Inspired by Nature: “Be as Water”.

 

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Winter in my garden: Succulents, rocks and fallen leaves

 

“Nothing in the world is more yielding and softer than water; yet it penetrates the hardest. Insubstantial, it enters where no room is. It is so fine that it is impossible to grasp a handful of it; strike it, yet it does not suffer hurt; stab it, and it is not wounded.” Bruce Lee (November 27, 1940–July 20, 1973)

 

Bruce Lee understood the power of nature. His “Be Water”quote (on YouTube) from the TV series Longstreet, is one of those perennials that remain relevant and powerful, and continues to attract seekers of peace looking for meaningful sustainable ways to meet life’s challenges. Even as a young man (he was only 32 when he so sadly passed away) he was committed to do so much more than be the physical powerhouse and world renowned actor that he became.  He was a family man and a seeker of truth. To quote his daughter Shannon Lee, he was a “teacher, family man, martial artist, philosopher, and innovator who became a cultural icon because he actively lived his philosophy of self-actualization.”

 

Read more Here on the moments of clarity and conviction that led up to him becoming spiritually inspired and moved by the qualities of water in all its potential, from the power of its gentleness and yielding to the power of its force and magnitude.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Connected to nature: Its part of our Humanity

 

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In my garden: Pelargonium Angel-eyes

 

British naturalist and environmental writer Michael McCarthy explores the powerful feelings nature can stir in us in our day to day lives: “They are surely very old, these feelings. They are lodged deep in our tissues and emerge to surprise us. For we forget our origins; in our towns and cities, staring into our screens, we need constantly reminding that we have been operators of computers for a single generation and workers in neon-lit offices for three or four, but we were farmers for five hundred generations, and before that hunter-gatherers for perhaps fifty thousand or more, living with the natural world as part of it as we evolved, and the legacy cannot be done away with.”

 

In his book The Moth Snowstorm: Nature and Joy,  Michael Mcarthy writes about his passion for nature beginning in his difficult early childhood and continuing into adulthood, and he presents us with some hard facts about our dwindling natural resources. He expresses his deep concern for the future of our natural world and his insistence that as a “resource” nature is far more than an exploitable asset but a true source of joy and connectedness.

 

“Our origins are of the earth. And so there is in us a deeply seated response to the natural universe, which is part of our humanity,” Rachel Carson, a 20th century marine biologist who was truly in love with nature, and unselfconscious in her “preoccupation with the wonder and beauty of the earth.”

Both of these wonderful, devoted pioneers believed that despite everything we are still essentially nature’s children, and that the natural world is not separate from us, it is part of us. They believed that if we truly look out with our hearts and our minds to the beauty and realities of our precious world, we will connect more and more with our own ‘loving nature’ and become less tolerant of the neglect and destruction that is so commonly part of what we call progress.

Read more about their research and writings on Maria Popova‘s wonderful website: Brainpickings- an inventory of the meaningful life.

 

Living plastic-free: How to settle for good, not perfect.

 

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In My Garden: Cycad (Broodboom)

 

” It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result..” _MAHATMA GHANDI.

 

 

In 2007 a woman called Beth Terry wrote a letter to her city council member in Oakland, California, opting for the banning of plastic bags from grocery stores and other retail outlets in her area. Since then she has to date turned out a total of 746 blog posts, all centered around ways to reduce the devastating effects of plastic pollution on our environment, with a strong emphasis on reducing our own individual plastic footprints. And her blog is just one aspect of her site myplasticfreelife.com, which is a comprehensive resource for plastic-free living. She makes the point that our actions matter. Our efforts count. Allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed into inaction does not help. Don’t be paralyzed by perfectionism; you will end up feeling discouraged and frustrated, believing that your efforts towards creating positive change are pointless. Read below to where she discusses this very issue:

 

The reality is that there is a lot of hidden plastic that we inadvertently consume every day simply by being alive in this modern age.  If you ever eat in a restaurant, you consume plastic.  If you buy anything from a store, you consume plastic… even if you buy it from a bulk bin.  Because often, the foods in the bulk bins come shipped in great big plastic bags.  And even if they weren’t, there was probably some plastic involved in growing the food in the first place.  Organic farmers may have used plastic sheeting to keep out the weeds.

