Newsletter May 2011
In this section we have two personal stories to share with you, from people who have come to stay with us for a while...
Before coming to Anahata, looking at life from my 18-year-old perspective was often quite confusing. It seemed that everyone was going somewhere very important, very fast, but no one really knew why. After going to kindergarten you went to school. After school you went to university. After university you worked. If you were lucky you got married and had children. And if you were even luckier you’d be doing all this and be unthinkably rich at the same time. This was the ideal path of life. This, it seemed society was saying, is what you were made to accomplish.
But why? What was the purpose behind this crazy game called modern life? The game’s instructions were clear: Gather money almost any way possible and complete all stops as fast as possible. The path along the board was firmly set. The players were lined up at the start of the board flexing their muscles. Everyone knew their place but no one knew why. Those who were already halfway through the game of life seemed to have painted smiles on their faces as if they wanted to prove to onlookers “Yes, I’m winning this game and am happy.”
To me, most people seemed to resemble the cartoon characters you see on kids’ shows who have followed the road to a dead end and run off a cliff, but would still kick their legs as if to keep running. People seemed to know deep inside, on some level that they were falling, that they were missing the joy of life, but thought that if they kicked their legs harder and moved just that little bit faster they might not notice.
But someday everyone hits the ground.
I decided at the end of high school that I don’t want to run off a cliff, and I don’t want to run through life as fast as I can either. I want to get off life’s one-way motorway and have a look at some side streets. I would like to explore different ideas about what exactly the point of all this is: the why of life.
And so I came to stay at Anahata for a couple months. Coming here was not completely new territory as I had been doing yoga for about two years, but it certainly gave me a new perspective on the practice. I used to think that yoga was practiced on a mat. Yoga, to me, used to mean meditative stretches, but now I’m starting to understand that actually there is never a time when yoga cannot be practiced. Yoga doesn’t mean balancing on the toes of one foot, having the other one over your head, closing your eyes and breathing in deeply while looking as graceful and zen-like as possible. Rather, it means ‘union’ – the union of body, mind, and spirit; it means achieving balance between these three aspects of oneself. And this can be done even while doing mundane everyday things like cleaning, or in my case, chopping firewood.
To be honest I used to really dislike chopping firewood here. I would be assigned to chop firewood when it was a rainy day because it was the one job which could be done outside under the balcony when it was wet. And windy. And cold.
But the concepts of yoga helped me to understand that it is not the fact that I have to chop wood for the morning that causes my annoyance. Rather, it is how I perceive the situation that defines my next three hours. I can think of myself as the victim, sitting outside while all the others are warm inside. Or, I can turn chopping into a game and try to chop more wood than last time. Or, I can appreciate that I’m chopping wood outside and have all morning to myself to contemplate whatever I like. I can turn the whole process into a meditation. In fact, I can make my morning into whatever I want.
As much as we like to think we can, and as much as we try to, we cannot control life. It is not possible to control what happens to us all the time. However, we can always control our experience of life. Everything we experience is experienced through the mind, and generally speaking, in our society we have been trained, consciously and unconsciously, to look at life in a pessimistic light. But through the different practices used at Anahata I’m starting to observe and change my perception.
And, thanks to the kind support of a sponsor, I’m able to stay longer than I could afford to otherwise.
Hopefully one day my mind will perceive firewood chopping as the greatest joy of life, but for now I have experienced one thing already: Yoga does not start on a mat. Yoga starts in your mind.
After finishing high school in Nelson NZ, Moz came to stay at Anahata for 2 months. This extended stay was made possible through the generous sponsorship of a previous guest, who wanted to share the benefits of a yogic lifestyle experience with others. Moz’s sponsor was particularly keen to support Anahata’s sponsorship program as it aligns with the work she does with corporate employees.
If you are interested in sharing the benefits of a yogic lifestyle experience with others, please contact Anahata to discuss sponsorship opportunities. Contact us by phone (03) 525-7887 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (03) 525-7887 end_of_the_skype_highlighting, email (email@example.com) or come up for a visit and talk to us in person! You can also read more about the Anahata Yoga Health and Education Trust in the Anahata Trust section of the newsletter or on our website.
