If the only thing that truly exists is now, the space around us and our connection to Source, then most other things must be distractions.
You are probably familiar with the idea that most people are ruled more strongly by their negative minds – the mind that wants to keep us safe, warns us of imminent danger, and ensures we don’t repeat things that hurt us in the past. That’s why stories we make up about ourselves and our history can get in the way of us reaching for our infinite potential in the present, sabotaging ourselves before we even look into trying.
There are some people who have wonderfully open positive minds, who will see opportunity, be energetic about exploring new things, and ignore the long list of “but what if “ calamity scenarios that tend to arise.
Then there is the neutral mind, which is what yoga helps to bring. Meditation in particular gives clarity of insight and dissolves imaginary blocks. The Yoga Beat has an Instagram page, but posts are infrequent, as most often when there is free time this yogi is meditating! It is why Facebook and Twitter do not feature in the diurnal round of The Yoga Beat, and I am pretty sure it is why life generally feels good. The only way to some amount of serenity is from the inside. No amount of external reward, trophy, or stimulation can achieve the peace of being well attuned to your Source. So why not do less of the internet and more of the innernet?
Yogi Bhajan wisely said “vibrate the cosmos, the cosmos shall clear the path” A yogi recently asked me how do you vibrate the cosmos?
Through mantra, meditation, celestial communication, and looking at the stars. All of these put you in alignment with the vibrations of the cosmos. There are other things too, certain acts of love. You recognise them. You access the innernet.
He didn’t say the cosmos will clear your path. He said the path. A nice distinction which goes well with the shift from me to we that the Aquarian age is said to bring.
Yogi Bhajan also said “there is a way through every block.” It is a shrewd insight. A PhD in psychology as well as a kundalini master, he saw how we place limitations on our abilities by closing down our vision with stories that do not serve us. Our perceived handicaps slow us down. Distractions take us away from the intuitive clarity that meditation brings – or any activity that helps us vibrate the cosmos. Usually practicing silence, or pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses, and dharana single pointed focus.
Social media dulls the senses. Pictures are often edited to make colours more intense, light more brilliant, experiences are curated to show only the best bits. It induces stress: there is always more to look at, and someone is always having a more fantastic life than we are. You will always need a brighter photo to follow the last one.
With yoga you know that everyone is having the same life, you know that there is nothing to keep up with except cosmic consciousness, and everything really does look more brilliant and intense because your eyes are healthy and your inner eye is perspicacious.
Just as your mind should serve you, so should your social media. If you choose, you can let the internet be the slave, and let the innernet be the master that leads you to freedom.
You try listening to You’ll Never Walk Alone without getting a tear in your eye. I certainly can’t, and I’m not usually prone to such emotional lassitude. What is it then that this high calibre gentleman represents to us?
Deep in our psyche is the functioning ideal of the hero. When we are young we want to be our family’s hero, as life expands we want to be a hero for our friends, our communities, our countries, and eventually – if all goes at a healthy pace within us – the world.
I would argue that Captain Tom Moore is also a hero for the Divine. He represents all those who have taken similar action to make the lives of others better, whether they managed to raise £1 or £1 billion. As I write now, Captain Moore is pushing £27 million. He said quite categorically that as long as people keep on giving, he will keep on walking, which is why I sign into his Just Giving page every day. There’s something wonderful about the idea of Captain Moore being motivated to get his daily exercise by the very people he set out to motivate in the first instance.
In yogic philosophy, and as the ultimate goal of kundalini yoga in particular, the Divine bows to the human when we take these actions to uplift the planet. The vibration of humanity has been raised so much by Captain Moore, who in turn reminds us of all the other people who have taken similar initiatives, that we can truly say our Divine is impressed. You say what Divine is (higher Self, God, Nature, Love, Wisdom, the infinite Soul)
There’s no denying that my heart puffs up with pride when I hear about Captain Moore, because people like him – and there are many who go unnoticed – make life worth living. There is no excuse for not wanting to get up every morning because these people are clearing the way for us to understand each other’s needs more, be compassionate to ourselves as well, and have an eye out for how we can improve things for everyone.
Listening to Captain Moore’s answers to journalists it is evident he is thoughtful, selfless, kind, brave, witty, and modest. When asked how he felt on completing 100 laps of his garden he said “Fine: I’m surrounded by the right kind of people, so yes I feel fine. I hope you’re all feeling fine too.” His attitude of gratitude is one that many yogis would love to achieve, and his vision is exemplary. The ability to project an idea and put it into practice, the will and grit to follow through. That is vision. When asked what the most difficult part of the whole project was, Captain Moore said “The first lap!” Isn’t that so often the case?