The idea of living a plastic-free life is not to become so perfect at avoiding plastic that you feel smug about yourself.  Realizing just how unavoidable plastic is when you really trace back the life cycle of a product can wipe that smug grin off your face and provide a humbling perspective.  Our personal actions DO make a difference, though.  I know it can be tempting to say, “Oh, the problem is so big, I might as well give up.”  Don’t.

Read the full post here, and take a moment to remind yourself that it’s perfectionism that is pointless, and it’s the action, the effort, that is important.

 

 

Finding WuWei: The path of least resistance

 

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In My Garden

 

Our actions should never involve unnecessary strain, force or intervention. Keep your actions natural and spontaneous in order to find your own balance and momentum. Stay relaxed so as not to impede the process of ‘non-doing’. Our actions are more authentic, more true, if we can allow nature, rather than force, to guide us.

 

These are some of the central ideas in Wuwei, a key aspect of the Chinese philosophy of Taoism, and it encourages us to  practice ‘going with the flow’, allowing our actions to be relaxed, spontaneous and natural, thus avoiding tension and unnecessary effort.

 

Seeking simplicity is for me not only about making eco-wise and efficient choices regarding the environment, my health and my home. Our thinking guides our actions,  and if we find ourselves feeling under constant pressure to get things done and to get them done just right, we may want to step back a bit to a simpler, kinder way of relating to ourselves. It is all too easy to get caught up in over-thinking, which leads to tension and anxiety and can take the joy out life. We start to fear change: new opportunities are instead perceived as unwanted challenges and we start anticipating difficulties rather than possibilities ahead. I am speaking from direct experience here! And even mundane, repetitive action (housework, anyone?) can feel like less of a chore if we can relax into it  rather than approaching it with a sense of dread and a feeling of tension. There is always room for improvement in the way we think about ourselves in relation to the tasks that we set ourselves and to the tasks that life itself sometimes unexpectedly presents to us.

Read Soon Teo’s fascinating posts about the power of Tao Here.

 

 

Be inspired: 5 beautiful reflections for a brand new year.

 

Taking us forward into 2018……

 

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In my garden: Potato Bush

 

 

1.“The One you are looking for is the One who is looking.” (St Francis of Assisi). Beautifully explained in this post.

 

2. ““There exists a deep ecological tradition in Vedic culture by which human settlement, forests and water resources are carefully balanced. To achieve that balance, nature’s welfare and human welfare cannot be separated each other.”  Chris Terry explains the Vedic ecology at the core of the Small Farm Training Centre, in an article from the Huffington Post.

 

3. “Really, to have a life of doing you need to not do.” (Will Rosenzweig talking about the Tao). Read about the four levels of non-doing, and how it may sometimes be necessary to be detached from things that you care deeply about.

 

4. “Animals move; people can learn about movement from animals. House pets stretch all day long, creating space in their joints. Animals sit in different kinds of positions. Monkeys and apes do things with their hands. Perhaps as humans we need to reclaim our four- leggedness. Getting down on all fours stimulates the pranic flow. Sitting in chairs tightens the hamstrings and the lower back. Animals don’t sit on furniture; they have not built things contrary to their nature.”  (Denise Kaufman). From the Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature (London & New York: Continuum, 2005) Edited by Bron Taylor

 

 

5.”Whats in your cup? ….When life gets tough, what spills over for you?” from  “The journey of a 1000 miles begins with a single step”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simple meditation: no yoga mat required

 

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In my garden: Granadilla fruit and flower

Many people today are interested in meditation in a more ‘functional’ way, perhaps as a means to help us to manage stress or health issues and to help us to cope with our busy, demanding lives. Meditation therefore is something we might look to simply as a tool to help us to manage our daily demands.

In his book YOGA (6th Edition_ 1983), Swami Venkatesananda describes meditation as “..the art of realising the universal self, beyond the ego-sense” and as a state of being and awareness where “..the ‘I’ has disappeared and only consciousness remains”  

 

Swami Venkatesananda spent many years as a recluse and ascetic disciple. His yoga practice extended to serving humanity and he believed in teaching through his word and example the ideal of an enlightened life. He believed that there is a way for us all to benefit from a meditation practice and believed in a ‘common sense’ view of our seemingly complex problems.

