Sunday, 29 September 2013

September: Done

Holy moly, where did this month go?! My first month at the Himalayan Institute concludes today. I can't believe it. At the beginning of September, 11 of us arrived for the month-long program. 5 of us are staying on, for another month, and the rest have already left or leave today. Next Thursday, a whole new group of people will come for the next month, another 10 people to join our remaining 5. It should be interesting to see what personalities and characters will come.

So today I am a little reflective of what this month has been for me.

It has not been quite the restful time I thought it would be. Karma Yoga and practicums Monday-Friday make for busy, scheduled days. I feel a little resistant and frustrated about that. But it does give me the chance to look at how I handle busyness and tasks and schedules. I don't handle them well, I'm learning. I tend to stop breathing, to get grumpy, to get overwhelmed. The past week I've recognized the same feelings of anxiety and spinniness that I experience on the "outside", even though I'm in a place that is meant to allow for rest, healing and peace. Interesting. I wonder what that's about!! I happily am in a place where questioning and inquisitiveness is valued, so I can take time to be curious. Why, if I'm in a place of rest and beauty and simplicity, am I reverting back to my old patterns of anxiety, stress, jaw clenching, non-breathing, etc? Guess it must be a pattern I brought with me:) Because even though my situation and circumstances have changed, very dramatically, I am still me, with my ways of coping, of dealing with life, of seeing the world, or responding. I brought myself with me on my journey, habits and patterns and all! And I realize that I have a deeply ingrained pattern, a deep groove on my record, of wanting to get things right. wanting to figure things out and become perfect at them. now. I want to take the teachings I've received in the last month, on meditation, relaxation techniques, breathing techniques, eating habits, and asana practice, assimilate them all right now and get them all perfect right now, and start doing them all perfectly right now. and if I don't, then I am failing. I am weak. I am no good. Man, we are sometimes so unkind to ourselves. cruel words, cruel judgements. so I've watched that happen this week, this build up of stress at not getting things right, not accomplishing, not perfecting things. And then I've had several wonderful conversations with people that reminded me that nothing has to be accomplished. nothing has to be perfected. all these things are interesting tools, that I can play with, explore, discover, try out, over the next many years of my life. they are meant to bring joy, ease, to uplift, to relax, to bring peace. if they bring stress and anxiety, then I can back down for a while. I can soften. That seems to be the message for me in this journey. I need to soften. I do have a tendency to throw myself at things and give 110%. I see this in my attitude towards jobs, tasks, friendships, so many things in my life. Only eventually I burn out and lose all joy and feel stressed. What if I could learn to soften, and give maybe 75% most of the time, 25% occasionally when I need to rest, 100% occasionally when something needs an extra push, but averaging 75%? I know that is so contrary to the working world, corporate world, our society's values. But that 110% push doesn't seem to be serving me very well. I see the pattern of push push push, and then crash. over and over in my life. what is the definition of insanity? doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results? I seem to have been a bit insane in the past few years. I can admit it:) but maybe I'll try a little experiment in the next month that i'm here - I'm going to soften. to back off a little. I don't need to chop veggies with uber-intensity. I don't need to approach meditation with uber-intensity. I don't need to be super strict with my schedule. I'd like to try to slow down, notice my breath, and soften a little. that will be my intention for this second month. and see if I feel more rested and less stressed in the end. i'll let you know how it goes!

In fun news, the past two weeks have been apple picking time here! what a glorious way to spend the mornings, picking in the sunshine. thousands of apples that will feed the community here, and make yummy apple cider!

The weather has been amazing this month, I am so grateful for that! sunny days, cool nights for sleeping. The deer are regular visitors, as I mentioned in an earlier post, but yesterday morning they were literally 10 feet from the building as I went out for a morning walk!

Sunset Pond is a favourite spot of mine (I have so many!), to read a good book or journal or just nap in the sunshine. Isn't it a sweet spot?

The leaves are changing colour here, as they are all over this part of the world. a sure sign of the changing of the seasons, even though the sunny days feel like summer time! I'm so grateful to be in a place where nature is everywhere around me, and there is time to stroll, notice, enjoy the beauty. it is good for the soul!

Well, dear people out there, I wish you a joyous end of September, and hope you take time to breathe, and to enjoy the beauty in our world. Peace to you.