I should think Captain Moore has been a hero to his family, friends, and community many many times. We see a war hero (so was my grandfather) and a hero who has this time transcended man-made national boundaries. Check out the Just Giving page and the news reports; people are seeing and responding to Captain Moore all over the world.
There’s something else going on. Archetypes are strong. So strong that they form us, mythology is made up of stories yes, just like we are. Tom Moore is a name that has probably been in your subconscious all your life. When I lived in Bermuda I used to frequent a pub called Tom Moore’s Tavern. It was a seventeenth century gem, on a beautiful hill with mangrove jungles, overlooking the ocean. Tom Moore, yes I recognise that name I thought – he was an Irish poet of the Romantic period. He too had his struggles and fights. He too was a hero to his friends. As a Catholic in a time fraught with persecution, he got into Trinity when they had only just begun to allow Catholics into universities. He helped his college friends who were for the unsuccessful Irish rebellion that followed the French Revolution. He lived through the challenges and complexities of politics with spirit, creativity, and awareness. He left us such glorious songs as this:
Believe me, if all those endearing young charms,
Which I gaze on so fondly to-day,
Were to change by to-morrow, and fleet in my arms,
Like fairy gifts fading away,
Thou wouldst still be ador’d, as this moment thou art,
Let thy loveliness fade as it will,
And around the dear ruin each wish of my heart
Would entwine itself verdantly still.
It is not while beauty and youth are thine own,
And thy cheeks unprofan’d by a tear,
That the fervor and faith of a soul can be known,
To which time will but make thee more dear;
No, the heart that has truly lov’d never forgets,
But as truly loves on to the close,
As the sunflower turns on her god, when he sets,
The same look which she turn’d when he rose.
Captain Moore has reminded us of the ‘thou’ in others, like the thou in Namaste and Sat Nam
Go even further back and rediscover another Thomas: Sir Thomas More of the Fifteenth Century who struggled against the Protestant Reformation. He was a philosopher, lawyer, statesman, and Renaissance humanist. He was canonised as a martyr, as he was brave enough to oppose king Henry VIII, he was executed for treason as a result. He kept the Divine in the forefront of people’s hearts when he was executed. He proclaimed: “I die the king’s good servant, and God’s first.”
Priorities. Your psyche is incredibly rich and deep, so when you respond to Captain Moore you are intuiting in your cells every layer throughout history, all memory and thought in the Akashic records that reverberates Captain Moore and his commitment. If he leaves us with one take away message it may well be this:
It is fascinating how much we can miss on a first reading or a first viewing. When I was introduced to videos of Yogi Bhajan at my Kundalini Teacher courses I thought oh here we go, another opinionated old bloke who thinks he’s got some esoteric knowledge, do I really want to participate in a training where such ‘gurus’ are revered? It was a point in life where I was relatively closed minded – I thought chanting mantra was daft too, and to dress in white with a turban and beads was pretentious, that it was done to draw attention.
It was the practice of kundalini kriyas that led me to want to train. Firstly in California with whatever teachers were around when I was in San Francisco. Then in London with Maya Fiennes, and then with various of the excellent teachers at TriYoga. It was the great sense of calm, balance and strength that I experienced at the end of each class that gave me the impulse to take an in depth look at kundalini yoga. The joy that the technology of the kriyas brought outweighed my disappointment that there was some patriarchal guru whom I was encouraged to mention occasionally to my students.
So I tested my teachers at the training: This Yogi Bhajan – what gives him the authority? Why should I do this or that? “Try it and see” was usually the answer. Also my teachers did not say they revered Yogi Bhajan, they just acknowledged and thanked him for bringing kundalini yoga and deep yogic wisdom to us. They emphasised the Golden Chain – the lineage of yogic practitioners from Guru Nanak, Guru Ram Das, through Yogi Bhajan, to us, to yoga practitioners in the future, as a link of humanity and wisdom. It is “the law of the soul connected and projected through the mind…Guru Ram Das is not away from us. When we link mentally with him, he comes to our aid exactly as a physical person would, but with much more grace.” Gradually I realised the methods that Yogi Bhajan offered have real power.
Yogi Bhajan when he was teaching in the west 1969-2004 was like Sadhguru now, working endlessly to raise the consciousness of the globe, to generate income for charities and drug rehabilitation centres in Yogi Bhajan’s time, schools and tree planting in Sadhguru’s case. Both work incredibly hard for world peace. They have the vision to know that these things are possible, where a lot of us can’t even dream of solutions being an option. Yogi Bhajan is so perspicacious, as is Sadhguru, they see through the fog that surrounds most of us. Sadhguru has a daughter, Yogi Bhajan has a daughter, both have incredible respect for women. Again and again they speak of women as grace. Yogi Bhajan acknowledges that the aura of a woman is in general 16 times more radiant than the aura of a man. “She is the honour and redeemer of all redeemers.” She is the Soul’s self – all Soul’s Self. “From you this creation is born.” All she needs to do is to walk tall, woman is born to rule. She will command her family.
