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

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

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 ©

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 ©