, safe and fed and on other days we may forget about these blessings entirely. When choosing to focus on a space for gratitude during meditation a range of other blessings often become more known, remembered and prominent for us. We can sit with an ever-expanding heart.

FORGIVENESS: 

We know that forgiveness is good for us, but why and how do we do it? It’s easy enough to forgive minor things. In a meditation space we have more access to the softer, kinder parts of ourselves, again through the physiology of being less reactive, safer and receptive. We have an opportunity to sit bravely through grounding and stillness with more difficult experiences and feel what it might be like to forgive others we perceive have harmed us. We might even begin to see things in a different way as well. Which brings me to another major benefit of meditation practice…

KNOWLEDGE AND FREEDOM:

We can learn as we watch ourselves react to discomfort or comfort, get attached to things and then practice letting go of these same things – such as an expectation of calmness. We can feel whatever we are feeling without judgement. It is often our own added layers of judgements about the validity of our emotions or actions that can cause the most difficulty. Instead of judging ourselves or others harshly we can befriend that part of us that worries if “we don’t quite know what might happen next” (who does?), or “we shouldn’t have said that, done this, felt like that…” We can get to know ourselves better, which isn’t always such a calming route in the short-term, but it is a path towards freedom.

Artwork: Connected by Suzanne Frydman

© Suzanne Frydman / Relax Communications

TAKING YOUR SEAT IN MEDITATION

December 3rd, 2016 | Posted by sfrydman in Meditation - (Comments Off)

sitting-in-meditationOne of the things students sometimes wonder about is whether to sit or lie for meditation, so this article summarises some of the benefits of sitting in meditation.

Staying awake – clearly, in order to know about one’s experience it helps to stay awake. Meditation is about witnessing our experiencing. Being alert in a seated meditation posture obviously helps. However, there are times, many times, when our bodies need full rest so we lie down. My students are always welcome to sit or lie down in any part of the sessions as their bodies require. Sometimes, entering that feeling of deep relaxation or half sleep is also exactly what people need to have a real break from difficult thoughts, emotions and physical pain and in those times lying down can be ideal.

Feeling the stillness – when we lie down our body and psyche know rest is intended and therefore we can be triggered into sleep. Yes, in lying down we can let the whole body settle onto the floor and let go. But perhaps letting go is only part of the story. In sitting meditation, we can gain strength, purpose, resolve, energy, and grounding through the position of our upright spine in particular.  On a physical level, with each in-breath we can adjust and lengthen our spine slightly, and with the out-breath then settle into a grounded posture. Through physical positioning we find and express ways to be with ourselves emotionally, including stillness through our own resolve and focus. As the Buddhist saying goes, “soft front, strong back” – we can feel the spine supporting us and we remain strong, while open and vulnerable at the front of the heart space. This is no easy task, but so worth the practice.

Discomfort as the focus – we, and that is every one of us, are not always comfortable with discomfort. The discomfort might come in the form of thoughts, physical aches and pains, feelings, new knowledge and aspects of ourselves that we’d prefer remain hidden. When we sit down and move into seated stillness there can be many distractions, discomforts and challenges and we can use all of them in meditation. When we meditate and physical discomfort arises we can bring further focus to the area and our responses to pain can often transform in some way. Likewise, uncomfortable thoughts that we tend to push away at other times only grow if we deny them. In meditation we can process some of our own shadow by being aware when difficult thoughts arise and greet them with friendliness and compassion, or at least, less reactivity. Meditation allows our body systems to slow down and in this way provides more safety to look into our thoughts and hearts with bravery.

Non-attachment to pleasure as well as discomfort – we meditate in order to know what is – in the present. And sometimes it is quite pleasurable physically. Usually, this is the parasympathetic body system bringing that stillness about through the slowing down of brain activity. It’s nice when we get all fuzzy and tingly, but the trap is then grasping for this in future sessions, and when this doesn’t happen according to our expected timelines we can get disappointed and give up. This is why I often say that there is no such thing as “a bad meditation” – in some sessions we might have more moments of stillness, and in others our mind or body might be putting up a riotous performance of disturbance. Either way, it is a blessing to know where we’re at from moment to moment if we are committed to knowing ourselves.

Some tips for seated meditation:

Which posture is best?

The best seated posture is often the one you are most comfortable in, not just during the meditation, but when you come out of meditation. For instance, if you find you have a sore neck when you come out of meditation, next time pay further attention to the position of your chin – it might need to be lower or raised, so the head and neck are fully supported by your trunk and legs. It can take quite some time to explore different sitting positions. I experimented with different alignment to suit my body over the two years of my yoga teacher training, and I still adjust and change positions when using cushions and blankets on the floor. In all my classes, chairs are available. Many older mediators use chairs and neither sitting on the floor or chair makes one more or less spiritual. But looking after your body and mind might.

So can I move a bit?

Again, putting up with extreme pain does not make us more spiritual but awareness of discomfort can be used as a focus of any meditation and it can help to resist moving position when each itch and twitch presents itself. Most of us have days full of small and large irritations and knowing how to be less reactive to these can be learnt by resisting similar restlessness in meditation.

In a longer meditation retreat I attended earlier this year, I was told to stay with the discomfort as it would be past life stuff coming up. Rather than worrying about possible past lives, I preferred to check my physical alignment, as sometimes slightly adjusting your seated position can relieve the pain and you can return to meditation with more focus. Making a physical adjustment briefly and consciously can be quite sensible, and of course, it is always about doing no harm to yourself, so any instruction from a teacher, including myself, is an offering for you to decide to integrate in a way that is right for you. Did I mention that great quote from Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind? “If you meet the (symbolic) Buddha on the road, (metaphorically) shoot him”. In other words, use your own discrimination about what works safely for you as this is what meditation is all about, after all. And developing your own practice can be the best motivator.

So which technique works the best in seated meditation?

If you are finding it hard to sit in meditation, it might be that some practices will work better for you than others. For instance, people who are naturally kinaesthetic learners often enjoy practices that involve mentally scanning through parts of the body and noticing physical sensations. Others might become more settled through focusing on the natural sounds around them, or a mantra or music. Visually-inclined people might choose to explore an imaginative landscape of their own. I particularly enjoy a practice called Antar Mouna, which involves consciously watching your own thoughts and their interconnected patterns. And of course, watching your breath is the go-to-practice, especially if intense feelings or thoughts do bubble up.

Finally, if you find seated meditation is not your preferred option, most styles of meditation practice can of course be done lying down, or even standing up or walking. The main ingredient is to develop the witness. When we witness we gain the space to take a step back, and as we lesson our reactivity we can be more with our joy, compassion and whatever else presents itself through life.

