Community Practice and Staying Young at Heart

When someone starts yoga, he or she thinks they should be very serious. Then they develop pain and go crazy as a result of their yoga. When you develop seriousness you cut yourself off from others. Yoga doesn’t say hide in a corner. Don’t feel you are old. For God, all are children, and children always play. ~ Babaji

If you’ve never attended one of the Centre’s Annual Community Yoga Retreats, you might not know what makes it such a special experience. While there are many elements that make it special, for me what really sets it apart from other retreats is the presence of families and children.

Depending on where you live and the kind of lifestyle you maintain, joining others in an intergenerational community for an extended period of time to focus on yoga and togetherness might be a rare experience. It revealed for me a new world of possibility and a way of being together that I’d never really felt before.

The last two summers I’ve had the privilege, and sometimes challenge, of being involved in co-ordinating the kids program. I have experienced first hand the unique element that kids bring to retreat. The retreat offers many opportunities for silence, reflection and personal study, yet there is also an element of community and relationship that invites a different kind of practice. A community retreat can challenge us to weave contemplation into the fabric of togetherness and family, and to start living our inner-realizations in a relational context.

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Babaji stresses the importance of allowing whatever life brings us to be our practice. So I suppose sometimes practice looks calm and still on the outside, and other times it might look quite active, even at times chaotic. If we restrict our practice to times of silence and stillness, we may be missing out on some of the richest opportunities for growth.

Children can be great teachers in that they embody such a diverse range of expression, and you never know what to expect. Sometimes they can be infinitely sweet and insightful, at other times bursting with emotional turmoil and upset. In these moments, there is an opportunity to meet whatever arises, either with resistance or open curiosity. While it can be easy to avoid or ignore some of the emotional turmoil that arises internally, it is difficult, often impossible, to ignore this expression in a child. In this way, relationships, and in particular relationships with children, can challenge us to face the unsettling parts of ourselves with compassion and curiosity. Children also have a delightful way of connecting us to our inner freshness, and keeping alive a way of seeing that can get lost as we grow-up.

As Babaji says:

Become a child. If you love them it’s easy. You were and are a child. A tree grows from a seed and the tree never separates from the seed. We don’t have to pretend to be a child; that nature is always in us.

To me, Babaji’s teachings really are about the yoga of life. Whatever stage of life we are in becomes our practice. Family life can be like this as well.

Your children make a world of your family. God and the creation are not separate. To love God we have to love God’s creation, which is visible and can be identified. Your family is a miniature form of this vast creation. If you serve your children, you are serving the whole creation.

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The beauty of retreat, and in particular a community retreat, is that we create a little microcosmic universe together. We have the opportunity to serve each other, to see each other more deeply and to find common ground.

Don’t separate yourself from social activities, but do your sadhana regularly. The world is an abstract art. Everyone sees it as they want to see it. It is a garden of roses and it is also a forest of thorny bushes and poison oak. You don’t need to stop seeing your friends to seek the truth. You have to see the truth in everything, including your friends, family and society.

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In this way, community retreat gives us the opportunity to deepen and to widen our practice. It has offered me some of the most challenging moments, and some of the most exquisite. But life is like that, both challenging and exquisite. Children know this and live this truth honestly, without trying to pretend it is different. I love that about being with them, and, just like yoga, they teach me how to be with life just as it is, and not to take things too seriously.

This is life. It includes pleasure, pain, good, bad, happiness, depression, etc. There can’t be day without night, so don’t expect that you or anyone will always be happy and that nothing will go wrong. Stand in the world bravely and face good and bad equally. Life is for that. Try to develop positive qualities as much as you can.

Contributed by: Johanna Peters

 


Buddings Bio PhotoJohanna became connected to SSCY through a series of serendipitous events that allowed her to work at the centre as a karma yogi. She remains connected to the centre and Babaji’s teachings by attending Satsang in Vancouver, and has learned the most about the true spirit of karma yoga through her work with children. Combining her love of yoga and working with kids, she had the privilege of co-ordinating the kids program at this year’s Annual Community Retreat. The centre continues to be a place of spiritual nourishment, inspiration and connection for Johanna, and the support it provides has allowed her life to blossom and flourish in the most unexpected and delightful ways.

Our Centre Community: Johanna Peters

The Journey Home

I have a sense, if I look far enough back in my experience, of being a child — of existing before all the seeking began, before all the stories of ‘me and my life’ took hold, and the freedom and wonder inherent in that open not-knowing. It seems to me, that the rest of my life and all the actions I’ve taken, have been an attempt to return to that innocent freedom, and in a big way my discovery of the Salt Spring Centre and its community has supported me on the journey home.

