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Clutter to clarity – using mantras Soham and Humsa

Mantra literally translates to mind (man) vehicle (tra) – intended to transport your mind from the busy clutter to stillness and clarity. It is also translated to mind protector.

A “mantra” is essentially a saying – a few words or sentences that you say over and over again in your head. Your mantra might be ‘I am stressed’ ‘I am stressed’. Or it might be ‘I am that’… Soham or its inversion Hamsa.

Soham means I am everything that exists, and everything is one. This is the essence of spiritual insight, and science affirms it in that everything can be seen to be connected ecologically and evolutionarily, connected in space and time.

We may feel separate, but with every breath and touch and thought and word, we are connected to our environment, to our society and to our human and biological history. I am that.

The way a mantra works in by repeating it inside your mind.

As a meditation as you breath in think of the sound “sooooooo” and as you breath out you think of the sound “hummmm”.

Or “hummmmm” … “sasaaaa”.

I found it useful to interlace the Sanskrit with English and think:

“I’mmmmmmmmm” on my breath in, and “thaaaaaaaaaaaaat” on my breath out. I’m that.

Do this for five minutes a day and it is said to transform your life. I don’t see why we can’t do it when sitting in traffic, walking or doing other things plotting through life.

It’s a reminder of our connection to something bigger than our selves: the connection of our “self” to our “Self”, or as some may prefer the connection between our “self” and “God”, or between our “self” and the “Universe”.


This blog entry was inspired by yesterday’s yoga class by Amy at Body Mind Life in Surry Hills. Thanks Amy!


The pain of remaining tight

“The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom” —Anais Nin

Throughout my yoga class on Wednesday my teacher repeated the quote: “The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom”…

Yoga is not about stretching and fitness, although these are nice side effects. Yoga is about opening the body, the mind and the spirit—but most of all it is about connection.

The Sanskrit word yoga literally means “to join” or “to unite”. Yoga cultivates mental peace and physical health, but its most essential aim is to bring about a ‘union with the Divine Reality of our being’ (Aurobindo 1996: 280).

Yoga is the process of ‘union of the human individual with the universal and transcendent Existence we see partially expressed in man [sic] and in the Cosmos’ (6).[1]

In my experience, yoga offers a source of inner peace—well-being and mental clarity. Yoga also offers a source of hope for bringing about a more socially just and ecologically sustainable global society—as it works to align one’s own interests with the long-term interests of the Earth community.

Yoga and its principles teach of simple being and living simply, centring the self and reflecting on one’s place in space and time. The opening up of the body, the opening up of the spirit, the opening up of the mind, encourages a letting go of fear and an understanding that you are inseparable from your environment. We are a part of nature, not masters of it.

Sri Aurobindo writes of yoga’s synthesis between ‘on one side the Infinite, the Formless, the One, the Peace’ and ‘on the other it sees the finite, the world of forms, the jarring multiplicity, the strife…’ (414).[2]

This synthesis is you. Or as Alan Watts puts it “you are IT”.

When our mind, our body or our energy, is closed off—held tight like the bud of a flower—we cannot experience the beauty and creative expression that is every one of us.When we close our eyes we cannot see the beauty and creativity that surrounds us.

Abhaya Mudra

Let me illustrate yoga’s synthesis by describing the symbolism of a simple meditative pose. In this pose a person sits, lies or knees with their palms open, forefinger and thumb joined, and chanting “AOM”. The abhaya mudra (hand position) joining the forefinger and thumb symbolizes the connection between one’s transient self and one’s transcendent Self, the connecting of a part with its whole.[3]

The forefinger represents the ego or the temporal sense of the self as separate, and the thumb represents “God” (or “Brahman”, the one non-dual absolute reality or “Ātman”, the “true self” that is ultimately identical with the Brahman). This symbol allows one’s self to feel connected to one’s transcendent Self or “God”. The other three fingers that are stretched out represent the letting go of greed, ignorance and fear.


The chant and symbol “OM”, which is sung “Ah Oh Mm”, is considered to simulate the sound or vibration of our universe as it expands. One’s mouth moves from closed to open to sing “Ah”, representing the beginning of the universe. The tunnel shape of the mouth used to sing “Oh” simulates the expansion of the universe through time, and the closing of the mouth to sing “Mm” symbolises the end of our universe.

