Sunday, 30 August 2009

Visit to the Krishnamurti Centre

Yesterday Mark and I went to The Krishnamurti Centre at Brockwood Park in Bramdean, Hampshire for An Introduction to Krishnamurti day. The Centre is a place where people go to study Krishnamurti's teachings. It is run by the Krishnamurti Foundation Trust whose role is "to see that these teachings are kept whole, are not distorted, are not made corrupt. They will not give rise to any sectarian spirit in their activities... nor create any kind of place of worship around the teachings or the person." We had both been wanting to visit The Centre for some time now but until yesterday had not been able to attend any of the Introduction Days (not that you have to go to one of these days first - you can visit any time the centre is open).

The eight of us attending the day gathered in the lounge where we helped ourselves to tea or coffee and biscuits. Our guide for the day was Shakuntila. Shakuntila was a teacher first at the Rishi School in India and then, for 15 years in the 1970's and 80's, at Brockwood Park School. It was great to be shown around by someone who had actually known and worked with Krishnamurti. Our day began with a tour of the centre's beautiful, spacious building which was designed by Dr. Keith Critchlow. Kishnamurti himself was involved in the initial stages of the design and the building was completed in 1987 the year after his death.

There is an amazing meditation room. Guests are asked not to visit this scared space during the first day of their stay so that they bring quiet to the space rather than going there for the quiet (but not to worry as there are plenty of quiet places). The centre also has a library, areas for watching videos or listening to tape recordings of Krishnamurti's talks and discussions, a book store, a spacious lounge and dining room (quiet table available) and a magnificant kitchen as well as the Foundation's offices and guest accommodation.

The photos above show our first glimpse of the building and the central courtyard. Visit The Centre's Home page to see more images of this special space.

The tour was followed by a slide presentation about key events in Krishnamurti's life and after a refreshment break we watched a video by Professor Allan Anderson in which Krishnamurti's main teachings were outlined. The video included many clips of talks and conversations with Krishnamurti.

We then enjoyed a delicious lunch which included produce grown in the garden of the centre. Over lunch we chatted to some of the other guests. Some had come for the day while others were staying for a few days (the centre has 19 bedrooms). All appreciated the fact that there is no guidance or structured activities and that they were free to enjoy the peace and tranquility in their own way... going for walks, being on their own, being quiet, reading, watching recordings of Krishnamurti's talks or talking with other visitors and the staff. The centre does also run a number of themed weekends throughout the year where guests can get together to discuss the topic.

Fortunately there was then time for a quick visit to the bookshop before we reconvened :-) I bought 3 books (Letters to a young Friend, On Nature and the Environment and Meeting Life) and a DVD of two talks between K and Anderson ( A Wholly Different Way of Living Talks 17 & 18 Meditation, a quality of attention that pervades all of one's life & Meditation and the sacred mind).

When we had all gathered together again Shakuntila took us through the gardens to the school for a tour of the buildings. The grounds are fantastic. We walked through the Rose and Vegetable Gardens to reach the school buildings which are in the old house. The Vegetable Garden is amazing and very beautiful. The 1.5 acres are tended by two gardeners with help from volunteers. The produce from the garden is used in both the centre and the school and manages to supply 1/3 of  the school's veggie requirements). The school has around 60 students above the age of 14 from all around the world. What a special place to learn! Of note is the Art Barn - another fantastic building designed by Keith Critchlow. From the school we walked through the playing field to The Grove with it's giant sequoias, oaks, rhodedendrons, azaleas, camelias and other trees planted in the 18th century. Apparently this was a place that Krishnamurti loved.

We returned to the centre through the gardens for afternoon tea and a final Q&A session. Talking to Shakuntila we discovered that she stayed with and did yoga with Vanda Scaravelli in Italy! Next time we meet we will talk about yoga.

Mark and I both intend to return to this very special place to study, and be quiet and to enjoy it's tranquility.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Multiplication of Blogs

As I have been blogging for a couple of months now I decided to take some time to review the topics covered in my posts and consider where I want to take my blog from now on.

The posts can be divided into three categories: yoga and philosophy, gardening and other stuff. I doubt that there are many people out there with exactly the same interests as me and that while someone may be interested for example in following my yoga posts they may well not want to read about what is going on in my garden or where I went for a walk today. So I have decided that it would be better to have three blogs! Blogging can be addictive!

I have created a blog for news from my garden called Pretty Productive Little Garden and another for all the other stuff called Anne's Other Blog (original, eh?). I will from henceforth use this blog for yoga and philosophy posts. I have put the non yoga posts in the appropriate new blog and will delete them from this blog in due course.