When asked if he thought it was right for boys to go out and a girls to stay home, Yogi Bhajan said “I don’t understand, what is wrong with a girl? You are born of a woman, you live with a woman, you love a woman, 99.9% of your life is influenced by a woman, why can’t they go out? Why have they got to be kept at home? Ok if they want to stay at home themselves, but as far as girls are concerned they are equally human….Girls have the right to be educated and be as strong. As a Khalsa woman and a Khalsa man there is no difference at all…They’re not your prisoners. If you do not trust your children why would you expect your children to trust you?” When asked how a woman could deal with a man’s ego Yogi Bhajan said “Man with ego and woman with smile: woman with smile wins.”
It is none of my business, nevertheless I know that he was celibate and was faithful to his wife Bibiji Kaur also a PhD who like Yogi Bhajan devoted her life to teaching kundalini yoga. She leads excellent women’s groups and continues in a life of service.
Yogi Bhajan emphasised, ultimately it is just you with you, it is your soul, your consciousness, you have to be the one to sort yourself out, you are your own guru, divine is in you, divine bows to you when you uplift another, to be human is a privilege and it brings responsibility to be true to yourself. He suggested that we align with the Truth of the Cosmos. He gave us technologies to do this: Pranayama, which carries oxygen to all of your cells, heals and cleanses (check out this sweet video of Sadhguru and Baba Ramdev) Mantra, which takes the vibratory effect of each of your molecules into the Infinity of the Cosmos. Chanting mantra stimulates 84 pressure points in the roof of your mouth to activate the higher glands – pineal, pituitary, and hypothalamus. He gave us Kriyas, sets of exercises that build on each other to bring specific healing to the body, psyche, and spirit. Kriyas that balance your hormones, cleanse the liver, deal with distracting memories, clear the blood, increase lung capacity, balance the brain hemispheres, and strengthen the nervous system. There are thousands of kriyas, all drawn together by Yogi Bhajan from ancient tantric yoga and presented to us in ways that bring maximum benefit.
He gave us yogic philosophy and yogic anatomy, knowledge of the energy bodies. Explanations of origin vibrations such as “Sat Nam” From “Sat” the tattvas (five elements/principles of reality) are created, and the tattvas create the chakras, then the gunas (sattvic, rajas, and tamas) are a projection frequency of the chakras. He showed how the tattvas must be in balance for us to have freedom from mind, and that mind should be guided by the soul. This is what he is referring to when he talks about intuition in the video above. This is what he means about finding your own way. He only ever offered. He did not prescribe, order or expect. He poked, provoked, and uplifted. He recognised that each person needs to go at their own pace.
We do not initiate in kundalini yoga. Yogi Bhajan was clear about that from the start. In fact Yogi Bhajan was crystal clear about everything. I have watched all of the videos I can find, some several times over, and each time I realise there is some wisdom I missed before, that he is more genuine than I had given him credit for. A teacher is an easy target, some people project on them and hold them to higher standards than their own. He bore the burden through his whole life and stuck it out in the face of all sorts of dangers, jealousies, resentments, attention-seekers, mercenaries, and people out to hurt him. Not only that, his handing on to us the kundalini wisdom has to stand the test of time. Look at the way men behaved from the 60’s and 70’s look at the sort of things they said, and then look at how Yogi Bhajan carried himself. It is clear the wisdom he shared was beyond his time. He needs no defence. It is evident in his life’s work of such incredible unswerving devotion to the uplift of humanity.
I have read most of the books by Yogi Bhajan, a lot of them need more than one reading to begin to grasp their exquisite wisdom. He never called himself a guru, he was a yogi just like the rest of us. His words were “I did not come here to gain students I came to create teachers” He did not want to be revered and to have devoted followers. He said it was misguided to praise him in place of the teachings. He said he was like a pipe, a tap from which the teachings flow. He and other kundalini yoga teachers are simply vessels. He also told us we should be ten times better than him, knowing that the ascent of humanity was real. He never said he had any knowledge that none of us could acquire. He went out of his way to say he was no different and that anything he knew, we could also know and understand.
I trust Yogi Bhajan.
Because he did not ask me to trust him. He said “Don’t believe me; try it for yourself and see.”