These rituals capture the central ideas of what might be thought of as process metaphysics, panentheism, integral thought, creativism , holistic worldview, or a “New Story” (even though it happens to be very very old): the joining of a part (you) with its whole (the Universe, or “God”).

“The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom”.

[1] Yoga is also found in non-human forms—in the ‘vast Yoga of Nature’ (Aurobindo 1996: 6).

[2] Aurobindi also includes with the latter the suffering and futility, which is reconciled in the bliss and calm of the One.

[3] I learned this from a yogi in Coonoor, India. (See also Hirschi 2000: 140).



Weaving my world back together: a weekend at Camp Coorong

Have you ever weaved a basket? I hadn’t… “Life’s too busy for arts and crafts…” or so I used to think. I was wrong. Weaving was more than relaxing and therapeutic, it embodied a metaphorical connection I was in dire need of.

I learned so so much during my weekend at Camp Coorong. I travelled there to discuss a book chapter that I co-authored with some of the Ngarrandjeri youth, transcribing their documentary Nukkan Kungun Yunnan – Narrindjeri’s Being Heard.

When my alarm went at 4:40am on Saturday morning I wondered why I agreed to the trip – didn’t I have enough on my plate? I made it on my 6:15am flight and arrived in Adelaide a couple of hours later.

Sitting for a coffee as I waited for my friend to pick me up, took a long deep breath. There was a stillness surrounding me. I had nothing to do. Intentionally leaving my books at home I realised why I was there, in Adelaide, visiting The Coorong. It wasn’t for the chapter.

It was for one reason: to listen.

I thought back over the week that had passed. I had been the most stressed I’d ever remember feeling in my entire life. While the run and writing from last Sunday’s blog entry helped me get the balls back in the air… on Monday they all came crashing down.

“How was your weekend?” ‘Wahhhhhhhh!”… and later … “Can we meet next Monday?” “Wahhhhhhh!” I burst into tears. Twice. For no reason at all. Now that is what I call STRESS.

No amount of yoga or running could cure it. But at Camp Coorong I felt a deeper change occur.

My friend picked me up, and we drove through Adelaide Hills, over the Murray River, and into Camp Coorong.

An air of serenity surrounded us.

A quiet peace. Time slowed down. And Ellen Trevorrow taught me to weave.

I weaved my life, my mind and my soul, into the creation you can see in the photo above.

And as I weaved, I listened and learned, as together a group of us “had a yarn”!!!

In the culture of Indigenous Australians one doesn’t ask questions. One doesn’t take turns answering. One doesn’t talk about things they don’t want to talk about. No. Instead, people tell stories.

Maybe it’s the weaving. As we weaved, the energy changed. The air lightened and gravity tightened.

I had never felt so grounded. And I had never felt so free.

In this conversation one shared information, stories, they wanted to share. And the rest of the time you listened.

On Saturday I heard some of the most fantastic love stories, and tales of the saddest tragedies. Each story was captured in my weave. Later that night I taught some of the other visitors what I’d learned. Children and adults, all weaving together. There was something magic about this activity, and about this place.

I could go on and on about the many things I learned and experienced. It was all so subtle. It’s difficult to explain. Even more difficult to explain is the incredible feeling of groundedness I still feel today. I have a feeling these things will influence me in ways I can’t yet imagine.

Instead of trying to imagine them now, I’m going to share my favourite story from the weekend and leave it with you to ponder. Surrounded by pre-school children listening intensely, Tom Trevorrow told this story.

This is the story of the Thukeri and the Bony Bream:

‘A long time ago two Ngarrindjeri men went fishing in a bay near Lake Alexandrina to catch the thukeri mami (bream fish). They set off in their bark canoe to catch the big fat thukeri. They fished and fished until their canoe was over full and they said,

“We have plenty of thukeri we will paddle to shore before we sink.”

As they paddled to shore they saw a stranger coming towards them so they covered up the thukeri with their woven mats they said this man might want some of our thukeri, when they approached the shore the stranger said to them,

“Hey brothers I’m hungry have you got any fish to share?”

But the two Ngarrindjeri men said,

“No we haven’t got many fish we only have enough to feed our families.”

