News from the Centre – November 2017

Hello everyone,

At this chilly time of year we are still being treated to sunny days (alternating with rain). Here are some photos of apples just before harvesting and flowers still abloom – but not for long.

While we’re on the subject of the garden, here’s…

Milo’s farm update:

What a gift those soaking rains have been! Our irrigation has been tucked away in preparation for hard frosts to come and the fields are harvested of their bounty. The Food Forest was planted in a fantastic flurry by a group of wonderful volunteers. Trees and shrubs stretched across nearly two acres are settling in for the winter and will be off to a flying start come Spring. I hope ya’ll like raspberries! Lots of time spent on the tractor these days as I finish up a few tiny ponds for critter habitat and water retention as well as a series of paddies for rice trials and small grain production!

Our minds and hearts now look forward rainy days and a cozy winter of rest and contemplation. (Come on by for a cup of tea.) So many lessons learned this year. Thank you all for the support and smiles; it’s been a wonderful ride. Onward.

Seth and Martin – work party cleanup

Milo and Yogeshwar bringing in the apples

Sunflower seed heads

Squash galore


Much of the farm abundance has been transformed into treats for the winter by the ‘processing team’. Here are a few of their yummy creations to date: applesauce, pear sauce, apple and pear butter and jam, salsa verde (made from green tomatoes), green ketchup (really!), and hot sauce.

Salsa verde and green ketchup!

We had a wonderful Diwali celebration in the yurt a couple of weeks ago. Diwali is the celebration of the return of Rama and Sita to Ayodhya. Rama (universal consciousness) and Sita (individual consciousness) are reunited at the end of the Ramayana performances that we’ve done over the years, with the help of Hanuman, the embodiment of devotion and selfless service. Together, they return to the kingdom of Ayodhya where the people in the city light their way with candles. In Salt Spring’s version, we place tea lights in paper boats and float them in large bowls of water. We used to do it outside, but after getting rained out a number of times, we decided it would be lovely to be in a warm and cosy space.

Diwali celebrations

As always, kirtan continues on Wednesday evening as does satsang every Sunday afternoon. Sunday evening has become yoga sutra study time, with Yogeshwar teaching this weekly class. If you happen to be on the island you’re welcome to attend any or all of them. There are also ongoing classes for the karma yogis at the Centre. In recent weeks, Usha led a class about the history of the land and Dan Jason taught a class about seed saving and food security. Om PK led us in an Ed Camp, an opportunity to share and brainstorm ideas, and we also spent an afternoon making prayer flags.

Our prayer flags

In the midst of all this fun, cooking, cleaning and outdoor work continues.

Racquel, Olga, Kaori under the mighty maple on the mound

New Opportunity: Maintenance Coordinator

At this time we are looking for a Maintenance Coordinator to join the karma yoga resident community. If you or someone you know has maintenance skills and experience and is intrigued with the idea of doing that work in a spiritual community, please check the posting on our website.

Seasonal Celebrations at the Centre School

The Salt Spring Centre School hosted their annual pumpkin walk at the school the evening before Halloween. Parents and community members joined the kids to walk the trail and see all the lit-up jack-o-lanterns carved by kids and parents, and vote on them in categories ranging from cutest to scariest.

At 6:00 pm on November 28, Usha will lead the school community, the Centre community and guests in the annual Celebration of Light (aka Advent). Each child, from youngest to oldest (including former students who come back to celebrate with us), walks a spiral of cedar boughs and stars while carrying an apple with a candle in it. In the middle of the spiral they light their candle from the candle in the centre before proceeding back through the spiral to place their apple and lit candle on one of the trays around the circle. While this is happening, everyone is singing songs of light from various traditions, led by Usha who has done this every year since the beginnings of the Salt Spring Centre School. It is a beautiful and uplifting event.

Upcoming Programs

On the weekend of November 24 – 26, Chetna will be teaching Yoga for Cancer, an experiential workshop for yoga teachers. This workshop is approved for continuing education credits through Yoga Alliance and is approved for 17 elective credits towards Mount Madonna Center’s YTT 500hr training.