WAREHAM is a Saxon town. Beastewell is Medieval, and the farm where the retreats are held is listed in the Domesday Book. It is on North Bestwall Road (a corruption of Beastewell) I love the old name Beastewell, it brings to mind happy healthy animals drinking at the nearby river. Deer roam the fields throughout the year. Every night I see them in the field behind the garden, where we are planting a Bluebell woodland. I wanted to give them places to hide and feel safe. When I ask people what their dream peaceful environment would be, the idea of a bluebell wood comes up a lot. We are also 20 minutes from the excellent beaches of Studland, Swanage, Lulworth, and Poole.
Ever since I started teaching yoga ten years ago I dreamed of creating a sanctuary where people could hide and feel safe too. Where we could re-balance the elements in our bodies with nutritious food, yoga, and company. Where we could be playful and in touch with nature. Where we could have time to think and be, and intuit our priorities. It’s been ten years of saving up, searching, travelling the south coast and Wales, and eventually discovering the beautiful Fourfields Barn (Which I call Beastewell on account of its history) Over the last 14 months work has been continuous to bring Beastewell to its role as that sanctuary. I planted a vegetable and herb garden, got the barn walls and beams spanking clean by professionals from Devon, had heated floors laid out in both the yoga barn and the games barn by a great local contractor, and made sure the rooms in the house are as comfortable as possible.
Beastewell is only made meaningful when it is shared, and you are always welcome. The next retreat is from AFTER NOON SUNDAY 24 MAY – BEFORE NOON THURSDAY 28 MAY
For this Nourishing Yoga Retreat we are working with the moon phase to instil great habits.
Sunday 12 noon start to arrive & explore/ 3 pm tea/ 4 pm Vinyasa/ 5 pm Gong Bath/ 7pm supper/ 9pm Celestial Communication
Monday 8 am Vinyasa/ 9:30 am shake & brunch/ 12 noon Restorative Yoga with singing bowls/ 2 pm Kundalini/ 3 pm beach or walk/ 7 pm supper/ 9 pm celestial communication
Tuesday 7:30 am Vinyasa/ 9:00 am shake & brunch/ 11 am beach or walk/ 4 pm Kundalini/ 5 pm Yoga Nidra/ 7 pm supper/ 9 pm Celestial Communication
Wednesday 7 am Vinyasa/ 8:30 am shake & brunch/ 10:30 am beach or walk/ 3-6 pm Aerial Yoga sessions 7 pm supper/ 9 pm Celestial Communication
Thursday 6:30 am Vigorous Kundalini/ 8:30 am shake & brunch 10:30 Gong Bath/ Love & light Goodbye Circle.
Sunrise in May is about 5 am Sunset is about 9 pm
Full moon is May 7, New Moon May 22
Phase during the retreat will be new moon waxing.
It is a small group orientated retreat, so if you vote to alter the schedule we will. If you would like to take a picnic lunch to the beach you can. If you want to do the Mantras under starlight with a campfire you can.
There are lots of fluffy towels to take to the beach for your swims in the sea!
Full access to the kitchen: indeed, you are encouraged to participate in the food prep. All snacks and drinks from water to alcohol are included. Food is organic and vegan, some is grown in the kitchen garden.
The Yoga Beat retreats are boutique, relaxed, and if you enjoy tranquility but also like to have great conversation over dinner with like minded people, then this is for you.
This is a dog-friendly retreat.
Full Retreat, all inclusive £450.
Returning Retreaters have 10% discount automatically
Yogis who attend my classes have 5% discount
All are welcome, number of guests is limited to 6 (or 8 if there are any couples) so booking early is recommended.
For those who would like to drop-in it is £150 per night.
It usually takes a person from science who has called out its limitations and turned to ancient wisdom, presenting it in a modern stylish way, for us to sit up and take note. Though there is nothing in Feel Better in 5 that I hadn’t read thirty five years earlier in books such as The Advanced Course in Yogi Philosophy that I found one day in that beautiful near extinct creature the second hand book shop, it is still a pleasant enough artefact.
The colours are lovely and bright, there is lots of light on the pages, photos are arranged to give us a tantalising taste of what the life of someone who has all their stuff together looks like.
Fair enough, if that lights you up for a moment. But it is just that moment, generally just when you have the book in your hand, that you can be inspired by such a thing. I tend to avoid books, videos, and people when what they present seems to imply that my life is not good enough, or that I am not good enough. Absolutely it is excellent to look after your well-being turn things around so that you are living with ease and vibrant health, arrange your environment so that it supports your efforts at every step, assess and re-asses your thoughts, feelings, and needs on a regular basis. That is all brilliant. Everyone should be encouraged to get the most out of their life. Everyone can benefit from images that inspire them too. For me I think it is a bit like the slim gorgeous models in magazines that people object to, because it is thought they might encourage anorexia. I’m not sure they necessarily do. In most cases I found the images something to aspire to in terms of keeping myself fit and relatively pleasant looking. It’s the same kind of ambivalence I feel with books like Feel Better in 5. Part of me thinks great, it gives us something to aspire to. It kick starts a re-think about our approach to life. Aspiration always sells doesn’t it? Another part of me thinks these images are staged, like all expert Instagrammers and all seemingly gorgeous models in fashion magazines. They ultimately probably make us feel worse for not continually having our houses, clothes, food choices, and lives arranged with such a flawless aesthetic.
