18 January, 2017

co-creativity between the masculine & the feminine

The beat of her drum resonated every cell of my sweaty body and the chants of the people around me were united in a deep sense of surrender. The mind could not compute, the body felt like it was melting and all that was left was the breath inhaling air that singed the hairs of my nostrils. Like a womb, darkness clothed us as we huddled together in the sweat lodge; held together by the interwoven beats of her drum and her chants. It reminded us to stay, to breathe and if we could, sing with her the songs of her indigenous tribe. The excruciating heat was radiating from the steaming rocks facing me. As if it couldn’t get any hotter, someone took the towel from my legs, more heat, more sweat, I felt naked as I blinked through the sweat and saw the glow of the red hot stones next to me. Our abuelitas grandmother stones bringing us relentless fire.

Pat McCabe
In this place of absolute surrender, I remember, being called to pray. We prayed aloud muttering our heart’s well wishes. A prayer for all my relations, prayers for Syria and prayers for her people at Standing Rock sending them strength. The sweat lodge tucked among the giant sequoias woodlands held our sweltering bodies, our cries and exhalations under the starry night sky. The scent of indigenous incenses such as sage and copal filled my burning nostrils as the tears and sweat poured from me like waterfalls on mountain cliffs finding their way back to the Earth. It was the final evening of a short course at Schumacher College; Co-creation between the Masculine and the Feminine and it was a course like no other.

Charles Eisenstein
The five day course was held by two phenomenal teachers; the incredible Pat McCabe, an inspiring woman from New Mexico who came to indigenous knowledge through Lakota nation. She moves from the central knowledge that “We, The Five-Fingered-Ones, are born into Beauty, as Beauty, for Joyful Life”, she has a powerful presence and brings the understanding of Indigenous ways of knowing into discussion and inquiry. Alongside her was Charles Eisenstein, a visionary and author of The Ascent of Humanity (2007), Sacred Economics (2011), and The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible (2013). Since 2010, he has spoken over three hundred times in over one hundred cities around the world. His events are held voluntarily, organized by others who invite him to speak. He generally charges people expenses but no fee, leaving it up to them to give him something if they feel the urge. This appeals to his ideal of generosity and “living in the gift.”

During my time at Schumacher the protests at Standing Rock had begun and we were amidst the presidential elections in the United States. There was something incredibly reflective in what the world story was showing. Indigenous tribes around the world were uniting in peaceful protest against oil companies penetrating their sacred lands. The protection of Nature, our life-giving mother, that which sustains us, was embodied in the acts of those tribes. And then like the flipping of a coin, stories of Donald Trump sexually harassing women, a man who personifies the capitalistic system, standing for one of the most influential positions in global politics was infiltrating my consciousness and my Facebook feed. What could be a greater metaphor? I wondered.

So humbly held by these two incredibly inspiring human beings thirty of us sat in circle everyday, shared, absorbed, discussed, and debated. The process itself was illuminating as all our realities and perspectives were shared in the common union of space. And so over 5 days we commenced an inquiry into the Masculine and the Feminine; exploring what might be the limitations, opportunities and re-modelling necessary to empower the co-creativity of these dual forces within us all and for the betterment of our world today.

During this course I became profoundly aware of the many layers of pain in the relationship between the aptly termed “Men’s Nation’ and “Women’s Nation”. The suppression of the feminine being a story I am all too aware of. I’ve found the genocide of European witch-hunts, in some inexplicable way, living in me, like an embedded tale of devastation buried in my DNA still burning a fury. And then onto the modern worlds distorted perceptions of beauty and objectification with manipulated images of women tantalising our eyes and loins yet creating insecurity on how life can be beautiful without the superficialities of make up, pert boobs and smooth legs. 

I went into the course feeling frustration towards the male dominated world that has somehow planted seeds of insecurity in my psyche based on my sex and collectively created a world that continues to poison our planet in our endlessly consumerist culture. It became clear I wasn’t the only woman feeling frustrated about it. It wasn’t long before we were licking our wounds, sharing tales of heart wrenching violation and misguidance. It became apparent that there was much distrust towards ‘Men’s Nation’, especially, with his capacity to contain the great rage accumulated over the generations that the feminine had burning begging to be relieved yet without a safe place for it to go.

