Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Travelling Yogi

We spent the last ten days unofficially WWOOFing on the Sunshine Coast. Helga introduced us to Graham who has a house a few blocks from the beach between Mooloolaba and Caloundra. Each morning we help Graham get his bachelor pad in order for the future renter and a substantial remodel. This leaves us plenty of free time in the afternoon to explore the nearby beaches, towns and parks by foot or push bike. It suits me just the same that we aren’t following the well beaten path of the common tourist. But every time I feel myself want to do something, I remember that I already am. As long as I remain present, everything I need is present with me. Each moment is pregnant with meaning. There are no coincidences. My heart swells and gratitude is renewed. Travelling has rewarded me with heaps of self-discovery and growth which I will bring home and share with family, friends and students alike.

The Australia leg of our journey comes to an end Friday as we take flight for Bali. I can’t wait. We will be moving around a lot more during the two weeks prior to the retreat. Compared to Seattle’s winter weather it is quite mild here but I’ve been cold on more occasions than I’d hoped. We seem to have brought Seattle along with us as it has rained considerably more than average since we’ve been down under. On two occasions, after three solid days of heavy rain, I felt like a caged bird. As we prepare to fly the coop, I look forward to Bali’s sun, humidity and even its bugs. Here’s to salt water, surf lessons, more yoga and all the massages my body can handle.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Who Let the Dogs Out

WWOOF, WWOOF, WWOOF, WWOOF…. I apologize for the reference to one of the most obnoxious songs ever to be stuck in my head, but it had to be done. We survived our month in the bush and, by the looks of the above “Australian Gothic” photographs, we are now hardened WWOOFers. I am thankful for the experience and can see myself WWOOFing my way around the world. Next stop South America. In many ways the experience was reminiscent of living in the home of Senora Rosa in Seville, Spain – an opportunity to learn the local lingo, way of life and, in this case, the native plants and animals. Deepest gratitude to Helga and Claus for sharing your piece of paradise.

As life in the Pacemaker caravan drew to an end, we followed our intuition and ended up on the Sunshine Coast. We found a clean and quite bungalow style hostel just a few blocks from Sunshine beach near Noosa. Noosa is a trendy holiday destination for Southern Australians wanting to escape winter’s grey skies. The coast is lined with modern construction boasting spectacular views – the ocean as far you can see. For a minute I imagined myself doing my morning practice on one of those balconies. It would no doubt be followed by a quick swim or surf. Noosa National Park features a two-hour costal walk along its pristine beaches and looming cliffs. On the other side of those cliffs we found a nude beach where we tanned our white bits and continued reading the Gita. (Is that sacrilegious?) On Saturday we took the bus to Eumundi where we strolled the isles of an out door farmers market three times the size of Pike’s. One of the highlights of these four fairy-tale days was, of course, food related. I love food. I constantly day dream about preparing it, eating it and sharing it. In a previous life I must have been a gourmet chef, food critic or at least pleasantly plump. Cameron treated me to an amazing three-course meal at a waterfront restaurant where we enjoyed exceptional wine and service. This was quite a treat as up until that point we’d been cooking nearly everything from scratch. It was lovely to be waited on and even better not have to worry about cleaning up. It’s amazing what you take for granted when all “conveniences” are at the tips of your fingers.

Noosa was definitely a large step away from the silence we would have encountered at the ashram, but only a small step toward real life. We decided together that a little bit of civilization was just what we needed. Although we didn’t have the strict schedule and required silence of a Vipassana retreat, our time on the farm was equally profound. To shed the layers of our conditioned existence and move inward toward the Self proved to be emotionally and spiritually intense. To wipe the mirror clean is to stand naked and vulnerable before it with all your hopes, fears, mistakes, patterns and loves lying neatly on a table like glistening surgical instruments. A fully licensed doctor can rattle off the names of each without a moment’s hesitation and leave only a small row of dissolvable stitches. The self-taught makes a bloody mess and a Frankenstein scar serves as a constant reminder that denial makes the experience no less real. The learning curve is steep and risky. I think Eeyore said it best, “Can’t go under it, can’t go over it, gotta go through it.” In the end it’s all worth it. All that remains post-op is a rush of inspiration and an expansive feeling.