Growing up in Calgary, despite the cold winters, I had a rich array of activities to keep me engaged and connected, including going to the mountains most weekends to take advantage of the snow and learn how to fly down icy slopes on two long, narrow slats.

At Panorama Mountain Village, contemplating the view.

At Panorama Mountain Village, contemplating the view.

I had a lot of wonderful, enriching and sometimes challenging experiences growing up. I learned about music, acting, horse-back riding, writing. I learned about drinking too much, kissing boys and awkward high school parties. I learned a lot about social norms, human behaviour, who I should and shouldn’t be to fit in. But even amidst this rich array of experience and learning, it still felt like there was something missing. Something that was essential to me, that I couldn’t find in all these experiences, as diverse and exciting as they were.

This sense of seeking more and questioning my purpose was particularly strong as I neared the end of high school and felt the upcoming unknown that was life beyond high school. Longing to embark on a journey of self-discovery, but unsure how that might look, I followed the more traditional path, applying to different universities and eventually deciding to move to the west coast and study at the University of Victoria.

Uncovering the wild beauty of BC’s forests.

Uncovering the wild beauty of BC’s forests.

The grace present in that choice, which I was completely unaware of at the time, is so clear to me now.

Life on the west coast opened up my experience in a brand new way. I fell in love with the trees and the ocean, and started to find myself more and more in the peace and beauty of the natural world. My friendships began to take on a more authentic feel and I started meeting people who were asking the same questions I was asking: Who am I? What is the point of all of this? What are we doing here?

Even my studies reflected these questions as I studied eastern religions and learned about teachers like the Buddha, Gandhi, Krishnamurti and even contemporary teachers like Eckhart Tolle. I learned many years later that the professor who referenced all these thinkers lives on Salt Spring island, and I’ve since run into him many times on the Skeena Queen ferry. Go figure.

As I neared the end of a rich and varied university experience, I was faced with another transition point, and this time it was so clear to me that more schooling wasn’t going to help me find the answer to those essential questions that kept following me around. I didn’t know where the answers were going to come from, but I was open to the discovery.

In 2010, grace and a series of serendipitous events led me to the Salt Spring Centre and the karma yoga program.

Arriving at the centre for the first time in the summer of 2010 felt like coming home.

A view of the centre from Blackburn Road.

A view of the centre from Blackburn Road.

Finally, I was in a place where my own search for truth was reflected in the people, land and experiences around me. It seems to me, that past a certain point, our life is really about unbecoming. Like ice melting, the layers of conditioning peel off to reveal the open radiance of that conscious awareness that we are so much connected to as children. That state of being fully awake. As Babaji says, “Dream is real as long as you are asleep. Life is real as long as you are not awakened.”

Taking a lunch break on the mound with Aneeta and Shyam, summer 2010.

Taking a lunch break on the mound with Aneeta and Shyam, summer 2010.

Though I currently find myself living and working in Vancouver, I continue to remain connected to the centre and its community, returning to the land often. My connection to the centre has, and continues to transform my life in profound and surprising ways, as the uncovering that took place there begins to trickle into other areas of my life — work, family, friendships.

I think the greatest miracle of all is in the discovery that the joy and peace that I found to be fundamental to my being while at the centre, can be unveiled as the very basis of our existence in any moment, any experience, any place. It is, if we look close enough, the very fabric of life itself. This discovery has been the centre’s and Babaji’s greatest gift to my life. And I am grateful that it is there to remind me what matters whenever I forget.

Double downward dog with my little cousin. My love of working with kids and sharing yoga with little ones begins...

Double downward dog with my little cousin. My love of working with kids and sharing yoga with little ones begins…

At ‘work’. Making magic potions with some of the kids at the daycare where I work.

At ‘work’. Making magic potions with some of the kids at the daycare where I work.

August 2013 and 2014 I had the privilege of co-ordinating the Kids Program at the Annual Community Yoga Retreat. Here Genevieve guides us in a family yoga class.

August 2013 and 2014 I had the privilege of co-ordinating the Kids Program at the Annual Community Yoga Retreat. Here Genevieve guides us in a family yoga class.

In 2013 I complete a Rainbow Kids Family and Kids Yoga training.

In 2013 I complete a Rainbow Kids Family and Kids Yoga training.

Exploring the beautiful grounds at the Mt. Madonna Centre where I meet Babaji for the first time.

Exploring the beautiful grounds at the Mt. Madonna Centre where I meet Babaji for the first time.

A blessed life. Celebrating a birthday with some of my dear centre family.

A blessed life. Celebrating a birthday with some of my dear centre family.

August 2014, with my parents in Germany where my brother got married.

August 2014, with my parents in Germany where my brother got married.

Enjoying the sweetness of summer.

Enjoying the sweetness of summer.