- By Caitlyn Borowsky, Student & Karma Yogi
What have we been up to so far this Spring at Niwas?
Planting, dreaming and preparing Annapourna Garden.
We began this season with planting onion seeds in mid-February followed a few weeks later with a variety of flowers. So far, we are grateful to be nurturing four types of onions, three varieties of lavender, viola, lupins, ornamental oregano, two varieties of snap dragons, portulaca, asters, chilli peppers, and petunias. On the Piscean New Moon we sowed the seeds of basil and tomatoes, which will become delicious Niwas tomato sauce in the last weeks of Summer.
In addition to planting and tending to the seedlings, we are thoughtfully setting the garden and ourselves up for success for the growing season. We are not only tending to the Land in anticipation, we are also tidying up our own actions and energies to make space for the manifestation of abundance and beauty, so we may spend this next cycle offering from a place of simplicity and full-hearted love.
We are preparing the garden beds to hold and nurture new life by clearing the remnants of last year’s crops and using those remnants to feed the compost which will cycle back to the Earth. Currently, 'Niwas feels much like a space of transformation, regeneration and preparation. Personally, I am am feeling Spring’s frequency of optimism and opportunity, especially as I walk through Annapourna Garden, hearing and dreaming of the possibilities that are on the horizon.
The Awakening of Possibility and Opportunity
Although nothing truly dies in Nature, Spring does bring about a tangible experience of vitality and life compared to the quietude of Winter, where activity is slower and beneath the surface. We see new life emerging everywhere, from the fresh tips on the fir trees, geese making their way back home, and all of the onion and lavender seedlings thriving towards the Sun. We hear the various melodies of birdsong among the treetops where silence once hung, and we smell the aroma of pine sap beginning to ooze to the surface of their bark. The potentiality of this new growth would not be possible without the offering of what has come before.
At 'Niwas this regeneration is witnessed most tangibly via…compost! Last years' pea shoots, buckwheat stems and oat straw have been broken down and mixed with a generous amount of cow dung all winter to become a vibrant heap of nutrients for this years crops. This regenerative re-cycling shows us the opportunity of letting go of what has served its purpose and to utilize the breakdown of this ‘death’ to fuel what is to come, what is to be birthed and brought to life.
Today, in Annapourna Garden there is a sacred sense of vacancy and as I walk along the dormant strawberries and hibernating garlic, the crunch of fallen pinecones and the last remnants of snow beneath dirt covered boots treading where bare feet will soon dance again awakens a sense of joy and optimism within me. At first glance, the garden plots may appear bare and empty but if we take a moment to truly listen, we can sense the vast possibilities that await. Those rows of bare dirt and rotten leaves will soon be transformed into an environment bustling and blooming with calendula, cabbage, tomatoes, honeybees, pumpkin, foxgloves, lupins, chili peppers, and bushes heavy with raspberries and groundcherries. This is what I think of when I imagine explaining what 'Niwas feels like. A home for opportunity and growth and abundance for all living beings, not only reserved for Yogis but also for the insects, the dark eyed juncos and crows, chipmunks, goats and the plants themselves.
- Compiled by Chaitanya Chase
Dear, dear people. The stars and planets are aligning for the better good of humankind. Within Aquarius, one of the largest, oldest zodiac signs, two Rulers of the Ages will be aligning and lending their symbolic energies to the earth for the next year.
It has been one thousand, five hundred and eighty eight years since Jupiter and Saturn have met within the sign of Aquarius. Aquarius being the 10th largest zodiac sign, made up of thousands of stars, star clusters, nebula and other mysterious, heavenly bodies. Saturn will move into the sign December 17th and Jupiter on December 19th; their orbits lining up to within .1 degree making them appear like one bright and beautiful Winter Star for our Solstice and Christmas season. They will be on our southwestern horizon one hour after the sun is set.
Aquarius, the 11th sign in the zodiac, symbolizes the intellectual and social individual who cares deeply for community and humankind. The 11th House helps us to define the purpose to our existence and will push us towards humane activities and choices made that consider the well being of all humankind.
Famous astrologer, Charles Harvey wrote about the influence of the two planets converging: “These two planets used to be known, as the Great Chronocrators, or rulers of the ages. Their cycle can be considered the ground base of human development which marks the interaction between perception of ideas, potentialities, possibilities (Jupiter) and their manifestation in the concrete material world (Saturn).”
The two giants shall lend their powerful presents. Jupiter’s influence as limitless, enthusiastic, leaping forward energy while Saturn’s influence is described as conservative and stabilizing; a bit of a duality for us to balance out. As our beloved Shivani-ji has taught in her Satsangs and lectures on Yoga Ecology, nature will always seek out balance, and since we are all part of nature we will also know how to balance these two powerful energies. These energies are here to help us move forward into our destiny of working together to partner with each other, and the earth for the healing of all.