This Month’s Newsletter Offerings

Here are a couple of articles for your enjoyment.

Continuing the series about people in our centre community, this month I’m pleased to introduce you to Racquel Marshall, someone you may have spoken with on the phone if you’ve called the office to register for a program or ask about the Centre. Racquel, our office manager, keeps things running smoothly in the office and is an active part of our residential community. Through her many adventures – beginning in India, with a number of years in Dubai and various other places – she found our community. I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading “Higher Love” and seeing the photos of her adventures.

Spiritual teachers regularly remind us that peace can only be found in the present, yet how often are we really present? It’s so tempting to fantasize about how we’ll get it all together…..someday, or getting stuck in a reaction to something that happened in the past.  “Choosing Peace”  offers some gentle suggestions to support us in coming back to this moment, the only moment in which true peace is possible.

Also in this edition, here are some “Questions and Answers with Babaji”. These particular questions and answers come from a 1994 edition of this newsletter, long before it was delivered electronically. A number of years later someone asked Babaji whether the quality of our questions had improved over the years; he replied, “Same questions, same answers.”

As soon as a person starts thinking, “I want to be a better person,” that is the start of yoga.

With wishes for a peaceful autumn and a warm entry into winter,

Choosing Peace

Most of us spend a lot of time dreaming about the future. Sometimes we fantasize that at some point in the future we’ll have it all together, we’ll have what we want, and we’ll finally be able to relax and be happy.

I’m sorry to spoil the dream, but remember that this is a fantasy. You will never manage to arrange things so that you get all the things you want and avoid all the things you don’t want. The game is rigged.

It never works. You can’t find happiness in outer objects because everything is changing, mortal, and unreal.

The good news is that you can do something about it – not by rearranging your life, but by and adjusting how you respond to life. Babaji calls this changing the angle of the mind.

What do you find yourself dwelling on? Notice if those thoughts bring you peace or agitation and dissatisfaction. When you watch the habits of the mind, you may find they tend to revolve around what’s not right, what’s not working. Once you notice, you have a choice. If you find you fall down the same rabbit hole over and over again, you can choose a different route.

Our habitual responses are so familiar that there’s almost a kind of comfort in them. “That’s me getting so worked up. It’s because I’m right..….” Somebody does or says something we don’t like and we immediately feel offended, hurt, angry. If we remain stuck in that response, the result is disconnection and misery.

Your mind is the creator of everything. You create heaven ad you create hell. Both are in the mind. Yoga sadhana deals with the mind.

You are in bondage by your own consciousness and you can be free by your own consciousness. It’s only a matter of turning the angle of the mind.

One way to weaken the power of your habitual thought patterns is to focus on their opposite. For example, if you notice yourself reacting to a situation with anger, take a moment, breathe, relax and have some compassion for yourself. Once you’ve been able to soften your heart and bring some kindness to yourself, it’s so much easier to let that compassion flow out to others, including the person whose actions triggered your anger response.

The ability to notice the cause of your anger develops when the mind is pure. To purify the mind, a disciplined and virtuous life is important. When the anger is burned down by positive life, in time it will become dormant. Why do we get angry? We defend our existence. We don’t just exist; we exist with lots of desires. If any desire is obstructed we burst with anger. So the root is not very far if you dig. Just watch the rising desires and treat them as binding thoughts. Binding thoughts are any that block peace.

One way to open the heart is to pay attention to the many things in your life that serve you well. What’s not wrong? Keeping a gratitude journal helps turn your attention to the people and things that support you every day, including your very existence. Gratitude is an easy way to shift negative thinking.

Here are a couple of quotes to remind us to see the goodness in our lives:

“There are only two way to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle; the other is as though everything is a miracle.” (Albert Einstein)

“If the only prayer you say in your life is thank you, that would suffice.” (Meister Eckhart)

Life is not a burden. We make it a burden by not accepting life as it is. We desire everything. If we don’t get what we desire, we feel anger, depression, and pain. If we do get it, then we get attached, jealous, and discontented, which again causes pain. So the root cause is desire. If we put a limit on our desires, there will be a limit to our pain. Gradually we can reduce the limit, and one day the desires will be decreased so much that we will not even think about them. That state of mind is peace.