By Amber Blair
The 30 minute drive up to the yoga retreat, Anahata, in the sub-alpine mountains of New Zealand is breathtaking to the point of tears. We twist and turn up through lush green forest as sheep scatter out of the roadway. At certain points, the view opens up to the ocean below, evoking feelings of sadness and injustice for any mountain that has to live without his ocean companion, for they must surely be soulmates. I exchange stories with the resident that picks me up, both of ours very similar. As he puts it, everything on the outside was fine - money, friends, etc - but it was like the inside was starving, devoid of purpose and meaning. I knew I had chosen the right place.
Upon arrival, I am immediately ushered into tea with other guests and residents and am then shown to my room. I share a very small house with 4 other women, I in the private bedroom with a door and the rest in a commonly shared bedroom. Immediately I feel elitist and spoiled - I did not realize the private room I had booked came with more humble and economic housemates. There are no keys and no locks, so I, being the smart city girl that I am, pack up all my valuables into my suitcase and lock them up, then walk out into the main area of the house to see one of my housemates has left a professional camera worth thousands sitting on the windowsill. I am beginning to understand there is a level of community here that I've certainly never seen before.
As my time at Anahata was very spiritual and personal, I don't think this blog is the ideal place for the day to day details of my time there. So I'll sum it up for you. I attended fire ceremonies, I chanted, I had symbolic red dots placed on my forehead, I suffered through the painful adjustment to sitting on the floor constantly, I did my laundry in the sink, I had tea time twice a day, I stuck to a schedule, I meditated with a mala, I did posture yoga, I climbed up endless steep hills (what is it about living on the side of a mountain that precludes flat land?), I ate things I've never even heard of before, I did tree puja, I went to bed before the sun on occasion. I met really, really lovely people. I learned some invaluable lessons, I mean really learned them: awareness, simplicity, compassion, contentment, conservation, open mind, open heart.
As you can see from the pictures (see link to Amber's pictures), this place is quite peaceful and idyllic. But what I can't share with you directly are the sounds, and the sounds I believe will carry some of the strongest memories for me. The low and melodious call of a gong to signal that it's time to move onto the next thing. The harmonious, drawn out vocalization of the word "Om" three times as a group to fill the room with good energy before, well, everything. The reverent echo of a conch shell being sounded at havan. The mesmerizing beat of two soulfully played drums at kirtan.
Doesn't that all sound lovely? Well, here's my tongue-in-cheek impression of it too. Living at an ashram ( or at least this one) is a little like being at summer camp. You have "bunkmates", girls you've never met before from exotic places like Australia and Canada (and really exotic places like Samoa). Meals are shared together with the whole ashram community in the "mess hall" and there's lots of singing. Except at this camp you're singing in sanskrit in tune with a harmonium while maintaining a proper meditation posture and pretending that both your legs aren't falling asleep. At this camp, instead of swimming and arts & crafts, you're doing karma yoga, which is service with a meditative focus. Real world translation - you clean bathrooms, weed gardens, dig holes, mop floors and do dishes. There's lights out/no talking between dinner and breakfast and no boys allowed in the cabin. There are maddening black flies and mosquitos except on the days when mother nature decides a cold, foggy, rainy day is in order. And of course what would any camp be without lots of silliness and laughing.
You feel a little lost in it all at first, especially when everyone around you knows exactly how to say/chant/sing/remember all these complicated strings of letters that make no sense to a brain that's been unexposed to them before and they are so strong in their conviction to the yogic path. Not just the posture yoga that we all know from the gym or yoga studio we attend. The life of simplicity and dedication to a higher power and its presence everywhere. For a non-religious person like me, it feels like a lot to comprehend and accept. But you get into this fantastic rhythym - yoga, meditate, eat healthy, work hard, give back, conserve, laugh, go to bed early, repeat - and it works you from the inside out. What you're so used to thinking is important doesn't seem so important any more and you start to really think about what you're giving to the world and how you're taking care of it.
When you really open your heart, you get the reward of truly beautiful moments. Quiet breakfasts on the porch watching the sun come up over sheep grazing in nearby pastures and listening to the unique song of the Tui bird. Meandering hikes up the side of a mountain to find a hidden waterfall. Joining in with the neighbors for a community garden project and dinner party. Watching a gentle, kind swami usher a bumble bee out of the kitchen with a spoon. Having your head shaved in a symbolic and real gesture of letting go of old energy and the past. That last one may seem a bit odd to some, but when you really look at yourself, without makeup and hair to distract you, a completely different person can look back at you from the mirror. And beauty takes on a completely different meaning.
For more from Amber, visit her blog at www.chasingsummertravels.com