© Suzanne Frydman / Relax Communications

KARMA’S GONE MAD

May 15th, 2016 | Posted by sfrydman in Healing | Meditation | Yoga - (Comments Off)

Being in the yoga world for some time now, I often come across talks, article, and memes about one of my least favourite topics – feel good notions of Karma from a New Age Western perspective. Often these messages are accompanied by pretty lotus pictures. A recent Karma-claiming site started with “The Great Law” – whatever we put out into the universe will come back to us. So here is my wish-list for karma:

Dear Karma, Universe, Quantum Physics, or Whatever (it is I don’t understand),

I’d like to be a 7-foot tall basketball player. And please remove any chance I might get cancer from any environmental causes (think Asbestos, not “manifested thoughts”). I’ll stop the list here because what I’d like to put out to the universe is both too private and too common, something along the lines of good health, sex, food, shelter (yeah, not in that order).

Respecting other people’s right to beliefs that I might find magical thinking is a wonderful opportunity for me to practise non-judgement. Of course we are all entitled to our own spiritual beliefs. But to be more honest and responsible, I often worry about the subtle and obvious extensions of this karma business: If, whatever we put out into the universe will come back to us is a universal law, then it follows, or can certainly be interpreted that when terrible things happen to us they are our fault too. At times, when I’ve tried to discuss this with others, I’ve been told that I’m simplifying this karma stuff.  If that’s the case, then for me enlightenment is perhaps not all it’s cracked up to be.

I believe this karma stuff encourages excessive narcissism at best and destructive guilt and shame at worst, especially among more vulnerable seekers who are often the ones searching out different philosophies and lifestyles. Is it really about Karma or rather a grand illusion of entitlement and control? A quick flick through any news source can remind us of the suffering all around. In workplaces, the media, families and so on, some rule and others struggle, unless the status quo is successfully challenged. Is it the less powerfuls’ karma for being lazy, dumb, reckless or whatever karma caused such bad luck? Empowering oneself is easier when born with a few tools along the way – such as fresh air, clean water, good health, and opportunities for education. In reverse, when good things happen to us we can feel quite proud of how our seemingly direct efforts or energies have translated into that nice pay packet, great outfit, beneficial relationship. Again, isn’t this a further enactment of entitlement?

Of course we can influence and change many things in our lives through setting up the right thoughts and mindset. Yes, we need to take conscious action about the things we don’t like. It doesn’t take much imagination or life experience to see connections between self-destructive behaviours and potential results. But it stops there. We can’t influence many of the circumstances in the tiny part of the universe we inhabit, or assume things about others’ good or bad luck (yes, as a form of logic we are doing that when we play with the karma gods). We might not think we are judging others’ circumstances but fluffy karma theories can directly diminish or distract us from the capacity to hold intense compassion for others and ourselves. If any absolute laws of karma operate, then for me they remain mysterious. In the meantime, opening to compassion keeps us afloat.

Rather than discussing karma, perhaps there is a real human desire to express gratitude, internally and externally. Certainly, when we sit in meditation or move about the world with a focus of gratitude we notice more; expanding the capacity for even more gratitude.  And sometimes when things happen, no amount of lotus flowers will bring certain pieces back together. At those times we can hold each other in our hearts with fierce compassion (yes, compassion is not fluffy either). And we can also remember in our hearts those who were unable to rise from the mud, lotus-like, when the hard knocks became all too much.

Rewards are a direct result of the energy and effort we put into it – was the last karmic declaration on this particular facebook list. Tell that to the intensive care unit nurse who lost her job due to adjusted patient: nurse ratios and a new CEO pay rise.   To all the folks who are out there fighting the good fight, I don’t know about karma. I wish I did. Karma’s gone mad. Suzanne Frydman ©

Crosses

FALLING OFF THE CUSHION

April 11th, 2016 | Posted by sfrydman in Meditation - (Comments Off)
In meditation, patterns and hues reveal and untangle

In meditation, patterns and hues reveal and untangle

“But what about your meditation?” is a response I sometimes get when colleagues or new friends see me caught up in frantic and frazzled moments. My response, “what, you didn’t know I teach what I most need to learn?”

Recently I got angry when a familiar scenario of letting someone take advantage of me rolled around again. Next I got angry at myself for being angry. The old self-talk, internal shaming and recrimination was instant. Of course, this will all happen again soon enough. With any luck, the next round might include some small noticeable shifts in response and new patterns. Watching thoughts as an observer and they can lose their power over us, or direct them where required, say the experts. Have compassion for ourselves and others and we can move more easily through the world. Meditation can and does make us calmer.

But here’s the thing, meditation also helps us express our anger and disappointment, as well as accept our more frazzled moments. When others query my seemingly abandoned meditation practice in the middle of my moments of fury or pain I find it a curious thing. It is like telling an irate person to calm down. Sometimes things need to be said (nicely) or felt deeply. Other times things come out not so nicely, which is unfortunate but human enough, especially for the more emotionally or sensitively inclined among us.

Meditation has helped me identify more quickly when things are not ok, revealed my well-ingrained but reducing responsiveness, and guided me to speak up when required or shut up, and of course, let things go. Finding out that meditation can bring such liberation, I then set out to teach it.

To share with you the benefits of meditation, I could quote some of the latest evidence-based research into the brain functions of monks, gurus, wise guys and matriarchs meditating up in the mountains and even cities. But I suspect that rather than research-based promises for deep healing and inner peace, stories of our human frailties and small steps are more promising.

I’m no fan of labels but throughout my life I have hovered up and down the spectrum of anxiety, with a few traumatic life experiences temporarily shooting me right up the higher scale at times. Without meditation, I doubt I would be driving a car again, tolerating flying in airplanes, or averting bridge-burning behaviour when situations don’t seem to suit my interests or appear threatening. I would certainly not be finding as much day-to-day joy in this wonderful, but unpredictable life. With a meditative approach the blessings of our daily lives are magnified and the horrors somehow more contained.

When awful things happen, particularly all at once, the tunnel of despair can turn endless. Yet the curveballs or tragedies that come our way need to be dealt with at some point. All types of meditation are not suitable for all phases of our lives, and sitting with parts of ourselves might be uncomfortable and even excruciating. But if we don’t go there, we don’t go anywhere else much.

Teaching meditation is not always easy. In particular, if I teach it, I need to do it. Regularly. For that, I give thanks to my students and all my teachers. And thanks to those shitty experiences too – those unwelcomed curveballs containing the seeds of compassion that can burst open on the cushion. And the friends who keep me on track by asking “but what about your meditation?”