Saturday, 21 September 2013


Look at this pretty place where I live! It's been glorious weather here - sunshine, heat, cool nights for sleeping, divine. The days are flying by. I've been enjoying the days - lots of learning, lots of chopping, lots of visiting and meeting interesting people. The days are very scheduled, and I did succumb to a cold that was going around here. I think I'm still pretty tired and a bit run down from the stress of leaving my job, leaving my apartment, leaving my city, leaving my friends, and I guess my immune system is a little weak, so I got the cold. But, I'm living in a place where it's ok to sleep when you need to, take a day or two off of chopping, where there is amazing food prepared that I can eat when I need to, where there is free-flowing tea every moment of the day, and where there is an all-natural pharmacy right down the hall from my room. literally 50 feet from my room, with a brilliant pharmacist to listens and recommends supplements and such. Which means my cold, which would likely last 10 days in Ottawa (pretty typical for me!) lasted 2 days! brilliant! I know the moment my fever broke, yesterday, and have been feeling stronger and stronger with every hour. Man, the body works so well, so brilliantly, when there is no stress. when there is space to rest and eat well and let yourself heal. It is so clear to me!!

Here are a few more photos, of places on the property. the first two and the last one are a view I see each morning on my morning walk. The next three are of a waterfall that you find at the end of a little hike, where many people who live here hang out, read, journal, meditate, swim. It's so beautiful.

There's a common phrase used around here a lot: everything is for your upliftment. At the heart of this phrase is the principle that no matter what happens to us, every situation, every circumstance, every encounter, is in our life to uplift us. move us forward. bring us closer to the best Self we can be. In a spiritual sense, it is the belief that God, or universe, or Spirit, or Divinity is at it's core, benevolent, kind, uplifting, healing. That everything that happens is for a purpose, and that purpose is to uplift us, in a variety of ways.  On a psychological level, it works with the idea that our mind can affect the way we live in the world, that "the mind is it's own place and in its self can make a heaven of hell; a hell of heaven". John Milton knew that our mind could interpret situations in ways that made us feel great, or made us feel shitty. Choosing to see the glass as half-full. Choosing to see the silver lining. It  may be that we are uplifted by learning something, by receiving something, by heading on a path that is ultimately the best path for us. I'm pretty sure most of the time we have no idea how we're being uplifted, until weeks, months, years later. Or perhaps there are times we have no idea how we were uplifted, but we choose to believe that in the big picture of our lives and the lives of those around us, we have been uplifted. I think of friends who have had events in their lives that seemed like absolute tragedies. And yet years later, perhaps, can see that there is so much goodness and love and wisdom in their lives that wouldn't have been there if the "tragedy" hadn't occurred. I'm not for a second saying that these events or circumstances don't bring all the very real, very valid human emotions to the surface. Grief. Anger. Resentment. Confusion. All very normal and very right reactions. And I don't believe that any pat answer should be given to someone who is grieving, or going through something that seems wrong and unfair and terrible. But maybe, just maybe, could there be reasons for things, for meetings, for things we label as good and bad, that we can't even imagine or visualize? I wonder. No, I don't even wonder. I know. Because I've definitely seen it in my own life, in very small and pretty big ways. That I can't see the big picture, and maybe there are purposes I can't imagine. So for now, I think I embrace this: everything comes into my life for my upliftment. Maybe it's not true. Maybe I'm delusional and idealistic. But hey, it seems to make a heaven out of what could be seen as a hell! And I might not remember this in the midst of deep sorrow or crisis, so friends out there, please remind me!! But it is easy to see the upliftment when I'm living in such gorgeous surroundings:)

One fun little thing happened to me... so I was sick for those couple days, and spent a lot of time napping and resting in my room. Yesterday, someone came and knocked on my door. It was a resident from here, asking if I'd like to come participate in a workshop for the weekend, for free (regularly $300), all about a massage technique called Abhyanga. Check it out online - think flowing, moving massage with very warm oil all over your body, and then a steam room afterword. Talk about upliftment!!! So I've now learned a new massage technique, given massages and gotten massages! what a delightful gift, especially after having been a little sick and feeling a little low and homesick. so very nourishing, for my body and soul and spirit. I am so grateful. And it's reminded me again of how much I love body work, love healing works, feel my heart swell and my eyes tear up with the beauty of sharing love and healing, being able to be a vessel to facilitate healing. That maybe that is where I want to be in the future. Not maybe, most likely;) A lovely serendipitous offering that I am enjoying this weekend:) I'll share my new techniques with you when I'm home:)

so dear readers, I hope you are all well and taking good care of yourselves, and maybe being able to see something that is an upliftment in your life.
Love and peace to you.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

beauty and health and food, oh my!

today is the one-week mark since I arrived here at the Himalayan Institute. In some ways, it feels like I just got here; in other ways, I feel like I've been here for a long time.

