In this satsang Swamiji recommends the medicine of daily awe and wonder to counteract the negative effects of so much fear in the collective psyche at this time. 5 minutes of awe and wonder in the face of nature’s beauty – a flower, a moving vista, the starlit sky – can do wonders for the soul, he reminds us, lifting our spirits generally as well as creating an openness that we can take into our more formal practice. As always, satsang closes with a Q&A.
In this satsang Swamiji stresses the importance of practice, urging us to set aside at least one hour per day for connecting with or opening to our fundamental identity. He also speaks to the challenges brought to all of us by the pandemic, and gently suggests we might use these challenges to inspire our practice and to shake ourselves out of any sense of complacency that may be present. There follows a guided meditation centered on the relationship between the mind with its myriad objects of perception and the underlying Consciousness which perceives through the mind and senses. As always, satsang closes with a Q&A.
This poem was written over two years ago. I had always enjoyed working outside in the Ashram grounds but the spring of 2017 was when I first took the drum outdoors and played with the trees and the birds for company. I did have this sense that nature was encouraging me to let the music out. In 2019 I started writing songs and many of these tracks are celebrations of the natural world.
Prose, Prose, Prose
I cannot write that way to describe life here
in the wet green hills in northern climes of planet earth
The sun is our nearby star and her light touches us
as we work among brambles, ash and pine.
Our lungs gorge on oxygen, a precious gas
which the Italians call ossigeno
and that sounds like a bony genome.
Light is made of photons and photons are found inside our bodies*
science fact, but little reported and every photon tells a tale.
The sun shines white, the plants blaze green,
tree roots explore the soil and the mycelium spreads far and wide.
Here at the Ashram if you walk by the big pond when the sun is out,
our nearby star may call to you and she may say
“Darling little one, my love sweeps over the land
Do you have eyes to see?
Darling little one, come out and drum and sing,
sit on a rock and let the songbirds hear you play.
If you do I’ll tell you my stories:
I’ll speak of planets, moons and comets, of spiral galaxies and gassy filaments,
but I’ll also speak of the spinning earth
and all thereon that responds to my radiant presence.
In my rays your hair glistens, you work and sweat and enjoy being flesh and blood
and my love coaxes out that voice of yours
SING SING SING, get out and do it boy
By Mantra Shakti
*See the work of Fritz-Albert Popp (his discoveries are mentioned at some length in the book ‘The Field’ by Lynne McTaggart)
We said we’d build a Yoga hall in Zambia…… and we did.
I’m signing in from Eastern Zambia, as I had to stay here for a further three months because of the UK being in ‘lockdown’ etc. Here life is much easier as we have complete freedom of movement and the whole Covid business may as well be on another planet. Would be nice to stay but my ashram duties call me back, then reality will hit and I have to quarantine for 10 days at vast expense. Ironic as I feel much safer here and we probably developed ‘herd immunity’ in Eastern Province months ago.
I don’t have a lot more to say, as the movie that I made says it all. I have tried to do as complete a job as I could with this movie… some of you have donated money, trousers and yoga blocks and we couldn’t have done it without you, so this movie is a big thank-you to you all (the Northern Ireland contingent has to come in for special mention here… they continued to help us most generously through the project).
African Mandala is a project supported by Swami Nishchalananda, in that he gave me encouragement, inspiration, also the leeway to continue coming to my Africa projects even after I moved into the ashram (see Ulingana.com). His freedom of spirit infuses Yoga in Zambia; I hope you will see that from the movie.
The film is a documentary, not a ‘short’. It’s 20 minutes long, so give yourself some time, freedom from immediate tasks, and a reasonable sound system (!) to enjoy. I have tried to briefly paint a picture of Zambia… its wildlife and culture, to start. Then we focus a bit more on the build, also on life in Eastern Province where life can be astonishingly hard at times (making it even more surprising that people have adopted Yoga so readily). Finally we focus in on the two principal teachers and the opening class that marked the end of the project, and the beginning of a whole new chapter for the teachers and practitioners.
On the current Ashram Yoga Teacher Training Course, the student teachers have been guided in their study of the Bhagavad Gita, one of the core inspirational texts of the Yoga tradition. Their latest assignment was:
In a few paragraphs, give a summary of:
1. the core impact that the Gita study has had on you to date
2. the key verse, or teaching, that you have been practising in your daily life
3. in brief, how would you describe the Gita to your students?
Following is the assignment of Amanda Jameson, from Lincolnshire, copied here with her permission:
The main impact that the Bhagavad Gita has had on me is not to be afraid and face things head on. It has given me the strength and courage to deal and accept what is going on in my life. I now trust that I have no influence really on events. I am just on this journey of life to observe and witness. It has helped me spiritually realise that to be truly happy in this life it to just accept and trust and live my life the best way possible to serve myself and others so we can inhabit this beautiful earth in harmony and peace. It has helped to clear any doubts that I have in my life and to trust.
I believe that one of the key purposes of the Gita is to help us not to fear death as it is inevitable. To remain happy and open to life’s possibilities.