Unfortunately, I doubt I will ever quite be liberated from my heavy-headed fretting or existential angst about life’s unpredictability.

But in the meantime there’s meditation. It’s not always pretty, but it is almost always good.  Suzanne Frydman ©

KEEPING THE YOGA

May 14th, 2015 | Posted by sfrydman in Meditation - (Comments Off)

In December 2014, the Royal Commission (RC) into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Australia turned its focus to Satyananda Yoga’s Mangrove ashram in New South Wales, events there in the late 70s-80s, as well as the ashram’s more recent dealings with survivors.

While this commission affects everyone, it is the survivors who need to be acknowledged first and last. There are no words for their bravery but there are ways to offer support and this includes the rest of us finding clarity or space enough for our own questions and responses.

Based on information that has come to light during and since the initial hearings of the RC, combined with my own journey of doubt and faith that has run parallel and prior to this, I have one clear enough answer at this moment. I honour the training and practices I acquired from the Satyananda Yoga Academy in its current form, however, I wish to go forward simply as “a yoga teacher”, rather than a trademarked, patented, labelled yoga teacher exclusive to one tradition or another. While there is loss in this, among other things it is also a more authentic way of continuing to integrate other styles into my own practice. Yoga is about “union” after all.

YES, YOU CAN MEDITATE

January 22nd, 2015 | Posted by sfrydman in Meditation - (Comments Off)
Thoughts can disengage, disintegrate,  reconnect, illuminate...

Thoughts can disengage, disintegrate, reconnect, illuminate…

 

Saying that there is a right and wrong way to meditate can in many instances be like saying that there is a right and wrong way to pray, hope or love. One of the most important elements is the intention – to learn how to be less reactive or non-reactive. Non-attachment.

The process of calming one’s adrenalin system down enough to simply sit (or lie, or walk, or talk…) with non-attachment can involve a range of techniques, as some methods suit some personalities more than others.

 

Many books, including centuries of Buddhist philosophy in particular, have discussed this term of non-attachment. Perhaps one clear way to define it is to see non-attachment as acting, or not acting, from non-reactive spaces because in my own personal practice and teaching I have found the following experiences and misconceptions about meditation.  Here are some of these misconceptions that move us away from non-attachment:

‘Meditation is about achieving a blank space, an empty space where there are no thoughts’ – this might happen on occasion, and particularly as one practises for longer and deeper periods of time, however, this is more commonly not the everyday experience, and if one has this as an aim and feels disappointed when this does not happen, then there is clearly attachment to unnecessary and unrealistic outcomes. And for some of us, if we don’t feel we are any good at something, we give it up. So, don’t set yourself up before meditating, but rather intend to remain open and develop the witness to whatever comes as a way of developing non-attachment.

‘I had this amazing experience where I saw colours and other things. I love visualising and will definitely meditate this way again if this is what happens’ – obviously this is attachment. However, what do we do with this interesting or even the fascinating stuff that might come up? We accept that this was an experience in the moment, but we do not aim for a similar or more powerful experience the next time. And we try to take care not to conclude things about our meditation when not meditating as the connections and associations we make about experiences can so often be misleading. Meditation is not meant to be a high, but rather an experience where different connections can take place in our brain as we slow our metabolic system down.

You, your teacher, and your practice does not need to be brilliant or anything else with a hook, rather it needs to be natural and always available to you as the expert and empowerer of your own experience.

 ‘But I could never slow my thoughts down’ – I thought this myself once. And sometimes, as I meditate, my thoughts don’t slow down straight away. In fact, I sit there and become acutely aware of my riotous mind. It’s often like a ‘wow, I am really doing this to myself’ moment and then as I watch my breath my thoughts tend to slow down anyway. The first step is to develop the witness and become aware of our thinking, our emotions, the parts of the body that need attending to or relaxing, or anything else that comes up. We don’t need to do it on a mountain top. The sounds around us can all help us develop the witness, whether it is the washing machine whirls from the other room or more ‘spiritual sounds’ like bird calls or recorded bells.

‘But I have thoughts and feelings that I don’t want to think about’ – this is a big and completely understandable concern.  Some experiences are so deeply overwhelming that why would a person voluntarily return to these moments of anguish.

There are a few answers to this – the psychological one is that when a person is ready, facing and releasing some of one’s grief can provide catharsis for body, heart and soul. What we have previously felt and experienced is what we carry around in our body regardless.  So it can help to release some of our burdens when we are ready.  Most importantly, meditation can help with the ‘when we are ready’ part because in a meditative state the limbic system in the brain is less reactive This is the area of the brain which generates strong emotions such as fear, apprehension and anger. So, in meditation we can sometimes cope more easily with deeper emotions than at other times because the reactive adrenalin-producing sympathetic system is calmed and the balancing action of the parasympathetic system is supporting us by slowing down the reactivity of the body and in this way cradling us at a higher level of safety.

While all meditation methods will hopefully lead to a less reactive but more open and safe state, there are wide differences in techniques. For the person who doesn’t want to start by witnessing his or her thoughts, focusing on parts of the body, the breath, a real or imagined candle flame, or a repeated mantra or sound can assist in staying in a focused or concentrated state.  More physical-based focuses are usually recommended for people who suffer from depression as relief from incessant thoughts can allow for the meditative switch-off button. Using these techniques, some people can let go of all or most thought for some duration of time, and when thoughts enter awareness the meditator is encouraged to let them pass by and move on.

On the other hand, sitting and consciously watching one’s thoughts as a practice (with non-attachment) is a great revealer and separator from ongoing mental chatter as it can reveal connections between thoughts. Patterns of thought can be witnessed and as they are witnessed they tend to drop away, disintegrate, bring insight and/or untangle lived experience. In meditation thoughts will come and go, just as body aches will sometimes come and go. Pain itself can be used as a great focus of meditation. As one sits and inquires into the nature and qualities of physical, mental or emotional pain, some relief can often be found from the reactivity to this pain. In other practices, rather than letting thought free-fall, we can choose to start by focusing on a particular thought, such as gratitude, or even a topic or area of personal challenge, and then see what thoughts and experiences arise.

I have found that people tend to have a preferred way to meditate once different techniques are acquired. For instance, some people are not particularly visual, and therefore trying to focus on an image, such as an imagined candle flame, can bring up frustration and disappointment. Some people are very aural and therefore repeated sound awareness such as silent or aloud chanting is a great way to move inwards. Body scanning techniques where the focus moves slowly from body part to body part is often recommended for beginners, but this is available to all of us at all times, as we are all in essence beginners. It is important to note that different meditation techniques are not suited to all mental health conditions, but there are ways each of us can stay present, even if briefly.

