Thursday, 28 March 2013

A Free Mind

This morning, I read a chapter by the great Swami Satyananda Saraswati, in which he talks about what having a free mind means. 'The mind remains free whether you live amidst pleasure or pain, wealth or poverty, young people or old. The mind must not identify itself with the external circumstances and think, 'I am poor', 'I am rich', 'I am in pain' or 'I am very unfortunate'. As sannyasins, we live a life of poverty by choice. Why? Because our minds must be free. Wealth, name, fame, passion, all these things hold down this great energy of man. We are trying to simplify our lives on the physical, mental and emotional planes so the mind will remain free. If we can keep the mind free, awakening will take place automatically, even without any sadhana.'

This is a subject close to my heart, especially now, having just returned from India. India is always transformational on many levels. In the last few months, I have been contemplating the real meaning of freedom. Freedom, like most other things, is a journey. When I was younger, I thought that freedom meant financial independence and the freedom to do what I wanted. Doing only work I am passionate about. So I went forth and did just that - I founded a record label in my early twenties and became successful beyond my wildest dreams. I bought a beautiful house, a nice car, expensive clothes, flew business class, and I had a certain 'name and fame'. I admit, it was a great time, being barely twenty-five. But slowly, or perhaps not so slowly, dissatisfaction crept in. A certain emptiness. Was this really freedom, to be able to buy what I wanted, to have 'made it'? The uncomfortable feeling increased, and by the time I was twenty-seven, I was clear: this wasn't it. I couldn't live like this anymore. This wasn't freedom: I felt imprisoned, in a golden cage of my own making. To the disbelief of many people, I closed down my company at the height of its success, took a year out and then enrolled at university to study psychology.

Fast forward seven years from there. I'd sold my house, downsized greatly, and was living a much more satisfying life. I wasn't earning much, but felt fulfilled doing projects I loved. I worked part-time as a spiritual advisor in prisons, performed pagan rituals in the community, and worked on creative projects. Admittedly, this was facilitated by the money I made with the record label and which I had invested wisely. And yet, still, I did not feel free. I still had rent and bills to pay, shopping to do, a car to maintain,appointments to keep and so on. So though my life was more pleasant because I was actually doing what I loved, I felt shackled. So I decided to take it a step further. I sold my car, gave up my apartment, gave away most of my possessions and decided to travel the world by train. Perhaps this would give me the sense of freedom I craved.

At first, it really did. Sitting on the different trains crossing continents, I felt free as a bird. No appointments, no schedules, no bills. Just me, my backpack and the ever-changing landscapes of Siberia, China, Tibet, Nepal, Pakistan and India. Being so high up in the Himalayas added to the freedom I felt in my heart. This was five years ago. I have not settled down again since, living in different countries and still moving around a lot, though at a much slower pace.

Lately, however, freedom has taken on a very different meaning for me. Yes, it's great to have (relative) financial independence, to be able to travel, to do work that I like and not be answerable to a boss. It's what many people aspire to, and I was blessed enough to experience all this early on in life. For this I will always be grateful. But what has come into the forefront for me now is something very different. Freedom of the mind, freedom of our conditioning, our likes and dislikes that really imprison us, whether we are aware of it or not. This has been inspired by my love and practice of yoga and meditation (a result of my travels to the East). I started to realize that actually, I am not free at all. As long as my mind does its own thing, as long as I am influenced by my early childhood conditioning, by anger, by things my society or parents or friends deem as 'acceptable', as long as I react in ways that are not fully autonomous, I am still a prisoner. Making autonomous choices is key: choices that comes from my inner being, my soul, choices that are not my mother's or my father's or my grandmother's, or heck, my neighbour's choices. As long as I am driven by anything, be that insecurity or hunger for recognition or ambition or an old chip on my shoulder, I am not free.

Seeing this so clearly has been a revelation. It has put everything else in the background. It doesn't mean that I can't travel or do what I enjoy. But it has made those things optional. What we have to liberate and purify is our mind that is so full of unconscious patterns and conditionings. Then we can truly be free. We can be in any situation, good or bad, we can be rich or poor, cold or hot - whatever. But we will be at peace. Right now, most of us hanker after pleasure and run from pain. This is what all our actions lead towards. This may be fleetingly satisfying, but it doesn't bring us true freedom and peace. True freedom is a state of non-duality, of being at peace with all there is at any moment.