What I hadn’t appreciated before attending this course however, was how confusing and upsetting it also is for our men in our world today. In a world with industrialised ideas of ‘what it is to be a man’ with the numbing of human emotion, along with the backdrop of war, competition and destruction, no wonder there’s much confusion. And having sat in circle, sharing our truths on the subject we witnessed the dynamics playing out as we interacted with one another. We could see how women also played a role in the great divide. Women at times did not hear men and even shut them down while displaying behaviours counter to what we might consider feminine in nature such as nurturing receptivity. So I left five days of inquiry feeling incredibly compassionate towards ‘Men’s Nation’ and incredibly aware of the roles women play in enacting the divide between the two.

Pat McCabe explained the ‘devices of deception’, how one day she saw how we had been tricked into believing in a separation between these polarities and furthermore, pitched against one another creating mistrust within the relationship. A sense of clarity has since found me able to better discern when these devices come into play and practicing, to the best of my ability, non-involvement and compassion with full consideration for all I have learnt and humbly recognising my own prejudice. I have found my personal journey to wholeness requiring me too to reconcile the masculine and feminine energies within me. What the future holds for humanity however remains to be seen, but as we prayed for in the depths of our sweltering womb; I hope it will be supporting our togetherness in wholehearted relationship, co-creating a world that serves our planet as well as one another.

22 December, 2016

chasing freedom

I have not really written much this year. It's been one of those years all round it seems and energies have gone else where, so hello reader, welcome! Here, I've been learning, growing and learning to enjoy the journey I'm on. As someone who is known for loving her freedom; the expansive open road, the spontaneous fluidity of travelling to the song of my heart, I've surprised myself recently.

I moved to London this year. Started to establish a business here, teaching yoga and running workshops. I've been in a relationship with my partner Jack for long enough to break through the 'honey moon period of wishful thinking' and I am training in Kundalini Yoga. It's been a landing process and one adapts even to London. Nevertheless I look at this and a part of me wonders how on earth did I get settled? How did the free spirited single lady world traveler appear in a city such as London and then tend to general domesticated life chores and not freak the hell out?!

Something occurred to me that I thought to share. My initial ideas of freedom were tied up in ideals around 'doing what I want, when I want' mentality that this attitude was a manifestation of freedom. In hindsight - though grateful to have explored it - I was immature. What I've learned about freedom, in my experience, is that true freedom starts internally.

It is the freedom to be me; without fear, without self-doubt.

Embodying my true self, without living (or buying into) a limiting box of social expectation is for me, freedom. Some of the most inspiring people I have met on the road have been confidently themselves in all their zany, beautifully honest and quirky ways. Their creative energy emanates freedom; free expression without judgement or frankly care for being anyone but themselves.

There are ways in which people are expected to behave and often rightly so (the kids might run amuck!). But nevertheless I encourage everyone to find their avenue for expressing themselves completely. As wildly - albeit safely - as they wish! Repressing emotions I've learned can lead to depression, disease and even illness. So journal, write, dance, sing, paint, converse and love yourself all the way through.

But most of all, just be you.

Jess x

Props to Rob Campbell who dropped me the line 'keep being you' along while ago. I got it Rob.

30 November, 2016

be the change

Sculpture by street artist Isaac Cordal, which has been dubbed "Politicians Debating Global Warming."
As we cultivate our life, our beauty becomes much more about what we are creating and doing than it is about our appearance. Having moved to London recently, after 8 years or so overseas, I've adjusted to a very different world here. I've had moments of 'burgh London' and all the bias I've had with life in the big city. Nevertheless I have very thankfully maintained a fairly balanced lifestyle, healthy food, regular yoga practice, soul fulfilling projects and had time for friends and family. However, city life overall seems hectic to me.

And yet this is life for most of our planet. Urbanisation is a growing trend and learning how to foster a conscious community here is essential for our survival. I wonder a lot on how these concrete hubs will evolve. Cities are pretty new in human evolution, they're organisms that were founded upon industrialisation, productivity and capitalisation. How does one create a lifestyle that is sustainable remaining honourable and supportive to life here? How can we create a community that is real, tangible, empathetic and humanly connected beyond Facebook / Instagram / Snapchats / Whatsapps and Whatnots? How do we make empowered choices on our well-being in a system that doesn't encourage us to live healthily? GDP aligns with waistlines. War is good for business. Our money system benefits from people's poor health.

So these are questions that concern the philosopher in me.

Recently after an evening of feeling overwhelmed by the outside world's cries notably after the presidential elections and integrating 'the world is coming to an end' and what that feels like in my nervous system (something like: "OMG OMG OMG!!!"). I had a big fat reminder to take full responsibility for creating beauty in my life. 