Just as in a forest, the larger trees send the nutrients to the smaller trees, so will humankind begin to use this profound energy from the stars and planets to heal and feed the weaker, undernourished parts of our our people and planet.
For more information on this beautiful new beginning, visit one of our favorite Astrologers, Roland Legrand as he describes what to expect during the last full moon in 2020.
- By Sannyasi Gyanhira
Yoga Ecology is beginning to take the spotlight as the next crucial role of Yoga in our evolution, health, happiness and survival as a species and planet. Together Yoga, often translated as "unity," and Ecology, defined as the relationship of organisms to one another and their physical surroundings, come together to indicate the mutually interconnected nature of ourselves with our fellow humans and the environment. For better or for worse, our actions, thoughts, desires, decisions, and feelings are impacting each other and the environment all the time.
When I think about what Yoga Ecology means to me, it ultimately comes down to a fundamental shifting of perspective from "Me" the self-centred individual to "We" the society and beyond, while also striving to find a healthy balance between the two. Helping our children to see and feel through the filter of "We" is going to be the task of today's parents to ensure that our children have a beautiful tomorrow. Yet, before we can help our children to think, see and feel as a "We," we parents have to do this internal work first. Because we know that our children often learn best by observing, and not by listening (at least that is the case with my kids!).
2020 has been a big year in terms of perceptual shifts. It's many challenges have forced us to acknowledge that we are all profoundly connected. Not just in theory anymore, but actually. Undeniably. Connected.
The rampant wildfires of 2020, among other events, have made a deafening announcement about our interconnectivity on this planet. The global warming that is taking place as a result of recent human activity has produced an exponentially more destructive wildfire season. The land has burned out of control, taking life, devastating ecosystems, and sending cloaks of thick, choking smoke around the globe, plummeting air quality in some parts beyond the worst rating available on the Air Quality Index. We quickly gained a new appreciation and value for what we most often took for granted: clean, breathable air.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also highlighted the truth of our profound interconnectedness in myriad ways, from our dependence on essential workers for our survival (think food, goods, medicine, vaccine development, healthcare), to the need of childcare and a healthy economy for employment, to the previously unnoticed and extraordinarily intimate connection between the breath of persons in near proximity, to the utter dependence upon others to put individual wants and desires aside to stay home and save lives. What's more, we have begun to notice that technology is not enough to connect us; Facebook, Instagram, Tinder, SnapChat, whatever platform it may be, is not enough. We NEED the real thing. We miss each other amidst the necessary lockdown and social distancing restrictions. We are longing for each other. At long last, we want to put the phone down, look up, take the ear buds out, turn the TV or video game off and be in each other's presence. For real. We find ourselves texting less and phoning, Zooming and FaceTiming our parents, grandparents and friends more. We want more of each other, not less.
Why is this value in one another increasing? We are recovering an appreciation for each other that had, for a moment, become lost in digital connection. We are remembering and appreciating how valuable the real human connection is. And recovering and nurturing this value in both each other and Nature is going to be key. These are the lessons we are learning in 2020 that may end up being our most important legacy to our children. Valuing. Appreciating. Conserving. Protecting. Sacrificing. Balancing.
In the end, we all win from a "We" perspective; the individual is part of the collective. The individual also lives among Nature, and is a part of Nature. If we all operate from a "Me" perspective, sooner or later there won't be enough for "We" anymore, and then it's only a matter of time until there is no longer enough for "Me." No man is an island, and the pandemic has shown us this. The wildfires have shouted this.
So, the question becomes, how can we embody this new appreciation of each other and the environment so that children, too, can imbibe and understand that we, and the environment, are not unlimited resources to be mined, and that we must remember to value, conserve and protect both each other and the environment by acting with the knowledge that we are dependent upon each other.
Oftentimes in affluent, first-world societies, it is easy to forget that the Earth has limited resources. Water, for example. We use it without a single thought of it ever running out and becoming unavailable. It is always there for us, and so we forget to appreciate our dependence upon it. Then, we fail to respect it, it loses value, and we waste it.