For everyone, the breath is always present and available. We all know how to do that, so by just watching our breathing we tend to slow our system down. Here witnessing the natural breath flowing at the nostrils is sublime. They do not need to be long breaths. Often, any instruction to ‘slow the breath down’ is too active and activates the adrenalin system in decision-making and thereby moves us away from subtlety and deeper knowledge. Here, the one goal is to watch the breath AS IT IS, in its natural state.

Meditation is the observance and accepting of things, as they are, in their natural state. Try it, it can’t fail you.

Suzanne Frydman ©

A WALKING MEDITATION – LOOPING AROUND FORREST

January 5th, 2015 | Posted by sfrydman in Meditation - (Comments Off)

forrest 8_webEngaging with nature can encourage meditation by providing enhanced opportunities to follow the breath, body, mind and senses. Meditating in a supermarket, on a train, or any other noisy place is also possible if certain practices are developed, but a forest can provide props that fast-track this experience. And what a forest floor there is in Forrest! Perhaps one can’t help but meditate when entering it.

Finding rainforest: A good pathway to quiet meditative walks is to continue south from Forrest for four hundred metres and then turn off left towards the West Barwon Reservoir. One hundred metres towards the reservoir look out for a sign on the left for the Fern Gully Walk.  This takes you through untouched rainforest, around grassy banks, and over narrow fern-covered bridges that cross over a trickling creek. The rich mix of undergrowth and trees are in contrast to the well-ordered forestry trees on the other side (west side) of the Forrest-Apollo Bay Road. Taking one slow step after another, nature releases you from the busyness of the outside world. Twenty minutes delivers you to the reservoir picnic grounds and surrounding tree tops. From there your walk can extend to an exploration of the weir and the shimmering, still lake. Following the river and heading north will bring you back to the Forrest township where there are gardens, hand-made structures and historical reminders to admire.

Forrest is indeed an ideal place to unwind. Meditation is a process where there is always something new to emerge or release. Walking slowly, deliberately and establishing a rhythm creates a break from our more regular unconscious physical movements. Walking in silence allows for even more awareness. By doing things meditatively we can interrupt or slow down the adrenal system enough so that we are not in fight or flight mode. When then brain and the body relax enough or in new ways, the whole body system calms down and begins to repair itself. New insights can arise and we can physically feel changes taking place.forrest 23_web

The Breath: With no phones to check (hopefully) we can set off with the company of our breath. One of the quickest ways to connect with deeper parts of ourselves, and slow down that adrenal system, is through following the natural breath. This initially involves not slowing or lengthening the breath in any way, but simply observing what our breath is doing in any moment. It is amazingly simple yet regularly forgotten. And just by watching our breath, it tends to slow down, regulate itself and restore our cells. What better place to do this than in a forest full of natural energy.

The Senses: Engaging with our senses can mean disengaging from our thoughts, worries and plans long enough to be in the moment. Placing ourselves in a context bigger than our own thoughts is perhaps a necessity. The Fern Gully path lives up to its name. Here endless varieties of green, light, and patterns hold our attention. In this setting our eyes can both rest and remain curious with each step. Research has revealed how stimulus from our senses can either soothe or over-stimulate our body systems. The rainforest is not a place to be bored, unappreciative or negative. Simply, it is bigger than us and the whole body intuits this message.

The Mind: After we have walked for a while with a focus on our breath and/or senses, we might notice that some of our thoughts have lost their grip. Or not. Honestly observing whatever is in the mind is one of the ways to loosen our thoughts’ grip on us. Often, when we are still enough to watch thoughts float past the screen of our minds, some lose their power and float away. In this way, new insights can arise. At the reservoir lake, water is a great element to meditate on – it can be calm, choppy, narrow or deep – just like our minds. A forest meditation can also continue long after the walk has ended as the pictures and qualities of nature remain in our mind’s eye.

Forrest has so many beautiful pockets such as this loop walk, or Lake Elizabeth and/or other trails. Choosing to walk any of them is a privilege for each walking moment is unique, like each of us. If completing a walk with others, it is fascinating to ask them what took their attention?  We are or become what our attention is.fern-gully-walk

Suzanne Frydman       www.relaxcommunications.com.au

This article first appeared in Otway Life Winter 2013 Issue 3

BEING PRESENT THROUGH CREATIVE ARTS THERAPY

August 16th, 2014 | Posted by sfrydman in Healing - (Comments Off)

According to my training & practice here are some of my applications:

It is about being in the flow: when we are engaged in an activity that requires full attention our body systems get a chance to relax. Full attention on a safe and engaging task gives our adrenalin system time to slow down, and activates the parasympathetic system. Or in other words, it simply feels good.  And if it doesn’t feel good, it at least often offers relief from other thoughts that can grip us and prevent us from being in the moment.

It is about personal learning: when we turn on our creativity (yes, we are all creative in unique ways) significant personal learning often takes place. We all have our well-known narratives, stories we tell ourselves and others, and when required, we retell and explore these themes to therapists and counsellors. Traditional talking therapies can certainly be most effective but creative arts therapies are great for creating spaces where new knowledge can emerge. Sometimes our old stories or narratives are exactly what can hold us back. By creating something in a new way there is usually some surprise, strength and direction that reveals itself. When we are engaged in some form of creating while we talk or sit quietly, such as drawing or doodling, ideas can flow in interesting ways.

For when we don’t want to talk about it, or can’t: drawing, writing, movement, clay and sand tray work are all options for when we either can’t talk about some things or are not ready to. With negotiated prompts from the therapist (also often called the Companion in this methodology), the client/inquirer can create a safe language in which to express things that need to emerge slowly. This creates both release and containment of issues as not everything should be expressed at certain times or all at once. Containment alongside gentle realisations is a form of catharsis that is important and meaningful. This is particularly relevant when dealing with trauma which often first presents in the body.

Journey is enough for the vase

Journey is enough for the vase

It is multi-modal: in this methodology the inquirer can move from one form of expression to another, or stay with a form they are most comfortable with. Some choose to write, some draw, and others a combination of various forms of expression. When clients are comfortable switching into different modes of expression as the dialogue progresses, this can create great personal learning. For example, automatic (non-stop) writing can then be followed by picking out key words that immediately stand out, then perhaps moving to crayons, clay… The choices are varied and decided by the client.

