Tag Archives: Salt Spring Island

Who Am I? The YogaZen of Ramana Maharshi

Until very recently I’ve been in the midst of a meditative fustercluck.

Long story short, what used to be a consistent sadhana practice has become a unsure, experimental and twitchy mental movement that cannot seem to settle on one type of practice.

 

Mantra? Zazen? Open eyed? Close eyed? Chakra? Expansiveness? One-pointedness? Breath? Nothingness? Candle? Flower? Up? Down? In? Out? …Are some of the ideas popping into my mind multiple times every minute after I sit. Perhaps there is lesson in this, dear reader: If you have found a practice that works for you, just stick with it. Don’t bother with all this confusion. All paths lead to the same destination in the end, anyways.

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These have become my favourite types of flowers — psychedelic succulents that love the sunny rocks. Totally unrelated to spiritual philosophy. Or are they? Sacred geometry abounds.

 

Over the last week, I had the pleasure of spending four nights in Satsang, listening to the spiritual teachings of a man named Ramana. His guru, Papaji, was a direct discipline of the great Indian sage Ramana Maharshi.

 

I am still in the afterglow of the teachings – this came at the right time for me. Something within the teachings of Ramana Maharshi (as conveyed by Ramana) speaks to me. I have found that when something resonates on a deep level, the messages received don’t even seem profound – we simply remember the place of Truth, right where it’s always been. Since the Satsang evenings, my morning and evening sadhana has been — get this — a consistent process! That is not to say the sensations and experience has been consistent (recall the impermanent and transient in all constructed things), but the process of withdrawing the mind and observing my thoughts has stayed remarkable consistent. 

 

Ramana Maharshi was very spartan in the realm of philosophy. It is said that a disciple, unsure of how to practice, approached Ramana Maharshi asking for direction, advice, and techniques to go deeper in meditation. The response: “Close your eyes… and go within.”

Later on in the same darshan, another pupil spoke up. He wanted to perfect the skill of maintaining mindfulness and awareness of God when moving about in the world, not in meditation. Could he offer any tips, tricks or suggestions? The repines: “Open your eyes… and go within.”

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A bed of Russian Poppies in the flower garden at SSCY.

 

From my very limited perspective, it appears that the teachings of Ramana Maharshi are at the blurry crossroads between Yoga and Zen philosophy. He has a pure, minimalist approach that brings to mind the complete lack of abstraction seen within Zen, but seems to use Yogic terminology in his discourses. I think it would be more correct, though, to say that Ramana Maharshi doesn’t really fit into a “philosophical compartment”. 

 

Here’s another gem, passed along to you from Ramana:

“I have three words, and I have two words, and I have one word.

Make No Effort.

Do Nothing.

Stop.”

 …Just think about that for a minute.

 

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Our lives are perpetual doingness. What if, for just half a second, we discard aversion and desire — even releasing the desire to be calm and slow the mind? A chill dinner under the Maple tree at SSCY.

You might want to know – what exactly is this process of withdrawal I mentioned above? It’s as minimal of a “process” as I’ve ever done. Sit. Close the eyes. Watch the thoughts. Eventually, after a few minutes, the mind will slow down — even if only a tiny bit — due to the lack of external stimulation. After one thought ends, and before the next begins, there is space. It might only be for half a second before being trampled by the mind, but take note of it between thoughts. Try again. Being very soft, very patient. Become that which is perceiving the mind thinking.

Remember –> Make No Effort. Do Nothing. Stop. Striving and pushing to slow the thoughts is an action, a doingness. Abandon doing. Choosing to follow the motions of mind (i.e.; becoming lost in thought) is also action, is also doingness. Strange – to try and focus is to make effort, and to engage in thought is also effort. So, where lies the stopping of effort?

Therein lies the fun, the play of this meditation. It is bringing awareness to the non-thought realm — consciousness/Self — and that’s it.

It is not about stopping thought. Adyashanti’s Zen teacher once said to him, (~)”If you are waiting for your mind to stop thinking, you’re going to wait forever.” The mind creates thought. That’s what it does. Trying to change this reality is a recipe for frustration. By coming to the space the perceives thought, that which perceives the sense of I, we engage in total non-doingness. The perceiver simply… perceives. There is no aversion, no desire here. Just beingness and Truth. This is the Self. 

I imagine this state of non-doingness — which, by the way, underlies every moment of our life — to be a gentle balance. I imagine a razor sharp katana sword, delicately balanced on a finger. The breeze slips over and under the blade without upsetting even the subtle balance on the sword. Within this meditation, space is discovered, not so much held as much as regarded. This fine blade of of awareness is not perturbed by the thoughts created by the mind. Like a river dwelling plant that bends with the strong current to remain steadfast at the root. We regard the current, noticing its pull, but staying steadfast at the root.

 

There’s another method to noticing that which perceives thought. Ramana Maharshi was a master at Self Inquiry. Going within, the practitioner of Self-Inquiry will question the arising thoughts to try and seek any truth within them. (Hint: There is never absolute reality within thought form.) Try it yourself. As thoughts arise, ask:

– Where did this thought arise from?

– Where did that thought dissolve into?

– What is the “I” this thought concerns? Where does the “I” reside?

These questions cannot be answered by mind. Mind cannot understand that which has no concept. The doingness of thought cannot comprehend the state of non-doingness. Thus a silence may be found in the period after a question – in the case of the water plant, this silence is the firm rock to act as our anchor in the strong current of mind. These questions lead into the maha-question, the basis of Self-Inquiry: 

– Who Am I?

 

Who Am I, when asked piercingly and ceaselessly, is said to be the water which erodes the “egoic mountain” of “me, I, and mine”. To go deeper into the power of Who Am I and self-inquiry in general, I highly recommend finding a Ramana Maharshi book to dig into. For me to try and explain any deeper would be a bastardization of a beautiful revelation.

 

So, let us go forth and meditate. May we all achieve clarity and consistency with our practice, and may our efforts be effortless.

 

Peace.

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. 

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.