Posts from: July 25, 2012

NO RETREAT NO SURRENDER

This is not about the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie of the same name…
Our yoga centre recently held a competition to give away two places to our upcoming Wild Love Jivamukti Yoga Retreat, which is on this weekend. I’m so pumped to teach the nature-themed retreat once again with fellow Jivamukti teacher, Justine Goss and hang out with our animal friends by the billabong and sing by the fire like what you might have done at scouts, except without crap food.
Going on retreat is like organic, not-tested-on-animals medicine for the soul. And judging by many of the competition entries, where we asked people to tell us in thirty words or less why they should win two spots, it’s medicine we all could use more of.
It’s like a badge of honour these days to answer the question, ‘How are you?’ with ‘So busy!’ or ‘Totally stressed out!’ If this is how we are supposed to live, then it’s really not for me…
Going on retreat is not escapism, it’s investment. Escapism is having way too many beers. Investment is savouring preciousness in the minutest of details and refilling your cup with something far more sustaining than beer (though, truth be told, I do love a good beer).
In his book ‘The Diamond Cutter'(co-written with Lama Christie McNally) my hero Geshe Michael Roach refers to retreat time as ‘the business of gardening for the future’. He talks of planting karmic seeds in this precious time away so that when we do return to work, we can be more present, more alive, more considerate, more creative and ultimately more happy.
When we retreat away from what sometimes can be seen as mundane ‘every day life’, we give ourselves the opportunity to see things, hear things and even taste things differently. The spiritual palette is cleansed.
We don’t slow down for the sake of tuning out. Rather, we relearn the lost skill of mono-tasking; focusing so intently on one task that our concentration levels actually increase and our minds are given the opportunity to see something previously thought of as ‘mundane’ as breathing or sipping clean water as the very precious gifts they are.
We ‘turn on’ rather than ‘tune out’ our buried creative thinking. Re-energised, uncluttered and unbound, we find creative solutions to problems that now seem significantly smaller.
We become re-nourished, re-focused, grateful for what we all ready have, and ultimately a lot more useful to those who have to live with our busy-ness on a day to day basis.
Busyness is a state of mind. But so is living gloriously and gracefully in whatever moment within which we find ourselves. It just takes practice and a fresh perspective.
When we retreat, we surrender to what it is we knew all along: we have everything we need within us to appropriate lasting, uncompromising happiness. Happiness about the smallest things like pure, fresh air and warm clothing. And happiness about the biggest things: incredible people, wonderful relationships and abundance.
Bite the bullet. At least once a year. Retreat.

http://jivamuktiyoga.com.au/Wild_Love_Weekend_Retreat.html

http://jivamuktiyoga.com.au/Thailand.html

SADHANA (Kitchen)

The sanskrit word sadhana means ‘conscious spiritual practice’. Sad, the root word, means truth, so practice every day to find what out what you’re made of.
There are many ways to practice truth. For some it is chanting a sacred mantra 108 times a day or more. For others, it’s waking up just that little bit earlier than everyone else EVERY DAY to make their kids a healthy and delicious lunch. For others still, it’s ‘giving up’ your social life for a while to practice practice practice your piano so that others receive the gift of your music.
Because sadhana is based on devotion, it is the ULTIMATE detox. With sustained practice at whatever it is to which you are devoted, you find out what you’re made of and, perhaps even more importantly, what you don’t need.
Ethical vegetarianism is a practice. It might not be easy at first. But with just a little determination, and with support from your sangha (your ‘people’), you will shed unnecessary doubts about your ability to sustain what will eventually become a joyful, easy and downright delectable practice.
There is a cafe called ‘Sadhana Kitchen’ in the same building that I teach yoga every Sunday. (I know, my karma, right?) The owners, Maz and Sam, as well as Mandy, their trusty young waitrine are nothing short of posterbois for the ‘ethically delicious’ movement.
I first met Maz, whose vision this was, a few years back in Penrith at Lila Yoga. She was a student of my class and I was struck by the lightness of her practice, and also how friendly she was. I was ecstatic when I heard she was opening up a cafe in the Jivamukti Yoga Sydney building, though I tried my best to act cool…
The first thing I ever sampled at Sadhana kitchen were the pancakes: dehydrated (yet not dry) pancakes with slices of banana… I tried so hard to practice equanimity of mind, but honestly, it was like Prince just walked into the room, sang ‘Kiss’, transformed himself into raw pancakes and laid himself down on a plate to tempt me beyond all self control.
So I had to keep practicing. Next course: Tacos made with walnut mince, tomatoes, guacamole, cashew sour kream on a crisp lettuce cup. 3 of them just to be sure. The mix of sweet, savoury, slightly sour, tangy and crisp in the one bite put the OHHHHH in taco; just saying.
In the same day, I may or may not have also sampled – for the sake of practice – strawberry pie, chocolate cake and cheezecake. All raw and made with no refined sugars. This challenged my defiantly hedonist outlook on vegan cuisine and made me feel downright health-righteous.
Note to selves: you HAVE to try the lasagne…
My favourite savoury dish so far would have to be the quiche. Served warm right out of the dehydrator, with a sprinkling of ‘fried’ onions and with a side superfood salad (hello mustard dressing), it was just what was needed to warm the heart before the long drive home west-side.
But not without a green smoothie with a shot of ginger and a dash of cayenne pepper, as a ‘traveller’.
I love the way Maz, Sam and Mandy practice yoga. The way they selflessly, joyfully serve teachers, students and gourmands alike. They are kind, knowledgable and inspiring. They can give you the vegan talk if you want it but the proof is in the raw pudding…

