Being Sattvic

I’ve signed up for the two week Sadhana Intensive course at the Sivananda ashram in Orleans in France this August. It is, by all accounts, quite intense (so much so that everyone I mention it to feels the need to tell me that).

You have to have a well established yoga practise to be allowed to do the course. And even if you do have a well established practise, there are a number of things you have to do in the lead up to it to prepare yourself for the course, so that you can get the full benefits of the exercises you will be doing.

Most of it I do already. No meat, no booze, no drugs, etc. That part’s easy. They also want you to do fifteen to twenty rounds of anuloma viloma (alternate nostril breathing) every day. Ok, not a problem, provided I remember to do it that is. Where it gets tricky is the sattvic diet.

Trying to follow a sattvic diet, sometimes called the yoga diet, is hard because of the way most ready-made food is made (even the good stuff). To follow the sattvic diet you need to be vegetarian, but also cut out things like garlic, onion (including spring onion, shallots, leek, etc.), caffeine, and a few other things I didn’t even know about.

an unsattvic shopping bag

This is the bag of shopping I bought before going to teach last night. Now I’d been good in not buying veggie sausages. Pretty much all of them contain some form of garlic and onion. In fact most pre-prepared veggie foods have garlic and onion in, mostly because they’re cheap and they add a lot of flavour. But garlic and onion unsettle the mind and make meditation more difficult, so we need to cut them out apparently.

So I avoided the sausages, but what I didn’t think about was the ketchup and baked beans. They don’t have garlic and onion on their ingredients lists, but I’d be surprised if the catch-all term ‘spices’ didn’t include garlic and onion somewhere along the line. So, no ketchup and baked beans for me.

Ok, that’s fine. But where else did I go wrong? Well, mushrooms it seems are a bit of a no-no. I don’t know why? Perhaps it’s something to do with the cleansing quality they are considered to have in Chinese medicine, so much so that you’re meant to avoid them when ill, as they will rob your body of vital nutrients. Or perhaps it’s that they can be ‘gas inducing’, as I just read somewhere. Not what you need if you’re going to be doing lung cleansing exercises.

NB: Just so you know, I’m not saying I believe all or even any of this. This is just what people say.

So that’s half my shopping bag out. But what about the rest? Well, the chocolate pudding is no good because of the caffeine. And depending on who you ask I should probably be avoiding the bell peppers as well, because they’re a bit spicy. Which leaves me with the bread rolls. As far as I know, no one has a problem with bread, yet (though I’m sure someone would have something to say about yeast!).

Anyway…

For my purposes, a sattvic diet means vegetarian food, no garlic, no onion, no mushrooms, no caffeine. Fine. But what about the rest of your diet? What about what your mind consumes?

Swami Krishnadevananda used to tell a story about when he was at the Paris centre. He would spend all week meditating and trying to be sattvic, then on his day off he would go see all kinds of stuff at the movies. Not that he used to go see stuff that was deliberately violent or anything, I just think he wasn’t being too discerning in what he went to see. He eventually realised the pointlessness of doing all this hard work during the week, only to undo some of it on his day off. That’s why he quit going to the cinema.

That’s not to say moives can’t be sattvic. It’s just that the sattvic ones are few and far between. And often not good. When I was staff at the ashram in Austria we used to have movie nights. The films they chose to show that I can recall are Peaceful Warrior, some borderline TV movie with Nick Nolte as a zen master/warrior mechanic type thing, Stardust, a modern fairytale which has more famous faces in it than it deserves, and The Mahabarata, a six hour epic adaption of a nine hour stage play of which the less said about it the better.

Now while these films weren’t exactly bad (with the exception of The Mahabarata which was boring in the extreme!) they weren’t exactly good either. Take away the things that cause the biggest reactions in people – guns, violence, sex, etc. – and you’ve got to be pretty skillful in writing to come up with something that is both interesting and which moves people; in the same way that you’ve got to be a good cook to make nice food when some of the biggest flavours are taken away from you.

So what are good sattvic movies? Well, I’ve been wracking my brains, and this is what I’ve come up with so far:

Now it might seem a little obvious showing a film set in India to a bunch of yogis, but set that aside and what you have is a brilliant film about people being people, trying to come to terms with their own lives in the best way they know how. It’s a great film, and if you haven’t seen it I strongly recommend you give it a try.

I know it’s a kids movie but Pixar are the masters when it comes to making films the whole family can enjoy. And Finding Nemo is one of their absolute best. It’s surprisingly moving, and funny, and well worth your time. In fact I’d say pretty much anything by Pixar comes under the ‘Sattvic and worth seeing’ catagory, they’re just that good.

