I Love It When A Plan Comes Together

So it’s probably time for an update on the big plan to change my life.

day 29 - international kiki day

I’ve heard back from Austria and, all being well, I should be fine for staying on there after my TTC (Teacher Training Course). I’ve sent the application anyway, so now it’s just a question of seeing how both sides feel during the TTC. I want to stay for 8 weeks, doing 8 hours of karma yoga (work) a day. That shouldn’t change, I don’t anticipate any problems, but you never know. I’ll be booking my flight back for the 25th of November anyway.

After that I’m going to start making my way round the world. I think maybe 3 weeks in California (San Francisco), with one of those weeks on silent meditative retreat at a cabin in the woods.

Then it’s off to Oz on about the 19th/20th December to spend Christmas at my boyo’s place near Perth. Stick around there until the new year, then head east. See some friends, chill out a bit, find some retreat to go to. 2013 is where the plan gets ultra vague.

the warlock of firetop mountain

I’m not getting too stressed about organising the after Austria part of the plan. That’s just stuff I can book, so there’s nothing needs doing on that apart from laying down the cash. I might not even book it until I come back from Austria. In fact I won’t unless there’s significant savings to be had. That’s something I need to check out this week.

Been delayed in my planning because of work. On the last of my night shifts this week and, man, is it tiring! I mean they were hard enough before, but now I know I’m leaving I can barely keep my eyes open. I just want them over with.

Got just two more to do, then 2 weeks of mid shifts (7 shifts, 11am-11pm), and that’s me done. I finish on the 23rd of August, which gives me 1 week to pack, move, dispose of my car oop norf, before jetting off to the Alps for 3 months. Crazy huh? Been planning this Brand New Life for ages and now it’s finally happening!

I don’t know what the future will bring (who does) but I look forward to finding out. Just 27 days to go and the adventure begins! Wish me luck. πŸ˜€

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes…

Well, the pigeons got their revenge!

After my accidental obliteration of one of their brethren a bunch of them got together and decided it’d be a good idea to sh*t all over the hood of my car. Not a problem you might think, just get the car washed. But no! Pigeon poop is like acid. Take that, plus one of the hottest days of the year so far, and you get a lot of dropping shaped damage to your paintwork. I’m hoping T-Cut will be able to sort it out, but if not we’re looking at a re-spray.

Talk about instant karma (not that there should have been any. I didn’t kill the pigeon deliberately).

Had a few Olympic moments this past week, from seeing the torch come over Kew Bridge,

torchy torchy

to weird adverts in foreign languages appearing on the side of double decker buses,

got drink?

to seeing the opening ceremony on Friday night.

My quick capsule review: not as bad as I thought it was going to be. Yes a lot of silly English in jokes, but done well I reckon. Got a bit confusing in places, like when the Arctic Monkeys showed up after the parade of athletes, but all in all hats off to Danny Boyle for producing something pretty decent. It was a lot better than Slumdog Millionaire anyway.

Still no major changes to my plans yet. I keep striking out on finding places to go do some volunteer work. Looks like I’m going to have to cast a wider net. Still waiting to hear from the TTC in Austria, see if I can stay on there after the course, help out for a bit; and if not I might try France, see if they need anybody.

I can’t believe I’m having such a hard time giving my time away. I’m willing to work for free, full time. Who wouldn’t want a piece of that? Yes I’ve had one or two offers of places if I’m willing to pay, but that doesn’t work for me. If I’m paying (and it’s not a course) I want a holiday. If I’m working I’m worth the board and lodging, and I’m not paying for the privilege. Simple really.

It’ll all work out eventually. Whatever happens in life, you always end up doing something. And you know the bit I’m looking forward to the most? Putting all my stuff in storage. I can’t wait to divest myself of all this clutter and just travel light for a while. It’s gonna be a blast! πŸ™‚

Tomorrow, And Tomorrow, And Tomorrow…

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

It’s so easy to think about tomorrow, and forget about today. To look to the future for satisfaction, and ignore the here and now. So many things we strive for are based on delayed gratification, and the promise of what is to come, but if what we desire is always in the future, how will we ever truly be happy?

