Shankar’s September update

Greetings:

The Centre rarely hosts weddings but this past weekend was an exception. In bright sunshine on the flower-strewn mound, we celebrated the marriage of Sean Crabtree and Melinda Quintero. Lakshmi’s son, Sean, who was born on Salt Spring Island, has been associated with the Centre community all his life. He was already working at the Centre when Melinda came as a KY two years ago, and they have been together ever since, so it made perfect sense for them to celebrate their union back at the place they met. It was an occasion for many long-time members of the Dharma Sara community to reconnect, but it was also an affirmation of the continuing vitality of this community. Who knows how many more generations of Babaji’s students will grace the Centre with their wedding celebrations? It is so heartening to see the next generation deeply committed to the spiritual teachings and, despite busy lives, not losing touch with their community. As well as the many children of the long-time members, there are also grandchildren, and the wide age range was again evident at the 38th Annual Community Yoga Retreat. Add to these the steady influx of young people who have no parental connection but join the large, extended family by living and working at the Centre, and there is a vitality and energy that bodes well for the future.

Despite the warm, sunny days, there is a coolness to the evenings that reminds us that it is indeed September again – time to process the extra food from the farm, to store and juice apples and to fill up the woodshed with the split logs harvested in spring from the aging broadleaf maple trees at the front of the property. The summer KYs have departed and the resident community is smaller now as we move into the final third of the Centre’s season. There are opportunities for guests to enjoy this quiet phase with three more Yoga Getaways and many openings for Personal Retreats. Visit our website for details.

In peace,
shankar

Sharada’s August Update

In the blink of an eye, it’s August. Since the last edition of this newsletter, the first session of Yoga Teacher Training and the 38th Annual Community Yoga Retreat have come and gone. Later this week, the YTT students will return for the second session of their program, culminating with their graduation as certified yoga teachers on August 19. The guiding principle for students and teachers is “teach to learn”. As Babaji says in Fire Without Fuel, “Life is for learning and the world is our school. Doing your homework every day brings liberation.”

The annual retreat was wonderful and the weather was perfect. Many families came – lots of kids this year! Adults attended classes while the kids played happily, the atmosphere both focused and relaxed. The work project focal point was the finishing of the temples in the garden. There was plenty of time for play, too – and for many, afternoon swims in one of the local lake.

As the retreat began we sent loving wishes to Shankar and his family on the passing of his mother as he and his daughter, Shannon, left for England to be with the rest of their family. The following day we extended the same wishes for peace to Kishori and her family on the passing of her mother. Life goes on and here we are all……

The Centre looks beautiful – the house, the grounds, the campground, the farm. The food, as always, is excellent, thanks to both the farm and the kitchen. Living in this land of abundance, we are blessed indeed – and the greatest blessing of all is that we have Babaji’s teachings to guide us.

A number of people from our sister centre (Mount Madonna Center) arrived early for the retreat, along with a few from Vancouver, several of them being second-generation satsang community members. This edition of Offerings features comments from some of them about what summer at the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga means to them. The “Old Member” profile will continue next month.

In peace,
Sharada

Shankar’s July update

Greetings:

While the rest of the continent has been experiencing drought, fires and record high temperatures, the Pacific northwest has had to wait until now for the first real days of summer. This has delayed farm production but has meant an abundance of succulent greens both on the table and at the farm stand. It is good timing for the newly arrived Yoga Teacher Training students many of whom camp in the meadow. This is the eleventh year of our YTT program and there are now some four hundred teachers trained in the practices taught by Babaji, some of whom have been invited back to complement the fifteen or so specialised members that make up the YTT teaching faculty. Every year we now have students of our graduates coming to the Centre for this life-changing experience. YTT signals the start of the busiest months of the year at the Centre and attention now switches to the Annual Community Retreat.

At our first yoga retreat in 1975 who would have believed that in 2102 we would be celebrating an unbroken sequence of thirty-eight annual community yoga retreats? This is a unique event in the Centre’s calendar as it brings together the broader Dharma Sara community, including elders, their children and even grandchildren, in a joyful celebration of our connectedness through Babaji and yoga. This year we have extended a special invitation to members of our sister community, Mount Madonna Center in California, and we anticipate seeing many old friends from there. We have made the retreat more affordable this year by offering a sliding fee scale to accommodate those whose finances are limited, and as usual we have a Youth and Kids Program so that parents can bring their families and still attend classes.This year preregistration is required (deadline July 31st) and all registrations are now on-line at our website. Because of the low rate there will be no day or half-day drop-in rates though drop-in meals will still be available. We hope you will join us August 2nd – 6th.