I see the world order as mostly unfair, elitist and cognitively manipulative. And the politicians are fighting to keep it propped up as people wake up to the Truth and see through the lies and insanity. 

Change can hurt like hell, growth pains and can scare the crap out of anyone but being stuck hurts a whole lot more. How many more species does this planet need to lose? What happened to the eco-system? In marched man made ego system.

So this microcosm of Jess orbit is consciously focusing energies on creating healthy and nurturing spaces, projects and experiences in the service of life from the inside out. It's a process after a really gritty year. So besides therapy, yoga, meditation, healthy eating and studies, I'm creating beauty where I can to nurture the soul, express my heart and liberate my mind. It's a huge shift from scarcity and fear to abundance and faith. Like I said, it's a process and I'm learning.

Below are some projects on my radar. I invite you to consider supporting them too:
  • Standing Rock - What greater metaphor for the way in which our system is failing us than to see how sacred lands and waters are having to be protected by peaceful protestors led by indigenous tribes. USA's oil addiction looks to fuel the destruction of life and hope. This could be us all one day.
  • Fund a learning centre in Guatemala - getting children out of poverty through education. This is a really special and inspiring project.
  • Support The Dreamflag Project // Cloud Cloth - uniting children's dreams through creativity from around the world. A community that keeps the dream alive.
  • The Venus Project - The future! An organisation that proposes a feasible plan of action for social change.
  • Circular Economy - an enterprise sharing insights on how to design products and solutions with the view of abundance and sustainability. Recycling waste and efficiency models. A circular economy!
  • Snowflake the Last Lost Polar Bear - a children's book sharing the tale of baby polar bear Snowflake and his journeys through melting ice caps addressing climate change and his hearts tale from fear to love. Kickstarter coming soon. Please do get in touch if you'd like to back it.
  • Schumacher College - an international centre for nature-based education, personal transformation and collective action.
  • The Shanti Space Yoga & Meditation Classes - I'm on a mission to peace out London! I've started teaching yoga & meditation for body, mind and soul. Reach out for class details at my mini 'studio come ashram' in Fulham:
"Be the change you wish to see in the world" - Good old Gandhi.
Suggested reading:
The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible by Charles Eisenstein

15 September, 2016

growing out of gossip

Blogosphere. Well. It's been a while... and well I've needed a little break.

However I’ve found myself recently, as I make a little bumpy landing back into the UK after living overseas for 9 years, needing to share, connect and commune. I'm slowly settling into a big city known as London. Never would I have guessed that this would be my place, I'm already dreading winter, but I am happy to see my old friends, bring all my inspirations home and create a beautiful holistic centre with my beloved partner, Jack. And well, I am seeing this city in a new light which is great! (old post: Sydney vs London - prob very out of date).

There are some deeply engrained programs in this old country. Having stepped away and done as much work as I can to date to relieve my psyche from a lot of deep conditionings (via yoga, meditation, therapy etc), some are so glaringly obvious and well, I have seen way too much to cower. I am determined to keep the magic alive!

The one behaviour I want to shine a light on is gossip. I’ve not felt what gossip feels like since I was a teenager at school. I remember being sat in my art class and the table of girls were bitching about a close friend of mine, Vicky. I vaguely remember flagging it as inappropriate and speaking to Vicky about it afterwards. I had a friendship group at High School that was founded on openness, honesty and integrity and see what a treasure that was. We tended to speak directly to one another, even when it was a little uncomfortable. 

What I returned to see, very clearly when I came back to the UK this Summer, is how much people care about how others perceive them, how their family / career / status represents them and what people might say. Very quickly I found myself standing in those shoes and feeling absolutely exhausted from the vulnerability and weight - that is a lot of disempowering and distracting mental upkeep. 

Yet in a society where our media system is driven by the superficiality of celebrity gossip and ‘eye catching’ news (given eye-balls equate to media sales), I can see how this paradigm has woven itself into the fabric of our social behaviour. It serves the machine.

When I found myself entangled in a story that had me the focus of gossip I got to experience first hand how this energy can wrap itself around ones being, bringing about a sense of unease and feeling unfairly, dare I say the word, judged. I found solace in a sense of ‘rising above’ and deeply honouring and reconnecting with myself. That and yoga. And I suppose if anyone else has felt this low vibrational buzz kill, coming from or towards them, they’ll appreciate how cyclical it can be.

