When you do that one thing…

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This isn’t my apartment (source: http://www.ofdesign.net)

Quite a few years ago I returned to Melbourne after a student exchange placement in Sarawak. It had been jungle walks, laksa and a cursory glance at some text books for the best part of six months.

When I got home I suffered a terrible bout of reverse culture shock that took me by surprise. As soon as I got off the plane I was annoyed by everything. The immigration and customs officials at the airport was so Aussie, as though hired right out of Summer Bay – blonde spiky hair and bouncy ponytails. The voice over on the airport bus boasted about “Melbourne’s secret lane ways and bars”. The meal sizes in restaurants were so HUGE. Who on earth needed to eat so much in one sitting? Everyone seemed so insular and self-satisfied.

The worst thing though…all anyone would talk about was real estate and renovations. UGH! What happened to people being interesting?

I’ve just had three weeks away from the office and I spent that time at home, unpacking and decorating my new apartment. It didn’t even cross my mind to take an international (or even domestic) holiday. I pottered around and tested paint samples on the bathroom wall.

Reflecting on how much has changed in the last decade, it’s not so much the nesting that surprises me, but that I allow myself to enjoy it. That I feel OK about being someone who cares about real estate and renovations. I don’t take it very seriously. It actually feels like a hobby – something I do for the joy of it (and I really do derive joy from arranging furniture).

My 20s were filled with adventure and fun and expansion. I felt so overwhelmed by everything I didn’t know, but I was sure I wanted to keep travelling and adventuring and not becoming someone who talks about real estate and renovations. Now, to the great surprise of my younger self, my 30s are shaping up to be filled with a lot more peaceful moments of joy than I ever experienced in the jungles of Borneo and most of them are happening right at home.

Forgot about my soul

Sunday is a good day to tend to your soul.

Today Beck, MJ and I went to IKEA which was not an activity designed to calm the soul, but it did. I bought plants for no reason and Beck advised it was because I was trying to mend my soul. She was right.

I got burgled this week, and my laptop was stolen. I didn’t think I minded that much, but I guess in amongst a challenging week, it wore me down.

I got home this afternoon with thoughts of another challenging week ahead and I decided to proactively start preparing for it. I took some notes, tried to solve problems using my brain, and realised I needed to keep soothing my soul.

So I watched Maya Angelou in conversation with Oprah . I heard everything i wanted and needed to hear. So I kept watching and heard more wisdom from John Mackey of Wholefoods. They both gave me the advice I needed for any challenging week. Have courage, follow your own compass, tend to your soul.

As I listened to Maya Angelou I started thinking about an important letter I was half way through writing. I started to feel inspired to keep working on it.

Then I remembered that it was on my laptop and it was gone. It’s just a letter – I can write it again. But I finally felt sad that my laptop was stolen. I’m sad that I’ve lost a lot of years worth of writing and photos and diligently collected music and podcasts.

It’s important to tend to your soul, even if it’s just so you can realise it’s sad.

I quit coffee

Towards the end of last year I was drinking two to three cups of coffee (espresso from a cafe = strong) per day. Way too much.

I cut right back on the coffee intake over Christmas and since 2014 began (three days ago) I haven’t had a single cup. I feel AMAZING. I was trying to figure out how I could keep up this new behaviour, knowing full well that relying on willpower alone would see me sink back into old habits as soon as someone said ‘Want to come for a coffee?’

I was reading Jason Fox’s great piece on rewording yourself in 2014 and the value of rewarding yourself for good work done. It struck me – to successfully keep coffee out I needed to go big with the goal and the reward.

In 2014, I will not drink a single cup of coffee. Not even decaf.

This isn’t going to be easy. Coffee is almost a religion in this town (and on this university campus). About 80% of my meetings are held in cafes. My colleagues and I bond over early-morning coffee, mid-morning coffee, sneaky afternoon coffee. I am surrounded by really good cafes serving really good coffee.

I am going to set up monthly rewards and half-yearly major rewards. All I know is that mid-year reward will probably be white and probably named after a piece of fruit.

A brief introduction to ashram life

mind your own business

Earlier this year I spent some time at an ashram in Kerala, India. I signed up for a two-week yoga vacation at the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram in Kerala, India.

One of the most appealing aspects of Sivananda is that it’s open to anyone who happens past and would like to visit. You don’t need an existing relationship with a guru and don’t need to align with rigidly scheduled visitor programs. Yoga vacations are run continuously, beginning on the 1st and the 16th of each month. The closer you time your visit to one of those dates, the better. But if you can’t, you’ll be okay.

