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

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 ©

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