 First, some pictures. The top one is the auditorium, one of the rooms where we gather for workshops and hatha yoga classes. Last night a bunch of us hung out there and watched a movie, KumarĂ©. Such an interesting movie, I highly recommend it! It's a documentary, created by a filmmaker from New Jersey who set out to show people that they do not need a guru - that most gurus are frauds - that everything anyone needs to know is inside them already. To do this, he grew his hair and beard long,  took on the character of a guru from India, and gathered a following of people who thought he was a brilliant, life-changing guru. He created his own yoga poses, his own meditations, his own philosophies, and people flocked to him. Or at least to the image he'd created. it is a really powerful film. very funny in parts, very sad in parts.

 the next three photos are of inside the main building here - the front entrance, the beautiful shop for retail therapy, when needed, and the cozy library I get all my good reading in.

So for the past week, it's been busy! I've been adjusting to life here. I'm much more tired than I anticipated. I imagine it's due to adjusting to a new schedule, a new way of eating, a new rhythm, a new community. Our days are quite busy, Monday to Friday, with a lot of cleaning, veggie prep, learning, and activity. Today I had a rest day - no hatha classes, just naps and strolls around the property:

man, nature is good for the soul. so peaceful, so restful, so beautiful. the sound of the stream rippling over the rocks, the lushness of the moss on the forest floor, the sudden burst of birds from bushes along the edge of the lake, the sunlight flickering along the surface of the water. all so beautiful. it is so so wonderful to have the time to be able to wander and notice and appreciate it. I am grateful.

This morning we met Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, who is the Head of the Himalayan Institute. He came from India in 1979, I believe. He is this brilliant man, with 2 PhDs, who has travelled the world, met and worked with political and spiritual world leaders, who is the most down to earth, jolly, joyful little man I have ever met. He is very wise, very knowledgeable, about philosophy, history, politics, religions, and really, any topic you could care to get into conversation with him about. And he seems to be very loving, very kind, such a warm gentle spirit. It was lovely to learn from him this morning, about the importance of health, wellness, the importance of learning about ourselves, drawing inward, beginning to listen to our own wisdom. He said that even as we become aware, even as we pay attention to what is happening in our bodies, in our minds, in our spiritual lives, healing and wholeness can begin to develop. It can be that simple. Of course, that requires that we slow down enough to listen. To pay attention. To be aware. But in the very act of listening and paying attention, we cultivate healing, happiness, wellness. To pay attention to our breathing. To pay attention to how our body is feeling. To notice what is happening in our emotional state. By doing these things, we are showing compassion to ourselves. We are showing love to ourselves. And healing occurs. Not so tricky, not so complicated.

Every afternoon we prepare veggies. You can't imagine how many veggies 100 people consume in a vegetarian centre!! this weekend we'll also have about 50 people here for a conference. That's a whole lotta carrots, kale, beets, onions, bok choy, yams and celery!!! Yesterday I was on onion duty. 11 of us gather in the dining room and spread out on the tables to chop side by side, but onions are isolated from the group - I was banished to onion island. and chopped about 90 cups of onions. That smell may be on my hands for the next year or two. We also cut about 70 cups of beets, and the dining room looked like a slaughterhouse after we were finished. But have you ever noticed how beautiful beets are? when you cut them, the colour is so rich and stunning, and there are these beautiful rings inside. Hmm. This mindfulness practice has something to it. As we do our veggie prep, we're asked to stay mindful - to be aware of our breathing, to be aware of how we feel, to be aware of how our body feels, to be aware of what we're talking about. And I have to say, though it might sound a little cheesy, as I pay attention, I start to notice how beautiful food is! I start to notice when my breath is getting shallow and I'm feeling annoyed with the person beside me. I start to notice when I'm not thinking about what I'm doing and I get close to cutting my finger. I notice how amazing fresh kale and fresh cucs and fresh collard greens (what!!?!??! yes, they're big down here!!) smell, so clean and fresh and delicious. I have to say, it's only been a week, but I haven't missed meat at all, not with all this amazing organic delicious food! I think I could very easily be a hard-core vegetarian, if I had a team preparing my meals for me every day:)

so. week 1 done. loving the food. loving the learning. loving the surroundings. missing home, my friends and family and cats and apartment. craving lots of alone time, and having the space and freedom to take it. lots of thinking, journaling, questioning, processing. resting, adjusting, watching, observing. yep, i'm still digging it;)