So the stranger began to walk away then he turned and said,

“You have plenty of fish and because you are greedy and don’t want to share you will not enjoy the thukeri fish ever again.”

As the stranger walked away the two Ngarrindjeri men laughed at him.

When the two Ngarrindjeri men unloaded the thukeri on to the banks to scale and clean them, they saw that their nice big fat thukeri were bony and they didn’t know what had happened. The two Ngarrindjeri men went home to the campsite in shame and told the Elders what had happened.

The Elders were angry and said, “The stranger was Ngurunderi our Spirit Ancestor and because you two were greedy and would not share with him he has put a curse on our thukeri mami. Now all the Ngarrindjeri people will be punished.”

Respect, caring and sharing, don’t be greedy, and don’t tell lies. Otherwise everybody will get punished.’

This was just one of the many many amazing stories I heard and experienced at the Camp. If anyone has a chance to go visit and learn from the Ngarrandjeri people, I highly recommend the experience. There are many different ways to live and be in this world, and the more of them we can expose ourselves to, the more likely the way we choose to live our lives is actually a choice.

Visit the: Camp Coorong Website

Watch the short version of the doco: Nukkan [See]. Kungun [Listen]. Yunnah [Speak].


Find the story of the Thukeri and the Bony Bream and other information here:…/ngarrindjeri-sea-country-plan.pdf

The sunset on The Coorong on Saturday:

Let us listen, and learn…


Juggling too many balls

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by life? Does your mind and body ever get to that stage where it feels so limp it hurts? Are you juggling so many balls that they all come tumbling down?

Yesterday was one of those days. Actually until I left for a run about an hour ago, that was me. I’ve been stressed. My habit of saying “yes” to almost everything, without thinking through the logistics, came back to bite me.

I leave for Europe in less than four weeks. The last month has been a manic effort aimed at upgrading from a MPhil to a PhD and getting a scholarship, ie writing 35,000 words, confirming at least two journal or book publications, and a pile of paperwork with the right signatures in the right places, and every “i” dotted. And this was to be done on top of editing two books and marking political economy assignments (paid work), editing my own book (in hope of getting it to publishers before I leave), and the system/communications/database work I do for my Dad – a whole other mind-field of its own.

Amazingly enough everything is coming together.

A lot of late nights and early mornings, too much coffee, and ignoring most other things in life from friends to licence expiry dates and visa applications, I am almost there. Of course the neglect in other areas isn’t good.

I think it was Friday that I hit that wall. I know the wall well. I have hit my head on it many times after these almost adrenalin-fuelled mental marathons. I was exhausted but I pushed through it. I needed to get the visa application in, write a letter to try to get out of the $430 fine I got for letting my Learner scooter licence expire (yes that did make me cry), and try to get a little order in my life. Of course after a few drinks to try to forget it all that night meant Saturday I felt even worse.

“What about that essay you have due in two weeks? And the application to present a paper in Krakow? And getting out of your rent? And selling your scooter? And and and ….” The internal chatter of my mind wouldn’t shut up, but physically I was useless. I caught up with family for dinner and got the “wow you look tired” commentary and the same from my friend in Canada over skype this morning.

You know what has made suddenly made the whole world seem much better?

Giving myself simply a couple of hours of love: a long run, a hot shower with a cold blast at the end, a face mask, a little yoga, and entering the catharsis of writing it all down and sharing my thoughts with you. Hopefully I will start juggling again soon.

So thank you 🙂


Yoga – always a good decision

Tonight I had a decision to make: dinner with mum, PeaceBeliever Tribute to John Lennon at Oxford Arts Factory, bed (I was up late blogging last night), try to keep awake and study, or go to a yoga class. My body craved the hot room, long stretches, mental relaxation of yoga – but it would be at the cost of all the other options, and the bother of driving and parking. All of this I could be avoided if I just sit on my ass and don’t go. But I did. And I was reminded (once again) that yoga is always a good decision.

I don’t know how I let myself forget – how weeks go by with my prioritising social events or even whatever TV series I’m working through at the time – instead of making it to class.

This class – at Body Mind Life, in Surry Hills – is particularly great. To make things even better, tonight this amazing (and perfect bodied, dreadlocked) yoga dude brought a guitar and he and the female instructor sang some chants.