I don’t know about everyone else, but my life is so messy. I shamble from one activity to another with ridiculous spontaneity, usually running on intuition, hardly ever planned, hardly ever poised, and certainly never picture perfect.
Hold on though. Rangan Chatterjee does say some good things, I would love the book if the photos were less prominent (although I do enjoy the pictures of Rangan doing yoga in his garden) and reflected the true chaos of life. Indeed most of the things Chatterjee says have always chimed with me and I appreciate him for encouraging everyone to take a more holistic, more proactive less palliative approach to health.
Our genetics are not our destiny. When I heard Dr Rangan Chatterjee say this it struck a chord. A long term advocate for epigenetics, I know that we can change our course by optimising our environment and habits. It is one of the basic premises of Kundalini Yoga that we can change our genetic expression up to seven generations back and seven generations forward. Astro physics, quantum, and mathematics say it is more difficult to travel back in time than forward, but they are yet to prove that it is impossible.
Epi-genetics is where the ability to time travel counts. Our destiny is up to us. It is the destiny of all beings on the planet, and if we can be healthy, happy, and whole, then so can the planet. Rangan Chatterjee is that rare thing a modest doctor who admits he does not know everything. Humility was a tough lesson in his case – he tells the story of how he suddenly found himself in a position where he feared for the life of his baby son and could do nothing to help him as a doctor and as his father. It turned out his son was suffering from vitamin D deficiency. It was not something Chatterjee knew anything about even though he was a doctor.
The experience struck him so deeply that he went on to research and study to conclude what yogis and Ayurvedic practitioners have been saying for centuries, that the root causes and individual needs of each being must be addressed before things get out of hand, because by the time you are expressing a chronic disease, conventional doctors have fewer answers. A medicine may work for dealing effectively with an acute disease, such as pneumonia (antibiotics) but a chronic disease such as diabetes, dementia, Alzheimer’s, depression, is a slow build up of many elements, some more salient than others in any particular person: diet, exposure to environmental toxins, sleep quality, stress levels. Obviously continual sugar use will eventually cause insulin resistance in some people, but it is also the case that a night without sleep can equate to the insulin resistance caused by six months on a junk food diet. High stress levels, work stress, or emotional stress will raise cortisol levels, which in turn releases sugar and insulin. Depression can be caused by inflammation or an imbalance in gut microbiome. The most successful way for doctors to treat chronic diseases is to trace back the root causes in each individual and deal with them one by one.
It is sound advice: It is mainly the title that I object to. I don’t think we should feel pressured to be continuously productive. We need times when we do absolutely nothing, that is natural, but 5 minutes implies we have to be quick about our self care. “Do something you love for five minutes a day” F#** that, I’ll spend two or three hours doing what I love thanks, and if possible all day every day. Yes time is running out. But time is running out whatever you do. Most people would tell you if they have a regret it would be not having pursued what they love to do, regret for missing out on things they might have liked if they’d had the time to try them – live in a rented room and forget about acquiring a big place or scrabbling after cash. I have heard that from people many times. Keep it real.
Feel Better in 5 has a lot of white space on the pages, large inspirational photographs, lists of ways to tackle daily existence, and that generic look typical in this sort of motivational book, if you can get past that without smirking, of course his basic advice makes sense. It always has done, for centuries. The problem for most beings is that life is messy and however beautifully you arrange your kitchen or your desk, accidents occur, loved ones die, we run into problems from all directions. There is always something that will throw a spanner in the works. Let’s hope we have all the systems in place that Rangan Chatterjee suggests, and we might just be prepared for them.
Now that our yoga studio in Wareham is up and running, the focus comes back to the land and a regenerative approach to growing food. There are only six acres, but trees are being planted, diversity of wildflowers encouraged, fruit and vegetables cultivated using cover crops and no chemicals whatsoever. More than organic farming, this is looking after the earth and replenishing the soil. Or rather, this is getting out of the way so that earth can look after itself.
It is a case of encouraging a diversity of flora and fauna to strengthen the microbiome of the soil and ecosystem. One of my previous blogs was about the microbiome of the human gut. This blog is about the microbiome of earth.
Soil is enriched when, instead of leaving the field or allotment bare after harvest, it is grown with a cover crop before the following year’s planting. Do you remember learning about crop rotation at school? It was one of the few things that stayed with me from history lessons, and it struck me as so simple and genius that I have never been able to understand why people didn’t still do it. The field was divided into four and crops were rotated, always there was one clover crop because it was thought that it replenished the soil with nutrients.