In ancient texts it is said that gossip is like a death sentence, for your character is assassinated before you have a chance to represent yourself. If one cannot represent themselves without encountering prejudice they feel wounded by the environment and which disallows their ability to experience being more than what they are perceived as: they will be limited by the concepts of those who focus from a lower part of themselves.

Character assassination is one of the most degrading activities that we will encounter as human beings. As a humanity we have become familiarised so extensively with gossip that this familiarisation brings the practice into so-called 'normality'. This state of affairs is so far removed from power that by mere association, in terms of acceptance of this phenomenon, we are being programmed to be desensitised to the greater part of ourselves (that and its inherent manipulation).

How do we all rise above in a habitually externally focused society? For me, I simply bowed out and have promised myself to have the courage to voice when gossip comes my way or put a stop to sharing opinions or stories that defames another's character. That and trusting my intuition when someone's behaviours, as my Dad would say, 'smells off' and discerningly step away.

What makes me feel sad is how much we miss out on getting to know one another as we play blind guessing games, marrying people to a limited perception of them and not encouraging them to blossom into their greatest expressions of life. I know I am not alone on that one. 

So I write this for the sisterhood because I find girls especially, using their innate tool of communication (that was once used to point out the dangerous mushrooms and the fruitful bounties) gossip, holding us all back from connecting deeply from a place of openness. Like my Canadian friend Evette would say "What's with British girls bringing each other down? Sisters big one another up!" My feeling is, if we want to see a more balanced world, we must take a big honest look at ourselves, our behaviours and see what it is we are really nourishing within us.

Is it Truth...? Or is it drama? 

23 April, 2016

you dream, I dream, together we dream

In 2011 while trekking through the Himalayas of Nepal with my friend Steph Reynard, we met Jeff. Actually first we met incredible flags describing children's dreams on them around a local school at nearly 4000m altitude. And it won our hearts.

We interviewed Jeff back then and he won our hearts too and since, life on the road has enabled me to become a more practical supporter of the project and put more energy in to what I feel is one of the great examples of how we can all contribute to a better world for our children.

I feel very grateful for Jeff's friendship and humbled to know someone so committed to creating a platform that empowers children to dream a better world for themselves, to walk the path of their hearts truth and enable Schools to help prepare students to be part of a world they WANT to be part of.

I am a big fan and hence, would like to share a short exchange I had with Jeff on the project and its expansion in to the digital realm (with this Kickstarter campaign), enabling a shared dream, bringing dreamers together in an increasingly digital world.

What is the Dream Flag Project?

The Dream Flag Project is an invitation for students to reach into their hearts, to find what Langston Huges calls their "heart melody," to write about it, often in poetry, to put that on a standard sized piece of fabric, make it sing with color, attach it to a line with others, and share it with the world.
That's the simplicity of the project and the reason it's travelled so far and so deeply--around the world, into innner cities, into remote villages, all over. But at a deeper level, The Dream Flag Project is a path for bringing dreams back into the classroom for a better world.

What does that mean?

It means that when you look at the way education used to work, at least in America and much of the world, "the dream" was to do well in school, get the opportunties that afforded, and "do better" than your parents--to have a material life that's fuller and materially easier. It may or may not have ever been true, but it was a motivating dream for many. And it doesn't work anymore. Students do well in school, go to college, and can't find jobs. They have fewer opportunities than their parents, not more.
The old system was built on a model of continuous growth, a stockmarket that always increases in value. Greater GDP every year. Continuous economic expansion. And, as Jane Goodall tries to point out to everyone who will listen, that doesn't work in an ecosystem. It's a recipe for disaster--a recipie for death.

And The Dream Flag Project? Making stuff out of fabric and hanging it? Where does that fit in?

The Dream Flag Project brings a different kind of dream back into the classroom. It brings a "we dream." It's fundamentally a group experience. Students, inspired by the poems of Langston Hughes or whatever else their teachers provide, are invited to articulate their dreams. Some are simple--like having a chicken on a Dream Flag from a village in Madagascar.  Some are poignant -like the wish for a cure for Alzheimer's from a student I taught this year who lost her grandpa to that disease. Many are global, like the a Dream Flag from a village in western Russia about hoping that people will be kind everywhere or for an end to wars. But all are linked to a line, done in a group, and connected to each other. As in powerful poetry, it's the metaphor of the project that carries the impact. Connecting to others. Knowing you're not alone in your dream.
As it says on our Kickstarter site, "Schools should help prepare students to be part of a world the WANT to be part of. The Dream Flag Project already helps students to imagine that world. DreamLine will help them make it their reality."


