Tag Archives: nature

Full Moon & Solstice Weekend: Finding Spirit in All Places

A reality has become apparent: Life is beautifully busy at the Salt Spring Center of Yoga.

This isn’t the “hectic busy” of the working parent or the swamped university student. This busy is more like… fullness, and wholeness — the full, plump belly of a satisfied lifestyle. This is the type of busy in which I know I will not have time to write a blog today, because I can’t miss Qi-gong and still want to attend the Yoga Philosophy class. After a long day working the earth under the island sun, the internet is but a distant thought.

I’d love to be writing long rants and discussions about aspects of yoga psychology and such, but in order to balance my time here at the Center, I’d like start smaller little blogs — with lots of pictures. The following are scattered photographic highlights of my last week.

A little buddy who chilled with me for a while under a bush in the meditation garden.

A little buddy who chilled with me for a while under a bush in the meditation garden.

Being outdoors most days brings a plethora of gifts from nature. While working in a flower bed, this medium (3ft) garter snake casually slithered up to see what was going on. He was a mellow snake, allowing me to lay down on my belly with only 40cm or so between our eyes. We hung out for a while. I grabbed my camera and came back, but of course he didn’t enjoy being approached by the mysterious electronic device. Snake energy is radical — very Shiva. It amazes me that these creatures are eternally on their bellies slithering through the dust and the muck, yet I’ve never seen a dirty snake. They are always pure and clean.

The view of Fulford Harbour from the top of Mt. Maxwell, Salt Spring Island.

It hasn’t gotten old yet – every time I see the ocean, I get this trippy sensation: I’m on a freakin’ island! (Obvious prairie origins of author become apparent here.) Something about this place being physically isolated from the mainlaind is awfully romantic. No one can simply wander onto Salt Spring island. There needs to be an intention of some sort: I am going to that piece of land over yonder. Perhaps that factor helps to create the island wide sensation of community I feel here.

A big pile of wood, chopped by the finest artisan wood workers on the island.

A big pile of wood, chopped by the finest artisan wood workers on the island.

Before enlightenment: Chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment: Chop wood, carry water. Two full days of splitting some gnarly trees — with a full gamut of sledgehammers, sledgeaxes, wedges and axes — was a great exercise in mindfulness. Also great anger therapy. There’s no room for anything but total concentration when swinging a 20lb sledgehammer for a few hours, unless you want to sprain your spine or pop a toe.

A most excellent wood burning sauna.

A most excellent wood burning sauna.

Chop wood, feed stove, heat sauna, enjoy sauna. Working without attachment to the fruits of one’s labour is a key aspect of Karma Yoga, which I dare say I was practicing as I chopped wood a few days ago. However, had I known the wood supply was going to fuel the healing warmth of the sauna, I might have been pretty attached! I capped off my Saturday with a late night sauna. It was glorious. When I emerged to cool down, I was greeted with a massive and luminous full moon.

The massive June full moon lighting up the midnight sky.

The massive June full moon lighting up the midnight sky.

My wee camera had no hope of capturing the majesty of the silhouetted cedars and silver clouds. Use your imagination — we’re at a yoga center on a big island at midnight, staring up at the stars and moon, the internal body warmed by the dry sauna, and cool air tingling the skin…  And then imagine all the other people on the planet reverently enjoying that same moon. Wow. What an incredible way to kick off the summer. Whatever you were doing on the 21st, happy solstice to you. And a happy full moon to you, too. 

Karma Yoga at Sea to Sky Retreat Center

It was awfully hard to leave the wonders of the hotsprings, but we somehow managed to peel our relaxed bodies out of pools and back into Luna for the continuation of our journey. Then we had a unexpected one-day stopover in Revelstoke when Luna decided to reject her alternator. Finally, after a mildly stressful drive through the epic mountain passes of Highway 99 — which Luna actually did quite commendably — we arrived at the Sea to Sky Retreat Center in Garibaldi Provincial Park, British Columbia.

Wow -- The view from the lakeside at SSRC. Cloudburst Mountain + Daisy Lake + Tibetan flag.

Wow — The view from the lakeside dock at SSRC. Cloudburst Mountain + Daisy Lake + Tibetan flag.

The way of life here is one of Karma Yoga.

Here, our work becomes a spiritual practice of selfless service. We are challenged to remain mindful of the task at hand and to stay in the present moment. Mundane tasks — take, for example, the quintessential ashramic event of chopping wood — become unexpected opportunities to tune into the Self. In the distracted wood chopper, the ego swings this way and that, thoughts roil and churn through the mind. The task is a chore, laborious and uninspiring. The axe swings through the air as the wood chopper thinks of what he wants to eat for dinner. In this manner, thoughts unsynchronized with the task at hand, neither the chopping nor the thinking is done to the fullest potential. Both are unsatisfying and the wood chopper is discontented.