Any complaints speak to the management!

Keep interested, stay young!

I am reading 'On Relationship' by Krishnamurti. It is a collection of extracts from various talks, dialogues, journals and letters of Krishnamurti from 1940 to 1982. The following quote, from 16 June 1940, reminded me of the way I practice yoga.

"Mere control with its peculiar training has its dangers, as it is one-sided, incomplete, and therefore shallow. Interest brings its own natural, spontaneous concentration in which there is the flowering of understanding. This interest is awakened by observing, questioning the actions and reactions of everyday existence."

I do yoga because it interests me. I practice with awareness, attention and curiosity, approaching each posture as if for the first time - well most of the time anyway! We usually start yoga for one or more reasons including relaxation, flexibility, stress relief or mental or physical health. While yoga gives us all these things if we aren't interested in the yoga itself then either we become bored and our practice soon fizzles out or we continue to go to classes or do a few postures now and then through habit or because it's what we do - but we're no longer doing yoga!

Vanda Scaravelli wrote in
Awakening the Spine: The Stress-free New Yoga that Works with the Body to Restore Health, Vitality and Energy

"The old seem to forget, but it is only that they are not interested in what they are doing. They lose contact with the world, with their environment, with themselves. They too easily give up their activities and the things they care for, taking refuge in their own protective shell.
We have to keep on using and entertaining our memory. It is a delicate organ and must be looked after with care."

What ever it is that you do keep interested and stay young!

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Tao of Decorating part 2

As I have been peeling and scraping and sanding and washing and my sub conscious has been processing the words of Alan Watts in The Meaning of Happiness I realise that I love the preparation for decorating in as much as it cannot be separated from the painting and papering - you can't have one without the other. But I don't like the tasks involved in the preparation. Accepting the dislike/frustration/impatience prevents these demons from taking me over.

Now the preparation is over and the ceiling and woodwork painted everything is looking brighter and so is my mood because, even though things still don't go entirely according to plan, I am doing tasks that I like. Practising acceptance of something I like is a piece of cake!

Painting the woodwork is my favourite task of all. I find it very soothing and I become contemplative. While I was on my knees painting the skirting board I got to thinking about the ancient Indians. They recognised that creation, sustenance and destruction were all part of the same spectrum and that one could not exist without the others. This realisation is reflected in the Hindu trinity of Brahma (creator), Vishnu (sustainer) and Siva (destroyer).

Siva, who represents the destructive aspect of the divine, was said to be the originator of yoga the purpose of which is transformation. Siva gave man yoga to transform his life. It's interesting that that which transforms us comes from destruction. It's good to be reminded of this in our practice. We cannot be transformed while we hold on to our likes and dislikes, habits, what we know and what we think we want. All has to be swept away. And while this may be uncomfortable and we may be resistant to giving them up it is necessary to do so if we are to be transformed.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

I don't know

Socrates was considered to be the wisest of men because he knew that he didn't know. Yet how often do we not act because we don't think that we know enough or as much as someone else? We feel we still need to learn a bit more.

Or maybe we feel the need to act because we think we know better than others.

The fear of not knowing enough and the confidence of thinking we know are simply different ends of one spectrum which is a characteristic of the ego.

Diane often recalls how when Vanda Scaravelli told her to start teaching and Diane said that she couldn't possibly teach Vanda told her that it wasn't about her. I used to think of this as some sort of admonishment recalling what I had often heard people say about letting the teachings of yoga come through us and similar platitudes that are bandied about. But they're other peoples platitudes and I realise that I understand that differently now. Saying it's not about you is like saying it's not about your ego; it's not about what you think you know or don't know. It's about just being who we are.

Can we put aside thoughts of what we think we know or don't know and just be as we are right now because in fact that's all we ever can be.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Swans and Foxes

Around midday yesterday I took a break from my labours and went for a walk through the park, around Baiter and back through the park. The reed beds that were created a couple of years ago are beginning to look really good and hopefully will provide accommodation for lots of wildlife.

As I mentioned previously on Monday I had my first sighting of the harbour swan family. Yesterday I saw the Poole Park signet! Whereas the harbour swans are excellent parents the breeding pair in the park are not. They have failed to rear any young previously. The cob (male) is extremely aggressive and the pen (female) seems to loose interest. Last year they lost 3 signets very early on. The pen looked after the remaining youngster for a while and then deserted it. A regular visitor to the park noticed and contacted the ranger who managed to rescue it and take it to a sanctuary where, in spite of it being very small, it thrived and I hope that it still does to this day. So it was very pleasing to see that the mother still has one healthy looking signet this late in the summer. Fingers crossed that it survives to adulthood.