Through network and connection, the greatest single benefit we have from the sytem of technology that's part of all of our lives. Connection to others who share a dream, brings strengh and potential for real change. So it's a very open forum. And it's in schools, not outside of schools. That means it's safe for children. The teachers are in charge of making it a safe space through moderated exchange.

What will happen if we create this global network of teachers and students around the world who share dreams?

We don't know. And that's a great thing. Starting The Dream Flag Project, we just invited teachers to have their students take part in a simple process of Dream, Create, Connect, and Share. It's an open framework that's been taken in so many directions, places, and extensions, we never could have anticipated them. In today's educational world, everyone wants to know about outcomes. Like children are being processed and we can predict what we'll turn them into. Like any organic growth process, the outcomes are not completely predictable. We're not machines. Yay! But the growth that comes from connections has tremendous potential to instigate positive change.

It's very simple really. When you look at hundreds and hundreds of Dream Flags, or thousands and thousands, not one, not a single one, zero--say they dream of wiping out all of the so-and-so's or beating everyone in a war. They're about health, about safety, about prosperity. And they're about peace and fairness and harmony. When you create a global way to help children see those goals as tenable, and when they have a structure that supports small actions toward them, who knows what will happen.

So we want to bring dreams BACK into the classroom--but for a better world, for a we-dream.

Please pledge your support for DreamLine here.

20 March, 2016

going for gaia

Earlier this year I went to a special place tucked up in the jungles of Thailand. A place immersed deeply in nature called Gaia Ashram that welcomes students from around the world to learn and grow together in alignment with nature.

Gaia Ashram hosted 25 of us and with inspiringly talented teachers and facilitators we dug deeper in to the learning’s of the land. We were empowered with practical knowledge that enabled us all to live a more sustainable lifestyle free from the dependency we have on unnatural resources and the short cuts of the modern age which rely heavily on toxic substances, that consequentlypollute our lands.

On my journey, I am again and again awestruck by Nature and am grateful for the practices that have connected me deeply with her / it. I know there are some who see and advocate for a better alignment of our collective energies with the planet and the one organism we are all a part of.

What I experienced at Gaia Ashram was more than an internship. While we trained in practical ways to build and grow organically and learned how to sustain and support life; it was also an opportunity to go more deeply in to the unwavering truth within that recognises itself in nature. Realising this oneness nurtures a very genuine care for life on this planet. I still smile to myself when I remember my friend Pasang, a Tibetan monk who would pick the beetles from the path as we trekked through the Himalayas. So divine to see such a care for life.
For the first two weeks we studied Natural Building learning how to create structures from the materials of the land. It was so awesome to realise that one can build bricks and mortar simply from combining the plasticity of clay found in the earth mixed with sand to give it structure. In a beautiful way it was like building a giant sandcastle as we collaborated in a mud pit, made bricks and built walls (and a pizza oven!) out of all the materials available on site. There were no masks and lots of muddy hands!
The days were long, starting at 5.45am for meditation and yoga before breakfast followed by the day’s offerings of Personal Empowerment Workshops and Natural Building. Our international group; zany, honest and beautiful, over time gently opened up and the masks slowly faded away as we got more and more vulnerable and real together. It was so refreshing.
We learned how to work together in a community, the responsibility of honouring time and energy of others and the challenging recognition that community living is no walk in the park. That there can be an abundance of triggers; that some people get upset if there’s sugar in their breakfast and that others just don’t want to play in the group and that it is all ok. It is not a common experience in Western society to have so many people living so closely together and I feel I have more empathy for the families that live on top of one another in the East or in the shanty towns I saw in South America.
What amazed me was how such a large group of people were able to reconcile - if not appreciate - their differences while practicing non-violent communication (aka 'Compassionate Communication') void of the notoriously disempowering finger point when expressing feelings in a group setting. We encouraged one another to take full responsibility for our choices and yet there was an embracing honesty and accountability. It fascinated me to watch our humanity unfold in this shared intimate space and while I was there to learn more practical teachings so I can build my own sustainable empire one-day; these lessons were undoubtedly invaluable.
The second two weeks had us in the garden planting organic vegetables, creating compost, natural pesticides and veggie patches. Surprisingly I found the garden to be a very welcome retreat from all the activity going on and I loved offering my time and energy to pulling out weeds (very liberating!) while creating a stunning mandala pebble path to beautify the space. I tapped in to the inner gardener in me and am excited to devote more time to crafting edible gardens in the future rather than putting energy in to the supermarket giants and some pretty horrific farming practices.