The mission at the core of the Sivanada Yoga Vedanta centres is to spread peace, health and joy through yoga. The founder of the ashram, Swami Vishnudevananda visited the West in the 1950s with the aim of spreading the teachings of yoga throughout the world.

This ashram is all about yoga (how about fours hours of yoga per day) and open to beginners and advanced yogis alike. The ashram’s language of instruction is English and therefore is very popular with foreigners.

On entering the ashram you agree to follow the rules of the ashram, which includes participating in the ashram’s daily schedule:

Basic Ashram Schedule
0520 hrs WAKE UP BELL
0600 hrs SATSANG (meditation, chanting)
0730 hrs TEA TIME (lovely warm chai)
0800 hrs ASANA CLASS (Yoga)
1000 hrs BRUNCH (typical southern Indian food, minus the meat, fish, eggs, garlic and onion)
1100 hrs KARMA YOGA (selfless service)
1230 hrs COACHING CLASS (optional)
1330 hrs TEA TIME (more lovely warm chai)
1400 hrs LECTURE (on the five points of yoga – see below)
1600 hrs ASANA CLASS (more yoga)
1800 hrs DINNER (more typical southern Indian food, eaten in silence)
2000 hrs SATSANG (more meditation and chanting)
2200 hrs LIGHTS OUT

Other rules include (from the Sivananda website):

  • Karma yoga (selfless service) is an integral part of the daily schedule and provides an opportunity for guests to participate in the upkeep of the ashram. Guests are required to offer up to one hour of karma yoga per day, this helps in tuning to the energy of Swami Sivananda and Swami Vishnudevananda.
  • Guests may leave the ashram on the weekly day off. Guests should return in time for evening satsang. There are no lectures and coaching classes on the day off.
  • Smoking, alcohol, drugs, meat, fish, eggs, garlic or onions are not allowed. Pets are not allowed.
  • Mobile phones are not allowed and should be handed into reception upon arrival.
  • Photography, video, audio recording during classes and ceremonies is only permitted with the permission of the ashram director.
  • To respect the local culture and the monastic tradition, kindly restrain expressions of affection such as hugging or kissing in public. Guests are advised to observe celibacy (brahmacharya) as part of the spiritual discipline.
  • Male and female dormitories are separate. Men are not allowed in the ladies’ dormitory and vice versa.
  • Couples are not allowed to share rooms during Teachers Training Courses, Advanced Teacher Training Course, and Sadhana Intensive.
  • Guests are requested to observe silence during meals and between 10.30pm and 7.30am daily. Lights out after 10.30pm daily.
  • Guests behaviour and dress code should be respectful of Indian culture and enhance the spiritual atmosphere of the ashram. Observance of the ashram dress code should be maintained at all times including during asana classes or swimming in the nearby lake, pond or river. Nudity is forbidden. Men and women should cover the shoulders, midriff and legs. Tight fitting, transparent and revealing clothing is not permitted in the ashram.

The Sivananda ashram follows the five points of yoga, as described by Swami Vishnudevananda (the founder of the ashram):

  1. Proper Exercise (Asanas),
  2. Proper Breathing (Pranayama),
  3. Proper Relaxation (Savasana),
  4. Proper Diet (vegetarian),
  5. Positive Thinking (Vedanta) and Meditation (Dhyana).

The days at Sivananda are long, but the schedule is full so you don’t have enough time to get bored. At the same time, the schedule is relaxed enough that you don’t feel overwhelmed by it. One of the great joys for me in the ashram was to wake up in the morning and step calmly into the day – turning up where I was expected to turn up (it’s time for yoga, it’s time for a meal), until it was time for bed. There was no internal dialogue about what do to next, no weighing up the merits of different food or entertainment options, no frittering away time on twitter or watching TV. I just did what the schedule said to do and after two weeks I felt calmer, happier, stronger and healthier.

Although visiting an ashram is undoubtably a spiritual experience, and therefore not for everyone, I would feel comfortable recommending it many. There is no expectation within the ashram that you will adopt Hinduism or commit to a belief system. It is only expected that you will respect the religious practices that do go on there and follow the rules of the ashram that are designed to maintain a ‘spiritual atmosphere’.

Redemption on the Via Francigena

Walking the Via Francigena from Viterbo to Rome was one of the highlights of my trip.

Less well known and less well signed than the Spanish Camino, to walk the Via Francigena is a much quieter and solitary journey. Even on a quiet pilgrimage though, you can feel the spirits of the pilgrims who have walked before you.

Their spirits are especially palpable when they leave notes for you:

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I spotted this sign just outside Capranica.

…and this follow-up a kilometre later.

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The Via Francigena…It changes people.