Tag Archives: Religion and Spirituality

The “gist” of The Salt Spring Center of Yoga

There is gem being nurtured within the confines of the Salt Spring Center of Yoga.

A beautiful and multifaceted crystal composed of land, spirit and human beings — humans, being. It is a blessing to return to a thriving and dynamic spiritual community. A week has not yet passed, but I am already beginning to feel at home here.

A nice Iris growing beside a greenhouse

Although I have been feeling inspired and creative in recent days, after finishing a tiring day of weeding the gardens I am feeling tired and logical. Today’s entry is being created as a resource to anyone interested in participating in this community. I will be going through the practical aspects of life at Salt Spring Center of Yoga. Knowing the general layout will be helpful for later blogs, I think.

The Salt Spring Center of Yoga, front entrance.

The Salt Spring Center of Yoga, front entrance.

The days are full at SSCY. I have gotten into a flow of early morning meditation followed by some outdoor exercise and asanas before eating. There are separate spaces dedicated to individual asana and meditation practice from 5-7AM each day.  There usually a yoga or pranayama class to join at 7AM, which takes us until breakfast. The food here seems to be gluten-free & vegan by default; foods outside of this range are labeled accordingly. Food quality is amazing, amazing, amazing. The bulk of the day is more or less Karma Yoga, with more interesting programs offered in the evenings. There is never a shortage of things to do!

The "Farm Yogis" doing their thing on a small section of the 69 acres of land.

The “Farm Yogis” doing their thing on a small section of the 69 acres of land.

Practicing selfless service is a key purpose of my residence here, and we are all given a great opportunity to try it out. I’ve been assigned to the Landscaping & Maintenance team – yay! Being outdoors and doing repetitive tasks is the perfect opportunity to apply mindfulness, mantra and grace to the task at hand. Keeping mindful during the work day also means being conscious of the body’s needs. I am encouraged to take a break whenever I need one, whether it be for a snack or just to rest for a few minutes. Timeliness is important to the extent that it shows respect for my fellow workers and the task at hand, not simply for the bottom line of worker productivity. It’s all a gentle cycle of ebb and flow, a fluid and harmonious balance of graceful seva (work).

The landscaping and maintenance HQ.

The landscaping and maintenance HQ. (My “office”.)

Most Karma Yogis here work about 6 hours per day, five days per week. Although that doesn’t sound like a huge time commitment, fun stuff abounds and the days fill fast! Obviously, there are lots of yoga asana classes, but a visitor to SSCY will also be able to try qi-gong (similar to tai chi), learn yogic philosophy, learn and practice breathing and meditation techniques, and experience satsanga (spiritual community gatherings) with devotional songs, chanting and meditation. We’ve also found some time for informal music jams and acro-yoga fun.

"the mound" -- a great place to play in the sun.

“the mound” — a great place to play in the sun.

The facilities are excellent. There is a main house with a stunning and spacious satsanga room, complete with a stained glass yantra and glistening hardwood floor. (I haven’t felt so bold as to photograph in there yet.) A dining hall attaches to a well equipped kitchen that is capable of providing food for the hundreds of guests that the facilities can hold at max capacity. There is a separate dish cleaning room.

The dining hall at the Center.

The dining hall at the Center. The kitchen extends behind the door at the back.

Further down the path is another big building that houses a space for morning meditation. During the day this building, the Garden House, is a functioning wellness center that provides Ayurvedic treatments to interested visitors. Across a soft raised grassy mound lies a small wooden yurt for classes or individual practice. The energy in there is sattvic and it is a great place to finish the evening with personal sadhana. 

The Garden House

The Garden House

Garden House - interior. The Wellness center is in a separate room to the left.

Garden House – interior. The Wellness center is in a separate room to the left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The yurt, tucked away across the mound from the main house.

The yurt, tucked away across the mound from the main house.

The inside of the yurt.

The inside of the yurt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Right next door is yet another cool space – a giant outdoor fountain (affectionately called the “mountain fountain”) that flows through a beautiful meditation garden. There are simple and clean temples to Ganesha, Hanuman and the Virgin Mary around this area, referred to simply as the “meditation garden”.

The Mountain Fountain, looking nice.

The Mountain Fountain, looking nice.

Two small temples and a glimpse of the tiered gardens surrounding the fountain.

Two small temples and a glimpse of the tiered gardens surrounding the fountain.

Oh, yeah, there’s a huge pond over yonder as well, across the field and gravel road. Tons of frogs, dragonflies and interesting plants hang out there. This pond is the picturesque object of focus of the “Pond Dome”, a huge plastic covered quonset-type building where massive groups of people can do yoga or listen to lectures during summer retreats. [No pics.]

Further down into the grounds is a school. A legitimate, fully functioning elementary school with a playground and everything. This was surprising to me. Apparently it’s the Salt Spring equivalent of a Waldorf, and being located on the grounds of a yoga center has got to be good for the kids. Our staff and theirs do not have a lot of overlap, although some karma yogis in the past have gone over to do reading and such.

The Salt Spring Center School.

The Salt Spring Center School. I think that’s just the coolest idea ever.

And finally, continuing all the way down this path into the forest are the camping sites. With raised, level tent beds and pre-strung rain tarps overhead, it feels like utter luxury. Super clean outhouses and ultra hot outdoor showers complete this perfect forest retreat.

A lovely and clean tent set up.

A lovely and clean tent set up.