How to achieve this? Meditation and yoga are a good way to start. At the very least, meditation gives us an experience of being in the moment and of watching ourselves. It slowly removes our veil of ignorance and helps us to see things as they truly are. We begin to wake up from the dream. We begin to see that there is more to life than what we perceive with the five senses and that there is a deeper purpose to it all. And: meditation shows us that we have a choice. We have a choice to not react and we can learn to control our minds and emotions through purifying the mind. And this, in my view, is true freedom.

If you are interested in yoga and meditation, I can recommend Satyananda Yoga at and Vipassana Meditation at

Monday, 1 October 2012

Eating up the world? The consequences of human food choices

‘Some people think that eating a plant-based, whole foods diet is extreme. Half a million people a year will have their chests opened up and a vein taken from their leg and sewn onto their coronary artery.  Some people would call that extreme.” -  Dr Caldwell Esselstyn

'Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food' - Hippocrates

Our planet is in times of great transformation. Things are changing fast in all possible ways. We are facing serious environmental challenges such as food and water shortages, global warming, deforestation, and species extinction that make it pretty clear that we are using the Earth’s resources at an unsustainable rate.
But underneath it all something is bubbling. Perhaps inspired by the same challenges, human consciousness is growing rapidly, and we seem to become always more attuned to a natural, more authentic way of living. We are transiting into an age in which the call to become who we truly are, to live our full potential and align ourselves with a higher vibration is becoming too loud to ignore for many of us.

Some may call this a crisis, a catastrophe even. Others may view the changes with a sense of excitement and relief, knowing that we all have a part to play in making this world into what we want it to be. It is now more important than ever that we carefully consider the consequences our actions have on the world we are about to co-create.

In this sense, I have chosen to focus on one of the most significant issues that affect the ill health of our planet today: the food we eat and the wide-reaching effects our choices have on us and the world at large. In particular, I would like to highlight the impact meat production has on many of the problems we are facing, such as poverty, environmental damage and degenerative diseases.

Enough for everyone?

Let’s begin with one of the world’s biggest problems: poverty. Recent statistics show that 790 million people in the world are chronically undernourished and about 27.000 children under five die of starvation every day. I was amazed to find that in contrast to these disturbing statistics, we actually grow enough edible grain to provide 50% more than is required to feed every person in the world. So where does it all go?

Most of this edible grain is used to feed animals for meat, dairy and egg production. The world’s cattle alone consume enough food to feed 8.7 billion people, more than the entire human population. Likewise, the amount of water required to produce one kilogram of beef is about forty times as high as that for the production of rice, leading to serious water shortages in several countries such as Australia.

Add to this the facts that over 50% of global human-caused greenhouse gases can be attributed to livestock and their by-products and that a massive 92% of all land degradation is caused by animal industries. For example, cattle-ranching is the biggest driver of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

So what is the answer? Experts say that adopting a plant-based diet would make the difference, not only for the future of the planet, but also for our health. Looking around us, it is easy to tell why.

A simple cure for deadly diseases?

Despite having the most advanced medical technology in the world, we are sicker than ever. Two out of every three of us are overweight. Cases of diabetes are exploding, especially amongst the young. Heart disease, cancer and stroke are leading causes of death, and millions suffer from a host of other degenerative diseases.

According to major research studies, most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us could be prevented, reversed and even eliminated by altering our present menu of animal-based and processed foods. Researchers such as Dr T Colin Caldwell, author of the widely acclaimed ‘China Study’ ( found that people who ate the most animal-based foods suffered the most chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer, and that people who ate the most plant-based foods tended to avoid them. Large studies in England and Germany show that vegetarians are about forty percent less likely to develop cancer compared to meat eaters.

Our current response to degenerative diseases is to treat them with chemical drugs, which often produce damaging side effects. The real solution, however, could be as simple as changing our diet and lifestyle, which may not lead to our developing the diseases in the first place. Many of us have been taught that human beings need animal proteins for optimum health, whereas scientific research shows exactly the opposite: that plant proteins such as legumes are healthier and more nourishing.

Food also affects our consciousness in a powerful way. Prana-rich, living foods such as plants nourish our consciousness and spirituality, whereas dead, processed foods dull our senses. Some people believe that the violence that has been inflicted on an animal before it is eaten transfers onto the consumer, and makes us more interested in inflicting violence on others. Many spiritual seekers and traditions therefore adopt a vegetarian diet to elevate their consciousness and follow the principle of non-violence.

