By Penelope Sullivan
I still smile when I recall how my quest to uncover the secrets of longevity led me to discover the presence of God and that true health and vitality begin within.
Seventeen years ago I was in my mid-twenties and working at an area health food store. This was a period when I had deeply begun questioning existence, purpose and what creates a truly peaceful and happy life. I also was considering becoming a naturopath and had been delving into the study of physical health.
To this end, I would question my long time regular customers on what they would attribute their longevity to. I always picked those that were in their eighties or nineties and were still smiling and had a bounce in their step, for I knew on some level they had something to share! Well, the answers were surprisingly the same and went something like this,”…Family, apple cider vinegar, and God………Family, black strap molasses, and God…..Family, peppermint tea for my heart….and God…”
I thought, “…Wow I know about family….I know about molasses…maybe I should find out about God….” And so, a two weeks’ notice and a bus ticket later, I found myself in northern California, at Ananda Village, a yoga community based on the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda.
To be clear I don’t even know if I had heard the word Guru before, probably not. I had fairly regularly practiced hatha yoga postures at home, but that was the extent of my direct experience of the yogic philosophy. So, needless to say, I did not know much. What I did know is that when I stepped foot on the land at Ananda, I was literally struck by the all-pervading stillness and quietness. It filled me and I experienced a deep sense of rightness.
I dove right into the activities. Besides regular meditations and yoga postures, karma yoga or selfless service, composed the biggest part of my day. So unlike the pervading theme of working at all cost for personal gain, karma yoga speaks of seeing Spirit as the doer behind all activity and the idea of being unattached to any end results. At first glance, this may sound dis-empowering yet I have found this practice very freeing and quite powerful. I began to imagine myself as a vessel through which this Grace or power can flow through. With this type of thinking, tiredness seemed to melt away as did the resistance that can so easily come up as we focus on our likes and dislikes and our own abilities.
I also learned that the word Guru translated to mean dispeller of darkness, and that yoga loosely translated to mean union with God. Most importantly, I was not only intellectually memorizing these ideas, I was actually feeling a “lightness” come into my life and an ever increasing sense of connection and depth within my being and with the world around me.
Because these concepts and experiences resonated on such a deep level, I was surprised when I saw how nervous and questioning my relatives and old friends became when I mentioned staying on at yoga community.
Unfortunately, God has gotten a bad rap. Perhaps it is from the organizations that emphasize that we are naturally sinners and separate from God…or perhaps it is from the organizations that ask for complete adherence to outward rules without offering much in the way of inner experience….perhaps it is the injustices that the civil and women’s rights movements have brought to attention in the not so distance past. Whatever the reasons, I have seen that many people are very afraid to give up their sense of personal power.
In addition, to many people, God is a very ambiguous term. The question then becomes what is God and what does he/she/it have to do with daily life?
I love the idea that each us on some deep level wants to be happy…wants to be at peace….and has felt an expansion within our being at some point in time. Personally, I tune into the aspects of Divine love, of peace, of bliss…of power…and feel these underlying currents rippling through my life and awareness. I feel this force that beckons me to go within and from this point of knowing to act in this world. I feel when my actions are in harmony with this inner knowing and when they are not, more and more. This to me and so much more is a beginning description of God….the tip of the iceberg…not even mentioning the vast and miraculous intelligence that surrounds us on the Earth and expanding outward to all creation. I love the idea that we each have our own, very intimate relationship and understanding, of the Divine. So for me, in beginning to think in this way, and open to this type of God, and then perform “mundane” activities such as cleaning or gardening, each activity became a liberating and sacred event…and in doing so began to transform my life.
Some friends and relatives who resonated with all of this, I found, still questioned why meditate so often? Why be so disciplined?
I began to see that few of us really know what freedom is. Our culture raises us to seek outside thrills and enjoyments. We have things to bring us up. We have things to bring us down. We are taught to strive for the biggest and the largest….and this is termed freedom and success.
