17 August 2007


Saturday 18th August 2007

“No one chooses to be a mystic of his own volition. He must undergo some sort of experience which is of sufficient intensity to lead to an expansion of normal consciousness and perception, so that there comes to him a new vision of reality which dominates his life and thought. He must experience some sort of ‘conversion’.
The illumination may be gradual, almost imperceptible, or sudden and violent. If there is a sudden conversion, a swift, overwhelming experience, it is usually preceded by and is the result of a long period of restlessness, uncertainty, and mental stress.”

“Mysticism” by F.C. Happold

Last Sunday afternoon as I was driving home from my favourite walk around Horsenell Gully, I decided to stop in at a grungy looking bookshop that I’ve been driving past for years but had never visited. The homemade sign outside said “Wholistic Bookshop”, which to me had always conjured up images of new-age, but now passé obsessions like crystals, biorhythms, UFOs etc.

Now honestly I like to have my pre-judgements proved wrong, just to remind me that by judging anything I’ve slipped into a small mind mentality, so it was a nice wake up call to discover the wholistic bookshop to be a sweet little haven with quite a variety of old books and literature on some great spiritual traditions.
It’s a tiny place, crammed with books, everything inside feels somehow washed over with sepia tones and it feels dusty even though it isn’t. After a few minutes of browsing to get familiar with the flavour of the book selection and how they were organised, a man, 45ish, appeared from behind a big shelf. He had very long hair and a glowing warm-afternoon kind of smile. As it was 4.30pm, I asked him what time he closed, expecting him to say 5 o’clock. Ever so casually he replied, “Oh whenever the sun goes down”.
There were a few yoga books, though nothing I hadn’t read or would want to read, so I explored the other shelves and found a section with miscellaneous religious/spiritual books, quite a few by Swami this and Swami that, but in between were a few books from both the Hindu and Christian mystical traditions.

I bought two books, one was “Mysticism: A Study and an Anthology” by F. C. Happold and the other was a full text version of The Philokalia.
Once again I find myself excited and breathless when reminded of the mystical.
Why do I keep getting sidetracked?
The mystical power that silently guides the direction of our lives is always so close, working away behind the scenes. But whenever I get caught up my personal stories, I’m not conscious of this delicately obscured process that is guiding me towards the light. At other times I feel it's presence illuminating me from within, an intensely surging but gentle power that effervesces my being, urging me to take notice.
To stumble across this book is a reminder from the universe. A little poke in the ribs.
“Look at me” it says “Refocus your eyes to the invisible realms again and you’ll start seeing what needs to be seen”.

Another excerpt from the book:
"In the study of contemplation we are considering a movement of consciousness towards a higher level, as the result of the emergence and cultivation of powers which in most men and women remain latent. As found in the true contemplative it is an extreme form of the withdrawal of attention from the sensible world and a total dedication of action and mind towards a particular interior object. It is essentially a creative activity, similar to the highest activity of poet, painter, and musician.”

13 August 2007


Tuesday 14th August 2007

On the mat

My son was able to make a CD out of Sharath’s DVD so I picked it up from him last night and set my alarm for 6am this morning with great anticipation.

It wasn’t hard to get out of bed and onto the mat with the promise of this new toy to play with. And I wasn’t disappointed. Yes it was fast, but since my natural breath is long and deep, I moved through the sun salutes and standing poses fairly smoothly, only taking 3 breaths in each pose. If I’d breathed along with Sharath’s count I would have hyperventilated.

Unfortunatly, the practice was cut very short because of my little dog. Instead of curling back up on the bed while I did my yoga, she got frisky and naughty and insisted on dropping her toys on the mat by my feet as I practised. I kicked them off the mat. I kicked HER off the mat (gently). Then she started barking somewhere in the other room which, at 6.30am, doesn’t help build good relations with the tenants upstairs and next door. Then she plonked herself down in the middle of the mat. So by the end of the standing poses I gave in and gave up and took her for a walk. Oh well, first practice with Sharath foiled, but there'll be plenty more.

Next weekend I'll hijack someone’s TV and watch the DVD. It will help me to connect Sharath's instructions to his movements and give me inspiration plus.

The “Ashtanga” class last Wednesday night was fun (note the “…”) so I”ll probably go again tomorrow night. It's held in a school gymnasium at 6pm on a Wednesday night, a surprisingly warm space for the middle of winter.
Basically the class is like a led primary series bootcamp class, unpretentious and purely a workout – it was all over in 70 minutes. No chanting, no Sanskrit, no counting. A simple physical slog which the guys really enjoy and I'm not ashamed to admit that I really enjoyed it too.
Yoga is a spiritual practice but there are times when a girl's just gotta take time out and have some fun.