Don't forget to check out Cameron the camel's blog at

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Soul Food

Every cell in my body is celebrating the return of a raw/vegan diet. What started as an intentional and much needed indulgence of body, heart and soul became an emotional crutch. One of the things that attracted me to working and living with Helga and Claus was their raw/vegan lifestyle. Together they embrace various alternative forms of health and healing, a large part of which is based on a clean, alkaline diet. Through the years Helga and Claus have been vegetarian, vegan, fruitarian and raw. Having experimented with the latter, I was eager to learn more. And learn I have. Did you know parsley has more Vitamin C than an orange, rosemary is good for the brain, turmeric root helps with inflammation and bruising and drinking your urine prevents mosquito bites and a whole host of other things. I am day-dreaming of a garden in which I can grow medicinal and culinary herbs (the urine is native).

I’ve just finished reading Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food in which he encourages, through much research and scientific data, a diet that adheres to the motto “Eat Food, Mostly Plants, Not Too Much.” He points out that as a result of industrialization and the birth of nutritional science, which views food in terms of its individual parts, most of what we buy at supermarkets no longer qualifies as food. Highly refined, processed, and genetically engineered then artificially flavored, enriched and preserved, the stuff that we consider food has changed dramatically in the last several decades. All this occurs post harvest, but I’ll leave the other details of food’s plight to Michael. I was, to a certain extent, already aware of much of what the book brings to the table but its candid description of the degradation of food is shocking. On the bright side, I am even more grateful for the big basket of organic fruits and vegetables Helga supplies us with every few days.

I have begun to look forward to this basket in much the same way I looked forward to our weekly CSA box back home. Not being able to control what arrives in the basket, new fruits and vegetables make themselves known and opportunities to experiment in the kitchen result. I love to prepare food but if I had to label myself I would say that I am more of a mad scientist than a proper cook. My approach to cooking is far from traditional and it often doesn't involve the actual act of cooking. I often refer to several cook books to get a general flavor for a recipe but what results is at the mercy of 1) what I have on hand 2) my raw/vegan preferences and 3) divine intervention and inspiration. Generally, I think my creations are delicious but I think my family would beg to differ. They are still trying to swallow the words vegetarian, vegan and raw. To each their own.

One of the delights the basket has revealed is the Black Sapote. The Black Sapote is the natural world's chocolate moose. There is also a White (vanilla) Sapote but the trees haven't blessed our basket with their presence. The fruit reminds me of a green Persimmon. Like a Persimmon, the taste is best when you think its turned. We've taken to scooping out the 'moose' and mixing it with honey from Claus' hive and goji berries to create a gourmet dessert. For lunch we combine whatever is looking ripe in our basket with garden greens. We clip rosemary and uproot ginger for herbal tea. We sprout garbanzo beans and forage for and crack the last of the macadamia nuts to make raw hummus and pesto. We grate carrots, cabbage, pumpkin, sweet potato, corn and bell peppers into a raw slaw. Try this lite and refreshing summer recipe. Wet one large nori sheet (or use a large piece of chard, kale or leafy green), fill with raw pesto or hummus, raw slaw, alfalfa sprouts, tomato and avocado, roll up and enjoy! Or maybe a green smoothie is more to your taste. 60% fruit, 40% green is all you have to remember to get a great tasting start to your day. Our secret weapon is mother nature's cure all - Aloe Vera.

After our outdoor shower under a canopy of starts we return to our camper to lather ourselves from head to toe in Aloe Vera. The property is absolutely covered in big beautiful 'mommy' Aloe Vera plants and their broods. In good conditions, An Aloe has about 30 to 40 'babies' each year and I have been rescuing babies all month. Aloe is a household remedy for the pain of burns and the itch of bites but it can also be used internally to promote healthy digestion, alleviate allergies and enhance the overall radiance of hair and skin. Throughout the day we munch on the the slimy, bitter leaves, we add it to our salads and smoothies and rub it on our skin - mine still quite appetizing to mosquitoes. I will miss the whole foods that have nourished my soul in the next stage of our journey and I'm sure the mosquitoes will miss me.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Silence is Golden

