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A deeper materialism with Michael Stone

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

This is an inspiring talk by Michael Stone at TEDx Toronto in September 2013.
Michael was in London this week and Leia and I went to a screening of his new short film called Reactor. There was an interesting Q&A session with Michael afterwards and it was nice to catch up with some of the London yoga community too.

You are not your ego and your ego is not you.

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Hello folks.

Well it’s a long time since I’ve posted on here, but I’m moving back to Brighton this weekend and looking forward to getting back on my mat by the sea. Thought I might share a blog post I made a while back:

How good are your non-attachment skills? And what exactly does that mean anyway, non-attachment?

On the most basic level, we are all attached to stuff, whether it’s a favourite item of clothing, a piece of jewellery, a vehicle (self-powered or otherwise), electronic equipment, handbag, or whatever. We’ve all experienced that feeling of anger mixed with sadness (possibly even anguish), when something ‘bad’ happens to one of our favourite pieces of stuff. The more valuable the item, whether in financial or emotional terms, the greater the depth of feeling engendered by its loss, but what real difference to our life does this loss actually make? In many cases, absolutely none, yet the negative emotions can stay with us for periods ranging from hours to days, months or even years.

That’s not to say that these feelings aren’t completely natural or indeed to be expected, but holding onto them is nothing more than sadomasochism, no matter how little control we may feel we have over the state of affairs. Being child-like doesn’t mean behaving immaturely, although that can certainly be quite therapeutic in itself. Rather it means experiencing a negative emotion, then letting it go. We’ve all seen how a screaming child instantly forgets what is troubling them when given a treat of some kind. We were all able to let go of negative emotions like this when we were children, so what has changed as we age?

In a word; EGO.

Our ego, like Satan (if you believe in that kind of thing), has pulled off the trick of making us believe that it does not exist. We cannot distinguish between our true selves and our ego, and so this skewed picture we are being fed becomes who we are, and not only that but we will defend this false picture with every molecule of our being. We are not attached to these things I have mentioned, it is our ego that is attached, and wants to be attached, for these things nourish it and make it feel good. And that is what the ego is all about, being massaged and feeling good. It is the ultimate sensual-pleasure seeker.

A few years ago, when I was living in London, I had an experience that brought home to me just how powerful non-attachment can be.

I had gone into a shop to pick up a couple of things, and when I got to the till I pulled out the change in my pocket, along with my house keys. As I selected the correct change the shop assistant commented on how nice the key-ring was, an aluminium dolphin with a blue glass centre, and then asked if she could have it.

I was completely stunned at her cheek!

‘No, of course you can’t have it!’ I said as I proffered my cash. Who on earth was this woman to just go asking for another persons belongings, especially a customer she was serving!? The keyring had only cost a few quid, but held a lot of sentimental value, as I had purchased it on a trip I took to France with kids from the first school I worked in after qualifying. Not only was it beautiful, but it brought back the happy memories of that time.

As I walked home my incredulity at her brazen request played over and over in my mind, but another through crept in. Why was I so determined to keep hold of this item (because it was mine, I remember my ego shouting)? The memories would still be with me whatever happened to the dolphin. What, exactly, would change in my life if I no longer possessed it?

Absolutely nothing, as far as I could intellectually determine, but I still felt a deep discomfort I could not explain.

I made my way home, but I could not shake these questions and feeling of confusion that her request had raised, the experience popping back into my mind at random intervals over the next several days.

I don’t remember how I came to the decision to give up the dolphin, but I remember very clearly walking back into the shop a couple of weeks later, going up to the till and placing it on the counter, saying something like ‘I don’t know if you remember me, but you can have this if you’d like. Please take good care of it.’

She said thanks, although seemed nowhere near as grateful as part of my brain thought she ought, but these feelings were almost completely submerged in the quite shocking feeling of absolute joy I seemed to be experiencing. I remember having to work very hard to stop myself from bursting into tears as I walked down the street, grinning like an idiot and marvelling at the depth of feeling giving up this meaningless piece of ‘stuff’ had produced.

I would love to say that my non-attachment skills have gone from strength to strength from this point on, but alas it seems that the lesson needs re-learning over and over. I still find my state of mind being tugged about by attachment to things as well as how I would like situations to turn out. Attachment to events, and how I perceive they should be, turns out to be far more difficult to give up than my attachment to stuff, but if relinquishing a piece of metal shaped as a dolphin can make me so happy, I can barely imagine how blissful my existence will be when I am able to be happy with things as they are and not how my ego tells me they should be.

Mysore in Maui

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

We recently heard the exciting news that our dear friend Shari Berman has opened an Ashtanga shala in the heart of Maui’s North Shore. I’m sure those who have had the pleasure of meeting and practising with Shari while she was here in Brighton the last two summers will agree with us when we say that she is an extremely dedicated practitioner,  a thoroughly inspiring teacher and a very lovely lady indeed!