Practice starts slowly with 5 As and 3Bs and we were even given compassionate pauses of 2 breaths between each round. That would normally annoy me, but since I’m slightly out of yoga shape and the teacher insists on double dipping, I was happy to comply.
(Double dipping is where you jump back into Chaturanga Dandasana (catvari), inhale to Upward Dog then EXHALE BACK TO CHATURANGA DANDASANA before the “inhale exhale to Downward Dog command).

The novelty of this additionally gruelling move wore off and got pretty challenging about halfway through the seated poses but by that time, the class of seven had broken up into a ragged bunch, with five of them stealing rests between poses and chatting casually between themselves, while two of us (me and the guy next to me) forged ahead independently to the finish line in our own time. I discarded the double dips when my arm strength started to fail and sloppy shoulders set in. With no cartilage in that right shoulder joint I have to be sensible and avoid excessive shoulder stress while rebuilding my practice.

And since I was able to breeze through all of Primary quite easily (with only a couple of modifications), my confidence is restored. All has not been lost. All is on the horizon. All is coming.
All is already here. All is everywhere.
From the mundane to the mystical.

6 August 2007

Some scenes from my trip to the Flinders Ranges

Monday 6th August

Sharath’s DVD could be on its way

eBay – to me the name sounds like a futuristic alternative universe, like something out of that old cartoon series ‘The Jetsons’.
Oh, hang on a minute…I think we are in the future.
Not only am I way behind the times, I like it back here. I stubbornly refuse to participate in consumerism or do anything that might align me with the rat race mentality that perpetuates third world poverty and global warming.

My global and environmental footprints have decreased to the size of a sparrow’s.

I try to buy only what I desperately need and even then I question whether I REALLY need it. More often than not, I decide that I don’t.
So naturally (what a nice word) eBay is a site I never have, and never will visit. The thought of it horrifies me.
‘Like mother, like daughter?’ – not likely in my daughter’s case. Ebony often skims eBay for bargains, but I understand why…she is still young and setting up house - me, I'm way over all that.
Anyway she called me on the weekend after finding Sharath’s Primary series DVD on eBay. That sweet girl joined the bidding and got it for me.
Does it matter that I don’t have a TV or DVD player? Seems not. My son has spent years building an entire sound studio in his (my old) house and he assures me he can make a CD out of the DVD.
How very exciting to think I could be practising hi-speed Ashtanga with no frills, no pauses, no excuses soon. Just take off and fly over the moon with Sharath.
Anticipating the need to prepare for this, I’ve decided to go to an Ashtanga class this Wednesday night which is pure sweat with no spirit – just good fun.

Dear Gartenfische nominated me for the meme award, so for what it’s worth, here’s my humble and boring acceptance speech:

Four jobs I’ve had
1. Academic Administrator in Art School (now)
2. Art Gallery assistant (weekends)
3. Barperson/waitress
4. Mum

Four (five) movies I can watch over and over
1. American Beauty
2. Ghost (Whoopi Goldberg)
3. Run Lola Run (German film)
4. The Boy Who Could Fly
5. What the Bleep Do We know

Four places I’ve lived
1. Adelaide is the only place I’ve ever lived. The beautiful white beaches are 15 minutes west of the city centre and the mountains envelope us 10 minutes east. There’s lots of space, and lots of trees so why would I want to live anywhere else?

Four TV shows I loved
1. Prison Break
Now let me explain: TV is an insidious form of brainwashing and I don’t ever watch it, ever, but oh dear, last year my daughter got me addicted to Prison Break because she had all the episodes on DVD and we had several girl’s nights watching them like a movie marathon for 7 hours straight.
2. Kung Fu
When I was 14 years old, I watched Kung Fu with David Carardine and it changed my life – from that moment I began studying Buddhist and Taoist literature, the spiritual spark was ignited.

Four books that have had an impact on me (I made this category up and there’s more than four books so I’ve cheated and listed them under four sub-categories)
1. Christian Mysticism:
- Dark Night of the Soul by Gerald G May MD
- The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness by Eric Schiffmann
- Light on Yoga by Iyengar
- Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (various translations)
3. Buddhism:
- Breath by Breath by Larry Rosenberg
4. Spirituality and Psychology:
- The Psychology of Romantic Love by Dr Robert A Johnson
- The Pearl Beyond Price by A H Almaas (my current reading fascination)

Four places I’ve vacationed
1. Flinders Ranges (recently)
2. Byron Bay (2005)
3. Sydney (2004)
4. Did Europe in 1981 (Yugoslavia, Italy, France, Germany, Austria and back to Yugoslavia)

Four favourite dishes
1. Vegetable curry and dhal
2. Big bowls of Salad
3. Spanakopita
4. Chilli anything

Four sites I visit daily
1. my worksite
2. my homesite
3. my shoppingsite
4. my yogasite (almost daily for the yogasite now).
If only I had time to indulge in surfing the internet on a daily basis – occasionally I check out the ashtanga blogs listed on the left.