Om shanti, shanti, shanti

Contributed by Sharada
All text in italics from writings by Baba Hari Dass

Sharada-Portrait-2016 Sharada Filkow, a student of classical ashtanga yoga since the early 70s, is one of the founding members of the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga, where she has lived for many years, serving as a karma yogi, teacher and mentor.

Questions and Answers with Babaji

Q: For someone who leads a busy life, how is it possible to keep one’s mind on God?
B: God is not separate from its creation. Anything that you see, feel, experience is God. Identify it as God and that will keep the awareness of God.

Q: It seems that many paths or practices can become a trap of meaningless ritual or a vehicle to liberation.
B: Anything can be a trap. A hermit goes to a cave to get out of his worldly attachments, and then he gets attached to the cave. If we miss the point, then everything becomes a trap. Rituals are created to bring discipline in life, but people get attached to rituals and miss the discipline. The sagees experimented with millions of methods and came to the conclusion that if we are not aware of ourselves, then we can’t progress.

Q: What does the term “maya” mean?
B: Ma – it is; ya – it is not. Because this creation is seen and identified by the mind as real, so “it is”. But in fact it’s only the gunas acting within themselves and what we are seeing is only our desire, so “it is not”. Like when someone gives birth to a baby, it is real, but when the illusion of “my son” or “my daughter” starts,then it is not real. Maya is a divine power that controls everything in the universe.

Q: What power have thoughts in creating samskaras?
B: When thoughts change to action then that makes attachment and that makes an imprint on the mind.

Q: Thoughts don’t make imprints?
B: Only if one dwells.

Q: How does liberation come from experience?
B: Experiences themselves are bondage. That bondage creates memory and the cycle goes on. But when the experience creates pain, that pain opens up the mind and looks for the cause. The causes are always the five afflictions: ignorance (of our true nature), egoism, attraction, repulsion, and fear of death. When one identifies these causes, the path of liberation starts. When the mind sees the causes, then it automatically tries to remove them.

Q: How do we know what’s real if we are always protecting our own world?
B: That’s what we have to find out by yoga. Yoga is not one particular method. As soon as a person starts thinking, “I want to be a better person”, that’s the start of yoga.

Q: Could you comment on the idea that difficult things in our lives are actually opportunities and so can be seen as God’s grace?
B: Everything is God’s grace. We have our limitations in everything. Life outside is easier than life inside. You can change your environment if you don’t like it, but if you are miserable within, you carry it everywhere. So yoga always points to change within. Any pain which turns the mind toward God and creates the desire to seek for God is God’s grace.

Q: An aspirant is supposed to be at peace and without desire, yet there is an intense desire for God, and the pangs of separation are not peaceful. How does one deal with this conflict?
B: That brings peace. “Viyoga” equals separation from God and creates Yoga or union with God. Peace is our original nature. It is covered by attachment, desires, egoism, etc, and we feel disturbed. Wanting God – this desire is created because we want to end our suffering. When we feel separated from God, our peace is not disturbed. We are getting closer to peace. Our peace is disturbed when we are lost in the world.

Q: How does one know what one’s purpose in life, or dharma, is – so that one can get fulfilled or liberated?
B: The purpose of life is to attain peace. Anything that disturbs peace should be avoided, and that opens the path to liberation.

Q: How does one choose their work in the world?
B: Our mind knows our talents and what kind of work fits our nature, but we can’t find it because the mind is busy or distracted by the world. If we develop concentration, then we can see it clearly. Time to think. For clear thinking, you need single-mindedness.