So how CAN we use meditation in a ‘common sense’ way, in a way that helps us to feel calmer, happier, healthier and more in control of our lives?

I have used my own morning meditation routine as an example of a light meditation practice before starting the day. The practice can take as short a time or as long as you like, even five minutes if that is all you have. I sit for fifteen minutes on average. The important thing is to make it part of your daily routine so that it becomes a habit.

First, I make sure I have a hot cup of tea in my hands and I sit comfortably in bed with my back supported by pillows. The routine is more or less as follows: Continue reading

Eco options: start with what you already know

 

In my garden: Apple Blossoms

Don’t get complicated.

I imagine that most people reading my blog share some of my interests and concerns about the health of the planet, and individual personal health as well. Just as I care about my own health and well being, I care about the health and well being of the environment that nurtures and supports me. Enjoying life and remaining optimistic is a priority too, otherwise what’s the point of it all! We know that as consumers our choices have impact, and if we care about the environment, we will want our choices not to add to current problems.

 

Yet we can’t always have exactly what we want. In a perfect world I would have nutritious, wholesome foods and healthy non-toxic self care and household products, all responsibly produced and packaged, and locally made to reduce the problem of travel distances and the accompanying carbon footprint. Everything I use and eat would be from natural origin, from sustainable resources, incur no harm to animals, and be created in an environment where fair labour practice is upheld.

Even your bulk buy, unpackaged purchases might raise some questions for you, depending on your key issues: “What carbon footprint did it leave to get to the bulk bins? Is it a natural product? Is it cruelty free? What are the working conditions of the farmers/workers who helped bring it to the store? Is it locally sourced/ packaged?” And realistically, let’s not forget “What is the cost of this and can I even afford it?” The list can go on and it gets overwhelming (speaking from experience!) when you are looking for a seamless, perfect scenario and if you expect yourself to have all the answers.

I can recall occasions, even very recently, where I have stood in the shopping aisle staring at huge, catering sized jars of pickles thinking “yes, I know it’s less packaging in the long run, but how long is THAT going to sit opened and partially eaten in the fridge at home?” and “these retail priced boxes of Epsom Salts are packaged in cardboard, whereas my usual cheaper wholesaler sells hers in single use plastic, so which is the better choice?”

And that’s just at the supermarket!

At home you notice (again) that your kitchen cupboards are rife with tired looking plastic food containers, many with lids long lost at some birthday picnic or office canteen, and you wonder if you should just replace the whole lot. But you’re not sure because you don’t know if recycling an item in order to replace it is the Green thing to do. This link tells you about using plastic for food from a personal health point of view.

 

So to get back to the title of this post: what things do you already know and have at your disposal? What exists in your home, in your cupboards and closets and in your fridge, that is already working for you and/ or you could make better use of ? I have found that by starting with what you already have and know, you are more likely to want to continue. Here are some suggestions: Continue reading

The Human Body: a World in One

 

In my garden: Nodding Pincushion

 

Some thoughts from a book I bought years ago, in my early days as a yoga teacher in Cape Town. Deepak Chopra’s Perfect Health :

“We all tend to see our bodies as “frozen sculptures”- solid, fixed material objects- when in truth they are more like rivers, constantly changing, flowing patterns of intelligence.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus declared “You cannot step into the same river twice, for fresh waters are forever flowing in.”

The same is true of the body…. Your adipose tissues (fat cells) …is exchanged every three weeks. You acquire a new stomach lining every five days (the innermost layer of stomach cells is exchanged in a matter of minutes as you digest food). Your skin is new every five weeks. Your skeleton…is entirely new every three months….You appear to be the same outwardly, yet you are like a building whose bricks are constantly being replaced by new ones. Every year, fully 98% of the total number of atoms in your body are replaced- this has been confirmed by radioisotope studies at the Oak Ridge laboratories in California.

This constant stream of change is controlled at the quantum level of the mind body system.”

