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April 15- 18, Yoga Retreat, Seville, Spain with Chris James. Trasierra is a privately owned beautiful hotel set high in the Sierra Morena hills, 80km of Seville. Discover this carfully designed calming place. Experience energizing Yoga sessions with Chris James, lections and discussions on Diet and Nuritrition, Ayurveda, theories and philosophies that underpin yoga. Enjoy a wide variety of home grown vegetables accompany carefully selected and simply cooked meat and fish. Take advantage of a 10% discount vouchers with Wellicious if you book before 21 March 2010.
Mahashivaratri is a Hindu festival celebrated every year in reverence of Lord Shiva on the new moon night of February. It is a festival which celebrates the convergence of Shiva and Shakti. And it is also said that this day is Lord Shiva's favourite day, celebrated with worshipping, chanting, fasting and meditating. As this is an auspicious day, devotees would fast all day and night long, some would not even drink a single drop of water. The meaning behind the fasting is that only with a light stomach and a clean body the mind can tune into a state of peace and through this grace of stillness, bliss and enlightenment can be reached.
All through the day the devotees chant the sacred Panchakshara mantra "Om Namah Shivaya" which is dedicated to Shiva. In accordance with scriptural and discipleship traditions, penances are performed in order to gain boons in the practice of Yoga and meditation, in order to reach life's highest God steadily and swiftly.
As I am still in India, I was able to experience this auspicious day myself, I was there to feel the energy and to be part of these devotional traditions. On the streets people would greet each other with “Happy Mahashivaratri” and in their homes and temples, the simple celebration of Shivalingam pujas would go on every three hours, all through the day and night.
In the late afternoon I decided to visit Annamalaiyar temple in Town. Arriving there at 6pm I took the side entrance at the West Gate to avoid the long queue at the main entrance where already hundreds of Hindus were queuing up, eager to enter through the South gate, the main gate.
The temple was filled with colours, chants, the smell of incense sticks, saddhus in their orange robes and many devotees arranging ghee lamps on the floor in beautifully organised patterns. Every large space in the temple was filled with Shiva related ornaments in form of large pictures drawn and crafted with raw salt which was coloured before. At first sight they looked like huge carpets and only by closer observation I noticed that it was salt they used to create these arts pieces.
While I walked around the temple I received blessings from the temple elephant who put its trunk on my head after I dropped a coin into its trunk – a beautiful and widely spread practice in temples around India. At sunset all the ghee lamps were lit and the whole temple appeared in an eternal light. I then took the chance and made my way to the inner sanctum where I received Darshan at the Shiva sanctum and later also at the Parvati sanctum. The energy inside was so intense that it touched me deeply and brought clarity to my mind which was quiet busy all day long. Filled with this energy and love, I lit some ghee lamps myself outside the Parvati temple, circled the temple with the “9 planets” a few times and found a spot to sit down to contemplate. While I was sitting there I could hear traditional chanting which was performed just next to me. Diving into the moment I embraced everything happening around me, the smell of fresh jasmine filled my nostrils and my skin tingled. I don't know how long I sat there but when I opened my eyes I felt pure love around and deep within me.
After a few more moments I got up bowed to the sacred mountain Arunachala – which is clearly visible from the inner part of the temple – and left the heart of the temple. To the side of the East Gate, a special stage was arranged and people gathered in groups to listen to the traditional music and to tune in and chant along. Children were running around in a playful way and some devotees would lay down in a corner to rest for a moment. Me too, I took a little rest there, enjoyed the sound and being surrounded by all those people, before I left the temple.
Although the temple was packed, it was such a peaceful harmony that made this festival just an unforgettable experience.
At 10pm, when I left the temple I went straight to the Sri Ramana Ashram to attend one of the Shivalingam pujas. As Lord Shiva appeared on the Earth in the form of Lingam, this is the day when in all Shiva temples, the most auspicious Shivalingam puja is performed. It means that the Ligam is bathed with six different dravyas (substances) including milk, yoghurt, honey, ghee, sugar and water while the monks chant the most beautiful Shiva songs.
According to the mythology, each of these dravya used in the Shivalingam puja blesses a unique quality:
• Milk is for the blessing of purity and piousness
• Yogurt is for prosperity and progeny
• Honey is for sweet speech
• Ghee is for victory
• Sugar is for happiness
• Water is for purity
Having experienced that I was transferred into a different state of peace. Warmth and love filled my heart and tears rolled down my cheeks – I was so beautifully touched once again that same evening. I sat down for a while, meditating and offering my prayers to Shiva and Sri Ramana before I left to go home.
And although the End of Shivratri is only at about 5am, when devotees would go home, take a bath and offer simple prayers while breaking their fast, I felt much earlier that I received so much beautiful energy from Shiva, Arunachala and my prayers, that I fell asleep still being in bliss.
Om Namah Shivaya!
Okay, I have to admit I heard so much about the Law of Attraction, again and again and that at one point I just couldn't listen to it anymore. I thought that it was all crystal clear to me and that for sure I knew all about it.
But then I realised that all that time I just thought I knew about it but that in reality I had no clue how it really affected me and how much I was feeding my negative feelings and thoughts and kept on attracting what I in fact didn't want. And by doing this I got frustrated and sad and was not realising that this was so absolutely contra-productive and bringing me deeper and deeper into the area of discomfort.