When I lived in Swami Niranjan's Yoga Ashram in India between the years 2012-2015, I learned a lot about Yoga Ecology that I am just realizing now. There was, in the Ashram, a very particular attitude toward water. It was valued and therefore treated with great respect. It was not wasted. I'll never forget when, during my first days in the Ashram, I was washing my plate after dinner and I turned the tap on and let it run while I soaped my dish when one of the Ashram residents came and turned the tap off, indicating to me not to waste the water. Until that moment, it had honestly never occurred to me in that context before. The same principal thing applied while brushing one's teeth: wet the toothbrush, turn the water off. Brush the teeth. Turn the water on again to rinse the toothbrush. But, do not let the water run while you are brushing your teeth. That is wasteful. And sometimes we did have to briefly go without water when the well ran dry or the power shut off, which helped foster a much greater awareness of our relationship and responsibility to one another to only take what we needed so there was enough left for someone else, as well as helped us to understand our real place and position within Nature. We need her, and yet we often do not even ensure that we protect those aspects of her which we need most for our own survival. The awareness just simply isn't there. Now, 5 years later back at home in Canada, I cannot leave the water running while brushing my teeth, washing a dish or washing my hands. When I see it happen, it makes me cringe. We practice saving water in our own household, among other efforts such as using a bidet to save toilet paper, and assigning our 3 year old the job of turning off all the lights before we leave the house. These are small attitudes and behaviours that we can exemplify to our children that make one thoughtful and can make a difference in how we view and treat each other and the Earth.
If we value, we do not waste. If we value, we protect, we sacrifice and we take great care, just as we do with our own children. The Earth is a kind of a mother, we need her gifts to sustain us. Yet, her health is often in our hands. We must build awareness of this unique relationship, and appreciate the reciprocal nature of it. Only then will we value each other and the environment, and find the balance between "Me" and "We" so that our children too can have a beautiful future for generations to come.
Pre-arrival shift and Ashram arrival
I began to feel a shift inside of me occurring days before my feet met with the soil of the Land that holds Ishtadev Niwas. There was a type of gravitational pull from deep inside my belly of all the sticky, story-filled, stale energy that I had been carrying around for what felt like multiple lifetimes. All of the insecurity and unworthiness now oozing to the surface of my skin, no longer able to hide in the dark corners where I had so strategically placed it. This is one representation of the potency of the energy that graces and envelops Niwas. An energy that creates the opportunity for deep purification and this is what I was being offered before I had even arrived — an opportunity to surrender the grief that coated the walls of my heart and to let go of all that I thought I was in order to create the space for the unfolding of my fullest potential.
I did not arrive for the residency with any prior experience or knowledge of Karma Yoga and Ashram life and it was definitely an adjustment on a systemic and spiritual level. I simply arrived curious with a feeling that this is where I am meant to be and I am safe here. There is a teaching that rippled throughout my residency — in order to receive we must OFFER FIRST. What I had to offer was sincerity, sweat (and tears!), and enthusiasm and from that offering I was absolutely, unexpectedly blessed in receiving an abundance of experiences, lessons, skills, and opportunities that my soul had been yearning for.
Ashram Life = Coming Home
My residency experience at 'Niwas felt like a coming home to a sacred space that I think most of us dream of living in — a space that expresses, practices and honours non-judgment, joy, beauty and love. Compared to the typical busy-ness and chaos of modern culture, the simplicity of living and studying at 'Niwas creates a yearned-for and very rare opportunity for reorientation. Reorientation from a state of purely self-infatuated thought forms and actions into a new state of consciousness focusing on, and embodying community, connection, service, reciprocity and humility. Living within the intimate embrace of Nature at the Ashram with the support of routine, accountability, Mantra, wholesome food and laughter creates the vibration for beautiful things to manifest. And I was blessed to experience this beauty during the time that I lived there.
Structure + Duties
Each day is held in the safety and supportive structure of routine: wake-up, Puja, Asana practice, breakfast, Karma Yoga, lunch, more Karma Yoga, chanting, dinner, sometimes more Karma Yoga, and then tea and sleep. From this sense of consistency a simplifying effect occurs. Since each day was relatively dependable, whatever arose was quite simply, entirely me. Any anger, sadness, joy, anxiety, grief, or bliss that was experienced was all arising from inside, whether consciously or not. This makes it effectively challenging to project blame onto anything or anyone external for what is being experienced…frankly that would be a misuse of valuable time and vital energy that would be much more productive in shaping bread or building a new hay shed… This simplification and clarity of the external environment created a spaciousness to witness oneself acutely without the obscurities and distractions that coat our perception in the ‘outside world’ that can make it challenging to understand the truth of the experience. At the Ashram, there is limited space or time for the enactment of our stories, allowing us the opportunity for simple awareness and purification, which can feel intimidating, intriguing and refreshing in one breath.
The Ashram is like an outspoken and compassionate friend that is your least and most favourite all at once. You may spend moments walking to your next duty cursing under your breath, but moments after you’re done throwing a fit to the trees (I am speaking from experience!), you come into a state of remembrance that although it feels like a face slap, it is done by a hand that unconditionally loves you and will never waiver in supporting you in helping you to clean your heart. As painful and uncomfortable as it might be, this is so you may blossom into your purest, most beautiful self. The veils are thin within Ashram and it’s not only the sticky, unsavoury stuff that becomes seen and wiped clean but all of the beauty, uniqueness, love, kindness and courage that we carry and embody is expanded, exposed and made easily accessible for us to experience and share with others.
