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.


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.


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


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


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 ©


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.


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 ©


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



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 ©


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