In peace,
Shankar

Shankar’s June update

Greetings:

This past Sunday the Centre hosted Swami Santatmananda, the resident acharya at the Swami Dayananda Ashram in Rishikesh. Ahead of satsang and the community dinner he gave an introductory talk on Vedanta to about a hundred people. Visits such as this are inspiring and form an important part of the program the Centre offers to both its community members and Salt Spring Islanders. Previous visitors have included the eminent Tibetan Buddhist, Garchen Rimpoche, Yogi Amrit Desai, the founder of Kripalu, Swami Pragyapad from the Bangalore Art of Living ashram, and Swamis Mangalananda and Maheshananda. Last year we were honoured with a visit by Ramji a western Vedantist associated with Ramana Maharshi’s ashram whose irreverent style was in marked contrast to the classically-trained Swami Santatmananda. The recent Buddhist celebration, Wesak, also attracted about a hundred of Salt Spring’s Buddhists to the Centre. These are large numbers for a small island – if these events were to take place in Vancouver and attract a similar percentage of the population, attendance would be 20,000! The Centre’s eclectic embracing of different spiritual traditions follows Babaji, who, while teaching the classical form of ashtanga yoga, has always encouraged a broad acceptance of all genuine paths. As Babaji has said, echoing the great Indian saint, Ramakrishna: “Everyone’s way of finding god is a religion, so there are as many religions as there are individuals.”

This week we welcome into the Centre’s working yoga family a large new group of karma yogis. Some of these newcomers have made considerable sacrifices in their lives to be here for three months, perhaps leaving family and friends, jobs and homes to bravely step into a somewhat unknown situation. Fortunately, experience shows that they will probably settle here very quickly, make deep friendships, enjoy their stay immensely and for some, have their lives changed dramatically for the better. Given these lasting friendships and the fact that many past karma yogis return to spend more time at the Centre, we could start a regular Newsletter section (perhaps called KY Corner?), in which to share news of the comings and goings of our KYs. If you think this is a good idea, please send us your KY updates so we can answer that frequent question: “Whatever happened to so-and-so?”

The new KYs will be in action quickly as we move into peak program season. Personal retreat numbers will be increasing steadily to fill in the days between our busy weekend programs. Dharma Sara’s Annual General Meeting, June 16th is part of a special weekend called “Keeping the Flame Burning” in which we will highlight Babaji’s teachings with experience and insight provided by long-term practitioners. The Yoga Teacher Training program begins in a month (we still have space available if you have been delaying your decision). And it’s time to think about the Annual Community Yoga Retreat, August 2nd – 6th. The registration forms for all these programs are on-line.

In peace,
Shankar

Shankar’s May update

Greetings:

The swallows are back and fluttering around the back deck, choosing corners and ledges to build their mud nests, just like their parents and so many generations before them. The goldfinches have returned and will spend their summer splashing in the fountain in front of the main house. And, earlier than ever, our farm stand is open, offering the first salad greens of the season. This is the surplus from the large greenhouses, a testimony to the hard work put in by the farm team over the last three cool, damp months. Even before that the Centre community were still eating the last of the fall plantings (thank-you Sofya!), another small but significant step towards food self-sufficiency, a direction greatly encouraged by Babaji. If you are interested in activities on the farm or would like to be updated on what is currently being offered at the farm stand, check out our farm page.

The full moon in May reminds us that it is time again for the annual celebration of the birth, enlightenment and passing of the Buddha, known around the world as Wesak. The Centre has enthusiastically taken up this event and this will be the third year it has been held here. As well as highlighting the legacy of one of the most influential people who ever lived, this is an opportunity for Buddhists of different persuasions to join together in one place and celebrate the commonality of the dharma. These include followers of Tibetan Buddhist practices, and Zen and Vipassana practitioners, along with others whose spiritual beliefs may be non-Buddhist but are broad enough to encompass all of these. This would seem to be a simple matter, as the Dalai Lama himself has said: “My religion is kindness” -who can find fault with that? But religious strife has been with us for millennia and will doubtless be with us for a long time to come. We can do our part, however, by showing compassion, love and respect for all; as Babaji has said – quoted in one of the recent Daily Sutras, available by email subscription – “Our first duty is to cultivate positive qualities” – again, who can argue with that? We hope you will join us to celebrate the Buddha and his teaching on Thursday, May 3rd at 7:30pm.