 

Peter Bevan-Baker makes the same point here:

“It is not simply a cute phrase to say we are what we eat: it is an absolute truism. Every cell in each of our bodies gets replaced on a regular basis — some within hours, some years. The bones that are my skeleton today were made of entirely different cells just a few years ago, and those new bone cells came from what I ate (and drank and breathed). We are of the Earth, and it is of us. The “environment” is not something out there, separate from us: it is a description of the continuum in which we exist.”

 

Deepak Chopra’s point about the quantum body is perhaps a conversation for another day. The quantum level is, according to physics, the level at which matter becomes energy, and in Ayurvedic treatment, it is at this level, including in our thoughts and attitudes, that potential for true change and healing exists.

Continue reading

Minimalism, Your World and You

 

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In my garden: purple verbena and yellow daisies

 

“What is minimalism then?…it’s living lightly and gracefully on the earth. … its uncovering who you are.” Francine Jay

I like the way that this quote points to two issues, without separating them:

1) Francine refers to ‘uncovering who we are’ which leads me to a few questions: Do I have some ‘uncovering’ to do? What are the things that I need and love? What things can I do without, and am I able to let go of these? What are my non-negotiables, the true essentials that add value to my lifestyle and to my life as a whole? What things that I own express my own true needs and preferences, and which do not?

2) She also refers to ‘Living Lightly and Gracefully on the Earth’, which for me is about living with care and consideration for the earth under our feet, and for the environment that surrounds us and gives us life. Minimalism is about living with less and implies going smaller, not bigger.

 

This quote from the wonderfully multi-skilled Peter Bevan-Baker explains further:

“Continuous expansion on a finite planet is not the answer to our challenges: Like our built environment, bigger is not necessarily better. Rather, we need better integration and a recognition of our proper place in the bigger scheme of things”

The use of the word integration reminds us of our deep connection to the world in which we live and that our actions and the choices we make, whether carefully or carelessly, have power and impact.

 

Our individual motives for Living Lightly, or becoming more Minimalist, is not really the issue here. Whether you have become tired of the clutter in your home and have started giving stuff away to a good cause, or whether your concern for our oceans means you stop using plastic drinking straws in order to help stem pollution, the result is that you are making positive change for yourself and for your environment. This is a step in the right direction towards uncovering who we are and living lightly and gracefully on the earth.

 

 

 

Breathe in, Breathe out

I was a Hatha Yoga Teacher for many years, both while living in Cape Town and up until a few years back here in Johannesburg. The traditional Sanskrit term for yoga breathing is Pranayama, and it encompasses a variety of practices, some of which are quite intense and not intended for the yoga beginner. One of the first things that the new hatha yogi is taught is the importance of the breath as part of the yoga practice. To the outsider, Hatha Yoga may appear to be a series of physical movements and postures, but in fact it goes far deeper to a place where the inner organs and systems, and of course the breath, are involved in the practice.

 

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Springtime in the garden: Indigenous South African Clivias

 

One of the cornerstones of the practice of yoga is awareness of the breath, which brings me to the point of this article: The importance of the awareness of breathing in daily life. It is a known fact that our thoughts and feelings have a direct impact on our breathing and this in turn affects the inner workings of our body’s vital organs. Feelings of stress tend to cause shallow breathing which restricts the vital flow of oxygen and the removal of impurities in the body. Simply put, we need to breathe effectively in order to perform effectively, and we need to breathe effectively in order to manage the feeling of tension that is inhibiting our breathing in the first place.

The texts we studied from as teachers placed an emphasis on how to BREATHE DEEPER into the abdomen and rib cage in order to optimize the uptake of the breath, and then to extend the exhalation by drawing the rib cage inward to fully empty the lungs.

When I taught my new students about breathing I would encourage them to BREATHE SLOWER, as a starting point.

I believe that to develop “stress free breathing”, we sometimes need to focus simply on breathing slower, as opposed to breathing deeper. Try the following next time you become aware of feelings of stress, tension or shallow breathing: JUST SLOW DOWN. Relax, and don’t force your breathing -it must not feel uncomfortable in any way. Just breathe normally, preferably through the nostrils, but through the mouth is fine if you need to, and allow your breathing to slow down slightly. Feel free to sigh or yawn if you feel the urge- those are good stress relievers too. Continue reading