The inter-subjective response: the therapist or companion usually offers a response to the inquirer, again in creative form of some kind (examples I’ve recently been drawn to have included playdough, poetry and pieces of music). This is a “giving” that the inquirer might resonate with in any way and can form the continuation of the dialogue. It also reduces power imbalances between “therapist” and “client” by allowing the clients to take ownership of what does or doesn’t feel right, according to their needs and experience. In other words, this is very much a client-centred or person-centred approach. Sharing with another, particularly in group sessions, is a powerful way to connect to self and others, and this is even more relevant in the age of so much on-screen time. The therapist or companion is there to provide prompts and open up dialogue but the client is the expert of his or her personal experience.

It is about commitment: committing to a session is a great way to discipline oneself, and perhaps develop a personal practice. We might know all these things above, but do we actually do them regularly? If not, you’re not alone in this challenge.

It is about resonance – what rings true. Research into the effectiveness of different counselling approaches has repeatedly concluded that it is the “therapeutic relationship” that makes the difference, regardless of methodology. The client needs to feel that the therapist “gets him/her” to a large extent or at least is creating a safe and open space for exploration. Anything less is a compromise not worth pursuing. If, after allowing for the discomfort of being challenged, the client feels empowered and heard, then much healing can take place.

And what creative arts therapy is not:

  • It is not about becoming or being artists, writers, sculptures etc.
  • It is not ‘art therapy’ alone as forms of expression might include writing, movement etc.
  • It is not something only ‘creative people’ can do. We all create every day.

For those interested, I will be running a yoga and creative arts workshop at Rocklyn Ashram (near Ballarat, Vic) on Nov 21-23. Day options are available. For further information and/or bookings see http://www.yogavic.org.au/. For information about my creative arts therapy training see: http://www.miecat.org.au/

Suzanne Frydman ©

DROL KAR BUDDHIST CENTRE

June 12th, 2014 | Posted by sfrydman in Meditation - (Comments Off)

DhondupDrol Kar Buddhist Centre is a centre of calm in a lush area of Paraparap, close to Angelsea. Drol Kar means White Tara, the goddess of motherly compassion. Whether you are a believer or not in this particular spiritual tradition, places of retreat and devotion often gather an energy that can be felt and enjoyed by visitors. People from various backgrounds have been coming to this location for nearly a decade.

Dhondup’s welcome:

Anyone who visits Drol Kar will probably be greeted by Dhondup, the resident terrier whose genuine excitement, minus any bark, is most inviting. Once a rescue dog, Dhondup (‘good fortune’) now displays a great sense of inner security and joy, and this is perhaps symbolic of much of the great work this centre initiates.

Background:

Drol Kar Buddhist Centre was established in Geelong in 1999 and moved to Paraparap in 2005. Venerable Geshe Sonam Thargye is the centre’s spiritual director and founder. Geshe Sonam Thargye is from the Mahayana line of Tibetan Buddhism and he first came under the direct guidance of His Holiness the Dalai Lama when seeking refuge in Dharamsala in India. This connection to the Dalai Lama has continued throughout Geshe’s life and work in Australia. Geshe Sonam invited the Dalai Lama to Geelong on two occasions (2002 & 2007). His Holiness visited the Drol Kar Buddhist Centre on both these visits – firstly in 2002 when the centre was in Geelong and the second time in 2007at Paraparap.

The centre is managed by a dedicated committee and its resident teacher is Venerable Jampa Drolma. The calendar hosts a range of programs and there is also a shop full of excellent resources. Geshe Sonam’s Nying-Jey Projects (http://www.njp.org.au/) is an international sponsorship organisation that has provided health and educational opportunities to communities in India and Tibet. The local and global vision of this spiritual leader becomes clearer the more you spend time at Drol Kar.

The Grounds and Temple:

This is an oasis for quiet reflection. Sometimes these places can actually be hard to be in, as we must be still in ourselves. The gardens have enough pockets to safely fold one’s self into in order to experience the moment, sit, walk quietly and/or engage with the environment. There are local people who come here regularly to reflect, study, volunteer and be part of a community of shared intentions. The gompa (temple) has been the vessel for many people’s prayers and inner thoughts. Spending time in this space, as any spiritual place, perhaps allows the recipient to enter the prayers and hopes of others who leave their footprints here. When in the temple, nature’s sounds are all around and the border of inner and outer seems to drop away.

Meditation:

There’s a saying that the less time you think you have for meditation, the longer you should do it for. ‘Mindfulness’ is a buzz word at the moment and can mean different practices to different people. Helen McKenzie is a committee member who has been connected to Drol Kar Buddhist Centre since 2001 and has been living at the centre in Paraparap since its establishment. On inquiry, Helen provided an excellent definition of ‘mindfulness’ that goes beyond any differences in techniques. Helen explains mindfulness as ‘being in control of your mind, rather than your mind in control of you’ and the road to getting there as ‘understanding the mind.’ Some mindfulness techniques include visual imagery, following the breath, and other mind and body awareness practices. Ideally we can do these things in a range of situations, but being in this place perhaps gives us more permission, reminders and guidance of how to do so meaningfully.

The Dalai Lama’s Visit:

In 2007 the Dalai Lama visited and unveiled the plaque in the stupa (pagoda) and blessed the gompa (temple). As the great leader’s schedule was tight, he was actually helicoptered in from Melbourne. Landing on the neighbour’s adjoining property, he was greeted through a gate by overjoyed community members and walked along a prepared path into the temple where he shared some teachings. An hour or so later he was then helicoptered off to Geelong for a much larger appearance that many locals still remember.

Your visit:

Drol Kar Buddhist Centre is available for all members of the public so it is certainly worth taking a look at their yearly program or calling the centre for further information about types of visits. While perhaps the whole of the Otways is a temple where each of us can find awe, this is a place on the way there that captures and symbolises some of the things us humans might be doing when we identify with things bigger than ourselves.

Further information: www.drolkarbuddhistcentre.org.au

Phone: 03 52661788

This article first appeared in Otway Life Autumn Issue 2

EATING THE OTWAYS

June 12th, 2014 | Posted by sfrydman in Travel - (Comments Off)

JoesShedLike many, I moved south-west in order to grow more, slow more and be part of a great community. But while each year’s Christmas hampers includes more home-made, sourcing local produce is still ongoing. And what a joy it is…

First stop is the family Sgro’s Foothill Organics where you can buy organic produce from the farm’s roadside shed at 80 Oakleys Road in Yeo. Jo has an abundance of vegetables and other produce waiting to be chosen. Depending on when you drop by, you might even enjoy the aromas of freshly-laid out manures – a reminder of what it takes to grow real food. Inside the shed it is cool on hot days. Running on an honesty system, the shed has a comments board, menu suggestion sheets, is open before and after daylight hours, and is a space to commune with your future food and sometimes other like-minded passersby.