Four places I’d rather be
1. Camping far, far away from civilisation
2. Bushwalking at Horsenell Gully
3. On a meditation retreat
4. Home

3 August 2007


Saturday 4th August 2007

On the Mat
Throughout my teenage years I helped my father on his early morning milk delivery round, getting up at 5am to run around the dark streets delivering bottles and cartons of milk to people’s front verandahs. Apart from being great physical and mental training, it gave me a bit of pocket money, but I think the most valuable thing it gave me was a love for the purity of the early mornings. I’m so grateful to my father for making get up before dawn, over and over, no matter what the weather was like outside. It built the foundation for early morning yoga practice in later years.

Fast forward to 2007…and a total breakdown of all that I held close to my heart – early morning yoga practice included.

Over the last few months I’ve doggedly set my alarm almost daily at 5.30am (lately 6am) and I've just as often turned it off and rolled over, getting out of bed just in time to walk the dog before going to work. This is my new routine – most mornings now.
But there’s no way I’m going to stop setting that alarm. It's permanently ingrained into my routine, even though I ignore it every morning.

So since I can't seem to get up to do yoga these days, I took steps last night to get out of the yoga practice ditch by broadening my yoga repertoire and doing an evening practice.
Now in my mind there's not a better start to the day than an Ashtanga vinyasa practice, but somehow it just doesn’t feel right to be generating that much energy in the evenings.

Second choice...I pulled out Mr Iyengar’s Light On Yoga.
In addition to the magnificent 300 week course he has in the appendix at the back of this bible, there’s a 3 day course which promises that “whenever followed it will benefit the body and bring harmony to the mind”. I decided to do the Day 1 sequence of the 3 day course because, apart from Uttanasana, there are no standing poses in it and there’s something comforting about doing an evening home yoga practice that has a lot of your body close to the floor.

The Day 1 sequence I did last night goes like this:
Sirsasana (Headstand)
Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand)
Halasana (Plough)
Jatara Parivartanasana (supine twist with both legs extended)
Navasana (Boat)
Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend)
Twists – Marichyasana III and Ardha Matsyendrasana
Parvatasana (seated in Lotus with arms extended above head and hands interlocked)
Backbends – Matsyasana (fish) , Salabhasana (Locust), Dhanurasana (Bow) and Upward Dog Pose
Downward Dog Pose

From an Ashtanga point of view it’s almost a reverse practice. In fact I remember reading about an Ashtanga class where the teacher led the class through the entire Primary series backwards.

Now I consider the Ashtanga Primary sequence to be absolutely inspired. The sequence seems to be designed to stimulate the chakras from the base upwards:
Sun Salutes to warm up
Standing poses (grounding through the earth and energising the base chakra)
Seated forward bending and twisting poses (base chakra, naval and solar plexis chakras as well as lower spine and kundalini area)
Backbends (open the heart chakra)
Shoulderstand through to Matsyasana (stimulate throat area)
Headstand (third eye and crown chakra)
Final Padmasana poses to integrate them all

It’s brilliant.

So what happens when you start from the top chakras and go down as in most of Mr Iyengar’s advanced Light on Yoga sequences?
Could it be that the Ashtanga sequence really is best for raising your energy in the morning and the opposite sequence should be done at night?
Sounds logical to me.

This morning, being Saturday, I didn’t have to start work until 11am (I’m minding the Art Gallery every second Saturday now). So I did my usual routine of setting the alarm early, rolling over when it went off and sleeping in til 8am. Then hey presto, since I didn’t have to be at work til 11, I was able to get up and do a damn good Ashtanga practice (to some great tribal didgeridoo music I might add).
For the first time ever, I tried to jump straight from Dog Pose into Janu Sirsasana (if you read an earlier blog entry I had a whinge about not being taught this after 2 years of primary practice at the shala). Not a good result this morning. As I was jumping through, the base of my palms lifted slightly from the mat and my bent leg hit my hand, effectively bending the fingers back from the knuckles. My fingers are sore and slightly swollen now, but thankfully not broken.
I made it to Marichyasana C then called it quits and did three pretty intense Urdhva Dhanurasanas and the full count for all the finishing poses. In another past post (my old blog) I whinged (ever so nicely) about the gorgeous blonde girl at the shala who grunts and groans her way through every practice, but I now have to retract that because similar sound effects came out of my mouth during those backbends this morning. The opening felt FANTASTIC.