The key verse for me right now is chapter 3 – verse 21 – by setting an example to others. If I live my life selflessly with compassion for myself and others, sharing my knowledge, taking joy from each moment and spreading that sense of joy ……… it is contagious. Living with positive energy that passes through me to my friends, family, students and even a stranger on the street. The happiness I am feeling right now helping people and sharing my knowledge of yoga has been profound. I know we do not have to be concerned with the outcome, it is the journey that matters, but it’s a beautiful journey and to share that feels wonderful.
I would explain the Bhagavad Gita to students as a book to gain spiritual awareness if that is their purpose. To digest it slowly and enjoy the message its conveying. It can be a book to turn to when you are in need of answers to life questions. It will help to clear your doubts and trust your instincts.
I must add that I now keep my copy of the Gita by my bed so it is there to read whenever I need it.
In early December 2020 I was asked to do a voice and mantra session for Ashram team members. I had not offered such a session for months. I took the opportunity to use that class to introduce a long mantra addressing Saraswati, to some of the team. Days later, I was in my room chanting a mantra to Shiva when I became aware of other presences around me and got a clear message in my mind, to start chanting a mantra to Kuan Yin. The mind being incredibly complex; one can never know for sure what exactly is happening when one individual believes that they are being addressed by an archetypal energy; you could say that this person has simply retuned her receptive abilities and has thus opened herself up at the right time and place. Doing any mantra can act as a broadening of one’s receptivity, and I was in the middle of chanting 108 rounds of the mrityunjaya mantra when I was stopped suddenly and ‘guided’ to begin a different mantra. A moment of grace came my way at the end of the 108 rounds of the Kuan Yin mantra, following which I was inspired to write a song. The track which names both Kuan Yin and the Roman Goddess Abundantia, is very uplifting and easy to sing. When I come to record it I may well add cello, flute and a little percussion for the chorus, if I can find some kindred musicians. Other Ashram team members really enjoy singing the song.
I had not worked seriously with the Kuan Yin mantra before that evening in December last year. I did not decide to chant the Kuan Yin mantra daily, despite my profound experiences on that fateful evening, yet I have on occasion done a thousand rounds in one go, on other days a few hundred rounds have felt right. I am convinced that introducing the long Saraswati mantra to team members brought about a deepening of my connection with Kuan Yin, which in turn gave me the song. When I came to do the first online voice and mantra session I chose the long Saraswati mantra and the short Kuan Yin mantra for the final part of that workshop. I hope that among the many who attended that first session, some folk may have decided to adopt one or both of those mantras into their practice. As I said in the session, it is my belief that any creative gifts a person might have will flower with the repetition of what Thomas Ashley-Farrand calls the Maha Vidya (Great Knowledge) mantra.
EIM HRIM SRIM KLIM SAUH KLIM HRIM EIM
BLUM STRIM NILATARI SARASWATI
DRAM DRIM KLIM BLUM SAH
EIM HRIM SHRIM KLIM SAUH SAUH HRIM SWAHA
I’M HREEM SHREEM KLEEM SAW KLEEM HREEM I’M
BLOOM STREEM NEE-LAH-TAH-REE SAH-RAH-SWAH-TEE
DRAHM DREEM KLEEM BLOOM SAW
I’M HREEM SHREEM KLEEM SAW SAW HREEM SWAHA
(the well known Mrityunjaya Mantra)
OM TRYAM BAKAM YAJAMAHE
SUGANDHIM PUSHTI VARDHANAM
MRITYOR MUKSHIYA MAMRITAT
NAMO KUAN SHI YIN PU SA
NAH-MOH KWAHN SHEE YIN POO SAH
Kuan Yin is regarded as a female Bodhisattwa in the Buddhist tradition and is popular in China, Japan and Taiwan.
In this satsang Swamiji introduces and highly recommends the Yoga Vasistha as an advaitic text full of startling wisdom. From this text he reads and illuminates two verses which, if pondered deeply upon, can revolutionise our understanding of the nature of cause and effect. There follows a meditation on the meaning of the Shanti Path – chanted at the end of each satsang and on many other occasions here at the Ashram and Q&A.
In this lovely satsang full of depth and humour, Swamiji discourses on the Yoga Sutras from a very humane perspective. He emphasises that the path of the yogi is not one of dis-identification with the body and personality in favour of the more fundamental identification with the underlying conscious presence. Identification with the person is not ‘wrong’, he assures us. It is only exclusive identification with the person that leads to a limiting and ultimately frustrating experience. But by expanding our sense of self to encompass both the human being that we are and the more fundamental reality of conscious presence, we can experience greater freedom and resilience in our lives. There follows a meditation and Q&A.
In this special St Valentine’s Day satsang Swami Nishchalananda suggests that we might rename this day ‘Appreciation Day’. He then leads a beautiful mediation on the topic of unconditional love in the form of appreciation, guiding us to offer a flower of appreciation to everyone in our lives and our world who would benefit from a virtual hug at this time – including those who we dislike.
After the meditation comes a Q&A session dealing with questions on the challenges we might be facing in 2021, how to cope with increased work demands arising from the current situation, and how to be liberated from dukkha (frustration).
This satsang includes two lovely guided meditations and some Q&A with Swamiji.