The truth is as one of my favorite teachers HariDas said, “…we are all half-baked saints…” or as Yogananda said, “…we are all a little bit crazy…” In a nutshell, most of us are a mixed bag of contradictions and varying desires that are counterproductive and are largely driven by whims, passing fancies, more surface emotion.
I wanted discipline because through it, I felt free. I felt clearer within my own being. I still remember one of my deepest most profound mediations….While sitting in the quietness, I had this deep sense of sweetness….and it seemed to be saying…remember this…remember this quality…..It’s so easy to get caught up in everything going on, in the outside world…It can be so easy to get swept away by the pervading current….but remember that this sensation and feeling is always within you. Remember this….”
So what became of becoming a naturopath? Over time I did go on to get a degree in both nutrition and herbal medicine. Yet now the cornerstone of my practice is supporting and offering to others the gift in nurturing inner growth. I see that without that vital component, there is an integral piece of the puzzle missing. Then I bring in the physical elements. They too are important and have their own place. I love the story of Yogananda achieving a high state of awareness and then his teacher handing him a broom. His teacher told him that until we were beyond this world we could not neglect it. Likewise Yogananda said that almost all disease stemmed from poor nutrition. He emphasized the importance of whole foods, the healing power of greens, juicing, proper exercise and sunlight. He was and is the most holistic healer that I have ever read. …and yet he said take this all in and then forget about…..and not be fanatical. I see a lesson in this for most of us. I have seen people that only focus on the physical and are still full of discontent…and I also see very serviceful, beautiful people eat all kinds of things and really neglect their physical bodies…because they do not want to focus too much on the outward. I feel that if we can find a way to balance these different sides…we will flourish and see that they are but two sides of the same coin…and that in being physically healthy, the Spirit within us can shine and that if we deepen our Spirit and connection a vitality and Grace can flood our cells and our Presence. Blessings to you all!
To us building with spirit means working selflessly with joy, love, and intention. The spirit in all of us, is co-creating with the spirit in nature, and working in cooperation with each other and those that will use the building.
If you have been lucky enough to be a part of working on something joyful, meaningful, and uplifting, you likely know what we are talking about. I have spoken with artists that create from their heart and describe the experience like being in a deep meditation.
During the creative process, one of the most important things to consider is our state of consciousness. Just like when we are cooking, if we are in a bad mood, angry, or just not enjoying the process, our food can absorb that energy, and can affect the taste, or even pass that negative energy to those eating it. Similarly, when we are building with natural materials, our state of consciousness can be absorbed by the materials like clay, wood, and straw. These vibration can stay in these natural materials and affect the energy or feeling of the building.
Have you ever been in a building that just felt cold, not in the literal sense, but in the energetic realm? It’s not that it doesn’t look beautiful, or that it’s physical presence is intrusive. These buildings at some level just don’t feel right.
In contrast, if you have ever been in a natural building or a building where the homeowner, builder, or architect put a lot of their joy, love, and intention into the building, you can feel the positive energy in the dwelling.
At the Natural Living School, we help the participants understand how important their consciousness is during the building process. Not just during building, but during the whole process, including site location, design, and sourcing materials. One of the ways that we help the participants, is by practicing meditation, yoga, sharing nature activities, and other uplifting activities to instill the principles of building with spirit.
You too, can join us this summer, and participate in a joyful, meaningful, and uplifting workshop. Take a look at our programs page.
Last week I had a great conversation with one of the most amazing men I have ever met. His name is Joseph Cornell, founder of the Sharing Nature Foundation and author of several renowned books on Sharing Nature®. I wanted to talk with him about using some of the Sharing Nature activities to help our students understand what it means to live with nature.
One of the first things he talked to me about was Flow Learning™
Flow Learning™, “gives the teachers a simple, structured way to guide students into their own, direct experiences of nature. Through playful games that awaken the students’ curiosity and enthusiasm, learning becomes fun, immediate, and dynamic, instead of static and secondhand. The students emerge with a living, fresh understanding and reverence for the natural world.”
There are four basic stages of Flow Learning™ ; Awaken Enthusiasm, Focus Attention, Direct Experience, and Share Inspiration. “Flow Learning™ is based on universal principles of how people learn. It provides a simple, natural framework that sequence nature activities for maximum effect.”