My very first raw food cafe experience was five years ago in a now defunct cafe in New York City. The food was okay, nothing inspiring, but I did notice the wait-staff were simply glowing. So I said to the waitress who served me my cool coconut chai ‘You guys really are great ads for raw food. You all look amazing!’
She looked at her colleagues; they all looked a little amused.
‘Ah thanks. But we don’t eat here a lot. None of us are even vegetarians.’
‘What??’ I reacted.
‘We’re all models; we work here part time…’
All of a sudden, her stock plummeted (I know, judgement much?). I scoffed down the rest of my chai and walked away.

Maz, Sam and Mandy are the truth. They are vegans for ethical reasons and the health is a major plus and inspiration for them. Every Sunday, between classes, when I see them giving everybody their absolute best, I can’t help but think to myself ‘There is nothing more attractive than compassion’.

DISCLAIMER – The first day, when I ate all that food, I was not alone. Sandy King may or may not have been present… with a fork and enormous eyes.

Have a little SHRADHA, more reflections on FAITH

HAVE A LITTLE SHRADHA
When I was a young boy, I summered in the Philippines and found myself in the charge of an elderly, devoutly Catholic relative. My great aunt went to mass every single day, was forever thumbing her rosary beads and always smelt of sampagita (the biblical jasmine from which they fashion wreaths for shrine offerings). I loved my Aunt and admired her religious fervour, even though I didn’t quite understand it.
One day, she said it was time to get out of the city and have a road trip; just the three of us (my great aunt, her husband and me). I couldn’t wait. But it was a different kind of road trip: it was a tour of famous religious sites where images of the virgin mary or Jesus Christ materialised and remained on things like large stones, cement and tree trunks. I was fascinated as I had recently read in the National Enquirer that the image of Jesus had appeared on a dorito. I couldn’t quite make the image out because the image provided was so, ahem, grainy.
The first site we went to was at the end of a bitumen road, from which another dirt road continued, all the way to the foot a small mountain. I couldn’t wait to see the chapel built around an image of Jesus that materialised on a piece of cement. The story goes that the cement was laid as the landing of the outer foyer of the chapel. When the miraculous image appeared, it was decided that the chapel be built around the image, so it would forever be protected from the elements. I felt the most incredible sense of anticipation and was beside myself when my aunt and uncle genuflected at the framed image on the ground.
I squeezed myself in between them and my uncle gently held the nape of my neck presumably as support in case I fainted. But I saw nothing. Absolutely nothing but a random set of indents framed by wood and glass. I looked closer. I tried different angles.
‘Uncle. Where is his nose?’
He eyed me incredulously: ‘Right THERE!’ He pointed to a larger indent close to the centre of the frame.
Still nothing.
I looked to my Aunt.
‘You cannot see, anak [child]?’
‘No Aunty.’
My aunt and uncle asked me to try a yet more angles, said that maybe because it was so dark that was why I couldn’t see God.
‘Never mind’ said my Aunt, encouragingly. ‘So many more sites to see. Halika [come]’ and I followed them both out of the chapel with the strangest feeling that I had somehow disappointed them.
We drove on for a few hours, with me in the back of the car trying hard to listen in to the hushed tones my aunt and uncle had adopted for the first time ever (they were normally quite loud).
The next place we went to was behind another chapel. On a tree was the image of the Virgin Mary with her hands at prayer. Or so they said. Because once again I couldn’t see it. This time, maybe, the sun was in my eyes. Maybe I wasn’t tall enough. My uncle held me up. Yet again I saw nothing. And my aunt and uncle said nothing all the way to the next site.
Which, of course, was also deeply disappointing for all of us: for my relatives because they could see the Virgin, and me because I couldn’t. I tried so hard but I saw nothing on the rock formation, around which a grotto was built. Everybody was deeply concerned. But I was told not to worry, they were praying for me.
Upon being returned to my mother, I spontaneously burst into tears.
‘What happened?’ she asked my crest-fallen relatives.
‘I can’t see God!’ I interrupted, before anyone else had a chance to say anything.
My poor aunt and uncle left my mother to try to console me.
‘I can’t see God, Mum. I can’t see God!’ I repeated and told her the tragic events of the day.
Mum was a great listener; she took everything in before saying, ‘Son, it’s not important that you couldn’t see those images. And it’s not important why.’
‘But if I can’t see, does that mean I have no faith?’
She thought for a moment. ‘No, son. Either way, it’s not important to have faith in images. But it is important to have faith in people. Don’t worry I have faith in you.’