Sunday, 8 September 2013

first days

hello! Namaste, in the true Sanskrit yogic greeting! I have now been here a few short days, at my new home at the Himalayan Institute in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. I arrived here Thursday around 5:00, and it's now Sunday afternoon. I'm sitting on a big comfy couch in the middle of a fabulous library full of books about history, philosophy, world religions, health, meditation... heaven on earth for this booky:)

Let me tell you about this place. It was built in 1955, as a Catholic seminary. Priests and nuns lived here (supposedly in separate buildings...) until the 70's. It was then purchased by Swami Rama, the Indian founder of the Himalayan Institute. He'd come from India and founded this yoga and  meditation centre in Chicago first, and then discovered this amazing place, with its 400 acres of rolling hills, fields and forest, and moved it all here. The centre itself is in a little valley, but is surrounded on all sides by the mountains, big green rolling mountains.

I live in a little room on my own. It has a bed, desk, dresser, closet and sink: showers and toilets are down the hall. I live in a hallway with women who are residents here - some have been here for a couple years, some closer to 10, and some little ladies who've lived here since the 70's. There is a men's wing too... haven't seen much sneaking from one wing to the other yet... but I'm keeping my eyes open! The dorm hallways are whisper-zones, to promote and protect a meditative atmosphere. Silence is observed throughout the institute every day from 10:00pm-8:00am, and Monday dinner times. There are about 100 people who live here full-time - residents who keep the place running, from running the little cafĂ©, to running the reception area, to cleaning, cooking, and keeping the grounds beautiful. Some live in the main building, and some live in houses around the property. There is a beautiful garden and orchard that much of the food comes from. There is a full health centre, with a pharmacist, doctor, massage therapist, yoga therapist, chiropractor and nurse.  A fully-functioning community for sure. There's a fabulous shop to buy books, yoga clothes, yoga props, chocolate bars and cookies:)

Holy moly, let me tell you about the food. We eat like crazy here. It is all vegetarian, but unbelievably delicious - apparently most people gain weight when they come here. I believe it. Divine salads, bean dishes, pastas... this morning's breakfast was oatmeal pudding - oatmeal with bananas, cooked apples, cinnamon, raisins, and maple syrup, with honey whipped cream (think cool whip consistency) on top. there's homemade bread at every meal, gluten-free options at every meal, lots of fresh fruit and veggies... I will not be wasting away during this time!

I've had it easy so far - on the weekends, there are seminars that we are free to attend, so this weekend I did a yoga class every morning, then sat in on lectures on the dynamics of meditation, taught by this amazing teacher, Rolf Sovik. Ate, went for walks in the sunshine, took naps, visited with the people who are here for a month like I am. There was a lot of down time. Which was a little uncomfortable at first - it's been a while since I had a whole lotta time on my hands to do nothing, with no one to call, nothing particular to do, no agendas or schedules. I found myself scheduling my day. It's a hard habit to break! But I am slowly feeling myself unwind, and enjoying the times now between scheduled things, to lay down, read, take a stroll.

Beginning tomorrow, life gets a little more scheduled, Monday - Friday. We have karma yoga (cleaning, meal prep, hopefully some work outside while it's still gorgeous), yoga classes, meditation, and a class each day with our group, learning from the teachers here about diet, nutrition, meditation, Ayurveda, asana, health, and various other topics I am totally geeked out to learn more about!!

So that is a little glimpse into life here so far. So far, I am digging it.  It helps that it's been sunny and glorious since I got here! Though it seems there will be lots to do, life moves at a very slow pace here. It is really great to be able to have time to eat slowly, take a rest after each meal, listen to what the body wants and needs, and have the time to give it what it needs. I am realizing what a toll stress takes on the body, and only when I slow down, do I realize that my body does not work optimally under stress and busyness and fast-paced living. I notice a dramatic difference, in only a few short days. Also, living in beautiful surroundings, being able to wander through so much nature, makes me feel so very happy and peaceful. Ah. so far, so good:)

I think I'll stop for now, because there are a million things I could write about already, learning, thoughts, experiences. I'll save those for another post:)

Be well, peace to you all! xoxoA

Tuesday, 3 September 2013


I was going to entitle this "The Beginning", but in reality, the beginning was a long time ago. So many things, people, experiences, have played a role in bringing me to where I am right now. So, "NOW".