Joseph Cornell’s Nature Activities™ are great for teaching kids, teens, and adults how they can perceive nature in a new and exciting way. These activities lift the spirit within us to new heights, in a way that isn’t possible to explain in words. It’s best to try them yourself, and feel the difference.
At the Natural Living School, we will be using some of these Nature Activities™ to help participants understand the process of finding and sourcing materials for their buildings. These activities can also be used to help participants locate a building site, and to stay connected to nature during all phases of the construction. Many times we disconnect ourselves from nature, to focus on the building process, and end up removing trees, damaging natural landscape, and clearing animal habitat unconsciously.
Living with nature means understanding your surroundings. Using all your senses to feel what is happening, and what needs to happen. Believe it or not, nature spirits can talk to you, if you are willing to listen, and respect them. Nature talks to us through our heart feeling, which is like a radio station, that needs a little help tuning in. These Nature Activities™, that Joseph Cornell created can help us fine tune our radio station, so we can live with nature, build with nature, and live a more natural life.
Thank you Joseph Cornell, for your inspiration and support: the text in quotations above is from his website.
In a way, one of the most basic understandings in eastern philosophies has been lost in the “Age of Energy.” As a result of all our technology, we spend more time on cell phones, the internet, watching TV, and in cars running around like high tech chickens with our heads cut off. The art of slowing down, taking time to enjoy the moment, and being present is pushed aside in the name of efficiency. Why? One answer is; because we think this will lead to our happiness.
Some of us think that if we are more efficient with our time, then we will have more time to do the things we enjoy. But at the end of the day, with all the time that was saved, how many of us actually did something joyful, or self-fulfilling? Yes, there are some exceptions, but over all many of us think that our joy will come from outside ourselves. I used to think that I would find joy once I had a little more money, which would give me a little more time. Not so.
Our experiences these past couple years have truly shown us what it means to have quality time. For months at a time we were without cell phone, internet, television, or any basic communication with the outside world. Our time was spent in nature, sourcing natural materials from the land, the forest, and neighbors in order to build natural buildings that would be enjoyed by all.
When we were not building, or sourcing materials, we spent our time in community taking turns cooking for each other, having great conversations, and playing with our children. It wasn’t that we weren’t busy, or that we had surplus time. In fact we were easily as busy as when we lived in the city, working all the time, driving the kids around, and doing endless errands. The difference was that we were busy doing something that was fulfilling to our spirits.
The idea of simple living doesn’t mean to give up all your possessions and move to the country, or to the wilderness, it simply means to evaluate your time and expenses so that you’re doing something that feeds your soul. It helps to lower your expenses, to grow some of your own food, and to have a low housing cost, but it’s not a requirement to be poor. Some of the happiest people I know in South America are looked upon as poor, but in my eyes, they are rich in spirit, love, and joy. They were always willing to share what little they had, with joyful abundance.
Thank you Betty, Tatacho, Levi and all the friends we made at Spirit Pine Sanctuary. It was wonderful working, living, and playing with you all.
In this day and age, where the answer to many questions are just a click away, people are still having a hard time answering the age old question, “why do I feel so unhappy?” Most of us, who have tried to answer this question, have come up with several logical answers.
“More money,” if I had more money than I would be happy.
“Better job,” if I had a job I liked, or if I had a job that paid more, then I would be happy.
“More time,” if I had more time to do what I wanted, then I would be happy.
The list can go on, and on, but these are some of the most common answers. At the Cob Cottage Company, as you walk up the trail to the main building, there is a sign that says, “There are two ways to get rich, you can make more money or you can require less.” The truth to us is in the second statement, “to require less.”
The Natural Living School is a place where people can come to explore how to live simply and require less, to gain experience so they can construct natural buildings that are affordable for themselves and their families, to learn how to grow their own food so they can lower their food costs, and to gain the confidence to change their lives forever.
The Natural Living School is an organization, focused on examining and co-creating new and old methods of sustainable living and natural building. Come and study with us, the art of natural living and higher thinking.