During my time at 'Niwas, the focus of Karma Yoga duties revolved around tending to Annapoorna Garden and supporting Her growth (creating the possibility for her to support our growth in return!). Watering, weeding, listening, harvesting, witnessing and wildcrafting...these duties allowed me to observe, in awe, the beauty and balance that organically and cyclically culminates in the natural world. Also, to revere and revel in the bounty of the sacred that grows at our fingertips and beneath our feet — from seed to sprout, to fruit to food and to seed once again. As a keen gardener and an aspiring student of the plant world, I was certain I was in heaven.
The modern world, with everything so instantly accessible, tends to be so loud and dizzy and even green spaces are manicured and molded to convenience us. But Nature’s truth is raw, wild and pristine. She invites us to slow down, let go and to experience true freedom and to arrive into the abundance that surrounds us, that She provides us. She invites us to open our hearts by simply placing our hands in the soil. 'Niwas feels like a whole different world in this sense. I spent my days soaked in sunshine surrounded by wildflowers, honeybees and juniper bushes, walking through the garden barefoot hearing a soundtrack of chipmunks shrilling and chickadees singing each other their sweet songs. You might think, how could you possibly get hooked into the mind’s flat and redundant narratives when you’re surrounded by such magic? Well, because the mind has power, and we’re human with all sorts of messiness coming to the surface during Karma Yoga, but thankfully amongst the open, organic landscape of 'Niwas it is likely that you will be brought back into the present moment by the grace of a butterfly landing on a red clover next to where you’re weeding or by a thirsty sunflower in the midst of 35º August heat helping you to realize just how blessed you are to have the opportunity to recharge in the shade for a moment or to have a sun hat on your head…
One of the most potent lessons for me was from the Yoga Ecology teachings I was offered during residency — to learn how to truly listen. To soften into a state of absorption in order to be in right relationship with the natural world. A relationship of reciprocal nourishment, communication and gratitude in order to fully receive and integrate the loving messages that Nature offers us. Such as, the grasshopper encouraging you in your giant leaps forward and the honeybee’s reminder that in order to collect the sweet nectar, first we must be willing to do the work, that we cannot heal something we refuse to feel.
At 'Niwas, each system you interact with is arranged deliberately to require complete presence. No light switch or water tap is turned on without the awareness of where that source is coming from and what needs to be done or put in place for optimal operation and flow. This is another example of the opportunity granted to reorient outside of yourself, to practice full awareness of cause and effect and the interconnectedness between everything. Whether regarding generator fuel needed to run water to the gardens or caring for the goats and sheep so they can produce luscious fiber to make into wool for weaving items to keep the humans warm in the winter or minding the needs of the mounds of sweet corn so they may grow healthy and tall enough to support the bean stalks in their summer climb towards the Sun. Niwas provides ample opportunity for reorientation towards love. For us to restructure our intention towards serving the greatest good, creating a beautiful, sustainable, rhythmic spiral of care and nurturance for all beings and creatures.
I did not leave residency the same person I arrived as, not in the slightest. I have been revived with a new sense of hope and faith of how beautifully my life will unfold and I found a home that I am always welcome to come back to. Not only did I leave with far less hair on my head… but now my nervous system feels more stable (I experience a fraction of the anxiety I did prior), my heart feels open and ripe, my body is much stronger (mixing and kneading giant buckets of bread dough daily will do that for you) and I now know how to confidently a drill and know which screws are used for constructing a tin roof and the amount of water tomatoes and kakai pumpkins need in order to thrive.
I learned to enjoy the subtleties that surround me, like enjoying a cup of warm tea after an honest days work and how the Moon’s glow hugs the tips of the ponderosa pines. I now tread more lightly on the Earth where I walk, I say thank you to all I experience, and I offer before I receive. I learned how to love. And above all, this experience supported me to finally feel worthy of grace. Despite the bounty of knowledge and skills that I learned, I have barely scratched the surface of this journey and my training — So, lets keep chanting!
I humbly offer immense gratitude to Sri Swami Satyananda, Swami Satyasangananda, Swami Niranjananda and the wisdom keepers and light bearers of the Saraswati lineage of whom this wisdom and grace emanates and to the Land that holds 'Niwas gently on her belly, thank you. From the depths of my heart, I offer gratitude to Sn. Shivani, Sn. Paramjyoti, Narayana Madhu, Om Shanti, Avi, Bubbles and the entire 'Niwas eclectic feathered and hoofed family for teaching me, inspiring me, motivating me, holding space for me and for literally holding me together so I may begin the journey of growing towards my highest potential with a foundation of trust, integrity, strength and love. And to all of the beautiful beings that I had the absolute pleasure of connecting with during my Karma Yoga Residency at Ishtadev Niwas, much love and I’ll see you next year!
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