It is quite an incredible feeling to be in a room full of around 50 people humming “om” together (the vibration of the universe) and singing about “shanti” (which means peace). So I might not have made the Lennon Peace Tribute but I did I return home feeling once again “at peace”.

I had forgotten how great that feeling is.

To be honest I had been starting to wonder if “Peace” was an outdated word – with all the baggage that seems to be attached to it. Peace seemed to bring to mind fairly boring images of nothingness while and Conflict brought to mind images of adventure and excitement. The definition of Peace (or “Positive Peace” to be more exact) in Peace and Conflict Studies is a Peace that values Conflict but not at the expense of Violence or Injustice. So… in the pursuit of Peace by this definition, I was starting to think that maybe we needed a more exciting new term.

After tonight I see Peace differently.

Tonight I am reminded that while we need Conflict to have Peace, we also need Peace to have Conflict. We need BOTH. While Conflict can be great, it does need some moments of Peace to balance it out.

Tonight I feel calm but energised, alive without-a-worry-in-the-world. Feeling at peace with oneself is a very good feeling. So if your life is as fast-changing and competitive as mine then I recommend that an hour or two of pure nothingness (which is not the same as watching a tv show) is always a good decision.

How my day got better.

After facing rejection and depression that followed some emails and the lecture on Palestine and Israel, I went to the library and found myself inside my own little metaphoric story:

I was looking for a book but I couldn’t find it. The number system can be confusing in Fisher library (which is MASSIVE) but I thought I had it mastered. I checked the shelves where books that had just been returned go, then I checked the front desk, then I rechecked the computer, then I decided to go up the six flights of stairs for one final look.

I still couldn’t find it.

Then, just before giving up, I had a look one more time at the stacking shelves. I realised that the books on these shelves were not in order – searching through title by title I finally found the book I was looking for. It had taken almost an hour, and had sent me around and around in like circles, but eventually I succeeded.

If you fail then try and try again I advised myself, applying it to my previous nihilism, even if you feel you are going around in circles, you will soon realise it’s a spiral, and you are closer to your objective.

Leaving the library I met a friend to try a new yoga studio. Meeting my friend my mind was still a bad place, complaining about all that had happened. Then, in a room heated to around 30 degrees but doing a lighter yoga than bikram, I found my peace. It was intermittent – moments in the relaxation and meditation time and when the entire room of around 50 people were humming ‘Om’ coordinated only by our different breathing lengths. Here I felt my mind and body unified as one. Even if it only lasted a few minutes, this sense of peace reminded me of two things: peace might not last forever, but it is possible, and peace starts within.

This feeling of peace inside me may not last forever, but some remanence of this feeling is still with me now, some two and a half hours later. And I’m sure I’ll continue to reap the benefits of the feeling of balance as I go to sleep and maybe even tomorrow. Yoga helped me deal with my day. Hopefully the destructive part of my mind will allow this constructive practice to spiral me upward – inspiring me to go to more yoga classes and furthering this feeling of united mind and body. It really feels great!

If this scenario plays out I might look forward to reaping the corresponding mental and bodily health benefits and the compounding life benefits that come with that. Fingers crossed this is my new story – but you never know what tomorrow will bring.

Making time

Time is an aspect of life I have always been a little obsessed over. It ticks by, “tick tock”, and never returns. When you are bored or doing something you hate it, goes by far too slow; and when you are busy or doing something you love, it goes by far too fast. While time is a somewhat relative dimension on our lives, it also seems to be the only absolute and unchanging aspect of our earthly existence. Time goes on, and on, and on; and I suppose it will keep doing so until our solar system stops expanding. Then, who knows, maybe it rewinds and starts again…

Anyway when it comes to time, one thing I’m acutely aware of at the moment, is that there quite simply is not enough of it.

Any regular readers of this blog might have noticed a drastic reduction of entries in the last month or so. That’s because, for the first time in about 8 years, I have a 9 to 5 job. It’s not even full time – I’m working a total of 3.5 days a week – and I actually love the job I’m doing (an admin role at the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney and a communications role for my Dad’s business) but the new routine nature of my weeks is enough to make my weeks fly by in the blink of an eye.