They say ‘Tomorrow never comes’. True, from a linguistic/philosophical point of view, though always a saying that annoys me somehow with it’s clever smugness. I used to have a saying, ‘Never put of ’til tomorrow what you can get away with never doing’, but that was just me trying to be funny. Besides, if it doesn’t need doing, why is it on your To Do List in the first place?

ohmmm...

Tomorrow I head out to the Dhamma Dipa Centre near Hereford for my 10 day introduction to Vipassana meditation course. I’ll be honest, I’m a little apprehensive, as 10 days is a long time, especially with all the rules they impose on your staying there.

But also I’m looking forward to a chance to practice properly for the first time. No distractions, just you and the cushion. What I’m less enthusiastic about is dealing with my leg while I’m there. Thanks to a litany of injuries my right leg hurts in oh so many different positions, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to sit for hours at a time without a great deal of pain. I just did a Tai Chi weekend and by the end of it I was really in a lot of pain.

But hopefully it’ll calm down over the next 10 days. I have exercises to do and I won’t be doing any work so nothing should aggravate it. And there are a number of positions you can meditate in, so I’m sure I’ll find something I can do that’ll work for me.

the big buddha

For my last bit of visual entertainment for a while I just finished watching a great documentary about the Apollo missions called In The Shadow Of The Moon. Not only is it fascinating to watch, but it is inspiring to hear the revelations each astronaut went through in seeing the Earth from so far away. Some found their spirituality (very specifically saying not religion, but spirituality), some came to realise how unimportant the many things we find to complain about day to day really are, some came to understand the interconnectedness of each and every thing in the Universe, but not one of them came away thinking that this fractious, warring, polluting system we’ve set in motion is the way to be.

And it made me think too. Neil Armstrong was 38 when he went on his mission into space. I’m 38, and tomorrow I embark on my mission to become a space cadet. How alike we truly are, lol. πŸ™‚ Ok, I’m just messing. but it is interesting to see what others before you have done by the same age you are.

However, that being said, you can’t get caught up in measuring yourself by the standards of others of course. Each of us has their own path to follow, and we must find our own ways of measuring our success (otherwise we’ll always be unsuccessful, and ultimately always unhappy). But more importantly we have to enjoy the victories of today, for if we always look to the future for validation we will never truly feel we have achieved anything.

day 21 - peace

Ok, that’s enough philosiphising for now. See you in 2 weeks when I’ll report on my 10 days of meditative seclusion, and hopefully I’ll finally be able to make some decisions about my upcoming sabbatical, and progress forward in my quest for a Brand New Life.

Sivananda Meditation Retreat

Well, I’m back from my exotic yoga holiday to sunny Putney. πŸ™‚

Might seem a bit weird going to stay for a week somewhere half an hour away from your own front door, but then again why not? You go where the teaching is, and when the day starts at 5:45am – with the ringing of a bell and an enthusiastic “Om namah Shivaya!” – what else can you do but pack your bags and go residential.

sivananda yoga vedanta centre, putney

I’d been looking forward to this. I was in dire need of a break from ‘real life’ (details of which I ain’t going into right now). A week stretching, chanting, meditating and everything else was just what the doctor ordered, and the Sivananda Yoga Centre is just the place to do it. They themselves call it “an oasis of calm in the centre of London” and they’re not wrong.

an oasis of calm

I’d not done their kind of meditation before, so I figured this course with Swami Kailasanada was just what I needed to get me started. Turned out to be quite different to the Vipassana Meditation I’ve been practicing up to now. For one thing there was more chanting than I’d expected.

shrine room

Now you know me, I’m not big on the whole chanting thing (though it kind of grows on you) but I gave it a go anyway. And I was doing alright ’til this weird head cold thing started kicking it. I spend several days with a nasty scratchy throat, occasional headaches (I gave up caffeine two days early just so I wouldn’t have withdrawal headaches while I was there, so they were doubly annoying) and so my chanting was a bit sub-par a lot of the time. Thankfully there were plenty of others there to drown me out, though not the two times I had to lead the chant myself (eek!).

shiva mural

The evening workshops themselves were excellent, and so full of information. I took copious amounts of notes and heard a lot of new and interesting stuff to think about. Often after a class I was so invigorated I couldn’t sleep. That’s where washing dishes helped. A little something to burn off excess energy works wonders sometimes.