In peace
Shankar

Shankar’s April update

Greetings:

Often when people come to the Centre as guests or KYs, they hope to start a regular yoga practice or strengthen an existing one. Babaji has said that his main aim in life is to bring people into regular sadhana (he even has a rubber stamp with RS on it), and this is an important function of the Centre. But it often takes many attempts before a practice becomes established. There are many factors that can help in this: regularity of time (ideally in the early morning), a set place for the practice, going to bed an hour earlier, or having family or friends join the practice. It can be especially helpful to join a retreat or program where sadhana is a central focus. Our Yoga Teacher Training students have an excellent opportunity to establish or deepen their practice, as they have directed morning sessions every day, but it is not possible for everyone to do this. An alternative is our upcoming Deepen Your Practice retreat, May 18th-21st. This intermediate level program is taught by one of our senior teachers, Cathy Arpana Valentine, and may be just what is needed to take you to another level. If you feel your practice is stagnating or you would like to breathe new life into it, Arpana’s enthusiasm, obvious commitment and deep understanding of yoga may be the very thing for you. Perhaps we will see you there?

For those looking for a less intense yoga program, we are continuing with what has proved to be our most popular weekend program, the Yoga Getaway, and there will be one every month except for August. The first one has come and gone and this gave our new group of karma yogis their first experience of serving a program. They came through it well and are settling comfortably into their primary areas of kitchen and housekeeping. Outside, though it is still cool and damp, the hanging baskets are coming out from winter storage, the propagation greenhouse is filled with sprouting flowers and vegetables, and it’s time to start cutting the grass. Another season, the Centre’s thirty-first, begins.

The Centre infrastructure has now been upgraded so (thankfully) there will be a break from building and renovation projects this year. Perhaps this will allow us to look more closely at the Centre land beyond the buildings. Recently the Dharma Sara Board formed a Land Stewardship Committee to protect the ecological integrity of the whole natural environment: all of the plants and animals, soil, water and air at the Centre. Decisions on issues such as the location of buildings, which trees to cut for firewood and lumber, pest control on the farm, sources of irrigation water, waste disposal, motor vehicles and trails, all have broader implications than their immediate areas and will come under the general direction of the Land Stewardship Committee. A holistic view will be very helpful as we move into a time, perhaps not too far off, when energy and food sustainability shift from being a good idea to an imperative.

We hope to be ready!
In peace
Shankar

Shankar’s March update

Greetings:

As a misty early morning rain falls in the Blackburn valley, there’s a quiet hum of activity around the Centre. All the full-season staff are now here setting up for the early programs. There are new faces and new roles, and a strong sense of purpose. Jack Teng and Emily Adam are managing the farm and already seedlings are sprouting. There has been a continuous supply of farm-fresh greens all winter, thanks to planning in the fall. Though we are a long way from food self-sufficiency, each year sees a significant step toward that change. Last year also saw some major changes in the Centre’s way of operating. Scheduling has always been a most challenging and stressful job, but for 2011 the system was completely restructured, enlisting the help of Shantam, one of the schedulers at Mount Madonna Center. He spent a month on Salt Spring and customised the program he had written for MMC. Along with other changes at the Centre, this revolutionised staff scheduling, reducing it from an almost full-time job to just a few hours a week. Another change, made over a year ago, has had a large impact. We have now had over a year to assess our new website, and it has seen greatly increased traffic. More and more guests and potential karma yogis are discovering us through the internet. Booking and payment for programs and wellness centre visits, and applications for all positions are now done on-line.