Reflections on yoga

It’s starting to come back to me – yoga practice that is.

Taking a REAL break from regular yoga practise has been quite a shock to my life, but it’s shown me the belief habits my mind had taken on, and especially how my identity had been all wrapped up in being a yogi. Regularly practising Ashtanga in a morning Mysore class situation tends to mould your thinking into a certain shape – you do a very strict yoga routine in a particular sequence that evolves in a linear manner over a plong period of time, and the teachers are all trained to adjust and speak from within that specific tradition so that all the time you think it is leading somewhere. Even studying the yoga texts like Patanjalis Sutras and the Hatha Yoga Pratipika is training and expanding your mind within one school of thought only.
Moving on from my immersion in the yoga tradition was a shock because suddenly I felt like I was no longer going anywhere and I lost my identity as a ‘serious practising yogi’, pursuing and penetrating the esoteric mysteries of life.

But after stepping outside the framework of the entire yoga system and looking back into it from a broader spiritual perspective, the view is REALLY different. Yoga (and I use this term to cover the entire philosophical system, not just the physical practice) is a very pragmatic and practical system of self development for our body mind and spirit, but viewed from higher perspective there are many of these and each one is like using a set of training wheels on a bicycle. Use them for a while, get the feel of how to navigate, then be brave, take them off and you’re off on your own journey. In spiritual terms you’ve matured into a grown up.

Maybe I’m still grieving the loss of my yoga crutch, my yoga identity and my yoga flavoured outlook on life (my, my, my). It’s similar to leaving a relationship that’s gone stale, yes you can look back lovingly and remember the beautiful times, but there’s no doubt that it will never be the same so the only thing to do is let go and move on.

Now having said all that you might think I’m not going to practice yoga any more.
Funny that…I think the reverse is actually happening simply because I’ve let go of all the beliefs around what I should and shouldn’t be doing. There’s no framework.
And at last I’m starting to get back to the mat and enjoying it immensely, but the shala and the traditional ‘one-eyed’ approach really don’t sit comfortably with me right now.

Camping in the Flinders Ranges
Words fail when I try to describe the 4 days I spent deep in the bush.
We set up camp in Parachilna Gorge, slept in the tent, cooking breakfast and dinner over the campfire. We woke to a symphony of birdsong, the treble notes full of twittering and chattering, the cries of cockatoos and kookaburras, and the mournful sound of the single black crow in the tree above us. Days were spent climbing the mountains, exploring the terrain and discovering abandoned ruins that spoke sadly of the hard times endured by optimistic pioneering souls. We spent a harrowing day in the 4 wheel drive manouvering over dangerously rugged tracks, stopping now and then to watch the kangaroos and emus , sheep and wild goats naturally surviving in this harsh, beautiful land.

One night after sunset we walked in the dark to the nearly ridge and laid on a dragon line – a sliver-like rocky formation that begins underground and rises just above the ridge surface. It looks like a very long line of shallow rock that follows the ridge of the mountains up and down like the thorny back of a dragon. Apparently it emanates a special kind of ch’i. As I laid on it, my body came alive with sparkling tingles and it took me hours to get to sleep afterwards.

The Australian bushland is extraordinarly beautiful, not in a luscious sense like a forest, but more because of the harshness of the arid conditions and the enormous courage that every living thing must find to fight for it’s survival. It pulses with an emotional power of wanting to reach upwards, live at all costs.
The huge eucalyptus gums that dominate early colonial artworks had never, until now, had any impact on me. I’d seen so many of these paintings by people seemingly obsessed with boring old gum trees. I'd written them off as archaic and sentimental icons of the Australian bush. Here, out in the vast expanse of their natural environment, I was surrounded by them and mesmerised by their grandeur and enormous presence. Their bark has a silvery pink skin-like quality which makes them seem eerily human – these majestic trees speak to you and every one has a solid character and centuries of stories locked up in their ancient, gnarly limbs.

I wish I could have found the time to record more of my impressions and feelings about this trip but we arrived back in Adelaide very late on Sunday night and I was thrown back into the working world on Monday morning. By Monday evening, sadly I'd been reassimilated. But the raw, calm energy of the landscape has infiltrated the depths of my soul and I swear I shall return every year to that hauntingly beautiful place.
We took a few images on the trip but I haven’t seen them yet. If any are worthwhile I’ll post them this week.
Friday 3rd August 2007

I'm back from the never-never (camping out bush), now settling into my new house and planning a comeback to daily yoga practice.

With so much swimming around in my head there's a lot to write about but just not enough time at the moment, so instead I'm going to post this photo of my gorgeous daughter Ebony.
And she's as gorgeous on the inside as she is on the outside.