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A cute tent with prayer flags

My weekend begins tomorrow, Sunday and Monday, so I’m ready to relax after five big days of learning the land and working hard in the fields mowing lawns. I’ve been getting a lot of great thoughts and realizations bubbling up, so you can expect something more exciting and less business-oriented for next week’s update!

Flanking the stairs to enjoy the weather and community during lunch.

Flanking the stairs to enjoy the weather and community during lunch.

 

 

Many Paths. Same Destination. Let’s cut off the excess.

As I begin to write this, I am on the ferry from the mainland to Vancouver island where I will be spending a few days in Victoria, BC. Recalling her last ferry ride on a single level open-air boat, it is no wonder that Luna is a bit overwhelmed at the size of this behemoth!

300+ cars and trucks on this big boy ferry from Vancouver to the island. Scary stuff for a naive Alberta van!

300+ cars and trucks on this big boy ferry from Vancouver to the island. Scary stuff for a naive Alberta van!

The first ferry - a couple dozen cars and a comforting view of the sky.

The first ferry – a couple dozen cars and a comforting view of the sky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And speaking of overwhelmed, my brief drive through Vancouver was intense! We dropped off a friend in the middle of downtown and he took us on a little tour of the city core before departing. Three weeks encapsulated in the Buddhist retreat centre within the dense mountain rainforest was calming to the senses. After resetting my system a little bit, it came as quite the shock to be surrounded by metropolis. Vancouver felt kind of like this:

[pupils dilated] Harbours! Bridges! Skyscrapers! Lights! Crowds! Wow! Cool!

Quite the reminder that it requires a certain amount of desensitization to natural rhythms to be able to live within the urban jungle. Perhaps I’m missing a key understanding, but it doesn’t seem especially healthy to have to dull the senses stay grounded within the energy of a big city. Any thoughts? Is there a way to stay aware of our physical connection to earth within the intense excitement of a busy metropolis? Or must we forget a bit of our human nature to stop from going crazy?

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As predicted, my time at Sea to Sky flew by in a flurry. Three weeks is no time at all! Yet, I feel that in these three weeks my partner and I were able to contribute positively to the daily tasks and labour required at SSRC. In my free time I chose to do some reading and learned much about the core teachings of the Buddha. I was not surprised to learn that the essence of the Buddha’s teachings are, in essence, no different than those of core yogic philosophy — they bud from the same ancient branch. Non-violence, love, control over the senses, seated meditation practice, samadhi and enlightenment are key points in both Buddhism and Yoga. (I’m no scholar, but I would bet there are countless other similarities espoused in literature that could be easily found.)

The more I learn about the major religions and their core esoteric systems of practices, the more I understand that all paths are leading to the same goal.

This opinion — although not uncommon — can be hard to grasp because of the drastic differences in ritual, ceremony, dress code, methods of worship, personal conduct, and moral and ethical guidelines amounts the major religions. It is precisely these vast differences that I want to touch upon next.

Here’s a thought: I am going to go out on a limb and propose that any aspect of any spiritual path (be it religious or non-secular) that has the potential to vary drastically across belief systems is unnecessary, and further, this aspect can be eliminated without affecting the belief system’s underlying core concepts.

 Fundamental aspects of all belief systems:

  • Remembrance of that which is bigger than us (God, the Divine, the Void, etc).
             … And coming together as community to do so.
  • Cultivating love, compassion and selflessness (and most other “noble” characteristics).
  • Experiential connection to that which is bigger than us, such as through meditation, prayer, trance, etc.
              …And regular practice of this connection. 
  • ??? There are probably a few others

There’s not too much else that does NOT vary throughout today’s spiritual world.

Here is a brief list of some aspects of belief systems that DO vary drastically:

  • Physical garb and appearance of “spiritual” humans (priestly garb, Brahmin string, jewels, bones, ash, blood, etc).
  • Specific dates of worship, auspiciousness, and celebration.
  • Specific words/lyrics/language of devotional music
  • A “spiritually empowered” or “better” gender, age and skin colour
  • Vastness or minuteness of religious empire
  • Proselytizing and conversion techniques
  • Doomsday predictions
  • The use of incense
  • ALL RITUAL
  • ALL CEREMONY
  • ??? There is definitely a ton more of these 

 

[Those last two in caps are obviously the most important. Clearly there are aspects within ritual and ceremony that share in essentials, such as using music to raise vibration, but I am referring to the superficial ways in which these rituals are carried out.]

A simple Venn Diagram.

A simple Venn Diagram.

Right now modern spiritual society is a huge Venn diagram. A common shared core of the important  spiritual essentials is being forgotten due to the spiralling and friction of the surrounding non-essentials. Why not get rid of this?

I feel that the only way humankind will progress into an era of increased harmony and peace will be to recognize the fundamental similarities amongst all major faiths, while simultaneously discarding the non-overlapping components. We are holding onto a diverse portfolio of redundant and outdated methods of finding God, and without pruning down to the agreeable essentials there will continue to be clash between belief systems.

I am not proposing that every being must conform to an identical set of practices. Rather, I am suggesting that it should become a personal endeavour to find the non-essentials that work for you. A large group spiritual following should not force anything unnecessary upon its members. If you are called to pursue Shamanic drumming rituals, please do! And share your healing work with other fortunate souls. After all, personal experience with the divine is a core aspect of all faiths and should be encouraged. All beings should be encouraged to find their own methods of achieving the core aspects of spirituality (as outlined in the first list).

Let’s not let dogmatism restrict the unlimited ways in which a human can pursue connection with something greater — excise the excess within religion.

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?