The ode to Mother Earth continues as I relate the simple joys found living in bush country. My days are no longer filled with a list of to-dos and places to be, and I am free to savor our daily routine. The Kookaburra’s loud chatter announces the day, and the electric kettle springs into action. It is winter in Australia and although Widgee boasts an average of 320 plus days of sun a year, it is quite cold (3 Celcius) when the sun goes down. Our camper is nestled in a eucalyptus forest within calling distance from the main house. The tall boughs of the gum trees provide coveted shelter from the summer sun’s intensity but keep our unheated caravan wrapped in shadows through much of the day. As often as possible you will find Cameron and I nestled under a thick layer of covers, a book in one hand and a cup of tea in the other. After warming up with a spot of tea, we head to our outdoor yoga studio which features the sun rising on the right as the moon sets on the left, the vast blue sky and the variegated greens of a proud palm over head. What a spectacular way to start the day. Our yoga asana practice closes with a seated meditation and the recitation of a mantra chanted by Gandhi and his followers. Cameron memorized this elaborate chant on a Peace Walk through India and is slowly teaching it to me. After our practice we have taken to reading the Bhagavad-Gita aloud. The “Song of the Spirit” is a segment of the epic poem, the Mahabharata, and is one of India’s most beloved scriptures. Together we are reading Paramahansa Yogananda’s translation from cover to cover.
I couldn’t ask for a better place in which to absorb the ancient teachings that arise alternately and synergistically from the verses of the Gita and my own practice. The property possesses a calm and peaceful energy that is noted not only in my mind, body and spirit but also in that of the animals living within its borders. The wallabies, babies on board, aren’t disturbed by our presence and the very social butcherbirds keep us company in all activities from reading to working. Initially, my ears rang in protest of the silence normally filled, at a bare minimum, with the white noise of the city. This period of relative silence has restored its importance in my life three-fold. Its sudden presence has illumed my need and desire to create periods of silence in my life back home. Culturally, are we afraid of silence? Awkward silence. I am convinced that this is the case when I think about the constant hum of the television, radio and city that forms the backup vocals in the soundtrack of our private and social lives. These sounds are not inherently bad or good, they just are, and this period of silence allows me to appreciate both the silence and the sounds. A period devoid of superfluous sounds, once again, brings me back to my relationship with the Earth. The sound of the birds, rain, crickets, frogs, wind, bees, trees, and even the mosquitoes delights my ears. With senses aligned with the natural world, my own earthliness shines forth in the energy, sound and vibration of my body. The rise and fall of breath, the fire of digestion, the cadence of my heartbeat and the pulse of my spirit made manifest though a physical form.
This is no small feat for a Vata-Pita, type A personality, church of hard work junkie who is altogether more comfortable in a state of constant activity and movement than in stillness and silence. At various times throughout my life stillness and silence have been viewed as synonymous with laziness and a lack of drive and determination. My constant frenzy is an ill attempt to avoid the awkward silence and inertia that my soul needs to learn how to simply be here and now and to welcome all that is present. I understand why I feel reluctance for the next stage of our journey, a ten-day silent, and I mean completely silent – no talking, reading or writing - retreat.
I notice that I am often attracted to what is familiar and comfortable even when it has been intellectually recognized as out of synch with my highest good. Conversely, I may be able to cognitively convince myself that something is beneficial and intuitively feel otherwise. Intellectually processing is superficial and thus is constantly thwarting our best intentions through the laws of attraction. One has to get to the heart of the matter. We must welcome everything, thoughts, emotions, beliefs and physical sensations just as they are. It is only then that we will attract our hearts deepest desire and experience the joy and peace that is our birthright. That clear and discerning wisdom that lives within is like multi-faceted cyrstals splattered with mud. When we take the time to wipe clean each one of the facets of the soul our inherent inner light can shine. I sigh and remember a phrase from the Divine Love Seminar I attended last weekend with Helga and Claus. “Its simple, but its not easy.” Welcoming emotions is a commitment to feeling all emotions, even the ugly ones, and to remaining neutral throughout the process. Sadhana. Practice. Practice is messy. That is why we have teachers and ancient practices to guide us. Its no coincidence that my first experience with Yoga Nidra stirred my soul into action and has thence continually attracted people, places and things that would present opportunities to release emotions, habitual patterns, beliefs and ideas that have held it captive. I am eternally grateful for the gifts of Yoga and Yoga Nidra in my life.