Not all the volunteer work for the Centre is so readily seen. The Dharma Sara Board of directors continues its work mostly in the background. With some Board members out of the country over the winter, meetings have continued by conference call. The Board deals with the broader picture of the legal, organisational, ethical, philosophical and financial issues facing the Centre. Part of its mandate is to plan for the future – no simple task in a world changing so fast in so many ways. What will the Centre look like in five, ten or even twenty years? What do we want it to look like? In twenty years how many of the original members will remain? There is much groundwork to be laid before then. This is where you come in! The Board is elected by current members of Dharma Sara at the Annual General Meeting. This year the AGM will be held on the weekend of June 16th. The bylaws state that anyone who has been a member for 90 days is eligible to vote – so those who take out their membership by March 19th may help choose the next Board of directors. Those wishing to run for office must have been members for at least twelve months. You are encouraged to participate and can find details of membership here.

Because some of the long-time members of Dharma Sara may not be known to many familiar with the Centre, each of the last Newsletters has featured a profile of one of them. This month we profile Janaki Polden, who, though no longer on the Board, served many years as a director and continues to support Centre and Board activities. She was one of those who moved to Salt Spring Island to help the Centre in its beginnings. Her story is inspiring and captures the spirit of those early days filled with hard physical work, fun with Babaji and great optimism for the future. The Centre would not be what it is today without the generosity of spirit exemplified by Janaki and many others. All who appreciate the Centre owe them and Babaji a great debt of gratitude.

With thanks,
Shankar

Shankar’s February update

The year 2011 was significant for the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga with the centennial celebration of the main house and thirty years of its use for our Centre. It has been an extraordinary period. In an era when many spiritual and healing centres were much talked about and a far smaller number actually started, the Centre has become the longest-running spiritual retreat centre on Canada’s west coast. It is not that our group had more skill, enthusiasm or money than others; the difference undoubtedly comes down to our great fortune in having a guide whose wisdom, vision and boundless energy unified a disparate group of young people looking for a better way to live.

As Babaji approaches his ninetieth year, he no longer travels to Salt Spring Island, nor even to his beloved ashram/orphanage in India. He has been slowly withdrawing from many of his regular activities at the Mount Madonna Center, but nonetheless still gives freely of his time to the increasing number of visitors, many of them Indian families, that seek his darshan on those days that he still attends MMC. Though he is occasionally forgetful (like many of us now!), and his legendary energy has diminished, his health is good.  Many of his Canadian students continue the annual visits to California to see him, and report that he radiates the peacefulness that he has long urged us to seek. We continue to be in awe of his effect on our lives and the lives of those who pass through the Centre. We offer him our love, respect and appreciation, and wish him continuing health in 2012.

Though the winter months are often a quiet time at the Centre, the last two months have seen great activity. The old tractor shed, long overdue for a facelift, is being upgraded for improved storage and workshop space. Last winter’s renovation of the upstairs of the main house is being completed with more cork flooring and paint. On the main floor the kitchen has been completely dismantled and the counters, cabinets and shelving will be replaced. This gave us the opportunity to remedy one of the long-standing issues of a hundred year old house – soundproofing between the kitchen and satsang room. This renovation also prompted a rethinking of the walk-in cooler in the basement, and, as so often happens with renovations, one thing led to another, and we now have an essentially new cooler. Adding to all this we have also made improvements to our karma yogis’ accommodation. The winter resident KYs have been very busy under the experienced eye of SN who has probably worked on every building at the Centre. Many thanks to SN who is being profiled this month in our Founding Member Feature series.

With the start of the 2012 season only weeks away, almost all staff are in place, the Yoga Teacher Training Program is filling well and karma yoga applications are steadily arriving. Shiva Ratri will be celebrated on Sunday, February 19th (note that satsang will be cancelled on that day). We look forward to another great year. In closing we wish Dharma Sara’s long-serving president, Divakar, a speedy recovery from his recent double hip operation. Email of the month award goes to Vivian, who on hearing of the success of the operation, emailed “Hip, hip, hooray!”

In peace
Shankar

Shankar’s November update

As the sun sets over the Centre, twenty beautifully carved pumpkins glow on the back porch, the remnants of the Centre’s Halloween dinner party. This was a time to thank some dedicated people. Sofya Raginsky our Farm Manager, began with us three years ago and said at that time that she was hoping to buy her own land and start farming in three years. True to her plan, she is leaving the Centre this month to farm her five acres in the Fulford valley. She and her “soil sisters”, Priya, Ali, Natasha and Coralie have worked tirelessly the whole season, rain or shine, to provide the Centre staff and guests with the tastiest, freshest organic produce available – zero mile food too. We will miss them. Our thanks to all of them and our best wishes for Sofya’s new venture.