So, as you’ve probably figured out by now, being sattvic in todays world can be tough. They put garlic and onion in everything because they’re cheap easy ingredients to add flavour. They put sex and violence in everything because they’re cheap easy ingredients to get a reaction with. To be sattvic we need to be discerning about what we consume. We have to check the list of ingredients very carefully. And most important of all, if we’re not sure, we have to be strong enough to just put it down and walk away, and go find something more beneficial for us to enjoy.

The good stuff is out there people, it really is. You just have to but a bit more effort in to seek it out. But when you do, hopefully you’ll find that the effort has been worth your while.

It isn’t easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is. As the Stoics say

“Easy decisions, hard life. Hard decisions, easy life.”

I can give up garlic and onion. I can give up mushroom. I can even give up chocolate, though that’s going to be tough. But giving up tea, oh man! Now there’s a challenge and no mistake.

caffeine delivery system

Wish me luck! 😀

Oh, and don’t be too hard on yourself if you fall off the wagon every now and then. Even the best of us trip up on occasion. 😉

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Melbourne Medley

OK so, you may have noticed my last post has disappeared. I was asked to hide it for a while for reasons which I can’t go into yet, otherwise I’d have to hide this one as well, but it will be back asap.

For now I thought I’d just show you a few pics from the past week or two in Melbourne. They give a general idea of what I’ve been up to – outside of doing yoga, cooking and cleaning all the time.

The place where I’m staying is quite near the city, and you get some amazing views at night. Check this out for a complete Bladerunner Fantasy moment.

bladerunner fantasy

Imagine the sound of helicopters and police sirens, as there was when I took the photo, and I think you’ll agree it’s a movie moment and no mistake.

I’m also quite near the coast, which means St Kilda. On my rare days off I like to head down there and have a stroll about. You get some interesting things to see.

stand here

born slippy

It’s also great when the sun goes down. Check it out. Just 20 minutes or so from the centre of Melbourne and you get this!

st kilda pier sunset

st kilda sunset

No wonder Aussies are all down the beach all the time. I’d be too if I lived near a view like that.

We went on a visit last weekend to the nearby Shiva Ashram, to take part in their celebrations for Sivaratri (probably not how you spell it, lol). They’ve got a nice big centre, with a nice atmosphere, and it was very welcoming and relaxing.

siva ashram exterior

ashram satsang

Nice to visit another centre, and hang out with so many other like minded people. Really refreshes the batteries , know what I mean?

ganesha

om bags

And that’s it for now. I’m in Melbourne for another 12 days (we’ve got the Formula 1 Grand Prix this weekend, and I can hear the cars practicing just down the road even as I write this now) then it’s off to Sydney for a couple of weeks. After that it’s the drive up the east coast to Cairns. Booked the camper already. $910 with insurance for 14 days. A bargain I reckon.

Ok, that’s all for now. Back in a week or so with another update, and hopefully a full explanation of where that post went. Til then, om om. 😉

All Change! – from MUN to LON to SFO

My God, where to start?

Last time I blogged anything significant was over a month ago, so that’s a lot to catch up on. Thankfully, the last 4 weeks of my karma yoga went pretty much the same as the first 4 weeks – lots of getting up early, working all day, cooking food, and waiting for the time I could head off traveling – with the exception of the final week where things got a bit crazy.

The hotel by the ashram closed for renovations, so all the yoga guests were staying with the ashram for a while. I suddenly went from cooking for 14-18 people to cooking for 40-45 people in one fell swoop. And cooking for that many people makes a big difference let me tell you. Changes in recipes, cooking time, prep time, all has to be taken into consideration. I’ll be honest, I was glad it was only for my last week, and when it came time to go I was more than ready to get out of there.

Here’s a few pics from my final day of karma yoga. This is the last meal that I prepared, a kind of curry stew with split green dahl and brown rice.

the last supper

That’s the sort of thing I was cooking every day, dahl for protein, a grain, some vegetables, and a salad for a bit of raw. Get all those and you’ve got a balanced vegan diet.

I also made some Sivananda cookies for my last day, the ubiquitous cookies you get in the Sivananda centres around the world. They came out ok, and I even had enough mixture left over to make some giant (and one uber!) cookies for my leaving do later that day.

uber cookies, straight out the oven
 
you have been warned!

My ‘do’ was a bit of an impromptu affair. We just sat around, chatted, and had a bit of cake. I got gifts of a t-shirt and a book about Swami Sivananda, and I read from the Upanishads to get some inspiration for the journey ahead.

kicking back with the swamis

It was a nice way to bring my time at the ashram to a close. I’m glad I went there and gained the experience that I did. I’m now quite confident that I could run my own retreat centre one day – by that I mean it’s do-able, not that it’d be easy – but that is after I’ve done a bit of traveling and had a break from all the rules and all the early starts.

MUN – Munich

First stop out of the ashram was Munich for one night. I spent a couple of days with someone special, exploring the sights, having fun (and by that I mean eating lots of yummy vegan food cooked by someone else, lol) and just readjusting back to the ‘real’ world.