Another developing roadside assist can be found just outside Moriac on the Cape Otway Road towards Apollo Bay. Selling flowers for a number of years, this car to gate stop-off now has an increasing range of edibles for sale. Last year’s winter bounties of quinces were bagged up and ready, and this year jams and other produce are appearing.

Sourcing local produce and thinking local is not a new concept. And the explosion of wonderful produce in this region can easily be appreciated, for example, by exploring the Otways Harvest Trail (http://otwayharvesttrail.org.au/). But gratitude for such abundance is indeed something we can all continue to nurture by reflecting on the local environments and the people who make it all happen.

In Apollo Bay there is a large hub of activity that creates, shares and volunteers time to make real food and community happen. When you bring your own bags and containers to the Apollo Bay Farmers Market, grains can flow graciously to their next destination. In this great town people are known to leave extra produce outside their door or gate, for pick up, and food swaps, circles, working bees and permaculture groups are all on the go. No doubt even more progress is on its way from these folk in the Bay…

Meanwhile in the Colac district there is the new Green Pastures milk from sustainable practices, a venture by five farming families now selling at Coles supermarkets. Although I hadn’t bought milk for quite some time, I did the other day and enjoyed reading about the local Davis family featured on the Meet Your Farmer section of the carton. When you can get acupuncture treatment in Colac and walk out with locally-produced honey from the same guy – Broomfield’s Honey, you know you are living in the right place. It is very exciting to see the south-west leading the charge with so much activity. I look forward to learning more about this from others in future editions here in this magazine.

This article first appeared in Otway Life Summer Issue 1

SEEKING ANSWERS: IT IS NOT ILLEGAL TO SEEK ASYLUM

February 19th, 2014 | Posted by sfrydman in Travel - (Comments Off)

A forest outside a small village in Germany. On entering this particular forest there was a sign at the entrance of the path which my husband translated. It was the first principle of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 (http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/).

Every man has a right to seek asylum...

The picture here is principle 14 – ‘it is not illegal to seek asylum’

This forest had a designed walking path along which all the articles of this Declaration were signposted. Article number 14, in full, is: (1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” We spent the afternoon stopping at each of these signs along the path.

Travelling in Germany was both confronting and healing for me. For instance, I couldn’t NOT look at places and wonder about hiding places. I write about seeing this sign knowing that comparisons are most inappropriate and bound to fail as each disaster in history has its own uniqueness, most certainly to the people who went through it. Nevertheless, I did take this photo in Germany. And it can help to look back at history, our own and others. So it is lessons, not comparisons, we can draw on. In Australia people are currently being ‘lost at sea’ and traumatised. Yesterday was a day of tragedy, with one refugee being killed on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and others seriously injured, physically and psychologically.

What is this hysteria about ‘stopping the boats’? Unfortunately boats full of people in need have been turned back in other times, for instance the MS St Louis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MS_St._Louis) in 1939 from the shores of Cuba. And fortunately, other boats have been received. Our own ex-prime minster Malcolm Fraser ensured a safe place for many Vietnamese refugees in the seventies. Those already converted to the cause know all this, and more.

I want to share this photo and figure out what small things I can do. This is serious, awful stuff right now. And we need to talk.

What I bring to this current debate is that much of my previous working life included teaching English to refugees. I learnt much from my students from many countries, some who were asylum seekers and lost in their own memories. When I first started teaching English the classrooms were full of refugees from the former Yugoslavia. These folk all sat, shared and studied in the same classroom, despite circumstances forcing many of them to be enemies in their home territories. As many English language teachers can tell you, these classrooms are usually full of respect for diversity. And the teacher gets a massive education. That’s why I kept doing it for years.

If I am to be really honest, at the start there were plenty of times when I felt intimidated to work with “those people”, whichever people I assumed them to be, and for whatever reasons. We all experience fear of the unknown. And, it is really confronting to sit with other people’s traumas. What if it were us?

During that recent trip to Germany I stayed with one of my husband’s dear German friends. Truth is, we were checking each other out for a bit, and then we finally talked history. When he dropped us at the train at the end of our stay, I watched him shed tears as he bravely waved us goodbye, and I fell in love with him, and his country.better one cropped

I have fallen in love with many of my students over many years. I want to keep falling in love with the Australia that has been the refuge to many migrants. I want to talk with others about this.

Human rights lawyer Julian Burnside has said that he writes back to people who disagree with him and he actually changes the minds of 50% of those people, by giving them facts. See: http://theconversation.com/julian-burnside-alienation-to-alien-nation-18290.

I have no idea what to do with, for, about the boats. But the fact remains, Seeking asylum is not illegal. And locking people up indefinitely in dreadful conditions in places such as Manus Island is no solution.We need to talk, write, act.

Suzanne Frydman ©

WHY I TOOK A SPIRITUAL NAME

January 10th, 2014 | Posted by sfrydman in Healing | Yoga - (Comments Off)

Before I went to the ashram for Swami Niranjanananda’s Easter visit to Rocklyn ashram in 2009 a friend asked me if I would take on a spiritual name. Why in the hell would I do that, I told her.

I left the retreat with a spiritual name Shakti (feminine energy). Now sometimes people ask me why I took on a spiritual name and what it means to me and so…

The process goes something like this in Australia: you reflect on why you’d like to take an initiation and what it means for your personal yoga and life practices, you read up on the guidelines provided at the ashram prior to the ceremony, sign up for this commitment, and then on initiation day the visiting Swami from India might give you your name, mantra, symbol etc. The name given is not chosen by the initiate, rather it is given by the Guru.

SAMSUNG

I went along to this retreat merely curious. I had already completed six months of my (two-year) Satyananda yoga training and was most passionate about the creative and all-encompassing yogic ways of Satyananda, which to me includes not just asana etc but colour and sound vibration and an ashram environment that envelops you and provides space for deep exploration and acceptance.

What I knew about Swami Niranjanananda was that he grew up under the guidance of Swami Satyananda. I wondered what someone who had been involved in these deeply healing and spiritual practices since childhood would be like.

But when Swami Niranjanananda entered the ashram grounds the whole atmosphere lifted. I started feeling this for a number of minutes before someone explained that he had arrived. I believe he himself changed and elevated the vibration of the place, but I am satisfied enough to have it more logically explained as people reacting to each other and the signs in their environment. Probably these things come down to belief, and I have always believed we operate psychically anyway.