The mindful wood chopper is chopping wood with body and mind. The mind is focused intently on the physical act of aiming the blow and moving the axe in a smooth arc. Chopping wood becomes the object of meditation — just as the breath is during seated practice. The mindful wood chopper trains himself in selflessness, thinking, “I am chopping wood so that the people who dwell here are able to warm and comfort their bodies during winter’s cold. I hope that all beings who suffer coldness of body or spirit find contentedness.” In this way the act of chopping wood transcends “chore” and turns into a beautiful opportunity for awareness of Self and selfless service.

(Ideally.)

The big staircase leading up to our lodging. Note that the steps are set upon one huge tree trunk!

The big staircase leading up to our lodging. Note that the steps are set upon one huge tree trunk!

In real life (outside of the wisdom texts), mindfulness is a constant challenge. It is a great assurance to know that all of the staff here at SSRC are vigilantly striving for mindfulness with limited success. This is not an easy task and nobody will ever say it is! But the location is ripe for encouraging spiritual reflection. The intimate connection with Canada’s thriving rainforest ecosystems acts as community within itself. I feel peaceful here, surrounded by seemingly infinite lifeforms, and it all acts as a continual reminder to keep present in the moment.

The main house of the center, with a kitchen, lounge and bedrooms.

The main house of the center, with a big kitchen, living room and bedrooms.

Nature is our friend. Nature is humanity. And to combine a human spiritual community with the sentient depth of the forest is a potent combination. The pictures on this post capture a few of the facilities on the property at Sea to Sky Retreat Center as well as the natural features of this land. Daisy Lake is totally astounding with Cloudburst mountain behind it. To the south is the Tantalus mountain range, looking rugged and aloof.

Heavy afternoon rainclouds crowd in upon the majesty of Cloudburst Mtn.

Heavy afternoon rainclouds crowd in upon the majesty of Cloudburst Mtn.

So far this place is really great.

There is an ideal work ethic here; it seems to be a blend of personal initiative and responsibility with structure and form. Every day, I know what I have to do and how to do it, but am given the ability to accomplish tasks with a bit of creativity. The staff here are totally open to suggestion and comments about how to build, clean and maintain the facilities and every opinion is considered — this builds confidence and trust within the center.

I was surprised that there are no scheduled meditations here at the center. It truly is karma yoga and the entirety of the spiritual practices here are work-based. One must do their meditation practices independently. Personally, I find immense value in group meditation. There is a saying that my acharya once passed on to me: To truly grow together as a functional community, the members must eat together, work together and meditate together. I don’t think a busy schedule is a valid excuse for not sitting every day. Perhaps I have been biased by my previous experience within community — but I think it’s a good bias!

The center's secondary house, fully equipped for quite a few people. Tucked away gently amidst the forest.

The center’s secondary house, fully equipped for quite a few people. Tucked away gently amidst the forest.

Sustainability and Spirituality

The Sea to Sky Retreat Center is a very low-impact center environmentally. A microhydro system from a strong mountain stream powers the electricity for the whole center. All water consumed here comes from up the hillside from a spring. The buildings are small and efficient, without wasted space. Buddhists from across Canada have volunteered and even donated money into the center, meaning that there is very little expenditures needed to cover labour and work costs. There is even a extensive library of spiritual literature, donated entirely by members of the sangha over time.

A lack of reliance on industrial and metropolitan influences has preserved a delicate and simple energy on this land. The creation of electricity on-site and the local water source provides a deep grounding trust in the giving nature of the land, bringing all people here closer to the source of creation. It is a humbling experience to be surrounded by the rainforest, drinking water from up the hill, warming up by a fire made from an local tree, reading by a lamp powered by water.

The pathway to our lodging crosses this beautiful mountain stream. This same stream is also, via a micro-hydro system, the source of the center's electrical power.

The pathway to our lodging crosses this beautiful mountain stream. This same stream is also, via a micro-hydro system, the source of the center’s electrical power.