This is not at all what I had intended to write this afternoon, but it came out for a reason, and so I’ll post it even though it feels a lot like rambling and even more than a little personal….

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

From Widgee With Love

Editors Note: The previous blog erroneously stated that the vast majority of Australia's population live in Sydney. It is correct to say that Australians primarily live along the country's coastlines, but Sydney is not home to the vast majority of the population. In fact, Sydney does not even hold the dubious title of most densely populated city as Melbourne's numbers currently rival hers. Here at LauraNidra News we strive to provide you with only the most accurate and of the hour information. We apologize for publishing this untruth and for any embarrassment it may have caused.

Welcome to Widgee

Hard to believe that it has already been two weeks since Cameron and I arrived in Widgee. We choose an overnight train to cover the 14 hour journey from Sydney to Brisbane and a Greyhound bus for the additional three hour journey from Brisbane to Gympie. Helga and Claus, our WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) sponsors, meet us in Gympie and after two warm and welcoming hugs, drove us the final half-hour leg of the journey to Widgee. In the car we learned that in 1980 Helga, her son, and Claus closed their eyes and took turns spinning a globe to determine their next move - they would go to the first place their fingers landed three times. And so it was that Helga and Claus moved from Germany to the Sunshine Coast of Australia and opened a vegetarian restaurant which they successfully owned and operated for 10 years. In 1990, having grown tired of the restaurant industry, they relocated to fifty acres of eucalyptus forest just outside of Widgee. In the 18 years they've lived in Widgee they have transformed their land into a stunning and colorful sanctuary, a living and breathing work of art that includes all your modern conveniences without any of the accompanying drawbacks. They did most of the work themselves with the help of friends and willing workers like Cameron and I. They cleared nearly 7 acres of forest and used the timber to construct the Rainbow House and guest house, built and erected a windmill that steadily pumps water from the the elaborate system of dams/lakes (also built by them) for home and garden use, intricately landscaped the areas surrounding the homes and planted mangoes, grapes, Brazilian cherries, dates, bananas, pineapples, macadamias, paw paws (papaya) and vegetable gardens among many other varieties of edible goodness. As you can imagine maintaining this oasis is quite time consuming. That is were we come in. WWOOFing involves an average of 5 hours of work each day in exchange for free room and board. WWOOFing opportunities range from more traditional full-scale farms to self-sustaining paradise. We choose the later, or it choose us. We sent out over 30 emails to various farms in Queensland that met our standards (vegetarian friendly, sun, mangoes or avocados) and we only heard back from a few. Apparently, WWOOFing is a well known way to affordably travel the world and Helga often receives a dozen inquiry emails a day. Fortunately, Helga was drawn to us as we were drawn to her and together, the four of us now work side-by-side each day to manicure and maintain their extensive property.

Ode to Mother Earth

My feet are well worn in comparison to the nicely manicured toes Cameron captured poolside in Palm Springs just a month ago. They are dirty, dry, covered in bug bites and decorated with tan lines and fading nail polish. But I suppose that is what feet are for - to connect to the Earth. And that is why I came to Widgee. Although we are not on a fully fledged commercial farm, we are living on a self sustaining property and it wonderful to experience just how much knowledge, time and energy is involved in the process that results in the meal I enjoy each night. I spend my time weeding, pruning and mulching. I have been lovingly dubbed 'the midwife' as one my favorite jobs is trimming and transplanting orchid, aloe vera and bromeliad babies. It is winter now, and a lovely winter at that - 75 degrees and sunny, so our work focuses on maintenance and preparation for the summer's harvest season. Helga and Claus are encyclopedias of knowledge regarding the local plants, birds and animals. I have particularly enjoyed learning to distinguish the different bird calls (or shrill laugh in the case of the kookaburra) and their meanings. There are Butcher Birds, Rainbow Lorikeets, Yellow Cockatoos, Kookaburras, King Parrots and Pale Face Roselias. The picture included is of a male King Parrot who curiously inspected our caravan one morning and posed for a quick photograph. Unfortunately, there are no ripe mangoes at this time but there are dehydrated mangoes, mango jam and mango chutney so I am getting my fix and just might turn into a mango after all.