Deep Ecology lectures and workshops asked us to look at the world and humankinds place within it. How we are behaving on a collective scale and what practical steps one may wish to take to realign with nature and the sustainability of our planet. It was not always easy and through Joanna Macy’s processes we went deep in to honouring the pain of Nature, something Western society feels very uncomfortable with even expressing let alone honouring. These practices were however empowering as we also committed to offering more to the care of our planet.
But what of this for you dear reader? Well, I don’t know if you are with me or not, but I need to be honest about my feelings on how we really treat the planet and ultimately ourselves. I wouldn't say I was anymore perfect than the next person, but I continue persistently to try and learn how to tread lightly and live life with sobriety, implementing energy thoughtfully considering all I have learned.
It’s been a pretty humbling process and not something I expected to find myself doing when I chose to leave corporate life for world explorations.

To completely embody our true nature we must develop a greater awareness, honesty and responsibility for our inside worlds and a gentleness with that. To see the self-limiting beliefs and behaviours that can be deeply embedded in the psyche and drop the masks worn to protect bottled fears inside. I cannot begin to tell you how liberating and expansive that process is but perhaps witnessing my travels around the world might reflect that to you; Anything really is possible. Which is why I remain hopeful.

I hope that the world we create together will reflect a deep compassion, care and practice that is in alignment with the rhythms of nature and to have care - if not reverence - for Nature’s great unifying spirit. 

Interesting article:

Great TED Talk 'Life is Easy. Why do we make it so hard':

16 February, 2016

a loving touch for nepal

Many of us might remember the devastating news in late April, when the forces of nature shook the Earth, and Nepal, home of the worlds greatest mountains, felt the impact of a force 8 earthquake. Thousands died. Many more were injured and many homes of the capital city and ancient Kingdom of Kathmandu were brought to the ground. That was the first earthquake. May 10 there was a great aftershock in the Himalayas, further destroying the nation.

Ruined rooftops in Baktipur, Kathmandu
Suffice to say 2015 was a challenging year for Nepal. The Earthquake and the destruction of many people's homes and national monuments was one thing. Mourning the loss of loved ones deeply, was another. But adding to the very unsettling Earthquake has been the loss of jobs, a long monsoon season, political upheaval and the current fuel crisis - stemming from the Indian blockade of the border - which has taken many vehicles off the road, stopped children getting to school, and inhibited food and gas resources.

I had planned a trip to Nepal with a group of yogis in May, however the expedition was soon cancelled, and when my Dad said to me, 'remember the deal Jess - I go before you,' I cancelled my flights, hoping to come and visit when the time was appropriate.
Teaching the team 'marma points' for Ayurvedic Face Massage
Six months later I was invited to volunteer at Vajvarahi clinic, run by a Tibetan Buddhist foundation in a small remote suburb of Kathmandu. So I recently made my way back to Nepal, dedicating time to nourishing the inner worlds of the Nepali people after a challenging time for the country.
Life is hard here in Nepal, especially at the moment, in the wake of the earthquake and in the clutch of a 3 month border blockade without signs of abating. As the weather turns colder and colder I wonder how many will get through the winter ahead. Many patients I treat have lost their homes and are living in tin huts with no blankets, having lost all their possessions. Many patients too have symptoms that manifested themselves at the same time as the earthquake, no doubt due to the fear, anxiety and trauma it caused. For me the greatest positive to take from the experience has got to be the people. With so many problems a-foot and times so hard, and with some in so much pain, everyone still has a smile on their face. The Nepali people are the most friendly and warm hearted I have ever met, with such resilience and humility.
The local monks
The clinic is a simple small concrete building next to a gompa, home to many young monks. It was here I met with four other international volunteers; acupuncturists, herbalists and massage therapists, working side by side in a treatment room. Each morning we would wake up for morning yoga on the rooftop to watch the sun rise over the foggy city, share breakfast and chai, and begin a long day treating local patients.
Jack Weaver treating a patient
'My time at the clinic came to an end last week, so throughout the week I was saying goodbye to the patients that I had been treating for over a 3 month period. The whole experience has been invaluable to me. Patients only have to pay 15 rupees per treatment (the equivalent of 80 pence) this means they return again and again and aren't put off by the cost of a treatment as in the West. We therefore see some patients as much as 2 times (sometimes 3 depending on the severity of their condition) a week. "Seeing patients on such a regular basis has really allowed me to experience which treatment strategies and point combinations are most effective for particular situations," explained my friend Jack Weaver, acupuncturist at the clinic. As a volunteer I was offering Ayurvedic Massage Therapy along with Yoga to the patients. I was so amazed by how much of a difference it made to them. It humbled me to be reminded of how nourishing human touch can be, how restorative and healing it is to really move and ease some of those knots and tensions that the body can hold on to. Seeing the lovely Nepali faces after a gentle relaxing massage really touched my heart.
Practicing yoga at the mountain nunnery
One of the highlights of my time volunteering was our visit to Nagi Gomba, the nunnery, which was an adventure. The nunnery is tucked in the hillside of the mountains that tower over Kathmandu. It's a beautifully magical place, basked in sun and prayer flags while surrounded by pristine jungle. It's got an amazing energy as it hovers above the smog- ridden capsule of the Kathmandu valley. After our bones had been rattled around for a couple of hours, the jeep dropped us there and Annie Sonam (the nun in charge) greeted us as we organised our schedule over the coming week. Every morning we welcomed the sun with the nuns in yoga classes and dynamic meditation. Coming from yoga, it brought me such deep appreciation to share some gentle yoga movements and breathing exercises with these peaceful and happy ladies. While we couldn't speak the same language we seemed to connect on a level of understanding that had us all in a fun flow together. After the morning yoga class we opened a small clinic to treat the nuns with acupuncture and massage therapy.