Last but not least, let’s consider the animals that are turned into food. I don’t think any of us need much evidence that what goes on in slaughterhouses isn’t pretty. Yes, it is easy to walk into a supermarket or butcher and buy a shiny piece of meat without giving a thought as to where it has come from. But have you considered what the animal has endured before it reaches your plate? Here are some statistics that might make you think.

Every year, 58 billion animals are raised and killed for human consumption. Often, these farmed animals, such as chickens, cows and pigs, have been treated horrendously. Laying hens, for example, are often packed tightly indoors where they become red and raw from constant mating. Half of the born chicks are male and won’t lay eggs so they are gassed or ground up alive at day one. Because laying hens are not ‘profitable’ after eighteen months of age, they are killed and their depleted bodies are used for pet food, stock cubes or fertilizer.

Dairy cows have miserable lives, too. By nature, they only produce milk when they have a calf, yet are artificially impregnated to produce milk for humans while their own babies are killed. Cows are forced into a relentless cycle of pregnancy, birthing and milk production during which they suffer chronic mastitis, liver damage and painful digestive disorders. The journey to the slaughterhouse is long and traumatic without food and water. In the killing line, cows are fully aware of what lies ahead. They are terrified, kicking and screaming. Cows too sick or injured to stand are often dragged with chains to the killing floor, or left to slowly die.

Okay, you might think, so I’ll buy organic. Surely that’s fine. Not quite, I was interested to find. According to animal rights charity PETA, people who buy organic or free-range animal products because they think that the animals are treated well are sadly mistaken.

Many organic and free-range farms cram thousands of animals together in sheds or mud-filled lots to increase profits, just as factory farms do, and the animals often suffer through the same mutilations—such as debeaking, dehorning, and castration without painkillers—that occur on factory farms. Many ‘organically raised’ cows are sent to factory-farm feedlots to be fattened prior to slaughter, where they are caked with faeces and mud. These cows can still be labelled organic as long as they're given organic feed.

Stepping into our power

Pretty bleak, isn’t it? It seems like the planet is eaten up alive by unsustainable food practices that we have little influence on. The good news is that we can change it, one step at the time. We may not own the companies that make these policies, but as consumers, we have choices. We can decide whether we want to contribute to these conditions or whether we want to live in a way that is more conscious of and respectful to the life around us.

As Newton already wisely stated, every action has a reaction. Every single one of our actions has an effect on something else. Investing our money in acts that have detrimental consequences on the wellbeing of others cannot be wholesome and contribute to making the world a more compassionate, loving or peaceful place. When we recognize that we all have an important part to play in the future of this planet, we’re stepping into our power. And we are all infinitely more powerful than we think.

I realize that change isn’t easy. If we are used to a certain type of diet, then we may not want to alter it radically. So maybe we can start by reducing some of our animal protein intake and replacing it with wholesome plant foods. Every small step can make a big difference. Maybe, like me, you will find inspiration in the words of Holocaust victim Anne Frank, ‘How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.’

To find out more:
  • Watch ‘Earthlings’ – a powerful and informative documentary about society’s treatment of animals, narrated by Joaquin Phoenix. Free to download at
  • Watch ‘Forks over Knives’, a brilliant, well-researched documentary about the health impacts of our food choices:
  • Read ‘Conscious Eating’ by Gabriel Cousens, MD, a wonderfully enlightening book on how food influences the way we think, feel and relate to the world around us:
  • Read ‘From Crisis to Peace’ by S.M. Ching Hai, founder of the ‘Loving Hut’ vegan restaurants. Download this book on environmental and spiritual solutions for free at
  • Read ‘Eating Animals’ by Jonathan Safran, a father’s journey about making the right dietary choices for his son:

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Chickpea to cook

A chickpea leaps almost over the rim of the pot
where it's being boiled.

"Why are you doing this to me?"

The cook knocks him down with the ladle.

"Don't you try to jump out.
You think I'm torturing you.
I'm giving you flavor,
so you can mix with spices and rice
and be the lovely vitality of a human being.

"Remember when you drank rain in the garden.
That was for this."

Grace first. Sexual pleasure,
then a boiling new life begins,
and the Friend has something good to eat.

Eventually the chickpea
will say to the cook,
"Boil me some more.
Hit me with the skimming spoon.
I can't do this by myself.

"I'm like an elephant that dreams of gardens
back in Hindustan and doesn't pay attention
to his driver. You're my cook, my driver,
my way into existence. I love your cooking."

The cook says,
"I was once like you,
fresh from the ground. Then I boiled in time,
and boiled in the body, two fierce boilings.