We learnt about mantras and their use in meditation, and I was even fortunate enough to go through a mantra initiation at the end of it. Check me out in my white initiation outfit.

waiting for mantra initiation

Lookin’ good huh? And, I got given a spiritual name too: Keshava, which means one who is full inside apparently (among other things). Thankfully, I like it. I mean it’s short, it sounds nice, it begins with a K, and it’s not utterly unpronounceable which is always a bonus (some of them can be a right mouthful). But I digress…

sun salutation

The course was well run, as you would expect. Everyone at the centre was lovely, as were all my fellow residents. The food was great, and I was very grateful to everyone for the allowances they made for my veganism. Care and consideration for their students is something of a trademark for the Sivananda organisation I find. Just look at all the smiling faces;

a yogi breakfast

And that was at 8am on day seven! After seven early morning calls, seven full days, and thirteen (you heard me, thirteen) yoga classes. Just goes to show, they must be doing something right eh?

om

Highlight for me though had to be the lunch time where Swami Krishnadevananda decided to nick everybody’s cake. It was masterful the way he pointed out the pictures on the wall behind people, only to swipe their banana bread when their backs were turned (not once, but twice!). And they didn’t even realise he’d done it, or why everyone else was laughing. Priceless. πŸ™‚

So if you do decide to go on a course there get ready for a full day, some great food, good company, but most of all keep your eye on your pudding coz Swamiji’s about! You have been warned.

Sivananda Yoga Retreat

Well, I’m back from my yoga retreat. Quite a weekend, let me tell you. Hard work sometimes (getting up at 5:30am for example) but certainly worth it. And I don’t feel half as tired/achey as I thought I would. Maybe I’m getting better, lol.

gaunts house

It was at Gaunt’s House, which is this big old former country house (now retreat centre) in Dorset. The place is massive, with lots of grounds, a big garden, and good sized rooms. I paid extra for a single and got a room that’s bigger than my flat (seriously, though I do have a very small flat!) with a double bed. Oh the luxury of a double bed! So nice to just spread out like that. I miss having a double bed.

enjoying the view

The grounds were made for chilling out, but there wasn’t much time for that. The schedule kept us quite busy. Check this out:

5:30 – Wake
6:00 – Satsang (meditation and chanting)
8:00 – Yoga
10:00 – Breakfast/Brunch
12:00 – Nature walk
14:00 – Demo/talk
16:00 – Yoga
18:00 – Supper
20:00 – Satsang
21:30 – Finish
21:31 – Bed πŸ˜‰

Quite a lot to do huh? I tell you, took a little getting used to. You just had to relax and go with it (probably part of the ethos I reckon). And I’m not kidding about the last one. Soon as you were finished it was straight to bed (for me anyway). If I’m getting up that early I needs me beauty sleep.

The whole thing was run very well, which is no surprise from the Sivananda lot. I even helped out with some of it, getting to the centre early to load up my car with stuff (I had pictures of the swamis and deities on my back seat, and every time someone cut me up in traffic, and I swore without thinking, I found myself apologising to ‘the boys’ for my bad language, lol), helping set up when we got there, and finally fiddling with the sound system during the satsangs, swapping wires between mikes and twiddling knobs to get the levels right.

All the yoga-ey stuff was excellent. My ability to do it though, varied from day to day. Funny how some days you can get your toes on the floor when doing the plough, and other days you find yourself completely scrunched up, feet flailing, unable to catch your breath.

nature walk vs fence

The nature walks were nice, though ‘walk’ is a bit of a misnomer. March, stomp or trudge might a better way of describing it. With Swamiji and his long legs up front, striding off into the distance, it was sometimes a task just to keep up. I know for a fact we lost most the group on the first day (and the second day for that matter) and it was just some good guesswork (or the sound of our post-meditative omming) that brought them back to the rest of the group unscathed, lol. πŸ™‚

As for all the chanting, I can’t say I’m entirely sold on that. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good Om as much as the next man, but after 30-40 minutes of it… well, you get the idea. Maybe I’ll get into it one day, maybe I won’t (the Swami himself admitted he had some difficulty getting his head around it in the beginning), I just know for now it’s not the thing for me; and so mote it be.

thai yoga massage

On the last night, instead of a long satsang, we had a talent show. People told stories, played the piano, sang, did demos, and I even got roped into doing a bit of Tai Chi for them. Got to admit, I was a bit nervous doing it. It was a big crowd (about 70 odd) but it went ok in the end. I got plenty of compliments afterwards, which was nice, and maybe some people might feel motivated to give it a try; which would be great, as yoga and Tai Chi are very much sister disciplines.