The whole experience of volunteering with Vajravarahi Clinic was one of the most heart warming I have ever had. It reminded me that even in the most challenging times of our human experience, in the depths of grief, loss and pain, we can find ourselves again, and that there is a ray of grace found in the little things - the kind gestures and acts of thoughtfulness - that take us out of ourselves in support of one another. The ancient scriptures of the East speak much of the microcosm of a person's inner world; how from this place we can heal and emanate the wholeness of our being to the macrocosm of our planet. One thing we all can do is nourish our inner worlds, create balance, and calibrate our internal systems so that perhaps, when we reach out beyond our own little worlds and the limiting conditions of upbringing, and when we remove the warm cosy coat of culture, we might connect to another and speak in a language of the heart to those around us, inspiring balance, nourishment and ultimately healing and wholeness for us all.

Special thanks to Candice Quartermain of Circular Economy and Jeffrey Harlan of The Dream Flag Project and family, for their kind and generous support for this project.

01 December, 2015

ashram life in mother india.

'Meditation allows you to still the mind, look at it objectively, and see which of the mental contents are useful and which are not. By watching the modifications of the mind and by looking at their source, you can clearly see what kind of impressions have been depositied in to you're mind field'

It is 6.30 and the sun is just starting to come up. The beautiful Indian Pranayama teacher is sharing his wisdom from the ancient traditions of Indian yoga. He lives an ashram life and his whole being glows and lights up the room. I am humbled and equally tired as I peal myself out of bed each morning, transcending my fierce resistance to alarm clocks in order to meditate to the mountains and allow the sun to rise and glow through the window panes reflecting off my plain weary face.

Here I am in the inspiring town of Rishikesh, India. The home and mecca for all things yoga. Where spiritual seekers have been traveling to for many years on their transcendental journeys and devotional pilgrimages. It was common and still is for many men here, once they'd served their duty as a householder, husband and father, to renounce their material possessions in order to achieve higher levels of spirituality and consciousness here. Babas (hindu for 'innocent'), the spiritual men, donne their bright orange loin cloths and walk around barefoot asking for alms.  So there's a mysterious energy in the air, uplifting and almost tangible one can taste the nectar of liberation as one gazes meditatively on the infamous Ganga that washes through the valley.

While India has a way of lifting the spirit so high one hardly touches the ground, she can also take you to the dark depths of your soul. It could be the gruelling schedule I have of 6am meditation followed by an hour and a half of Ashtanga before breakfast, that and the pouring of salt water through my nostrils, lack of sugar in my diet or the tangible distance I have from my nearest and dearest, I don't know, but the emotions have been riding high and I am learning to watch and breathe through them and ground in the routine here. Cultivating a practice the yogis call compassion and understanding while watching how this process takes one a little deeper, moves the inner world to bring up to the surface what impressions are ready to be felt, accepted and surrendered.