Here’s a few snapshots of what we got up to.

secret vegan club ;o)
 
vegan cake!
 
vegan eats in Munich

I had a really great time, and wished it could have been longer, but time waits for no man, and I had a mission to begin.

LON – London

London was crazy! I basically spent 4 days tear-arsing all over the place trying to get stuff done. I had stuff to buy for my trip, friends to see, a haircut to be had, an osteopath’s appointment to keep, my computer to get fixed, and a storage locker to visit, all of which had to happen in different parts of the city.

If I tell you that my computer got picked up on the Tuesday and didn’t get delivered back to me until half an hour before I left Friday morning, that I missed half my osteopath’s appointment because I was trying to buy a copy of Watership Down in central London, and I had to get a bike courier to pick up my jacket from the storage place because I left it there and didn’t have time to go back and get it, you can see what ‘fun’ I had, lol. It really was a mental couple of days, and part of me was glad to get on a 10 hour flight to San Francisco. There are certain aspects of London life I miss, but all the aggro isn’t one of them.

SFO – San Francisco

sunny days in san francisco

I got here a few days ago and, even with all the rain, it’s great to be here. This is a great city, nice looking, not too crazy, and the views are spectacular.

And the food! My God, the food…

surprisngly vegan diner burger, san francisco
 
This burger I had in a diner by the coast. It was vegan, which was a real bonus. In America most people tend to be vegan rather than vegetarian, if a plant based diet is the way they want to go, so you seem to get more vegan food in different places.

This bit of cake from the Loving Hut was delicious.
 
raspberry cake at the loving hut
 
Even the slightly disappointing vegan breakfast at the Red Victorian where I stayed for my first 2 nights wasn’t the worst thing in the world.

breakfast at the red victorian

I haven’t eaten this well in ages, and I’m in serious danger of putting back on the wee bit of a belly I lost while I was in the ashram. I need to keep an eye on that. Would be a shame to waste all that hard work for the sake of a few burgers and fries (and cake).

I was only in San Fran for a couple of days before heading out to Sacramento to see an old friend and his new family. I stayed on his Uncle’s strawberry farm out in the middle of nowhere,
 
the wrong side of the tracks
 
we went to visit the place where the gold rush (which pretty much made Califronia what it is today) started,
 
the chinese in the gold rush
 
and once again much delicious food was had by all, lol.
 
vegan reuben sandwich

vegan rocky road chocolate brownie
 
And now I’m back in San Francisco for another week, to do some proper sight seeing before I head off for my meditation retreat. It’s raining still, but that should clear up by the end of today, then it’s blue skies all the way. I hope so anyway, I’ve booked a trip to Alcatraz the day after.

And that’s me for now folks. Sorry for the long delay in blogging, and the need for a big catch up. Too much traveling, a lack of computer, and not enough online access make for a poor blogger. I’ll be sure to rectify that in the future.

And sorry for the lack of yoga based stuff too. I’ll be doing more of that too hopefully. After all, that’s kind of the point of this blog also, lol. To be honest, what with everything that’s been going on, I haven’t done a whole heap of sadhana recently. Did none for a few days in London, and just the most basic practice since I’ve been in California. But I’m getting better and pretty soon I’ll be trying some local classes and seeing what they’re up to. Now that I’m a bit more settled, and I’m caught up on all my stuff, I have the head space to give new things a go and see what they’re like. Keep your eyes peeled for new ‘revelations’, lol.

In the meantime, here’s a few extra pics from my travels for you to enjoy.

another world
 
trails in the sky
 
twin peaks 1
 
sunset from twin peaks (lens flare)
 
train, old sac
 
words at dusk
 
twin peaks 2

Life As A Karma Yogi

I’m half way through my time at the Sivananda Ashram, so I thought it’d be a good time to do a wee review of what it’s like to live the life of a Karma Yogi.

Just so we’re all on the same page, a Karma Yogi is a voluntary member of staff who lives and works at the ashram, doing whatever needs doing around the place. In return for this ‘selfless service’ you get fed and watered, the chance to do your yoga asanas every day, plus chanting and meditation sessions, and hopefully you get to advance in your practice little by little. For this reason it’s also known as a work/study program.

So, where to begin? Well first off I can tell you that I’ve certainly gone up in the world in terms of accommodation. I mean here’s where I started out on the TTC,

old digs

then I got moved to here,

new digs

and now look at me!

newer digs

Doing alright for myself, don’t you think? ..lol..

So, you might think it’s a bit weird being obsessed with your bed. But let me tell you, when you have to get up at 5:30am every morning – actually, I get up at 5:15am as I have some duties to perform before the 6:00am Satsang every morning – where you sleep and how you sleep suddenly becomes very important indeed!