Speaking of reading, I have begun reading Living with the Himalayan Masters, a compilation of Swami Rama’s writings and lectures regarding his time as a sage wandering the sacred mountains of northern Asia. THIS IS A MUST-READ! (Do not read if a spontaneous journey to the other side of the world for a few years might do irreparable damage to your life.) To read about the majestic Himalayas is even better when I can look across the lake at our very own mountain range and dream of wandering the hillsides with a staff and a robe…

I may have had a previous life of a renunciate. Or maybe it’ll be this life. Who knows 🙂

We have about 25 people coming in today for an 8-day long Yoga Teacher Training, so the next week will be full-on retreat engagement mode. I like the daily flow during retreats – there are very specific roles we all must do, and it keeps me busy. But not too busy. I will continue to find time for morning sadhana, hopefully evening as well. I keep on thinking of inspiring thoughts I’d like to share on this blog, but when I sit down to write they flutter away.

I have a question: Have any of you experienced mindful labour like the ideal karma yoga I described above?

 

 

Healing powers of the forest – cedars, hummingbirds, hotsprings and hippies

I thought I’d do a quick update while I encroach upon this lovely cafe’s hospitality. Question and Answer style.

Q: How is Luna Doing?

A: She is still alive, even after some very hairy abandoned forestry roads leading to certain springs. We were pushing her the maximum limit of her sagging suspension and iffy transmission. I have discovered there is a certain amount of discomfort and nervousness that accompanies driving this van. A perpetual “what if..?”

But she has made it everywhere so far! We just got back from a gnarly hotspring visit involving a 15km long, intensely potholed ex-logging road that took about 45m to drive. I was holding my breath as we traipsed over some very perilous terrain and climbed into some serious altitude (snow!). But Luna is a champ!

Luna

Luna happily resting after an exhausting climb.

Luna

The cooking set-up for breakfast today. Kale salad with millet, sauerkraut and flax 🙂 

The shelving set-up in the back has been working really well. It’s a great space for cooking meals and storing food. I created this van as a single-person RV, so having both of us in here is a bit chaotic. In a few days we’ll be at a Buddhist retreat center on the west coast and they are providing a bed, so no worries.

Luna

The weather has been epic. 30C+ on this day meant we needed to rig up a shanty-style shade structure.

The window covers have been partially successful. Warning to all people using Reflectix covers – they expand slightly in the heat. Because of this, a few of the covers don’t slot nicely into the windows anymore and we’ve had to use duct tape to hold them up. I think I want to totally remove the cardboard and use velcro to hold the reflective stuff in place by itself (this will be a future project). However, the heat blockage is excellent – after all day in the scorching sun, the soft-shell coolers in the van are still holding veggies nice and cool.

On that note: Kale is a surprisingly robust travel food! After the broccoli was almost dead and the bok choy looking wilted, the kale was krisp and krunchy. Take note, fellow travellers. Take note.

Luna_ferry

Luna on her first ferry ride.

She even had the chance to ride a boat – one of multiple ferries she’ll be riding during the summer adventures. No seasickness.

Q: How are the hotsprings?

A: Amazing! We’ve set up a home base at a sacred spring in interior BC. This place is awe-inspiring. I won’t mention spring names here, but you can see for yourself in the following pictures.

springs

Top view of the three pools in a row

sprngs

The big pool and a lovely view of the surrounding cedar forest.

The majestic cedars make this place feel like a cathedral. It’s one of those places you find yourself whispering without knowing why. The water trickles out from a tree root and fills the top pool with hot, hot bliss. There is lots of lithium, magnesium, calcium and barely any sulphur in these springs.

springs

The top pool, with hot water falling down into subsequent pools.

The people here are devoted to the springs. We have a new friend in the form of an old, retired hippie who has been frequenting these springs since 1969. (That’s forty-four years!) When we asked him if they’ve changed at all, he just grinned: “Nope.” I don’t know about you, but that’s MY idea of a quality retreat. Unchanged and preserved in all its sanctity. I met a beautiful woman who spent an hour cleaning up discarded beer cans and candles from careless spring-goers, carefully creating a cedar bough and bark altar before quietly walking away. Clothing is not necessary in these springs, leading to more authentic and pure interaction with fellow spring enthusiasts. It is a tranquil and healing place.

Yesterday, we drove a short distance (and a crazy road) to a different set of springs with a distinctly different flavour.

springs

The carefully made tub, filled directly from the nearby spring.

These springs are right on a river. We were about a day late to the party – the melting snow raised the river to the point that it flooded the riverside hot pools, forcing us to move inland a bit and enjoy the tub that had been built. Not a terrible alternative at all! Luxurious yet still firmly rustic — and, of course, there was nothing in that tub but untreated spring water. We met a man who works four months per year and drives across North America for the other eight, visiting springs, camping on beaches and enjoying the world. These sort of people are incredibly inspirational. The extraordinary community of gentle and creative souls is another reason why hot springs are important in my life. It was also an honour to be visited by a hummingbird, whizzing and zipping around the springs in search of something.