A social life is part to blame. But hey, I’m 28, isn’t that what I’m “supposed” to be doing? And after a day of work it’s so easy to justify an after-work drink or dinner and then some television or a movie… another week well enjoyed and another week gone down the drain.

Lately I’ve observed my mind complaining that there is not enough time to work and sleep, to see this friend and skype with that friend, to reply to emails, to watch my sister’s netball game, do yoga, read the twenty or so books and pages and pages of articles waiting for me to read, and also to post entries on this blog.

What was God thinking when he created 24 hour days? How much better would it have been if they were 30 hours, even 28 hours – imagine having four more hours to read or sleep or sit in the sun or catch up with friends… I wonder if even that would be enough?

Anyway, for some reason or another, the earth takes 24 hours to rotate, giving us  a 24 hour framework with which to work, sleep, eat, and relax. Every 365 of these rotations and another year is added to our count, and another round of seasons we get to experience is crossed off the eighty-or-so rounds we get in this life.

I’ve lived through twenty-eight summers, I probably have about fifty-two to go.

That, along with a lot of other badly designed features of our planet (and especially our species), is a pretty good case against there being a God. Before I go down the path of God talk, distinguishing between different conceptions of “God” as a separate divine designer, or “God” a personification of the evolving macrocosm we are a part of, I will catch myself and return to today’s topic: making time.

I can complain all I like about there not being enough time to do the things I want to do, but it’s not going to change anything. I need to go back to those good ol’ principles of time management skills: set goalsprioritise the important ones, group & streamline the less important ones, don’t procrastinate, and learn to say no. Implementing these skills, while keeping in mind to live in the moment, enjoy the process, and follow your dreams, is probably far too many paradoxical self-help tips that my mind can deal with today.

I guess in the end the most important thing is to make sure you make time for the things that are most important to you.

We live within twenty-four, 365 days, for an average 80-years framework, so there’s no point complaining about it… we may as well embrace it. Twenty-four hours is plenty – so long as each day is lived to the full. On (western) average, these 29,200 days (80 x 365) in the one conscious is more-than-enough – so long as a whole you spend the time accomplishing whatever you feel you are on this planet to accomplish.

It’s time to make time.

Hippies and happiness (Pokhara)

We arrived to eat dinner and sip cocktails with a perfect view of this beautiful lake. I had no idea what I was expecting when I left for Pokhara, but I wasn’t expecting the quiet little Queenstown-like town it is.


Before long, with more new friends, we ventured to the other side of the lake where the Brits had randomlly found a cute little guesthouse with a family, home grown foods and an even greater view of the lake. (Header picture). Had it been any other time of year, this view would have been a panorama of the Himilayas… damn it! Oh well, can’t really complain when it’s still this beautiful.


The family had five dogs! Soooo cute!!!


Lake and mountains, what a combination.


Time stood still after a big glass of a “special” banana lassi.


Good food, good friends, good music, books and movies, friendly dogs and lovely bush and lake walks. I left a day later feeling as if I had been doing absolutely nothing for months.


On occassion, very early in the morning, the sky is clear enough to catch the Himalayas peaking through and tease you with what you’re missing. It’s as close as I’ll get to them on this trip – it’s off season and walking all day in the fifty degree heat is not so appealing…



Watching people meditate is almost a meditation in and of itself.


I found myself a new yoga guru, Rishi from Rishikesh, to teach complex asanas (poses) and pranayama techniques (breathing) and the theory behind why you do what and the long term health you can create for yourself with yoga.

Yoga combined with a book Gil loaned me containing essays of scholars from the world’s major religions has spurred me to do a lot of thinking about life, happiness, purpose, and the future. I guess that’s nothing new… it’s just now it’s coming from a less optomistic more realistic post-India perspective… I’m sure I’ll soon be sharing – once I make at least a little sense of it.


Instead of hiking I’ve been spending my days in a hotel pool at the top of a mountain with my yoga buddies. I get a 15 minute hike up the hill – in the heat that’s sufficing my hiking desires for now.

Judit, my new Spanish friend, has plans to go back to India and stay for up to five years… I’m impressed. I guess India is one of those places you either LOVE or HATE. Apparently “The rest of India is great” – I saw India’s worst side – the worst cities in the worst season. Maybe I’ll go back… one day… in the very very distant future…


Cute restaurants abound this place: good food, and VERY CHEAP – like $1-5 a meal!