Sofya harvesting the fall bounty

The fresh produce is only the first half of the Centre food story – the kitchen staff then transform this into meals that are both beautiful and delicious. When guests fill in evaluations after their stay, they almost always mention the wonderful surroundings and peaceful feeling at the Centre, along with the happy, friendly and efficient staff, but when they come to rate the food, the word “amazing” appears frequently. Quite simply, guests love the Centre food. Much credit for this goes to the Kitchen Manager, so a considerable debt of gratitude is owed to Kari Mathieson, our Kitchen Manager for the last six years. She has now stepped out of that role but we hope she will return to cook some program meals in 2012. Kari is known for the care and attention she gives to meals and for the serene environment she brings to food preparation. Indian sages have said that one can tell the thoughts of the cook when eating a meal, so the environment that Kari brought to the kitchen brought tranquility not only to her helpers but also to all those fortunate enough to be fed by her. Her patience, humility and peaceful manner have been an example to all Centre staff. We will miss her.

Kari prepares a feast for a crowd

Since it seems to be a time for thanks, there are other people who deserve our appreciation but who may not be well known. These are the longtime members of Dharma Sara, some of whom were founding members while others joined a little later. The contribution of these early karma yogis is hard to overstate. Many gave up careers and other pursuits to help make the Centre what it is today. Touched in some ineffable way by Babaji‘s subtle magic they grasped the joy of selfless service and have passed on a legacy of karma yoga that has been unbroken for almost forty years. Some are still contributing to Centre activities, while life has taken others to distant places and diverse occupations. Relative newcomers may not know much about the Dharma Sara pioneers, and even our occasional guests are often very curious about the Centre’s history. To illuminate this part of the Centre’s past, we are beginning a series that profiles some of our longtime members. Each month will feature someone whose contribution to Dharma Sara has gone on for many decades, and who better to start with than Sharada Filkow who has lived at the Centre for close to twenty nine years and continues to give her time and guidance to succeeding generations of karma yogis. Look for more old members’ stories in upcoming issues of the Newsletter.

With just one Yoga Getaway to come (November 11th-13th) our season comes to a close with our Celebration of Service and Gratitude (November 18th-20th). If you have volunteered for the Centre and wish to attend please fill in the registration form. We hope to see you soon.

In Peace,

Shankar

Shankar’s October Greeting

Under the apple trees. Open House 2011

September at the Centre has been delightful with warm sunny days and little rain. Likewise, the Open House at the very beginning of the month was blessed with a particularly beautiful day which encouraged a couple of hundred islanders to visit the Centre. They were given free yoga classes, tours of the historic Blackburn home in its centenary year and, after a tour of the farm, they were presented with a tempting array of fruits and treats. It was a most festive occasion, so thanks to all who made it possible and to Indica and Alessandra for planning and execution.

This was to be the last of many events that Indica has helped organise over her three seasons here, as she now moves on to other things. She has taken on many roles at the Centre and has been at the heart of the complex task of coordinating the karma yogi program. She also had a season in scheduling, another in marketing and more recently has helped in facility rentals. Her energy and enthusiasm, her ability to prevent issues falling through the cracks and her commitment to the teachings have been greatly appreciated. We wish her well in her future endeavours.

Our Yoga Teacher in Residence program is off to a flying start – applications began coming in as soon as we posted the advertisement. It’s a great situation for both the teacher and the Centre. The teacher gets to stay at the Centre with no charge, teach two classes a day and also give private classes. Some, like our current Yoga Teacher in Residence may bring their own students with them so the Centre gets more personal retreatants and greater variety of classes for our staff. We anticipate that this program will fill quickly for next year. Meanwhile we still have plenty of personal retreat space in the next two months along with two Yoga getaways.

Coming up this Saturday (Oct. 8th) is our annual Thanksgiving pot-luck at the Centre with a gratitude circle. We have chosen the Saturday so you can celebrate with your family on Monday. All are welcome to join us in celebrating the many things we have to be thankful for.

In Peace,
Shankar