Those springs were nice, but our loyalty lies with the first springs nestled in their rich cedar forest. The energy there is more subtle and the patrons tend to bring more mindfulness into their conduct.

Q: How is life going?

A: Fun! Intense! Healing! Serious! Playful!

The springs tend to act like a spiritual accelerator. I find that the detoxification process brings up emotional as well as physical toxins, leading to a lot of emotional ups and downs. We are meditating twice daily — trying to find the most heavenly locations (and succeeding) — which of course further exaggerates the process. It’s a rollercoaster!

mountain

A nearby mountain framed by cedar boughs. Mmm.

But it is impossible to resist the calming and grounding influence of these cedars. And the mountains. And the lakes. And the deer, elk and bears. The eagles, owls, crows and swallows. It’s too much to stand up too — one must return to the root, the source of human existence!

To summarize – we are doing very well. Growth is happening. Life is happening. Sleep has been warm, we are eating well and — OH YEAH, I forgot to mention, the massive amount of herbs and supplements has been amazing! We are drinking crazy teas and loving life.

OK – time to get going. Peace out everyone!

PS: Here is a picture of a stegosaurus with sunglasses eating a massive dill pickle. While reading the paper.

a stegosaurus with sunglasses eating a massive dill pickle.

a stegosaurus with sunglasses eating a massive dill pickle.

Vanabode Selected: The Ford Windstar! Her conversion into a reliable bedroom / lounge / mobile meditation studio begins today.

It appears practically has won out over romance in my latest vehicle purchasing decision. This is probably a very good thing – I really can’t afford to be investing in an antique and whimsical vehicle right now, it’s too risky. In this post, I outline the variety of vans I had been previously considering.

The outcome of this logical decision was the 1998 Ford Windstar.

1998 Ford Windstar

My 1998 Ford Windstar. Sorry to recycle the same picture from earlier – but come on, it’s just a minivan, if you wanna know what it looks like just look at any road for a few minutes and you’ll see one.

I am now a soccer dad.

I decided she’s a girl on the drive home last weekend. And a chubby girl, at that. She used to have air suspension in the rear end until it failed about 5 years ago, at which point the previous owners installed standard shocks and springs. For some reason, they never bothered to disconnect the air compressor. This unhappy compressor is still trying in vain to inflate the suspension system that no longer exists, resulting in a hilarious burping/moaning sound that comes from the back left wheel well every couple minutes or so. It’s the vehicular equivalent of a phantom limb. Poor little thing. More “character” emerging every drive with this baby.

Summer plans are coming up REALLY FAST. It is looking as if I will be leaving Alberta right around May 1st. This gives me exactly two weeks to convert the stock Windstar interior into a swanky bachelor pad on wheels, while also ensuring this beast is mechanically adequate for the next 8 months. There’s nothing like a time crunch to galvanize work effort.

Here’s what needs to get done mechanically on this van (i.e.; the expensive stuff I’d rather not do):

  • Wheel alignment
  • Remove air compressor (Maybe. The gurgling is kind of cute.)
  • New rear shocks
  • Windshield wipers
  • The windshield is cracked. Can I make it last the summer? I hope so, glass is expensive.
  • Inspection (for insurance purposes)

As we speak, she’s getting an inspection and a wheel alignment. My mechanic, Mark, is going to be looking at her while keeping in mind that she’s about to be going on a big adventure. Here’s hoping everything looks beautiful and that he doesn’t miss anything!

Here’s what needs to be done interior-wise (i.e.; the fun and cheap stuff!):

  • Bed! Priority #1.
  • Removable window coverings.
  • Some sort of separator between front and back section.
  • Shelving.
  • Storage solutions.
  • Window mesh (anti-mosquito)
  • Figuring out what the heck to bring on this journey!

This list might seem short, but I’m not going to underestimate the challenge. I have a feeling that I’m going to be spending a decent amount of time and energy on the window coverings. Making the bed frame and finding the comfiest possible mattress set-up will be pretty fun. Lots of stuff to do!

Stay tuned for details. The next couple weeks will be rich with updates as to how things are going. And, of course, she needs a name! What should I keep in mind over the next couple weeks as I prepare this unnamed girl for our big adventure?

*Well, mechanic Mark just phoned – looks as if the suspension has more issues than first anticipated. The rear shocks are actually fine, however, there is a front tie rod and ball joint that are failing and will need replacement. Due to the crazy alignment I’ll have to replace the front tires as well. I expected as much. Colour me optimistic, but for $1100 I still think I’m getting a good value on this van even after factoring in repairs.