She has extended her warmth and generosity to all Brighton Ashtangis by offering to put up anyone who travels over to Hawaii to practice at her shala. I don’t know about you, but Guy and I are preparing to get on that plane just as soon as we can!

- Hannah Moss

Kirtan in Brighton

Friday, March 4th, 2011

Narayani Playing the HarmoniumLast Friday Guy and I went to a Kirtan evening led by Narayani of OneBodyOneSound at the Jing Institute on Bond Street in Brighton. My only previous experience of singing with Narayani was at the Santosa Yoga Camp last September where she led a Kirtan on the final evening. This was a beautiful experience where most of the 10-day camp participants all crammed into the candlelit Bhakti Dome, making space for each other on the slighty damp carpet. There were a few meditation cushions and blocks lying around which were quickly planted underneath buttocks, and the few chant sheets that got passed around were barely readable in the dim candlelight anyway. It was definitely a family affair, as children of all ages sang, listened, giggled, squirmed and wriggled their way through the evening.

All of this made for a very intimate, very informal and very spiritual atmosphere. Narayani’s beautiful and at times haunting voice carried through the tent and across the field and surely couldn’t fail to ignite something mysterious deep in the hearts of all who heard it. I loved the fact there were no instructions, no rules and very little talking in between chants, other than simply an encouragement to join in. Even if we didn’t know the words, we were encouraged to feel the vibrations of the Sanskrit sounds moving through our body, mind and soul and to try to reach that part deep inside us that we’re rarely able to access. I found the continuous, repetitive nature of the songs meant it was easy to lose myself in them, to lose myself in the beautiful sounds within and around me, until I felt I was almost in a meditative trancelike state and feeling very peaceful indeed.

My first taste of an urban Kirtan evening was quite a different experience altogether. As we arrived at the centre, we were instantly greeted by one of Jing’s founder members and told where to pay, where to put our coats and shoes and to sit as far forward within the studio as possible. We were a little late so the Kirtan had already started when we entered the room and found space on the floor to squeeze in. The electric lighting and the hard wooden floor, with only a folded yoga mat for cushioning, seemed a harsh contrast to the carpeted, candlelit canvas dome at Santosa.

I was also struck by how much more structured the evening felt. Rather than Narayani and her two fellow musicians simply playing and encouraging us to join in at any point, this was very much a call and response type affair. Narayani would sing a line and then indicate that we should copy her, or at least attempt to. She would let out the occasional gigglewhen the response line trailed off in an uncertain or out-of-tune melody. Although this helped the evening feel more relaxed and less formal, it did add to the sense that we had to get it ‘right’; that we were being taught how to sing the lines properly, almost as if we were in a choir. Personally, I preferred the Santosa approach of just singing and letting people join inwilly-nilly, as it felt more continuous and really enabled me to lose myself in the music. I guess there’s no reason why I couldn’t have done this, but it didn’t feel like the ‘done’ thing and I was feeling a little self-conscious in the unfamiliar surroundings.

Santosa Yoga CampNonetheless, the evening was thoroughly enjoyable and Narayani was as mesmerising to watch and listen to as always, her voice blending beautifully with the harmonium, violin and tabla. There was a good atmosphere in the room, even if some people seemed a bit tentative at first. I left the Kirtan feeling totally blissed out, and in fact a bit spaced out, as we stepped onto the streets of Brighton late on a busy Friday evening. I’m looking forward to the next Kirtan, which will be led by a different musician, but most of all I’m looking forward to the next Santosa camp where I hope I’ll have another magical experience of singing with Narayani in a field, under canvas, in the dark.

- Hannah Moss

shanthi path for 2011

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

A shanthi path is a mantra for peace, harmony and happiness.
Shanthi path literally means the falling down or descent of peace.

The following shanthi path is chanted at the beginning of teaching.

Om Saha naa vavatu
Saha nau bhunaktu
Saha viiryam
Karavaa vahai
Tejas vinaa vadhita mastu ma
vidvishaa vahaihi
Om shanthi shanthi shanthi

It means:

May we together be protected
May we together be nourished
May we work together with great energy
May our study together be brilliant and effective
May we not hate each other or dispute with each other
Om peace, peace, peace.

Shanthi means peace.
The first shanthi is peace from personal suffering.
The secondary shanthi is the peace from the suffering caused to us by other beings
The final shanthi is peace from suffering caused by larger patterns in life like storms

The three shanthis also refer to physical, mental and spiritual peace.

This chant is easy to learn and appears on Richard Freeman’s Yoga Chants CDs and Manju Jois’ Shanthi Mantras CD.


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