(more pics here)

stonehenge

On the way back we stopped off at Stonehenge to go check that out. Was nice to see the stones close up, though not as close as I’d have liked, as you’re not allowed near them for some reason; and you have to pay Β£7:50 for the privilege, which seems a bit steep to me.

And, everyone was walking round with these little recorders listening to a commentary on the stones, which made for an odd sight. Made me think of the Victorians, who would go out into the countryside and, since they only ever saw landscapes in paintings, had to use a little framing devices to look around, otherwise they couldn’t ‘see’ the beautiful views around them.

Still, it was worth a visit, and I’m glad I went. And it was fun to spend some time with Swami Krishnadevananda and the gang not doing yoga or anything like that, just monkeying about a bit.

swami and the stones

He’s such a cheery fella! πŸ™‚

kiki and the henge

Still rockin’ the new do’. πŸ˜‰

All told a very good weekend, and one I would recommend to anyone who fancies a bit of a yoga retreat some time. They have them twice a year in the UK, and at other times at other centres around the world. Check out their website for the what’s going on.

Give ’em a go! You’ll meet some lovely people, learn some new stuff, get a bit fitter, and have a right laugh whilst doing it. What more could you need? πŸ™‚

Week 23: In which our hero falls apart (physically, at least)

Man, what week. I’m exhausted! It started with a couple of night shifts (always fun) and ended with a long weekend Tai Chi retreat (which really is always fun, but also very tiring). Along the way I had a filling fall out, my right leg decided it was no longer going to work properly – giving out whenever I tried to put a lot of weight in it suddenly, I got bit on the head by some unknown insect that stayed icky for days, and my hay fever finally kicked in for the year with a vengeance. I don’t mind admitting to you, I’m pooped!

regine in repose

We had our regular yearly retreat at Braziers Park, a residential college and experimental community deep in the Oxfordshire countryside, where beasts run free, the lawns are comfy, and the (veggie) food is excellent. Actually, you hear some of the descriptions people give of it, and read their own literature, and it sounds far more hippy dippy than it actually is. In fact it’s quite a well run retreat centre, and an absolute pleasure to visit each year. The staff, both permanent and visiting, are always a lovely smiley bunch of people, you get left to your own devices pretty much, and there’s always a big stack of wood for the bonfire when you need it. What more could you want?

cock

There’s also invariably a cute girl or two to be appreciated all weekend, and this year was no exception. And as always, it never fails to bring home to me the fact that I’d quite like someone to share the old trials and tribulations with. But this year, thanks to my soberness (still haven’t touched a drop, and this will be the last time I mention the not drinking thing I promise), I have had the chance for some reflection. Quite simply, if I want to meet the kind of girls they get volunteering at Braziers Park, I need to go the kind of places those girls are known to congregate. Obvious I know, but never the less, a fact I obviously needed driven home. So I’m on the look out for opportunities – volunteering opportunities I suppose – to go places and do stuff that will be give me the chance to meet my future would-be missus. I’ve got a few ideas, but I could always do with more.

And I really need to go for it too. Faint heart ne’er won fair lady, and no one ever got lucky humming and harring about the place and being a candy ass about the whole thing (I’m sure Shakespeare could have put it better, but not any truer mark my words). That’s how I was, but no more. It’s time for a new me.

egg

NB: Ate my first egg for 2 years while I was away too. The chickens were very well looked after so I didn’t think I’d be accruing any bad karma by having one (or two). Tasted great too! You can always tell quality from the rubbish you get in the shops.

Off work this week just chillin’ with nothing to do. Experimenting with cutting out nightshades from my diet and hope to do a wee bit of writing. Also plan on doing a few recipes while I have the chance. Will report on all that in seven days time. Til then, keep on grinnin’. πŸ™‚