Just recently out here in India I had such a day where everything seemed to be against me, when actually all that was against me were my own thoughts and feelings causing certain events to happen. It started in the morning and got worse. With everything that didn't work out well, I had another negative thought arising and I started feeling more and more frustrated and angry and even expressed this frustration verbally. That day I realised that what I needed is peace for myself and this means being on my own and trying to relax, just being in the moment – which I did. I went back to my room and an inner energy made me think of the book “The Secret” and that there is also a movie about it. So I looked it up on YouTube and indeed, the whole movie is on YouTube to watch for free! I started and somehow connected immediately with it. Yes, I know I heard it many times before but this time I realised that it got further in my mind, that maybe for the first time I realised the power and the truth behind the “Law of Attraction”. I listened to the comments and stories that were told in the movie and had it all in front of my own eyes, I could recollect story by story as if they were all my own experiences. In fact, so many things I could identify as my own feelings and my situation I was currently in.
Through my yoga practice and especially pranayama and meditation, I learnt a lot about the mind, the way I think and how it is all influencing my body, soul and more importantly my happiness. The more I think the more restless my body becomes and once the thoughts are negative it all takes a bad turn. How can I have a negative thought and then expect that something beautiful will arise from it? Seriously, if I wake up in the morning feeling not good because I have to get up, how should my day start? With happiness and some great news? Of course not, what an illusion. If I put my sour face on and get up already feeling grumpy then this will all come back to me in the same way. I leave the house being late, get angry when I miss the bus, spill hot tea over my dress and think that the whole world is against me. Great!
What about a nice, beautiful and relaxing song instead of an already aggressive alarm? A song that will make me smile only by hearing it. Just this little detail will change my day completely as by waking up with a smile on my face, my heart will be smiling too and so will my eyes be filled with sparkle when I leave the house and jump on the bus. With that sparkle in my eyes I will find that everybody is giving me back some sparkle and my day starts in a positive and harmonious way. Isn't that what we all want? It actually is very easy. I don't say that I am now 100% positive and always fully aware of my thoughts and emotions, no, that would be a lie. But I try to be more aware of my thoughts and accept my emotions, observe them but don't attach to them. I try to live with more awareness in the present moment, take things slowly and try to not rush into situations, so that I can always choose a positive thought over a negative one, should there arise any thoughts. In fact, I even try to avoid thinking at all and just be. I am finding my way in feeling love while being in the “now” and spreading this love which is called unconditional love. Love and kindness is what makes a difference, what will lead us to the answer: “who am I”...
We are often told to follow our heart in the direction of our dreams, but what if we’ve lost the connection to our source? It’s so easy to look outside of ourselves to external sources and compare, envy, or, day-dream of another life. But, with practice, we will discover that everything we need is already within. It’s just a case of learning how to open into the essence of, ‘I am.’ In yoga, there is a mantra that we use to do this, the So Hum mantra. It translates as, ‘I am all that is.’ What this means to me is that when I truly look, I can find a part of myself in everyone and everything that I come into contact with. The good, the bad and the ugly. There is no divide. Each time I choose to judge or criticize anothr, it is at that time that I am finding fault within my own self. This practice of realizing that I am connected to and create everything around me becomes quite exhilarating and sobering. When I am repeatedly come into contact with people who I see as offensive, stubborn or selfish, it’s time to look in the mirror and find in what areas of my life am I that way? As humbling as this is, the purpose is not to chastise one-self but to find space within oneself for a deeper level of empathy and compassion for oneself.
This is where Anahata Chakra, our Heart Chakra, comes into play. Many of us are aware of our heart chakra, but did you know that the heart chakra is the one chakra that has two layers? Imagine one, the front gate, so to speak, is an English Spring garden green; this layer is the love and compassion we have for others. We are often fairly good at opening this area. We have songs which depict, ‘Hopelessly devoted to you. ‘ Movies that are made about falling in love, madly in love. And, usually we find it easier to love others and give to others. It’s how we are taught. From an early age, we are taught not to be selfish, but to share. But, are we ever taught to be kind to ourselves? To not judge ourselves?
This is where you walk right through that front gate. As you open the gate, you see, there is more that lies within the gate, the actual garden. This garden is filled with Valentine’s Day pink flowers, (or ‘Barbie pink’, if you have an eight-year-old girl!) that grow on a tree filled with fruit and enchanted birds. It is known as, ‘The Wishing Tree’ for It is said that when we truly accept and connect to ‘I am’ that all our innermost hopes, wishes and desires come true. The irony is, of course, that when we are completely accepting and loving of ourselves we wish for nothing as we are free from the binds that tie us.
It is from this Wishing Tree, that we begin to grow roots of confidence, self-worth and from a sincere place of loving one’s self. As our roots deepen, as do our ability to see more clearly each time we lose sight of the essence of ‘I am.’ We extend from a place of compassion and feel connected to and part of our community, our tribe. It is from here that our other chakras, or wheels of energy, begin to balance. As we become grounded in who we are and our place on the earth, we begin to sprout branches and rise up to meet other’s in likeminded ways. So, our heart literally begins to extend up, out, down and around.
For this season of love, take a moment to love oneself as well as loving others. Find out what makes your heart sing, fills your spirit with joy and what connects you to your fullest expression of ‘I am.’
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