Q: How do we know what sadhana (spiritual practice) or guru to choose, or is the it the guru who chooses the disciple?
B: Sadhana means to find the path which leads to eternal peace. Those who understand it, they don’t need a guru. When we understand the aim, then we start seeing the distractions which come in our path. But if we don’t see those distractions, then we need outer help. Union of guru and disciple depends on samskaras. (imprints in the mind)

Higher Love

Higher Love

by Racquel Marshall

Racquel – India, 2016

I have a slanted British accent, I think I look like an Indian, and I was born in India. My name is Racquel Marshall – not quite an Indian name. I don’t speak Hindi; instead I have dreamed in English as far back as I can remember. Quite the contradiction – who am I…?

I hail from a small mining town called Kolar Gold Fields (KGF), in south India, known to be one of the deepest gold mines of its time. This little mining town was also called “small England” during the British Rule in India dating back to a period before 1947 when India gained its independence. The mines were officially closed down in 2001 but while my family lived in KGF we saw the mining community and the ‘Anglo-Indian’ community slowly dwindle and move away. My Anglo-Indian heritage accounts for a mixture of British, Portuguese, Irish and Indian bloodlines. Growing up with an average of five ‘Anglo-Indian’ students in each class we were right away singled out in school for our fairer skin, sometimes blue eyes and our ability to speak better English, which we spoke at home, than the local population. It was uniforms and Catholic school until grade seven when my parents moved from this romantic little town to the big city of Bangalore about 30 kilometers away.

Siblings 1981 (Andrea, Calvin, Smokey the dog, Rory, Racquel)

Today there is very little left of the large bungalows that some of our families called home. I have memories of fun-filled weekends spent with cousins playing hide-and-go-seek in the many bedrooms above the main house or skidding our knees learning to ride a bicycle in the large lawns that sprawled from the entry way of these bungalows.

I still make a pilgrimage back to KGF when I travel back to India to visit old haunts and dream up the good ole days.

Family 2010 (Calvin, Racquel, Shireen (mom), Andrea, Rory)

Moving to Bangalore, the big city, was exciting and confusing, but you learn to cope with the madness and stress of new schools, new friends and at the age of fourteen being the eldest of three siblings, be the rock for my mother who had just walked away from a dreadful marriage to my father.

Life was rough. I grew up too fast and learned to adapt. I tried to pray; I knew there was something out there larger and more powerful than me, although finding God was way too confusing – for now anyway. I was baptized Protestant, and when my folks split up my mother christened us Catholic. I went through the motions of first holy communion and attended mass but none of it resonated with me. There would be time for God and religion – later.

I earned a secretarial diploma right out of school and started working at the age of seventeen. My escape was always in books. I was fascinated early on by Enid Blyton’s stories, the adventures of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, but quickly progressed to the likes of Robert Ludlum, Wilbur Smith and Danielle Steele. I travelled in my mind and knew there was so much more to explore ‘out there’ in the real world that the pages in my books so vividly described. My ticket out of India came in 1995 when I got the opportunity to work in Dubai. It broke my heart to leave my family but I couldn’t wait to embark on my very own adventure.

An adventure it has been ever since. For seven years I worked, played, fell in love, married and saw everything there was to see of Dubai and the United Arab Emirates. I rode camels, camped in the desert, drove my 4X4 vehicle like a pro in the dunes of the desert and through the wadis of the Al Hajar mountains, snorkeled in the Persian Gulf and sang songs with the Bedouin of Oman.

Dubai circa 1997

Dune driving in Dubai circa 1998

Sultanate of Oman circa 1999

I had many reasons to be thankful and I did thank God for my blessings, but who was He or She? I did try to go to church in Dubai, which lasted all of ten minutes one Christmas eve. I felt like I was being herded like cattle to get to a mass at the only church in the city for the thousands of Christians in a Muslim country. No thank you, God would have to wait.

It was off to Canada next. After wrapping up our life in the UAE, my partner and I decided to travel in India before immigrating to Canada in 2002. Discovering my motherland again was nothing short of spectacular. Little did I know that the seeds of my spiritual path would be planted during this time. The lovely Tara Buddha. I bought an ‘idol’ from a pesky street urchin and stuffed it nonchalantly in my backpack to be unearthed a few later in Vancouver with the astounding knowledge that she had been with me all along.