And you don’t get a lot of other chances to rest apart from when you go to bed and your one hour break each day. Just check out the schedule on a typical day (if there can ever be such a thing) I had last week;

05:10 – Wake up before your alarm goes off. Weigh up getting up early versus five more minutes sleep. Choose sleep.
05:15 – Alarm goes off. Drag yourself out of bed and into the shower.
05:50 – Get to Satsang (daily chanting and meditation) ten minutes early to had out translation devices. Probably find out you forgot to charge them the night before. Panic a little.
06:00 – Satsang. Wait to see if you get asked to lead some kritan singing. Pray you don’t.
07:35 – Staff meeting. Find out what the plan is for the day. Get given a list of stuff to do.
08:00 – Join the guest yoga asana class.
08:20 – Get pulled out of class as the food order has arrived and it’s your job to check it off and put it all away.
10:00 – First meal of the day. Usually dahl, grain, veggie and some salad.
10:30 – Wash dishes and clean kitchen top to bottom along with other karma yogis.
12:15 – Continue figuring out where to put all the food that’s turned up. Pack and repack the fridge trying to get it all in.
13:30 – Take your break. Go online and spend the next hour replying to e-mails, uploading photos, and trying to blog (eg. this post you’re reading now has taken 4 days to do).
14:30 – Do your Sadhana (spiritual practice, consisting of asanas and meditation) since you couldn’t do it in the morning.
15:30 – Go down to check the translation system is charged up for tonight.
15:50 – Cook a meal for fourteen people even though two weeks ago you’d never done anything like that before.
17:45 – Panic that you won’t finish cooking in time. Worry that you haven’t made enough.
18:00 – Second meal of the day.
18:30 – Clean kitchen top to bottom again.
19:15 – Second Satsang of the day. Get there early for karma yoga again.
20:35 – Get disapproving looks when the translation mike runs out of power for the second time in two days.
21:00 – After Satsang, go rummage around in the store-room for a different mike as the one you have is clearly faulty.
21:30 – Go online. Answer the e-mails you didn’t have time to answer before. Do more blogging.
22:00 – Go to bed. Set alarm for seven hours time. Pray it won’t be freezing cold when you get up in the morning. Count the days ’til your day off.

And that wasn’t even one of the ‘eventful’ days, like when we have dozens of guests or there’s an early morning puja (religious ceremony) or something.

blessed book
My travel notebook, blessed during one of the pujas.

Seems quite hectic eh? But weigh that against the perks of the job. Good food, nice digs, the chance to do yoga and meditation each day, and the opportunity to go on the odd outing here and there. I mean, take this moment for example;

You don’t get times like that working in an office, now do you?

Plus, the work isn’t so hard. I mean they give you as much as you can handle – what I call The 3-C’s of Karma Yoga; Cooking, Cleaning and Carrying Stuff – but not so much that you’re overloaded and want to run away. They know that we choose to be here, and if we don’t like it we can choose not to be here, so they strike a fine balance between challenging you and pushing you too far.

That being said, you’ve got to do whatever you need to do to keep sane. With some it’s sleeping as much as possible, for most it’s going online, but with me it’s snacking! Whatever happens, I gots to get me some snacks each day or I’d go mental.

This was my first snack hidey-hole,

the naughty snack corner

then I graduated to a drawer!

more naughty treats!

Next it’ll be a snack desk! ..lol.. I mean, I’m not doing my belly any favours, after all the weight I lost during the TTC, but you gotta do what you gotta do, right?

So it’s hectic, yet manageable; but still, you do enjoy your one day off a week! A lie-in, a chance to rest, and some time to catch up with the ‘real world’.

Unfortunately there’s not much to do round here. Reith is a one horse town, seasonally busy, so closed most of the time. Kitzbuhel, nearby, is bigger but similar. But at least it has a few coffee shops and that which you can go to during lunch time (proper shops close from 12:00-15:00, I kid you not!). Like I say it’s kinda boring, but you go anyway just to have some time away. You need that mental break now and then.

And that’s it really. That’s what it’s like to be a karma yogi (well, if you’re me, anyway). I’m enjoying it, but at the same time I’m looking forward to going traveling. Not just to visit California, Australia, New Zealand, etc., but also just to have more than one lie-in a week! No matter what I do I can’t get used to being up before 6am. It’s just not for me.

I can handle the next 4 weeks, but after that it’s long sleeps and lazy starts for me for a while. I just need the rest. Then I can start getting my head around opening a centre of my own (if I haven’t had enough by then that is, lol).

Not that I can complain really. I mean, this was the view when I got up yesterday morning.

morning blanket

snow in the valley

How gorgeous is that! And tonight the full moon was so bright it lit up the entire valley. So bright in fact that when you looked at it it left an after image on your eye. I’ve never seen it like that before. When I think of that, and then think of how I could be in London working a night shift, I know how lucky I actually am.