Brilliant, I thought. And it turns out they were right all those centuries ago. potassium and nitrogen, not to mention the deepening of water retention are built with cover crops. Dutch white clover has become a favourite and is one that I will be trying this year. When you first try growing with no chemicals, it seems that one thing after another comes to threaten crops: slugs, black fly, aphids, tomato blight, greenfly. ‘Where are all the ladybirds?’ was my frequent lament. Looking back to when I was a child there were always ladybirds around yet there seem to be hardly any ladybirds now. It takes time. It takes time for natural predators to return, for the complexity of nature to regain balance away from the awful damage that industrial farming and GM crops have caused, and for the thousands of microbes, insects, creatures of the field to shuffle back into their rightful places.
‘Why aren’t the birds doing their job and eating the slugs?’ is another lament. Give it a year or three. I have faith that if the conditions are right a greater variety of birds will return. So more trees and more shrubbery, more berries and safe nesting places will encourage them to stay around. Richard Mabey puts across the importance of the interconnectivity of nature in his latest book Turning the Boat for Home. Mabey has been writing since the 1970s and his books chimed with me as I was growing up, as did HE Bates Through the Woods, and that seventies classic by John Seymour called Self Sufficiency.
Whether it was books such as these, or the thrill I always feel when surrounded by nature that led me to this place of wanting to be so closely involved with the land, I don’t know. But I do know that there is a direct correlation to how much flavour a crop has and its nutritional value. Yoga has the same holistic approach, and in that sense especially it has always felt right to me. I will watch and listen to what this little patch of earth has to tell me. Sunia is Sanskrit/ Gurmukhi that translates as ‘the art of extreme deep listening’. If I practice this with the earth around me then flavoursome nutritious food will soon be on the table.
Meanwhile there are stags who watch my dogs from the safety of the field, there are geese that fly overhead, ducks, hens, and horses on the farm next door, cats, frogs, toads, deer, woodpeckers, robins, owls, and blackbirds. A diverse array of creatures.
If you are interested to know more about regenerative farming thee is a lovely film called The Biggest Little Farm which illustrates the process in depth.
The streets of Genoa are winding with sudden bursts of sunlight on the squares, shadowy places in the narrow alleyways, impossible architecture, graffiti, fountains, sculptures of the Madonna poignant with azure, turquoise, and gold, ridiculously detailed ceilings, one gorgeous painting after another. The port is busy and smelly, windy and chaotic, fascinating with its huge wheel that lights up like a psychedelic trip in the sunset while you take a circular trip in the night sky. There are endless restaurants tucked in the most unlikely places, unappealing from the outside, even off-putting and yet magically cavernous fantastic and inviting inside with the best menus. Food that is unpretentious, yet deliciously original, healthy and fresh. There are coffee shops that have an atmosphere that makes you feel special as you breath in the aroma of Arabica beans and listen to the Italian chatter above the sound of the steamer, ones that sell awful coffee and make you wonder what on earth you are doing there, and all types in between. Graceful theatres and grubby office blocks, yachts and fishing boats side by side, street poets, swimming pools on the harbour, art galleries to inspire. All is brimming with autumn abundance, and there is a university full of bright lovely intelligent students that spill out onto the streets and grace even the most ungracious pizzerias with life and warmth.
If all this gets too much there is a castle on a hill that gently commands an overview of the city, the port, wheel and sea, the hills in the background and the winding park pathways upwards. It is a place of cool calm contemplation away from the bustle. It is a different world. You can sip tea or wine as you gaze through the arches at the intriguing view. You can stroll the gardens and the art gallery, and when you feel strong again you can wend your way back down into the crazy centre of Genova. Should you be weary you can take an ingenious contraption of a funicular ilk that shunts you along and down in a little enclosed cabin. Not only that but all of the workings are there for you to see: the wheels, steel ropes, cogs, tools, all sorts of things laid out in glorious dirt, grease, and disarray as you glide past. It feels like a metaphor for the city.
If that is the case, then what does Genoa in turn represent? Well, the reason for traveling to Genoa was to see Paolo Conte play. The opportunity to hear him sing Genova pr Noi in the city itself was one I was so grateful to have. Not to be missed. There is something about a mise en scene or a qua qua that appeals to me. Of course the audience went wild at the opening phrase of that song. The buzz in the auditorium, the air palpable with joy, it made me sit up and pay attention, sent tingles down my spine. Genova per Noi is ostensibly a song in the voice of a character who is confused by the seedy side of the city, dubious and mistrustful, yet strangely lured because life in his own area of Piedmont had reached an impasse. Genova is in Liguria, Paolo Conte is from Asti in Piedmont, and though these places are only 100 miles apart there is a huge difference between them. Provincial Italy is brimming with character, and Piedmont is neat, clean, ordered. The streets make sense, are direct. There Paolo Conte was a lawyer, spending too much time in the place growing up, he longed to go further afield and music was a way for him to explore.