Seeing the dogs on the street hungry and uncared for really upset me; it was a challenge not to get entangled. I have found taking action a way of channelling this upset in to something more hopeful. Hence the other day a friend and I were feeding a little street puppy biscuits and leaving some with the local shopkeeper to take care of the innocent little life. And then there is the begging and the dirt that one encounters when walking through market towns in India. A poor old man without limbs who looked like he was just waiting to die broke my heart. I give what and when I can but well, it's challenging to see on our planet. Sometimes I think we don't know how lucky we are.

Then as I am all too familiar with in this country, there is of course India's magical gift of inspiration and awe. The light on the river at sunset glows rays of pinks and golds. Poetry flows through me with a hint of romantic tenderness. The Himalayan air is so crisp and clear. And I love the food and the opportunity to get tactile with it, dipping my finger tips in to touch each morsel before it reaches my mouth. Only with my right hand though. Left hand is exclusively for nether regions post squat  so I am training myself not to touch my face with it in front of Indians. Unless I want to be naughty. Then I lick my left hand fingers, ha!

The beauty of living in an ashram is that there is routine, discipline and seclusion. Morning meditation one watches the sunrise and my classes are filled with so much insight and challenge. I chose to do a yoga teacher training course because I felt ready. Life on the road has been very much supported by a meditation and yoga practice. For a while I felt like I had broken up with yoga, reluctant to get on my mat, resistant to my own practice and stuck in old patterns. It took some gritty gruelling times and a lot of self care to humbly step back in to a committed practice and being at an ashram practicing twice daily certainly empowered me to dive a little deeper in to the ancient healing art form.

I feel endlessly humbled and try to remember that this is a practice and not to compare where I am in my downward dog to others. One sometimes forgets to appreciate how far they have come. Sometimes it has been self-limiting beliefs that have entrapped and yoga certainly teaches me to gentle move beyond. My philosophy teacher is also a psychologist, which I love relating to and the lofty spiritual concepts can ground in science - to some extent - and understanding. Beyond theory I am getting my backside worked of course. Bridges, head stands, sweaty salutations to the sun and the moon. I am taller folks! I feel like I have extended by an inch which serves me well as such a pocket size person.

Last Friday we had bhajans, recited mantras sang from the heart with lots of clapping and dancing. You know the ones? Those skin-headed dudes you will see in gowns on the underground chanting away. The teacher said to us "This is a time for you and God, to express your love completely unafraid" so I donned my bright pink sparkly sari and danced full throttle, I even pulled out the funky chicken and some break dancing moves which weren't so sari friendly but it was nevertheless ecstatic and joyous.

The group here are from around the world and life here could easily become a spiritual sitcom with various characters and expressions. We have got the proverbial die hard seeker who has read every spiritual teaching going, blended them, confused himself and is desperate to meet his guru to achieve enlightenment. The shanti chic who lives in Hollywood and all she owns is a bed (I really dig this girl actually), a few off the wall types buzzing in another dimension that they seem to only glare at you as they download a plethora of information which speaking English requires too much energy so they float on by, there is an awesome shamanic lesbian called Mia who burned spots on my leg the other day, doused the wound with frog poison (Kambo) which made my face swell up and my insides release everything within it. I was ready for it but am in no hurry to medicate myself again with this ancient indigenous concoction - although it did cure my cold (dear parents thank you for being so open minded). There is a lovely man from Bolivia who described jumping in to the river 'like taking a chocolate' in his latin accent which made our hearts melt. Soft reserved types, open hearted and playful types, crazy spiritual and grounded and real. So far just sitting and chatting with people here has been one of the most interesting highlights and in our togetherness we grow.

And then there is my roomie. Chloe Barber. My notorious rival at school and the only person besides my brother I have had a physical fight with only to be peaced out with an offering of conkers and marbles. We were 10 after all. I love that The Universe has reunited us here of all places. She is a cool London lady now, classy and elegant with a hilariously provocative sense of humour. 'I am so hungry, I could eat a cow' she said as we walked in to the dining hall the other day. Cows are holy in India. People just don't eat cows. I am really happy to have her company here and she keeps me in check and not too away with the fairies. As much as I love them.

And so that is me folks. A month of yoga teacher training in an ashram of the Himalayas loving life and all its textures while growing, laughing and healing along the way. I will continue to share my yoga practices with friends and family, perhaps over time more and more to the wider community as I nurture the inner Buddha and slowly master an asana or two.

Hari Ommmmmmsssss
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