Home' Nova National : February 2010 Contents FEATURE SPIRITUALITY
My plane to Coolangatta is delayed
and they don't know what the
rescheduled departure time
On my way to an intensive Ayurveda
and Zen retreat, I choose not worry and
instead relax into the moment. I find a
sunny table in the airport café, spread out
my homemade lunch and settle into a
Surprisingly, given the hustle and
bustle of the airport, I enjoy my "free"
time. Nothing is expected of me and all I
have to do is keep an eye on the departure
screen. Thankfully, the delay turns out to
be no more than two hours and I land at
Coolangatta in the early evening. En route
to the Sangsurya Retreat Centre, I notice
a car sticker with purple flowery lettering:
"Remember to breathe." Only in Byron, I
smile to myself as we pass blond, barefoot
teenagers skateboarding through the
Designed by the Mudita Institute,
founded by Sensei Michael Doko Hatchett,
a Zen Buddhist priest, Kester Marshall,
a herbalist and naturopath, and his wife
Nadia, an Ayurvedic lifestyle consultant
and yoga teacher, the essence of the retreat
is about simplifying the intensity of our
lives and bringing our minds and bodies
back into wholeness.
The polar opposite of a punishing raw
food, goal setting, exercise-driven boot
camp, we are invited to slow down, invite
in space, sweetness and simplicity and
to meet life with clarity for the proper
digestion of food, thoughts and ideas. Our
path for the next six days is to let go of that
which is rushed, aggressive and shallow
and to make contact with that which is
deep and real; the warmth and wisdom at
the core of our being.
"Just give yourself to the breath.
There is nothing to achieve so you can't
fail," says Doko with the warmest of smiles
after our first Zazen meditation session.
"Don't fuss if thoughts come up." And
yet, that night it's an enormous challenge
to drop into the moment and "just do
your teeth", "just get into bed", "just go
to sleep." The mental chatter continues,
along with the ingrained need to plan
ahead and fill in the space with reading,
doing and thinking.
That's why patience is so important.
One of three key themes of the retreat,
along with warmth and precision, this is
our opportunity to stop wasting energy
by constantly engaging in the "fix it"
approach to life. In his crystal clear and
beautifully worded lectures, Doko explains
how even our efforts to create a healthy
lifestyle imply a grasping for answers
and, ultimately, create division in the mind
and knots in the body. We are always ON
and measuring life.
By contrast, warmth is the uncontrived
space of relaxation, where we can feel
into the enjoyment of healthy living for
the simple joy of it, not because we should
or because we have a strategy.
Warmth is also a key quality in
Ayurveda, the traditional medicine of
India that aims to bring the body into
balance with nature. Contrary to much of
what is widely perceived as healthy -- cold,
raw, low fat, dry and rough foods (think
iced water, salad, rice crackers, raw
vegetables and cooling yoghurt), Ayurveda
works on the basis that like encourages
like and so recommends warm, light and
slightly oily foods.
To give a simple example: if you drink
a glass of iced water, you are effectively
immersing your internal organs in a cold
plunge pool causing your muscles to
contract. Ayurveda recommends starting
the day with a warming drink of ginger,
lemon and honey, and sipping warm
water throughout the day.
Central to Ayurveda is the belief that
all disease begins in the digestive tract
and is caused by an imbalance of digestive
fire, known in Sanskrit as agni. As a
gluten and dairy free girl, I am fascinated
to learn that all food intolerances
reflect a disturbance in our agni. Poorly
metabolised food causes a build up of
ama (toxins) in the body and depletes
An Ayurvedic retreat that overturns some accepted "fix it"
approaches brings clarity for Charlotte Francis.
10 © NOVA FEBRUARY 2010
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