Genoa on the other hand with its winding roads, complicated street levels, hidden parks, ubiquitous bins, dusty shop displays, sunshine and smells, where even the weather is different, is other. The other. The one that we are suspicious of, wary of, maybe repulsed by, and yet we want to know. We have to, because all closed systems eventually atrophy. In his book Enlightenment Now Steven Pinker sites the second law of thermodynamics: systems entropy as temperature differences within them decrease. He drew the parallel with human interactions: families, tribes, societies, countries. The character in the song knew that if he stayed in his own town he may not see enough sunlight
Genoa for us, those who live deep down in the countryside those who rarely have the sun shining on the town square and for the remaining time are drenched by rain Genoa, as I was telling you, is just one of many ideas.
It is the willingness, even if reluctant, to engage with new ideas that reveals the humanist thread in Paolo Conte’s music. In his book The Blank Slate Steven Pinker writes that an organism must respond to its environment to thrive. Combinatorial and recursive thought in humans is imperative for our social progress. He reminds us that we are infinitely flexible and responding to fellow human beings as broadly as possible is the way to move forward. Humanism can occur because we are endowed with empathy. Darwin points out in his On the Origin of Species that this empathy leads us to care about the wellbeing of our family, friends, and gradually this will spread to a worldwide scale and there is no reason why the well-being of the planet and every life form on it should not be in the scope of all humans.
The song goes on:
that odd expression we have when we observe Genoa and every time we're there we sniff it we move cautiously we feel a little like stray dogs.
The resistance is not denied, he worries that the city will swallow them up and they will never return home. Like so many of his songs the tone is nostalgic. What is nostalgia good for? It might hook us in the first instance, appeals to our base instincts, but then the song guides us via irony towards unity in the least didactic way possible:
Yet we are somehow related to the people there and deep down they are as cantankerous as we are but we are very afraid of that black sea that moves even at night and never stands still.
These days it is difficult to hear an image of the frightening sea without thinking of immigrants. Genoa has many immigrants. It looks out to towards Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and further out lie Serbia, Syria, Lebanon, Israel.
Let’s say, Shylock the Jew spoke for himself and his kinsmen “if you prick us do we not bleed’ Othello the Moor killed Desdemona, of all the characters in the play did he act in the most reprehensible way? No, it was Iago, one of the most loathed characters in Shakespeare. Like the lyrics in Genova per Noi, a narrative sets the scene, so that the sense of humanity goes deeper into our hearts, reaching beyond our first nostalgic impulse to keep things the way they are because that is how they have always been.
This next point will not be liked by many. It makes me squirm as well, but it could be true and if it is true we could open up a new world beyond the suffering we cause ourselves in this one. If we all come from the same place, we share life force, draw our soul from the same pool, then even a terrorist has to be embraced. Very difficult to think of. But what is it that leads a young man to be like that? No hope for a future as a boy, manipulation from the state, possibly unenlightened parenting, the wrong environment (by that I mean the inner world as well) a psyche gone awry because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Wiring in the brain that leads to psychopathic tendencies. It is exactly the same place that a man who beats his wife, a government that will send soldiers to fight in Vietnam or Iraq, a person on the streets of any city in the world who rapes or murders, fundamentalists who will stone a woman to death, satanists who will torture children, leaders who live in luxury while their country starves, where people who commit the most despicable crimes come from.
If reason, science and humanism lead to progress, where is the place of intuition and knowing? It could be that intuition is empathy and that knowing is a sense of how all other entities in the world are flourishing. It is why we need all the Shakespeares and Paolo Contes we can get to tap into our empathy and encourage us to see beyond. Where do these crimes come from? From all of us. Solzhenytsyn had such perspicacity when he said ‘“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
Deep inside we all know this. It may be part of what propels me to travel a thousand miles to hear Paolo Conte and the excellent musicians with whom he shares the stage perform his songs. Keep listening, and keep reading.
If you like reading Ernest Hemingway, I leave you with this: Hemingway
Estia is a haven in the busy streets of Jericho. Tucked away behind Walton Street, it has a calm and thankfully a clean air environment. When the windows are opened in summer there is not a slew of traffic passing by, instead you can hear the birds sing.
When I first explored the space I admired the cork floors and peaceful atmosphere, the companionable plants, the interesting products for sale, and the experience of the teachers. It is a studio for people who are working to improve every aspect of their health, body, mind, and heart. It embraces you, enfolds you into it’s safe subtle space and nurtures.