"My animal soul grew powerful.
I controlled it with practices,
and boiled some more, and boiled
once beyond that,
and became your teacher."

~Jalaluddin Rumi(translated by Coleman Barks) 

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

So much from God
That I can no longer

A Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim,
A Buddhist, a Jew.

The Truth has shared so much of Itself
With me

That I can no longer call myself
A man, a woman, an angel,
Or even pure

Love has
Befriended Hafiz so completely
It has turned to ash
And freed

Of every concept and image
My mind has ever known.

~ Hafiz ~

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Blessed Anicca

'One day the Hebrew King Solomon decided to humble his most trusted minister. He said to him 'Benaiah, there is a certain ring that I want you to bring to me within six months.'
'If it exists anywhere on earth, your majesty', replied Benaiah confidently, 'I will find it and bring it to you. But what makes the ring so special?'
'It has magic powers', answered the king with a straight face. 'If a happy man looks at it, he becomes sad, and if a sad man looks at it, he becomes happy.' Solomon knew that no such ring existed in the world. Wishing to give his minister a little taste of humility, he was sending him on an impossible mission.

Spring and then summer passed by, and though he had searched the length and breadth of the kingdom, still Benaiah had no idea where he could find the ring. The night before the six months were up and he knew he would have to return to the king in defeat, he decided to take a walk in one of the poorest sections of Jerusalem. He passed by an old merchant who had begun to set out the day's wares on a shabby carpet. With nothing left to lose, Benaiah asked, 'Have you by any chance heard of a magic ring that makes the happy wearer forget his joy and the broken-hearted wearer forget his sorrow?'
The old merchant did not speak, but took a plain gold ring from his carpet and engraved something on it. When Benaiah read the words on the ring, his face broke out in a wide grin.

That night, Benaiah went to see the king as he was in court with all his ministers. 'Well, my friend', Solomon smirked, 'Have you brought me what I sent you for?' All the ministers chortled heartily, eager to see their peer admit his embarrassing defeat. To everyone's surprise, Benaiah held up the small gold ring and declared, 'Here it is, your majesty!' As soon as Solomon read the inscription, the smile vanished from his face. Into the ring, the jeweler had engraved the phrase, 'This too shall pass.'

(From 'The Blessed Life' by Swami Ramakrishnananda Puri)

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Hymn to the Lord of the Dance Who Is Half Woman


Her body is fair like the campa flower;
His body is like camphor.
She has elaborately braided hair decked with pearls;
And he has matted hair.

 I bow to Shivah and I bow to Shiva.

Her body is sprinkled with musk-vermillion powder;
His body is smeared with funeral pyre ash.
She has the power of sexual desire;
And He is adverse to it.

 I bow to Shivah and I bow to Shiva.

 From Her you hear the movement of tinkling anklets and bracelets,
His lotus feet have glistening anklets of snakes.
She is adorned with golden armlets,
And He has armlets of snakes.

 I bow to Shivah and I bow to Shiva.

 Her eyes are like large blue lotuses,
His eyes are like the red lotus.
Her eyes are even,
His eyes are uneven.

 I bow to Shivah and I bow to Shiva.

 She is wearing a garland of mandar flowers in Her hair,
He is wearing a garland of skulls around His neck.
She is wearing silks of divine quality;
And He is clad only by the sky.

 I bow to Shivah and I bow to Shiva.

 Her hair is dark like the monsoon clouds;
His matted locks flash with the luster of lightning.
She is Lord of All;
He is Lord of All.

 I bow to Shivah and I bow to Shiva.

 Hers is the dance that creates differentiation;
His is the dance that destroys everything.
I bow to the Mother of the Universe.
I bow to the Father of the Universe.

 I bow to Shivah and I bow to Shiva.

 Her earrings sparkle with radiant, precious stones;
His earrings are hissing snakes.
He embraces Her;
And She embraces Him.

 I bow to Shivah and I bow to Shiva.

 (Attributed to Sri Adi Shankara)
(Shakti is referred to in this hymn as Shivah, or Shivaa -- a feminine form of the name Shiva.)

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

The Zen Manifesto

'Zen knows only a vast life
which contains all kinds of contradictions
in a deep harmony.
The night is in harmony with the day,
and life is in harmony with death,
and the earth is in harmony with the sky.
The presence is in harmony with the absence.
This immense harmony,
this synchronicity,
is the essential Manifesto of Zen.
This is the only way of life which respects
and loves,
and denies nothing, condemns nothing.'

-- Osho