The best meal was “Buff”, a juicy, tender, sizzling buffalo steak… if only I didn’t have to eat it in shame. Surrounded by vegetarian hippies and Hindis I feel the pain of the animals through the pain they try but fail to conceal in their eyes.

To eat meat, or not to eat meat – that is the question. Usually a debate follows.

I justify my actions by explaining that if our ancestors hadn’t have learned to extract meat and bone marrow from other animals, we may not have survived and our brains certainly would not have evolved to the complexity they are today. Meat is brain food. Then they point out that when it was a question of survival it was one thing, but now we have a choice – there is plenty of other proteins we can eat that do not involve harming other forms of life. They make a good point. Why does meat have to taste so good, smell so good, and make my body feel so good? I usually go on to tell them that beans and vegetables don’t have have the protein or iron of meat. I explain that of course I do not like the idea of animals dying on my behalf but that is the way of nature. We have our pick because we are presently at the top of the food chain, and one day we’ll probably be at the bottom again. I am personally not afraid of death – death is part and parcel with the cycle of life. When I die I hope that other animals eat my body and that the cycle may continue. If you are going to care about animals dying, then what about plants? Are they not lifeforms with some form of consciousness too? Where do you draw the line between different forms of life? More of an issue to me is not the death of these animals for my food… what I care about is the crappy life they have to endure before this death. It’s more difficult when travelling but when I’m home I purchase free range chickens and eggs, and meat that comes from organic farms where the animal has lead a good life and avoiding as much as possible the large scale production facilities. They tend to agree with me on this point. And out of this dialogue I agree it’s a good idea to cut down on my intake. I suppose I don’t need meat/poultry/fish/eggs every day.


By and large my time here has been spent sipping banana lassis and masala tea, reading and writing and dreaming.

I understand how some of the hippies we hang out with at Shiva Bar have been travelling for 15 years!!! One of them uses paragliding as a mode of transport – now that’s a green way to fly…  taking literally the idea of letting the wind guide you to your next destination… 


Life has never been so simple.

And now, I relax

6am “knock knock” my revolting tasting medicine (of who knows what) arrives at my door… 630 yoga; 730 walk and feed monkeys; 830 breakfast (fruit and random-looking-but-delicious Indian vegetarian goop); 10am reflexology; 1030 continue reading “Holy Cow! An Indian Adventure” (awesome book btw); 1230pm massage (naked – completely naked); 130 vegetarian lunch and more gross medicine; 230 massage (thumped with hot pounds of herbs); 3pm intermediate yoga (soooo hard); 4pm ginger tea; 5pm medicine then walk (and twist my ankle… f***); 530 ice ankle and read; 7pm vegetarian dinner; 830 my allocated turn on internet; and very soon (around 9pm) take bedtime tablets (what the HECK are they giving me?) and go to bed. This AYURVEDA retreat high up in the Indian mountains in Coonoor is HARD CORE!!!

After ten days of it I am feeling GREAT!!!

I’ve been exfoliated, oiled, pounded, massaged, steamed and scrubbed – each simultaneously carried out by two sets of from hands, from head to toe. I’ve stretched, balanced and put my body into postures I never thought possible. I’ve swallowed tablets and liquids bitter, sweet and ambiguous. I’ve managed to do without chocolate (besides a Sunday-is-our-day-off binge) and coffee and alcohol, and even gone without meat (by no choice of my own). I’ve had points on my fingers pressed while I clench my teeth in pain. My ankle (still swollen from February and no thanks to my little slip on my first day here) has never has so much attention with it’s own oil press treatments, herbal mud-masks and Reiki.

I leave feeling smoother, skinnier, healthier, and stetchier, than I have in a long time.

Here is a quick glimpse of my time here: my new friends (monkeys and more monkeys), my treatments (I’m not actually about to have my head chopped off), and the lovely mountains and people of Coonoor. Click on a photo to see bigger, and then click through slide show…



I am as ready as I’ll ever be to hit the busy city of Delhi, and (try to) enjoy a three day manic tour around the golden triangle: Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Wish me luck.