SwamijiFor the next three days I watched as the Swami talked, prayed and moved with us (or us with him…). One afternoon he entered the room and I just started crying, overwhelmed by emotion. Before this actually happened to me, I had watched all sorts of clips of hippies (I couldn’t be one of them?) crying as they sang devotional songs, and had slight envy of their access to emotion, alongside major disdain for what might have been fake. Yet there I was in awe of a Swami in orange. Those people?

Mostly I laughed a lot during the long weekend. Like the Dalai Lama, Mandela and other great leaders, Swami had the lightness of being that allowed him to smile and laugh his way through all sorts of snippets of wisdom, and he constantly gave the rest of us moments of a-ha recognition we could feel in our bellies. One of those snippets I clearly recall was about taking responsibility. In the end Swami Niranjanananda knocked me off my meditation cushion through his intellect, although the laughter helped build the trust.  The wisdom and reminders he gives are practical and intelligent nuggets that can steer us towards right action. Although I can’t replicate the ethereal way he expressed the need for responsibility I was struck by his urging us to speak our truth, the “if we have a tongue, use it…” metaphor has stayed with me at times when I would rather have avoided clear communication, avoided risking conflict, and/or the need to define myself. I know from Swami Niranjanananda that I can’t escape to my yoga mat or feel sorry for myself for too long.

Over that weekend each time I saw him walking out of or into a room or along a path I moved aside and retreated. To be honest, my awe bordered on intimidation and for me I took that as a positive thing. Or at least, unusual.

After my initiation, I had quite a journey still to complete in my yogic studies. There were times when I thought of taking a plane flight and completing my yoga training  more quickly at other venues. I think having made the commitment at initiation helped me find the energy (shakti…) to stick with the challenge of Satyananda yoga.

And it is still a challenge. Compliance and adherence to rituals are not so easy for me. And yet, when I have these questions about ritual I feel the guru I chose would accept me battling with my intellect. As long as I come out of it through my heart. I am not even sure what I mean by ‘guru’ as I don’t believe Swami Niranjanananda wants or needs ‘followers’. I am however, most grateful to the Satyananda tradition for both the freedom and the direction it provides.

Last year I attended another retreat during which Swami Satsangi, Swami Niranjanananda’s next in line, was initiating yogis. I did not take further initiation this time. I think my heart is still opening, thanks to Swami Niranjanananda.

Suzanne Frydman ©

LESSONS FROM MY GARDEN

June 20th, 2013 | Posted by sfrydman in Healing - (Comments Off)

garden1

 

Having never gardened before I moved to the Otways, and now having gardened for two years, I have been reflecting on what digging in the patch has taught me.

That mothers are right.

Beginners luck, she said I would have. So when my tomatoes grew big, red and juicy and hers floundered, we would laugh and she would tell me to shut up.

Of course secretly, or not so secretly, mum was proud of my success.

 

 

Results can’t be measured by volume.

garden2Two spring seasons in a row I sprinkled California and Iceland poppy seeds. Not one flower in sight, until finally one lone poppy emerged, and disappeared almost as quickly. Its short stay provided enough bliss to make all previous efforts worthwhile.

When my husband’s two zucchinis never made it to anywhere near the potential marrow proportions he’d warned me about we smiled at our optimism at planting them too late, and enjoyed whatever they had become, or not.

When “frosts” hit the soul, wait. Something is still growing inside.  

Events in life can occur and frost all self-expression. The year 2013 started off with a January that included some major personal challenges for me. For a number of weeks over summer I was unable to stay still in the garden, or still anywhere in myself. Anything that would have helped connect deeply with self, such as music, yoga and the newly found passion for gardening, was hard to do. Yet while I was regrouping inside, rocket plants went on with their cycle, dropping uncollected seeds all over the patch. Autumn then included masses of extra rocket in clumps that grew from the seeds that had jumped, or flown, rows.

It’s best not to be a “know-all” – humility is a form of serving.

When I was first sent to a veggie garden during my yoga training at the ashram, I would be quite nervous and ask before I pulled anything out of the ground. A number of years on, and I struck on a lovely tarragon “weed.” When my supervisor saw that I had pulled out such a delightful herb, he was so surprised and concerned for its survival that he immediately busied himself placing it back into the soil as if it has never happened, and didn’t mention my folly. Ahhh, finally a doozie of a mistake in the ashram garden. And not the last.

Ground one’s self in what works best.

It is fine to learn from mistakes, have wonderful accidents, and try and try again for that one lone poppy. Each of these bring their own lessons, but for developing real confidence and bringing food to the table, know what works. Know your strengths and limitations by grounding practices in knowledge. This of course is true of any endeavour. In the garden, know your soil. Leafy greens have been a delight to grow, but each time I have planted carrots in the same compost-rich soil they have formed into longish keratin fingernails. Don’t plant things in the same place each season, especially if they didn’t have much success the first time around. Knowing what works for us frees up energy and space. A successful garden is well-observed and well-planned.

Embrace abundance. Remain curious.

garden3There are many varieties of greens out there. This autumn plate (see picture) includes cress, mustard mizuna, and radish leaves collected at the end of our summer garden. Leafy greens have been the easiest to grow, both from pots and patch, and there are so many greens to choose from. I had early success with beetroots, which has informed my interest in different varieties. Try seedlings, seeds and seed collecting. Read widely on a range of techniques. Embrace the opportunity for life-long learning. Ask others what works for them.

A ninety-four year old gardening legend and friend, who when he hit ninety taught himself about computers, advises me “Google Peter Cundall.” These days there is such an abundance of information on the net and a wide range of gardening groups all over the country.

If it doesn’t smell right, fix it.

Yes, the guts of the compost. The head can’t always figure out or remember measurements, but if it doesn’t smell right or look like it is on the move, do something. A pile might need a bit of water, or more shredded newspaper carbon in the form of car and real estate sections. Following what is brewing through observation and gut instinct can allow us to adjust and repair before we are left with a stinking mess. Following one’s intuition, as nature expertly does, can help guide us and can certainly assist in halting further problems.

Finding our uniqueness.

garden4We often identify parts of ourselves through our job roles and relationships. But perhaps reflecting on what we resonate with in nature can reveal even more. Ask yourselves, which plants are you attracted to and why?  Think about form, colour, longevity, brilliance, statement, understatement, to name a few qualities. While I am often inspired by a changing range of flowers, for me it is the iris that I most relate to. Observe your own reactions to the environment around you.

Access nature to access the self.