Estia has an intelligent approach to wellbeing. The ethos is holistic, which is why Kundalini Yoga fits in well. Kundalini Yoga is a technology that works on many levels to balance the psyche, the hormones in the body, the spiritual needs of the soul (without being religious), and the function of the brain.
If you live in or near Jericho and winter strikes cold, get yourself to Estia on 6 King Street and feel better as soon as you walk through the door. I hold Kundalini Yoga classes at Estia some Fridays, and at my studio in Summertown 52 Lonsdale Road on Thursdays at 6pm. You are most welcome to both.
The transitions between seasons offer a wonderful chance to re-align with the flow of nature and can help with difficult emotional hurdles such as acceptance, and letting go.
As the number of autumns in my life stack up I recognise the season as a way to frame loss and death. Things become less painful, or at least I am more able to accept the pain and be content with it. The dogs at that timeless structure Stonehenge yesterday reminded me of the paradox: seasons pass, but all is now.
In the Prelude Wordsworth said ‘nature never did betray the heart that loved her’ It is true. Not that pain and illness, loss and confusion won’t assail us all, but that you will have the resources to accept and merge with what does happen in the end. If you can flow with nature, so can your difficult times. Everything passes.
Even the uncomfortable awareness of ageing is ameliorated by witnessing the rhythms of flora and fauna around us. WB Yeats, an Irish poet deeply immersed in Celtic and Classical mythology, meditated on the passage of time in The Wild Swans at Coole:
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight, The first time on this shore, The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Yeats allows himself the melancholy that meditation on death might bring, while simultaneously acknowledging the anchoring effects of nature:
Their hearts have not grown old; Passion or conquest, wander where they will, Attend upon them still.
Swans represent beauty because of their grace. They stand for power with their incredible wings. Living on the water they are connected to intuition, awareness, and creativity. Their ease and calm on the water show unity of body and mind, and their silence represents the grace of the soul. In many cultures they symbolise harmony, and healing. In Celtic mythology they are a symbol for transience and all things concerning change.
In the end Yeats is poised, like the wing-beat of the swans, his resistance to change and growing older suspended.
Among what rushes will they build, By what lake’s edge or pool Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day To find they have flown away?
He accepts the mystery. It’s a fine line though, between surrender and asserting the will. In kundalini the practical approach is that you create your own destiny, for example with postures such as archer pose you strengthen your focus to aim true. All of the kriyas have an underlying structure to develop your grit and determination, so that you have the will power to manifest things in the world.
Yet in the practice you are also encouraged to deal with whatever comes up with grace. There is a certain joy to be felt from spontaneity and the freedom that not being set on a specific outcome can bring. That is why often kriyas contain moments of improvised dance or random movements. It is not just about will-power. It is about making your nervous system strong so that whatever occurs in life can be assimilated without knocking you to pieces. It is about seeing beyond apparent polarities to being able to work with all the paradoxes of life. Postures that emphasise Manipura (3rd chakra) strengthen will power, but there are seven other major chakras that given the chance to shine, will bring you all you need to live a joyful life.
‘Healthy, happy and holy’ was Yogi Bhajan’s motto for the organisation he started in order to lift up humanity 50 years ago in 1969. That is why it is called 3HO. He established drugless drug rehabilitation centres, and was a tireless advocate for world peace. In 1994 3HO became a member of the United Nations, and Yogi Bhajan started several businesses (Yogi Tea was one of them) to generate income for charity. On the 3HO website you can find accurate information about all aspects of Kundalini Yoga, Yogic philosophy and psychology.
That is where I go for some ideas. But in the first instance I always go to nature.
When we practice our yoga at the Oxford studio the feel is relaxed and friendly. Being just round the corner from the shops is pretty convenient, and the busy Summertown environment makes it easy to run errands or visit a favourite coffee shop after class.
Right now the studio is being expanded and underfloor heating installed, ready for cosy autumn yoga sessions. By September we will be in the swing of classes again.
At the same time work has been going on apace at the barns in Wareham. Fourfields Barn is ancient, the farm goes back to the Domesday Book and is listed as Beastewell. This is a name I am particularly fond of, because it conjures up an image of healthy animals drinking from the rivers nearby. Work has been continuous since last autumn: planting and harvesting vegetables, expanding the flower garden, cleaning and restoring furniture, fixing up the barns, planning retreats and hosting friends, writers, and yogis for relaxing visits.
The barns have lovely large oak beams and brick walls with lime mortar, they are a perfect size for yoga classes and recreation. It has been a labour of love bringing the barns back to their original beauty during the summer break from teaching.