A few weeks ago I quit my job. I worked hard at that job for many years, with the idea that once I paid off my extensive student loans, I would make space in my life to figure out what I loved, what I wanted to do, and what I wanted to pursue, without the "must pay off my loans" burden hanging over me. So I achieved that goal. And I quit.

I'm not going to lie to you, it was terrifying. On a practical level, I got used to having a bi-weekly paycheque that I could depend on. And taking this little journey means there is no predicable income, at least not for the next few months. I've been wise, I'm taken care of, but there is fear, for sure! On an emotional level, the institution I worked at was my "place" for 6 years. There were very good times, and very challenging times. There are amazing friends I've made there, and some people who, again, were challenging for me. But for better or worse, it was my day-to-day place, my people, my routine, my community. And leaving it felt like leaving a slightly dysfunctional relationship - though it might not have always been great for me, it was my life for 6 years. And frig, it's hard to walk away from anything you've been involved in and invested in for 6 years!!

I had some decisions to make - what to do with my time now that I don't have that job. I spent a lot of time thinking, discussing, journaling, meditating, listening. And in the end I decided to forego  my Master's in Counselling, to do what my heart was saying loudly and clearly: I want to immerse myself in yoga for a while. I battled my mind for a long time, flipping back and forth between what seemed the rational, "intelligent" choice, and what seemed the kooky, heart's desire choice. But you know what, I've always, in my heart of hearts, embraced the "Follow Your Bliss" philosophy, and this is my time to actually act on that. Master's programs will always be there, if I decide I want that path after this. But for now, I'm following my heart. I'm going to go be a yoga hippy for a while:) and that makes me so so deeply happy.

The last 6 weeks since my last day at work have been up and down. Times of great anxiety and stress and fear and worry. Times of great excitement, joy, and feelings of certainty. Tons of journaling, occasionally forays to my therapist, long walks in nature, longer talks and visits with dear friends, processing and thinking and feeling. A good dose of weeping, and a greater dose of laughing and smiling. I subletted my place for the next 4 months, to a (hopefully!) great guy who will take (hopefully!) great care of my two furry friends. I'm currently having a layover at my parents, where I'm enjoying a few days of visits with my family, including lots of cuddle time with my beautiful baby niece (also a Ginger!).

And then. Thursday, I drive down to Pennsylvania, to the Himalayan Institute ( I'm going to be there for a month or two, I think, where I'll do a whole lotta learning - asana practice, meditation, pranayama, some cleaning and cooking and gardening. I'm hoping for some long forest walks  - the Institute is on 400 acres of forest land - nature is a great healer! I feel nervous - I can't really know what it will be like until I live it - and anticipation is sometimes a scary thing! I'm curious what it will be like to live with a bunch of yogis in a community, when I've lived a pretty private, independent life for so long. I'm curious what our days will be like. I'm curious if I'll be able to make the space to rest. I'm curious how I'll react, after having lived in a city for many years and worked in an office environment. I'm excited to live in a community where the focus is health, wellness and healing. Physical and mental health and wellness are core values to me - I want to learn more and more about these things, I want to further embrace a lifestyle of health and wholeness, and perhaps I'd like to be further involved in healing and wellness for others eventually. I'm really looking forward to being in a place where these very things are valued deeply.

I've consciously made space in my life to explore what I value and desire. Peace, joy, wellness, stillness, life. Love. I am so grateful for all the people and experiences that have brought me to this place. I am grateful to the many friends and family members who have supported me. I am so very grateful for my yoga community - my teachers, Roxanne Joly and Loren Crawford, and the dear friends (I'll call them sisters!)  I've studied and learned and taught with. I am grateful for strength, for hope, for faith, for love. For the many teachers and gurus who've come before, to write the books and share the wisdom they've received.

As I was driving away from Ottawa, after a weepy departure from my cats and my home and my friends and my city, I found myself driving toward the most beautiful sky and felt such hope and comfort and joy. Heading into the light:) here we go!