Further on around the lake I stopped and watched a pair of swans performing their courtship dance which involves slow, synchronised movements of the head and neck. It was very beautiful to watch. After a while I thought 'You chump, why aren't you filming this!', I got my camera out and of course by the time I had got myself sorted out the dance was over. So unfortunately you don't get to see it.

I walked the route anticlockwise which meant that I could see the foxes lair from some way off. As I approached I saw one fox climb up the bank, nose rub its mate and then disappear through the fence. As I got within shooting range the second fox, taking its time got to its feet and followed.

Here are a few photos for you.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Tao of Decorating

Last week I started decorating, or rather preparing to decorate, what will be our bedroom. It was our bedroom when we first came here and then we swapped around and it became the 'recreation' room with telly, futon, overflowing book cases, books piled up on the floor and for a while the computer and its entourage as well! Now we're swapping around again.

As you can imagine, there was a lot of stuff to move and find temporary homes for. It took ages and the demon impatience made an early appearance. It always appears during the preparation stage. I want to get the scraping and filling and sanding and washing down and all those other jobs that seem to take up more time than the painting and papering done as quickly as possible so I can get on with the tasks that start to make things look better than worse. Mind you I want those done pretty quickly too so that I can see the finished job. I don't cheat on the preparatory stage though. That's because another bigger, more terrifying demon, the need for perfection, lies sleeping and will awake at the first brush stroke. So I struggle on impatiently, resenting all the time spent on preparation.

At the moment I am paper stripping. I've never known such difficult paper to remove. The walls are covered with wood chip which has been painted. The wood chip has been here longer than we have and it isn't going without a fight. Either the original paste or paint or a reaction between the two has given the paper a water resistant property. This means that steam and water isn't helping much. The heat from the steamer does soften the paint allowing the paint to be peeled off. This takes the surface of the wood chip with it. What's left can then be more easily removed with the help of the steam. Progress is painfully slow, barely a square yard every half hour, and exhausting. And the demon frustration joins with impatience.

I admire the work of Alan Watts. When we were in Italy in May Charmane Landing, another of Diane's students, gave me her copy of The Meaning of Happiness. I finally got around to start reading it a couple of weeks ago. I reached the chapter entitled The Return of the Gods around the time impatience arrived. In it Alan Watts talks about acceptance. As I chip away at the wall covering it occurs to me that the cosmos is giving me ample opportunity to practice acceptance.

When frustration arises rather than trying to fight it I give it my attention, allowing it to be and actively encouraging it to be as frustrated as it can. Amazingly I then feel less frustrated. I feel that I have put down a burden and I become happier in my work. The same thing happens when I accept the impatience. Watts' explanation is that by accepting the demon I am accepting its independence of the ego and so experience psychological relief. In his words "the conscious ego has divested itself of the unnecessary and impertinent responsibility of thinking it essential to direct and interfere with all that goes on around it."

First sighting

There is a pair of swans in Poole Harbour that are really good parents. They regularly successfully rear 4 or 5 youngsters each year. In the summer I often see them and their signets at the quay swimming around the boats and pontoons. But this year I hadn't seen them and I was beginning to think that something must have happened to one or other of the pair. So I was delighted to see them this morning with three healthy looking signets.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Ustrasana - The Camel

When I wrote about dvipada pitham on 30th July I kind of expected that it would be followed shortly by something about Sarvangasana (shoulderstand) and how each has helped the other. But no! Instead here's something about how dvipada pitham has informed ustrasana (camel).

These days I tend to teach and practise camel with the arms raised overhead so that the focus is on the backbend and the movement of the spine rather than on trying to reaching the heels with the associated tendency to compress the lumbar spine.

I realised ages ago that camel and two foot support are the same shape and that ustrasana is just dvipada pitham turned on its end. This evening as I practised camel a little voice in my head said 'so do it like dvipada pitham'. I used the feet, sent the spine forward and up and drew the shoulders towards the hips. The result was amazing. It felt like the feet were really switched on; the hips were wide; the groin open; the shoulders and hips moving towards each other... and an interesting burning sensation in the quads. I felt no lumbar compression.

Photographic evidence will have to wait a week or so as the resident photographer has gone walk about.

Foxy sighting

It stopped raining for a while yesterday and so Mark and I took the opportunity to get out for a walk. When it warms up and the sun shows its face after a rainy start there is a good chance of seeing Whitecliff Fox. It's as though he comes out to warm up and dry off a bit! And sure enough there he was yesterday.