It took me a very long time, years in fact, to really understand what all this meant. And as I reflect upon my beautiful, growing community of brave, articulate, well-inked, energetic anarchists, I see what it means to have faith in people. Back in the day, when we were a very small number of teachers in a small converted warehouse, dropping knowledge about how enlightenment can only be achieved through practical compassion, I would never have guessed where we would be today. Now we are a much larger gang of upstarts, in a much larger converted warehouse with heart, courage, and yes, faith in spades. And all because our teachers had faith in us. When we speak with our students about some pretty big ideas, it’s about seeing their highest potential, not assuming lack of vision. And I thank God, whenever I teach a Jivamukti Yoga class, that, our students too, have so much faith.

CRITICAL MASS ATTRACTION IN THE PHILIPPINES

I promised myself this wasn’t going to be another food blog… But then again being vegan is not really about the food; that’s just a major PLUS…
Here I am in the Philippines teaching Jivamukti Yoga to the beautiful people at Bliss Yoga Manila and Greenhills. I’m a guest of the directors, Monique Borja and Roland De la Cruz and in all seriousness, a few weeks ago I emailed them with the urgent question ‘Will i starve?’ You see, the Philippines – though abundant in a variety of tropical fruits, vegetables, rice and other grains – has a very meat-centred diet. The last time I was here, fourteen years ago, I very nearly DID starve; if only for the amount of beer I consumed to balance it all out.
Roland and Monique assured me that this time I would NOT starve. Ten days, six vegan restaurants, two organic markets, a big health food store and a whole bunch of new friends later, I look back and laugh at my concern…
The moment I landed, I was taken to the Salcedio Saturday markets. I blame the long flight for making me consume two mushroom burgers, three cookies, an entire coconut and three different juice iceblocks (adorably, they call them ‘popsicles’ here) in the time it takes a beginner yoga student to roll out their mat. Then I met Nancy, the ONLY Jivamukti Yoga teacher in all of the Philippines. Being a Jivamukti Yoga teacher, she also doubles as a walking vegan travel guide to her home city. Isn’t it interesting she teaches at Bliss? We joked that two Jivamukti teachers in the Philippines was ‘critical mass’ and when Nancy said ‘I can’t WAIT for you to meet all my vegan friends’ I joked that she would have to find some vegan friends first.
Didn’t take long. The following day, after class, we met Nancy’s friend, Jason, a photographer and animal activist (well, we ALL are) and there we were having a combination of lunch/dinner (linner) at Doctor Tam’s, a famous Seventh Day Adventist vegan restaurant. The menu was extensive, but seeing as I never really got into Filo food, we thought we would have only Filipino dishes. My favourite was the ‘mercado’ which is a rich tomato stew, in this case made with gluten instead of beef. The avocado ice kream was also a winner, which is most probably why Nancy had three.
A few days later, a rumour surfaced that Marie, the Philippines premiere vegan chef and nutrition coach, had a SPARE (!) chocolate peanut butter pie. Of course, Marie is one of Nancy’s close friends, so if the rumours were true, then Nancy would do her best to provide proof. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that when Marie arrived at Bliss, I hugged and kissed her but addressed the PIE when I said ‘Oh God I am so glad to meet you’. I cried when I bit into what was essentially a pimped-out Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. And now my eyes are glistening looking back on that landmark moment.
I thought things couldn’t get any better but when Marie invited us to a complimentary four-course vegan cooking class at her home, I knew I hit the motherlode. Marie trained at the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts in New York City and interned in the very best vegan restaurants in said city, including Pure Food and Wine. So she KNOWS her vegan gourmet.
We laughed so much and I learned a great deal on the day we created pepperoni (pepper-foney) pizza, potato sage pizza with two cheeZes, tofu cheatball pasta with marinara sauce and black sesame ice dream with vanilla cake (all made FROM SCRATCH) but the main thing I learned on this special day was that we must always have faith: faith in humanity’s ability to change for the better one delectable morsel at a time. It’s a wonderful approach and so much better than worrying if you’re going to starve.