Camping in Jaisalmer, India 2001

Arriving in Canada in 2002 was like coming home, I felt an instant affinity to the friendly people and instantly fell in love with the beauty of this country. Having landed in Toronto, the whirlwind life of the city quickly took a hold of me and my exciting new life as a Canadian began. Dubai had nothing on Canada. This was real life; the ‘fake’ material world of fast cars and money was soon fading along with my marriage that soon unravelled and fell apart.

Equipped with my library card and a quest for adventure I moved to Sudbury. My mettle was truly tested here where I not only weathered the storms in my heart, I battled the ice and snow storms on my way to and from work in what I had now came to truly know as North America. Better prospects beckoned and I was on the move again, this time to Grande Prairie, Alberta where the oil was flowing and jobs were booming. I secured a job with the RCMP and spent two years soaking up the countryside while being starkly reminded that my skin was brown and I didn’t quite fit in this one-horse town.

I set my sights on Vancouver as moving further west appealed to me rather than moving back to Toronto. A two-week holiday in Vancouver and Victoria brought me home to the west coast in 2008. I paraglided off Grouse mountain, drank in the beauty of Stanley Park and the north shore mountains, went for long walks in Steveston and spent a weekend in Sidney, Victoria. I returned to Grande Prairie high on life, a job offer in my pocket and my mind made up. Two weeks later I had packed everything I owned into my car, tunes blasting, singing my heart out, Grande Prairie in my rear view mirror, I was now on my way to a new chapter and life in British Columbia.

Paragliding, Grouse Mountain, Vancouver 2008

Vancouver – you have given me eight beautiful years of love, laughter, friendship and beauty – a lifetime really, yet I still search for a higher love. I had over the years since Dubai practiced yoga sporadically. What cemented my belief in this practice was a single yin class that cured a year-long whiplash neck injury. It was during those early years in Vancouver that I stumbled upon a meditation class that had a profound effect on me. I unearthed Tara Buddha – the idol long buried in among my possessions, still wrapped in newspaper from my travels in India. I gobbled up all the literature I could find on Buddhism. I followed the teachings of Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso every Tuesday in a meditation class taught by loving teachers who soon became guides and friends, a Sangha that still shines its beautiful light in my life.

In February of 2016 I was confronted with the death of my boss. I had just returned from a fantastic vacation with my family in India, life was grand, I was living in the best place on earth, I loved my job and the life I had created for myself in Vancouver. The universe or God had other plans for me. After a month of wading through the shock of losing the person I would see each morning at work who was just simply gone was too much. I needed a break to step back to breathe and grieve. On a whim I googled ‘yoga retreats’ and the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga showed up, and they were looking for administrative staff. I reviewed the website and the posting and couldn’t believe that such a place existed. I bookmarked the page and a week later it was still there and quite real.

It has now been six months since I moved to Salt Spring Island after I was accepted to fill the position. I live on the land and work as the office manager for the Centre. I took a huge leap of faith by giving up everything I knew to embark on ‘living in a conscious community’. I know with every fibre in my being that I was led here by a higher power. Once I had made up my mind to move, things just fell into place and magically happened. I have come to love this paradise I now call home, the Island, the centre, the community. I feel like I have lived many lifetimes already through this one life but I know that my truth lies here and now. I am grateful each day for all the blessings I receive and am thankful to Baba Hari Dass for creating such a sanctuary of living, learning, beauty and peace. No two days are the same, my days are filled with music, walking in the woods, planting strawberries, harvesting apples, pears, walnuts, tripping over garden snakes and perhaps spending a lazy afternoon listening to stories by the elders of this land.

Each day brings such joy to my heart and the best way to describe it is like repeatedly falling in love each and every day. If this is the higher love that I seek then I get to taste it every day from falling in love with the beings I encounter on the land and the beauty that touches me on so many levels.

So blessed.