Top Fruits and Veggies to Buy Organic - Gaiam Life

If you prefer not to eat chemicals but are unable to always buy organic because of availability or cost then check out the website above for advice as to which fruit and veggies have the most residues. I always try to buy organicwhen purchasing leafy stuff.

Tip: Wash your fruit and veggies in water which has white vinegar added (about 3 tablespoons per 2 pints). This will remove traces of pesticides which are usually water resistant (to stop them being washed off by the rain).

Top Fruits and Veggies to Buy Organic - Gaiam Life

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Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Breathing Practice

My teacher, Diane Long, says it's important to have a breathing practice. From time to time she asks earnestly "Do you have a practice?" I answer, truthfully, "yes". But the practice is very different from the one I had previously. What Diane asks me to do is nothing like the classical pranayama I studied before. No fancy techniques, no retention, no ratios. For years I didn't get the point of it. Now I look at it more as an enquiry to truly understand breathing and the breath. It's hard! It would be so much easier to follow a technique and impose upon the breath and the lungs. My breathing practice has been frustrating because the mind keeps getting in the way. As I try to watch the breath and the body they change to conform to how my mind intellectually understands breathing from studies of A & P. And I know all the A & P of breathing! I was always rather good at that, even as a child when it was required learning for the LAMDA examinations I took. And sometimes when Diane is describing what she feels is happening I feel myself silently resisting - No, it's not like that!

At other times my mind sneers "You call this a practice? When you were doing 45+ minutes a day and using ratios with retention that was a practice".

And when the despair squid is around the mind says "You'll never get it. You're wasting your time. Give up now". (Actually the mind is half right. I'll never get it because there is nothing to get but it's not a waste of time.)

Then in my practice a few days ago the mind took the morning off and I got a glimpse which took my intuitive understanding of the breath a quantum leap forward. It felt that at the end of the in breath that the diaphragm was already beginning to move upwards and at the end of the out breath it was beginning to move downwards. It's best expressed by a question. Where does the breath in begin? (can also be asked as where does the breath out end or where does the breath in end and the breath out begin?) My A & P understanding is linear because that's how the intellect works. But the breathing didn't feel linear. It felt cyclical like the seasons. In the same way as where the year begins is an arbitrary point so it is with the breath. There really is no start or end. It feels that the beginning of the exhalation is in the end of the inhalation and vice versa. Rather like the Yin and Yang. The concept of in and out breath only seems to have meaning if you fragment what you are looking at - what happens in the nose, the throat, the diaphragm etc. When you feel the whole there seems to be subtle overlapping and the idea of in breath and out breath as separate becomes as ridiculous as the idea of a New Year being anything more than a convenience for measuring the passing of linear time. And some of Diane's descriptions don't seem so wrong after all.

Now I have to be watchful that I don't slip into the trap of the body and breath conforming to what I think I understand!

Saturday, 1 August 2009

How do you choose your teacher?

All too often our choice of teacher is based on our likes and dislikes. We may choose a yoga teacher because we like the person or maybe they play nice music in the class, or burn candles or incense or they conform to how we want our teacher to be. In other words we feel comfortable with them.

But yoga is not about feeling comfortable. Yoga is transformation. Transformation into what? Who can say. If we have an idea of where we're going it's not transformation we're simply heading for an idealised known.

Think of it like a 'Star Trek' adventure - to boldly go where you've not been before. And the role of the teacher is not to take us somewhere she's been and leave us there but to help us on our journey of discovery. To hold our hand or give us a shove when we need it.

A teacher I know who worked with a famous guru at his ashram in India says that he didn't actually like the man but that he stayed for the teaching. Yogananda said of his guru: "Sri Yukteswar's intuition was penetrating; heedless of remarks, he often replied to one's unexpressed thoughts... I daresay he would have been the most sought-after guru in India had his speech not been so candid."

I am reminded of one of Anthony de Mello's stories (in The Prayer of the Frog: v. 1). A spiritual seeker resisted all the temptations the Devil through at him but failed to recognise God because he didn't like the way he spoke, dressed or behaved. "Such is the fate of those who, in their search for God, are willing to shed everything except their notions of what God really is."

That's not to say of course that you can't like the teacher or that she shouldn't play nice music etc! It's just that such things are irrelevant. Incidentally the fascinating story of how Yogananda met his guru is told in his Autobiography of a Yogi

One day we may find our self alone and then we have to find the guru within to encourage us to new understanding. There are few among us who manage to do this. The late Vanda Scaravelli was one and so is her student Diane Long whom I am fortunate to have as my teacher. We would do well to emulate such teachers. By that I don't mean by hanging on their words or slavishly following their actions but rather in adopting their approach to the work.