Happy diggin…

Suzanne Frydman ©

KUR CULTURE AT KLOSTER GERODE

April 28th, 2013 | Posted by sfrydman in Travel | Yoga - (Comments Off)

yoga room webWhile travelling in Germany last year it was fascinating to come across healing clinics in towns and villages. Kur culture, the tradition of spending time at a health clinic to recuperate from life’s stresses, is a well-known and accepted tradition in parts of Central and Eastern Europe. Stemming from the widespread historical practice of visiting natural spa regions for relaxation, leisure and healing, retreat culture seemed to be very much a part of local paradigm.

As a Satyananda yoga teacher, I wanted to take time out and learn more about yoga and healing in Europe. So, after locating a health retreat close enough to our final destination of Berlin (approx. 300km), my partner and I headed to a spot where indeed there are no spas, but rather forests and a centre that was once a Benedictine Monastery.  Weg der Mitte (The Middle Way) Foundation is the vision of Daya Mullins Ph. D, M.S.C., who in 1977 initially established a yoga centre in Berlin and later purchased this former monastery and grounds for retreats and further research into yoga practices and therapy. The opportunity to stay in a historical monastery setting combined with what this retreat location seemed to offer according to its website (www.wegdermitte) seemed the ideal way to travel.

Getting to the retreat via the German Autobahn, on which there are no speed limits, was perhaps the ultimate contrast to what lay in store. That afternoon we travelled about 300 kilometers from the fascinating medieval town of Rothenberg ob der Tauber and arrived at the retreat in the early evening. With the last stretch completed in heavy German summer rain, it was a joy to ring the bell at the monastery gate and be greeted by a calm resident, provided with indoor slippers, and then a sumptuous organic, mostly home-grown meal. The highlight, as is so often the case when travelling, were the people. Seated at the table were a range of visitors and residents all keen to exchange reasons for being there. Except for us, everyone was German that week, but the range of ages, experiences with yoga, and areas of Germany from where they had all arrived, varied. Opportunities to learn about yoga in Germany continued throughout the retreat. And there were plenty of fluent English speakers curious and keen to quiz us about where we came from.

The way the whole centre is run demonstrates its commitment to healing practices and the founding members’ vision to integrate various Eastern practices into everyday life. The resident who orientated us on the first evening had been with the foundation from its early years and clearly walked the talk. While this retreat centre, just south of the Harz mountains, runs a wide range of courses and training all year round, Weg der Mitte foundation continues its work in Berlin. This includes yoga classes for the public, extensive outreach karma yoga in the community for parents and children in need, support for the chronically ill and other services. All of this is backed up by many years of research and practice.

Here in the forests of central Germany, it is not hard to feel supported and contained and the feel of the retreat is quickly acquired at the start of the first meal, all of which are eaten in noble silence for the first few minutes. The history of the place certainly provides visitors with opportunities to experience gratitude. After the Second World War the former monastery became a refuge for orphans. During divided Germany, the forest walks around the monastery were off limits to the local citizens of the GDR. After the Berlin Wall came down the monastery and its grounds were purchased by the Foundation. It is easy to see why Weg der Mitte chose this location. Some of the fourteenth century stone walls are still in place and the green setting and large grounds provide ample space for walking, exploring, and reflecting.

Herb garden 2 web

The integrated yoga system practiced here is called Benefit Yoga and the former kloster is also home to the European College for Yoga Therapy (ECYT).  This system of yoga describes itself as a ‘method firmly grounded in authentic Yoga, Yoga Therapy, Ayurveda, and the understanding of and respect for the interconnectedness of life’ (www.wegdermitte.com). Teacher training in Benefit Yoga is a four-year commitment, but there are a range of other courses and stay options for those wanting an initial or ongoing taste of yogic life. Yoga classes take place every morning and while the instruction is generally in German, the multi-talented European teachers can and did provide added instructions in English with linguistic ease. That week we were taught by both a new teacher in training as well as a very experienced practitioner. This included the blessing of witnessing the ongoing transmission and rejuvenation of tradition from master to student, and back from student to master.

The morning classes in Benefit Yoga are a wonderful opportunity to experience and/or rediscover some of yoga’s fundamental elements. These included completing balanced asana programs with attention to all parts of the body in a detailed and very safe manner. In particular, I picked up a few new asanas to bring awareness and release for the arms, a region that I can sometimes neglect in my own practice and classes. The moments of pure simplicity and depth when in pranayama practices were enhanced by the exquisite surroundings of the sadhana practice space and forested grounds.

Further opportunities to be yogic abound in the place – the herb garden is a large and enclosed space where communing with the sleeping resident cats is always an option, exploring the vegetable produce inspires gratitude, and there are plenty of opportunities to be involved in karma yoga. A commitment of some seva yoga in the form of preparing meals is required during a stay and this also provides a way to connect with others, serve and observe yoga in daily life. The evenings consist of a group meditation and kirtan session. It would be hard not be inspired by these musical sessions in which a range of spiritual chants, prayers and expressions from different traditions and languages are led by residents. Open for all to participate and observe according to personal level of comfort and interest, there is some amazing talent and energy among the residents who seem to bring everyone together. While mouna (noble silence) is not practiced at other times apart from start of meals, my partner and I were so awed when exiting the sadhana space into the forested grounds that we moved into mouna at the end of the first evening and kept this nightly practice for the duration of our stay.

Individual yoga sessions are available for more personal tuition and there is also a health clinic where various modalities are available, such as shiatsu, craniosacral and acupuncture (pre-book before arrival). Accommodation is available in single, or 2-3 beds in a room with bathrooms. The vegetarian food is organic, plentiful and full of variety and goodness, and Kloster Gerode’s location, so close to the majestic Harz and Ohm mountains, makes it a unique place to be yogic when on the Continent. Living up to its translated name of  The Middle Way, Weg Der Mitte’s retreat also has a weekend café which is open to residents and visitors. Here one can indulge in Kaffee und Kuchen (Coffee & Cake), as is traditional in Germany, with cakes including ingredients such as the locally grown aronia berry.

front entrance web

Eventually, after a cake (or two) our time came to leave. We marveled, as one does at the end of a retreat, at how relaxed we had been and how quickly the place had worked its charms on us. At times, we had even slept too much and eaten too much. We had simply let our bodies unwind and now was the time to wind up again, or at least focus on Autobahn driving.

Kloster Gerode is the type of place where visitors can choose their own pace of retreat, while being given a retreat framework that inspires reflection and peace. For further information see www.wegdermitte.de

© Suzanne Frydman / Relax Communications